When Nidhi befriended an elderly gentleman in the park and offered him a sandwich, little did she know she was going to change his life and hers too
By Rhituparna Chakraborty
Chatterbox Nidhi was walking back to her hostel from her college with her bestie Sonia. It was the second month of college and Nidhi was missing home. Thanks to Sonia, she had started liking her new life. Getting admission in this college was a dream come true for her.
She had always been fascinated by magnificent architecture, tall stylish buildings and sometimes even quaint architecture styles. All she wanted to become in life was an architect. This college was the one of the best colleges for architecture in this country and getting admission here through entrance examination was certainly not breeze. But Nidhi made it.
Although she could not make it in her first attempt, however, in the second attempt, she topped the merit list. Away from home, she found happiness and friendship in her room mate Sonia who eventually became her best friend.
On their way home from college, Nidhi would usually gaze at the tall buildings and new constructions happening around. She would tell Sonia, ‘See, these buildings surely look majestic, but to know the style, we need to visit these places. Our field trips don’t take us to all the places we want to.’ Sonia laughed and said, ‘We can actually go and take a peep.’
Pointing to a grandiose building, Sonia said, ‘Look there. Ashirvaad Nivaas. Now, that house is an epitome of style, beauty, and perfect architecture. To know the style, we must visit this mansion once. How is our college going to take us there? College won’t. We have to go on our own.’
Nidhi said, ‘Hmm. You have a point. Maybe on the pretext of collecting donation for the upcoming youth festival of our college, we can visit this house. What say?’ Sonia laughed and said, ‘Yes girl. Anything for knowledge. In near future we will be designing mansions like this or even better than this.’
Giggling, talking, Nidhi and Sonia reached the park right in front of their hostel. This was their daily stop. The girls would buy two sandwiches from the college cafeteria and would sit on a bench in the park and enjoy the snack.
The girls had their favorite bench right in front of a see saw. And it was long enough to accommodate three people. However, Nidhi and Sonia used to make faces at anyone who would sit near them. The reason, they wanted to relax and gossip without anyone disturbing them.
However, today, before they reached, someone else was already sitting there. It was an elderly gentleman. Must be in his late 70s. He was wearing a faded pair of trousers and a white plain shirt. He had curly, unruly white strands of hair which were not combed properly. He was lean and tall. He wore a pair of black framed glasses.
His wrinkled skin covering his body and his oval shaped face with a pleasant smile, made the girls say ‘Hi’ to the gentleman. The gentleman replied with a delightful ‘hello’. Looking at the gentleman, it seemed he came from a modest background. The girls sat beside the gentleman and were about to munch on their sandwiches when Nidhi felt she should offer the sandwich to the gentleman.
Nidhi too came from a modest background. She knew what it was to be hungry. Nidhi’s dad was an auto-rickshaw driver while her mom was a housekeeper. She had two more siblings. She knew the sacrifices her family had made for her education. For Nidhi this sandwich was her lunch because after that she would have dinner at the hostel mess.
She could not afford to buy one more sandwich because, from her frugal pocket money, she tried to save money for a rainy day as well. Sonia devoured her sandwich quickly because she was voraciously hungry.
Nidhi was hungry too, but she thought she should offer the sandwich to the gentleman. Very politely, Nidhi said, ‘Sir, would you like to have this sandwich.’ The gentleman spoke with a shivering voice and said, ‘Thank You. I have not had lunch today. I am hungry.’ Saying this, he took the sandwich, ate it with immense satisfaction and said, ‘Dear, can I get some water?’
Nidhi smiled and said, ‘Sure Sir.’ Nidhi looked around. Her water bottle was empty. She could go to the hostel and get some water, but it would take time. She then went to the store near the park and bought a bottle of packaged water. It cost 20 bucks. It was not easy for Nidhi to spend 20 bucks. Nonetheless, her mother had said once, ‘Whatever is destined for you, you always get it. If you need to give your share of food or money to someone needy, you will get it back. Don’t worry. Nobody has become poor by giving.’
The gentleman happily quenched his thirst. Seeing Nidhi engrossed with the elderly gentleman, Sonia told Nidhi, ‘I am going to hostel. See you girl. Now, come soon. Okay?’ Nidhi said, ‘Yes Sonia, you go ahead. I will join you in some time.’
The elderly gentleman sat there with his hands joined on his lap and looking at a blank spot. Nidhi said, ‘My name is Nidhi Sharma. I stay in that hostel. What’s your name?’ The gentleman seemed to think a lot and said, ‘I… I don’t remember. What’s my name?’
Nidhi started worrying now. She realized that the gentleman probably suffered from some kind of disease which made him forget things occasionally. She then said, ‘Oh. Where do you live?’ The gentleman looked at Nidhi and said, ‘I don’t know.’ Now Nidhi was hell worried. She had to help this gentleman go home. But how? Police? Yes, she could inform the police.
Just then a lady came and said, ‘Oh you are here. It is time to go now. Let’s go.’ Nidhi looked at the lady. She looked like in her late 40s. She was wearing a simple salwar suit and her hair was tied in a bun. Nidhi thought, ‘Must be his daughter.’ Nidhi smiled at the lady.
The lady smiled back and said, ‘He usually comes here and sits but forgets his way home. Last couple of months he was not well so he did not come. Today when he was missing from home, I knew this was where he could be. Thanks for being with him. I will take him home now.’ Nidhi said, ‘I was worried for a moment.’ The lady smiled and said, ‘Thanks again. See you soon.’
Nidhi was still worried. She was in a dilemma. Should she have checked the lady’s identity? Should she have informed the police? Is the gentleman safe? Thinking about all these, Nidhi could not sleep the entire night. Next day, right after college, she rushed to the park hoping to see the gentleman. She was relieved when she saw him.
Sonia understood that Nidhi had loved spending time with the gentleman, so she went to the hostel directly while Nidhi went on to sit beside the gentleman and talk to him. Seeing Nidhi, the gentleman smiled. Nidhi took out her sandwich and offered to him.
He said, ‘I am hungry. Thank you.’ He ate the sandwich. Today Nidhi had filled her water bottle with water from college itself. She offered him water. He drank the water and said, ‘What’s your name?’ Nidhi knew the gentleman did not remember anything she had told him yesterday. She said again, ‘My name is Nidhi Sharma’.
The gentleman asked, ‘Are you a student?’. Nidhi said, ‘Yes, I am a student at Imperial College of Architecture.’ The gentleman said, ‘Hmm. Must be a new college. I never heard of that name.’ Nidhi smiled and said, ‘No. It’s a very old college.’ The gentleman did not say anything. Nidhi and the gentleman then spent around 45 minutes looking at the children playing and talking about trees, flowers, weather and the like.
This became a regular routine for Nidhi. Nidhi always skipped her sandwich lunch because she loved offering her sandwich to that elderly gentleman. After seeing the gentleman’s daughter, Nidhi was sure that this family did not come from a well-to-do background. The gentleman’s daughter indeed was plump and fit but her attire proved they did not belong to either the upper class, upper middle class or even middle-class society.
Months passed. Nidhi always met the gentleman, and she was the one who answered his questions because he could never answer any question Nidhi asked because of his forgetfulness. Nidhi never had the heart to ask the gentleman’s daughter also about anything. Moreover, by the time the daughter came to pick the gentleman, it was time for Nidhi to rush to the hostel.
After the exams, Nidhi went home. She would be back in a month. She had told the gentleman. However, she knew he would not remember. Nonetheless, she hoped to see him once she was back.When she came back, she did not see him. She waited for him in the park, she walked around in the vicinity of the hostel hoping to see him or even the lady but was disappointed.
She saw no one. Sonia tried to cheer Nidhi up by saying, ‘Come on,don’t lose focus. I understand you shared a bond with grandpa, but we should not lose focus. You need to grow in your career Nidhi. So do I.’ Nidhi replied with a sad ‘hmm’ and said, ‘I hope he is alive. That’s all I want. I don’t even know his name.’ Sonia hugged Nidhi tight and said, ‘It’s okay,sweetie.’
Couple of days passed. Nidhi did not see the gentleman. One fine day Nidhi was busy with her books in her room when someone called out her name and said, ‘Nidhi, you have guests.’ Nidhi was surprised. So was Sonia. Nidhi did not have any relatives here.
Who could have come? Nidhi rushed out. She was in for a pleasant surprise. It was that gentleman’s daughter. Nidhi looked around. With that lady was a gentleman but he was not that elderly gentleman. Nidhi looked at the lady and asked, ‘Ma’am where is your dad? Is he fine?’
The lady looked at Nidhi and said, ‘He was not my dad but he loved me like my dad. I was his caretaker. He is no more.’ Nidhi stood there shocked. Tears welled in her eyes.
The lady came near Nidhi and said, ‘You know Sir suffered from some ailment which made him forget things. He used to forget many things. He never remembered what he ate, when he ate, whether he took a shower or not, nothing. But there were three things that he never forgot. His way from home to the park, the sandwich you gave him every day and you. He never remembered a single name. However, he remembered your name Nidhi Sharma.’
Nidhi listened to the lady with tears dripping from her eyes. The gentleman standing near Nidhi said, ‘I am here to tell you about Mr. Jamnadas Verma’s will. I am his lawyer. I had made his will. He had declared that after his death his home Aashirvaad Nivaas will belong to you Ms. Nidhi Verma.’
JamnadasVerma was a rich industrialist who did not have a family. He had given some of his assets to his staff and the mansion to Nidhi Sharma. Why? Because the girl who can stay hungry to satisfy someone’s hunger will always be willing to take care of poverty-stricken people.Nidhi’s mom was right. No one ever became poor by giving.
#Disclaimer: This is an original work of fiction with no relation to any person/organism living or dead. Every episode, every character is a work of imagination. Any resemblance to any person, organism, place or character is purely coincidental. There is no intention to hurt or rebuke anyone through this work. This story/episode cannot be copied, published or reproduced without the permission of the author Rhituparna Chakraborty.
Illustration by Sid Ghosh
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Rhituparna is a content developer and soft skills trainer. An ardent fan of diaspora writers like JhumpaLahiri, she has written around 199 stories so far, some of which have been published in The Sentinel. She writes a blog https://rheetuparnachakkravorty.medium.com/