A chill winter evening in Bengal, when I was a young boy in high school, I am hurrying back to my dorm, late for the evening prayer hour. Everyone else is there already. And the light has failed already. I have a heavy shawl wrapped around me, but even that was not doing the job. Now I come upon a most unlikely sight: A very old lady wearing nothing but a thin white widow’s rimless sari walking towards me, and shivering like a quaking aspen. These are restricted grounds, and no such person is expected to be here. When we are close, she asks me what kind of place this is, with so many buildings and things. She lives in the village some distance away, she says. Now it occurs to me, and I am not being charitable or anything, that the practical solution is for me to give her the shawl. I would be indoors in a minute, and would be in the warmth of the prayer hall. I am not going to get my shawl back, but I tell myself the approximate equivalent of “What the heck!”. I take it off of me and give it to her. That look of surprise I will never forget. In Bengal one doesn’t say Thank You. So she says nothing. We part company, with only these words from her: “Have a beautiful life, little boy.”
As a young man I am working in Clear Lake City. It is middle of summer and the pitch on the street is melting in the shimmering Texas heat. The sun is starkly bright. There appears in our institute an old and destitute man, and enters the air-conditioned building. An unlikely sight. At the reception he is asking for directions to a place a few miles away. I overhear. Obviously he does not have a vehicle, and there is no public transportation. I ask him how he is going to go there. He says: “I have come on foot, and I will go on foot.” Now I make a quick calculation: I could drop him off where he wants to go, and then have a lunch at my favorite place there, Long John Silver’s. Two birds in one stone – as it were. When I offer to drive him, he gets silently in the car and sits silently. He gets off. He doesn’t say Thank You or anything. Only: “Have a beautiful life, young man.”
No one has ever said that to me again. But then I am no longer a little boy or a young man.