“My Son is in the Hospital”

Or I could headline this post “A lady asked me for help today.” I was walking down CMH Road in my neighborhood toward the grocery store. A lady approaching me smiled and asked me something in English. I have to say I was surprised she was speaking in English considering she looked a bit unkempt — old and dirty-looking sari, teeth that needed a bit of fixing. She explained that she was not asking for money, but for some food. Her 40-year-old son was at NIMHANS (the renowned mental health hospital) and though the treatment was free, food was not provided. She said that he had not eaten in the last couple of days and was throwing up. So she asked if I could go to the restaurant across the street and buy 4 idli and 2 plain dosas.

I’m not sure if her story was 100 percent true, but is that what we are to judge when being asked for help? Especially because she was not asking for money. She said that I would get blessings if I helped her and kept touching my head, so I told her to please not touch me but I would help her.

I first said I would buy some bread from the grocery store, but she said that her son could only eat Indian food. I asked her to come with me, but she said “No, they will not like that a beggar lady is going into their restaurant, so I will wait here.” We walked a few more steps and she asked if I was from Bangalore but I said I am from California but my parents are originally from Kerala. This put a big smile on her face because she was also from there and she immediately switched to speaking Malayalam. I responded and asked her questions as best I could. Her name was Graciamma. She said that she had been married in 1972, her husband had died 8 years ago and her son had a mental condition. Her family in Kottayam (the same district where my parents are from) told her not to come back with her son with such a problem. She asked where I was staying and advised me to be careful about what I was drinking: “Only drink boiled water!”

I went across the street and bought 8 idlis and 5 masala dosas (I forgot the instructions about plain dosas). It took at least 15 minutes for the food to be prepared so I wondered if she thought I had wandered off. It also gave me time to think about what it felt like to be alone, wandering the street and asking for help. I wondered if I should give her money as well?

When I got back across the street with two full bags, she asked me how much everything was. So I told her not to worry, but she persisted (Rs. 390 = $6.40). She said was going to take the bus to the southern part of the city (probably an hour bus ride) and then walk to the hospital. She asked me to pray for her and her son. When we got to the grocery store, I asked her if she needed money. She said it would be nice, so I gave her Rs. 500 ($8.20). She asked why so much, but I said don’t worry about it. As I was doing this, the man who safeguards extra bags and packages in front of the grocery store was watching us and shaking his head. When the lady walked off and I walked toward him, he was still shaking his head and saying something in Hindi. So I said, it’s okay, she’s also from Kerala and we were talking. He didn’t say anything more.

Perhaps I got played big time. Perhaps her story was completely true and she was heading back to her son with some food. I will never know. But what is the point? There is something completely selfish in what I did. I guess I believe in karma — I hope something good comes back to me. I also think about that passage in the Bible in which Jesus says that when you feed or clothe or help someone in need, it is Him you are helping and honoring.