I’m a numbers nerd; in all probability, this stems from being a sports fan. I calculate sports statistics in my head; I can effortlessly multiply any pair of two-digit numbers in that same location; I retain an astonishing number of odd numerical markers in my cranium. As such, some numbers acquire a significance that goes well beyond their mathematical properties. Over at ESPN-Cricinfo, in the course of my blogging on cricket, I’ve written two posts on ‘curiously significant numbers’; here and here. Some numbers, of course, possess a significance that owe little of their provenance to sporting connections. One such number is 7290.
That number represents the amount, in Indian Rupees, that my plane ticket to the US–for my original, home-leaving journey–cost in 1987. But I didn’t buy the ticket myself; my grandmother did. That’s what makes this number special.
In the summer of 1987, shortly after I had obtained my student visa from the American Embassy in New Delhi, I traveled to Central India to visit my grandmother (and sundry other members of my father’s side of the family.) My grandmother was not happy to see me go; she remained entirely unconvinced I needed to travel so far from home to obtain an education and find a career; she was concerned about the effects of ‘Western culture’ on me; she worried I would marry ‘a Christian woman’ and be lost to our family forever, discarding my familial and cultural roots and transforming myself into a stranger. But she could not bring herself to discourage me from going; she could not, indeed, muster up more than a worried query or two about whether I would be sufficiently resilient in the face of all the temptations that would soon be sent my way.
The reason for this reticence, of course, was that my enthusiasm at my impending departure was palpable and visible; I was eagerly awaiting the date of my long flight and my first glimpse of what would be my new home. My grandmother knew I had encountered many disappointments and frustration through my undergraduate years; she had heard me kvetching about them on many an occasion; she knew I had invested considerable hope in my graduate studies; and she knew the US had come to represent a promised land of sorts. She would not piss on this parade; she would not dampen my glee with wailing about how she was going to lose her beloved grandson to the evil forces of cultural imperialism. I like to think she trusted me to not lose myself; I like to think she loved me too much to not have too many ambitions for my life.
So, putting her troubled thoughts temporarily to rest, she resolved to give me a going-away gift. One afternoon, the day before I was to return to New Delhi, she called me into her room, and told me she wanted to give me a little something that would remind me of her in the US: she would pay for my ticket to the US. She asked me how much the ticket would cost. I told her the quoted price. She called our family accountant and asked him to bring a checkbook. Then, sitting on her bed, she bade him write me a check for the amount I had indicated. I returned to New Delhi with that precious check in my baggage. I paid for the ticket a week later. And caught my flight another week later.
I visited her five more times–in 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1996. On each occasion, not knowing whether I would see her again, I burst into tears at the time of departure. In 1998, I received news from my brother she had passed away–at the ripe old age of 87.
She had been right; I never forgot her gift. Or her.
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