Perumal, whom I mentioned in "Nights under saris" below, is a thin man of 30. When the wave came, he was actually away in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh. He had gone there to look for work, and saw the news about it on TV. So what did this thin man of 30, this father of four kids, do? He made a little money by selling a cassette player he had taken with him to Nellore, and then started walking home. Halfway to Shanmuganagar, finally able to afford the fare, he caught a bus; but still, he must have walked a few hundred km.
To find that someone held his aunt Kasambu's hand and brought her safely home, all 1.5 km home.
Kasambu asks if I will take a photograph of her. She has a beautiful face, lined and full of character, even the heavy black glasses adding to the effect. When I say I will, she draws herself up, full of dignity and straight as the stick she is carrying. When I am done, she breaks into a smile so toothlessly wide, so charmingly affectionate, that I feel I might easily dissolve into it. She takes my hand in hers and thanks me as if I've saved her life, reaches out to touch my cheek. And she tells me, I can read! I studied till the 8th standard in Seva Mandir in Parangipettai!
I remember that smile as I type this. For no reason I can fathom, my eyes are wet as I type this.
January 06, 2005
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