Saturday, July 9, 2011

conversations from this week

With 6th grader, Aleena, while on one of our morning walks:
“I HATE HER!!” Aleena shouts in her characteristically overdramatic way, regarding a student that she doesn’t like.
“Aleena, it’s not nice to hate people. What if she knew you were saying these things about her? Wouldn’t she be sad?”
“Well I don’t care, she deserves it—she’s not nice and so selfish and thinks she’s better than everyone. I HATE HER!!”
I think of the perfect quote—what a nerd am I? “Aleena, you should be kind to all people, even if they are rude to you—“
She interrupts me with a skeptical look that says why on earth would I do that??
“—not because they are nice, but because you are.”
For once, always-ready-with-a-comeback Aleena is speechless.

With TTC student, Vanitha, while waiting for the food to be served at dinner time:
“Madi chechi, 8 days…you don’t go,” Vanitha says, crestfallen. Suddenly, her face shows that an exciting thought has occurred to her, and she asks, “Madi chechi, any time you see Obama?”
“Well, I saw him once. Before he was president. He came to a university in my city to give a speech and get support before the election.”
The handful of girls seated around us burst with remarks of delight and admiration.
Vanitha silences the din; she has something important to say. “Madi chechi, next time you see Obama…you tell him hello from all 2nd year TTC students, okay?? We love Obama! At election time, we are praying for him!”
I tell her I’ll do my best to pass on the message.

With Gracy Kochamma, in the kitchen:
“Hi Gracy Kochamma! Sukham aano?” (How are you?)
“Sukham alla,” she replies (not good).
“Oh no…vedana undo?” I ask (Do you have any pain? (‘head pain’, ‘stomach pain,’ etc are frequent expressions for being sick)).
“Vedana alla” (no, not pain). I wait for an explanation. She pauses to think and then smiles at the problem of having something to say but not knowing the words to say it. If she is not unwell physically, then the problem must be interpersonal, I deduce. Maybe a conflict with the new warden. I can tell she is sad, and I smile, too, also with the problem of having something to say but no words to say it. With a helpless look I walk out of the kitchen to wash my plate in the sink outside. What can I say to make her feel better? I wonder. The solution occurs to me and, plate washed, I walk back through the kitchen on my way to go on with my day. I say what I know she’ll understand: “I love Gracy Kochamma.”
Her face brightens and she replies, “Ah, you love Kochamma—Kochamma loves you.”
I walk out of the kitchen fighting back tears, thinking how much I’m going to miss her. I know that in our little conversation I have in no way lessened whatever is causing her problems, but I have done what I can; I made her smile. And love may not be the cure-all…but then again, maybe it is?

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”-James Arthur Baldwin

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