Sunday, July 15, 2007

An Act of Kindness

The passing of a granduncle last week brought to mind an act of kindness that I will always remember and a flood of other memories.

Several years ago when we were only visitors to Madras and not yet residents, we would spend two weeks of our summer vacation at my paternal grandparents house and then go to Kerala to spend a whole month with my mums side of the family. And, no visit to Madras was complete without a visit to Mathuachen and Mariammaammai’s house.

One summer, like several of them before it, we landed up in Madras to be spoiled and pampered by my grandparents and forget about everything else. I remember we reached home early in the morning. It was the eve of my eighth birthday and the heat was beginning to get to all of us. My grandmother had picked flowers from the garden for me. She knew how I loved flowers and had wrapped them carefully and put them in the ref and told me I could take it the next day.

Ammama was diabetic as far as my memory goes back. But she never gave up a sweetmeat or pastry if one were in front of her—she would much rather eat all the sugar and take an insulin shot than let the sugar pass. If anyone goaded her about the all that she was eating, she would give them the silent treatment!

That summer, she had worked hard at readying the house for us. Never satisfied with what the maid had done, she would push the cupboard from its place to get to the dust below where it stood, drag the chairs from their regular resting place, or pull out the carpet and give it a vigorous shake. After all the exertion, she was dehydrated and very ill by evening. My uncle took her to the hospital to give her a couple of bottles of saline to get the zing back in her. All of us were expecting her to be back the next morning so we could celebrate my birthday and everything was planned.

But things were not meant to be. Before sunrise, uncle called home to tell us that things were not looking right and Ammama was sinking. I remember dad taking us to the hospital saying we were going to visit Ammama and she was very ill. And before noon Ammama was gone. Everything after that was a blur. We bought her home and everyone was busy arranging everything for the funeral the next day.

Later that evening, standing by the front door I watched people walk in and out. I saw Mathuachen walking toward me. He had been there helping with everything. He gave me a package and said “open it”. And I did. I saw bars of chocolate in it. And he said “Happy Birthday, Priya!” I was ecstatic. I was happy. I was thrilled that someone had remembered. I remember looking up surprised at his soft and smiling face. I have no idea who told him to this day. And I remember him for this simple act of kindness or call it pity. But he cared and that is all I care.

A kind old man who enjoyed the simple things in life. You always had a joke to share or a story to tell. You are gone from our midst but you will always be in our prayers. Knowing you, I’m sure there are plenty of people saying the same thing today. We will miss you.


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