In recent times, I’ve read, watched and heard news that makes me sick to my stomach. I’ve read about women being told that they should be raped for wearing skimpy clothes. I’ve watched as women and men are fat shamed and abused, physically, emotionally and verbally. Slut shaming, victim blaming, false allegations, children being beaten to death…The list is endless.
I was talking to my mother about it and she had only one thing to say, “I don’t know what the world has come to. We lived in simpler times.”
My mother is an exuberant, people loving, extrovert. I, on the other hand, am a book loving, people ignoring, introvert. My mother is a social butterfly. I have the social skills of a clam. She is eternally puzzled by me and I’m eternally grateful that my only sibling lives up to all her expectations leaving me to fail quite spectacularly and in blissful isolation.
My mother has taught me many things in my life…mostly by her own example, frequently with a firm scolding, sometimes with a pointed glare and on rare occasions, with a good smack to the back of my head. But the lesson that was etched into my brain and that has been drilled into me since I was child was a simple one. Be kind.
This, on the face of it, is easy enough to say, comfortable enough to pretend to but for some reason, in today’s complicated world, it seems like a very difficult thing for people to do.
Let me tell you guys a story… That’s kind of my thing, right?
In my entire life, and believe me, it feels like a long one… I have received exactly one valentine’s day card. (A moment of silence for that abysmal record please!) Moving on from that, once the momentous gesture of handing over the card to me near the school bus was done with, we proceeded to never speak to each other again. The embarrassment was too huge.
Cut to years later, mom and I are attending a mutual friend’s wedding and I realize that the card giver is there too. It was a Christian wedding followed by a reception that also involved dancing. Except no one was dancing. There was this huge dance floor right in front of the stage (on which sat the newlyweds in all their finery) and on the other side of it the tables with all the guests. So, everyone just sat there staring at that empty space and avoiding eye contact so they didn’t have to get up there and open the dancing. Until the moment, card giver, stood up and walked over to our table.
“Shilpa, would you like to dance?” He asked.
“No, thank you. I don’t really feel like dancing.” I mumbled to my shoes, my face a fiery red as the collective gaze of the entire wedding reception landed on our little tableau.
I hoped he’d give up and go away quickly. What I got instead was a hard, sharp kick to my shin. From, you guessed right, my loving mother.
“Don’t embarrass the poor boy.” She hissed. “You’re being unkind. Get up and dance.”
“Nobody else is dancing.” I hissed back. “I don’t want to be the only person on that dance floor.”
It’s important to note at this point that I dance with all the coordination of a drunk kangaroo.
“You won’t be.” She glared. “He’ll be there with you. Behave yourself. Be nice.”
Please also note the HE in question is standing politely next to us listening to this hissed back and forth.
“Go.” With another glare, she shoved me out of my seat. I would like to point out that I didn’t think she was being very nice to me.
I had no other choice but to accompany card giver to the STILL empty dance floor. Now, literally, everyone is staring at us, the bride and groom included. We were the star entertainment. If a hole had opened up at my feet, I would have happily dived right into it. I took a deep breath. This was as bad as it could get, right? Wrong.
“Hey Shilpa. Do you want to see my Robocop moves?” My card giving dance partner asked.
I don’t remember much beyond that point. It’s important to suppress certain memories.
Another incident I’ve never forgotten and believe me I’m tried is when we were travelling somewhere. This was back in the day when we didn’t have buses and aerobridges for every flight. If the plane was close enough to the airport building, we would walk to the aircraft.
So, there we were, mom and me, walking. To the aircraft. Briskly. Unencumbered with any hand baggage. A pilot’s family does NOT carry extraneous baggage. You travel light. You travel well dressed. And you always travel on time. It doesn’t matter if the flight is three hours later, you will bloody well be at the airport at reporting time. Anyway, I digress.
There I was, walking along the tarmac, hands swinging freely when my mother said, “Oh no. That poor lady.”
We looked over to where an elderly lady was struggling with her strolley. She was barely able to take a few steps while dragging it along.
My mother hurried over and asked, “Do you need some help with your suitcase?”
“Thank you so much my dear.” The old lady answered, with a relieved smile. “I would truly appreciate it if you could help me with it.”
“Of course, we’ll help.” My mother smiles and adroitly transfers the handle from the old lady to my until then unfettered hands. “My daughter will bring it till your seat.”
And with that, they walk off towards the plane, chattering like old buddies. Which is not a problem. I can drag one suitcase along. Except that this one seems to be packed with rocks. I couldn’t move it an inch. I tried everything and failed and in the end, I took to tugging it with both hands and moving backwards until I finally made it to the plane. May I mention here, that no one bothered to offer ME their help? They all watched me, some even made way for me, but no one helped.
When I, finally, fell into my seat, red faced, heart thudding and gasping for breath, my mother beamed at me. “That was such a kind thing to do. I’m so proud of you for offering to help.”
I would have pointed out that I wasn’t the one who offered but I was too busy trying not to have a heart attack.
Both instances while deeply mortifying in the personal sense were ones where I learned, where she taught me, to put a third person, even a stranger’s, feelings or problems over my own. To put someone at ease, to not hurt, to help, to basically, be kind. I could go on, but I won’t
I have only one thing to say…Thank you, Mom. I haven’t forgotten. And if I do, please feel free to smack me on the back of my head.