We have been pondering heroes. My daughter is keen on the cape/mask/badge variety, with at least some basic flying skills. My son prefers those who come with exciting vehicles, announced by sirens and clad in uniform.
I have spent a little time considering the unsung ones, those that give without telling or tights, the ones that save the world just a little, ever so quietly. During a recent conversation with Indira, she mentioned Bapuji’s women. No, not a harem. Bapuji, front of house in the little toyshop, would gradually get to know the people browsing, and the women that sit on the doorstep, claiming the shade offered by the awning. ‘Where is your husband? What does he do?’ he would ask. There were nine women whose husbands were alcoholics and drug users, nine women who had no marketable skill and could not support themselves. And so Bapuji, once a month, gave them some money and a shopping list: flour, rice, lentils, sheaves of sweetcorn, papaya and more. He would tell them where to go to buy the items, always to a shop where the owner was an acquaintance, so that he would know, and the women would know, that the money could not buy ingredients for a home brew or a powdered high. They came back month after month for years. I wonder where they are now.
Sudhir surprised us a little, on safari a few years ago. The slide-roofed white van carrying us from one safari camp to another bumped its way along the red, dusty road. Baobab trees lined the horizon. It was hot, and even the zebra were taking shelter under the trees. Suddenly, Sudhir ordered the van to stop. He rummaged in our rucksack of food rations, came up with a couple of bars of chocolate and flung open the door. It was only then that we noticed the little boy in ragged clothes wandering slowly by the side of the road. Sudhir beckoned him over, holding out the chocolate and asked him to climb into the van (readers, I am aware of how wrong this appears, but remember, this post is about charity- keep reading). Sudhir took off his shirt, handed it to the boy and heaped a pile of snacks in his hands, before setting the boy on his way. We watched the small figure with a too-big shirt, short pockets stuffed with KitKats, disappear round a bend. Without another word, Sudhir motioned to the driver to restart the van, and we continued on our way to the villas on stilts that would be our home for the night.
When my father died there was an influx of visitors that the family had never met, sharing our grief. All came to pay their respects and to tell us what he had done. Many came to pay their debts, or to tell us that they could not settle theirs yet. My father was terrible with paperwork, but, it turns out, mighty good with patients. A city GP, for many years he offered ‘pay me when you can’ treatment to those whom he knew were struggling with money but needed medicine. In his ledger he scribbled down the names of some who could settle their debts after pay-day, although most remained unpaid. He went so far as to contribute to the education of some of his poorest patients’ children. Much later, when Bapuji and my mother went door to door searching for the names in his ledger, people expressed genuine dismay at the news, telling my mother about how much he had done. It offered a little peace.
So, I have my heroes now. None of them perfect, and all just normal people leading normal lives but they all performed heroics without a cape or mask.