Cutting Grass

Puru Kothari

When he was in school, Puru Kothari’s Hindi teacher once excoriated the class for failing to study hard enough, telling them that they were “only fit for jobs like cutting grass.” More than a decade latter, Puru ran into his old teacher, who inquired about Puru’s life. “I cut grass,” said Puru with a smile.

Indeed, Puru cuts grass – acres of the stuff. As a member of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the beautiful and ever-astonishing spiritual institution which dominates the Raj Bhavan section of Pondicherry where we reside, Puru’s assigned work is on the team which maintains the ashram’s magnificent three-plus acre sports ground.

Incidentally, Puru’s Hindi is pretty damned good too. He has done translations of a number of works, including the stories of BookBox, the same-language subtitled literacy tool developed by his brother Brij. He also has command of seven other languages.

Smart, good-natured, tireless, an astute judge of character, and resourceful beyond comprehension, Puru is what one would call a macher in Yiddish (not one of his languages). He gets things done and fixes problems – for everyone, it seems.

These talents have not escaped the notice of the powers-that-be in the ashram. Puru’s “other job” – and he seems to have an inhuman number of “other jobs” – is as protégée and first lieutenant to the ashram’s problem-solver-in-chief. He was also the instigator of the recent cross-India expedition to obtain valuable industrial laundry equipment for the ashram from the shipbreakers at Alang.

One cannot spend even an hour in Puru’s company without witnessing him come up with ingenious solutions to people’s problems, prosaic and esoteric alike. Today, for example, his morning was spent developing practical solutions for the recent rash of intersection collision on the streets in Raj Bhavan; connecting our friend Mouhsine Serrar with an inexpensive source of castable fire brick for the low-emission cookstoves his project team is developing; meeting with the other founding members of Shuddham, the acclaimed NGO developing public sanitation and recycling solutions for Pondicherry and beyond; developing the final organizational details for a soon-to-be-implemented rideshare system linking Pondicherry and Chennai; and helping a friend negotiate a complex real estate transaction. He also had tea and a morning walk with his parents, who live near the ashram, and dropped me at the dispensary.

And, yes, he mowed the lawns at the sports ground at the crack of dawn.

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