Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Legacy Of A Mother...

When school reopened last August, as I waved goodbye to my children from our balcony, I noticed a new child riding the school bus. My daughter had mentioned that one of her friends had recently moved house and had now switched to their bus. I asked if the child I had noticed was her classmate. She replied in the negative and said that her friend was picked up after they were and this was another boy who had just moved to Kenya from another country.
Soon this child, although a few years older than my son, became good 'bus' friends with him. One of their favourite topics of discussion, as related to me by my son, was guns and warfare in their respective countries. Much as we all try to deny it and curb it, guns do hold a certain fascination for boys. My paternal grandfather and father were in the Indian army, my father in law used to head the quality control department of the ammunition factory in Pune and had set up the entire Ordnance factory in another town in our state, after being trained for the same in Germany. So it would be fair to say it is in my son's blood and the other child's ambition being to join the army, they got along famously and enjoyed their discussions. Of course, no guns were actually involved! At that time, the bus used to pass Westgate Shopping Mall everyday, and once when it was pouring and a flood of water was flowing through the open channels by the road, this child had dubbed it as 'Westgate River'. No one knew then that soon those would be rivers of blood and how horrifically and deeply he would be affected by it.
Around a month later, my son came home with a little gift from his new friend, a set of small colourful rods with magnets in them which could be made into various shapes. I explained to him that we do not accept gifts from anybody unless it is a birthday or a special occasion and asked him to return the gift to the other child immediately. I further added for good measure that the friend's mother, whom I had never met, might say that he had simply taken the toy and then what explanation would we have? We could be called thieves! I knew I was exaggerating but I really wanted to press home the point to my son! He agreed to return it the next working day,after the weekend, which happened to be a long one, as the school had given a holiday on Friday.
If we could have prevented what happened the next day, I would not mind being called a thief a hundred times over...The child and his mother were at Westgate during the terrorist attack and the mother was fatally injured. She passed away and the boy spent many days recuperating from his injuries in hospital. The little magnetic game was right next to my laptop, ready to be returned, even as my daughter gave us this horrific news, after she got it from friends on Facebook. My son sorely missed his bus friend and we all prayed for him and even though I had never met the child, he was continuously in my thoughts...His mother's role and mine could have so easily been reversed...given the fact how often I used to be at Westgate.
My son was delighted to have his friend back on the bus after a month and they continued their friendship as if the nightmarish events had never occurred in Nairobi. My son, always quick to help, made sure he escorted his friend who had to use crutches for a few months as a result of the attack,as far as he was allowed to, given the fact their classrooms are in different sections of the school and Elementary students are not permitted beyond a certain point.
Just before the American Thanksgiving weekend, the child mentioned how lonely he would be at home for the next three days.  When my son told me this, I told him to invite his friend over to spend an evening with us. He accepted the invitation and I finally had the privilege of meeting one of the best behaved and most polite children I have ever come across!
I had made the very popular Indian snack of  spicy, fried potato cutlets for the kids. When I asked our guest if he liked Indian food, he said yes he loved chappatis! I asked him to come for a meal one day so I could serve chappatis. Then it struck me why not make chappatis? Just because we eat them for our main meals, it was no reason to deny them to this child.
I began rolling out chappatis and he was delighted to have them with coconut chutney and kept thanking me for making them. After a few of them he said he did not want any more.We persuaded him, saying we had plenty of dough and it was easy to make them, he could have as many as he wanted! In my own mind, I could hear a mother telling her son when he was a tiny tot, not to be greedy and to mind his manners! How well she had taught her son in the thirteen odd years she had with him. I have fed so many people over the years, family, friends, relatives, neighbours but the satisfaction I felt that day when I made chappatis for this child is unmatched. Finally I could do something to make someone, who had suffered so much, happy, albeit for a few hours. Maybe from somewhere a mother's distraught soul looked down and she could see another mother feeding her son a hot meal...
Nowhere did I see any bitterness in this child. As he was leaving, I handed over his crutches and he happily told me he had almost forgotten he had them and soon he would not be needing them anymore. Oh to have the resilience and forgiving heart of a child! We invited him to come over again soon.
A few days later I was standing in the balcony, waiting to wave to the kids. I could see this child in the front seat though he could not see me. He removed a chocolate bar from his pocket, quickly broke off a piece and handed it over to the bus driver. Again a mother's voice echoed in my mind, share what you have with others around you, is what she must have taught him. He was doing just that! I wondered if I would be so generous if I had lost so much...
When he came over the next time, he had brought a tiny cross bow and arrow that he had made himself for my son, his scarred hands notwithstanding. It worked perfectly, except that the arrow was an old refill from a ball pen and there was still a bit of ink in it. As my son shot the bow, black ink spilled out on my sparkling clean, cream floor. I told my son that the house help would not be too happy to see the mess on the floor. The other child quickly grabbed some tissues and mopped up the mess even before I could say another word. Again, the words of the mother came to me, always clear up any mess made when you have been playing, specially in someone else's house. He had certainly taken those lessons to heart! Believe me, children do not automatically learn these things! Mothers have to reinforce them time and again, often by example.
I do not encourage my son's friends to come over when he has school the next day. But I do make an exception for this child, because I can only imagine how awful it must be to go back after school to a house without a mother in it. One day when they both got off the bus together along with my daughter and I had given them their hot snacks, I reminded my son that he had home work. The other child immediately offered to sit down with my son till he finished his work. My son told him not to worry as I would not let him sleep even if it was ten in the night, unless he had done his homework. The boy told me that his mother told him it was fine if he did not do his homework, as long as he bore the consequences the next day. She would not write any note to the teacher asking her to excuse him! My admiration for this lady went up another notch. She had taught her son to face the consequences of his actions and today, though she is not physically present in his life, her words ring in his ears...
The child carries his I Pad to school and all the boys like to play games on it en route to school, which can sometimes be really violent ones. I had told my son to stay away as I do not believe that he should start the day by playing on an electronic device. Finally I told his friend that my son was not allowed to play games unless it was a teacher recommended site and for that, too, he had to use my lap top. The child now puts away his I Pad when on the bus and even when he comes to our house, they only play songs on it. What a relief to find that obedience is among the many admirable qualities his mother has drilled in him.
A popular saying goes' God could not be everywhere. So He made Mothers'. Sometimes, for reasons beyond our comprehension, he takes away a mother too, much before her time. But as I am witnessing almost every week, the legacy of a mother lives on through her child, though she may have passed on from this Earth.

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