Just The Way They Are!
Just The Way They Are!
I never admired her for insisting on carrying that huge “Milton” water pot on our picnics or outstation trips. As she packed the food into steel food boxes and placed them in a basket along with the steel spoons, one for each member along with a small pouch of neatly packed washing powder and a kitchen napkin, Amma (Telugu for mother)was always aware of my reaction and gently smiled at my irritation. I and Anna (Telugu for elder brother) contrasted our activities on such journeys with that of our co-passengers. While we washed our tiffin boxes with the washing powder and dried them with our napkin, we saw others use and throw their food containers and water bottles and also use tissue paper generously. We, in our indomitable team spirit, characteristically reserved by siblings for situations antagonizing parents, deliberated thoroughly on the SOPs followed at our home versus other known households. With certainty, we concluded that our parents were the most miserly beings on the planet!
Nannagaru (that’s how, I and my brother and many Telugu speaking people address their father) and Amma both were early risers. The windows of our home would anyhow be open through day and night but as soon as he woke up, Nannagaru threw the door wide open, put the fan off and set the nature to ring its alarm to us. I believed not just the milkman and the newspaper boy, but even the chirping birds co-conspired with Nannagaru. And at the first break of light, he would immediately put off the lights (the minimum numbers they would put on).
While our neighbors had bikes and scooters and a few also had cars, my father always used to bicycle 10 Km one way to reach his office, which was according to him “pakkane” (just next door in Telugu). While the rickshaws into which kids were packed tightly, tugged ahead lazily, emitting smoke and sound in a clear inverse proportion to the speed and comfort offered, Nannagaru walked us to school. He did so every single day until he gained confidence that we would use the footpaths and could cross roads carefully. On the way, we would stop to collect some eucalyptus caps or touch the silky worms or the touch-me-not plants. An avid reader with an excellent sense of humour, Nannagaru told us stories and we loved those laughter-filled morning walks. We looked forward to going to school every day, more so for the company of Nannagaru.
On weekends, we went out to the temple or the museum or simply around some park or the lake. Sometimes we would walk long distances to get into the right bus and would also change buses to reach there and back home. Autos were available in plenty but somehow our parents loved walking and we learned to enjoy it. Never did they mention conserving the planet or the importance of the environment or saving electricity or water and stuff like simple living, loving nature, and natural ways, etc., it was simply the way of living!
As years went by, Nannagaru got several promotions and an office vehicle would sometimes come to pick him, we started traveling by flight instead of train and occasionally we also used the taxi and the auto instead of the city bus. Even at home, an AC and a cooler has been added, to be used for a couple of hours during the peak of the scorching summers of Hyderabad.
Let me fast forward this scenario to 30 years ahead and into a day in the recent past. As I walked in to give my parents a surprise visit, I was myself surprised to see a few kids of ages maybe around 2-6 years, in dirty clothes and blown out dry red hair and muddy but bright shining faces seated in a neat line in the verandah. As they were munching on popcorn, Amma walked out with a tray full of glasses of lemonades and barely noticed me. A young lady in an old but clean saree walked out with a young freshly scrub lad. Amma picked one suitable pair of clothes from the pile laid out on the chair and also passed a bottle of hair oil and a comb. Amma always loved the market at Borivili station (Mumbai) and whenever she came to visit me at Mumbai, she would buy these children’s clothes in varying sizes, she said it was for the maid’s kids, for the dhobi’s grandchildren, etc. Now I saw the spoils of her shopping trips being gainfully utilized! Done with the first boy, the young lady led the second one to the bathroom. Now it was his turn to shine.
Apparently some drainage related repairing work was going on in the neighborhood and amma volunteered to babysit the young children who accompanied the female laborers. She got one of the mothers to come home and bathe the kids, she instructed her “neellu vaadu, vridha cheyyaku”( use the water but don’t waste any). She also has a library of “Chandamama” ( a children's monthly magazine of our childhood) from which she read out the stories and after each story she never forgot to inspire the children, saying that they could read “Chandamama” for themselves if they went to school.
She was pleasantly surprised by my visit and passed some popcorn for me. As I looked for Nannagaru, I found him slowly climbing down the stairs. He was apparently on the roof and what could be the purpose? Since the rains are expected, he cleaned up the roof and connected a pipe to the underground water tank from the roofs drainage, so that the clean rainwater doesn’t go waste! As he told me and pointed out to the water tank, I noticed the old Milton water pot, a glass and a thermal flask and a cup set sitting on the compound wall. Nannagaru saw what I was seeing and said, “oh that! Its water and chai kept for those people working out there. Amma was feeling tired to serve, so she asked them to serve themselves”.
My heart was swelling with pride at the sight of these ordinary and feeble looking but mighty and special septuagenarians. If I would tell them how I felt, they would ask me : “Why? We have never done anything special in our life”. They never thought they were doing something good or special, or never expected any fame or appreciation! It was just the way they were and could be!
As I walked into the house, I was compelled by the cute baby voice to turn back and hear a verse being recited by one of the little boys. “Purushulandu punya purushulu veraya vishwadabhi rama vinuravema” he quickly completed! I wondered whether he was completing the verse or my thought! And how appropriate was the timing! The verse is from a famous set called “Vemana Shatakam” and meant that though Salt and camphor looked alike they taste different and similarly good people are ordinary-looking but different!