The Pleasures of Back-seat Driving A Cab

Me: The Ola GPS is asking you to turn left, but we will go right

Cab driver: Right? How will we reach your destination by going right?

So I gave him the route we will take, explaining that the traffic is more free flowing on that route, and added: You’ll be able to drive in the 5th gear too.

Me: वह बायाँ दिखा रहा है, आप दाहिना से लीजिएगा
(The Ola GPS is asking you to turn left, but we will go right)

Cab driver: दाहिना से? दाहिना से कैसे जाएँगे?
(Right? How will we reach your destination by going right?)

So I gave him the route we will take, explaining that the traffic is more free-flowing on that route, and added: आप 5th gear में भी चला पाएँगे
(You’ll be able to drive in the 5th gear too)

Cab driver: 5th gear में?

Me: हाँ। 40 के ऊपर जाते ही 5th में डाल लेने का।
(Yes. As soon as the car goes above 40kmph, go into the 5th gear.)

Cab driver: हम लोग 60 के ऊपर जाने से 5th में डालते हैं…
(We take the car into the 5th gear above 60kmph)

Me: नहीं। सामने रस्ता खुला हो तो 40 के ऊपर जाते ही 5th में डाल लेने का। आप देखेंगे महीने में 3-4 लीटर का तो फरक पड़ जाएगा।
(No. If the road is open with no traffic and fewer signals, put the car into 5th gear above 40kmph itself. You’ll find you save at least 3-4 litres per month.)

Then for some time, there was silence. I enjoyed the good feeling of seeing the abundance of trees on that route and of having shared a tiny something I had learned from a salesman in Udupi’s Maruti True Value store. A little something that was later ratified by my Dad because he keeps a tab on his car, कि वह देती कितना है। By then we had reached the Fort William – Red Road crossing.

I added: आप सीधा 3rd से 5th में भी जा सकते हैं। चार में जाने की कोई ज़रूरत ही नहीं है।
(You can go directly from 3rd into 5th. No need to go into the 4th.)

Cab driver: Gear?

Me: हाँ
(Yes)

But I shouldn’t say ‘cab driver’. I should say ‘chauffeur’. After all, a friend had taken me on a chauffeur-driven ride in an autorickshaw once, when Sarjapur Road in Bangalore was a beautiful open drive and I needed that fresh air to recover from a weakness attack.

Me and A Cab Driver

I had booked the Ola using Ola Postpaid. So no cash was due. I only had a Rs. 20 note in my purse. I handed it to him…

“ज़रा एक रुपया दीजिएगा दीदी?” said the cab driver, “बोनी है न दीदी।”

I had booked the Ola using Ola Postpaid. So no cash was due. I only had a Rs. 20 note in my purse. I handed it to him.

He started fishing for change and I told him to let it be. I was feeling so enriched by his frank asking, and the way he asked only for that token 1 Rupee, and I felt a deeper understanding for how deeply important Bonee, the first business of the day is – all of this in a nanosecond or less. Under the influence of that nice feeling, I asked him to let the change be. I also felt a tiny sense of adventure – I will be living the day with absolutely no cash in hand.

But he was a man of principles. He gave me the change. He also apologized, though he needn’t have.

“सॉरी दीदी, क्या करें आप ही से बोनी हुआ है…”

“अरे मुझे बहुत अच्छा लगा, आपने अधिकार से माँगा। यह तो मेरा सौभाग्य है कि मुझसे आपका बोनी हुआ,” I said.

As I stepped out of the cab, I said, “Thank you Bhaiya,” a courtesy I have imbibed from being in USA.

“Thank you Didi,” he said, “फिर मिलेंगे।”

“फिर कैसे मिलेंगे?” I laughed and said, “अच्छा ठीक है, भाग्य से मिलेंगे…” and proceeded to cross the road to office.

Did I say भाग्य से मिलेंगे? Wow. It is the kind of phrase I would have cringed at if I had heard it from a typical elder. But it really doesn’t matter, whether we meet again or not. This one encounter is good enough. I am enriched, he is enriched – what more could we or anyone want?

I was walking out of Walmart in Charlotte one day. My eyes met a fellow shopper’s. We smiled at each other. Mutual smiling with strangers had occurred several times before in Charlotte and Iowa, but that encounter, with that lady, I still cherish. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because in that split second that our eyes met, I received that meeting with more awareness and hence it still lives in me.

Now that I have told you about today morning’s encounter, maybe this will also live in me. Once I say something to you, whether it lives in me or not, it always lives. This I know for sure.

What The Dog In a Jar of Fear Told Me

The stray dogs were barking loudly, and this barking was unlike any I had heard before. It made me go outside to see.

One of the stray dogs had a plastic jar on his mouth like a muzzle and he was not being able to get it off. Clearly he was in a distress situation and that is why the other dogs were rallying around him. This dog must have been scavenging for food in this jar thrown in the roadside garbage heap and while he had been able to push his mouth in into the jar for the food it must have contained, now he was not being able to pull his mouth back out. The neck of the jar was trapping his mouth. The other dogs left within a few minutes. Having realized that they can do nothing to help their fellow being, they went back to meeting the challenges of their own lives.

I got out and walked towards the dog. He stood ambling, mildly struggling at the edge of a vacant plot of land. I squatted beside him, and he let me do so. The intention was to catch hold of the jar and pull it off his mouth. The dog’s skin was patchy. He was clearly in a sickly state, even by stray dog standards. I hesitated to take action. I hesitated both because I was reluctant to touch his sickly infested skin and body, and also because of the inherent fear of dealing with a dog, that too right at its mouth. In just two seconds of hesitation, the dog sensed it and started walking away in steady, resolute steps.

I rang up my friend Dr. Shubhageetha immediately, asking for help. She is a gynecologist who also works actively to help stray and abandoned dogs. It is her passion. I described the situation to her frantically.

“Ok, I will come there,” she said.

“But he is walking away. I am fast losing him,” I replied.

“Keep walking behind him. Do not lose sight of him. I am coming,” she said.

So I started following the dog, walking fast, because it had already crossed the vacant plot and was steadily walking down the road towards the valley.

Two men on a mo-bike came from the opposite direction. They saw the dog in the miserable condition with a plastic jar on its mouth and laughed. The pillion rider even took out his phone to take a photo. Sensing their ridicule the dog’s pace increased further convinced of this pathetic world where no one cared for him. I shouted at the men, reprimanding them for being so unkind, asking them to stop and help instead, but they had driven off by now. A building was under construction down the road. The workers saw the dog and laughed, pointing to it. Each time the dog received ridicule, its pace increased slightly. It wasn’t running, for it needed to conserve energy, but its desire to get away from this world was stronger, its conviction of being alone was stronger.

I was losing sight of the dog though I followed as fast as I could. Frantically, I rang up my friend again.

“I am fast losing him,” I said, while I continued to walk as fast as I could.

“We are almost there,” she replied.

We continued to be on the phone. A few moments later I said, “I can’t see him! Where has he gone? He is not on the road beyond the bend.”

“We have arrived. Where is the dog?” my friend’s voice came back on the phone.

“I don’t know!”

“There he is!” she said from her car, spotting the dog going down the hillside. The dog had left the road through the bushes and had almost reached the valley.

“Yes, that is the dog!” I confirmed when I too managed to spot the dog on the hillside, but my friend, her husband, and a helper had already turned into the road going steep into the valley and had parked their Maruti just before the next bend where that road vanished away into the fold of the hills. My friend and her helper were there on the hillside, trying to assure and pacify the dog so as to catch him, but he was trying to evade them. Seeing them from the road on top I marveled at how she was sure footed and at ease on the rugged hillside even in a sari and possibly a chappal — testament to having been born and brought up in this region, at home with the terrain and having been on many other such rescue operations. I walked back home relieved that much more competent people were now handling the matter.

Later in the evening my friend rang up to give me an update.

“We were unable to get hold of the dog. He was so scared he just wouldn’t let anyone come near. We have given the villagers in the valley our phone number and asked them to contact us when the dog gives up out of tiredness.”

I was so disappointed to hear that. I wished my friend’s team had, like hunters, arrows dipped in drugs to shoot into the dog and sedate him, so that they could rescue him. Most of all I felt sorry — if only the dog had been able to let go of its fear for a few moments, for right there, just beside its fear stood a much happier healthier life where not only would that horrid muzzle have been removed, it would have received relief and treatment for whatever other ailments his skin and body was ravaged by, and he probably might not have had to scavenge for food anymore, because Dr. Shubhageetha would have found someone to adopt it. That night I went to sleep imagining the dog dying in some dark depth of the valley, weakened by being unable to eat, and still convinced that he is all alone in this world.

What finally happened to the dog I do not know, but this is for sure — this incident remains alive in me as a vivid reminder of how we can be so trapped in fear, while right beside us a happy life and a solution for our struggles might be standing, trying so very hard to reach out and help us. Something so very beautiful and exactly what we need for our well-being might be ready for us, but we, blinded by fear are just not able receive it.

Even in the presence of fear, it is so crucial and liberating to stop a moment and look around with some tiny degree of faith, softness and receptivity. There just might be an alternative available. There often is.

How My Mother Gave Us An Education

Once again she was there at 8 a.m., outside the principal’s office. The principal, a Jesuit father, walked in at 8:15 a.m. She waited for 15 mins, giving him a chance to settle down, and then, with a gentle knock on the swinging panes of the door – “May I come in Father?”

This is the way it was, almost every day, for two months. Again and again she was there, first thing in the morning, even before the principal arrived. Again and again, the same cordial conversation ensued —

“Good morning Father. My son needs admission in your school. Please admit him.”

“Why do you keep coming here? This is the middle of the term. We have no vacancies.”

“This is the only good school for boys I know of father. My brother studied here. My husband studied here. My son too was studying at St. Xavier’s Jaipur. We have come to Calcutta in the middle of the academic term. Only you can continue his education. This is the only school I know of.”

Sometimes she would add, “I have come again to check in case any vacancy has opened up. In case any boy’s father got transferred…”

Finally, after two months of my mother’s persistence, my eldest brother got admission in Class 5, in St. Xavier’s Calcutta. Had a vacancy opened up? Did the school squeeze one more boy onto its rolls? We don’t know. Yes, my mother’s persistence to be there every morning paid off. This was in 1975.

My father, a self-made man, was totally immersed in establishing his fledgling practice as an advocate at the Calcutta High Court. Often he would return home at 11 p.m. after attending conferences at his senior’s chamber. My mother would wash the one white terri-cotton trousers and shirt he owned, and hang it to dry. The next day in the morning she would iron it and my father would be ready for the gruel of another day. Those days my parents did not know whether they would earn enough to pay the rent at the end of the month. Somehow, month after month, things kept falling in place.

Naturally, it fell on my mother to attend to everything else — home, food, the health and education of the children, errands to the bank, and much else. With her eldest son now in St. Xavier’s, her second son got admission there easily. So that was done.

The initial years of my second brother’s education posed a different kind of challenge for my mother. He had got infantile jaundice a couple of times and had a weak constitution. Thus, he missed long stretches of school. Often, he would be unable to keep pace with what the class was learning. Long before the techniques of Montessori came into the country, my mother had to find organic ways so that he learned how to read Hindi without committing the alphabets to memory, and understood basic arithmetic operations like subtraction that flummoxed him for some time in cute and amusing ways. “Look! I brought back so much money today!” he had said one day on returning from school. He had gone to school with only one note as pocket money, but had returned triumphant with so many coins that the toffee vendor had given him.

With me, her daughter, Mom once again found herself going through the same ordeal — of securing a good education in the middle of the academic year. Only this time, the reason was different, and the duration of the ordeal was longer. Her determination was just the same.

For some reason, even after several months, I was not comfortable in the school I was going to. I used to cry every day. Suddenly one day she took me out of that school — not due to my crying though — it was the school bus and how the school authorities managed it. Many times they dropped me home rather late in the evening. That day things went too far for her comfort, or for any parents’ for that matter. Apparently there was some tiff going on between the bus drivers and the school management. The drivers refused to drive. It was a stalemate situation. The children kept waiting around. Matters kept hanging, the school filled with listless children.

Finally Mom came looking for me. It must have been six or even seven in the evening by now. She had not received any call from the school, and repeated attempts to contact them had failed. All their phones were busy. It was the age of only landlines. No mobiles. No WhatsApp broadcasts. After waiting several hours for the school bus to arrive with her daughter, after having been visited by all the distressing thoughts she could have been visited by, finally the only option was to catch a taxi and come to the school in person.

Fortunately she found me sitting on the curb in the school premises, not too distraught. Clearly she could not have sent her daughter to this place again.

So half-way enlightened through Class 1, I was school-less. Thus began a new spate of visits to school principals of every girls school in the city, my mother dragging me behind her, entreating each principal in as cordial a manner as she could, and the harrowed and over-worked principal shooing her away, sometimes even insulting her.

I do not remember my childhood vividly, but as snapshots. The remaining impressions of childhood have been reconstructed in my mind by the free conversations and sharing-as-friends that happen with my mother now. That scene is from my own childhood recollections — knee-high-to-a-grasshopper, I could see only their saarees as they stood talking, and the cutting tone of a principal’s voice shooing my mother away, that I distinctly remember.

My father’s friend told us about a school in Park Street that we did not know of. Mom thought, “Fine, let’s try this one too,” and so we went. It was a breeze. I got admission. The principal and my mom decided that I might as well start attending classes right away, so I did. Was it after fifteen minute, or two hours, I don’t know – the next thing I remember, my mother suddenly pulled me out of the class angrily and took me back home.

Turns out, as mom now tells me, she had decided to wait in the school itself and take me back home. While she was waiting, she suddenly saw two teachers fighting bitterly, flinging insults at each other. She got up immediately, walked into my classroom, and pulled me out of the place – for she would not have her daughter study in a place where the teachers behaved with each other in this manner.

It hardly mattered to me, whether I sat in the class or not, whether I went to any school or not. I didn’t know I was missing out on being educated. I was not tormented. I was perfectly at peace. The torment, mental and physical, was my mother’s alone. Despite the challenges, her standards did not flag. She knew well enough what kind of an environment she wished me to be in.

Finally my mother decided to enlist her partner into the project. “She is your daughter too. This time you take her,” Mom said to Dad one day. A small advertisement had come in the personal column of the newspaper that La Martiniere for Girls is conducting exams for a few vacancies in Class 2. So there we were, standing in yet another school corridor – only, this time it was my Dad and me. It is another distinct childhood snapshot – standing beside his legs, I look up and see his belly. His face, like the apex of a tree seen from the roots, is further up, and I am wondering, “Does he even know what is to be done in a school?” As far as I could see, my father had no experience in such matters.

I sat in a room with many other girls, answering simple questions on cyclostyled sheets with pictures beside them. I got admission. That was the beginning of a wonderful ten years of primary school education that has played a crucial role in making me what I am today. My mother continued to be with me every step of the way – not interfering much with my studies, but keeping herself informed about each exam, attending each parent-teacher’s meeting, and, best of all, learning all the teenage girls’ slang and speaking our lingo. My friends would say, “Your mother is so cool!”

She sure is.

She Knew My Language

For the Charlotte chapter of my life, God gifted me Jane Frazier. He put her in the parking lot, for me to discover her there. Something had prompted me to go and talk to her that afternoon when the local churches had got together to give furniture to international students like myself, who had come from around the globe with just two packed suitcases filled with clothes, books and food and moved into stark empty apartments. Jane was not a student. She was Academic Dean at a school in Charlotte and also taught Latin there. That afternoon, she had come to lend a hand in the church’s very kind work, which makes it so much more easier for international students to start off life in a new land. From our first conversation, there was a sense of ease which converted into a silken friendship.

The time I spent with Jane, remains in me as a garland of cherished moments that fill my being with quietude and is testament to how utterly graceful, divine and serendipitous some gifts of life can be. We were never short of topics to talk about, some of them were rather intense, even then, the residual impact of our conversations was always the same – quietude. In our first meeting on the parking lot, within seconds, Jane was telling me how a U.S. president (I don’t remember which one) chose to invest big time in highways rather than railroads, and now USA is one of the biggest guzzlers of petroleum on the globe. In the second meeting I told her of the seven vows of the Hindu marriage and that the last vow is, “We shall be best friends to each other.”

“Are your parents best friends to each other?” she asked.

Within seconds, she withdrew her question, “Sorry. Maybe it was not proper of me to ask that.” She had read the dilemma on my face, for I did not know how to answer her.

Another time when she visited me, I was sharing with her, “There are only two primary emotions: fear and love.”

“Wow! Not even five minutes have passed since I have come. Our conversations get intense fast!”

Yes, it was that way. We spoke about intense stuff, but there was always a sense of ease, made all the more pleasant because of the points of our rendezvous. Panera Bread and Sue’s Garden were our favorite haunts.

Panera Bread is a chain of cafes in U.S.A. – not raucous like Café Coffee Day, and having a more genteel artistic aura than Starbucks, with instrumental music, mostly jazz, playing softly in the background, good art on the walls, colourful upholstery and a quiet atmosphere. Their salads are excellent too. I used to go there often, even by myself, and look at the cars zipping up and down North Tyron Street at the edge of the University of North Carolina Charlotte (UNCC) campus and the sky which went nowhere – it kept being vast, deep and of different hues. Once in Panera Bread, Jane showed me an album of her family, which she had compiled. It led our conversation to how each family itself has a unique personality of its own.

Sue’s Garden, our second favorite haunt, is the most beautiful open secret of the UNCC campus. A few students know about it because the path at its edge leads to their apartments, but hardly anyone goes inside the garden – after all, to just sit in a garden counts for no achievement at all.

The land given to Sue’s Garden is rather uneven, and so it has been landscaped in a rugged manner. One may even feel that it is not landscaped and has been left to its own designs, apart from the hut to sit in beside the pond at the center of the garden. It is not so. The whole garden is an exquisite balance of control by man and the wildness of nature, with its big trees and falling leaves, different kinds of flowers that are changed as per season, a sundial, a few small bridges of the creek and pathways and benches through it all. We would meet, Jane and I, in Sue’s Garden, and then I do not remember what we would talk of – for the quietude would be so much more explicit there.

One incident I do recall. I had a box of blackberries with me – luscious pods packed together that burst into instant energy giving juice in the mouth. As we were sitting on the bench, I asked Jane to help herself to some, but she was politely hesitant at first. So I gave her a quick education on the Indian system of friendship, which is hardly a friendship unless we pounce and gobble up friend’s food – to hoot with niceties such as fair share. She learned fast and soon between us, the blackberries were over.

Jane attends an event in Asheville every year, which has a wonderful name – Bon Clarken. It means good vision. It is a small women-only spiritual retreat held right when the apples are freshly picked from the trees, filling up garages that become impromptu stores. One year, she took me along – two days of peace and beauty born of the grounded simplicity of how the events were organized and by the quiet participation of the trees and mountains in the bonding and sharing between us ladies.

“I dreamt that you know Hindi, only you are not telling me,” I declared to Jane after a yummy afternoon siesta at Bon Clarken, and then she showed me how she has been trying to draw a heron but it does not look like a heron. You see, I was right. She knew my language – the language of resonant frequencies, the language that existed before any words or herons were born.

After a lot of ifs and buts lasting over several months, I finally decided to drop out of the PhD I was pursuing at UNCC. When Jane got to know, she gently asked, “Would you like to come over and talk about it?” It is one of the more beautiful questions I have heard. If I had said no, she would not have taken it personally. It was a gentle invitation, not demanding, knowing that the decision must not have been easy and I must still be reeling under its practical and emotional impact. It is one of the best ways to help a friend during testing times, to ask, “Would you like to talk about it?” and then leave it at that.

As the Charlotte chapter of my life approached completion, Jane authored a beautiful night – dinner of juicy pineapples and baked sweet potato chips with her husband and daughter, followed by a bonfire under the dense dark skies outside her home – the original way for friends to share the timeless beauty of the universe, vast and still, independent of time and decisions. Then she sent me off on the river. Her farewell gift to me – a kayaking trip down the river, sometimes stopping at sand banks, sometimes watching herons and turtles at the edge of the serene waters as we paddled – for memories do not take up space when we are packing up.

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The Snail and The Tortoise

After much deliberation, she decided which of the fancy paper clips I should have, and which she will keep for herself. So I got the snail, tortoise, airplane and duck, and my niece gave herself four other somethings.

Seeing the snail and the tortoise sitting beside each other, this question popped up in my head. I immediately asked her, “If there is a race between the snail and the tortoise, who will win?”

“Well… if the snail rests in between, and the tortoise keeps at it, the tortoise will win,” she said at first.

After a few imperceptible moments, she loud-thought further, with a brightness in her voice, “But the tortoise has already won once before. It might think, ‘I have already won with the hare’, and if it thinks that way, तब तो बस हो गया,” (then it is done for).

What a happy discovery it was for me! A seemingly complex notion like complacency came so naturally to her.

My niece is nine years old, in class four. I normally see adults around her teaching her this, that, and the other — matters of wisdom, discipline and shoulds. Methinks however, that a person is always a completely formed person. Even as a newborn when she does not know any of the words or math that humans have conjured, when she is just a slumbering poo-poo pee-pee machine, she already holds all the wisdom within her. This is the case not just for आजकल के बच्चे, but has always been so, with children of any generation — and will ever be, even when a person is seemingly lost in Alzheimer’s and dementia.

When I Marry, My Forgotten Friend Will Do My Makeup

I don’t know if I have forgotten her. If I had, I wouldn’t be writing about her. There is such contradiction inherent in Cheryl Strayed’s writing prompt ‘Write about someone you forgot’ that it is capable of causing nuclear fusion.

She was a practicing lawyer in Pakistan. Now in USA, she managed her toddlers full-time, while running a one-woman beauty parlour at home on the side. Her husband was a cab driver (I think. I forgot, remember?).

Practicing law in USA was not an option. She would have to learn everything anew, the laws and regulations of USA, take a brand new set of exams, acquire new certifications… acquire citizenship first, I presume. It’s quite likely that she and her husband did not have US citizenship yet.

I used to go to her to get my ‘eyebrows done’. She was clearly still an apprentice at this newly adopted craft. It used to hurt somewhat when she used to do my eyebrows. It hurt much lesser than at a threading service at the Charlotte mall. It hurt much more than with the lady I go to here in Kolkata.

It is an ancient tradition of mankind that a lot of light-hearted, open sharing occurs at barber’s shops and beauty parlours (salons) across the world. This tradition is probably more ancient than Sanaatan Dharma, hailing right from when the first monkey picked and snacked at lice from the second monkey under the fuzzy love of the winter sun. So that is how I got to know of my forgotten friend’s past life as a lawyer.

“Wow! What a contrast! A lawyer and a beautician… The choices people make”, I thought. I never asked why she and her husband made that choice, why they left their good life in Pakistan with a large family of multiple relatives and had come to USA. There must have been a compelling reason. I wasn’t interested. I was engrossed in deeper questions such as, to do or not to do (PhD in Computer Science).

“Should I bleach this hair?” she asked, referring to the copious hair growing on my cheeks.

“No thanks. I am fine with it”, I answered.

“It doesn’t look good.”

“Whatever. I don’t really care.”

Every beautician at every beauty parlour I have been to, has ardently advised that I do something about the hair on my cheek.

“Ok fine. I’ll get it done when I get married”, I finally quipped.

So we laughed and made plans and pacts. It was decided that she will do my make up when I get married. I promised that I will send her plane tickets so she can come honor her end of the pact. We did not go into the complications of visas and warring nations. It was implicitly decided that the world would have gotten over such silliness by then.

So dear reader, that is one reason why I cannot marry – because I have forgotten my friend. Or maybe I haven’t. Maybe I am already married.

My Niece Unlimited

A conversation transpired with my niece recently. She was pulling at my swimming goggles.

“Don’t. It will break.”, I said.

“It’s elastic.”, she replied.

“It is rubber.”

“But it stretches.”

“Sure. But everything has a limit.”

“What is my limit?”, she asked.

“You would have to find that out.”
Then I added, “Actually you are infinite.”

“What do you mean by infinite?”

“Unlimited.”

“How is something unlimited?”

“When it has no beginning or end.”

“So I will not have an end?”

“No. You are unlimited.”

“So I will not go to heaven?”

“Why not? Of course you will go to heaven. But you do not have to end to go to heaven. To go somewhere you just have to go there. To go to Bhopal you just go to Bhopal. You don’t have to end to go to Bhopal.”

“I didn’t know I am unlimited.”

“Now you know.”

“Then you too are unlimited.”

“Yes. Indeed I am.”


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Unnecessary Happiness

“I am a solidarity person”, she said. What a beautiful thing to say and be!

I had rung her up only because I needed to hug someone. When I am feeling “unnecessary happiness”, my natural way to express it is to hug someone. Normally my Mom is the recipient of these hugs. She is used to my quirks. I come smiling wide and hug her and she asks, “क्या हुआ?” (What happened?) and I reply grinning, “कुछ नहीं” (nothing happened) – which is true. I am just feeling happy, no reason. That is the definition of “unnecessary happiness”, a term coined by a friend. Just happy, no reason.

But this time Mom was sleeping. I felt like waking her up simply because I needed to hug someone, but I didn’t. I rang up Seeta.

Seeta is wise. We hadn’t spoken for long but that doesn’t matter. I knew if I rang her up and straight away said, “मैं तुमको hug कर रही हूँ” (I am hugging you), she would immediately receive it. And then I could simply say, “That’s it. और कुछ नहीं बोलना था” (That’s it. I have nothing else to say.) and I knew that would make perfect sense to her too. So that’s what I said.

Of course our conversation continued. We exchanged notes as we hadn’t spoken for long.

Seeta is also a person of love. We all are (people of love), but some people are just a bit more so. They are people who just know that we are all one.

Seeta works in the field of “human development”. She has worked for international agencies that fund projects for the deaf and dumb, for example. These days she is working for the UN in the area of human trafficking and immigration, helping frame policies in partnership with governments.

Seeta is also a person of solidarity who likes to give of herself in direct human action and touch, in places of strife – be it the Andamans torn by the tsunami or the Middle East torn by war.

When we know that we are One, however, it doesn’t matter what work we do. Whatever the area of work, the Unnecessary Happiness just flows.


Image credit: Tigger Hugs Pooh – Cartoon Bucket

An unusual friendship with a zinda-dil lady

There is a lady in Udupi who happened to be my maid there. We also happened to become friends. We used to go around together – she, her daughter and son (if he was in town) and I, sometimes to the beach, or Venugopal temple, or Manipal Lake, or Domino’s Pizza. Piggybacking on my friendship with her I got to eat sumptuous meals in temples at a lady’s god bharaai (baby shower), or when a respected man of the locality passed away – events that otherwise I would have had no inkling of.

When I was packing up from Udupi-Manipal, Bharti (my friend) asked for my fridge, so I gave it to her. We are still in touch over phone, for which the credit goes largely to Bharti. We were talking on New Year’s eve and she related – her son had been saying, ‘If Vani Aunty was here we could have gone out somewhere.’ (my car being the advantage) and her daughter pitched in, ‘We wouldn’t have the fridge then!’

I burst out in laughter when I heard this. Bharti’s daughter is such a straight-speaking darling and Bharti is a lady of such gumption! Her husband committed suicide so now she is a single mother, who lives by working as a maid in several homes and by cooking the mid-day meal at a school.

“I cannot bear physical pain”, she says “but finances don’t trouble me. I know I will manage somehow.” This I have seen first-hand – her fantastic ability to manage her finances. She was building a pakka bricks and cement home for herself to replace her mud house and for this she took sundry loans from the various households she works for, in addition to some loan from the bank. As construction progressed, she had complete clarity of things without the aid of any pen or paper – expenses incurred, expenses to be incurred, loan amounts repaid, still to be repaid – everything – with no mistakes, no confusions at all! As I used to watch her loud think her calculations I used to marvel, ‘wow! Pa would love to see this’. “You should always have a decent ballpark idea about your finances without having to look at records”, my Dad says. Dad asks only for a ballpark idea, Bharti had it down to the rupee, all in her head.

“I need to build my house, I need some money please” (or its my daughter’s wedding, or someone needs medical treatment, or whatever) – when domestic help asks for financial support there is invariably a beseeching in their voice and expression, a deen bhaav. Not so with Bharti. She just stated to me, “You give me three thousand rupees.”

To save on transportation costs she asked me for help to get cement and floor tiles in my car. Some cement powder fell and soiled the back seat. Had it been someone else, with remorse painted on the person’s face the person would have ardently apologized, “Oh! I am so sorry!” Friends had helped me with their car when I was in US and I would have had that same remorseful pitiful demeanor and self-consciousness if I had spilt something in their car. Not so with Bharti. What a wonderful literal demonstration of ‘don’t cry over spilt milk’ – she laughed out and said, “aap bhee kyaa yaad rakheinge – Bharti kaa cement meree gaadee mein giraa thaa” (One more sweet quirky memory for you to have – Bharti’s spilt cement in my car). That was so refreshing! The very natural self-worth and total absence of being pitiful.

When her husband passed away her in-laws made every effort to push her out of the house (that is her side of the story) but she stuck her ground and even got the police to intervene for her rights. Now she lives independently in a small house adjacent to her in-laws’ house and continues to maintain complete relationship with her in-laws and their extended family – be it daily interactions or festive occasions. All this when she does not even belong to that region natively. She is a Maharashtrian whom her Kannadiga Tulu speaking husband had wooed to come to Udupi. She taught herself Kannada and Tulu from scratch and made herself blend seamlessly in the local culture and customs. The pleasure of having someone to converse with in Hindi is one of the basis of our friendship.

She talks wistfully of her childhood in her village near Bombay and speaks of visiting Bombay and her village someday. Ever since her marriage, she has not gone back even once and it seems to me that maybe she never will.