|Image courtesy: Google|
My balcony overlooks a small hut built (illegally) on an empty plot of land by a family of migrant labourers from north Karnataka. A couple lives there with their five year old son. The man works as a construction labourer and the woman works in a few houses as a maid. Their son, a really naughty brat picks up fights with stray dogs and roams around in dirty clothes, has dirty brown hair, a leaky nose and dirty nails. They grow their own vegetables in the plot of land, pilfer water and electricity from neighbouring houses and sneak out of their house before sunrise to squat by the roadside to flush out their bowels.
We have been neighbours for the past 4 years but hardly spoke to each other until recently, there being no common language for communication and my urban conditioning raising suspicions about them being thieves or worse, frequenting my house asking for favours. But soon, the lady of the house started giving me an occasional nod and smile and so gradually I started returning them too.
As I had feared, the little boy, comforted by the presumption that his mother and I had become “friends”, frequented my house every day. He was barely three and knew neither his mother tongue nor English; a blank canvas where I could freely paint. I taught him some songs and rhymes that he seemed to enjoy, numbers, names of things and so on. He would wait for me to return from work and just barge into my house, unrestricted by the codes of conduct that I was bound by right from my childhood.
Last year, much to my surprise, his mother told me that she had enrolled him in the local school (by then we had begun conversing in short sentences, thanks to my improving Kannada). I was really happy to see him in clean clothes, well groomed, eagerly walking to school. He came home every day and told me what all he had learnt. I could see the unmistakable glint of pride in his parents’ faces when he recited “1 to 100” or “One, two, buckle my shoe”. One day, with a liberal dose of cajoling and persuasion from the boy, I accepted his invitation to their home. They were celebrating Durga Puja and wanted to do so with their son’s “first teacher”.
I was totally flattered by the love and respect I got from the entire family. Since there was enough space for only two adults to be in the house simultaneously, the boy’s mother called me in, spread out a clean mat and served hot rice, lentils and tasty sweets that she had painstakingly made with the limited facilities (a crude grinding stone and a firewood stove was all she had) while the extended family waited outside, by the road. I cannot describe in words what I felt that day, for it was a cocktail of humility, embarrassment, gratitude, happiness, sadness and surprise.
It did not end there. They had arranged clean drinking water just for me and the lady of the house gifted me with an extra helping of fruits, sweets and snacks to take home for my husband and mother. I was deeply moved by their hospitality and generosity. They could hardly afford to feed their son with fruits and sweets but felt it necessary to treat me well. I drowned in a surge of emotions. This incident was so touching; it will remain in my memory forever.
I learnt a great lesson in hospitality and reciprocated the love by sharing sweets and gifts during Diwali. I realized that to be blessed with plenty and then share the extras is one thing, but to share one’s meal when the next meal itself is doubtful is another, that requires a really kind heart.
This post was written as part of the Ultimate blog challenge and the Write Tribe Pro Blogger Challenge