A helping hand

For those who have already read Reach to the Poor, Pravin and Raju are familiar characters now.

It so happened that during one of their recent visits to the town, to augment supplies to their shops, both had the feeling that it was time they visited a hair cutting salon.

They always lodged themselves at the Hazari lodge which was slightly away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was a Sunday morning and after a quick breakfast at a nearby dhaba, they walked in search of a salon. A few minutes into their walk they saw a ruffian at a distance arguing with a wayside hawker woman. It appeared that he was threatening her to part with some amount of money as weekly hafta to shore up his fortunes. The misfortunate woman with no one to seek help, it being a Sunday morning with most of the shops being closed, parted with her earnings.

The money collected, the ruffian parted soon from the place. Our silent observers at a distance, walked upto her, heard her out. They took some time to console her, helped her with some money saying they would teach a lesson soon, to the so called terror whenever an opportunity presented itself.

On their look out for a salon, they came upon a few other hapless hawkers who too had to bear the brunt of the so called Gajya the illegal tax collector.

A poor man was pulling his cart of ice slabs at a distance. They hurried upto him to make inquiries. Despite the heat and a sweating brow, he was kind to stop and help them with directions and also offered water laced with few pieces of ice if they wanted. As was their nature, they politely declined the warm offer of cold water and hurried to the salon.

The road to the salon was a bit bad and they had to take care not to fall into the many inviting potholes. As they reached the shop they could see one hair dresser and two persons waiting on one of the two worn out benches. They seated themselves on the other one and picked up a conversation as was their wont.

The hair dresser also lent his ears and the topic turned to Gajya. Most of the shopkeeperd feared him, said Jayanti Lal who was finishing his creative work on one of his customers and at the same time eager to be friendly with the visitors he asked Raju as to what they did. Pravin with a laugh said, “I burden those who come to me and he sees to it that they don’t die” . Hearing this Raju also laughed in big tones.

This is a poor locality, Sir and we do not have that much earnings to share with anyone said Jayanti Lal with a confused look. Offlate Gajya has been asking for more which we cannot give and that gives rise to skirmishes with him. I don’t mind giving him a free hair cut and a shave if he demands and he paused, maybe that offer I can give to you too. One of the bench customers, Javed looked with fear about himself and in a whisper told Pravin… He carries a knife with him, they say. Oh no, talk of the devil and here he comes….

Gajya’s frame came into view to all eyes who looked his way. With a Pepsi bottle in hand, he was idling his way to the salon. At the same time through another lane, came a ice cart pulled by an old man. One of the cart’s wheels got stuck in one of the pot holes and he asked for Gajya to help him out not knowing who he was. All eyes were riveted on Gajya as to how he would react. The irritated ruffian slapped the man and continued walking towards the salon.

Javed bhai whose turn was next whispered.. Now it is his turn, we will have to wait till he gets his hair cut and beard shaved. We, the timid always have to wait.

Raju’s blood was boiling. He would strike this bully as soon as he was within striking distance come what may. Pravin sensed Raju’s mind and decided to teach a lesson in their own way. Touching Raju he said a word which only Raju could understand. “Big boy”. Many a childhood scenes of skirmishes flashed in Raju’s mind. He smiled briefly. It was time to act.

Raju got up and stood near the dressing chair. The current customer had got down. Javed bhai afraid of annoying Raju whimpered, ” but it was my turn”.. Raju looked at him with a fearful avatar and said “Did You say something” . As if taking up the cue Pravin rose from the bench remarked, “Yes it was Javed bhai’s turn. How can you..” . Raju just laughed.

Helllooo, blared out Gajya. “Everyone will have to wait because it is my turn”. Pravin not even showing that he had seen or heard Gajya rushed to Raju and chided Raju for breaking the queue. Raju told Pravin to keep himself outside of this and tried to get himself seated. To the onlookers, it seemed Raju and Pravin were strangers or not friendly to each other.

Gajya was finding it a bit difficult to make his presence felt. Today it seemed these persons were deaf and blind at least these two strangers as others were atleast passing him a glance. Maybe they didn’t know his credentials. So he shouted at Raju to get out of the chair. Pravin meanwhile was trying to pull Raju out of the chair to the consternation of Jayanthi Lal. Today it seemed he had to deal with not one but three thugs who might pull the rug from his feet if he didn’t act in time.

Pravin nearly managed to drag Raju out of the chair ignoring the pleas from the hair dresser and good old Javed bhai who had now withdrawn his case and awarded his turn to Raju. But Pravin would not let go of Raju and pulled him out. Gajya came and tried to sit in the vacant seat or so he thought but Raju on his way down pulled him down with him. Now Pravin asked Javed bhai to seat himself to which the poor Javed bhai said he could wait. Now Pravin looked so angry that Javed brother got into the chair.

This was too much for Gajya who got up and was trying to work himself into a rage but now Pravin took hold of him and gave him such a resounding slap that his face turned outside to the lane where his eyes met the poor fellow still grappling with his cart. How in a few minutes the equation has changed, he thought. “No, I will not take this beating quietly” he loudly said. You will have to pay for this and he pulled the infamous knife from his pant.

The gleaming wicked looking weapon was well sheathed and in Gajya’s hand could work wonders. It was not without its labor that its master had become himself respected out of fear. Slowly as everybody stood frozen, came the knife at Pravin but the plunge was arrested with a timely kick to the knee from Raju.

What followed was a brawl. Gajya didn’t know from where all the blows came, so thick and hard that he cowered before the lot. A few passer-by fellows also joined in the revelry. It seemed to everybody that Raju was a much bigger thug than the punitive Gajya. All the cash on Gajya was taken out by Raju and he was unceremoniously kicked and dumped out of the shop. The knife now in safe hands, Gajya had to run out for his life.

Raju bhai please be seated said all in one voice to which he laughed and walked out with a smiling Pravin. On the way they treated themselves to cold water offered by the old gentleman after having helped his cart out of the gaping pot hole. When they looked back at the salon, they could see Jayanti Lal and Javed bhai saluting. On their way back they parted with the money to those few hawkers who had lost their money earlier. “A visit to the salon can wait, Big boy” said Pravin as they walked hand in hand back to their lodge.

Happy Birthday

I woke up to the sound of
birds chirping and the
bard singing his tunes.
In the distance, a church
bell rang in sweet chimes.

Down in the street, there
appeared a few people
celebrating some event.
With bugles and trumpets
they were all ready to start.

The wind had a fragrance
and a vibrance never seen
before, and yet little
flowers kept beckoning it
to keep them swaying.

I wondered what it could be
memorable as it seemed to be
and then remembered it to be
a special day, that could only be
a day to cherish, Your Birthday!

The Wait

The train has arrived and the long wait over
on the station you have been in attendance
as always, every day to meet your beloved
did she consent to meet you one more time?

Quarrelsome that you were, with a bad past
you had made amends, now that you had aged
you survey the passengers slowly getting down
in the darkened dusk, wonder where she was?

All these days, with a distant promise from her
with all bliss, you came everyday to receive her
she was  sure to visit you, or so you thought
will I live long to see her just one more time?

With a heavy mind carrying a bundle of thoughts
now that the train had left today with all hopes
you start walking out when someone pats you
as you turn, are you surprised to see her again?

 

shutterstock
Pic Courtesy: Shutterstock

The tea maker

Seated on a wooden frame
at a table with a marble top
you would order cups of tea
every day and spend it here.

Behind the scene, I would wait
for your every order of tea
and wonder what makes you
addicted as you were to me.

One day, I made a special one
for you and served it myself
the glance at me after a gulp
was enough to serve you for life…

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Pic courtesy: Shutterstock

Solitude

I was gazing at your portrait till sleep took me
slowly feathers sprouted as I soared like a raven
over the bright town you had once long dwelt
looking into each nook and corner and lane
to get a fleeting sight anywhere of, dear you.

I dived into close quarters hoping to hear you
your soft voice that still sounded as nectar
somewhere I hoped to see a glimpse of you till
I came crashing down from my bed to the floor
and smiling at me still, was your beautiful face…

 

Sounds of a City

The tinkering of the milk man whose tampering

with your milk has broken all fresh water records.

The artistic chime of the cart  of vegetables

that the vendor has painted in the morning.

The gas cylinders getting unloaded nearby

when you had ordered one, a fortnight ago.

The newspaper thrown at your door by the

boy who vanishes into thin air everyday.

The school bus horn, when your kid’s

lunch box is still made by the half-maid.

The laundry man who comes for your clothes

and wears them before returning it to you.

The fish monger who pedals his bicycle

with lots of fresh ice in his long dead fish.

The mango pickle vendor carrying jars

having a mix of everything except mangoes.

The mat seller who drapes himself in the rugs

that he claims are hand-picked from Kashmir.

The fire engine that arrives at your back door

to contain the fire that is raging in the front door.

The ambulance that comes with a blaring horn

just as you slip into a coma with a glaring wound…

Ushering in the New Year

Take care wherever you are, for there are others who need your care
for the days are going to be challenging nevertheless in the New Year
With competition waiting to put you aside while you lose your focus
Take each day as it comes, play and live by its merits
Do not count on your past to live the present, as each day is a present
Accumulate glory and wisdom as you add each day to your age
Live life to the fullest and let no virus ask you to retire.

Wishing you the very best in the New Year

The enchanting Lake

It was a bright summer day and I thought of going boating in the lake that was nearby the construction site that I was working at. I reached the boat landing pier and there was only one canoe with an old guy looking out for his next passenger. There were supposed to be a couple of diesel powered boats, but they had been taken already  by someone else.

Aren’t the diesel boats available today? I inquired. The grim face replied, yes there are. One of them is and already rented. The other driver had a rough fight with a passenger yesterday over the  money he paid, and has been taken away by the police.

Boat station

That means I am to put up with your rickety canoe. Is it capable of holding the both of us. Hope it won’t capsize in the middle of the lake? How much do you charge?

Have faith and patience sir, I ask for only 2 dollars for 2 hours came the reply. How much is charged by the diesel boats. They take 7 dollars for one hour. With a few customary greetings we took off at crawling speed in the manual  boat. I asked him to paddle close to the rocks that jutted out of the lake, which he gladly did.

The cruise along the bush filled hills was well worth and I was happy I took off today to come to this place.

The lake was much bigger than I thought of. I was lost in the scenery that was unwinding before my eyes.

The sun was getting a bit too hot and our ride was slowly getting into its second hour. We had cruised a good mile away from the station. Shouldn’t we return, I asked impatiently. The boatman now rowed into an inlet opening amidst the bushes and anchored the boat and asked me to venture out into the cool placid shaded waters. There was the constant murmur of the brook, the birds crying as they flew over our heads.

This place is only a treat for my passengers, the diesel ones don’t come here. Maybe I will gift a dollar extra for this place. Thanks but no, am happy with my 2 dollars, a wry smile appeared on his face.

When we reached the station, I picked my pockets to pay him. I had only 2 dollars on me to pay him. I forgot I had stepped into the grocery earlier to buy a pack of cigarettes and some fruit juice before walking to the lake. Then I wondered what would have happened had I taken the diesel boat…

Author’s Note: This was a story inspired by some beautiful pics taken by my WordPress friend Stephanie on her visit to Mockingee Lake, Nova Scotia, Canada and who was so kind to allow me to share them in this picture filled story. Hope I have done justice to the wonderful pictures. Please visit her post and blog to enjoy the full original collection below. https://wp.me/p72EU1-bCZ

The King of Breakfast times

Paddy Fields
Paddy fields in Andhra Pradesh

Waiting for the next train
Traveler at Mantralayam Road Station

Raja came from a small village situated near Mantralayam road. His father used to be a snack vendor at the railway station and had always liked Raja to follow him in his footsteps. Every day, the family used to be busy making the breakfast idlis and vadas and the chutney and sambhar that used to go as one pack. Initially in the late 70’s, Raghu, Raja’s father had decided to venture into this field after he could no longer work at the paddy fields. Raja’s mother Savitha and his aunt Seetha helped with the kitchen work to make the dough overnight and prepare steaming idlis by 7:00 AM, just in time for the express trains that would halt at Mantralayam. This used to be a daily affair till Raja decided he would exhibit his sales skills at the nearby and more prominent Raichur railway station.

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Raja had been to school for around 9 years , but somehow, the trains and the people in them amused him so much so, that he left school in tow with Mani to whom school was just a place to gossip with his mates in the morning and plan their evenings. Evenings was all about playing cricket in the fields next to the railway tracks, in the parched river bed of the Tungabhadra river. Little did he know, that after a few years, he would be playing on the Krishna river bed too.

train

When he was 17, Raja along with Mani decided to board the passenger train daily to Raichur, so that they could be there in time for the express trains halting for breakfast. His wares includes 2 baskets full of idlis, vadas and the traditional sambhar and chutney, all packed neatly. The quality check was done by the railway ticket checkers on the up train, who used to verily depend on these food packets for their breakfast. Sometimes they paid, sometimes they didnt. Raja never complained, as he was always guaranteed a free trip to Raichur. There were some like the aged ticket checker Ramanna, who used to get down at mantralayam to see that these boys actually boarded the train on time.

idlivadai

Both Raja and Mani had picked up other languages to help them get into business with the travelers who traveled from various states and spoke different language. With a broken hindi and a bit of english, especially the translation of costs made it easier to sell their wares. Nobody wanted to be caught stuck at understanding prices in the early morning, especially when one was hungry. Raja knew it by the bottom of his stomach.

Every morning, his baskets were like manna for people travelling in trains that reached the station. Every now and then, people used to compliment him and Mani for the well made idlis and vadai. But majority of the travelers just paid them and did not make it a point to comment. Also, since most of the travelers were like the annual flock of geese flying to native homes, they used to forget all about him and the taste never lingered that long, though his fame spread to the nearby stations. People from as far as Guntakal and Wadi used to come and enquire about how he made such tasty vadai.

But for the people who travelled by the daily passenger which used to halt at Raichur at 8:00, his tiffin was a blessing for those who missed it at their homes in their rush to catch the train and especially when the express trains were late, so that they were the first arrivals.

The duo donned different colors during the day, as by noon, they used to sell lunch packets on the platforms trying to sell through the windows of trains with halts during those times. In the evening, it was again a plate of vadai and cool drinks to give respite to travelers already showing fainting signs due to the scorching sun.

For years during the 80’s the tiffin trade thrived in and around Raichur with Raja and Mani sustaining people during breakfast times with quality food. They used to be called the king and pearl of breakfast times. In fact there were a lot of requests for them to carry coffee and tea to make it a complete breakfast offer. But then they had a few friends in the beverage business who were always on call, so they kept themselves busy with what they were good at.

With the Indian railways legalising and passing the catering business to contractors, the likes of breakfast vendors including the famed Raja of Raichur and the Manis either got into the system or were out of the catering system on indian trains by the late 90’s.

Notes: Below is a video which covers the station, the Tungabhadra River crossing and the green paddy fields.

telegraph
Pic courtesy: The Telegraph