Sid, my now 13-year-old son, placed the three greeting cards on the dining table. He stood staring at them for a while before picking them up one by one and giving it a read. I decided to leave Sid alone when he called for me. ‘So typical’, he giggled as he showed me the card. Scrawled in curvy letters were the words ‘we mish you’. I laughed along with Sid.
It was two years ago, that I had decided to volunteer in Sevalaya, a not-for-profit school in Tamil Nadu, India. At that time, I had wondered what it would be like to spend a week in that campus with Sid. This August my wonder gave way to reality.
Sevalaya is a beautiful school, tucked deep inside a village with sprawling paddy fields and small temples. Inside the campus we were given a modest room that had a bed with an attached bath. My initial reaction was ‘This is not bad at all’, and I checked with Sid. Sid’s face was long and he rolled his eyes. When Sid does that, I know it is bad news.
That night, Sid asked me the question I feared the most, ‘When can we leave?’ I was not sure how to counter that, but I had to be honest — we were there for a week and we would do just that. But deep down, my first doubt had crept in — was it fine to involve my son in social work that he hated? The place was not the best. Mosquitoes were everywhere and probably some snakes lurked in the backyard. My ideas felt shallow. As we drifted to sleep, I prayed it would all turn out fine.
Day two in Sevalaya was not great either. The heat, the dust and the food put Sid off. “I have no idea what we are doing here,” he said looking straight into my eyes.
My heart sank. “It is probably a bad idea,” I said thoughtfully, “but can we just give it another day?” I pleaded. The look on Sid’s face was a stress alarm. “One week like this?”
“Patience,” my heart said. I took in deep breaths.
That evening we took a short walk to the boys’ hostel within the campus. Sid spent some time chatting and playing with the children. I watched him from a distance with a glimmer of hope. Most children there, I was told, hardly had any family. “I hope Sid can make some friends,” I desperately prayed in my head. Strangely, that night, there were no complaints. We slept peacefully.
The next day, I noticed a small change come over Sid. He cheerfully waved when children called out his name, he giggled when little children walked up and shook his hand, he was embarrassed when a few called him ‘Siddhu’ and was thoughtful when someone called him his brother. He was particularly amused with one child who relentlessly asked him what time it was in India and Dubai. For some reason, the time difference seemed to fascinate the boy and Sid laughed endlessly.
That day I prayed for the change to last. Then came the day when we had to say our goodbyes. The ‘time-boy’ gave Sid an empty card. When Sid asked him to sign it, the other children started to scramble. In that little school in a remote village, children found the cover of notebooks to pass on as greeting cards to give Sid. “Don’t open it till you get home,” they said.
Now back home, Sid struggled to hold back his tears. “We should go back mum,” he sniffed as he hugged me. “We will,” I said feeling so happy that my prayers were answered after all.
But the one thing I have yet to find out is what caused this change of heart in Sid. Perhaps I should just let that be.