We were five brothers, the Paandavas. I was the second… but a ‘skinny’ and ‘timid’ Bhim! Sensitive like glass, I was the pet of my parents, particularly of my mom. I was a girl for her and she would confide in me all her problems. And, I was there around her to help her in her daily grind: washing clothes, going to the market, draw hundreds of pots of water from our hell-deep well for our jasmine gardens, go to our paddy fields and help dad before and after the college, go and sell the home-gown vegetables in the neighborhood, and, at night, grind masala for the dinner… You name it, I have done it. And, done it gladly. Yes, without being told.
Blowing my own trumpet?
I don’t need to… Not at this juncture of my life. Sympathy is the last thing in my wish-list. Rather, it is not even found there.
Every generation has struggled hard to make life a little easier for the next. My grand parents did that to my parents; my parents did that to us; we are doing it for our children. And, our children would carry on with this legacy.
But, an interesting thing is that none of us appreciate this fact when we really have to. My mom, probably, would have been happiest had her sons reached out to her while she was slogging like ‘Mother India’ when she was still young. Now, she is old; we, her children, try to do many things for her… But, her back has already been bent and the knee-joints have worn-out.
My dad, like all dads, would often burst out with his frustrations… mostly with tales of sacrifices he had to make for his sons. Fathers narrating their children about the hardships of studying under the street lamps is a common place episode. If I tell that to my son, I must be prepared to see his ‘face’! Mothers screaming at their children as to how they break their hearts to make the two ends meet – well, no body wants to hear, either. Oh, not again!
One day, when I was in ninth standard, our Social-Studies teacher was yelling at the class. No one had done the homework – drawing of a map. I had done it brilliantly, because, drawing, then, was my passion. He was impressed and told the class, “Look at this good boy, Gerald,” he showed them my map, “So impressive.” Then, he told them, “You know boys, I see him every evening with his vegetables basket making rounds house-to-house. Still, he is the only one here who found time to complete his homework.” On hearing that, I hid under the desks. I did not want my class mates to know such stories about me. But, then, there was this sir, who ‘valued’ such ‘attitude’ towards life. No matter how I felt about it, at that point of time, I think, I would have done exactly the same with another Gerald, today in my class. And, yes, I do.
And, on another day, when I was in my tenth standard, our class teacher, Mr. D'Souza, with his Hitler-voice ordered me, “You Gerald, come and see me in the staff room, this evening.” I began to shiver, “What have I done to invite his wrath?” Well, when the bell rang in the evening, I dragged my trembling feet to the staff room. I stood there outside without having the courage to walk in. Sir saw my guilty figure and got up and came towards me with his serious face. He held me by my arm and kept walking towards the school gate. When we were out side the gate, he pulled a letter from his pocket and said, “Go to this shop at the Market Road now itself.” I had no steam in me to ask sir, “But, why?”
I went. On producing the letter, an elderly man took my measurements and said, “Boy, you come after two days to collect your uniform,” I was even more puzzled. I did not know what was happening. When I reached home late that night, I narrated to my mom the incident. She pulled me close and explained to me, “Son, your sir is a good soul. He has arranged for you the school uniform.”
I had only one set of blue-and-white uniform when I was in tenth. That would be red and brown by the day end. So, I used to hide it somewhere in the class the same. Go to school with my other clothes much before others entered the class, change it quickly, and do the reverse act in the evening. It took some time for me realize that our sir had silently observed all that was going on… and, that evening, he reached out to his boy, in his own inimitable way.
After two days, when I reached the shop at the Market Road, the elderly soul handed me a huge parcel. At home, I opened: there were three sets of crisp and smart uniform! My mom cried and said, “I will come with you tomorrow to the school to thank sir.” And, she did.
Today, when students keep their fees outstanding, I still find uncomfortable to remind them about the same. Often I do; but, I would never ever send them back, if they don’t pay, or talk about it in the open class. My mom had to pledge whatever little gold she had to make me as the first graduate in her house. Often, she had to meet the Principal or the Rector and plead for fee concessions. Yes, all this to make her son’s life a little smoother.
I had to stop typing this post for about ten minutes. Believe me when I give you the reason. This girl, whom I wish to call Prerna, just was here to see me during this pause. She lives close by my classes and she is raised by her mother. The mother and daughter took tuition classes for small children and ran their house for many years. Prerna, is an exceptionally confident and focused student. When she had come to approach me last year for her CPT classes, she had difficulty to pay her fees. When I realized how deserving she was, I did what some good teachers had done to me – I waived her fee off. Then, she cleared CPT in flying colours. The time came to join her Inter-CA classes and she began to run from pillar to post. We stepped in and ensured that she went ahead. Good Samaritans did appear for Prerna. Now, she is so busy with her college and CA studies that she can not take tuition classes. Mother has developed health problems and she too is handicapped to work. Prerna was here with her request: “Sir, I have a month’s vacation. Can you give me some test papers to correct so that I can help the situation? Mom, now screams at me saying ‘Why did you have to take up CA?’”
Well, one needs to really ‘pause’ to find an answer to this mother’s ‘WHY?’!
I handled Prena in my own way. When she left, I continued to type.
Our only son wanted to join a fine institute to pursue his passion – Animation. The fine things in life come with a similarly fine price. We as parents had and still have our anxieties to see him through his studies. It is a huge amount for simple people like us. Still, we have told him, “Son, we will stand by you; only don’t let us down.”
I pray, hope and believe that he wouldn’t.
Our tales of agony wouldn’t help him. Life has its own way of teaching us how to empathize with others. He, like any other teenager, will understand the depth of our feelings… and feel worthy of the privileges and blessings in his life.
I remember, whenever our son would show reluctance to help us, say by picking up his own socks from the floor and drop them where they should belong, I would repeatedly tell him this: “Son, please remember. If you don’t do your work, someone else has to.”
I did not have to tell him – nor do I have to tell you – who this ‘someone else’ is.
Today, in the hostel in which he stays, there is no ‘someone else’. You better pick your socks and wash. Else, there will be stink.
We all come the full circle, sometimes, to learn such basic lessons in life. Then, such is life!