a writing by Hema Ravi

“A POOR Relation -- is the most irrelevant thing in nature, -- a piece of impertinent correspondency, an odious approximation, -- a haunting conscience, -- an unwelcome remembrancer,...... the ounce of sour in a pound of sweet. “ – Charles Lamb’s Essays of Elia.


This is a true story which happened during my childhood. We were a middle class family living decently with my father’s singular income. Mother, a generous, god fearing person believed in the concept of ‘athithi devo bhava’ (the guest is God) would forever spend time in her domestic office preparing some delicacy or the other which we kids used to delight in and share with the neighbouring children as well.

This lady Indi (I nicknamed her Nandi* meaning the bull for she was huge and had a voracious appetite) came into our lives from nowhere one day. She was a distant relative of my mother, had met her at a family wedding and from then her weekly/fortnightly visits to our home commenced. She would come between 10 30 and 11 00 in the mornings, mother would be kind enough to offer her lunch. The lady would be delighted, would help herself to all the dishes laid down in front of her. At times, she would be accompanied by one of her three daughters. Both of them in that case would have a sumptuous meal (they would eat three meals in one) and then leave. One thing about this lady was she would never come empty handed, she would bring along some tomatoes, some vegetable or plantains along with her. This happened for months, perhaps a year or two.

One day, she disappeared. I would wonder about this ‘poor relation,’ what the reason for her default could be. My curiosity died when she finally emerged one afternoon well past the ‘lunch’ hour. She had come with one of her daughters. Both were well-dressed and in good health. When she was offered food, she refused saying “my stomach is full, I have eaten enough. I used to come over to your place as I could not resist the pangs of hunger that I used to face. Now, my eldest daughter has got a job, and life has changed for the better” (Her husband was a salaried clerk who had to cater to the very large family that he had). I will never forget your generosity, she told my mother, handed some sweets and parted.

That was the last time I saw her. Heard that she passed away a few years later.

Recalling this incident, I am able to appreciate that we had been the beneficiary not the benefactor.

(*Interestingly, Nandi is of African origin which means strong willed.)

Hema Ravi, September 19, 2011

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