With my son home for a short break, we’ve been reminiscing quite a lot as we enjoy conversations. My folks always tease me about my penchant for remembering all sorts of things. So many memories!
We were talking about my school days and this is something he always finds amusing. From first grade to tenth grade, I studied in five schools across three cities. Each one was a major learning experience—not to mention a culture shock.
Perhaps my happiest move was after my sixth grade from a boarding school. After the academic year was up, I couldn’t wait to join my folks in a different city. I was going to live with my Grandma, Mom and Uncle (mom’s bro)—my three most favorite people in the world.
I was going to start seventh grade in a school about eight kilometers away. This involved traveling by bus from our place to the railway station and then walking a kilometer to school. It was an interesting year, what with my Uncle, fatigued by the long queue at the time of admissions, filled out my second language as Tamil by mistake, instead of Special English in the admission form. This couldn’t be changed and I spent summer brushing up on reading and writing my mother tongue.
But that’s not what this post is about.
Just for fun, when things went southwards last month, I made all sorts of lists. One of them was acts of kindness I’ve experienced when I least expected them. And one stood out, because I made tomato-onion gravy.
My Grandmother traveled to Mumbai every year, where she would spend two months with another of my Uncles. In her absence, my Mom, Uncle and I functioned like clockwork in the morning, cooking, packing lunches and making breakfast. Mom would leave at 6.45 am. Then I was next, at 7.30 am. Then Uncle, at 8.30 am.
Now, I would be the first to return, around 4 pm. Uncle would be home by 6 and Mom, by 7, after which we’d have dinner together and listen to the radio and talk about our days.
I didn’t carry a house key and so, after I returned from school, would settle on the front porch and finish my homework. My neighbor would offer a snack, but I’d politely decline and prefer to wait until my Uncle got home.
Then one day, I headed to my Uncle’s officer after school as I wanted to see some lab equipment we were learning about. After that was done, I sat in the open reception area, reading. One of his colleagues saw me there and chided him for making me wait. He then suggested that I go to his house, have something to eat and wait there until my Uncle got back home. After a little yes-no, my Uncle agreed.
His colleague lived in a tiny one-room house with his wife and two kids. It was one of those mud houses with a thatched roof. The room had a single light bulb. One wall was devoted to the kitchen area while its adjacent wall had a bench for visitors. The third wall had a couple of metal trunks with rolled bedding. They slept on the mud floor on a mat. The fourth wall had a small window and a door one had to bend to enter.
In spite of their own condition, they were abundant with their love. They treated me so lovingly. The colleague’s wife—I called her Aunt—would wait at their door step, busy shelling peas or cutting vegetables, or hanging out clothes to dry. The moment I arrived, she would get busy in her “kitchen”. After I had washed up, she’d serve me a plate of two rotis with delicious tomato gravy. It was invariably tomato-potato-onion. While I ate, her kids arrived and they’d join me. Then the three of us would settle down to do our school homework. Aunt would then serve us all some tea. We’d play for a while in the yard, until my Uncle turned up. I’d grab my bag and we’d walk home together.
Two days later, Aunt suggested that I leave a set of clothes at her place so I could change when I returned from school. She’d hold a saree like a curtain and turn the other way while I changed in a corner of the room.
This went on for two months.
I can never forget the love that family showered on me. I can never forget how they gave me a safe place to be for almost three hours after school—because when my Uncle had overtime he came back at 7 too.
I can never forget the warmth with which she put her arms around me and her kids and squeezed us in a hug. Even now, when I close my eyes, I can smell her–a mixture of food, soap and jasmine flowers with a bit of incense.
I make that tomato gravy often and when I sit down to eat it, my heart feels full.
By way of an epilogue—we wanted to reciprocate their kindness. My Uncle bought his colleague a bicycle he was saving up for–and some gifts for the kids. Luckily Diwali was around the corner and that was an excellent excuse.
Do you think back and recall random acts of kindness you have received?
I’d love to hear your favorite in the comments.