Christmas is on its way and life is pretty exciting. Christmas parties and Carol services left right and centre… College is winding up for the holidays… clothes need to be packed, last minute notes copied… life is busy, peppered with crisises in people’s love lives, which no one but I can be told about. All in all, life’s not boring… except in class. But that just counts for five hours a day… which is where I probably get most sleep anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.
In the midst of all this, the other day, a classmate of mine comes up to me and confesses that she is my ‘Chrisma’ (‘Chrisma-Chrischild’, alternatively called ‘Secret Santa’ is a game we play in class and in the Hall. It involves drawing lots, so that everyone in class draws the name of a classmate. The person whose name you have picked is your ‘Chrischild’ and you, as her ‘Chrisma’ can send her anonymous letters and order her to do strange things, until the day of the Christmas party, when you must compensate by giving her a gift. Your ‘Chrisma’, naturally treats you the same way.). She (my ‘Chrisma’, that is) confessed that she had no idea what to get for me and asked me to come to a bookshop with her and pick a book I’d like, as her gift for me. I thought it terribly sweet of her, protested politely that she needn’t do this, and then happily picked out ‘The Grass Crown’ by Colleen McCullough. After this, I went to the bank with her. It was a five ruppee ride by share auto, and we finished the work she had there, and returned in another share auto.
On our way back, in the auto, we were sitting next to an old lady. She was old and bent and had wild white hair, in a frail wispy cloud around her head. She was very dark skinned, which contrasted sharply with her hair. She was thin and wrinkled and wore a gaudy saree with no blouse and her lips were parched and flecked with globs of thick saliva. The skin around her eyes was wrinkled and tired. She carried a tattered plastic basket, I think it was yellow, stuffed with her few belongings. She spoke to us, in a distracted faraway tone, saying she was going to Thanjavur to visit her son who was very sick. She had no money, but the auto driver had promised to take her there. This, I thought was very nice of the man… particularly coming from an auto driver. After all, auto drivers are not exactly the most pleasant species in Chennai! (ah, supercilious twit! In case you’re wondering, I was talking about myself.) Predictably enough, the auto (I forgot to mention that it was a blue auto. Blue autos are strange, in my opinion.) broke down. The auto driver kindly flagged another auto down for us and we piled in.
I wondered what the old woman would do… would this auto driver also take her, free of charge? I decided to pay for her.
I asked my friend how one could get to Thanjavur. She said bus was probably the safest bet. It would cost around two hundred rupees. I thought about it and took out two hundred rupees from my wallet. My grandparents had given me two hundred rupees for my birthday. I thought this would be a good way to use it. I held it in my hand, ready to give it to her when we got down.
We got off at college. The auto driver looked expectantly at the old lady.
She told him magnanimously to keep going. When he asked till where he was to keep going, she replied, till Thanjavur. He grinned sarcastically and asked whether she was going to Thanjavur in the auto. She nodded. He laughed and drove off with her, in the direction of the bus stop. I was pretty sure he wouldn’t expect her to pay… but I don’t know whether the bus authorities would take the same view of things and give her free rides. I hope she gets to Thanjavur. I hope her son recovers.
Why didn’t I give her the money?
I didn’t know how to. I wondered what my friend would think. I wondered whether anyone would steal the money from her.
I thought too much.
And I didn’t know how to give.
I don’t know how to give.