The foreign friend

Thatha is a 79-year-old gentleman who took to walking in our park two years ago. He lives alone after his wife’s death, much against his only daughter’s wishes. But being quite active and alert, he manages well. We, the regular walkers in the park have taken to him. We walk Thatha back home, exchange pleasantries and often enquire when he misses his walk.

Thatha tells some of us about his tryst as a high ranking official in the telephone industry. He was deputed to foreign countries and it was on one such posting in Belgium that he met Joanna, a tour guide and her husband Wilfred. This was 40 years ago. Soon the families grew close. Joanna visited India six times and one visit was for Thatha’s daughter’s wedding.

The current visit is Joanna’s first after she lost her husband and Thatha his wife. Thatha pondered about how to showcase the Bangalore of now. Food was not an issue as the cook was very efficient and Joanna loved Indian food. Thatha gave me an update of the preparations for the foreign friend, how the house got all spruced up by the able daughter. “Not that it needed much cleaning,” added the house proud gentleman.

Two days before Joanna’s arrival we asked Thatha whether he would go to the airport to receive his guest. Thatha shook his head and said: “but I will bring her to the park.” And that morning Thatha walked in with his friend. If Joanna was surprised at the sight of men and women clapping, plucking grass and vigorously rubbing their fingers together, she didn’t show it. It must have felt like a great photo-op for the lady as she kept clicking. While each one of us introduced ourselves and made pleasant talk, some walkers discretely enquired Thatha about the lady’s age and on being told that she was 75, let out admiring gasps.

Then the gentleman of the walking group, whose house abuts the park, did a disappearing act and re-appeared with a thermos, cups and fresh cookies. “The biscuits are very tasty Ma’m, eat them,” he urged Joanna. The foreign guest savoured the treat. The talk about Flemish language, Belgium’s high population density and Indian conditions would have gone on but for the lady who comes to close the gates of the park.

“It is a beautiful park, I will tell my children and grand children about this,” declared Joanna. “Thank you and send us pictures,” we all chorused even as Thatha beamed at the reception his Belgian friend had got from his park friends.

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