If there is one aspect of living in a small town that I miss, it is the habit of people doing things for each other naturally, without someone thinking that there would be a motive behind it.
We were posted in a township called Tinsukia, in Assam, when I was still in high school. Those were turbulent times in Assam, with most people scared with militant activity which affected many of our daily lives, no matter how much our parents tried to keep us away from it.
My father was one of those people who would never compromise on his principles and much later in life I came to know that there were many threats that had come his way, working in an environment that had to be tread with lot of care.
Like is prevalent in Assam, we had a person staying in our outhouse, much like a man Friday, rolled into the grandfather we never had the luxury of playing with. He belonged to the Coolie race, who comprise a major section of the tea garden workers in Assam. Sturdy as an Ox, faithful to the last blood and generally an extremely funny man who had his own idiosyncrasies. He taught me gardening, chased me with a broom when I trampled his flower beds by mistake, climbed trees to bring me flowers, scolded my father, bossed us around and was ready to jump into any kind of action, all at the age of 60.
We would call him Nana( also an Indian equivalent of grandfather). During those days, I had to go for Maths tuition, which was about 3 kms from our house. Contrary to other kids who would always take the car, my father asked me to walk often. In those days of limited independence, it was a great opportunity I thought, but I found myself being followed by Nana at a respectful distance.
Every time I turned around and asked him why he was following me, he refused to answer and looked at the sky or the market in general in total ignorance. To make matters worse, he would carry a huge blade( usually used to chop trees ) with him, while a stray Indian mongrel who had made himself a member of the family also sauntered along. With this rather odd retinue following me around everywhere, I was the butt of many jokes with my friends. Much as I would rant and rave I could not shake off Nana, who would eat chana while I studied, or talk to Brownie the Indian Mongrel, while people on the road looked at him oddly.
Much later I came to know that he had had to suffer much in the name of being a guard. Nana suddenly decided to leave us, after staying with us for about 7-8 years, during which he was more than a part of the family, but would still not give up on his bohemian ways. He would not take money while going away, nor anything else, when he was asked if he wanted anything, he scratched his head and looked at the sun.
And then he turned and looked at me and said, I have guarded her in many sun s, I want an umbrella. The shade that such people provide us in their simple ways of giving are perhaps irreplaceable..I still miss the joys of people doing things for each other on a lark.
( Image courtesy Google)