As I walked into the aisle, I saw Shri Naveen Patnaik, Member of Parliament, in the first seat on the first row. I walked past, a tad embarrassed that so many people were witness to the discomforting state that I was in. I settled into my seat in the third row, not daring to look at my father, who was in the second row with his colleagues. I imagined his fury and embarrassment at the chaos I had created. I was, however, relieved that we were finally on our way. A minute later, the air hostess came to tell me that the first seat in the first row had been vacated by Shri Naveen Patnaik to accommodate me so that I could sit comfortably with adequate leg space for the bag. He had voluntarily moved to the last row. I was stunned and overwhelmed. Busy in settling into my seat, I had not seen the tall man walk by to the last row. I told the air hostess that I would like to go and thank the Hon'ble MP for his extreme kindness, but she said there was no way they would allow me to leave the puppy bag alone. She said I could thank him after we had landed. As I walked to the first row, I whispered to my father about what had transpired. My father told me – look at the inconvenience you have created! After all the day's drama, the journey was uneventful as Toffee, the puppy, slept throughout the flight. My mind, however, was focused on the empathy of the leader who had understood my state of distress. Living in Delhi, we hardly connected with Odisha politics, and I barely knew anything beyond the fact that Naveen Patnaik had taken over the mantle from his father. As soon as we landed, I was desperate to rush to the Hon'ble MP and thank him. Those days passengers would exit from the front as well as from the rear. I asked the air hostess if Mr Patnaik was still seated. She said that he had exited through the aircraft's rear door. With my dog in the bag, I was the last to get off the bus. I stepped onto the bus and looked around, but Mr Naveen Patnaik was obviously not there. He would have boarded an earlier bus. Getting off, I found my sister waiting for me. I handed over the puppy to her and asked if she had seen Naveen Patnaik. She said that she had seen him going out. I told her the entire story. My father said I could write a letter of thanks or meet him sometime later to thank him. Over the years, neither the letter nor the meeting happened. Over the years, as a family, we have reminisced about this incident time and again. Toffee lived for fourteen years in Bhubaneswar, adored and cared for in my parent's home. In the meantime, Shri Naveen Patnaik had become Chief Minister of Odisha. Two decades later, when I met the Hon'ble Chief Minister several times, it was no longer possible to engage in a personal conversation with him. I have repeatedly wanted to remind him about his huge act of kindness, but somehow I have held back. It is said that great men never hang on to their acts of generosity which is why I was apprehensive that he would obviously have no memory of something that had transpired ages ago. He expressed childish enthusiasm when I explained the Peregrine Falcon is the fastest creature on earth when it swoops to pick up prey. He chipped in with the scientific name of Palash when I presented him with a Palash sapling, requesting him to launch "Mission Palash" he narrated the story of a famous photograph taken on Children's Day in which he was seen seated on Pandit Nehru's lap, he has indulged the children of our school with the best chocolates and affection, and, of course, very kindly inaugurated our new school campus.
The story was published with the author's consent, Ms Panchami Manoo Ukil, and posted on Facebook on the 17th Day of October 2022. Panchami, is School Leader & Vice Chairperson, The DN Wisdom Tree Global School. Panchami Manoo Ukil is a school leader with a difference. Multifaceted, spirited, and dynamic, Panchami Manoo Ukil has an infectious positivity that reaches out to everyone around her. Passionate about children, she infuses the curriculum with her brand of original ideas, be it a celebration of our culture and roots, bonding with nature, or simply engaging with the little ones with a heart overflowing with love. She gathers everyone into a happy circle woven in with her brand of wisdom, warmth, affection and concern, an inspiration for many and a supportive motivator for the team.