Random Acts of Kindness

I love food. Love buying it, love cooking it, and love eating. Maybe this is the reason why I don’t like cooking only for myself. As a result, I often invite people over for meals. If you know me (and I like you), you have definitely eaten something cooked by me. The 3/4ths of a year I spent in Chicago was filled with many such get-togethers. Once I had invited my Chinese friends over and was waiting for them in the lobby so I could let them in—International House, the dorm where I stayed, was entry by key access. I-House also organised a lot of cultural events, open to all, and on such occasions the front doors were kept unlocked. Which meant I should have been waiting for their text/call instead of them but then we wouldn’t have this story. So there I was, hovering like a poltergeist, when a lady came out of the Assembly Hall (where the talk/show was being held) and walked towards me. I was prepared to be all ghostlike and pretend I wasn’t there because I’m one those people, the ones you see on movie and TV screens, the ones who turn around to see who the person waving at them is waving at. She asked where she could find drinking water. I told her about the drinking fountain in the dining area (I’m not rude; lack of ‘normal’ amounts of confidence makes me do ‘inappropriate’ things sometimes). She wanted to eat her medicines and asked again, even started to give me money so I could buy her a bottle of water. I walked to my locker, took out a glass, filled it with water, and brought it back to her. She was thankful. I hung around because I wasn’t sure if she would drink the entire thing then, ask for more, throw the glass away, take it with her, or just because I didn’t know what the next proper response was. Then I left. My friends reached. They brought food with them (they never listen!). We had a great time. Sometimes they would forget about me and start jabbering away in Mandarin so I would go back to my favourite pastime of observing people, freed from the obligation of taking part in a conversation. After I had said goodbye to them and was walking back, I crossed the place where I had met the lady. My glass was still there. Underneath it was a note.


For some reason (okay, I know what reason), the janitorial staff at I-House is either Hispanic or African-American. During my first week there, I once shared an elevator with a Mexican expat/naturalized US citizen(?). He started to speak to me in Spanish before my clueless expression gave me away. We went on to become good friends. I would always say hola when I spotted him, regardless of the fact that we didn’t have much to say to each other. Everything that could be said had already been spoken. All the Spanish phrases he had taught me had been endlessly repeated. He was assigned my floor so I would know it was him whenever I heard cleaning sounds in the loo. On one such loo visit, he told me about the bad cold and headache he was suffering through and I offered to give him some medicine I had carried from home (my mum is a doctor; I’ve been self-medicating from a long, long time). He was super pleased and thankful but then he was always super cheerful, even while complaining about being ill. I met him a few days later and he was better, and feeling super-super-pleased, so much so that he was telling the other cleaning staff member about the huge “favour” I had done him (I ended up giving medicine to the other guy too). He then invited me to share his lunch and I politely refused (note to self: do not pass up opportunities to have good food!). I had no idea how thankful he was until I reached my room to find a box of chocolate precariously balanced on the door handle.

I don’t quite know how to deal with people thanking me. My native language doesn’t even have a word for “welcome”. My mum gave me a gentle ribbing for my medicine-for-chocolate programme when I told her about it. In the end, it was J who had done a kindness to me. Like the lady with the tall glass of water. Both these thank you notes made me feel like I mattered. That at a certain point in time, I had made a meaningful, positive difference to someone’s life. The number of people who have been kind to me is way larger than the number of people who I have been helpful to. I think this is the way I should (mis?)represent it in my head, it inspires me to keep trying to level the score. Every time I feel used or exploited by a friend or family member, I think of my friend who gave me her pack of Oreo biscuits during a lunch talk because the only thing being served was pepperoni pizza (ah! the trials of being a vegetarian in a carnivorous world). The same friend who, within two hours of talking to me, gave me a free ticket to the Field Museum (a place I wouldn’t have visited otherwise). The woman in Boston who stopped me and offered to give me directions when I was lost in the rain. The man on the platform in a Frankfurt station who stopped me from getting on the wrong train, not to the airport, when I was saddled with two heavy suitcases and the worry of getting them out of there. The young girl at the Ben Gurion airport bus terminal who stopped me from getting on the wrong bus (there was more trouble later when I finally reached Herzliya). All these people who helped a stranger, without being asked, without expecting anything in return. In doing a kindness to other people, you are doing a kindness to yourself. Because what goes around, comes around. Be nice to everyone, even if they are not nice to you, because someone is waiting for the chance to be nice to you. Random kindness is the most contagious form there is so let’s just infect everybody. Make this world a kinder place.


If you feel warm and fuzzy after reading this (or otherwise), please tell me about a time when somebody random was nice to you (in a comment below).   

It was a White Night—Part I

I was standing in ankle deep snow, trying to gain some semblance of understanding. The moon was hanging overhead, a luminous orb streaming light in my direction. The straps of my backpack were cutting through my shoulders but I was too cold to feel any pain. There were no streetlights because there were no streets. Just snow covered pathways leading into darkness. Not a single soul in sight. But I was not alone in this nightmare. My friend was a few paces behind me; same backpack on her shoulders, same confusion in her mind.

Self-recriminatory thoughts formed a line in my head and marched in a loop. Why did I choose to come to the Grand Canyon in end-December? Why did I not reach before sunset? Why couldn’t I be normal and book a hotel room instead of a random stranger’s trailer-couch? What if s/he turned out to be a psychotic mass murderer? What if s/he was not at home? What if s/he did not have place for us? Why didn’t I have a plan B? Why couldn’t I be normal and book a hotel room instead of a random stranger’s couch? Which idiot chooses the Grand Canyon, in winter, for the first couchsurfing experience? Why couldn’t I be normal and book a hotel room instead of a random stranger’s couch? Why was I doing this to myself?

Pushing aside the voice in my head, I tried to concentrate on the task ahead. Baby steps. Find the trailer village. Find the street. Find the trailer. Knock. Wait for the door to open. Let’s hope not to rinse and repeat.

It was cold, I was hungry, my friend was very nervous, I had the contact number on my phone but the battery was dead. Staying rooted to the spot was not helping. So we decided to move. Chose a random direction and started walking. In the dim moonlight we could make out the silhouettes of RVs and trailers. The wooden sign boards, half buried in snow, displayed an alphabet. This couldn’t be right. I was looking for street numbers. Maybe we were in the wrong trailer village. How many trailer villages were there? Will the shuttle still be running at this time? It then struck me, clear as the night sky we were standing under—what I had assumed to be a Roman numeral was actually a Latin alphabet. Armed with this knowledge and the hope that I wouldn’t end up sleeping in the snow tonight, I started walking. Though the snow, in the dark night, shivering with cold and fear of the unknown. Reached the end of the lane, made a turn, found the wrong street. Cut through the space between the trailers, frantically counting all the boxes, looking for the wooden sign boards. Finally reached the trailer we thought was The One, white and silent. Jumped the fence, managed not to fall flat on my face. Still silence. It seemed like no one was home. All I could hear was my heart hammering in my head. I took in a deep breath and knocked.


Written in response to the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge-




If I were to list the things I love about Chicago, this structure would make it to the top two. I clicked this photograph on the day of my first visit to The Bean. The girl in the picture is the friend I went with. It was a completely instantaneous and impulsive shot on both are parts. Like a pistol duel with cameras. If you look close enough, you can see my reflection in the Cloud Gate (official name). I don’t have the photo she took off me taking her photo but then, it can’t possibly be as interesting as the one I do have.

Meanwhile in…

Chicago: it was minus 40 degrees yesterday (factoring in wind-chill). The Uni didn’t have classes (pretty big thing for one which has declared snow days only twice in the last 33 years). I’m pretty bummed out about missing all this, even if it only meant sitting in my room all day, glumly staring out of the window.


Sunday’s newspaper: there featured an article about J. D. Salinger’s preferred south Indian dish—rasam vada. I’m a big fan of vada sambhar but my all time favourite remains rava masala dosa.


Postcrossing universe: none of my ‘first’ five postcards have reached their intended recipients. I’m worried (?) they’ll all expire and that will mean five less random surprises for me.


Samoa: the national airlines has introduced a fare system based on the passengers’ weights. I knew I couldn’t be the only who thought of this. My idea is slightly different—assign a fixed amount to each passenger and let them allot it between their weight and their luggage weight. This way I get to carry more stuff in my suitcase rather than in my fat cells. Who knows, this might help the fight against obesity?


Pesternomi: there are two shiny badges. One’s for the letter-writing-postcard-mailing challenge I hope to take in February (more on that later) and the other’s for WordPress’ zero-to-hero assignment. Both involve actual work on my part every day, and anything that does that is too good to pass up.

Winter is a Dying Month

It’s been a few days since I found out about the death of the Math Pirate. I’ve never met him, I’m probably didn’t even spot him once during my eight-month stint at UChicago, and yet I feel a deep sense of loss. It’s the abrupt, unforeseen end to the endless possibilities that hurt. I could have unknowingly enrolled for his class and been part of the Sally Gang. I could have screwed up the courage to scream “Yo Sally!” in class, maybe even gone during the office hours and found out something more about the man. Deaths like these hurt everyone, especially those who never ever get to experience the magic. It’s like the Grand Canyon being erased off the face of the earth before you get to see it. Or sometimes even before you know it existed.


Another Chicago great I could not meet before his death is Ronald Coase. I had been taught the Coase theorem in my Law and Economics class but the simplicity and brilliance of it didn’t really register, probably because I was too busy wrapping my head around the Nash equilibrium. Needless to say, I might be the only one in my class who didn’t mention him in the SoP when applying to the program at UChicago. At least Coase has left behind enough work that I can read. I will get my hands on ‘Tools of the Trade” but I dare say I’m going to understand much.


The death that hit me the most was of that of Vepa Sarathi. It was in my final year of law school and by then I had taken all the courses he offered (Property, Evidence) though I had barely talked to him. He would have turned 96 in a few months and I thought he would live forever. I kept putting off going for his office hours, thinking there was more time. Until there wasn’t. I have three of his books and a little part of him still lives in the margins of my notebooks. I still regret not talking to him though. The day he died was the day I realised that life is too short to be spent waiting for tomorrow. I had got be less risk averse and this decision led me to go on a white water rafting trip with four complete strangers a few days down the line. Every time I think of putting things off, I think of Vepa, walking stick in hand, eyes crinkling with laughter, and missed opportunities.