In early January this year, I spent a few days in Fort Kochi, Kerala, India. This is a story about someone who inspired me to ‘A Random Act of Kindness’.
After my morning Yoga, I walked back to my home stay, past some school gates where I saw a woman crying, with a 4-year-old daughter near her. As I looked at her, she averted her gaze and hid her face in her handkerchief. Her eyes looked like she had been crying for over 15-20 minutes and she looked distressed. I follow my instincts as much as I can in moments like these and my instinct was to connect, to offer her some human connection & care - it is what I would have wanted for me in that moment.
I cannot speak Malayalam (the regional language in Kerala where I was) and luckily, she could speak some broken English. She really had no idea whether she could trust me but under the circumstances, we both took a risk. She shared that she had a 2-hour window to complete her daughter’s admission to the school and had to pay annual fees for the year in one go...and she had a few thousand rupees less. They wouldn’t accept a partial instalment and asked her to leave as she got emotional, when she asked for some flexibility; she was holding up the long queue. She was Muslim, her husband was Hindu – she had no family support. She looked very distraught about the deadline, she had gold earrings in her hand and she never once asked me for any help.
As I suggested I could help, she looked visibly upset and ashamed. She wanted to pay me back and asked for my bank details. She offered me her gold earrings; I could see how genuinely she wanted to do this on her own and how difficult it was for her to negotiate receiving funds from a stranger. Yet, she was caught between a rock and a hard place. I had 400 rupees less than what she needed. I requested some passer-by’s that spoke English but of course, they may have thought I was part of a scam & said no. So, I told her to wait for me, gave her the cash that I had and hailed a rickshaw, went to an ATM and got her the balance within about 10 minutes. She gave me a huge hug and insisted I accompany her to the admissions inside, requesting me not to share with anyone that I provided some cash. I promised I wouldn’t and so together we went in.
I was dressed in yoga tights and a t-shirt…and so, there we were – this odd-looking pair sitting in front of some nuns and school staff paying school fees for the entire year in cash, which was counted 4 times.
After the admission was granted, she breathed a sigh of relief and looked visibly relaxed. During the process of admission, we both shed tears – I was so touched when she shared her story with a staff member that asked (after we paid the fees) and even though it was in Malayalam, I couldn’t understand a word, we both wept. I was moved by her fierce love for her daughter, her pride and dignity in not wanting to accept money from a stranger, her flexibility in doing what was best for her daughter despite the struggle.
As she believed in God, I told her that perhaps it was God that led her to me. And me to her. And to view it as the money flowing to her because she needs it, that this was meant to be. I felt very grateful for the opportunity to give and I wanted her to receive and not feel any sense of obligation to pay me back. She seemed to settle, trusting that with our recent interactions I genuinely didn’t want the money and it was a gift. We exchanged numbers, took a selfie, she asked her daughter to hug me goodbye. Later, she sent me a beautiful text in broken English expressing her gratitude.
I have blurred the picture below but you can see her daughter being measured for a school uniform and a copy of the paid bill. A beautiful morning and one which I will treasure forever.