BOURNVITA – THE PINCH OF LOVE
This is a true Incident that happened in my life when I was 16 years old .
“It’s ironical to hear oneself called old, even at ninety I suppose !” However, I felt the truth of this statement when I met 70 yr old George in the chapel of an Elderly Home in Kolkata, thirty two years ago.
Those were the dream-ridden days of my adolescence. I was 16 and had just completed my High School exams . I hailed from a Baha’i family. My father, a Senior Manager at the Oberoi Hotel , and my mother a house wife both instilled in me a vision of service to mankind since my childhood. So when I had few months of spare time before joining college I decided to volunteer my services to such desolate people as were utterly in need of someone’s special love and care, and this pressing desire directed my footsteps to that Home for the Aged near my house.
No doubt, they were always in need of volunteers but there was a problem…. “Listen,Tina!” the Director looked into my face: “Think before you decide. Old people tend to be emotionally involved with those who serve them. You will come here for a week or so and then disappear as most youths do. This is too heart-breaking for them as they tend to get attached easily.” . I understood but my desire was firm. Yet, I decided to really ponder over it before I could commit. The Director allowed me to visit the Home for next few days, observe and see what type of a person would be emotionally akin to me.
It was perhaps during my fourth visit when those pensive notes from the chapel drew me as if with a magnetic power. The evening mass was over and a graceful-looking septuagenarian was playing the piano. I loved playing the piano myself, so I can’t say if it was my love for piano or for that long-faced, narrow- chinned, slender-fingered old man that immediately spurred me to arrive at a decision – an unchangeable decision.
I reached out to him bending over the piano, though the mass was over and all had left the chapel but for him and me, I whispered to him “Uncle, Hi I am Tina your new volunteer ? He raised his face. I saw his eyes were brimming with tears. He was lost in another world for sure… some nostalgia … some reminiscences of the past … God knows better..! Looking at me he smiled, wiped his tears with his white, slender fingers, forcefully wore a little indignation on his childlike face and said: “Hey, don’t call me Uncle I am George, ok ?” “Oh, Ok”, I smiled and helped him out the hall using his old walking stick.
My mission was clear. I met the Director and informed him of my conviction that I would volunteer to look after George. Amazed he was: “What prompted you to select George ?
He is the most difficult member of this Elderly Home …stubborn & too emotional !” “Well Perhaps, that’s why I liked him at first sight”, to my utter dismay George was more than what the Director said. It was honestly difficult to convince him even to change his stinking socks and dirty trousers, but I succeeded ultimately and made him ‘docile’ enough to obey my love-packed commands. And soon a time came when he would eagerly wait for my arrival each day.
One day i was late in coming as i had an exam in my russian class at Gorky Sadan and he needed assistance, he did not allow any other volunteer to even touch him but yell: “I don’t need your help , Tina will come and take care of me better than you”.
Days went by like that but I cannot forget that particular day when I came to George and saw him hugging his Bournvita can and sobbing like a baby. I silently came behind him as he was resting in an easy chair on the balcony,holding the tin of Bournvita tightly and uttering: “Ben, O Ben! I love you my Son”, with a voice deeply submerged in his painful laments. I wiped his tears with my hanky, knelt down and asked: “Who’s this Ben, George! And Why are you crying?” He burst out, took my hand in his hands and wept as though clouds of emotions had erupted as never before. It was through his sobbing, through his half-spelt tearful sentences that the whole story was revealed to me.
Ben was George’s son, now living in Australia. Nearly 8 years ago he had left George in this home for the aged and migrated to Australia where he settled with his family. At that time, he assured his senile father that he would come back by next Christmas and take him with him but that ‘golden time’ never came in the life of the forlorn old man. Each year, especially on Christmas, he waited eagerly for Ben as an innocent child would for Santa Claus… but all in vain…!!. His son had left with him with just a tin of Bournvita and now that too was finishing. George cried bitterly and said “Every day I would eat a tiny pinch of Bournvita and remember my son. Now even this memory of his is finishing”.
It was unbelievable for me …. not just because it told me the secret of a father’s deep love for his son as he was consuming it pinch-by-pinch since last 8 years, as the only reminiscence of his son, but also because it related the heartlessness of a generation so insensitive, so self-centred. No doubt, Ben had failed as a dutiful son ,he was happy and flourishing in Australia ,forgetting completely that he had left his Dad in the Elderly Home with no letters, nor news from him.
I on my part, decided to act. I knew that the only way to make George happy was to to do something to cheer him up.Angels were on my side as I found that George’s birthday was just that week-end. I told my father about his story and he immediately bought the largest tin of Bournvita available in the market for George. I knew it would be difficult for me to convince George, as he was too inquisitive. It was really an uphill task to wrap the Bournvita tin and make it appear as an air-parcel from Australia from his son Ben, But I had no other option than to trust in God to make things possible.
On his birthday, I left the parcel with the Director. As per my plan, another young volunteer rushed to George’s room when I was feeding him his supper: “O Tina, a big gift-parcel has come for George from Australia”. George looked so happy and utterly surprised and instructed me to rush and get the gift.
I brought the mysterious gift to George. I had intentionally hidden his magnifying glass so that he does not insist on reading the sender’s address or see the postal stamp. In great excitement I shouted: “George, Wow! It’s from your son Ben. I can’t wait, please let me open it now”. “Sure , sure” he was too happy to say anything else as tears of joy welled in his eyes.
Out came the Large Bournvita tin throbbing the heart of a father waiting for this gift of love for last 8 years. Time stood still….!! For a moment, he could not believe that his son Ben still remembers him but the next moment all doubts melted and so did George’s tears. He sat down on the floor, hugged the most precious gift he could ever receive and cried out: “Ben, I knew you love me…I knew you love me”. What could we say but hold our own tears? Yes, Old men are like that. It makes them feel so important to think that someone loves them.
This is an incident which is very close to my heart and something I’ll never forget .