When I made up my mind to visit Banyan this past Saturday I was excited and at the same time felt a pang of responsibility throbbing in my mind. It must not be a one-off frivolous act of sporadic kindness, I told myself. I wanted it to have some meaning, meaning so profound that only I could comprehend it.
With an amazing companion, a friend, a fantastic human – S, I travelled to Banyan! We looked around a little bit but could not find the venue right away. Google maps then came to rescue – NOT; it guided us to the destination traversing myriad streets, almost circular in nature and indicated we have arrived. It was a cinematic moment, when we went past a few buildings and the voice said “your destination has arrived,” we only saw an empty land! Google has never failed to amaze me with its extraneous instructions. That’s when I got skittish and he my friend was reciprocating my restiveness.
Then we resorted to the hackneyed way, atleast according to S, of asking around but there was hardly anyone in the vicinity. We went to a petty shop and asked the shopkeeper where “Banyan” was. He looked clueless and so we said “it’s a home”. To my surprise, the taciturn shopkeeper asked us “Are you asking about the mental home?” He then guided us to the place which wasn’t actually very far from there!
When we reached, it was drizzling and the azure sky had turned grey and overcast! I instantly suddenly had a lump in my throat at with the thought of what is was going to ensue. We were greeted by a friendly receptionist and were asked to wait at the reception so that she could try and give the volunteering coordinator a call. We were waiting and many inmates were walking about, lying down and just sitting in the same room. There was an air of quiet resignation in the room.
Some of them were lost and aloof and some were voluble. I interacted with about 8 of them and each and everyone was quite pleased to have had a listener for themselves. I think it is these deeds, though they seem trivial, are the foundation of giving them a better life, a fulfilled life.
Of the lot, three refuse to get out of my mind. There was this petite, elderly inmate who walked into the reception area clapping and singing some unfamiliar songs, possibly religious. She walked up to me and extended her hand that held a peeled orange, I only smiled at her and she carried on asking everyone else around me. She sat in front of me, still singing some songs. She asked me what my name was in Hindi and the only thought that immediately struck me was that she probably does not have company to have a friendly dialog in that language so I decided to jump at the opportunity. She told me about how Allah sings in her ears and she just mouths them, how her many siblings have settled in various parts of the country and so on. She seemed like a very compassionate person, offering people her oranges and making them sit next to her.
Then the extremely cheerful and vociferous friend arrived. She had a very pronounced folk accent. She was constantly telling me that I was beautiful and that I was the only who was more beautiful than herself in all of banyan. She was quite upfront in expressing her dislike towards my short hair and my ‘boyish’ appearance. She offered to take me to her house once she was okay, and promised to cook chicken as a treat. My hand was strongly holding hers and I was ecstatic when she offered to sing a whole Tamil song (Maya Machindra from the movie Indian) for us. I was moved, quivering mentally at how life can be quite unfortunate sometimes. She insisted that I should wear sarees and flowers and jewellery and what not! I readily agreed and we parted with a my promise to visit again. She went away to enthuse more people!
While all this was happening, there was a face peering at me from outside the window. She constantly kept shifting positions to favour her view. I noticed her intent eyes quite clearly. I did not try to gesture to her as she was slightly afar and may not be able to see me. There were more people at the reception by then. Some hugging and holding me and asking about me, showering all the love that seemed suppressed. This lady then walked up close to me. I looked at her and smiled. She hid her face.. I extended my hand; she nodded gesturing a ‘NO’. I pointed the seat and gestured her to sit beside me – she nodded negative again. By then I had to attend a phone call and talk to the receptionist and I could not spot her again. After a while there she stood again, by the window with those intent eyes.
I will remember to talk to her next time.
S and I then had some basic chores of colour coding the donated clothes and segregate them logically into wearable sets. After we were done we felt quite contented. We took off back home with an unsaid promise that we will be back here again soon.
They need more listeners, those lovely people. And they need friends. If you have the time and even if you have not, you should experience this to know what unconditional love really means. Give them your time as that’s all they need! And at the end of it, I promise that you will come out having gained a lot more than what you actually gave.