Flashback to a minute before I said this. I was driving back home in the car with the aircon at full blast, listening to Jagjit Singh's Kagaz Ki Kashti, and thanking Dad and God at the same time for inspiring the creation of two of the best things to happen to mankind (and worst things to Mother Nature) Cars and Airconditioning, when I saw this frail figure standing at the side of a road, close to a traffic intersection trying to flag down an auto rickshaw.
I was driving too fast to stop in time, so I didn't even slow down. I was deliberating whether that could really be Mrs Kempster from Kindergarten. She used to be feared back then, 20 years ago.
Boy, even as I write this, I feel old. Have two decades really passed by since I joined Loyola School in '89?
I'd love to say that I took the first exit, circled around, and came back to where I saw Ms Kempster. But I didn't. I think the world has made too much a cynic of me to really still believe that one must be chivalrous and helpful and all those nice things that one learns to be in school, the things that make the difference between being educated and being literate. Even if I had stopped on time, what would I have asked her? What if she lived somewhere off route from where I was headed? Then I'd have to go out of my way and drop her. What would I tell my mom if she asked what had taken me so long? What if...?
"BALLS to everything.", I said to myself. I took the next free left, circled around and got back to where I had seen Ms Kempster about a minute ago. She wasn't there. I turned down the volume on the car stereo; Ghazals make me sadder than I already am. Decided that she had found an autorickshaw to take her to her destination.
"Damn, I should've turned around then only." I mentally cursed myself for taking too much time to think, for worrying too much about what someone else would think about my decision, for ...
"Hey wait a second, there she is!". I saw Ms Kempster walking down that road I had just driven along before taking the free left. I drive slowly when I've got too many things on my mind so I did a handbrake stop(no idea why!), rolled down the passenger side window and called out, "Can I drop you off somewhere, Ms Kempster?".
She couldn't believe that someone had actually stopped by to help her, I could make out from her expression. She got into the car, and the conversation started on some random topics, which batch I was from, etc etc. About half a minute of driving later, she asked me to turn right, on C.H. Area Road No. 4. That was barely a 20 second detour from my route.
"You remember the senior Ms Kempster?", she asked. "Of course!", I replied, half expecting to hear some sad news about her. She was pretty old even twenty years ago. "She has taken too many falls and is bedridden. I take care of her now.", said Ms Kempster. Twenty years have passed by since I last saw her. Wow.
Then she asked me to stop the car in front of some rather swank apartments. "Those are some really nice apartments there!", I said rather naively and rather too soon. She smiled, "We don't live in the apartments, we live in those small rooms behind the apartments. We moved here about a month ago. You must have heard about Loyola Flats...". "Yeah, I heard they've renamed it Loyola Niwas and now the Fathers live there.", I said.
And then it hit me. All at once. Like I'd been sitting on a nuclear bomb all along and then it had decided to suddenly explode. Loyola Flats are the apartments that are now known as Loyola Niwas. The old teachers from Loyola used to live there and that is where Ms Kempster and Ms Kempster lived. Until a month ago. Loyola Niwas now sports high ramparts, it's almost fortress-like now. And only the school Fathers live there. All the old timer teachers have been evicted from their decades old homes. Teachers who did not marry so as to carry on the profession that they so loved with the students they adored. Teachers who quite literally spent their lives teaching generation after generation of children. Can anyone from our generation even imagine spending our lives doing something? In our impatience for obtaining success in different forms and fields, we forget the things that matter most.
Ms Kempster and I said our goodbyes and she left. I reached home taking at least thrice the time that I'd ordinarily take... It's difficult to drive with tears in one's eyes, you know.