A couple of weeks ago I made this nostalgic trip to Al Khaleej Centre. Nostalgic because it brought back memories (note that I’ve skipped the adjective) of my home country – the all-pervading bureaucracy, the mile long queues, the endless waiting game…you name it. I could have wept!
All I wanted was to submit my pint-sized passport for renewal – which I somehow assumed was a half-an-hour job – and I ended up spending most of my afternoon inside the sacred glass walls of BSL. I completed the inhumanly long paperwork, took the required number of photocopies of the required number of documents and subjected myself to being passport-photographed complete with my ears showing as was mandated.
And finally reached the counter.
“An hour at least,” reassured the nice young lady who relieved me of my sheaf of papers. Having watched worthier people ahead of me in the queue going to pieces, I decided to muster as much grace as I could and accept the inevitable… and joined the sitters on metal chairs in front of the counters.
“That was quick!” quipped a young lady sitting next to me. Quick was not how I would have described it, but then she seemed to have been sitting there from much earlier, so to her my arrival to the final queue must have seemed quick.
She was pretty, with light eyes and a lovely smile. Spoke well too, and had a great sense of humour, which meant that we ended up talking quite a lot. She was from Tamil Nadu, and I never never let go of a chance to flaunt my Tamil. She was generous enough to reassure me that my Tamil was as Tamil as it was supposed to be, unlike usual Keralites. “You can tell they are from Kerala when they speak in Tamil, you know,” she said with a smile.
I gloated inwardly.
It was only after we shared a large chunk of our lives with each other that we noticed that we had not exchanged names. So we paused, introduced ourselves, shook hands and continued with our conversation.
She was ‘only a housewife’, she said. Now, ‘only’ is not a term I would ever associate with ‘housewife’. In my prejudiced view, being a housewife and doing the job reasonably well was a herculean task – one which I had not been able to master in all these years. I told her as much.
She had three kids, and was there to renew the passport of the youngest, a cute guy who occasionally came and bothered his mother, but not enough to exasperate her. There was an elderly driver who kept his company for most part.
Lunchtime was long past, and neither she nor the child had eaten for a while. I had half a paratha with me, which after a good bit of convincing that I had indeed eaten my fill she accepted. Then she took out a peach from her bag and started feeding her son. Before I could ask her, she told me apologetically that she could not share the paratha with her son – his diet was severely restricted.
He had a damaged liver, and was waiting to have a transplant – which was the reason they urgently needed the passport. He had already undergone around three surgeries, one of which was a stop-gap arrangement till he was ready for the transplant. Her husband was doing to be the donor. They had wavered between doing the surgery in London and India, and finally decided on the latter because their extended families were there, and they would need all the support they could get.
She told me all this in a matter-of-fact way – only the shadows in her eyes betrayed the pain and anxiety she was undergoing. “This whole experience, it has made me a better person you know. It has helped me get my priorities right. For instance, I don’t stress over marks and other such things with my other children – I’m just glad they are healthy and intelligent.”
“I’m also happy that he is how he is,” she continued after a while, pointing to her son. “Look at him. Can you tell that he is not healthy in any way? No one can make out he has these problems, that he undergoes such pain… Isn’t it a blessing that he is not a sickly child, but a happy one, able to do most of his things on his own? Imagine… so many parents live day in and day out watching their children suffer… How difficult it must be for them. At least I am spared of that. ”
You find your own ways of coping with life…and grief, I guess.
It surprised me that she did not avail of the privileges she could have, given the condition of her child. “I should have, maybe. It didn’t occur to me,” she admitted, smiling ruefully. We talked on till her turn came, just before mine.
When she finished with her work, I was still at the counter, so we bid goodbye with just best wishes and a shake of hands. No exchange of phone numbers, no promises to keep in touch. We recognised our limitations, quietly.
But there was a promise I made that day, quietly to myself – the promise of a prayer. For her, for her son, for all of us.