My wife asked me to start attending Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meetings at the Bombay Scottish School. “Please show some involvement” she said angrily “ How do you expect me to attend every time?”. I thought she was right.
I decided to go for the slot allocated for PTA every fortnight. I was keen to know about what the teachers thought about my daughter Devika. Devika was studying in 8th grade then. She hated mathematics and I did not blame her. She was however good at the subjects of art and literature. You have to be good at something no matter what.
The PTA meeting was scheduled on Fridays and my slot was at 3 pm. At this slot, parents having their children above 7th grade were entertained.
I did not want to be late for the first PTA encounter so I reached well before 3 pm. It was 2 45 pm when I entered the gate. And this was the first time I met with Mrs. Bharucha.
Mrs. Bharucha was a very dignified woman in early sixties. You wouldn’t miss her as she had a great complexion, a grace and a kind face. She was at the gate with an umbrella and looked a bit lost and worried.
She stopped me “Mr.… sorry to bother you. Could you please let me make a call from your mobile? My mobile phone is dead and I need to call my driver for picking me up”
“Of course,”, I said to this gallant lady and handed over my mobile. “Could you please dial this number for me? I don’t know how to use your mobile phone”. She said apologetically.
I dialed the number and handed over the phone to Mrs. Bharucha. I saw her face irritated first, but then I saw her smile. She said “OK, Babu (presumably drivers name), finish your chai first and then come – but don’t take too long – I will be waiting for you inside the gate”
Then she returned my phone and thanked me profusely.
When I told her that I was at the school to attend PTA meeting for my daughter, Mrs. Bharucha explained to me that she too was there to attend PTA meeting for her granddaughter Shirin.
We walked towards a tree in the school’s courtyard as there was some time for Babu to come. I introduced myself and told her about Devika.
“I am glad that you and your wife are taking the PTA meetings seriously. Few parents do. My son Hirji and daughter-in-law Kermeene have never found time to attend these meetings. So, I have taken the responsibility. I don’t blame them though – life is too busy for them and the 2 pm slot is not simply working” said Mrs. Bharucha. I could see that while she was complaining, she was appreciating their difficulty –I could also sense that she was extremely attached to her granddaughter Shirin.
“Shirin studies in the 5th standard” Mrs. Bharucha said while returning to the gate to locate her driver Babu. She showed me her picture. Shirin looked so innocent and beautiful.
I did not see Mrs. Bharucha when I went for the second PTA meeting. Maybe she left before I reached the school -I thought.
The third time therefore I reached the school early and there she was – standing at the gate with her umbrella.
“Hello Dr Modak – how are you and how is your daughter Devika doing”. I realized that Mrs. Bharucha had a sharp memory and real good manners.
Well, all OK Mrs. Bharucha I said
“I may need your help Dr Modak. Mrs. Bharucha said. “Shirin has been asked to do an environmental project –on waste segregation and composting. I see you are a medical doctor, but do you have a friend who works in the environmental field and who can help me out?”
I smiled and explained to Mrs. Bharucha that I was not a medical doctor and incidentally worked in the environmental field.
“Oh then, you are an angel, Dr Modak”. Mrs. Bharucha said in a voice with tremor. “Would you mind giving me some literature, pictures and brochures that Shirin could build on? Shirin is so passionate about environment.
And I said it will be my pleasure.
This is how our interactions began. I used to come 15 to 20 minutes early before every PTA and meet Mrs. Bharucha for a brief chat under the tree. Each time I used to listen to a new story about Shirin.
“Dr Modak Shirin is now into a competition to write an essay on Ozone Hole – Help me please”;
“Shirin is taking part in the green warriors group in our society. This group is chasing residents to replace candescent lamps with CFLs and LEDs. Need some material from you Doc”
Mrs. Bharucha used to demand my help and I used to happily provide her with materials whatever I could.
I also realized that there is so much to do to help school children to understand the good and bad news on environment – with nice infographics in local languages, audio visual clips, interactive web sites, stock of posters and stickers and so on. We do have agencies in India like the Centre for Environmental Education, C P Ramaswamy Iyer Foundation, Centre for Science and Environment etc. – but we need many more. I thought I should do just this work on a mission mode now instead of generating consultancy reports that are not read and various recommendations that I make that are never paid heed to.
I was therefore very keen to see Shirin one day.
“You certainly will” said Mrs. Bharucha. “In fact, I am asking Hirji and Kermeene to invite you, your wife Kiran and daughter Devika for a dinner at our home in Parsi Colony. I will prepare Dhansak (a Parsi dish)– Shirin loves my style of cooking”
Oddly and strangely enough I did not see Mrs. Bharucha for the next two PTA meetings. I was wondering whether anything was wrong. I was not comfortable and decided to find out.
So, after my PTA was done, I went to the Principals office. I knew the Principal otherwise through some social connections.
When I narrated my encounter with Mrs. Bharucha, and that I wanted to know whether everything was alright, I saw the Principal’s face solemn and quiet.
“Well Dr Modak, Mrs. Bharucha passed away two weeks ago. She suffered a massive cardiac arrest”
“Oh”, I was stunned. I remembered every conversation with her, the good chats we had and her tremendous love and affection towards Shirin. And of course, Shirin’s passion for the environment.
“It must be a shock to Shirin and a great loss to her Son Hirji and daughter in law Kermeene” I said to the Principal.
Now it was the Principal’s turn to be shocked.
“Dr Modak, didn’t you know that Hirji, Kermeene and Shirin met with a fatal car accident on way to Mahabaleswar some five years ago. Mrs. Bharucha suffered a brain hemorrhage and never believed that such a tragic loss happened. She started coming to the school to attend PTA meetings for Shirin and on consultation with her doctors, we let her come so that she stayed blissfully unaware in her own world. We knew that the reality will be so savage that she won’t be able to bear”
When I stepped out of Principal’s office and reached the gate, a little Parsi girl came running. She almost banged on me
“Very sorry uncle” she said. She was wearing a green cap that had a slogan “Green Warrior”
Was she Shirin? Or was the Principal lying? Or was I hallucinating?
I asked my wife to take over attending the next PTA meetings
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Really true ….”there is so much to do to help school children to understand the good and bad news on environment “….. we really need many more resources
Great Story Prasad : A La Saki and O’Henry.