As a child of about 7 ish, Beena had to share her toys with her little brother. Not for very long...he soon tired of her kiddy, feminine cutlery sets and blonde haired dolls when he discovered the joys of battery operated toy-jeeps and toy-swords with "Thunder Cats" stickers all over them. That and gadgets which dismantle and rebuild. Ah the 80s!But during those 1-2 years when all he had were Beena's playthings, she was asked to share. She was told not to deter this "tiny tot" from attaching plasticine to little talking-doll Linda's blonde hair, for instance. Beena realised she would never have a complete, well-matched set of toys the way her cousin Deepika had. Deepika had a pretty sky-blue ceramic toy tea set with every piece intact. And another shiny green plastic one laced with fairy-dust, and again with every piece intact. If one cup was apple green, the rest were too. If one toy knife was 3 inches long, so were the others in the set. There were as many cups to saucers, as there were forks to spoons.
Unlike Beena's own set, in Deepika's there were no imposter-like stand ins for the real thing; Take the instance when Beena's brother satisfied his curiosity by jumping on on her pink clay toy teacup. Naturally, parents being loving as they are, immediately try to mend wounds like these quickly and painlessly. In her case, Beena recalled, this took the form of a new replacement teacup. It would have been the solution, except that the new cup was white, made of plastic, and was smaller than the other pink clay ones. Of course tea sets never had spares. Beena understood that when mom comforted her. Little Beena did not accept it, but she surely was bright enough to understand it.
As she grew up, Beena forgot how significant these episodes were to her as a child. Over the years, she found herself, by some twist of fate, always being the one to create harmony among the people around her. She was the one who calmed tempers and then, offered counsel when the dust settled. Never judged too soon or too harshly. Perhaps it was this trait that led her to a career in counselling. She loved this career and was continually fascinated about what she learnt on the job.
The thing is, for a long time, Beena did not know at which point she became drawn to understanding people better. Recently, a 20-something neighbour, Parvati, said something that reminded Beena of the 80s after a long time.
Parvati and her sister Priya, lived next door to Beena in Chennai, where Beena had recently been posted after living all her life in Mumbai. Parvati asked over breakfast one day, "Ever feel that you had 4 knives from the same set and now somehow they've become 3, after you hired a maid to help you in the kitchen?"
Beena laughed in agreement and joked, " Yep, and in parallel, ever realise that the 2nd yellow bowl you bought thinking it matched the first yellow in your kitchen doesn't match? And suddenly you have this entire ugly set of cuttlery of mismatched shapes, colours and sizes?"
Parvati did not think it was a joke, and agreed vehemently, "Aiyo, my sister thinks I am crazy for wanting matching kitchen sets and all that. She says it is all for utility, not beauty. But I can't help thinking that the matching sets present some order in the chaos of a kitchen, don't you think? She doesn't mind our kleptomaniac maid Visalam taking our knives and spoons. My job is not to replace these things every now and then, what?"
Beena nodded empathetically and lifted her spoon for another mouthful of ponggal. Though she wore a calm smile, she understood that Parvati was too angry to keep her thoughts to herself. This neighbour continued, "When I was a kid, Priya used to break all my nice-nice kitchen sets that Thatha used to buy from the nearby toy shop. Then Amma used to replace them with things she made from wire, wood and tape and all that. And now I am doing the replacing myself. I just want ONE set which does not have a blue saucer for a purple cup or a stainless steel knife for an aluminium fork."
As Beena agreed with her annoyed neighbour, she remembered the words mom spoke when little Beena was being comforted years back. It was that day of the broken pink toy-tea cup. The words suddenly seemed to sound different to Beena now, compared to when they were first said, 25 years ago. "See molu, this set used to be so uninteresting because all the pieces looked exactly alike. Now, you have a different piece. Think of the different members we have in our family. Just as the father and mother and children are all different in a home, in your set now, you have something different. So your set may not be uniform, but it is more interesting than a uniform set. The disparity adds confusion but the variety adds character."
Beena shared this memory with her neighbour who then appeared to remain thoughtful for a moment. Her eyes then revealed something of a breakthrough and she said, "Yes, perhaps I push Priya too much about the little things as I do about big things. Hence, she's indifferent to my opinions, including the the antics of our Visalam."
Then Parvati looked up at Beena with a twinkle in her eye and said, "Hey, you're pretty good da!"
Beena smiled back but refrained from sharing her thoughts on her mother's words. Beena's thoughts were that she was conscious of mom's wisdom surrounding the cup all of a sudden, after 25 years. It took her this long to figure out that mom's speech was about understanding and accepting people as they are.
So, after many years, it looks like she had finally understood from where she got her talent for counselling. And her education and interest in counselling may well have begun at around 7.