Unplanned Journeys

The express train was negotiating a curve before it applied the brakes gently at first and then firmly as the Kozhikode station was a few kilometres away. A train which had a few rivals as far as non stop running was concerned had another 800 kilometres to negotiate before it could reach Mumbai the next day evening.

Jalan the railway porter was looking for any passengers that night who would require to board their luggage on to the  train which would reach in a minute or two as per the announcement made. If not to board luggage, good God let some passenger alighting need my services and kept himself properly positioned as the train slowly floated into his line of vision. These days work was less as people travelled light and the trolley bags didn’t help either. It was not a good day for Jalan today. He had fallen from his bicycle and had gone to the nearby clinic in the morning and had his bruised leg bandaged. In the evening, he was invited to the local bar by his friend and after a couple of drinks, there was a brawl initiated by 2 outsiders who was pressing the waiter to deliver the drinks to their table and then beat him up. They definitely were outsiders, the dialect used was not local. Maybe there were goons, from some place who had come to the city on an assignment. Jalan had left soon after they had left but their faces had made an imprint.

Vedika was expected to join the IT firm at Mumbai day after tomorrow. She had asked her careless brother to book the train ticket and he had said he had taken care of the booking till the last minute. So instead of 15th August, he had booked on 25th and just while she was packing in the morning for the afternoon train, he comes with a sorry face and plays the breaking news to her. Then both of them tried other options and finally managed to get a second class AC 2 tier seat for her. One way it was good, she got more time to plan and pack her things as this was a midnight train from Kozhikode.. Her brother’s carelessness had caused  her mother to shell out more money, but there was no time to complain.

Dilip was selling cool drinks from the railway stall at Kozhikode. He along with Jayan  used to lease a tray of soft drink bottles from the store and then pay for it later. They had been at these for the past few years before the pandemic struck. During the period of one year they were doing petty jobs for survival. Now the duo were back to their station duties. Today Dilip had to go to Mangalore on a small parcel assignment and come back by tomorrow morning. He thought of carrying on his trade in the train till Mangalore though he knew there would be few takers for his drinks among the passengers in all coaches which were air conditioned and all   in deep slumber by the time the train rolled into the station.

As the train’s engine passed him, Jalan eyes riveted now on to the coaches was like the owl looking for crow. , his experienced eyes saw a young lady and a boy ambling over to the coaches now almost stationary. They had 2 small pieces of luggage, which he knew they could manage somehow. But out of habit, he went near and asked his if they wanted to avail his services. The young lady smiled at him and thanked him saying they would be able to manage. Jalan was back to look at other coaches to see if anyone was getting down. But he could not see much passengers sitting or standing, most of them were already in deep sleep, you could not blame them, it was already half past 12 in the early morning.

He ambled across to the second AC coach, where the young boy was standing outside and the lady now seated inside. He just came closer and as was his behavior he asked if everything was fine. Yes brother, everything is fine. It was strange though, there were not many passengers in the Second AC that day. She was almost alone, save for 3 or 4 passengers in berths 14, 15 and 16. At the same time, Dilip brushed past him as he was trying to get into one of the 3 tier coaches. Hey where are you going to sell your drinks. Everybody is asleep. I know he said, I need to go to mangalore for this small parcel delivery, so will travel in the sleeper coach. So thought of taking this train. I have the ticket with me. Why dont you travel in this coach. It is empty. What if the TTR catches me. Dont worry, there I see him, it is Nageshwara Rao, he wont mind, Nageshwara Rao was slowly pacing his steps towards the second class AC in which the lady had onboarded. Maybe he is coming to check just that. Jalan moved over to Rao and requested that Dilip travel in this coach even though he had a sleeper ticket.  It is okay, you can get yourself seated near the service staff boy at the   door. Even I will have someone to talk to. Dilip was all smiles as he got in the luxury coach and got seated in the berth nearest the door.

Jalan came out of the coach and that is when he saw the 2 goons getting into the same coach at the other end. He had seen them loitering nearby before the train had reached and now getting into the second ac coach was a little beyond his understanding. Maybe they were going to from where they came, good riddance. He passed by the coach. Nageswara Rao was already dozing on berth 52. That means, he didnt expect any more boarding from this station. He walked on, the young lady was getting ready to sleep at berth 48 and the 2 goons had got seated themselves on the window berth and eyeing her. Jalan could not let her go on the train unprotected and without wasting time traced his steps back and got into the same coach at the door where Dilip was seated.

What happened, Dileep inquired with a surprise, are you also coming. Yes and I may travel more than you in this train. He told about the incidents during the day and now and how he sensed some danger to the passengers from these men. They ambled across to Rao and put his sleep out of the train. He thanked Jalan for coming in the train as the guard had taken I’ll at Kozhikode. The replacement will be at the next halt. They somehow wanted to hold the fort till Mangalore. As per his list there were 3 men and a group of Europeans boarding the train to Madgoan. The next couple of hours was crucial. Rao was looking at the bottles of cool drinks in Dilip’s crate. Slowly he opened his black bag gifted to him by some jeweler from his cloth bag. There are some medicines here and a soft weapon, as he took out a strip. There are 4 bullets in these. What weapon and bullets, both onlookers asked. These are sleeping pills I keep with me, if we can dissolve them in these 2 bottles and persuade them to buy it from Dileep, at least we can make them sleepy and thus a bit ineffective. Can you open the 2 bottles lad. Dileep did what was told, ground the tablets into powder and put it in the soft drinks and effectively closed the cap on them. I hope they wont pick up a fight with you over the soft drink. They wouldn’t notice it said Jalan, as their system is loaded with alcohol and water to them will be soothing, gas or no gas.

Now off you go and use your best selling skills to buy these from you. Keep some empty bottles also in your crate and cook up a story as to how you desperately wanted to sell the remaining and get off the train, as there was only a couple of minutes for it to leave the station. We have another 7 minutes left actually since the train came 12 minutes early. Wait, keep one more filled bottle in case the girl asks for one and he put it in the corner slot. Open that too, take a gulp yourself from that in case they insist for that bottle, you can say it is defective by showing them the open cap. Jalan said, you must be among the cops Rao sir and not on the trains. Rao took the praise with a humble smile.

Vedhika turned nervous the moment she sighted the two men who came and seated themselves on the window seats. They appeared drunk and soon the smell of their drink wafted into the surroundings. They were whispering something to themselves and  looking all the time at her. One of them asked if she wasn’t retiring to sleep. She, lending a deaf year, opened one of her bag and started searching for something which wasn’t there in the first place. Good Lord, I should not have booked on this train when so many seats were vacant, only He can come to the rescue. The search into the contents of the bag went on, and the one of the guys getting impatient asked her what she was searching and started to get up from the seat asking if she needed help. Suddenly a boy came from nowhere with a basket of soft drink bottles and stood in between them. He was very eager to sell his goods even in the dead of the night. Go away, they tried to shoo him off. One grabbed Dileep’s arm and dragged him away from the vantage position as he was blocking their vision. Still he went on pestering them to buy. Why don’t we buy one and send him off, and they got one from him. Vedhika didn’t want to send him away so soon, he was to her as all the gods in one body. She also wanted one from him and looked for the change in her purse. She had the change, but gave him a 200 denomination, hoping that he won’t have the change to give back and thus buy some time.  Dileep gave her the bottle earmarked for her and started pestering the other guy to buy the remaining bottle, so he can alight from the train, as it will start off anytime. The first guy who wanted to see Dileep off from his radar now tried his convincing skills on his friend to get the remaining bottle, and when he didn’t relent, he bought one more, so that the drink seller would vanish. The second bottle was forced into the hands of the other guy by the first and then both started to take turns drinking from their bottles.

When Dileep was confronted by the 200 rupee currency, he was delighted to see that his role getting extended in the drama. He started searching for the change in his shirt pocket at his own pace as if he had all the time in the world. Gone was the impatient looking seller, anxious that the train would start, now he acted as if he was one of the passengers. Vedhika prayed that he did not have the change with him or else the whole scene would change in a minute. But she also didn’t want the guy to get stranded in the train. Maybe another minute or two for the train to leave, thought Dileep. He looked for the change in the back pockets and slowly took out the change, counted them, not once or twice but thrice to the desperate looks of the goons. You know what he told them with a smile, I have lost many a money while giving back the change. Sister can you count them and see if that is okay as he handed back the change. Vedhika counted swiftly and said it was fine but sad to see him leaving. The train had started to move slowly and Dileep hurried to the exit door.

When all seemed clear for the 2 men to start gaining lost territory, to the surprise of all three, in walked another god in human form for vedhika. Mr. Rao pulling his black coat on his shoulders as a rucksack walked in with his cloth bag and reservation list.  Looking at the men, he turned over to Vedhika and asked for her ticket. To put it straight, asking for their tickets was never in Mr. Rao’s plan.  My prayers are being answered, as she went looking for her ticket in the bag. Oh it was the ticket she was searching so far, remarked one on the window seat. Hope she gets it before we reach our destination and went into a laughter spell.  Mr. Rao took a seat on the berth as he was in no hurry in contrast to the train which was trying its best to reach its next halt early. Do you remember where you kept it. Maybe try the other bag, or maybe your purse soothingly were these words from Rao. All the patience just like her father. I am sure it was in this bag, where I kept when my brother gave me the print. I can show my ID as she showed her license. Yes, yes, old fella why do you insist on a ticket, her ID is enough for you to check your list.  Who is the TT here, you or me in a rough voice, a livid Rao retorted, but had to keep his temper in check. He definitely knew he was no match for the guys, if he ignited a fight now. Hope Jalan was hearing all this a few seats away in the dim lights.  I want to see your Ticket young lady. Do you have it on your phone. No, but I think I can ask my brother to send me a copy of it on the phone. He had a copy downloaded on the laptop. Laptop or Desktop I  do not care I just want a copy of your ticket on this berth top, why he seemed so offended Vinitha never knew. But as long as he was there, the jackals sitting on the windows won’t make a move.

Rao was enjoying it. Just like in a cricket match, the play was being enacted at his pace. The creativity 30 minutes back was played well so far in reality. okay make a call to your brother, I can wait. Vedhika started calling her brother praying that he picked it up. She went trying for 5 minutes multiple times and gave up. Her brother would have been fast asleep. He is not picking up, I wonder whether he really booked a ticket in the first place and gave you the print out. No sir, he gave me, I kept it in this bag, I am sure. In that case, take out all your belongings from this bag and put it out one by one and search for it. I will come back to you. Then he got up, went to the 2 fellow passengers who were enjoying the show dangling their legs on the seat like monkeys. Now can I ask for your tickets, fully knowing that they had none on them, at least for this coach. One of them pulled up 2 unreserved express tickets to Mangalore and showed them to Rao with a smile showing one broken tooth. He sure must be on the receiving end thought Rao. Rao looked at the tickets, was amused to see they were taken one month back. He took some time to read it maybe a few times, verified them for their correctness,  smiled and gave it back to them for their future trips. He went across to Vedhika smiling that he had covered another 5 minutes. She had gone through the things fully and yet was not able to recover the ticket print out.

Vedhika requested him to allow her to travel since her ID was there for him to verify. I cannot allow you still, as he took her ID and went through her address and all and wasted time. But why sir, she asked timidly. She didn’t want to offend the TT, as he was like a rock in midst of a flooded river to which she could cling to, till further help arrived. He handed back the ticket and said, you will have to get down at the next station which is Mangalore another couple of hours away, as you are not a bonafide passenger. Now what does that mean, remarked the window cooled man. Old fella, if her name is on your list, what is the problem, in anger , he got up wanting to strike the nuisance of a TT who was foiling their plan. But that is exactly the point, you see guys and it was Rao’s turn to laugh. He took a minute to recover himself from the long laugh and said, you see the point. What point Sir ji, what are your driving at, what point, the window men were getting impatient now. Her name is not on my list. What, all three remarked in once voice. That is the point you see. Either you will have to pay the full ticket money to your destination or you will have to get down at the next station. It is for you to decide. Where is she headed to, asked the goons in one voice. What difference does it make to you, she is travelling to Mangalore for now unless she pays for the ticket. Come on Sir Ji you are allowing us to travel with these tickets, and you are making a big commotion with her on not possessing a ticket copy. That is the point what I want to make, you have at least the tickets, she doesn’t even have a COPY and we went into another spell of laughter. Watching the plight of the girl, all this while, the guys had emptied their bottles, Rao observed this as he went towards the window seats and raised his hand.

Jalan was straining his neck all the time and hearing the conversation and getting ready to pitch in with his story provided Mr. Rao could let him come on to the stage. Now that he saw, he knew he had to put up a show that would last as much as it could. He limped supporting himself on the side berths and entered the arena. Rao looked at him, arent you Javed ( putting an alias to his name) from Calicut, what happened to your leg. A nasty piece of luggage fell on my leg while helping a passenger to board. I couldn’t even limp like this much less walk. I have walked through 3 coaches. The pain is unbearable, do any one of you have a pain killer or paracetamol or a drink. Here have some water, Vedika gave him the water bottle, and yes I have a pain killer strip with me. She took it out promptly and gave it to Rao who looked at the strip, took a whole minute to read the contents. Do you have an allergy he asked Jalan. Allergy to what, Sir? What do you mean allergy to what. I didn’t get you sir. Please give me the pill and save me from the pain. Okay tell me are you allergic to pain killers before. I don’t remember having taking any one recently. Then you should be careful. Stop beating about the bush old fella. You are a mighty hurdle for any action said one of the guys who got up menacingly towards Rao. Rao promptly handed the pill to Jalan. Sit here Rao beckoned him to sit and have the medicine. Now it was 2 protectors on both sides for Vedika. The contest was well played out.  Can you give me a minute, I will make a call to Mangalore to get a doctor to attend to you, maybe a wheel chair if they have one, as he walked away with his phone in his hand. One of the men who had got up was feeling sleepy and tried to pick up a quarrel with Jalan  when in came Dileep. Now what happened to you, did you not get down in time,asked Jalan of him. You mind your business. Dilip chided Jalan.   Yes I am minding my business, last week you took money from me and you have been hiding all this week from me. Now you unexpectedly come in front of me. Where is my money young fella, Jalan let his arms fall on Dilip’s shoulders and shook him. I will give it to you by next week. Give it to me now or else you will disappear again. I was wondering all along why you were not to be seen selling on the platform, now I know. You are spending time on trains hiding from me. Come on come on guy, came Mr. Rao crowding into the discussion. This is not the place to start a fight. This is my space, if you want to, do it outside,am I right? Rao asked the window goons to support him on this statement looking at each of them trying to understand if the sleeping pills were doing the job. They were feeling sleepy, the eyelids were drooping. If it all a fight erupts, then Jalan could take care of the proceedings, he thought.

I do not intend to start a fight, but he must agree to a date as to when he can give my money back. The bickering went on an on, and there seemed to be no end to it. The guys who had the effects of the pill knocking them to sleep could take it no longer. There ensued a fight in which Jalan put  up his knock out punches on display and they couldn’t take it any longer from him. They then turned their attention to Dileep who also went into a wild sparring bout with one and then went running as if in a catch me if you can through the coach, taking care that he did not disturb the sleeping passengers at the far end of the coach.

Jalan asked for some clothes from vedika, caught hold of one who was not interested in running after Dileep, tied his hands backwards with the help of Rao. The other one got tired after running to catch the nimble and mischievous Dileep finally slumpled down in one of the berths to sleep and in a matter of minutes, his hands also were tied. I think you people should get some sleep, he told Vedika and Dileep. Myself and Jalan would see to it that these persons won’t get up till they are pulled up by the railway police. I have made all the necessary arrangements. We can definitely put a couple of charges on them.

. Jalan tied the two back to back with his porters cloth and sat beside them. Rao and Vedika was enjoying the events turning out well in their favor. Don’t worry daughter, he assured Vedika , this was just a play to protect you from them. Another hour, they will be in the safe custody of railway police and don’t worry about your ticket. You are very much on my list.

Journey of life

All of us are walking on the road that leads us to our final destination. This is the path that everyone takes in their life and which no one can shun. All get pushed on to this road and walk they have to. Experiences that we gather get tagged as luggage on to us. Some are good whereas some are bad and others best to be forgotten.

These experiences and memories cannot be discarded as each event and action gets etched, some on your body and others most in memory. We get our family members to walk with us in this journey of life where some leave us soon and others stick on till the very end.

Friends come in from different directions as they meet us in their journeys. Some give you company  and lighten the travails of the travel. There are others who confront you with negative motives and who are best to be avoided but not everyone can, as some are forced upon you that leaves you weak and tired to continue the arduous path ahead. The journey is long for some who grumble about it and short for others who enjoy the travel.

The sun, the wind and other elements play their parts when they cross your paths daily as you walk ahead not knowing what is in store for you, a journey where the destination marks the culmination of a life well spent or best forgotten…
.

Nature

A child fed the crows and the pigeons daily and it had been almost a year. She tried her best that each one got its bountiful share. They still bickered with each other during feeding time. Some of them became plump and some were average while others looked famished. She tried to feed the famished ones but the well fed ones came back everytime for their share.

She used to feed the crows first lest they fight the pigeons off. Even then they used to pull the pigeons by their tails and make fun of the famished ones. After that she would find the crows fighting with each for no particular reason.

One day she asked her father, why is it so dad that inspite of all the freedom and the food they get, they behave so? The dad replied, “every form of living beings have their own nature and it is mighty difficult to change it. Some think over their actions and get better. Even we humans are no different, child! You will understand this when you grow up”

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.

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.

dscn0021

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

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.

kadali

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!