I Could Have Been Lost, But I Wasn’t
Grateful for life every single day
I treat my kids at my local welfare home to lunch, dinner, or breakfast on every occasion I get, which is quite often. Because who needs a special occasion to make sure kids eat well?
Decades ago, when I started, my career, one of my goals was to support underprivileged children. I don’t know if I am changing the world, but you know what they say — every drop makes the mighty ocean.
As I watch the children eat, I feel deeply grateful to be alive. I am very aware that I could have been one of them. Maybe I would have ended up on the streets. Thankfully, I did not.
I remember the first time I visited this particular welfare home. There were eighty girls in the age group of 4 to 16. These are babies who are abandoned or brought to the home by destitute women who have no means of support.
We had arranged dinner for the children who would eat at 8 p.m. As soon as the gong sounded, we were invited into the dining area where we heard the children beginning their prayers.
I have to tell you, there is something about children praying or singing in a group that makes me feel all choked up and tears stream out of my eyes. I used to be embarrassed about it, but now I’ve stopped being conscious about it.
So — back to dinner. We saw 58 children seated in four rows with large steel plates in front of them. At the far end of this room was a large prayer room that gave the place an air of — for want of a better word — a blessing. As these children sang their prayers, three of the older girls started serving rice on their plates.
Next, these girls brought sambar, which is a kind of mixed stew with vegetables, and began to serve that. I was pleased to see them asking the kids where to pour this, as some kids wanted it on the rice, some wanted it by the side, some wanted it partially on the rice and partly near it. The affection in the atmosphere was tangible and that made me feel good.
Around 8.10 the girls had finished serving…and after another short prayer, the children began to eat. I –well, I cried my eyes out. I just could not control myself.
I kept thinking of how lucky I was, to stand there, clothed, fed, and with a family of my own. I thought of my mom who had suffered so much and somehow managed to give us both a decent life.
I felt grateful for the fantastic friendship we shared. A medley of thoughts swirled in my head. I could have very well ended up in an orphanage, or worse, on the streets. But I didn’t.
As I felt my heart brimming over with gratitude, I couldn’t help recalling a childhood incident. It is very strange how certain early memories are almost imprinted in the head in minute detail.
The year was 1965. I was two years old, and my mother and I were in Delhi at her in-laws’ place, as is the custom in India. Odd that I never thought of them as my grandparents.
I will never understand why my mother was married at thirteen to a man who obviously did not want her. Almost everyone in that family treated her badly, sometimes with violence, and yet my mother always put up with the abuse because, as she told me decades later, she had promised her dying father that she would not complain, no matter what. My biological father left for the US just three months before I was born and never returned. He lives there, with an American wife and daughter.
Yet, after he left, rather than send my mother off to her mother’s house, her in-laws insisted she stayed with them. I’ll never understand why, since they were never kind to her.
Many atrocities later, mom was dumped in a mental institution by her mother-in-law. Fortunately, the kind doctor there helped her escape and she returned home. She was not allowed to enter the house. I remember I was sitting outside in a linen chemise and was overjoyed to see her back.
My grandfather took pity on us and hurriedly took us to the railway station, and put us on a train to Mumbai, where my maternal grandmother lived. We got on the train, soiled and exhausted, but hopefully on our way to safety.
Through the two-night journey on the train, mom’s health was sinking. The mental hospital had infused some gas through her mouth that made her gums bleed. We didn’t have anything to eat and managed with a pot of water that a co-passenger was kind enough to give us, along with a small pack of biscuits. I have a vague memory of a nosebleed, and another co-passenger giving me a cut onion to hold against it to stop the bleeding.
Somehow, we made it to Mumbai, our destination, where we got off the train.
Believe it or not, I still remember holding the little pot of water and refusing to let go of it. As we got off the train, mom just fainted while I stood nearby and cried. A crowd quickly gathered. And, the miracle of miracles, divine help arrived in the form of my uncle, mom’s brother.
A word about my uncle here. A wonderful human being, he was the sort who would help the homeless — feeding them, giving them money, or taking them to the hospital for emergency treatment. It did not matter to him that he didn’t know them. He was just being human. So, imagine his shock when he realized that the battered and bleeding from lying there on the railway platform was his little sister, and the pathetic and helpless child bawling her head off nearby was his favorite niece!
Well, long story short, he got us into a taxi and took us home. Apparently, I kept chanting that I hadn’t eaten for two days. (six biscuits are not the dietary recommendation for a two-year-old for two days).
Once we got home to my grandma, mom was rushed to the hospital. I was bathed and fed. Mom was in the hospital for a few days until she regained consciousness and was brought back home, to be nursed back to health.
I wonder . . .
- What if my uncle had not turned up?
- What if someone else — someone not very nice — had found us first?
- What if nobody had bothered to help us?
- What if mom had not recovered?
So — each time I think of this, I cry tears of gratitude. If my uncle had not turned up at the railway station, I can’t even begin to imagine what track our lives could have taken! I felt grateful for all the things I have. And a little ashamed of things I complain about occasionally.
As an epilogue
My mother, who was a seventh-grader when she got married, continued her education and took up a career as a school teacher. Life was not easy, but when you have an attitude like my mother’s it is very hard not to be happy.
I’ll never understand how she managed to always smile, no matter what. She would often tell me I was the reason she survived.
I’ll never forget her words,
“Vidya, I never thought it was my duty to look after you. I did it because I wanted to.”
She was a generous person, in life and in death. She passed away on Feb 8, 2010, and as per her last wishes, we donated her body to St. John’s Medical College here.
God cannot be everywhere, so he made Mothers. I am grateful for mine.
Thank you Trista Signe Ainsworth for this beautiful publication to share our stories of gratitude!
Vidya Sury, Collecting Smiles ❤ Did you smile today?
I love Medium and the wonderful writers I engage with. Sadly, the Medium Partner Program is not open to writers based in India. One of the reasons I write is to support underprivileged children. Would you consider buying me a cup of coffee? Thank you so much!
Enjoy Kris Bedenian’s post Those Who Promote Peace Through Love Have Joy