“Wow! It looks, so… nice!” marveled a boy of four, standing on the terrace’s parapet, wide-eyed, taking in all the beauty of the sunrise. He did not know the word ‘beautiful’ then. Things were just ‘nice’, some were ‘cool’. His Aai (mother), stood by, smiling… Had he been observant, surely he would’ve seen her eyes crinkling too.
“Listen to the birds chirping.”
“Yeah! Sooo nice, Aai!”
“See that mist?”
She used to go on evening strolls with her friends. The boy would go along.
“Aai, see! The sunset is so beautiful!” he had learnt a few new words, you see.
“Do you know why it is so? Remember that book we have? It tells you why the sky is blue and why the sunsets are red. Will you read it and tell me also?”
He really liked that book. It had all kinds of marvelous things! The color of sky, the magic of eclipses, the mystery of why it rains… Next evening he explained her, the secret of the beautiful colors in the sky.
“It is so awesome, Aai, you know!”
She must’ve felt accomplished. She told “science doesn’t make things obvious, it makes them beautiful.” Fifteen years later, when the boy was reading Feynman’s lectures, he came across Feynman’s “nothing is mere” quote. Tell me, how could he fight the tears that welled up…
Many times he would get adamant. He wanted her to lift him and carry him because he didn’t want to walk. She told him a story.
“You know, if you don’t walk, your legs will fall off your body. Whatever is not used, those parts go away because of evolution.”
It did the trick. He would walk without complaining. Years later, he came back from school, telling her how what she told him was wrong and he explained her the theory of evolution. He was sad. She had lied.
“Theories come, then better theories come, explaining things that the previous ones couldn’t, being right where previous ones went wrong. That’s science.”
What big tomes of textbooks struggled to imbibe, she taught him with ease.
He used to love see her cooking.
“Aai, the bubbles that form when you put the vada in hot oil, they are just fascinating!”
Smiling, she would ask “now, think… what would happen to the bubbles if the vada batter was soaked in oil instead of water?”
Science in the kitchen! She taught him never to stop thinking, imagining, questioning. She taught him to love the ‘what-if’s.
She liked poetry. They used to have frequent power-cuts. In the dark, on the terrace, under the starry sky, they would lie… and she would make him recite poems. Not just from that year’s textbook, but from all the previous years! She would sing along. Although he discussed, dissected and analyzed V. D. Savarkar’s “Take me to motherland” in his exams, it was in her voice and her recital that he could see the true intensity of the poet’s emotions. She made Savarkar’s longing for his motherland feel so real, so intimate, it would have been an impossibility for him to not love poetry. No wonder his first poem was about her.
“Aai, don’t do that! My classmates make fun of me. No one else’s mothers do this stuff!!”
“Two possibilities: One, they don’t love their sons — not possible. Two, they don’t act the way they feel because it would look weird. Now, is that a reason to not do what you want?”
She taught him to think through things and never shy away from something simply because “it looks out of place”
The boy’s supposed to have grown up now. Today, halfway around the globe, he’s cursing the flaky internet which wouldn’t allow a video-call. On Teachers’ Day, he is sitting in front of his computer, thinking of his first and best teacher — his Aai.