In Kameshwaram the network’s not that great, which means when it’s there – we talk and write away on our phones. Now I didn’t want to call and disturb Kishore out of the blue and so I wrote on whatsapp.

And if you are asking me who’s Kishore – Well, he’s that intern with tons of friends!! (https://www.facebook.com/finindia/posts/1885054781550961)

“Hi Kishore”

“Hi maam”

“Listen I don’t know how long the network’s going to last and so I will get to the point immediately (which I rarely do!). Paranjothi and Nagalakshmi say hi from here. The kids in the Panchayat school remember you. They were asking when you’re coming back!”

“Thank you, maam”

“And I am coming to Delhi soon – I would like to meet you. After all, I have been chatting and guiding you so much without meeting you that it all seems very surreal and so I want to confirm your existence empirically.”

“Sure maam. I would also like to meet you very much.”

“Great then, and by the way, do you think you could introduce me to other kids, ooops sorry, I mean other young adults like you? the Tamil speaking type – not that I have any personal preferences, but it’s just so much easier for interns to work in a Tamil village if they speak the language.”

“Sure maam, how many students do you want me to bring to our meeting?”

“I don’t care how many Kishore. Even two is fine. But they must care. They must care to make the world a better place like you. Otherwise, there’s no point. So promise me one thing – don’t pressurize or coax anyone to come. No pressure. Just tell your friends what we are doing to make Indian villages cleaner, and let them come if they want to, and if there’s nobody, no hassles. It will be a pleasure to meet you at any rate.”

Then the day came for me to go to Delhi University. I love the Delhi metro.

“Kishore, where am I supposed to come?”

“Maam, you have to get on the yellow line and get down at GTB nagar.”

The GTB nagar, a suburb of old Delhi, is so named after the great Sikh martyr, Guru Tegh Bahadur, the 9th of the 10 mainly recognized gurus of the Sikh religion. According to historical accounts, the Mughal emperor Aurangazeb tortured him horribly for many weeks to try to get him to convert to Islam, but Bahadur refused. So when Bahadur was more or less dead, he was publicly executed in Delhi in a slow and cruel way, so that local citizens got the general idea about the safe and smart choice to make, if and when they had to, on such issues. I was thinking – Oh my God, why do such things happen? Why is it that so many cities worldwide are marred by historical or present horrors? It’s such a miracle that humanity is still here. In short, I suddenly felt very depressed. But life must go on ( borrowing Kishore’s whatsapp intro line).

“Hi Kishore, I am here.”

He appeared smiling out of nowhere and hailed an autorickshaw and whipped out his phone to inform his friends of our arrival. The streets were fascinating. They were a gay cacophony of colour, garbage, noise and young people from every part of India and other parts of the world. Geez – was the entire Delhi university student community living here? It was wonderfully joyful and alive.

“Yes, maam – this is a student town, but old people also live here! We are going to meet the others in a public park as you said that would be ok. Is that OK, maam?”

“Of course”

It was swelteringly hot. Yet, Janani was already there waiting. The people snoozing and lunching on the benches in the covered patio in the park kindly moved over to other benches in different corners.

Then I got started. Now though I can’t get to the point in bilateral conversations, I can make point, after point, after point, when holding a discourse on sanitation, waste management and the need for a Clean India for a disease and climate resilient India (and other developing countries as well)….It’s all coherent and logical, but I can’t stop, because there is SO MUCH TO BE DONE.

Those kids were polite. They listened in the heat without crying out for me to stop! Ultimately, I ran out of water in my water bottle and so we had to go to their friend’s house.

Here I asked them to answer three questions for me instead of continuing ad nauseum (I know when enough is enough – though I would have stopped sooner if my sister Raji or Shanmugan had been with me – they would have signalled hard!!!):

What are your three main takeaways?
Do you want to be a part of the FIN adventure?
If so, how do you want to participate?
What did they write? Well, that’s for next time. Let me get back to this story.

Then everyone left. And Kishore said, “Please come to my flat maam.”

Now in my kids’ flats when they were in the university, I could never get a decent cup of tea or coffee, but I was really in desperate need of hot liquid nourishment by this time.

“Can I get decent cup of tea at your place, Kishore?”

“Sure maam” was his confident answer.

It was nearly 5 pm then, and after I met his nice flatmates, Kishore proceeded to serve lunch to his friends and mentioned that he would be eating soon. What! Those kids had not only listened to me, but done so on empty stomachs.

I felt terribly guilty, as I enjoyed my delicious chai.

“You should have told me Kishore – I would have stopped sooner.” Lame and sheepish as it may have sounded – it was the truth.

“It’s OK maam and before you leave, can you please sign my certificate? And I have a little gift for you.”

Kishore had beautified our FIN certificate and it did look better. I quivered. Even though Kishore hadn’t had lunch, I wanted to start on my famous “Gift Lecture” known to all my students and family members….. “Don’t give me a gift that money can buy – I don’t want it. This is one of the many ways I fight consumerism…..” but I really had to shut up. You know why?

Because it was a lovely collage he had made himself and laminated!

It showed the different classes he had taught in Kameshwaram and it spread joy – just like Kishore.

“It took me the whole night to get the background colours right and choose the pictures maam. There were so many I liked that it was hard to choose.”

Thank you Kishore for giving me such a priceless hand made gift that is the best reward for any teacher!!!

Shyama

PS- it now hangs proudly on my office wall in Maastricht along with other gifts MADE not bought by students.

PPS- sorry Maria – your gift of your grandmother’s biscuits have been digested a long time back. Their proof is not there in my office, but I will never forget them!