We had just finished paying for our ice-creams after polishing off a pizza and a couple of drinks. The ice-creams had been chosen with much deliberation and numerous tasting spoons. We decided to walk around a bit.
We spotted a twenty-something woman with four children in tow. Clad in a kurta and jeans, with a bag-pack on her shoulders, she could easily be mistaken for yet another college-going kid. But she had a responsible air about her. And those four children, three girls and one boy, were in total awe of her.
I probably wouldn’t have given her a second glance and continued yapping, slurping on ice-cream cone in hand. But he interrupted me to point her out. “She must be one of those Teach for India (TFI) folks, taking her kids out on their weekly outing,” he said. The confusion on my face revealed enough. He explained, “These teachers take their best students for an outing of sorts as a treat, also serving as an incentive for other not-so motivated kids.”
I was speechless. A trip to the mall because you studied well during the week. And here I visited the mall each time I wanted to satiate my taste buds or on a shopping whim. Heck, sometimes I wandered into a mall just for the air-conditioning and/or a change of scenery. I never felt so privileged before. Also not so rotten ever.
He took me by the hand toward that girl and those kids. He went up to her, introduced us both and struck up a conversation. She introduced her kids to us with great pride, just like a grandparent would. She spoke to them in an indulgent tone, assuaging fears over a lost dupatta.
Those kiddoes were longingly looking at some candy – those beautiful colorful little thingummies. I swallowed a tiny sob. Till today, I can never convince my mommy to let me eat those without guilt. She had indulged me once years ago, when they were still a novelty. I had carefully hoarded them to make last longer. The uncle and aunt indulged the cousin and me on another occasion, remembering to divvy our share equally.
Those kids were very well-behaved about it. No tantrums, no foot-stomping. Just a gleam in the eyes. And just ten minutes ago I was spoilt for choice for an ice-cream.
I whispered to him, “I feel so guilty with an ice-cream cone in my hand.” He just smiled. There was already a plan forming in his head. He offered to treat those imps to some candy.
The girls were overjoyed. The boy was a bit demure. A bit overwhelmed. But they said their thank yous very graciously and with poise. Another sob gulped away.
I walked away, a bit too soon some would say. He came after me, “Where’s your ice-cream? I hope you didn’t throw it away out of disgust!”
And I could only smile.