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Kindness Begets Kindness

Kindness Begets Kindness

8 mins 502 8 mins 502

Sharp at 9 am he clicks his boots, raises a salute, opens the car door wide for his employer to get inside. He greets his employer first “Good Morning Sir!” and once he is seated and belted, Jaibhagwan shuts the Jaguar door gently, runs around to his place at the wheel of the Jaguar to drive Mr.Billimoria to his office in Dalhousie Square.

“How are you this morning son?” is the response he gets, without fail. Habits die hard, they say and that couldn’t be truer with Harshad Billimoria, former Chairman and largest shareholder of Bharat Coking Coal Limited. The drive from his home in Chowringhee Mansions to Dalhousie Square is a short ride, except during the monsoons with the streets waterlogged and consequent traffic bottlenecks. The cops in white are well equipped to handle such situations, an annual phenomenon. They too recognize Mr.Billimoria’s car and ensure he is not kept waiting.

He takes a daily update of Jaibhagwan’s son’s progress in the United States, doing his Ph.D. at MIT. Harshad all too well remembers the day Ganesh was born.  A dark night made darker with the prolonged load shedding, plunging the city of Kolkata into complete darkness, and opening the door to his driver’s frantic knocking, face crestfallen. “Sir, no taxis are willing to take us to Nilratan Sarkar hospital, at this hour. My wife has gone into labor pain, and her water bag has burst. Please Sir, can you let me take the car and reach her in time, or we may end up losing this child”.  Meena stood face contorted in a grimace of pain. Navaz his wife, took in the scene with concern. Both of them didn’t even bother to change their nightclothes. With Jaibhagwan and his wife, they piled into the car. Harshad drove like a maniac, just in time, for Meena to be wheeled into the labor room. And the long wait, before the nurse came out to the waiting room to announce Ganesh’s birth. Harshad and Navaz squealed in delight, as though their son was born. They had missed the joy of being parents, and with Ganesh’s arrival, it seemed like their wishes were fulfilled. Boxes of sweets were sent to every home in celebration. Residents of Chowringhee Mansions were overwhelmed with this gesture and understood the sentiments behind it. The couple was much loved and appreciated for their kindness, and philanthropic activities. 

Jaibhhagwan had no words to express his gratitude. “Sir please give your blessings to Ganesh. My wife and I have decided to give him a better life than us. I want him to study and rise above his father’s profession”. Harshad with tears in his eyes offered to take care of all expenses for Ganesh. “He is our son as much as yours Jai…dodon't ever forget that, OK?”. Ganesh was more seen in the Billimoria household than in his one-room flat in Narkeldanga Main Road. Once he was five, Navaz, did some string-pulling and got Ganesh admitted into St.Xavier’s school on Park Street. Looking dapper in his uniform, Harshad and Navroz approached Jai with a suggestion. “Jai I know your wife will not agree to what we have to say, but it makes no sense for little Ganesh to travel by public conveyance from Narkeldanga to Park Street every day to attend school. We feel it would be better for him to stay with us in our home on school days. Weekends and holidays, you can take him home…but first, check with Meena and seek her approval”.

Weekend over, Jaibhagwan arrived with Ganesh in tow, clutching onto his father’s right hand, brushed, scrubbed, looking all agog in anticipation of attending first school day. His left held the bag filled with regular clothes. “Madam…Meena and I are happy to leave him with you on school days. Saab and you are in our prayers always. We will never be able to repay you for this kindness over many cycles of rebirth”. “Shhh…Jai…you are doing us a favor of trusting your son with us. He will light up our barren lives five days a week and for that we can’t thank you enough”, matronly Navaz replied. 

Suddenly the Billimoria household was filled with sounds of laughter, running of little feet, shouting and piano playing once again. Navaz a pianist, once again resumed playing and teaching interested children to encourage Ganesh to do likewise. She has observed he had long tapering fingers and ear for music. Friends and neighbors felt happy for the elderly Parsi couple.

Ganesh loved both homes equally. He excelled in school, a rank holder in every class he moved up, securing 92% in Class XII exams. The Billimoria’s threw parties for the residents every time Ganesh achieved a new milestone in academics. They had already sent applications to various US universities for Ganesh’s continuing studies. He was interested in doing medicine. Never mind, if he was denied a scholarship, they had decided to fund his foreign education. After all, a student of his merit deserved the right opportunities, was their conviction. He was the light bulb in their home shining bright, amongst the fused bulbs in her womb. The light of life, the light that kept them in high spirits. And helped them move forward even as old age approached at a fast pace. 

Sifting through the mail, Harshad found what he had been hopeful of. Yes…Ganesh was granted admission as an undergrad student at MIT, basis his academic records, his extracurricular skills, having passed the 7th-grade exam in Piano from The Trinity School London, with Mother Navaz’s motivation and teaching lessons. Jaibhagwan, Meeena, Harshad and Nawaz with Ganesh, now a straggly lad of 17, went to Trincas restaurant in Park Street, for a meal. Jaibhagwan and Meena at first shied off from the invitation, till the Billimoria’s insisted this was what family was all about. And so, what if they lacked proper table manners and had never used cutlery for eating meals. This was a farewell dinner for Ganesh. 

Harshad and Navaz accompanied Ganesh to the US, to settle him down in a foreign country, in a foreign environment. Chowringhee Mansion residents felt as proud as the Billimoria’s seeing off Ganesh to pursue higher studies. Prayers were offered at the Zoroastrian Anjuman Atash Adaran Fire Temple, in Bou Bazar Street with great fanfare. The entire Pari community turned up to rejoice, ladies in their chiffon sarees with lace borders, dressed immaculately. Men in their silk skull caps, long muslin sudra, and girdle over loose cotton trousers. Harshad and Navaz were elated, as though they were celebrating the success of their own son.

Yes…the parents and foster parents felt his absence acutely. Harshad’s health took a turn for the worse. One of his kidneys had shut down, the effect of diabetics, diagnosed when he was in his early twenties. He was advised to stop the daily commute to the office and take rest. The doctors arranged for dialysis at his home, to avoid him catching any infection. Within four years, his good kidney stopped working. Panic set in with Jaibhagwan and Meena daily offering prayers at Kalighat temple for a miracle to happen. “Ma…please find a donor for him, don’t snatch away our God and Annadatta yet’.  Ma Kali seems to have heard their prayers. All the reports were sent to Ganesh to forward to a Kidney Specialist attached to Cleveland Clinic. They assured once a matching donor was available, they would be happy to take up his case. 

Ganesh already had done some background research based on his ongoing medical education. He requested the doctors to check out if he had the good fortune of donating one of his kidneys to Baba. Harshad had long since liked Ganesh calling him Baba and Navaz Ma. His parents were in the Pitaji, Ammaji, bracket. On the auspicious day of Dashami, he got back the reports confirming he was a suitable match. Dialing India country code and Baba’s number, he broke the news. It was payback time in a very small measure to what the Billimoria’s had done for him and his family. “No…I will not allow Ganesh to donate his kidney. He has his whole life before him. And what good would it do, except allow me a few more years? I would rather die in peace than see Ganesh going through this ordeal” Harshad vehemently objected.  Jaibhagwan and Meena fell at his feet pleading “Saab please go through this surgery. May be this is a godsend opportunity with Ganesh’s kidney matching yours…please, Saab, we have no objection to this decision Ganesh has taken independently. A decision his alone, so we have no right to go against it”.  With a great deal of persuasion, Harshad and Navaz left for Cleveland, accompanied by the doctor treating him in Kolkata.

Both Ganesh and Harshad were prepped up for the surgery and both lay holding hands across the two beds. Ganesh looking the happiest ever, Harshad weak but conscious enough to feel his heart swell with gratitude. The surgery lasted a couple of hours, while Navaz and her sister’s family living in New York, waited in the visitor’s lounge. The masked and gloved doctors came and announced, everything had gone in clockwise precision and both donor and recipient were doing well. Of course, Harshad had to remain in the hospital for a few weeks to ensure his body had accepted the kidney transplant. Three weeks into admission, Harshad was released with a clean chit and permitted to fly back to his home country. Ganesh had by then returned to the University to continue his education.

The Billimoria’s returned to their Chowringhee Mansion apartment with a huge crowd welcoming them home with banners, balloons, and amongst the crowd stood Jaibhagwan and Meena, with folded hands. Harshad went up to them and hugged each one, in turn, eyes brimming with tears. “Your son has given me a new lease on life. What can I say, but that the Gods above have tied our lives forever”?

Harshad lived for another ten years. Ganesh returned armed with his medical degree and started his own practice which Harshad helped him to set up in Loudon Street. But it doesn’t end there. Harshad had his lawyer prepare his living will, with Ganesh as the beneficiary of his assets, upon his and Navaz’s death. The lawyer was told to share this information only after their expiry. 

Just goes to show kindness begets kindness! 

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