The street I live in, a.k.a Kamarajar street, opens up to a wide road. Every morning, as the sun rises in the east (logically speaking, the earth rotates to the west. But then, its okay), and as the early birds fly in pursuit of the worms, this wide road turns into a bustling pathway tread by vehicles of almost all categories. Some people are on the way to their workplaces, some are on the way to schools, and some to their colleges (yes, including me).
But there is one person who stays glued to one place, morning through night. He has a rickety wooden cart with rusted wheels, which is in turn glued to its place with the help of bricks and boulders. Inside the cart there are utensils of different sizes, each housing a different dish spilling its aroma into the morning air. The customers who arrive with a rumbling stomach go back wanting to come back once again. Their insatiable hunger is quenched with his unmatchable culinary expertise. Their morning dullness is diminished by his genuine smile, which is a distinct curve in his aged face where wrinkles run from everywhere to everywhere.
Yes, he is the wolf of Kamarajar street. And his name is Jambulingam.
The pocket size dictionary that lies on my writing table defines ‘Wolf’ as ‘predatory, rapacious and fierce’. But then, Mr. Jambulingam is a good human being. How come I can use these negative traits to define such an amiable personality? Well, Jambulingam is predatory in his endeavours; hunts his customers with his cooking panache. He is rapacious in bettering himself in serving better. And he is fierce in inspiring loyalty in his customers. (If you find the justification fine, continue reading. If you don’t, it is okay, you can still continue)
It was a fine morning. It had rained the previous night. I stepped onto the footpath, on which were scattered puddles of different shapes and sizes, and paced my way forward. The food cart was already engulfed by multiple barricades of hungry customers. I managed to pierce them to have a look at what the day’s specials were. There is variety everyday. The Wolf knows that it is this variety that keeps the customers happy.
Hot dosas coming to life on the sweltering pan, warm idlies neatly arranged in a large hotbox, and oily puris that shined in the glint of the morning sun; along with their respective side dishes arranged on the other side of the cart. The Wolf zealously took my order.
He skilfully manoeuvred the ‘dosa-flour’ filled ladle over the pan, and the dosa hissed. He then picked up an egg from one of the trays, broke it into half and let the slimy yolk land on the centre of the dosa. Spread it all around with the ladle. (The Wolf doesn’t inject his fingers into others’ food. That would be against the laws of hygiene, and he doesn’t like that)
He then served me the dish with fresh dollops of steaming chutney and sambar. I experienced heaven.
One fine night, I asked the Wolf if he has a family. He smiled and shook a no.
‘Don’t you get bored then?’ I said.
‘My customers are my family.’ He said.
‘When did you start cooking?’ I asked.
‘At the age of 12.’ He said. ‘Back then, I cooked to fill my stomach. Now I cook to fill others’.’
Many days later, one morning, I found the Wolf missing. The rickety cart was there, the seducing aroma was there, and the hungry customers were there. But it was a young boy who stood in the Wolf’s place.
I asked him that night, ‘Where is the old man who used to be here?’
‘My dad.’ The young lad said. ‘He died.’
‘Your dad? He said he didn’t have a family?’ I said, already shell-shocked with the tragic news.
‘I was an orphan. None cared for me. He found me begging on the streets. He took me to his home. Took care of me and taught me to cook. He said glory lies not in begging from others, but in serving them.’
I patted the boy’s head and placed my usual order. Before me stood a replica of the Wolf. The same smile, the same style, and the same aura. He handed me the plate with the dish sizzling in it. I experienced heaven, yet again.
For men may come and men may go, but the Wolf goes on forever.