Friday, July 07, 2006

The Beggar

He smacked his lips at the sight of the bisi-bisi bondas piled up on the huge plate with a curvature that was perfect for storing these items. Vadas, bondas, bajjis, boondi and other extravagant oily stuff filled the shop. Everyday, Ramu sold about 500 rupees of the crispy and oily stuff in the four hours of his business. He came at 5 in the evening and left at 9, but by that time he made sure that he did not have to dispose off any left overs, for such a situation never arose. The beggar turned in to the store everyday and he got his share of some bondas and bajjis, and as with such items, he was never contented with his share of the booty. He always stuck around after he got his share hoping that Ramu was gripped with an overwhelming sense of generousity to part with more items.

The oil sizzlers were generally distributed based on who wanted to eat where. The question to the customer was normal - illa parcela? (Here or parcel), which meant whether he wanted to taste his ware in the shop or wanted to take it back home. Some people might wonder at the difference. If the customer wanted to eat it in the shop, it would save him the burden of wrapping the whole thing with an additional polythene cover. Packing it was cumbersome in the sense there had to be separate covers for the main items and the green chilly chutney. The extra spice to these bondas and bajjis always came from the green chutney. Ramu was very clear in his rules. A customer could demand as much green chutney as he wants for a bonda or bajji. He was linient in serving them with an additional spoon or so to spice up the main dish. The price for these commodities rose at a consistent rate depending on the inflation. How he determined inflation and its effects could never be fathomed. His customers had no choice but to pay up the extra price in procuring his specialities. He did not care for arguments and his staunch attitude always won his cause in getting the extra money. The rates were not adjusted to suit the nature of visitors. Be it Kappan, who was a mason in the nearby building or Rajan, who came to the shop in a car, or the young boys in the neigbourhood who came after an evening of cricket or football, the price was always the same. He would not budge from his position until they parted with the last paisa. In spite of all that, he always shared a special rapport with a set of people. He would never do anything to hurt their sentiments, but of course, he had a special knack of dealing with such people. He would make sure that they felt he gave that extra importance to them, but at the same made sure he did not lose any money in the bargain. According to him, relationship and money were like a rupee note and a coin. Both of them can never come together. He took chances with neither.

The beggar watched the proceedings from across the street. He waited from morning for his share, and the wait was accompanied by heavy grumbling and growling, the proportionality of which were determined by hunger and anger. Hunger because he had to answer his stomach, and anger because he could never control the proceedings. Whatever little money he got from the visits of rich merchants to the Shiva temple was lost in his quest for wine bottles. Thankfully, he had no wife and children to bear the brunt of his anger. He was a lone man sailing in a rudderless ship without any sense of direction living life in its present and without any worries for the future. Some passerby children threw stones at him, but so many undetermined years of life had left him with a thick skin and the stones hardly scarred his already scarred body. He cared less for the past and all the more less for the future. He somehow survived on the temple prasadam daily in the afternoon, some snack in the form of Ramu's generosity, coffee from Ramaiyya's tea gaadi and an evening dinner spread in drunkenness. His morning began when the sun was almost at the highest point, and when the temple was ready with the afternoon lunch. His devotion to Shiva was not bound by a sense of spirituality and religion but Shiva had an impact on his life through the daily temple offerings. He was contented to lead life this way and never once felt compelled to change his daily routine even marginally. It helped him keep track of Maha Shivarathri and Pradosham through the temple priest and these days were beset with extra items from the temple.

The beggar was a familiar entity in the locality and there were people in the neighbourhood who were kind enough to give him their old clothes, some left over food from functions at home, and sometimes moved by his disarray were willing to give him special items too. He had no special liking for anything, and accepted anything and everything with a sense of gratitude. There were people who tried to help him out in the past, but because of his drinking habits, he always messed up the opportunities. Rumours had it that he lost a lot of money in his business, and due to some strange reason was disowned by his family in the north. He later travelled south and tried to settle here, but could never rise up from his penury. Nobody knows how much truth was there in these statements, but people loved to believe something which was dramatic than that was something plain. He never cared to explain the truth. Nobody had seen him speak in years. He was a muted spectator to the vagaries of life. He was happy to be in a trance and he felt that it was this trance that has carried him through all these years. Nobody knew whether to pity him or feel angry at him.

Today, he had an overpowering desire to have a second helping of bajjis and bondas. He came near the shop more than a couple of times. He did not know how to ask Ramu for more of his stuff. He was never accustomed to it in life and this was something new. Ramu was busy with his customers and did not bother to notice the hesitating approach of the beggar. He was tempted to put his hand on one of the delicacies and run away from the place forever. But, his conscience did not permit him to cheat a man who had given him his daily evening snack for the last many years. He also had no heart to leave the temple and surroundings, and was cross at himself for not being able to control his temptations. He went back to his abode. Abode definitely was not heavenly, what with a blanket and a stick supported by some basic utensils and clothes. He could so easily have wandered to some other place. He knew his rantings were going to take him nowhere. He waited for divine intervention. Then, he saw a rich man entering the temple. He was hoping for evening alms that would help him procure a feast at Ramu's shop. He was ready to forego his drinks for the night. After about half an hour, he came out of the temple, walked past him and got on to his car. He knew that his luck had deserted him, when a hand suddenly popped up and placed on his plate five rupees. The merchant had seen him from the car, and with a sense of recognition, came and placed the money on his plate. The beggar's happiness knew no bounds and the smile that filled his face filled the merchant with a pang in his heart. He was deeply moved and cursed the fate that was bestowed on such lesser mortals. The beggar immediately got up from his seat and ran towards Ramu's shop to buy what he had been wanting to taste for the last couple of hours.

The merchant, meanwhile pondered well throughout the night with a sense of uneasiness. He walked back next day to the temple, and he saw a crowd lined up at the intersection. He broke through the crowd, and his eyes swelled up in tears as he could not understand this reunion.


  1. the flow and the detail description was nice, also
    good usage of words.. :)
    some how couldnt get the climax.

  2. This one was really good - an unusual story - but I didn't know who it was about till the end - Ramu or the beggar bcos both occupy prime spots here...

  3. Hello, I enjoy reading all of your article post. I wanted
    to write a little comment to support you.

    Feel free to visit my blog ... 100 day loans customer reviews