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October 31, 2012


I was not the strongest toddler to be enrolled in the kindergarten. The little urchin that I was, was hand held and taken for a trip, and I was quite amused by the unusual attire my mom had put on me. There was a white shirt, blue shorts and navy tubes into which my legs were ticklishly inserted. I learned later that they were called stockings. Then a black case was put on my baby feet and I did not like much of what would be later known to me as a shoe. To top it, she had a leash around my neck, like our cows had. I thought I was also being tied up to some pole like the cow. I discovered later that it was the neck tie! A little amused, a little puzzled and a little bewildered, I was soon back in cheer as my mom planted a kiss on my cheek. We went out, the school was a few hundred yards from home.

She dropped me in on the ground when we were inside the big blue gate and from what she had told me some days ago, I knew something like she leaving me there with other kids to play was on the cards. I clung to her saree, as a sober lady came towards us (Mrs. Winnie, my first teacher and mother of my close buddy Sherwin McGavin, and herself a good friend of mine now) and smiled at me. I was in no mood for all these pleasantries.

After some cajoling and tempting with toys, which I shall skip for the sake of brevity, I was left there and my mom left after a few more kisses and hugs. She must be cruel. Very bad mummy. I did not cry (see see, I am a strong boy) but did have a tear in my eye. Winnie Miss (!) told me something I do not remember, but must have been along the lines of asking me to come and play with other kids. I was grumpy and kept looking back towards where my mom went out of sight (I now know she did not go out but was behind a tree). And when this cheerlessness was on, a soft little hand grasped mine. I looked around and I found another little child like me. But this was different. This urchin had linger hair, and her dress looked different to what I wore. She showed all her teeth and smiled. I also gave a half smile. She spoke in Tamil, shall we play in the slide? I was happy someone spoke in Tamil. I looked around for mummy buy she was not there. Winnie miss was just smiling. Soon we were off and playing.

Fast forward 25 years. I am in academia and known to be knowledgeable and have had a reputation as a studious rank holder. I was never known to fail in academics and was known to solve calculus as a 10th standard boy. I was never known to be quiet and I was sometimes also known to be a little eccentric and vociferous. She on the other hand, was a very good student, but quiet and measured in her approach to anything, is an accomplished lady of few but almost always warm words. If I reveled in limelight - for the right and sometimes not so right reasons - she was the silent and reserved, humble in victory and gracious in defeat.

In between these two paragraphs, rests un-described, a quarter century of selfless service and fraternal love. What I had concealed so far, by choice, is the fact that I had eyes like those of an insect's and of Silas Marner, if you wish to pit it that way - short sighted or blessed with high myopia. I wore huge glasses those days, and that was reason enough for many a peer to label me “Soda buddy” and tease me. Coupled with Asthma, it ensured I was not let by teachers (upon the advice of my parents) to play on the ground like most others. Plus of course, I found it extremely difficult to follow the board and copy the notes from the board, despite the front bench arrangement. For some reason only the benevolent providence knows, she kept me company during the play times and most readily lent me her note books to copy. Not just for a year or two. From LKG to 10th standard – 10 long years! I used to spend my time mostly with books and in the library (now you know why I am how I am), and she kept company most of the time, most of the time bearing the ridicule of her own friends. She never thought twice before she lent her notes to me, just a day before the exams. We never had photocopiers back in the day, so I would have to hand copy the notes. She and I would sit and re-copy the notes in her home, as my mother and her mother happily watched us at work, while discussing something on their own. Sometimes, it meant she would score lesser than I did, but that did not deter her from helping me. She once said – “You are my brother and friend, so does it matter who scores the first rank? I do not care”. That sums it up.

I perhaps did not reflect much beyond a sense of strong friendship and gratitude those days in childhood but I now know I would not be what I am today if it were not for this little angel I met as a 3 year old. Friendships have come and gone in between. Few endured and prospered like this one.

That little girl who greeted me on the first day at school, is preparing her little boy now, to be sent to school in some days. This article is dedicated to her. I always wanted to write this, for a few years now, and only today could I materialize that wish.

I know she will read this article, I am not mentioning her name. It is enough she knows how grateful I am to all that she has given me and done for me with compassion and selfless affection. What can I do to return that kindness? What have I done to deserve such compassion and selfless, almost altruistic affection? I pray every day, for her well being. And perhaps in a future birth, I could be her mother and try to give a little of what she has given me in this birth.

She, Sherwin McGavin and Mohd. Kasim are three of my childhood friends who have been together from those days - through trials and triumphs! Love you all, my friends. Rather, siblings. God Bless you! I owe you a lot :)

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