The next night in Alleppey, I stop for a quick hors d'oeuvre at the Raheem Residency after all the diners have gone, except for one couple--a radiant older German man, bald and grinning, and his "dinner companion", a young thin Indian boy.
He infectiously waves his hand--come, come! I hesitate: the situation looks too east-west-suspicious, the older and the younger, whom the German explains he had met as his massage healer just three months before.
Yet the man's radiance is too captivating, and I burst into laughter myself and welcome a pina colada, and discover that this boy is one of hundreds this man and his partner back home have "adopted" throughout the world, taking care of the children from A to Z.
"None of this send 'fifty dollars' and feel good about yourself," the man says. "You go there and you take care of the needs of the child, and then the family as well. For if the whole family does not rise in social level, what good will it do the child? Sometimes--" he gestured with a wide spread of his hand. "All the family needs is a cooker. You just need to ask."
He had started schools in Tanzania--"for a ridiculous sum," he noted. "What does it cost but 500 euros to build a school?" And in Kenya, he had supported girls who had suffered clitorectomies.
"It's so exciting, life," the man said with a jolly grin. Before he began adopting, he had been a lawyer, and before that a snake charmer who wandered the world.
Now he was ready to retire--"Almost fifty!" he repeated six times, with the same energetic wave. He had bought some land by the sea in Kerala, to turn to a European-Indian hotel, in the hopes of bringing the two clientele together.
We cheered with a clink of a glass, with the boy who was listening with a peculiar attentive glow, "learning," he told me, "so much, just listening to HIM." He raised his eyebrows with an admiring glance.
"Of all the world, I chose India," the man beamed, smiling and smiling away. "Because here there is hope to make a difference--not like Thailand where it's already so corrupt. Here you can make things move. Help a family here, a child there." He pinched his forefinger and thumb together. "In a small way, but at least something. I always remember: when you die, you are buried with a shirt with no pockets!"
The bill came: the man had the boy do the figures and pay with the money he gave him--not only his bill, but mine for the day, including my lunch!
"Let's pay it all!" he said--gesturing to the boy to do the math.
"He has to learn," he laughed. "To handle himself in Delhi."
The boy, the son of a poor fisherman, was going to boarding school in the city that February.
"All by yourself?" I said.
"Oh no," the boy shone. "HE will be flying to Delhi to make sure I am okay."
"You have to do things from A to Z!" the man quipped--as we hugged goodbye on the terrace.
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