on a warm day during 1970’s….
it was the day ahead of pongal…the harvest festival
‘pongal’ has always been the most exuberant days of my childhood….
as far as i can remember, pongal was the best holiday i ever had
till i finished school, every year i was sent to my native village where my grand mom and dad lived, this place was the best holiday spot i had ever been to, and it was also the only holiday spot i had been to is another issue.
anyways as a kid i totally had a blast during my pongal holidays in my grand ma’s place.
for it was a most welcomed change for a lonely boy confined to a small house in the ever busy metro city of Madras.
my native village was a very small hamlet called ‘mallal’ , as a matter of fact it just had only 10 streets, to be precise 9. All the nine deserted, muddy streets had two houses each so we have 18 houses all together, not bad for a parched land, with no railway station.
! was sad that our village had no railway station because as a child i was so sure of becoming a train station master, the one who had all the powers to control huge trains.Another thing was i loved travelling on trains, but since my village had no train stations i had to reach there by bus from my city and it was always the bumpy ride i hated the most. Yet the bus ride was followed by my favorite bullock cart ride, which i thoroughly enjoyed and was very keen every time on not missing to sit near the driver seat.It was the most enjoyable ride any one could ask for. my grand dad owned two bullock carts and i was so proud about that.
Maayan my grand dad’s assistant was always sent to the bus stand to pick me up , he was a tall, dark, well built old guy. Maayan was more than an assistant in my grand dad’s place, he took care of all the works both domestic and business, so he was a part of our family.
no one could guess how old maayan was, he had been around for a long time that’s what very one said.
hmm i have drifted away from pongal haven’t i ? … so lets get back to our story,
so when i reached the bus stand Maayan was warmly smiling and waving at me, i waved back and got down from the bus, it was my last year at high school and i was an energetic,curious teenager like any other kid.
as i got down from bus, maayan reached me , he was wearing his usual white dhoti tied in the traditional 3/4th pant style and was wearing a deep blue cotton shirt, a golden chain was shining in his dark neck making him even more darker.
maayan grabbed my bag and his smile widened as he patted my shoulders, he greeted me in his typical heavy voice ” hi chinna ayya” ( he always addresses me as ‘ Little master ‘ which i never liked, but no use in arguing with maayan he always won).
I was embarrassed when he addressed me as little master , yet i nodded and gave him a wide smile,
before i could open my mouth, maayan spoke looking closely at me ” wow little master you have grown tall, and you are becoming a handsome man like your dad for sure i can see that” i blushed at his comment and replied desperately trying to change the topic, ” so how are you anna? ( i had always called him Anna -elder brother though he was much elder than my dad)
maayan replied ” i am fine little master , as you can see,i am as strong as i have ever been, you know what this year i have planted two more palm trees in our garden and our cow has yielded a new calf who is so adorable… his eyes are…”
he stopped mid way and looked at my tired eyes and said ” oh i am so sorry little master you must be so tired after the long journey,must be hungry as well, come lets go home first,
your aaya (grand mom) and ayya (grand dad) are awaiting your arrival ” saying this he hurried away from the bus stand and when we reached the gate there was the most beautiful bullock cart i ever saw, i beamed at the sight of it and i rushed to check out the two bullocks which were painted in vibrant colors and the red and yellow cart adorned with silk and sparkling studded chains and sweet sounding bells.” ho how lovely are these carts.. if only i could ride them once… ” i thought
maayan’s voice distracted my thoughts ” oh little master you still have a craze for these silly bullock carts don’t you? they say in city where you live, you travel in huge cars and big trucks it seems, yet i wonder why you love these slow carts”
i just smiled and hopped inside the cart as maayan balanced the cart from tilting and he got into his drivers seat and clicked his tongue and the cart moved, maayan always asks this question ,
i can never explain why i am so crazy about these carts for i myself don’t know the reason.
as the bullock cart jolted to my home maayan had informed me about all the new additions of cattle and the panchayath politics of our hamlet,
he even updated me of how one of our cow had graced into one of my great uncle’s front yard who shared a decade’s enmity with my grand dad
and maayan latter went into great details of how the cow was led to the panchayath and how my grand dad had not touched the cow for a few days as a result of the animals sheer disgraceful behavior.
” little master, now the cow had learnt its lesson she will behave here on that’s my opinion ” maayan ended in a serious tone as we reached home.
I could see my grand dad and grand ma waiting in the wide front yard veranda of our huge villa, actually all the 18 houses in my hamlet were of almost as huge as ours each house extended from one street on the front to another on the back, so they were kind of very big bungalows.
the black oxide floored well polished front porch was painted in bright colors and the whole villa was painted in white,green and red and blue colors for the occasion of pongal
maayan stopped the cart in front of the yard and i hopped down , he rushed and took my bag and said” hurry little master lets get in, see aachi and ayya is vaiting” he always called my grand ma as aachi – elder sister and my grand dad as “ayya” – a general word for respect.
“come in dear ” greeted my grand ma as i followed maayan into the porch , my grand dad patted my shoulder and greeted me as well and when i asked about their health, my grand dad smiled and said ” we both are pretty fine young fellow, you seem to have lost some weight though” i smiled and protested ” no ayya … actually i have been eating a lot”
we all got into the huge hall of our home as we talked. my grand ma asked maayan to see if my room in first floor was ready. To which maayan readily rushed to his work, leaving us . Our conversation continued for a while about my dad and mom and about my studies and the usual stuffs. my hot coffee was served by our old cook “mani annan”.
grand mom was so thrilled by my arrival as usual that she left all the house hold jobs to the assistants , while grand dad was also equally happy about the arrival of his only grand son, so he had missed his late evening sleep as well.
our conversation was interrupted as maayan came and announced that my room was ready, my grand ma said to me ” okay now you better go and freshen up and take some rest we will have to visit our temple tonight “, i nodded and went to my room.
I showered in the warm water and then changed into a comfortable cotton pant and at t shirt. when i came back a plate full of sweets and spicy snacks were placed on my table , i was so hungry that i finished all the food and before i remember i went to bed and was fast asleep and i woke up to the knock on my door, grand ma was calling ” come on ravi wake up its late, get ready and come down its late for our temple visit”
I got up quickly and realized where i was and replied ” yes aaya i will come down in a minute” i changed into the traditional silk dhoti and the mild soft cotton shirt and went down to join my grand parents.
I saw my grand parents were also dressed in silk , grand dad ushered me and grand ma into the cart and he also joined us , only then i noticed that maayan was not riding our cart, as we moved , i asked grand dad ” why is maayan not going in our cart?” , he replied ” oh he is carrying all the precious family Jewels and statues of gods to our temple for blessing, he has to carry it and walk that’s the tradition you see”
I nodded my head but didn’t fully understood why the poor man had to walk all the way carrying such huge boxes on his head, my grand dad had his own rules and traditions, no one can question them, but i felt sorry for maayan, who was to carry all the loads of things and walk so long.
once we reached the temple , i was so shocked to see maayan waiting for us ,
I wondered how he reached here so swiftly?
he was drenched in sweat and his silk clothes clung to his body, he was panting heavily, i felt sad for him, he must have had a hard time carrying all the boxes all by himself , but maayan was all bright as we entered the temple,
a special pooja was made for my arrival and the usual blessing ceremony of our family jewels and deities were finished and all the while maayan was helping in all the rituals. As we returned from temple , maayan again took all the jewel boxes on his head and started before us, i was very upset about this, i couldn’t contain my self from asking my grand dad ” ayya at least now we can ask maayan to join us in the cart right? why does he have to walk all the way? its pretty dark” my grand dad smiled and ruffled my hair and softly spoke ” my dear boy, why are you so up set there are some things that can’t be changed , its our tradition”, this only increased my anger but by then maayan had left the temple and grand ma had joined us.
so i kept quiet, now i couldn’t enjoy the bullock cart ride any more, my mind was filled with the image of maayan’s sweaty face, poor man he had worked for us for how long , yet he is treated this way, i was filled with anger as these thoughts fumed inside … it was getting darker…
suddenly there was a hustle and bustle, we heard foot steps in the dark and suddenly there were some loud noises but in the pitch dark i couldn’t see anything, my grand dad said some thing to the cart rider, before i could understand what was going on, our cart turned right and i sensed there was a sudden swiftness in the carts speed, our cart rider rode pretty fast , grand dad and mom spoke in hushed voices, i was in total confusion, slowly i saw a glimpse of a light in the dark, then slowly there were more lights, and i realized they were fire torches carried by few men, our cart slowed down. Now i could make out known faces, they were our villagers and few relatives, all of them were panting they must have come from a long way … they all surrounded our cart as we got down, after getting down i realized we had reached our village , we were now surrounded by villagers and they started to question my grand dad ” what happened? we just now heard the news… are you three fine?”
I was even more confused now, news.. what news…
before i could open my mouth, my grand dad spoke” oh no,no we are fine, it was just a sudden attack, luckily we escaped, they were the usual thieves from the near by forest,”
I was shocked , thieves! were we attacked by thieves? but before i could react, there were murmurs and every one spoke to every one…
some one said” okay okay lets get home ” my grand dad nodded in agreement and we all walked with the villagers and uncles to our home , after reaching home, every one sat in the veranda, my grand mom went inside to fetch water for every one , i was astonished to see the casual attitude of my grand mom , i sat in the veranda with others, i looked around and realized the absence of maayan, suddenly i was panicky … where was maayan? what happened to him? …
then, there was a commotion in the front yard, a villager told my grand dad” ah maayan has reached , without him we wouldn’t have known what happened..”
i was confused again…
my grand dad spoke softly “oh he was the one who protected us in the dark”
now things made sense.. so my grand dad knew it was a unsafe route and so he had kept maayan as a guard…and also left him to carry all the valuables… what if the thieves had hurt maayan? what if something had gone wrong? now i felt rage building up inside me against my grand dad… he suddenly seemed too selfish to me, i felt guilt spreading over my head on the sight of maayan who walked past us casually, as if nothing had happened, he gave his usual smile when his eyes met mine. I was so confused to even smile back.
One of my uncles said ” anyways its gud that you have maayan and he has you”
another agreed ” oh yeah he is quiet lucky to be with you ayya”
another chuckled ” of course who can feed him a barrel of rice other than you ayya?”
I could not handle this any more, what do these men feel, why are they so self centered? how can they be so insensitive… how can they even joke about a guy who had saved them?…..
i felt the building anger inside me, so i left the place and went in, i felt sober,sad and tiered all at once, felt thirsty as well so i went to the kitchen,
i lost my words when i saw maayan inside the kitchen,
he was eating there sitting on the floor .. my grand mom was serving him food from a huge barrel!
i tried hard to compose myself, yet my eyes moistened, i fought back tears,
my grand dad’s voice calling my grand mom shifted their attention to me,
both smiled at me, and my grand mom hurried to the veranda ,
i felt the warmth in maayan’s eyes, i felt really sad for him, at the same time i was mad with my grand dad,
something was not right, i felt i had to do something, i turned and looked, maayan was seriously indulging in finishing his barrel of rice.
i rushed to my room,and just sat there for how long i don’t remember… i lost track of time, suddenly my thoughts were disturbed my a knock on the door, it was my grand dad,
i turned my face off, but he came and sat near me, he softly spoke” hey little fellow”
i didn’t answer, i was so mad that i felt if i spoke i would spill my anger all over him,
but my grand dad patted my shoulder, he spoke in the soft tone ” ravi, i know you are angry, but i seriously think you don’t understand…”
i intervened ” enough! i have seen it all , you are all so self centered, how can you be so cruel to a person like maayan, how can you treat him that way? why should he be carrying all the stuffs and what would have happened if he had got hurt by the thieves you know they may attack right? why did you make him walk then?, why risk his life?”
my grand dad spoke after a few minutes of awkward silence ” yes my boy i understand your anger, but you see these are traditions , and more over no one can hurt maayan”
i got really frustrated after hearing this ” why? how can you be so sure about the fact that he can not get hurt?”
“because he is the one who chose to walk all the way … he takes pride in doing his job.. you see” my grand dad said in a calm tone
i fumed ” are you trying to say maayan prefers pride than his life? and he likes risking his life to protect yours?”
he slowly replied ” yes my boy , i will tell you a story, listen carefully…”
i curtly said ” i don’t have time to hear your stories…”
my grand dad spoke ” no you need to hear this ”
something in his voice made me listen, so sat looking at his face he spoke
” i was around your age then, one day i woke up to my uncles and dad yelling at early hours. i saw a great commotion in our front yard,
when i went and saw i realized some one had stolen our bullock cart ,
you see ours was the village head family, so my father and uncles were furious to know that a thief was so arrogant to steal in our house,
so they formed a search party to catch the thief,
ravi, in those days the thieves lived in a separate village and they stole,
that was their job,
they believed that it was their birth right to steal.
they stole for their living.
So my uncles and dad reached the thieves village and searched for the thief .
You see finding a thief in that village was not a tough one, but finding the one who stole our cart would be impossible.
My uncles went in different directions and searched the village day and night, one of my uncle found a cart wheel on a wheel repair shop in that village,
when he observed the wheel, he identified that wheel as ours and so he asked the shop keeper , the shop keeper told him the address of the person who sold the wheel to him, when my dad and uncles reached to the address they found a young lad of 20 who was sitting in his front yard, when he saw my dad and uncle he stood there staring at them.
When my uncle asked him about the robbery at our place, the young lads parents had come out and they had confessed that the boy had stolen the cart and sold all the parts. After realizing that the thief was a young boy my dad had pardoned him and left.
The next day the young lad had come to our front yard with our bullock cart ,
the lad spoke in a clear voice to my uncles and dad ” ayya i thought i had stolen smartly, but you found me… its not an easy thing to do so, i respect your smartness and i wish to work for you, I know was a thief but not any more”
My dad with out a second thought turned to my uncles and said ” to night we have to visit our temple to seek blessings for our family jewels, bring the things and ask the lad to ride the bullock cart”
the lad said ” i will not ride the cart but will walk by the side of your cart carrying the boxes no thief will come near me and i can also be a guard ”
“okay fine ” said my dad and asked ” what is your name ”
“maayan, and one more thing ayya,i eat a barrel of rice ” grinned the lad
“so that’s the end of the story … ravi ” finished my grand dad,
after a few seconds, i looked up at grand dad with pride, he nodded at me and patted my back
he left my room with out another word
i was speech less, i took some time to compose myself and when i reached downstairs things looked different to my eyes now, maayan was washing his hand in our back yard , when i went near him he beamed with his usual warm smile, I smiled back and said ” anna so it is true right?”
“what?” asked maayan
” that you eat a barrel of rice” i smiled
Maayan chuckeld happily and nodded ” yes little master it is true”
“so want a ride in the bullock cart?” asked maayan
I nodded swiftly and added ” but anna i will ride”
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