We live in a small town, rather an overgrown village, about thirty kilometers away from a big city. Ours is not a modern house but an old one short in width but very long one with a porch at the entrance and a large vacant ground at the backyard. It was built during my husband’s grandfather’s time. We chose to live in this place since recently as my husband had large areas of land under cultivation here and in the adjacent villages. A lawyer by profession, my husband is not practicing much these days except to help old clients. My two sons who are in the city visit us with families during weekends off and on.
One summer night past 9 P.M when I was watching TV, I heard someone calling ’Amma’. I found an old man of about seventy five, frail and small built and certainly not looking well off from his tattered shirt and much worn out cheap chappals but had a smiling face belying his indigent circumstances.
With a soft and pleasant voice, he said “Sorry to trouble you at this late hour. I came to this place to return some amount I had taken as a loan to someone. I wished to hand over the money personally to him. That person came home only at 9 pm. The last bus to my place had left at 8-30 pm and the first bus is only in the early morning. I do not know anyone else here. Would you kindly allow me to sleep on the thinnai (raised platform) in the porch for the night. My relations with that person is a bit strained and there is no question of my seeking his help.”
As my husband had not returned from the city and was expected to stay overnight with my son, I hesitated for a moment. My six-year-old granddaughter Meera who had come to stay with me for the weekend said” Grand ma, please allow this thatha(grandfather) to sleep in the porch. Where else can he sleep in the night? He also looks tired and hungry.” This clinched the issue.
I gave him a mat, a pillow and a sheet to cover as mosquitoes are a menace here. Declining to have food, he accepted a glass of buttermilk when I insisted. I could hear his talking to Meera and her peals of laughter now and then. I could see a jovial personality within this frail man depressed possibly by financial worries. When I came out after some time to take my granddaughter inside, I asked him, “Do you have children?”
“Yes, I have a married son with children. He is working in Bangalore. My daughter in law is also employed in the government,” he said.
“Oh, oh, are you then living alone here?”
“It is a different story. Yes, my wife and myself are living here.Unfortunately, while boarding the bus, she fell down some years ago and ever since is unable to walk. She needs help even to take her to bathroom. Luckily one lady in the adjacent flat is very friendly and helpful whenever I go outside. After this accident my son and his wife have become distant and aloof. He used to send some money earlier before the accident whenever I asked. After the accident, I have stopped asking. I am getting some pension that is just adequate for us. I am thankful to god for keeping me physically fit and healthy to take care of my wife and manage my affairs without imposing on others,”
A thought crossed my mind. Financially not sound, advanced in age, a crippled wife, denied the affection and care of his only son in the twilight years, he was not beaten down but yet he counted his blessings instead of crying about his disappointments. He went up in my esteem by several notches. I wished him good night and went inside with my granddaughter Meera.
When I got up in the morning and went out to the porch with a cup of hot coffee, I found he had left. The mat and the sheet were neatly folded and kept over the pillow. When I lifted them to carry inside, I found a small paper neatly folded and on opening a fifty-rupee note fell down. He had scribbled in pencil “To dear Meera, with love, Thatha.”
What a magnanimous man, I thought even as my eyes became moist. It set me thinking that bigheartedness is not necessarily the preserve of the wealthy and that a lofty spirit can exist even with people in poor circumstances. I could not stop the tears flowing from my eyes even as his smiling face in slight frame lingered in my mind.