( This is a repost of a story I posted in Sulekha.com. Two more stories will follow this like a serial. …but showcasing different incidents )
The walk from the entrance of the Central Station ( Chennai) to the compartment proved terrible. The place was teeming with people. It was as if the entire population of the city had descended on the station.
Chandru was carrying the small suitcase and a travel bag. His wife Jyothi , with another bag on her right shoulder, was holding on to her son Bharath’s hand and was literally dragging him on. Her seventy year old mother was carrying a bag too and trying to keep pace, muttering,
“This is why I keep saying, one should leave an hour ahead to catch the train. See, there’s just fifteen minutes.”
“Shh, quiet Amma. Your son – in – law may hear(meaning her husband). As it is he is annoyed with the porters who were demanding hundred rupees to carry these three bags.”
Bharath was complaining, “My feet are aching. Why is that we have to walk so much? Why don’t you carry me?”
Finally they reached their compartments and got inside.
People had already settled down and Chandru shoved the bags under the seats. Bharath sat near the window with his grandma and mother nearby and Chandru occupied the window seat across.
“I want to open this window,’ Bharath said aloud.
“The window can’t be opened Kanna. In A/C compartments, the windows are sealed.”
“But I don’t like this closed. I want this open right now.”
“Son-in-law, you could have booked in the ordinary second class. The child would have enjoyed the trip.”
Chandru scowled at his mother-in-law. “We would have sweated to death.”
Luckily the train started moving and Bharath was looking outside the window enjoying the stations swishing past him.
The TTE checked the tickets and moved away and Jyothi opened one bag and took out the dinner. Two dabbas of iddlies were handed out to her mother and Chandru . She opened the other one and started feeding Bharath. After two idlies the boy refused to take any and she had hers.
Her mother was muttering,“ You have forgotten to sprinkle water on the iddlies. It’s choking.”
Chandru smiled, mentally picturing the fussy old lady choking to death. Wishful thinking !!
Bharath suddenly got off the seat and fritted across to the opposite side. A middle-aged couple were having their dinner – egg- biriyani. He stood staring at them much to the embarrassment of his mother.
Bharath was asking them, “What are you eating ? It is smelling different? Can I have that ball?” He was pointing to an egg in the biriyani.
Jyothi’s mother got up in panic. She tried to drag Bharath away.
“This is not good manners. You should not ask people what they are eating. And we don’t eat that type of food – eggs and all that.”
“That’s an egg? What is egg?”
The man said, “ It’s okay Paattiyamma. He is a child. My son, this is our food and you should not be eating this.” He could see that she was a highly orthodox lady.
He was trying to tear away from the grandmother.
“Well. It’s the government rule in the trains. Each must eat his own food.The police may arrest you if you eat this.”
Jyothi smiled at them admiring the diplomatic handling of the situation.
“I want to go to—”, the kid lifted a single finger.
Chandru got up from his seat and Jyothi tried to stop him.
“I’ll go. He’ll always say this and end up doing potty.”
“ No Amma. I don’t want to go potty. I want Appa to take me to the toilet.”
Chandru took him to the toilet.
The boy DID make potty.
Chandru could not leave him alone and fetch his wife. He cursed himself. Now he had to clean the boy…something he had never done before!! He hadn’t even changed nappies for the son when he was a little one.
He asked the kid to stand up.
“But Amma washes me when I sit.”
“I AM NOT AMMA! DO YOU HEAR? STAND UP NOW!!”
The boy started whimpering and Chandru started the arduous task.
Meanwhile, Jyothi, her motherly intuition warning her that the kid was perhaps on to doing the BIG JOB, rushed to the bathroom and started banging on the door(she presumed Chandru would have taken the kid to the Western Type). The door opened in a while , to reveal a confused – looking red faced Sardarji who gave her a dirty stare and moved off.
She quietly retreated to her seat not wanting Chandru to learn about her faux pas. She would never hear the end of this.
The boy’s jeans and the bottom portion of the T-shirt were soaking wet. She had to change the dress.
“ I want to go on top and sleep there,” cried Bharath.
“No . You sleep down. You’ll fall if you go up.” Chandru spoke harshly. He was still getting over the “Washing-the-son`s- bottom” experience.
“Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. I want to sleep there,” emphasising his decision with a wail.
“You can’t sleep there Bharthu”, the grandma tried to placate him; “there’s poochchaandi(demon) up there who will swallow kids.”
“Why is your mom filling the child’s head with nonsense?”Chandru snapped softly.
Jyothi shot back, “Okay, scholar. Try and convince him scientifically if you can. Give him an educational lecture. I am going to sleep”.
Finally with a story from the grandmother the boy went to sleep.
He did look like an angel.
Well, I have not told you what this journey is all about.
The boy had almost lost his life in a viral attack three years back when he was just a year and a half old and Jyothi’s mother had made a vow that the kid would be weighed against an equal weight of butter in a particular Temple. She had been trying to get her daughter and son-in-law to go over and fulfill the vow and Chandru had kept putting it off.
She descended on them from the village a month back and started nagging them and succeeded , much to Chandru’s chagrin.
“Why does the old woman make vows for others and land us in situations like this?” he had complained to Jyothi.
“Do you remember how serious Bharath was ? If she hadn’t made that vow, do you think the boy would still be with us? Just like you to speak like this. After all, your parents never care for vows and temple trips.You are a family with no spirituality. ”
Chandru kept quiet.
Anymore talk would bring his parents into the dialogue-stream. He was worried whether Bharath would remain quiet in the process of being weighed.
The Temple was crowded with devotees when they entered.
“We should not have come in this season. My friends said that the place will be swarming with Ayyappa devotees. Your mother insisted. Where was your sense?”
Chandru muttered under his breath so that only his wife could hear.
“Have a little patience. God will see to it that we have a quick darshan.”
“Oh ! You have a deal with God for that too? What have you vowed if He gives us a quick darshan?”
She kept quiet.
“Amma. I want water.”
“Kanna, you can’t have water now. We are very close to the Sannadhi now. We will worship Ummachchi(God) and after we come out, I’ll buy you a cool drink.”
“But I want cool drink now. “
Now there was a general push and the kid started wailing.
Chandru was going red in the face.
A benevolent priest who saw their plight, pulled them to a side and asked them to go in by a side-entrance.
The old woman was all ecstasy.
“Son-in-law, because of you, I have had a wonderful darshan today. God bless you. I don’t require anything else in life. Just moksha; I need just moksha.”
Chandru smiled to himself at his immediate wishful thinking . “Just do it” he whispered.
The queue in the vow-fulfilling area was long. The place was teeming with black dhothies and reverberating with chants.
“I want limca.”
“There’s no limca in here Kanna. Let’s weigh you first and then I’ll buy you a cool drink and a new car in the toy shop.”
The boy simply refused to sit on the scale-plate. Cajoling, threatening, shouting – nothing worked.
Bribes of Pepsi (which was taboo in their house), a new toy car, new dress …..nothing worked.
A security cop who was witnessing the scene came near them and looking at the boy sternly ordered.
“Get on to that right now. Else I’ll put you in jail.”
The boy meekly got on and sat there.
As the white butter packs were placed he sat scowling.
He muttered – “Idiot !! Fool !! See his face !! ” – once the Security moved away.
“See, how many times I’ve told you not to use words like this in front of the kid!! What if the security had heard him? You and your father have this intellectual arrogance. For you everyone else is an idiot and a fool except yourself.” Jyothi scowled at Chandru.
“Keep quiet Jyothi. People are watching,” her mother whispered.
The Great Ordeal was finally over.
They were really hungry and stepped in to the hotel’s restaurant where they had checked in.
“I want noodles. “
“You won’t get noodles here Bharath. They serve only rice. You eat what is given to you.” Chandru’s voice was stern.
“But I don’t want to eat rice today. I want noodles. Can I have a sandwich then?”
“All that won’t be available here, Kanna. Once we get back, Amma will make whatever you want for you , okay?”
“How you have spoilt the kid with junk food !” Chandru chipped in.
The waiter brought three plates of meals and a smaller plate with some rice , dal and pappads.
Bharath asked the waiter,
“Do you have coloured rice with muttai(egg)?”
The waiter smiled and said, “No. If you eat all this I’ll give you a sweet.”
After a long, time consuming lunch, they checked out and left for the station.
“You know Son-in-law. This has been a wonderful trip for me. See…..God is kind. If you make a vow to him during times of disease and troubles , He’ll see to it that all your worries vanish. Ask Vasu( Chandru’s younger brother for whom they had been hunting frantically for a suitable bride) to take a vow that he will make a tonsure at Tirupathi. He’ll get a lovely bride as beautiful as Padmavathy Thaayar Herself. ”
As they settled in the compartment Chandru told his wife,
“The next time your mom makes a vow, I’ll divorce you!! I have had enough for a lifetime !! I mean it.”
And inside the Sanctum Sanctorum the Lord was smiling..
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