July 18 plays a significant role in my life, because it is the birthday of three people who have played pivotal roles in my journey. They have never met, and all three have been a part of my life for over 25 years, one of them ever since I was born!
The Teacher – a woman of substance who dedicated her life to education, literature and theatre. My earliest memory of Aunt Lala was her teaching me how to sing and dance “I’m a little teapot” which is supremely ironic because my dear aunt is as tone deaf as I am, neither of us capable of carrying a tune if our lives depended on it. It was because of her that I learned the value of the gifts of time and creativity, the nostalgic and romantic role of lace in life no matter how old or young you are, the power of vibrant colours to light up even the most dismal of corners, but most importantly, I would not be a writer today without her inspiration. So thank you, my dearest Aunt Lala, for the gift of words, and that workbook you crafted for my high school graduation. It changed my life irrevocably.
The Jesuit – I first met Fr. Leo in 1994 in New Delhi when he celebrated mass for the German Catholic community. I was instantly drawn to him because of the Jesuit spirituality (having attended a Jesuit university and embraced the Ignatian Way), but out of this common spiritual ground grew a deep friendship that became the foundation for my spritual journey into interfaith dialogue. He transcended the realm of friendship and became my spirtual guide, teacher, retreat master, lunch buddy, travel companion, fellow bookworm, life anchor, and colleague. I haven’t always lived up to his expectations and have to live with the guilt of my transgressions, but no matter how far I stray from the path, I know my Snowman will always be waiting for me with his infinite grace, compassion and patience. For this, I thank you. You led me to Bodhi Zendo, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kankakumari, Agra, Innsbruck, and back to myself. Each journey with you has been profound as it was spiritual.
The Development Worker – Ingo was the second tallest German I had ever met, and little did I know that our fateful meeting in 1992 in Fulda would turn into a lifelong friendship solidified by development work, a passionate commitment to poverty alleviation, empowerment, community development, sustainability, human rights and volunteer work. Ingo helped me carry out the Jesuit ideal of preferential option for the poor that had been ingrained during the university years, and because we shared working areas in India and Bangladesh, South Asia became our stomping ground. I have always looked up to the man, literally and figuratively! and never ceased to admire his fearlessness when it comes to rallying the troops together, be it in the eye of a storm, networking or lobbying. You kept me grounded, a constant reminder of what service is all about and why I became a development worker in the first place.
All three of these treasured pillars of my life are teachers (two by profession), and I have been a willing student all these years. May your light continue to shine, and may you continue to paddle through the great waters, changing one life at a time.