Saying Thank-You

“Can I get you water…coffee, maybe?”, the receptionist asked. Arriving early for my mid-morning appointment with the dentist, I could see that the 20-something with a baby face had tons of things to attend to, and though I could’ve done with some strong black coffee, I knew fixing it would derail him. So, saying thank-you, I went back to distractedly perusing a newsmagazine.  

I leafed through the maze of pictures and blurred words but my peripheral vision was tunneled on to the fellow. Within seconds, he had cleaned his desk, readied his boss’ chamber, called to inform her I had reached, and assured me of her imminent arrival. When 15 or so minutes had lapsed without any sign of her, he called her again of his own volition and then informed me in Hindi, “She is on her way. Sorry about the delay. I hope you are okay.”

I smiled weakly; the toothache was making me loopy and laconic. “Don’t worry. I’ll wait.”

It wasn’t long before the dentist rushed in. “Shilpa?” she asked, and identity confirmed, apologised profusely for the delay. We both smiled. She turned to her Man Friday and asked, “Ready?” He nodded wordlessly as I followed the two into the chamber. He helped her with her lab coat, adjusted the dental engine for me and rearranged a few of the instruments on the table while she sanitised her hands.

As I reclined there with my head up and mouth uncomfortably open for inspection, it became clear that the receptionist was a hands-on worker. Not only did he man the desk and keep a record of the appointments, he also doubled up as her compounder, clerk, peon and a budding dentist, knowing exactly when to pass the water nozzle to me, and hand the suction hose and the other deadly instruments to the doctor.

The procedure done, before leaving the clinic, I thanked this one-man army. Although saying thank-you was a customary routine that had been ingrained in me by my father, I was genuinely appreciative of his diligence, enthusiasm and overall demeanour.

I remember thirty years ago, being led by my index finger through the muck and stench of a labyrinthine fish market. I was howling my protestations. The ground was slippery and wet. The butchers’ blood-lined cleavers were horrifying. The writhing and slithering fish, crabs and eels were repulsive. The stink, nauseating. It was more than what my still-developing senses could bear. “Don’t create a needless fuss,” my new maid sharply admonished. It was her third day of employment — all she had to do was escort me home from school — and every afternoon she had been taking a detour through the fish market to buy supplies for herself. “You’ll be home soon,” she rebuked. Scared, I quietened and traversed the rest of what was a living hell without a whimper.

When we reached home, I found unexpected solace in the arms of my father who had come to fetch some documents he had left behind. As he scooped me up in an embrace, my revulsion of the fish market turned into vitriolic anger against the maid, and going against what I had been taught, I refused to thank her. My indulgent father said lovingly, “Say thank-you didi’.” I buried my face deeper into his shoulder, signaling my defiance. He repeated his words, a tad more firmly this time, but I remained stubbornly mute.

Daddy extricated my arms from around his neck, gently put me down and boomed: “Didn’t you hear? Say thank-you to her.” I knew this was serious. With tears welling up — I, daddy’s favourite child, had never been spoken to like this in my young life — I sobbed, “Thank you”, without looking at didi and scampered away. Angry and hurt, I could hear daddy thanking her as I ran past my stunned mother into the room I shared with my older sister. “I’ll get back at daddy by sulking all day today,” I decided.

It wasn’t to be because that evening I got a massive dressing-down for my poor behaviour. When I tried to justify it by complaining that the maid was bringing me back from school via the fish market every day, I found support, but only just. “You should’ve told us the very first day,” ma said sympathetically. It was daddy who tried to discipline me: “How come you behaved so badly?” That day, when I was five-going-on-six, I learnt perhaps the most fundamental lesson of life. “What the maid did is wrong but what you did is also unacceptable. Two wrongs never make a right,” daddy told me, explaining the significance of the big small things of life. “She was supposed to bring you home safely which she did. You have to appreciate that, fish market or no fish market. When you say thank-you, you convey that appreciation. Understand?”

Without any hue or cry, the maid was dismissed the next day.

By the time I reached my workplace from the dentist’s clinic, my mind was singularly focused on the pending workload — emails that required immediate attention, stories that had to be assigned, calls that needed to be made, freelancers whose payment issues had to be tackled. I was going through my mental to-do list when my cellphone rang; it was from the clinic. “Madam,” the dentist’s receptionist was saying, “sorry to disturb you but I have to say thank-you.”

“For what?” startled, I said in a muffled voice, my tongue limp and my mouth sore from the earlier prodding, poking, injecting. “In the two years I have worked here, no one has ever thanked me,” the youngster said, “everyone thanks the doctor and leaves. You are the first person who noticed me. I am really touched. My mother will be so proud.”

Sometimes, all it takes is a jiffy for a vortex of old memories to come pouring out. Stunned and delighted for making his day, my mind harked back to a fish market whose visual and olfactory assault were too much for a 5-year-old. As I clicked the phone off, mouthing hollow inanities like “it’s okay, don’t thank me, you deserve it, et cetera”, my maid from several years ago re-emerged. Clad in a sari and rubber thongs, her disembodied voice — I don’t remember her face at all — came back to rebuke me and, with that, daddy’s powerful words echoed: “Good manners are important, beta. But also remember that it’s the smallest things that give the biggest happiness.”

Now I know what you meant, Daddy. I’ve seen a routine thank-you morph into unalloyed joy.

Shilpa Gupta
Shilpa Gupta

Shilpa Gupta (formerly Rohatgi) is an insatiable travel writer and photographer who, in a former state of sobriety, had worked as a journalist with some of India’s top publications including India Today and The Indian Express. Owing to the peripatetic nature of her husband’s job, she is constantly on the move. Which is just as well because there is nothing she likes better than being like a marble on a slope, never to be found in the same place again. Shilpa brings back beautiful memories from their sojourns, of course, and priceless souvenirs too. But doubling up as memories and souvenirs are the countless articles and photographs she has been contributing to international travel magazines, webzines and travel anthologies.

Read more by Shilpa Gupta


Picture Credit: Daniel Andrade on Unsplash

67 thoughts on “Saying Thank-You”

  1. Very beautifully written Shilpa, I liked the little break in the story line which takes you down memory lane and only after reading it till the end one realises how beautifully it fits in. The whole description is wonderful!

    1. Wow, such a detailed feedback! Thank you. And an even bigger thank you for making the time to read this piece and the effort to comment.

  2. This piece is a ‘THANK YOU’ to our generation, so I can’t help appreciating the theme, but the detail of the two incidents interwoven with such ease, makes me applaud you as a writer. The descriptions bring the incidents to life and make it a visual delight. This is why I’m a fan of your writing!
    It has also come at such an appropriate time for me when I start on an online series on ‘Parenting’ this week with my first session on ‘ Teaching gratitude to children’
    So this goes as a pre reading on my FB group C.H.A.M.P.S to the parents for content and to the students for a lesson on values and creative writing style!
    A ‘Thank You’ to your parents for instilling these values in you, for you to bring these gems of ‘Kada Prasad’ and ‘Thank you’ to us.

    1. Thank you, Mrs Rana, from the bottom of my heart. Your words give me the conviction that I’m doing okay as a writer. There’s lots of room for improvement, but I’ll get there someday. Thank you for your encouragement. I hope to never disappoint you. Regards

  3. Great read mam. Something imbibed early are the one which always carry us forward. Wonderfully penned mam

    1. As always, a pleasure to read a piece written by you!!
      How wonderfully you put these everyday happenings into words which just resonates with everyone!
      And yes, these habits that are ingrained in us by our elders, do hold so much value! I do hope we pass these on…

      1. Your effusive praise has made me so happy. What can be more gratifying than to know my writing has resonated with my reader, even if only one. Thank you, Karnika!

    2. Thank you! Good manners never go out of fashion, we were taught. And yes, everything I was taught when I was young has stood me in good stead. Thank you for reading.

  4. Thank you dear shilpa…reminding us that this small word can change someone’s day.if said from the heart it is indeed game changing…least of all it can put a smile on someone’s face and make them feel appreciated….looking forward to YOUR many more anecdotes….thoroughly enjoying always..lots of love…seerat

    1. Your encouraging words always make my day, Mrs Seerat Mehar! Thank you for appreciating, and for making the effort to read all that I write. Much love and regards.

  5. ‘Thank you’ Shilpa for your excellent article. Been following your articles and seeing photographs shared by your father Gen Gupta. Stay Blessed.

    1. Thank you so much – not only because I believe it’s good manners but also because I’m touched by your words. Warm regards.

  6. Dear Shilpa thanks a lot for the the write up.An excellent read and totally articulated..You know the beauty is a very simple thing explained in a simple manner with a very strong message.Really I am fan of your skill of writing.This sums up my feelings.Thanks once again

  7. Wonderful small stories from daily life which has such big learnings! As the phrase: ‘People will forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel’. Thanks!

  8. THANK YOU Shilpa, for beautifully bringing out the the importance of these these two words, speaking them genuinely to win over people and situations with kindness and good manners.
    Big fan of your writing ! Your words always touch the right chord…actively resonate….

  9. Wonderful write up. Reminded me of what Michael Jackson once said – “The meaning of life is contained in every single expression of life”. Good manners really do reflect an innate sense of consideration for others and respect for self . Thanks for bringing this out so well.

  10. Beautifully written Shilpa! 🥰
    Have read a lot of your write-ups(thanks to Mukul) but this one sure struck a chord in my heart!!

  11. Hi Shilpa,
    What touched me is how real your story is. I could connect with it totally. Your style of writing is endearing and refreshing. Enjoyed reading it and look forward to more.

  12. Beautifully written Shilpa. It took me back to my childhood when my dad used to tell us to be punctual and value your as well as others time. Till date I always reach my destination early.

  13. First let me start by saying “Thank you” for sending me this interesting piece ! Very well articulated and the language easy flowing and to the point. Enjoyed reading it !

    1. Thank you! It feels wonderful that something that occurred in my life resonates with you, my esteemed reader. Thank you for your feedback too.

  14. Its beautifully written. I loved reading it. Will share with many others. Looking forward to read more! Sunita Repswal

  15. Fabulous writing Dear Shilpa. I really enjoyed it and yes was reminded of the good manners instilled in us. I will say thanks for what our folks disciplining us.
    Di keep writing Dear Girl.

  16. Such a lovely peice. Truly, these are the little things ingrained in us and make us who we are. May go unoyiced most times, but a once in a while reminder makes us grateful for those little lessons of our childhood. Thanks Shilpa for this beautifully written reminder ❤️

  17. lovely story of hard life ….it’s so easy to say thank you but so rare to hear ….let’s do it better, thank’s for sharing ….
    are you not too young to write your memoirs…??
    with love

  18. Dear Shilpa, beautifully-written with a cosy and luxury style. I love reading your heart-warming stories filled with sweet bitter memories of the past, yet for sure, embedding love and kindness into my heart. What I think is these stories of yours are also part of “small big things of life”.

    1. Thank you, dear Ahu! When a writer, thinker and doer of your calibre appreciates my writing, the delight feels like winning the Man Booker 🙂 More power to you. And yes, let’s keep cherishing the “small big things of life”. Love.

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