There is no rest for some

Part 1

 

Every summer, I would be sent off to stay with my grandparents in a town called Varunapuram. It was a bustling town with smoke-belching foundries and noisy metal workshops.

 

My grandfather lived in an older and slightly dilapidated section of the town where he was born. On summer days when it was too hot to play softball cricket with the boys out there, my grandfather loved to tell me stories of his travels, while my grandmother would make fresh mango Lassi (a kind of a mango smoothie). My grandfather was a doctor. He had worked for the Railways and had traveled to many cities and towns. Finally he came back to Varunapuram to spend his post-retirement days.

 

The Varunapuram of his stories was not the Varunapuram I saw outside. He spoke of a quiet village fringing a small forest, thick with trees, of people who toiled in their small plots of land for cash crops and hoped for the largesse of the rain gods. The best story I liked of his was the one about two spirits, one that met its peace and the one that had not. The story, some parts more vividly told than others, goes like this:

 

“When I was a young boy about your age, we had these annual winter fairs. The fair in our village was the biggest among all the adjacent villages and even towns. There would be rows and rows of stalls selling glass bangles to plated jewelry, lucky charms and other trinkets; and out in the open, tethered goats and cattle; and new and used clothes, and vessels of aluminum, brass and steel and earthen pots. And, eats too. The schools would be closed for holidays and the children had fun.

 

The village had all the regulars. There was Mutthupandi, an old man who would retrieve dropped items from the depths of wells in the houses and the biggish pond outside the village, for some rice and jaggery; Selvan who had a cart drawn by a bored looking horse with a mind of its own; Malligai a young woman who picked from the forest wild berries and flowers, herbs and roots said to cure headaches to skin rashes. And there were others. The young and not-so-young tended their farms. The oldies gathered at a community square that had a public radio pouring disembodied voices out thru a pair of large squeaky speakers.  

 

And then there were the plays on Saturday nights going into the wee hours where a part of the Ramayana, Mahabharata or some mythology would be staged. In these plays, there was always a lot of participation from the audience. A good dialogue exchange would get many rounds of applause. And finally when Sita gets rescued by Rama or when Arjuna lifts his bow after listening to the Gita, the elders would have tears in their eyes.

 

Between the village and the pond, there was this large banyan tree with a small shrine at its foot. It was believed that wishes were granted by the residing spirits if on Tuesdays one made rounds of its huge base with a pure and pleading heart and poured out water or even better an offering pure cow-milk at the shrine.

 

This year too the preparations for the fair were going in full steam as usual. The pandals (tents) and stalls were set up and the tradesmen had already come with their goods and animals. As I was going to school that day, I became aware of knots of people here and there talking in whispers. Typically in Varunapuram as probably in other villages, a rumor or a spicy gossip item starts at the pond where the womenfolk would gather with their kudams (pots) to fetch water for their daily needs. It would then wind through the street vendors, the old folks and the postman (he made rounds twice a week). When the poosari (priest) at the shrine of the banyan dwelt on it after the morning pooja (ritual prayer), then it was definitely important. By lunchtime, I had heard it.

 

(To be contd.)

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