Kindness is God’s way of telling you – “Hang on there! Hold on to that flame of hope and, trust me with all your faith. You are just a wee bit away from crossing that burning bridge!”
That year although was the beginning of my dream to fly, it did have more important reasons to be remembered for. Because that year was not just about finding my wings, but it was also more about the empty nest syndrome that hit my mother for the first of all times.
My parents have in a very amazing manner, balanced walking the tight rope of parenting. At any point of time, one of them would be as cool as a cucumber. However among the two, I remember my father having predominantly played the cool parent as compared to my anxious mum. But it all changed once my twelfth grade ended. Mum wanted me to go out of the state and study. Whereas, my dad who had helped me give countless entrance exams wanted me to stay within the known realms of the state. Finally, I joined a college in a place that was three hours from home and, it made all three of us happy, for different reasons though. Talking about Mum, she was prepared for the part, that I was leaving for college. However, she wasn’t prepared for the part that came later,“A home that was deafeningly silent”. In months that followed, I could sense her leaning towards depression. We couldn’t talk much during the first week as I was yet to have my first mobile. Standing in a queue to speak through the payphone was the only option and, given the fact that there were many like me, it was impossible to have a decent conversation. Yet, I managed to visit home once or twice a week. She was vocal about my absence and, I for one did not know what could ease her pain.
A few months passed. And one day, I got a call from her – “Hey! You know our neighbour’s daughter – Chutki. I am planning to teach her Maths.” Oh yes! I remembered my lovely neighbor Pinki Aunty’s beautiful daughter Aashka who is fondly called – Chutki, who was in class 7 then. The enthusiasm in my mum’s voice was the answer to her own pain. In that moment, I felt it was God’s way of showing the way. A couple of years later, she was teaching 5 – 6 children, a variety of subjects like Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and sometimes, History and Civics too. Having handled and mentored a difficult child like me, she was so much at ease handling and teaching the other kids in the neighborhood. She had found her happy place. But what made me more proud of her is the fact, she taught purely for fun and, not for money. When I asked her what made her take tuition for free, she narrated a beautiful incident from her childhood and, it has stayed with me forever.
This is as narrated to me by my mum:
“There are times when you are lost, when you are blinded, when you are overwhelmed by the feeling of having been left in a jungle blindfolded. And then, all of a sudden a stranger takes your hand and leads you the way from darkness to light. That stranger at that time, is God to you.”
“I studied in Muncipal school till class Seven. And you know how those schools are. Not much was taught. All play and no work was the deal. And then, when I reached class VIII, my father put me in Avinash Lingam School of Coimbatore. I was enthralled and at the same time scared when I saw the sprawling campus of my school that also had colleges pertaining to various disciplines. While I was still mesmerized by the ambiance of the new school, my father led me to the principal – Hema Prabha Maam. She looked at me in the eye, wished me and then said to my father, “She has to pass an entrance test. Only then I can confirm her admission.” The entrance exam contained questions of all subjects in English and, I came from Tamil medium with very little knowledge of the language. It felt as though I had landed in a foreign country. No, I did not know English well. And, I did not attend any question in any of the subjects. However, I did write a poem that I was taught in the earlier school. Later when I was inducted, I asked my father – “How did they take me in such a school when I did not even know a single answer to a question?” And he said, “Seems you did not leave the entire paper blank. You wrote some poem in your paper. What has impressed them is the fact that there wasn’t one grammatical error in that whole poem and that, your hand writing was beautiful. Anyways, you are in a good school now. Time to shine and make us proud!”
I adored my father and I missed him a lot. Mostly because he was in a job that demanded transfers once in two years. Hence, we (my mum and my three siblings) were stationed in Coimbatore whereas, he was moving around making tough adjustments in life to provide us with a good comfortable life. And so, I was determined that no matter what, I would not fail his expectations from me.
However, the first day at Avinash Lingam had already decided to challenge my verve. I reached my class and, I saw myself surrounded by girls who were taller and far stout than me. Yes, they were clearly intimidating as their body language said it aloud – “What is a girl from a Municipal school doing in our school?” And just as I thought about the way I was to get ragged, our class teacher Rajathi Maam appeared. She was the first kind soul I met in that school. She introduced me to the class and, vice Versa. There were occasional mumbles and jumbles that were laced with giggles. That day felt like being choked! I did not understand a thing! And, I felt like a misfit! Besides, the feeling of not being accepted in a place where you have just landed as a newbie is not a good feeling. A few days passed.
Since, I had joined a month late in the school, I was advised by Rajathi Maam to take down the missed notes from someone in the class. As I went about asking, I noticed that there were cliques in the class – the toppers, the sports players, the fashionistas and, the average ones. I did not fit in any of them as, I was as blank as a clean slate. As for the notes, I did not get much help as none that I asked was ready to lend. Many wouldn’t even speak. So, just as I felt that the new school is a big mistake and that, I was letting my father down, a long hand with some notebooks came forward. I looked up and saw a girl smiling at me. She said, “Hey! Take my notes. You can return them once you have copied them down.”
Her name was DP Usha Rani, the second kind soul in that class. I remember her vividly and, I remember the name. My happiness knew no bounds as I thanked her profusely and, promised her that I would return the notes ASAP. That whole night, I sat and copied the notes down. I returned the notes next day as I had promised. Later I learned, she was one of the few secluded toppers who was unaffected by cliques. And, she was my inspiration to learn. I wanted to become like her.
It took me three months of sheer hard work and determination to come within the top fifteen ranks in the first quarterly exam. And that determination sprung from the one and only fact that, someone in that class was kind enough to help me in the first week. I could not let that kindness down! When the results came, everyone including the teacher was surprised pleasantly. As for me, I was thankful to God for helping me in that hour of need through that kind soul – DP Usha Rani. Needless to say, not only did I earn respect, but a few good friends later.
Coming to Present……
Do you know why I am narrating this incident to you? When Chutki arrived for her tuition on the first day, I saw myself in her, a girl who needed help but was not getting it. She clearly felt lost just like I had, in the year 1969. And, it was like lending a ear and hand to a version of myself. And within a year, when she eased herself in tuitions, I discovered a very intelligent girl within, who preferred to reach the depth of a concept than, simply reading it for a test. With her, I felt more connected with myself when we went through the brainstorming sessions of understanding subjects like Math and Physics. And even though she is stark opposite to you, she reminded me of your school days too! It gives a great inner peace in helping someone especially when you realize you have been through a similar phase in life.”
As I look back, I realize how times have changed. Yes, in the schooling years, mum and I have had countless differences and arguments, given the fact that, I was a rebellious child. Today, we chat as siblings, shop together giggling over our idiosyncrasies and, watch every cookery show together. And, when she narrates about her childhood, I feel ecstatic about chronicling them. It is like taking a peek into the 1960s and, wondering how life was both easy and difficult in different ways as compared to the present. And yet, we have a lot to learn from the yester generation. And the one thing that I learned and, importantly what propelled me to write this post was – “Kindness is rewarding. Always.”