Many years ago I went to meet the head of a society which runs many educational institutions in my city. I duly arrived at her office where I was told by her secretary that the lady would not be coming to office that day. Loath to have an unproductive day, I asked the secretary where the lady lived. The unsuspecting secretary gave me the directions.
Twenty minutes later, I found myself standing in the sprawling garden of an old colonial stone house boasting an immaculate red- tiled sloping roof. The veranda off the garden had an assortment of chairs which must have afforded a few moments of repose to many a illustrious posteriors for over 200 years. One could see the deep sepia of the centuries seeped into the grain of the wood.
Having sent word into the inner sanctum informing the lady of my request to give me a few moments of her time, I lowered my rather plebeian self upon one of the chairs muttering vague apologies under my breath. On one corner of the veranda was a looped cord tacked to an iron hook embedded deep into the thick stone wall. The cord came from within the house, was ancient grimy and ended in a cobwebby tassel. Idly, I wondered what it could have been used for, but nothing suggested itself to mind.
In another corner, on the stone floor this time, lay an old hookah inlaid intricately with brass and mother of pearl. It wasn’t a show- piece. It was nearest the most comfortable armchair in that reverential yet motley assortments of chairs. The armchair was placed like a throne while the other chairs were turned humbly and respectfully towards it in deference. A bit of furniture surely tells us many stories, I thought to myself.
Just then, the lady I had wanted to meet emerged from the low doorway. She was dressed in a pure white, crisply starched cotton sari. Her hair was all white and her face unlined. Her narrow, porcelain white feet were bare. Her carriage was nothing short of regal. There was no hint of makeup on her face. There was only wholesome, down- to- earth goodness. She personified grace; she was grace.
She made a powerful impression upon me. I was awestruck by her very presence. She did not sit with me, but silently beckoned me to walk with her on the sun-warmed grass of her lawn. I took off my footwear and joined her on the lush, springy lawn.
I told her who I was and why I had wanted to meet her. She listened gravely, saying very little. She did not interrupt or hurry me. She listened as if she had all the time in the world and as if every word I was saying was important to her. She encouraged me once in a while with a raised eyebrow or a word. She truly, really listened to me- for almost an hour.
Once I was done, she gave me the names of two people whom I could meet. She assured me that she would brief them. She gave me their phone numbers from memory and suggested the best time to call them. I don’t know why, but I felt that she genuinely wanted to help me, a complete stranger. As I said, she was the epitome of grace.
My gratitude expressed and my parting greetings uttered, I began walking out of the garden, leaving her still pacing up and down on the grass. Then I turned and went back to her. She stopped pacing, waiting for me to say something. I bent down and touched her feet.
“I want to be like you when I grow old”, I told her. She smiled and laid her hand on my head, saying nothing.
Who do you want to be when you grow up?