The thirsty traveler

Once a rich man who always took pride in his possessions that he had accumulated and his rising status in society looked disturbed. He could not get quality sleep, could not enjoy much as of old and therefore decided  to do a solo ride to a far off place to meet a Guru who he thought would help him attain some peace of mind. The Guru’s Ashram was hundreds of miles far away from the city and was at a place which was unknown territory to him. Almost an hour to the destination guided the support voice from the vehicle. He happily drove ahead for some more time.  The vehicle navigation stopped momentarily as he  came across a place where the path ahead twisted into opposite directions. On the left was a muddy patch that looked like leading into the desert. The other was a better path leading into a shade of trees at a distance. There he saw a  traveler on foot with torn clothes and a dirty  bag in hand. He stopped his vehicle and inquired of  him on which   path he should take ahead.

“I am walking with only one destination in mind said the smiling mendicant. But you may take the left one”. He offered some water to the rich man which he refused saying he had enough of it with him. “It is a wonderful vehicle that you have got here. Hope it will take it to your intended destination. I can accompany you if you like me as a guide“, to which our man replied “There is no need for your guidance. This has inbuilt navigation. I can manage myself alone“.

The rich man thought of the man as a crazy old man and continued on the path on the right  which was well laid out and was happy he had not taken the foolish advice. After having gone some time, the road suddenly disappeared beneath the desert sands and the trees he had been seeing in the near distance had also vanished. His vehicle navigation was of no use in the desert terrain. Huge dunes of sand greeted him. He travelled over them each time narrowly missing being stuck in the loose sand. He stopped his vehicle as it had got heated. He drank from his rations of water and offered some to the vehicle.

It was hours since he had met the mendicant and cursed himself for not having taken him on board. After travelling again for some time, he came to the same place where he had met the mendicant. There was no trace of him. This time he took the left one and within an hour he reached an oasis which was lined up with the same trees that he had seen before. He reached the Ashram having hundreds of seekers sitting in attention to what the guru was saying.

“Always remember that there is no rich and poor among us. We are all seekers traveling through the limited time gifted to us. Seekers of joy, seekers of wealth, status or power. But there is a cost to such seeking. You lose your glow as you make compromises, do not listen to your inner guiding voice, do not heed good advice given externally and thus lose your way in the desert of life. If you had sought your creator all along and lost yourselves in his glory and attained bliss, there would be no need to drive yourself here to take the advice of this foolish man. The Lord is busy yet he has time for each one of us. When we are about to dwell on the wrong path, he sends us good advice in many forms. It could be your parent,  your sibling, a friend or a stranger. Take a pause in your stride and listen to such good advice”.

Saying so, the guru looked at the lone standing rich traveller who was looking at him to guide him to some seat to sit. When their eyes met, the rich traveller could recognise the smiling mendicant in the Guru…

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.

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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.

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Pic courtesy: The Telegraph

A Kadali Tale

On the occasion of Onam I wish all my dear readers a very happy, healthy and prosperous year ahead! They say after a sumptuous feast on Onam, children should listen to a story or more…

Hope you enjoy this Kadali Tale from my archives.

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Reghu chanced upon a small cottage while on the run away from the nearby Chartusra city and in his travails, hungry and famished and with a bag laden with stolen valuables, the robber makes his arrival known to the inmates by coughing and gasping at their door. Vedha, the small time jeweller traded in his jewellery which was made at the cottage with Bhanu, his helping hand welcomed the tired robber not knowing his exact credentials. On inquiring as to why he looked so tired and out of breath, he said he was a trader from Chartusra and had been followed by robbers while coming this way to Patali, the port city, the same place where Vedha used to sell his home made jewellery.

Reghu was welcomed as a guest and was told, he could stay for a few days before he could gain enough strength to go to Patali. One day Reghu’s eyes fell upon the golden bunch of 4 Kadali kept in front of the Lord and worshiped by Sree, Vedha’s wife, Reghu was thinking of adding it to his collection. The old caretaker and help, Bhanu to whom Sree was just like a daughter took good care of them all. Bhanu was not happy about Reghu but Vedha dismissed his fears and allowed Reghu to stay. With stolen silver and gold coins he impressed upon the jeweller to make a replica of the Kadali saying it would fetch him a good price at Patali. The jeweller obliged and took a week before finishing one, an exact replica of the one which he had made earlier on Sree’s request.

Once the work was completed and Reghu getting impatient and tired of the stay with the lovely couple, one day kills them and flees but not before taking the work in progress jewels and the two Kadali bunch. After walking for two days and night he came across a plain land with not much human habitation near a placid river. As dusk was approaching he thought of burying the 2 golden priceless Kadali. He chose one huge old jack-fruit tree to bury one near it. As he was in the process, a fearful spirit came down the tree and asked him what he was doing. Reghu told her that he was hiding this Kadali which he had in his hand and said he would return in a week to claim it. She agreed and asked him about the other banana jewel he had in his bag. Reghu on second thought thought of burying the other one too there, but she told him to hide the second one, a hundred yards away as she could not stand the sight of the divine jewel. Do claim this one in a week otherwise you will forfeit it and I will not allow anyone who comes in possession of it, any peace, was her parting words.

Reghu walked a hundred yards and came upon a mango tree near the river bank and as instructed started burying the Lord’s Kadali there. A benevolent spirit came down the tree and asked what he was doing…. He said that he was burying the Jewel in his possession and showed it to her. So be it, she said with a smile, I will guard this till it reaches the rightful owner and help him in any test that he is put to, she murmured to herself..and went back to the tree.

The river was in full flow and had submerged most of the land when he came back after selling the stolen jewels and the coins with a few workers to set up a home. To his surprise he found the landscape had changed thanks to the flood. The marked trees had got uprooted and he knew not where his twin treasure lay buried. He was seen digging most of the time but never told his servants as to what he was looking for. They deserted him soon after his money got over. He was now a man gone mad…

Years had passed by with the jewels remaining hidden where they lay for a few generations. The land had changed much and it was a small village now. Jinu was a landless worker who got a tract of land on lease from the greedy village officer to plant banana plantains. Half of the produce he would need to give to the officer as per the deal struck between them. As expected and to Jinu’s happiness, the first crop turned out well. One day while digging a canal to water the plants in the land, he came upon one of the golden plantains. He took it to Jayaram the local jeweler who had a good look at it and gave a small token to Jinu assuring him the rest of the money, but as a law abiding citizen, he had to talk to the village officer first about its antiquity before he could sell it as the laws had changed. He showed it to the village officer the same day who kept it with himself though he told Jayaram and Jinu that he would be handing it to the higher officials in the government and had no plans to keep anything to himself. The next day he told Jinu he had other plans and asked him to stop using the land for his planned second crop.

Jinu was out of work and was finding it difficult to sustain himself after whatever money he had on him ran out. He could see that the tract of land was fully dug up by the village officer in the hope that he would get some more of such golden Kadali, but his search for more treasure turned futile. Meanwhile Jinu again approached the village officer after a couple of weeks to use the tract of land for plantation, but he was driven out.

The village officer’s wife was fascinated by the golden fruit so much that she took it daily out of the strong box to marvel at it. The fascination increased so much that the officer had to hide it in another room and lock it. Meanwhile Jinu thought of planting a few banana plantains around his small home near the river bank where he was forced to retire. At least it will keep him from hunger once his efforts bore fruit. He prayed to Krishna at his home that the first fruit from his land will be gifted to him. As he dug another canal he came upon another golden plantain which was the exact replica of the first one he had got, but this time he made good his promise and bestowed the golden marvel to Krishna. Whenever he prayed, the golden jewel would change to real bananas and he would take one as prasadam(offering from the Lord).

One day he chanced upon Tulsi standing nearby who happened to watch him at his plantation work. He inquired of her and came to know that she was jeweler Jayaram’s daughter. One day she asked if she could assist him at his work in the plantation. He replied on one condition that she should accept her fair share of the produce once it materialized to which she gladly agreed.

The officer came to know that Jinu had a small plantation around his house. Somehow be didn’t like it but also couldn’t do much about it. Jayaram paid a visit to Jinu and saw the bunch of 4 bananas with a golden hue kept near Krishna’s idol. Oh! how marvelous a sight and so golden, said he after tasting the one from the bunch offered to him by Jinu. Can I have one more..Why not sir…take two, one for Tulsi too, smiling at her, who was standing at the door. The much pleased Jayaram had never had such a tasty fruit and he expressed the same while having it. Sir, my Krishna’s prasadam is always like his love. The more you love Him, more sweet will be your offering to Him and so, his prasadam in return. Being a devotee himself, Jayaram was no doubt thrilled by Jinu’s company. He and his daughter became frequent visitors. One day Jinu revealed to Jayaram, his wish to marry Tulsi. But Jayaram first decided to put Jinu to the test before he could approve his request.

Krishna

Jayaram asked Jinu. This bunch of mini kadali that you offer to Krishna daily…can you show me the plantain which yields such sweet bananas to you. Jayaram was sure no plantain could yield a bunch daily, in fact not more than one in its lifetime and with Jinu having not more than a dozen odd plantains, there seemed to be a mystery about them which he wanted to unravel.

Jinu was in a fix as to what he should say when an old woman came that way and asked for some ripe banana as food to be given. Jinu said I can give you some rice and vegetable but I doubt I can give you a banana at this time as it was well last noon and his kadali prasadam could yield real banana only before noon based on his experience.

The old woman laughed a bit loudly, much to Jinu’s and Jayaram’s consternation. You call yourself a planter? There, yonder. I can see a bunch of fine kadali. Jinu rushed to his garden and much to his surprise there was one ripe kadali bunch awaiting them. He took it down and gave to the woman. No, I don’t want all of this, maybe you can give the better share of this to your guest here, smilingly pointing at Jayaram. Saying so, the woman took leave.

Jayaram was a bit disturbed and left with a perplexed mind. The next day he sent Tulsi to bring a bunch of fresh Kadali. Tulsi came in the morning as was her wont, to Jinu’s house, prayed to Krishna, took two of the prasadam kadali and there were only two left for the day. Father has sent me for a bunch if you could provide it. Jinu at a loss went to the same tree and there, lo another bunch of ripe bananas was waiting to be taken down.

This went on for a few days. Jayaram came on the fourth day himself and examined the tree. There was none. He was going to win he thought when another woman appeared asking for something to eat. Jinu asked what he could give her. Don’t bother I will go inside and take what I need. She went inside and was not to be seen for sometime. Both went in to see her feasting on a bunch of freshly plucked kadali. Jayaram was at a loss of words and failed to understand what was going on. He asked Jinu from where this bunch came when Tulsi appeared in the doorway saying I plucked it in the morning before you two had even got up and kept it here.

The woman had her fill and after blessing Jinu and Tulsi and laughing at Jayaram went her way. It was a matter of a few weeks time before Tulsi and Jinu got married on an auspicious day.

The village officer couldn’t sleep on many a night as he could hear someone pounding on the closed door. The noise from the room where he kept the golden Kadali, the disturbance from the roof as if someone heavy was trampling upon the tiles…the fearful shadow behind the curtains, the poor sight of his wife already at her wits end when she could not see the golden fruit anymore, now out of sight behind the closed door of the cursed room. It was just a matter of time before the officer too went mad after he saw the room ransacked, one day, by some robber and the golden Kadali missing…

The Siege

Kishan, a young storekeeper had a pet goat and aspired to join the infantry division of the noble Malhar Rao just like his father. Rani who was the daughter of another soldier and lived a couple of houses away at the quarters of the fort township was jealous that all of Kishan’s time was spent on petting the goat or getting his daily feed. The story unfolds somewhere in the early 18th century atop Panhala fort sitting at a height of 2000 plus feet providing a cushion of comfort to the thousand or more occupants. Hope you enjoy it…

Gopi, one of the door keepers of the fort’s main gate had taken a liking to the lively Rani and Sunanda who were inmates on the fort like him. He was pressing his elders for his marriage but all such engagement proposals would have to wait since the whole town on top of the fort was in siege for the last 3 months. The Shah of Bijapur who had laid the siege could ill afford to wait further as his forces were also homesick. Infact Panhala was a stronghold of Bijapur for quite some time but they had lost control of it recently. Moreover his supplies from his city 150 miles away had been cut now and then by the chief Sreeraj, a tribal chief in the plains and who was loyal to the Malhar noble.

Shah was expecting Malhar to come down to accept his terms but there was no sign of him relenting. His small town nestled in the fort had around 1000 people including the soldiers who should have been famished by now so that they either rose up in revolt against their noble or must have resigned themselves to hunger and death. He couldn’t force his troops up as the fort gates were unbreakable just as the fort was impregnable with steep slopes on all sides. The bowmen at the turrets would make them easy targets if they ventured too close to the gates through the narrow winding way upward.

Rani was being well looked after. After all her marriage to a suitable boy on the hill was on the cards. She was happy to see that Gopi was trying to gain their friendship. She liked Gopi to be her friend and took pride in that bond. After all he was the gatekeeper of the entire fort.

Malhar Rao decided to send a letter of friendship to Shah asking him to lift the siege and promised him ten thousands gold coins and some fertile land so that he could still keep the fort and allow himself a safe passage to his other territories. He was not sure if the enemy would accept it but it was a honest try. The rains had subsided and the Sun was making his presence felt on the town. This was one fort of the seven he would not dream to hand over as it was here he and his retinue could remain immune to any attack.

Sunanda’s father Jagan would be the messenger of the friendship letter and it would be relayed to one of Shah’s soldier who was standing 100 steps below the fort gate. At dawn the gate would open a little to let Jagan out as per the plan laid out.

Sunanda had Kishan’s goat in tow when she accompanied her father till the gate. Rani came to know about the messenger at the last minute and came dashing to the gate like an unstoppable. The gate had been opened and the messenger Jagan had just stepped out. The goat already nervous with so many persons unknown to him panicked when he saw Rani dashing towards him. He strained at the rope that held him to Sunanda’s hand and dashed out of the small gate down the steps and out of the fort. On the fifth step or so he knocked Jagan down so that the message flew out of his hand and went flying out into the rocks in no man territory to be read by none. The goat still continued going down the steps towards the enemy with Rani and Sunanda going after him. It was with big effort on their part to get hold of him and pull him back. Maybe he gave in as his eyes had picked a lot of men further down.

The sight amused the enemy soldiers who reported it to their chief and hearing the commotion, The Shah also came out of his tent to see the scene unwinding in front of his eyes. There was a plump goat chased by two girls who looked healthy enough. The girls came mid- way took hold of the goat in their hands and managed to run back before his soldiers could react. He nodded to the commander not to chase the retreating girls.

He called the commander to his tent and they had a discussion. “There is no point waiting here chief. Did you see the fat goat and those two girls. Did the three look famished? On the contrary they are much healthier than our soldiers. I think Malhar Rao has enough food stocks on him to last many a month. It is we who are starving due to lack of supplies. The moment he senses we are too weak to resist he will run us down with whatever soldiers he has up there. Do you think it was a freak incident? They are teasing us and had the audacity to send a goat and the two girls down. Who knows, we maybe the goats he is waiting to sacrifice at the right opportunity?

The flurry of activity at the gate was known to Malhar Rao. He was upset at the turn of events. He was angry at Gopi and called him and demanded an explanation. At the same time he sent summons to the fallen Jagan, Rani and Sunanda. The noble was still finding it difficult to understand the chain of events after the gate was opened. He wanted to know everything from everyone who played in his message being thrown to the winds. Just as they were explaining it to their noble came another message from the turrets which also Malhar Rao couldn’t believe.

The army of Shah was withdrawing back to the plains which also meant the siege had been lifted. I don’t know what you all have done there a couple of hours back and I don’t care since you all have saved the people here and a lot of gold which I was planning to give them. We will now have a fortnight of rejoicing.

I don’t have to tell you that during the joyful festival, Kishan was getting married to Rani and Gopi to Sunanda atop the fort of Panhala.

Author Note: This is a pure work of imagination and should not be confused with eminent people and places having similar names who lived and flourished in the said period.

Arrogance Heights

Arrogance is a mental state and when it will take seed and cause our ruin, no one knows and therefore this story serves us to remain humble or remind ourselves when we land in such situations. The post was written when Basheer a friend and Cabbie in Bahrain was harping on this topic of how arrogance spoils an individual and complemented it with an outline of a simple story that he learnt in school, which I had never come across earlier. I hope on the occasion of Eid, this story makes an interesting read.

Once there was a tiny mouse, who used to live in holes dug by himself, some on the ground, some in the wall of a house where he frequented at night for dishes forgotten to be tightly closed or some left overs lying here and there. There was no issue of food for the mouse, but he always was in awe and fear of an alley cat who used to frequent the place where the mouse lived. The alley cat would try to pounce upon him given the opportunity or whenever they came face to face, but most of the time, he used to give the cat a slip by slipping just in time into one of the burrows dug to handle such situations. There was a tree nearby the house, and it used to be difficult when the cat after his sleeping sessions on the tree would come down in a jiffy when the mouse was just loitering around and our poor guy had to scamper with many a wounds which he would lick in private and think how his world would change..

Once it so happened, that a sage visited the house and its inhabitants on his way and blessed them and was just about to leave when the mouse approached him and told all about the miserable life that he was living because of the alley cat. Sensing what was going in the tiny mind, the Sage asked him, in what form would he like to continue in life, if the cat was giving him so much trouble. I would like to be a cat so that I wont have to dread this alley cat and any others that might come this way, pleaded the mouse. So it be it, said the Sage and walked away.

The little mouse was mighty surprised to see himself as a cat and he ran the whole day in leaps and bounds, climbed the tree and jumped to the window to startle the little boy inside and then back and so forth. He went into the house through the door and nobody saw him nor shrieked when they saw him. He was loving the freedom and came out to enjoy the world in his new form. But to his chagrin, the house dog barked at him and chased him and he had to beat a hasty retreat out of that house for ever. He too became an alley cat living in every street a day based on the street dogs pushing him away and he soon became tired of being on the run, leading the life of a fugitive who could barely rest in peace anywhere.

He chanced upon our Sage one day and asked him if he could change him to a dog and the transformation happened much to his joy. But the happiness was short lived when children and adults alike threw stones at him whenever he went his way looking for food around the houses and shops across the street. To cut a long story short, our guy changed many forms till finally he told the Sage, “let me become a tiger in the forest, so that everybody will respect me for what I am and I can live a peaceful life”. So be it, said a smiling sage and vanished.

The tiger roamed about and was happy to see that nobody came his way or troubled him. He could kill any animal that he liked for his food, be it a nimble footed deer, a lost goat or a troubled buffalo. Days went by and slowly the tiger became more of a trouble maker in the forest. He killed animals with gay abandon even when he was not hungry and hence every animal dreaded him.

The sage thought of making a visit to know how the mouse fared in his newly acquired tiger’s form now that the mouse was not even thinking of him. On the way he saw the forest in disarray as if somebody had created havoc to the eco-system with carcasses of animals lying here and there and rotting. As he walked, some of the gentle animals came to him and said how the tiger had became a menace to the inhabitants and pleaded with the Sage to rescue them from the clutches of an animal gone wild.

The sage said he would talk to the tiger on their behalf and ask him to mend his ways for good and the retinue of animals thanked him but still followed our sage at a safe distance. Sensing some movement, the tiger came out of his dwelling and saw the sage. He just blinked without giving any respect whatsoever now that he was the king of the forest. The sage put forward his proposition and advised the tiger to come to terms and behave himself for the good of all creatures. The tiger got angry telling the Sage it was no business of his and he should beat a hasty retreat before he got hungry. The sage laughed at this, and the tiger could see the animals in the distance watching all this. “How could you laugh at me, when I am ordering you to flee if you value your life. Why are all of you tired of life and in defiance”, he spoke to the Sage and said that there was no need of him visiting him again with silly advice and demanded him to leave immediately as dusk was fast approaching.

The Sun much as he wanted to enjoy the climax of the unfolding drama below, was beating a hasty retreat behind the dense foliage. On the way down, he saw the rising Moon and told him all about what had happened, so that he could tell him all about the unfinished story when they met the next day morning. The moon ever so eager, climbed fast in time to position himself at a vantage position to see what would be the outcome of the conversation between the tiger and his preceptor, the Sage. An eagle flying that way also thought of resting his wings and he landed on one of the branches below which the Sage was standing and lent his ears as did other animals in abeyance.

The Sage seemed hurt at the dialogues from the tiger and he warned the mouse turned wild cat that it would be better to be humble rather that destroying himself with arrogance. Hearing this, the tiger who had had enough sprang at the Sage who was standing at a distance of a few feet. As he took off, he knew the Sage would be a an easy prey but to his surprise the Sage easily dodged him while he was in the air and when he landed on the ground, much to his surprise, he found himself having turned into a mouse. These moments didn’t last long, as to his horror, the eagle had already descended from the branch above to pounce on an easy prey in the darkness lit only by the glow of a smiling crescent Moon…

EID Mubarak to All..

eidgreetings
Eid Greetings

The treat

Pravin and Raju both had to go to Matunga this week for some purchases. The roasted ground coffee at a wholesale shop had popular reviews so Pravin thought of adding it to his list of items at his shop. Raju used to visit Matunga where he got his medical supplies from a supplier there. So on a Friday, they decided to shut their respective shops and made off to Matunga by train.

On getting down Pravin hurried to Bhimani Street to get his coffee and Raju took a cab to Maheshwari gardens area to place his new orders and hand over his check payments. It was a brisk walk for Pravin across to the shop selling varieties of coffee and with the ground coffee aroma, he thought he would swoon down in ecstasy. He made a few purchases from different varieties the shop had to offer and asked the shopkeeper to pack them up while he would go around the market to fish for other unique South Indian items that were on offer.

Raju luckily was able to place orders, without wasting time on the supplies he needed for his medical shop. He circled the Maheshwari Udyan as he loved walking and soon he was at the Asthika Samaj Temple on Bhandarkar street, went inside and offered his prayers and came out and continued walking towards the Matunga market. He had to find out Pravin fast. They had decided upon the post office as their meeting point exactly two hours after they had parted their ways.

Raju paused as he passed the flower shops on the western side of the street, went into one of the shops that sold meetha paan. Took it and dumped it into his mouth. He loved this paan (sweet betel) from this shop and made it a habit to have one on his monthly visits to the place. Slowly chewing and savoring it, he walked gulping down the contents and was soon at the meeting place where he waited for Pravin near the letter box.

Before long, Pravin walked with two big bags that seemed heavy for him to manage by himself and gave one to the tall and well built Raju. They both walked slowly to the Railway station which was a few hundred metres away. That’s when Raju realised he was hungry and it would be good to visit the Irani restaurant that invited them, a few steps away.

Being a Friday and that too around 11 am there were not many customers in the rickety wooden chairs surrounding a few marble topped tables at the shop. There was some old Hindi song playing on the radio which appeared to be a prized possession of the Irani gentleman sitting at the cashier desk who had a welcome in his eyes as they stepped in. Some part of the shop had the sun streaming its shine and therefore our chaps decided to take position at a table in the shade and below one of the three ceiling fans which to the observant Pravin appeared as old as the gentleman smiling at the desk.

What would you like to have, Raju? asked Pravin as both of them placed the bags down. I would go for a toast omelette with special tea. I would settle for a veg cheese omelette. They placed the order with the serving boy who appeared at their desk from  nowhere. Where was he when we came in? We didn’t notice him, a smiling Pravin asked. Raju looked at the young chap and gave the order and asked him to make it fast, if he wanted a generous tip. He disappeared just as he had appeared, into the kitchen. Pravin tapped his fingers on the table to the music and looked around. Raju was a bit engrossed looking at the medical supplies order copy in his hand.

A poor man walked in, a bit fidgety, placed himself at the far end on the sunny side and drank a cup of water from the water container kept on the table. He took a couple of currency notes and a few coins from his pocket on the table and went through the menu kept on the table. Pravin was watching the person closely now. It appeared there was nothing he could buy except perhaps a cup of plain tea. He went through the menu once again and made quick calculations by looking at his scant store. With moist eyes he placed an order for plain tea and waited for it.

What Raju, you are looking at those order forms and keeping so quiet. It is time to have a small celebration today. What’s the occasion, a gleaming Raju asked. Not because Pravin was a miser but very rarely his grocer friend gave treats. You don’t know? Come on, it is my wedding anniversary he proclaimed as he stood up while making a bit of a show with his hands spread. He walked across to the cashier and loudly said cha-cha today is my wedding anniversary. Mubarak ho beta. What can I do for you? asked the old man at the desk.

Please serve a cream roll and a coconut cake on my behalf to all others sitting here. And yes, a special tea too. The Parsi gentleman looked around. There was only a poor man sipping tea at the other occupied table. Alas! If only a few more customers had come that time of the day, he would have sold more cream roll and cakes!

The Ants and the Snake

Once, there lived scores of  ants in an ant hill. They had built the hill over years of labor from the mud on a slope away from the paths men frequented. It was a desolate place with a lot of shrubs and grass. Not many creatures frequented this way except for one who had lost the way and therefore their location was not known to many.

Their fort was well protected by the myriads of soldiers in the nearby vicinity who were ready to pounce on any intruder or predator including some men who wanted to bring it down whenever they chanced this way. Soldier ants and the regional chiefs co-ordinated every hour and discussed the weather and the wind which were also a risk to their stronghold. From the ground, for tiny them, the hill looked as tall as a mountain which might take an hour to climb, even for the swiftest among them.

The Queen had to be protected at all costs. If there was an invasion and the commander in chief thought they and the fort would not be able to survive the onslaught, there was a small army kept within the palace to transport the queen to a safer destination in minutes. For that a couple of forts at a distance were already prepared and maintained daily. The food and water rations were stored at appropriate locations at various places in and around the hill for the army of ants. Special squads were sent far to detect any smoke or bush fire that might pose a risk to their lodgings.

On one side of the mound, a couple of rats burrowed their holes and decided to stay put there. Since they didn’t mean harm to the inhabitants of the fort, they were not attacked. In a few weeks time, a snake that meandered that way, chanced upon the rats stay. It decided to make an attack on the fortress. It circled the hill, crushing many soldier ants who tried to bite the intruder as he wriggled upon their ramparts and made a run to the many holes dug by the rats. The rats ran into the bushes and disappeared.

The snake thought of pitching his tent in the hill though every day he met some resistance from the soldier ants who were dead against this slimy creature putting the fort at siege. Daily hundreds of ants died or got injured from the snake’s movement who used to go in and out as if he owned the place.

A group of children from nearby homes who had thought of making this place a playground for their vacations, cleared some of the bushes and the grass. At first they met high resistance from the ants but who then retreated to the fort lest they meet with lethal consequences from them or their parents. Every day they started playing games metres away from the ant hill which was well hidden among the bushes.

The snake also was aware of the children playing at a distance but ignored them as they didn’t seem to threaten him. Oblivious to him, he continued dealing deaths and injuries to the ants on his meanderings. The ants sometimes irritated him but for the cool comfort of this mud hill, he could tolerate them till the rains arrived.

This could not go on for long this way. The snake has to be driven out and the children too since they might wreak the hill if they ventured into the bushes, thought the commander in chief. He sought a meeting with the queen and the elders group. I don’t know why the queen persists with this group of elders. They just pamper her, eat and drink and while away their time. And the queen calls them worldly wise. I, in my lifetime haven’t heard any wise words from them except citing issues with the way I operate!

The meetings with the queen and her group of the advisory board was either short or a long drawn out affair. There were times when he was dismissed in minutes and days when he used to sit hours and get audited on his actions. But this time it would be different. He would strike terron in their hearts and ask for more batallion and thereby increase his stature while trying his best against the snake and the children.

The court was already assembled as he stormed in with his bodyguards and took his seat. After the initial customary greetings they came to discuss the safety of the fort. The queen cast a glance on him which was a signal for him to voice his concern. He gave a lengthy speech often trying to embed fear in the group if immediate steps weren’t taken to get rid of the imposter snake and the children.

We will make an attack on the snake with 5000 soldiers and another 10000 would be needed to drive away the children. He made his point and sat down. That is the size of our full army including those who guard our backup forts. One of the elders remarked and continued. We cannot put at risk losing 15000 of our men sending them on a mission where there is a feeble hope of winning. But we can’t stand idle when daily we lose hundreds of our soldiers. This way we would lose either way before the rains, said the commander trying his best.

The queen asked of the eldest ant in the group. Is there no other way, Sir? The eldest closed his eyes as that was his habit while trying to arrive at the solution. After a couple of minutes he opened his eyes and said that there was one. Tomorrow morning nobody will bother the snake.  Let a hundred soldiers march back and forth every day morning until further orders to the eastern fort which is the nearest to the children’s play area. Let the queen be shifted tonight to the western fort deepest in the bushes. Let us abandon this fort tonight and let the remaining thousands assemble at the west until further orders with the queen.

What do you have in mind, asked the Queen. Your majesty, the queen, you must have faith in me but the strategy will be disclosed later. Please arrange to issue necessary orders since we have to act on this immediately.  The Queen made the orders and put the commander and his deputies into the act. They murmured a bit as to what good would come of this but they obeyed the orders to the word for that was how they were brought up.

The next day morning, the snake woke up to see there were no ants to disturb him. He peeped out of the hole. Yes there they are, he was amused but at the same time curious. They are all marching to the smaller ant hill. Why would that be? Maybe the rats are there after running from here. No, they would never come within 100 metres of me. He surveyed the other parts of the fort. Yes the ants have made a transition to their new place. But why?

The question came to him again and again without an answer. Then a fear crept into his mind. The weary ants, did they sense any danger here for them to abandon this well built fortress. The children had come today but only two of them were there. He could dodge their eyes and quietly scramble into the smaller ant hill and see what the ants were upto. He wriggled quickly towards the play area and that is when the children saw him go into the nearby ant hill. When they realised the danger they fled towards their houses raising an alarm. The chain of ants were asked to stop the marching and asked to immediately get back to the western fort as soon as they saw the snake at the eastern fort.

All the ants were at the western fort and asked to bide their time till further orders from the commander. All were looking at the play area and getting bits of information from the few sentries posted  at the gates. There was a lot of commotion when a group of people came running with sticks and a bag. They destroyed the Eastern fort in a minute to unearth the snake who made a run to the central fort but was beaten, caught and secured in a bag. Some of the men came into the bushes and found the towering but now deserted ant hill and destroyed it also and went back. On the way back they were heard rebuking the children for selecting this area for their play.

The same day evening the queen had assembled a quick meeting to discuss future plans and congratulate everyone on the turn of events in their favor. The elderly advice had saved them from daily casualties and impending doom. They put up plans to build a big fort after the rains. Till then the queen and her army would continue their stay at the western fort as per the meeting minutes. If only they had asked for elderly advice earlier, many more lives would have been saved, some soldiers were heard saying to each other. The commander wiser from this experience now understood that Every problem with our enemies may not have a military solution always…

Son of the Soil

A poor man cared for his family, worked for his landlord all the while but never cared a bit about himself. He worked in the fields from dawn to dusk. His skin weathered the elements, the seasons and the taunts of the landlord on whose fields he worked. His shirt and dhoti was all torn. He never cared for foot wear. His feet had developed corns and these days he walked in pain.

One day it was the village festival and he went to the village fair with his wife and daughter. He was in search of a young man for his daughter. He had come to know of Chandan who worked in the village office. He would be an ideal suitor for his daughter. But his parents were middle class. He had once mooted about it to Shri Dinanath who did not give any reply to him at that time. How could Shri Dinanath, Chandan’s father agree for a poor farmer’s daughter. This had been his worrying thought for a few months and when he passed the village shrine, he would talk about it to the diety there in the evening at the temple gate. Yes, he could not enter since his whole body and torn shirt was soaked in mud while coming home from work.

With his family in tow, Girish walked in front wearing a clean dhothi and light blue shirt. But the layer of sand laid out at the village fair was not favourable to his feet. It was paining and it was really getting difficult to walk. He told about his situation to his wife and all the three decided to go to the temple which was nearby and walk back home.

As they were leaving the fair, a hawker selling footwear was calling out for prospective customers. He also appeared poor to Girish’s eyes, when their eyes met. His call seemed desperate. Who would buy footwear when there was so much else on display to buy. Why don’t you buy one for yourself, his wife said. Maybe I should, more for this poor fellow than for myself, murmured Girish.

There were many varieties on display to Girish’s confusion. Sensing that, the hawker looked at Girish’s feet, measured it and went around looking for one that would give him comfort. Finally he got one to his satisfaction and put it on Girish’s feet all the time looking at him with a pleasant smile. Girish paid more than what the poor hawker asked, thanked and bade him goodbye and walked towards the temple with his family.

After leaving their footwear behind, they ascended the steps and prayed for the wellbeing of all in the village. As they came out after taking the prasad from the old Pujari, Vaishnavji, who had been serving the temple for  decades, they found that Girish’s footwear was missing.

It was really unfortunate Girish thought. More than the loss, he had taken a liking for it and the comfort it gave. Simple people were content with simple treats like these in life. Maybe this luxury was not for me, thought he, as he tread his steps slowly due to his pain. Since it was getting dark, he asked his wife and daughter to hurry home as he would take time walking across through the freshly laid gravel.

Before long, Vaishnavji having finished his duties at the temple caught up with the slow walking Girish and enquired about his feet. Girish told him all what had happened. Vaishnavji comforted Girish and gave him company till he reached his house. That night there was thundershowers which gave a welcome relief to the villagers from the heat.

The next day morning, when Vaishnavji climbed the steps of the shrine he found it dirty with mud. It was as if someone had walked with footwear not only on the steps but everywhere outside and inside the sanctum. And there just below the feet of the diety was a pair of muddy footwear. Who could have done such an act, he muttered, getting angry. I am sure someone who came to the village fair from far would have done this.

Tendering an apology to the Lord, he started to clean the inner sanctum and was shouting curses at that ruffian who had the audacity to do this. Did he hear someone giggling or was that a laugh. Did he really hear or his old mind was playing tricks. Never mind, thought he and continued on with his work and it was then he remembered that the muddy footwear was still inside the sanctum. When he started removing it, a voice boomed. “Do not remove it, dear Vaishnav. It is dear to me. It was I who danced around with it last night amid the rains. Do not bother, as from now on, it will be my footwear” .

Vaishnavji was enthralled with what he had heard. The Lord had talked to him after all these years to him. Girish had woken up early and started to tread his way to the fields. Surprisingly he did not feel any pain today while walking. He had thought of taking a longer route instead of the gravel filled village fair path, but since it was not paining at all, he decided to take the short route and thank the Lord on the way. It was still dark and dawn was still a few moments away.

Girish climbed the temple steps along with Chandan’s father who was also a great devotee of the Lord and both of them saw Vaishnavji in a trance. When they enquired, he told them all what had happened. To set their sight on the divine footwear, they hurried to the inner sanctum and  was Girish surprised when he saw that it was the very footwear he had worn the last night. He prostrated before the Lord crying out how thankful he was to see that the very good  Lord had taken a liking for it.

The booming voice came again. “Girish, I was twice lucky yesterday. To touch your feet and adorn this footwear on your feet and then like a thief snatch it and play around here wearing it that gave me so much joy. Let it remain here with me and in barter I have taken away your painful corns from your feet”.

How glad the three were that morning to hear the Lord’s voice. Dinanath with tears in his eyes embraced Girish remarking, “you are the true son of the soil and I will be glad to have your daughter grace my home  after our children’s wedding at the next auspicious muhurat here in  the temple”.

I fervently hope, the good Lord who inspired me to write this, bestow upon my readers, simple gifts and the best of health as we walk across the paths in life which may not be comfortable at all times…

Paths in Life.. It is your choice. Thanks to Rupali who has a photography  blog at mazeepuran.wordpress.com for allowing me to use this lovely picture.

The lively professor

A professor when he was on the verge of retirement dream’t of coaching eager students in his now soon to be retired life, so he thought, as he drove back from college on one of his last days.

He called up one of his old students who now worked in the press to put up a classified in the morning newspaper that would advertise his skills in accountancy as a tutor.

A few days back, 3 girls, all of them pals, came to his house for coaching as exams were just a few months away but they saw a padlock greeting them on his door. They went away sadly as they could not meet the tutor who dream’t of teaching even in his retired life.

padlock

After a week they came again to inquire and this time they found him waiting and ready to teach. Not wasting much time, he taught the nuances about all he knew about the subject in those few months.

The girls loved him for his knowledge and more than that, the way he imparted it to them, making it look so easy. If only, they thought, all of the professors they met were like him.

On the day of the results, our girls were mighty thrilled and why wouldn’t they as the results outdid their expectations and they hurried to their old mentor to convey the great news but sadly the padlock greeted them this time too and they lingered on for him to arrive, for quite some time.

But arrive, he never did that day, and as it was late, the trio went back sadly each to their own homes. The next dawn they went back again to see the house still locked as they found it the earlier day. This time they inquired about his whereabouts with his not so near neighbors, only to know that he had passed a few months away…

Some good souls linger on to complete an unfulfilled wish…

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.