The Wolf of Kamarajar Street

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. 

Wings of Freedom

Forty years ago I was convicted for a crime I did not commit. And it took the government the very same forty years to realize that. Last week a search operation was conducted in pursuit of a man named Arnab Malik.

Arnab Malik. Forty years ago, it was a name I adored and respected. A name which brought back old memories. And a name that instilled an essence of joy within me.  But today, forty years later, things changed; and they changed drastically.  ‘Arnab Malik’ was no more just a name; but a lethal idea that had conspired to put me behind bars. For forty years.

The officials had gone to Arnab Malik’s house. They had finally procured the evidence which proved my innocence. They had thought that justice, though late, would finally be done. But the news they received subverted the very definition of justice itself. Arnab Malik had passed six years ago. A peaceful death it was, which arrived at his doorstep when he was sound asleep, in a large cotton bed in his air conditioned bedroom.

I sat down in my cell, scratching the cold floor beneath with my fragile fingernails.  It was a small cell, which had a concrete bed in one corner and a rusted metal commode in the other. The cell was pitch dark, except for the faint rays of sunlight which entered through the tiny slits atop the walls every morning.

There were a couple of solid knocks on the metal cell door. The tiny rectangular access at the bottom flapped open and a steel plate with a couple of servings of rice sat there. Dinner time. I went over and dragged the plate in. I could see the constable’s shoes, black and shiny, polished as a mirror. He didn’t leave. He stood there still. Then he bent down, sitting on his toes, till I could see his wrinkled neck.

‘You are getting released tomorrow.’ He said. And gave out a soft chuckle. He then got onto his feet and walked away.

I was unable to figure out if the reason behind his chuckle was a sarcastic or a sympathetic one. For forty years, he had been bringing me dinner; the very same two servings of stale rice peppered with something I could not even imagine eating. When I came here, he was a lean man in his late twenties. Energetic and ambitious. But today, an obese structure with furrowed skin took over his personality. Not energetic or ambitious anymore.

I sighed and ate away my dinner. And like always, it tasted sick. They don’t serve you good food in prison. If they did people would be happy getting here.

I did not sleep that night. Just like every other night in these forty years. What the constable said did not make much difference to me. A quarter of my life was gone understanding what life was all about. And about half of it was gone in this rotten pit of misery. Tomorrow, when I walk out of here, all I would be heading towards will be an endless expanse of nothingness.

 They unfairly put me here when I wanted to be out there relishing every slice of my life. And today, when I want to stay nowhere but here, they throw me out there.

They took away my life, and gave me freedom. They had clipped my wings, and now expected me to go fly into the world with the freedom they had given me.

The next morning I breakfasted on the usual two slices of cold bread. I was given a pair of new clothes to wear and some money to start a life. I was asked where I would be going and what I would be doing with the money I was given. I didn’t answer them. I didn’t. I just stood onto my feet and walked away. Out of the prison gates.

At the entrance an old guard stopped me. I probably would have seen him last, some forty years ago. He gently smiled at me and placed his palm on my shoulder.

‘Your family should be happy.’ He said.

‘I don’t have one.’ I said.

‘Oh, I am sorry.’ He said.

‘No that’s okay. I was not married anyway. Didn’t have the time.’

‘Your parents?’ The old man asked.

‘Mother was dead when I was a kid.’ I said.

‘Your father? What’s his name?’

‘He is dead too. His name was Arnab Malik.’ I said.

The Fruit Juice Vendor

The sun was there, up above, looking down over me with menacing wrath. A mask of thick sweat kept forming over my face, no matter how many times I wiped it. It was a random day in the season of summer, in the city of Chennai.  Clothes stuck to my skin. My head itched. Tongue had dried ages ago. Eyes burnt. And a wave of irritation swept through my ears.

And to add to the torment, the bus stop was still a kilometer away. I looked around. Not many I could see. Almost all the shops lined on my either sides had their shutters down. The city appeared more or less deserted. Not much of traffic either.

And then I remembered.

Rajnikanth’s movie releases today. And when that happens, people don’t go to work. They go to theaters instead. Stay there an entire day, or maybe even two. Equip themselves with the superstar’s philosophical punches. Blow whistles at his entries and exits. And finally return to their workplaces having relished the South Indian entertainment thali.

But then, none of that mattered to me. I was thirsty. Pathetically thirsty.

At a distance from where I stood, like a blessing in the times of misery, appeared a four wheeled cart. The distance was too much to figure out what I had exactly seen, but too good to fuel my lackluster hopes. I footed forward under the veil of suspicious expectations. As I inched closer, a number of arrays of fruits materialized before me. The corner of the cart stationed a metallic machine with a rotating handle, beside which sat a basket full of ice cubes. My deceased spirit soared back to life.

I looked at the fruit vendor who stood by the cart, wiping his hands off with a soiled napkin. He was a stout man of medium height. Serious faced and dark complexioned. He wore a musty orange shirt and the pale blue pants overreached his short feet. His pitch black hair receded at the sides and a shabby beard ran along his rough jaw line.

Before I could enquire about the rates, he held his hand out to me and said, ‘anji nimsham iru..’ (wait for five minutes). He pulled out a packet from the bottom of the cart and walked his way to a stony bench over the footpath. He sat on it and opened the packet and devoured his meal with prime ecstasy.

I held the man with instant repulsion. For a moment, I thought of going somewhere else. Unfortunately for me, there was no one else around. I had to wait.

Minutes later he arrived. Tossed the packet cover by the side of the road and released a burp. A long one. He drank some water, gargled and spat it out on the roadside; and then looked at me. I showed my fingers to a pack of oranges. He picked a couple of them, peeled off their skins and crushed them into the machine. The juice slid down into a glass tumbler beneath. He flicked upon the ice box. He shoved his hand into it, picked a triple of ice cubes and sunk them into the drink.

I sipped the drink. My tongue hopped back to its existence; the pleasance was so big a wonder that I instantly forgave the man for his demeanour. I drained the tumbler and replaced it on the cart.

‘Muppadhu rubaa (Thirty rupees).’ He said grimly.

I stared at him scornfully. I claimed that a similar fruit vendor near my place offered double the quantity for half the price.

‘Appo angaye poi kudikavendi dhaana..(Then you could have better had your drink there itself)’, said the vendor flatly.

I extracted the money from my wallet and beat it onto the cart. He picked the notes and kept them inside his money box, without a care. He then let out another burp.

The next morning, I woke up with a heavy head and walked into the hall. I squelched onto the sofa and picked up the local newspaper that lay on the table. The front page headline caught my attention. An unknown man had given up his life trying to save three kids from being collided by a train on a railway track. Except for a part of his face, the rest of his body was mutilated in the accident but his remains were recovered.

A tattered orange shirt and pale blue pants; and the local people had indentified him to be a small time fruit juice vendor in the area.

The Abstemious Gentleman

The gigantic clock that hung high over the platform displayed its hands at an irritating angle. Exactly forty minutes ago, to be precise, I arrived at the railway station to board a train to Bangalore. And now, forty minutes later, there was still no sign of it. The railway announcement once a while  penetrated the untimely wintry winds of April, only to be more nettlesome as ever. The Bangalore express was late by an hour.

I placed my shoulder-bag on the bench and sat on it, heaving a sigh of tiresome exasperation. I felt the metallic bench with my fingers. The cold stuck to my palms, and a rusty metallic smell emanated from it. I drew my jacket closer, and pulled down the scarf tight.

It was cold; bitingly cold.

I swept my gaze hither and thither in an attempt to extricate myself from the complex mazes of monotony. There was no other being to be found at the station; except for a couple of dogs lying down at the far end of the platform, and a snack shop open at the other end.  When the 2011 Cricket World Cup began, little did I expect that India would march towards the finals, and win. But today morning, when I was packing my bags for my journey, I did not have the least intention to leave. Though not an ardent Cricket fan as I was once, it was still a good feeling to watch my country perform and lift the cup.

While the rest of the country was engulfed in the victorious celebration, here I was, alone, entangled in the hazy grids of silence.

Or maybe, not alone.

From the far end, where the stray dogs lay sprawled, I could see a thin figure emerge from the thickens of darkness. There was great poise the person maintained. As the figure drew closer, I had no choice but to turn away my eyes in order to escape from the shades of disgust. He slid into my neighbourhood without any hesitation. I brought my bag over my lap and clutched it tight; it housed my personal as well as professional paraphernalia.

I dared to look at the man. He kept staring at me. He was in an old chequered full-sleeve shirt and a tattered lungi; and a reddish-brown towel was wrapped around his neck. A perfectly uneven stubble shrouded the lower part of his face. His hair was a rough and shabby patchwork of grey and white. His eyes were sunk deep into his skull, and so were his cheeks, which made his sharp jawline even more noticeable. He looked painfully thin; with the visible parts of his limbs seeming to have been made of nothing more than diminishing flesh and protruding bone. A smile surfaced his face, which revealed a set of disorganized yellowish-black teeth.

On a whole, the man looked like he had just come out of his grave wrapped in a thin cloth of skin. Or rather, a largely decipherable combination of pain, misery and starvation.

‘Waiting for the train, eh?’ He said.

I expected a stench of alcohol as he opened his mouth; but to my surprise, and relief, I could not sense anything of that sort. What amazed me more were his accent and fluency of the language, which seemed to be in utter disharmony with his personality.

I shook my head. He reciprocated and smiled again, before getting up and walking away in the other direction.

Was he a partially screwed maniac who had just escaped from some mental institution? Or a day-time tramp who  purposelessly wandered the empty railway platforms at night?

I had no idea. I instantly dismissed the thought and looked around. The two dogs were now barking at each other, painting some noise over the needles of silence that had been piercing me.

To kill time productively, I extracted a Reader’s Digest magazine from my bag and began to skim through the pages. I stopped at page 46, which carried an interesting headline, and began to read.

Minutes passed.

At page 56, the train arrived. I replaced the magazine and boarded the train with my bag. The compartment was neither too crowded nor too empty. I footed towards my berth and made myself comfortable. The berths around me were all vacant. I consulted my wristwatch to check the time. The train was punctual enough in being late exactly by an hour.

I gazed out of the window. I could see the other platform at a distance, similarly empty as the first. I then turned around, only to get overwhelmed with a wave of momentary startle. The very same man stood before me, yet again displaying one of his repugnant smiles. He looked even more starved when he stood; and it appeared as if a slight jerk of the train would bring him down with a thud. He brought forward his skinny arm, which held a wallet. It appeared like mine. I snatched it right away and sliced through the insides. Nothing was missing. Before I could pull my head up, the man disappeared into the darkness.

‘Thanks…’ I muttered under my nose; not because he would be able to hear, but not saying so would be an act of cruel ingratitude.

The long siren of the train perforated the midnight air, and the train moved.

The Last Day

Amar is a close friend of mine. Our friendship had blossomed since childhood, and it only got better with the swift passage of all these years. We studied in the same class, shared the same bench, and we were the best when it came to holding the secrets of each others’ fantasies. Weekends saw us frequenting on the badminton court for hours together, and the innumerable talkative sleepovers only added cream to our friendship.

But, things were different today. The immaculately white bed-sheet ruffled with the recurrent epileptic jolts of Amar. The sickening silence of the hospital room mercilessly complemented his suffering. He clutched my hand tight, only to find solace in the warmth it offered.

Contrary to the meaning his name carried, today was the last he would be present on the face of this earth. Yes. Today was the last day he would be alive. Today was the day when death would laugh at him deafeningly, mocking at his inability to fight back. And today was the day when loneliness would start its journey to the centre of my heart, plaguing it with despondence.

‘Doctor!’ I yelled. My voice reverberated through the silence in the room.

I heard footsteps, which, as they approached closer, became louder and diluted. In came a pot-bellied man, dressed in the typical doctor attire. Haphazard patches of grey hair spread on his bald head, like the way weeds would stand erect on a barren land. Wrinkles played havoc over his face.  His beard displayed itself unevenly, and the skin under his throat hung loosely.

A male nurse followed him inside the room. He caught hold of Amar’s kicking legs and pressed them tight to the white mattress, while I clutched his hands tight. The doctor administered some drug into Amar’s arm, bringing his hyper-active body to a standstill. He then placed his hand on my shoulder, and gave a couple of pats of advanced condolences. The duo filed out of the room, leaving me alone with my ailing companion.

I stared into Amar’s eyes. They yearned to tell me something. But the misery which sucked Amar’s life every passing moment obstructed them. A tear hung precariously over the lower eye lashes of my eyes. I drove my fingers through his disturbed hair. I felt his scalp. I moved my palm over his forehead, which, by now, was getting devoid of any temperature. The minute pearl-like tears rolled down my cheeks creating a stream of sobs. I was breaking down.

I reprimanded myself for my weakening emotions. It was not wise to break before people whom we don’t want to lose, for that might have a negative and nullifying effect on them. I fought back my tears and dragged off a smile.

‘You will be okay.’ I told Amar, although my conscience admonished me for mouthing lines of falsehood.

Through the windows of the room, a thunderous lightning caught my gaze. The lightning struck once a while, as it pulled off infrequent streaks of light that illuminated the room. The windowpanes rattled with the monsoon  winds. Drops of rain washed themselves down them, as though symbolizing the pain of the heavens.

*Maybe, even God is pained to take Amar with him.*

The curtains swayed back and forth, creating rhythmic undulations over their nylon surface. The sound of the rickety old clock that hung on the wall opposite ricocheted in the silence which seemed to be eternal.

Amar began to develop hiccups. I rushed for the bottle of water that stood on the table near the door.

‘You will be okay..’ I repeated those words as I helped Amar with the water. ‘You will be okay..’ I said again. With each repetition, the phrase seemed to lose its meaning. My mind wandered into nothingness. I felt my senses were at loss. A week ago, the doctor had announced that Amar had just six more days to live. He escaped death yesterday. But miracles don’t happen everyday.

My eyelids refused to bat any more. Even a single blink would take Amar away from me for a twinkling; and I was scared of that. When I woke up from a disturbed sleep today morning, I could not help but taste death myself. A bitter taste peppered with painful doses of agony, I should say. Each passing moment either showed Amar was still alive or stated the fact that he was inching towards the end page of the book of his life.

Lighting struck yet again. I looked into Amar’s eyes, as deeply as ever. He didn’t blink any more. His pulse vanished, making his lifeless body as cold as ice.

‘Amar..’ I muttered. I coughed. Words became heavy. A painful lump formed inside my throat.  Tears, which maintained their stagnancy till now, began to flow. I held his palm tight and rested my lips on them.

Lightning emerged one last time, to bid adieu as I made my way towards the doorsteps of solitude.

Childhood

‘Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.’ – Unknown

Every being on the face of this earth, whether good or evil, educated or illiterate, gentle or rude was once a child. Each one of us, irrespective of our spaces and backgrounds, had once experienced that period in life; where all we knew was joy and peace of mind. We had been epitomes of innocence and broad-mindedness. Our minds knew no fear. It was enthusiasm alone that penetrated through our souls. Childhood was that period in life, where we unintentionally chose to allow only positivity to pervade our minds. It was that very period where we gave our imaginations wings of courage and ripped apart the domain of doubt.

The following is an anecdote which recently materialized in my life. Do have a read.

Nobody goes to McDonald’s alone. Nobody. Unless otherwise you are desolated and down, and you entrust all your faith on a cheese burger to revamp your mood. Well, that’s what happened to me a couple of days ago. It was yet again, one of the many monotonous days of my college routine. College, most of the times, is very much unlike childhood. People here are always in a hurry to do things. They are so insanely fast-paced, that most of them fail to realize that life tastes best when chewed one chunk at a time; and if you gobble the whole thing in one go, you would end up getting choked.

At 5.15 PM, to be precise, I made a relieving escape from a crowded bus I had taken from Tambaram. For over an hour, I was a victim of metropolitan molestation, with the city’s ongoing traffic impulse mercilessly complementing the ‘in-bus’ hungama of the passengers. I got down in an area called ‘Ashok Pillar’, which was making itself visible in the list of hotspot areas in Chennai.

And then, it rained.

Nature is mysterious. You can never make a guess of how it will act, react or overact. And this time, it overacted. The raindrops hit the roads with menacing rage, disabling even the passionate rain lovers from enjoying it. Everybody ran for shelter. So did I.

I hurriedly, but cautiously ascended the slippery steps of the McDonald’s outlet. Facing the rainy scene I pressed myself to the glass doors of the entrance. I turned around and whisked across the insides and at the counter. The panels exhibited appetizing imageries of carbs and fats appealingly disguised as a variety of eateries. I thought of entering in, when                             Mr. Economist in me reminded me of my financial situation. Mr. Foodie took charge, stimulating my hand to reach my wallet and my feet to barge in.

 I made myself comfortable in one corner with a McEgg burger. I unwrapped it. I took a bite and envisaged the doorway to heaven. The heterogeneous mixture of ‘whatever’ that resided within the burger took me into a world of gustatory paradise.

Egg melted, the bun floated, and mayonnaise sloshed.

I heard laughter. I spilt my hungry gaze all around. I saw this dude, who looked no more than 5 years old, trotting towards a table with his squeaking shoes. His parents followed him, smiling. The kid got onto one of the chairs, and began drumming the table, mouthing one of the most un-decodable, yet enjoyable lyrics.

aa-ee-ooo-uuu-aaaa

He removed his tiny shoes, which came to the ground with a soft thud. I did some imagining with mathematical precision. His feet were no longer than half of my palm; maybe four inches, I supposed. The dad went to make the order, while the mother sat with her son; the very guy who had just given birth to a one-man concert inside the outlet. His continuous drummings and periodical jingles proved to be too relaxing for me. The numbness in my mind disappeared like the water in an unclogged drain. Within minutes, this three and a half feet juvenile took the imaginary centre-stage. The McDonald’s Rock-star, I thought.

Heads turned, smiles surfaced and kisses flew.

His dad returned with the foodie-filled tray. The kid jumped onto his feet.

‘Bo bo!’ He squealed pointing his rhythmic fingers towards the burgers. There was a colossal amount of surprise that poured from his eyes.

The father placed the tray on the table, while the mother took one burger and placed it before the voracious young lad. I could see crystals of joy glittering in his small eyes. He lifted the upper bun of the burger and ogled at the insides. Maybe, he was set to bring the ‘open-lick-eat’ tradition into practice. He dipped his mouth into the burger. He munched his way through the burger, going straight, round and then taking a U-turn. By the time he was done, he had a beard that comprised of mayonnaise, potato, peas and pieces of lettuce.

‘Bo bo!’ He said yet again, now letting out a grin of gratitude to his parents, and a smile of satisfaction to himself.

As in an indication to his insatiable element of excitement, he dragged the tray towards him and lifted the cup of coke. He sucked the beverage through the straw with a slurping sound, rotating his head in every possible direction. His unending stimulation of enthusiasm rose to a higher degree, thereby making the coke-cup fly off from his hands and spilling some of it before him on the table. A look of minute admonishment ejected from the eyes of his parents. But, seriously, the kid did not care the least. He began to slap the ‘drink-spilt’ area on the table. The thick beverage spurted on his face and dress. This dude kept laughing out loud.

Laughter, joy and enthusiasm. They never departed from his face.

5.50 PM

I consulted my wristwatch and hurried out of McDonald’s. The rain got escalated. The entire city was wet, as if a bucket of water was overturned over it. People stuck in the rain buzzed quickly, while those in the shelter waited for it to stop.

I descended the slippery steps of McDonald’s and drenched in the rain.

Sparrows’ day out

I sat alone in the courtyard of my house, oscillating my feet every nano-second, breathing in the breeze that looked like preceding the oncoming of rain. The skies were shrouded with dark clouds, and I was ardently waiting for Mother nature to fall onto the earth in one of its most beautiful forms. It was the day of Ugaadhi (a Telugu festival), where it is customary to prepare a kind of pickle which has the combination of all the tastes known to mankind; and my mother was a veteran in that culinary art. (Seriously, cooking is an art; an art that requires years to master; and we got to be proud of our mothers for that)

She had bestowed upon me the responsibility of having at least a bowl-full of the legendary cuisine which made me sacrifice my gustatory interests. The pickle contains natural sweeteners like slices of bananas and pieces of mangoes, which I had been loathing terribly since time immemorial. I managed to empty the bowl and placed it by my side. And right then, all of a sudden, the water-bearing clouds cracked to give way to the dormant sunshine which was in hiding till now. The sun shone brightly, red and hot, perfectly defining how a typical summer afternoon should be. The child within me, who was about to emerge to enjoy the rain, went back in disappointed. The heat sent mercury soaring, and what seemed to be a pleasant weather minutes ago, had now transformed into something very ravaging. I realized that I was deceived by the semblance of Mother nature.

I was about to leave the place, when my ears fell on a sharp chirping that was not quite complementary to the harsh climate around. I looked  to find a tiny sparrow moving in random directions, squeaking now and then, as though facing constant discontent in its quest for water. There was a host of sparrows that appeared next, all with a common mission to quench their thirst.

As in a reply to their ‘squeaking’ prayers, Mother nature responded immediately. The sunlight that blanketed the afternoon sky retreated with the coming of dark clouds, and the atmosphere returned to one of its pleasing forms. All this happened, miraculously, in seconds.

And this time, I was not deceived. It did rain.

Looking at the precipitation dance before me, the child within me hustled out yet again. All the sparrows began to chirp with the sense of the rain, and started gazing at the sky with their beaks open. An idea struck me. I placed the empty bowl on the ground, close to where the sparrows were. As minutes passed, the empty bowl was filled with considerable amount of rainwater. One by one, the sparrows came to the water-bowl and began to dip their beaks into it. After a number of immersions, the tiny birds squeaked again, and a even bigger host of sparrows appeared instantly and placed itself around the bowl. As moments inched by, the sparrows grew in number, making the water in the bowl insufficient to quench their lingering thirst.

Seeing this, I went into the kitchen for one more bowl of Ugaadhi pacchadi (the legendary pickle).

Amma instantly prepared another overflowing bowl of the dish and handed it over to me, with her face being interspersed with strokes of wonder. I returned to the courtyard. I overturned the bowl on one of the cemented steps and placed it empty beside the first. And as I had anticipated, the sparrows distributed themselves around both the bowls; while a few others flew onto the steps to relish the multi-taste pickle that rested there. 

The next evening..

I sat in the very same courtyard munching a pack of chips. It had rained sometime ago, and now there was sunshine that plastered the vast sky above. I looked up, and a vibrant rainbow welcomed my rain-beaten glance.

The ‘chirp’ phenomenon happened again, and a sparrow entered my line of sight. I tossed a couple of chips near it, and it began pecking at them. After it was partially done, it began squeaking again, brining a similar host of sparrows. Slowly the sparrows grew in number, rendering what I had offered utterly nothing before their hunger. I laughed at myself and emptied the pack of chips near them.