Ask Amma

It takes a village

In Field Notes on 21 November 2021 at 8:00 pm

Yesterday while walking back from the library, I just happened to call a friend of mine. Let’s call her Zora. One of those friends with whom I used to have more idle time but now only interact with on tasks at hand when we are in the same meeting together. Since all meetings are virtual now there is no chit chat before or after, just abrupt starting and stopping of business. She herself has a full time job apart from this, barely makes it to the meetings and is often muted because she is holding her baby at the same time. So noticing that it was 1pm in her time zone I took a chance and called her hoping she might be on lunch break. 

Even as I was dialing I thought, I know we are supposed to text first or something like that but I am just going to play the old age card and just call her. Texting first to ask when I should call makes the call sound like something more hefty than what it is, as if I expect her to allot time for it. She picked up the phone and I tentatively explained, “Hi I just thought I’d take a chance and call ….” She replied that I’d hear her baby talk a lot and I took that as I sign that the call was on. I asked if she was having lunch. She noted that the baby was having lunch. 

Her own lunch, Zora noted, would be a piece of chocolate. 

Why? I asked. Had she said that she’d had a big breakfast, or just felt like having chocolate or was going to eat a full meal a bit later or almost anything else I would have chuckled and chirped along with the conversation or even wound it down to a close. 

What she told me however, nearly stopped me in my tracks. Or rather, propelled me to walk another round since I had almost reached my doorstep but now would have to continue the conversation. 

Because her reply was, “I don’t have time to make lunch and no free hand to eat anything.”

I circled the block. As it turns out she was following baby around the house with food. 

“Why don’t you leave the food on a plate and let baby eat whenever they want?”

“Well we also have a dog.” 

She also had to do her remote work. Her sitter was out sick and she was solo with baby at home. She barely got through a work meeting that morning, what with baby needing her at the same time.

Not wanting to add to her stress I did not let slip my alarmed state viz a viz her lunch. I did offer unsolicited advice on ways to keep baby busy – washing vegetables, soaking and stirring grains, rolling chapatis, mopping the floor, (un)folding clothes. At the very least Zora could have her hands free! Our conversation meandered. It was nice to chat. Once home, I wondered. Should I hop on a plane and spend a week with her? Should I ask them to come and stay with me?

But neither of these things could happen today. I called a mutual friend who lived near Zora. No answer. But he returned my call in the evening and I reported that our friend was barely eating. It turned out he didn’t live near Zora anymore. But not too far either and that evening he and his wife popped by with a 4-course dinner, pakka telugu dishes. Zora is not Telugu but I am and it delighted my heart. 

“Really, though, I’m doing OK” 🤔
Let’s not wait till someone is not okay before offering friendly neighborly support, even if we don’t actually live next door.

Zora later sent me a message reassuring me that she ate properly and was doing fine. It had just been a hectic week, she explained.  Gonna need pics, I replied. 

As much as one wishes to offer support and lend a hand or at least an ear, at times it is difficult especially from a distance, to know when one is helping and when busybodying. Of course we have all had the nosy neighbor with the heart of gold … right? Now it’s time to be that neighbor, because indeed, it takes a village to look after each other.


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