India is a big country and it is a great country too, but not all of us understand its greatness. Most of us only look at its shortcomings and address them without suggesting a solution, much less doing something in that direction. The reason is that we don’t try to understand India and instead keep on judging it. It is often said that there is unity in India’s diversity and sometimes the same is said in a reverse manner. Whatever be the manner of saying so, it is a fact. I had a first-hand experience of this in the year 1999 in Tamil Nadu, where I had gone as an election observer for the parliamentary election. My place of duty was Ariyalur in Perambulur district. Now it has been made an independent district. At Ariyalur, my stay arrangement was made in a government cement factory where I reached late in the evening. I was to stay there for about three weeks, though with gaps. The place was comfortable and there appeared to be no major problem except for the monotony of the south Indian food. The constituency was considered to be a peaceful one. After a good night’s sleep, as I was preparing to come out of the guest house for morning walk, I noticed a short elderly person wearing half-pants and a rule in hand waiting in the lounge. As I was coming out of my room the gentleman intercepted me with a question. He wanted to know whether any observer was there from Lucknow and if yes, who that was. He must have come to know about it from the guest house authorities or the local revenue officials. When I told him that it was me, he felt very happy and gave me an offer. He said that his name was Perumal and he was posted at Lucknow for a long time in the Army Medical Corps and had settled in Ariyalur after retirement. He further said that being a north Indian, I might face problems with the food, as chapatis were not available in the guest house. Since his wife knew how to make chapatis, he offered me chapatis whenever I wished to eat them. I could tell the caretaker and he would arrange the same from his home.
I was deeply touched by the offer. I immediately realised that he was a very good person and gratefully accepted his offer without any serious intention of invoking the right he had given to me. Then I enquired more about him. His house was very near to the guest house on the main road. I also accepted his invitation to visit his home. More than anything else, his offer made me feel at home in that remote corner of Tamil Nadu, far away from my hometown. Subsequently, I learnt from the officials at the guest house as well as the revenue department that he was a very popular person in town and was very helpful too. After becoming sure of his credentials, one morning during my walk I felt like visiting his house, which was very near. He had a very simple house with natural surroundings. All his children were well-settled and he felt great pride in talking about them and also in saying how he and his wife had made sacrifices in order to bring them up. Most of the time they lived separately for the sake of their education and it was only in Lucknow that they stayed together for a couple of years. That was how she had acquired chapati-making skills. I enjoyed spending some time with him over a cup of coffee. Thus, our affection grew during my stay at Ariyalur and I visited him some two more times. Once I invoked my right of getting chapatis from his home, more to show respect to his kindness than out of real need. He joyfully obliged, though it was a different matter that according to the north Indian standards the stuff was anything but chapati. But the affection of his family was very much evident in the product. The affection continued to grow thereafter, as he kept in touch with me over the telephone and through letters after the election. And I was amazed with joy when the first New Year call in the year 2000 was from Mr Perumal. Till today, the first call I receive on every New Year is from Mr Perumal at 5:30 a.m. sharp. Isn’t India great?