[Continued from Cindered Dreams (IV)]
During that night, she told me that when the worst of her misfortune broke upon her unprepared head, she found solace and succor from an unexpected source. In her neighborhood, there lived a retired primary school teacher. All the neighborhood children gathered around her every evening to study. Holiday and Sunday mornings, she narrated to them stories she had written herself.
Through these stories the children imbibed the values and principles which were the corner-stones of her life. Without seeming to, she taught them about truth, justice and fairness. She related stories of conflict in which the protagonist was guided by compassion and conducted himself with integrity self-respect and pride.
She never charged for her time and effort. The parents of the children knew money couldn’t pay for what she did. She never had to worry about her needs. One way or another, without making a song and dance about it, there were taken care of. It was an unspoken commitment in the neighborhood. The children automatically left their parent’s financial status with their shoes outside her door and sat on uniformly tattered mats on the floor.
She lived for over twenty years in that neighborhood. The lives she had touched, the pain she had eased, the spirits she had lightened with her touch must have run into hundreds if not thousands. She was the string that held the pearls of the neighborhood together. The children grew up and scattered all over the world but they kept in touch with her- and with each other. Deep bonds were built in her humble rooms, bonds that endured the strain of distances and fortunes. Her home was a gurukul and a shrine. All the kids called her Nani (maternal grandmother).
She was a strict woman. By today’s standards she would be called a martinet and an ogre. Her sharp tongue never bothered the children. They brought their little troubles to her and accepted her advice with an open heart. Her inherent kindness and empathy always shone through from under her tough demeanor. They trusted her instinctively. They knew she might scold them roundly for their mistakes but that she would always help them- no matter what. Like all other children, Anu too had formed a part of that devoted cluster around the kindly old lady many a lonely evening. When Anu’s mother passed away it was Nani who had helped Anu deal with her loss. It was Nani to whom Anu ran when her father would lie in helpless stupor, the drug raging in his body, dulling his mind but not his tongue and hands.
Anu’s father had brought her to the hospital ostensibly for a free eye examination. There they had drugged her into unconsciousness. When she woke up, she found herself in a hospital bed, her eyes bandaged. She found out later that her father had been paid before the surgery began. He had run with the money intending never to return for his daughter. The same evening he was murdered.
It was Nani who took Anu under her wing that evening when Anu regained consciousness after the surgery. She visited Anu every day. It was Nani who fabricated a cock and bull story to explain her sudden surgery so that she would not upset herself or cry while her eyes were yet to heal. It was Nani who read stories out to her and kept her company in the hospital. The day Anu’s bandages were removed, Nani told her the whole story. Nani’s arms held her grief-racked body through that night, their tears mingling.
When Anu was released from the hospital next day, Nani took her to her own home. Anu never knew how Nani managed the additional financial burden upon her; it was never spoken of between them. Nani would never permit the topic to be raised. Anu suspected that Nani sold the few pieces of gold she had to supplement the help the rest of the neighborhood extended. There was no school for the blind in our little town those days, but Nani wrote to her students all over the world to ask for help. Soon, Braille books arrived. Nani learned Braille herself and then taught Anu. Nani’s patience and perseverance ensured that Anu graduated with honors in English Literature.
A month after Anu graduated, she got a job teaching Braille to the child of a well-to-do couple. When I met her she was teaching four such kids. Nani had passed away two months ago in a sudden heart-failure. Although Anu was deeply sad, Nani’s teaching did not let her wallow in despair. She carried on with her life in a way that would have made Nani immensely proud of her.
There are many things about Anu’s story which anyone would find gripping and inspiring. I am no exception. I realized that although I would never meet her and know her in person, Nani would still impact my life in a major way. Truly, when they said the fragrance of your actions will be experienced even by generations far removed from you, they spoke the truth. Through Anu, I felt Nani’s presence with me. I experienced the wisdom of her thoughts and the serenity of her spirit. I felt wrapped in the generosity of her bountiful heart. I felt blessed; I felt healed.
The thing that made the deepest impact on me was the knowledge that people such as Nani existed in the world..! To know that there could be a person like her, so straight, so generous, so… GOOD… was a balm to my wounded soul. To me the world was a hostile place, populated with ferocious and ruthless predators; the kind who did not hesitate even to devour their own children.
In the midst of the most terrible betrayal a human being can experience, there was Nani..! It was a contrast my mind couldn’t encompass. The thought that a woman like her had walked the earth at one time brought indescribable solace to my heart. She redeemed the world in my eyes. The feeling was so powerful that it broke my shell and life poured in with her prodigious abundance. Simultaneously, the poison began to leak away from my heart and soul. I began to think it possible that some day I would be able to exorcise my demons and forgive the Pishachas… for what they did… and for what they should have done but didn’t. Gentle reader, I hope you have understood enough of my state of mind until that night to know what a life-changing thought it was for me. For the first time in years, I felt a mantle of warm sunshine enveloping my body. After many, many years I was faced with the possibility that some day I might actually be happy..! Can you imagine how overwhelmed I felt…?
My meeting with Anu was such a powerful stimulus, that within one week I walked away from my old life. Just up and went, carrying two changes of clothes and the clothes I stood up in. I also took Rs 5,000/ from my back account and decided to forget the rest of my fortune- which was considerable. I got a job with an ad agency as a copy-writer. I took up a tiny room close to my office whose rental I could afford. I woke up very early in the morning to meditate- something Anu had learned from Nani and had urged me to practice. In the evenings, I played cricket with the neighborhood kids. Sometimes, I even told them stories. Yeah, I am smiling as I write this. 🙂
At night I wrote. It had been years since I remembered my childhood ambition to be a writer. I was working on my first novel. I met Anu on Sundays. Sometimes we took a bus to travel all the way back to the park where we’d first met. I knew meeting her was like getting my batteries recharged. She knew that also, and so she always made time for me. On one such meeting she told me about HER dream.
She wanted to open a school for the blind.
To be continued…