This time, I didn’t protest when my father told me to carry along a copy of my book to the post office. There was a pleasant young woman behind the metal desk. Behind her was a Godrej almirah with a pile of files inside. On the metal desk was a stapler with a string attached so that nobody would swipe it. Two calendars hung on the wall. One contained an image of Mahatma Gandhi with the caption: “Truth Labs: India’s first independent forensic science laboratory”. The other was a calendar from the Nagamma temple across the street. A man named Doddayya—literally Big Boss (now that’s a name)—stood in attendance.
The procedure was actually painless, even if it took 2 hours. The woman walked us through all the forms that we needed to fill and sign. My father had brought his PAN card and other documents in triplicate. Once the procedure was over, once the lady assured us that my dad’s money would be returned to his bank, it was time for the thank-you gift.
“My daughter is an author,” my father began. He had told me in advance that he wanted me to do the deed; to offer the book. “Tell her that the book is Saraswathi Kataksham: a gift from the goddess of learning,” he said.
“We would like you to have a copy of my book,” I said, handing it out.
“Thank you very much, Madame,” said the post office lady.
“We live down the road,” said my father. “If you pass by our house, why don’t you drop in? You have our address.”
Was this what my father was doing? Was he inviting strangers to his house simply because they had given him good service? We spent the rest of the time with me lecturing him about how old people were getting their throats slit by strangers and then feeling bad about the whole thing later.
While my dad’s arsenal of choice was books, my mom preferred clothes. She handed her old saris to the fruit vendor, cobbler, knife-sharpener, garbage cleaner, gardener, and the woman who sold fresh greens every morning. When she accompanied me to renew my driver’s licence, one of the clerks was very kind and helpful to us (which by the way is not as uncommon as people think—the much maligned Indian bureaucracy works and people do go out of their way to help hapless strangers).
On the way back, after renewing my licence, my mother asked, “Remember those free pyjamas that you used to get in airlines? Why don’t we give them to the man who helped us? He is large and that large-size one that is sitting around the house will fit him.”
“Ma, the job is done. The licence is renewed. Why would you go all the way to Yeshwanthpura to give a clerk a pair of pyjamas?”
“You never know,” said my mother. “It is best to have a good relationship with everyone.”
This then is the long view of life. I view interactions as transactions. My parents view interactions as relationships. Post office personnel get invited home for festivals; and the man at the transport office gets new nightwear because he complained that his joints were aching in Bengaluru’s cold weather. As for me, I have a lot of spare room in my storage closet these days.
Shoba Narayan has stopped complaining about her books occupying space in her house. Write to her at email@example.com