To my 11 year old daughter, Kaveri
You left for India last night leaving me in NYC. Really missing your laughter.
Luckily I have friends here, with whom I will spend emotional time . Not defined as just being ‘truthful’ or honest, but going beyond that. Becoming vulnerable. Vulnerability is the essence of a real relationship between people. Vulnerability is the essence of your relationship with yourself, with God, with everything. Become so vulnerable that you become like water. Accepting of everything, And then let go of everything in its flow.
Here’s a story for you.
There was a little girl that fell in love with two pigeons. One was a beautiful white pigeon, and the other shades of blue and green and grey. She named the white one Elizabeth and the other one Paul. Everyday she would rush back from school just as the shadows of the afternoon were getting softer and longer. Elizabeth and Paul would flutter together and sit on the sill of the bedroom the little girl shared with her younger brother. Not facing towards the bedroom but always towards the backyard of the house. There they would sit in a very regal manner. Facing outward gently speaking to each other in what the little girl called ‘gooterrr- goon’.
The little girl was convinced that Elizabeth and Paul came from the kingdom of ‘Gooterr – goon’ and had lost their way. She would rummage through the store house of the kitchen and feed them with any seeds she could find. Of course being an Indian household, it was full of lentils, grains and seeds of all varieties. So there was no shortage of food for them. Every evening at 4 o’clock the little girl would start a conversation with the Elizabeth and Paul. She would make the guttural sounds of ‘gooterr- goon’ and they would respond back. She was convinced they were trying to tell her something, and if she would learn their language, she could help them.
No amounts of arguments from her parents that the pigeons just came for the food would convince her otherwise. The fact is that when her little brother would try to go ‘gooterr-goon’ with them , Elizabeth and Paul would just fly away. She would show the family the hundreds of pigeons that would fly back to their homes every evening, and ask why only Elizabeth and Paul would come to see her. Soon the family became used to their little daughter going ‘Gooterr-goon’ every evening. A sort of ritual. And the pigeons became accepted as part of the family. They would fly away to wherever pigeons go, and come back the next day at the same time.
Till one day Elizabeth, the white pigeon, never came back. Paul would be there, looking lost and lonely. But not Elizabeth. The little girl would go out and shout at all the pigeons that would fly by and go ‘Gooterr-goon’ as loud as possible. It was then that the family realized how familiar they had got to Elizabeth and Paul’s visits. As they watched their little girl come back with tears in her eyes because Elizabeth had not come, they would hug her and all pray that Elizabeth was fine and happy wherever she was.
Then one day Elizabeth did come back. She looked sad and weak. And when the little girl went ‘Gooterr – goon’ at her Elizabeth would not respond. To her shock the little girl realized why. Somebody had shot Elizabeth. The lead pellet from the air gun was still embedded in her throat. Anything that Elizabeth pecked at would just come out of her throat. It was miracle she was still alive. It was a horrific sight and the little girl panicked and thought Elizabeth was going to die, and that she had come back to the little girl asking to help. The whole family was distraught. They all realized how much they too had come to love the pigeons.
The little girl’s father was one of Delhi’s more famous doctors. Unable to take Elizabeth’s suffering he took her into his surgery, and cleaned her wounds. He took out the pellet that some unthinking cruel person has shot her with. To that person it was just a game, a sport. But to Paul, Elizabeth was his companion. To the little girl, her best friend. To the family now, a a precious life that needed to saved.
I still remember how my father gently cleaned the wound, and then stitched together Elizabeth’s wounds, saying words of comfort to my sister. But because I was a ‘man’ he would look me in the eyes. The expression telling me that there was little chance for Elizabeth surviving. I remember my mother bringing Elizabeth into our prayers every night.
Elizabeth did survive. I watched in wonder as her wound healed, as the wound of a human being would. The family stood around happily on the day Elizabeth could finally eat without the seeds spilling out of her throat. She never got her ‘Gooter-goon’ quite back, but she was active again and could fly as she did before. I have never worked out how my father, a pediatrician, could operate on a pigeon and heal her, but will always remember Elizabeth for bringing such joy to our family.
So dear kaveri. The grandfather you only remember as a much older man struggling with age, was once the most compassionate doctor I have ever seen. Your aunt, my sister, once a little girl consumed with fantasies, dreams, love and life, now coming to terms with the experiences of life. Remember that compassion is the greatest gift of them all.