A welcome guest

I remember that Miss X would invariably start with, "And then the Lord said..."

Twice or three times a year a small black car would turn into our long driveway in Coonoor in the Nilgiris and stop at the door.

We children would run to cluster round the door and whisper in excitement “Miss X has come!” The front door of the car would open and a very short driver would come out and open the back door. Tall and thin, Miss X, an English lady, would come out, smile vaguely at us children and go straight to the drawing room where my grandmother would be sitting.

Going up to her, Miss X would smile, wish her and execute a graceful small curtsey. Grandmother would smile and say “How do you do, Miss X? Please sit down.” She would smile and repeat “Go-od evening, Lady Varma,” and sit on the sofa opposite grandmother. They would exchange “How do you do’s” and talk about the weather for a few minutes.

A short pause and then my grandmother would say, “Why don’t you read from the Bible now?” Miss X would smile and delving her hand into the big bag would take out a large Holy Bible. She would choose a page and start reading. We children clustered around her and though we did not know English we wo-uld listen quietly. I remember she would invariably start “And then the Lord said...” What He said we never knew but I still remember those opening words.

My grandfather had taught my grandmother English. And having stayed in England for three years she could speak it quite well. She would listen carefully and interject with “very good” and “very true” and even an occasional “bhaish!” to show her appreciation. This would go on for some time and once in a way she would say, “Let me lie down and listen.”

Grandmother was 80 then. She would have been up, bathed, recited her Lalitha Sahasranamam and many other pray-ers, before 7 am; followed by breakfast, a short walk and lunch at 12. Listening to the papers, she would have been more than ready for a siesta. It was at this time of 4 pm or so that Miss X would visit. So sometimes she would quietly drop off to sleep and a small snore would be heard.

I, a self-conscious teenager, would be very upset and embarrassed. But Miss X would never pause her reading. A few minutes later, Grandmother would open her eyes and fully awake she would say, “Let me get you some tea now.” She wo-uld sit up and call out to Leela to get it.

Minutes later, Leela would come with a big wooden tray filled with plates of steaming idlis, vadas, biscuits and slices of cake, apart from milk, sugar and tea. She would put two-three idlis and a small heap of sugar on the plate, the vadas and maybe a piece of cake. Miss X would take a piece of idli, cover it with sugar and enjoy it. The fiery chili powder that the rest of us ate it with was too pungent for her. This amazed and amuses us!

Tea over, they would talk some more about the orphanage and embroidery class that Miss X ran. And then it would be time for her to go. Another handshake and graceful curtsey and Miss X would be off, chugging her way up the hill.

After she left, I would remonstrate grandmother for asking Miss X to read from the Bible and then dropping off to sleep! She would chuckle and say she never did. But one day she told me seriously that I should always remember that Miss X was a good woman and it gave her great pleasure when she was asked to read from the Bible.

“All religions are good, because they try to take us closer to God. It is we, the people, who cause all the trouble. Each one insists her/his religion is the best. And that causes fights and ill-feeling and that is what is to be avoided. Love all religions, respect them and live happily,” she said. I try to follow her wise advice.

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