Thursday, October 22, 2015


Hardly had I closed my eyes the market appeared to be springing back to life. Already Balu, friend of all was up, the ginger cat trailing behind him with his tail erect. He went to the water tap and had a bath. He washed his shirt and put it to dry on the bamboo pole sticking out of the tea-vendor’s shop. He kept his wet shorts on to dry up as he went bustling about doing odd jobs. I followed him.

The vegetable and fruit carts were coming in from the villages. Balu was giving his hand everywhere. I, too, tried to help, but found myself jostled out of the way with suspicious looks. “He won’t steal, he is my uncle,” said Balu. “Go on,” laughed a woman, “everybody is your uncle.”

The pre-dawn hours were the busiest for the tea-vendor. He shouted across to Balu to come and help him. Balu and I - the vendor seemed to take me for granted - helped dishing out tea and small buns to the people who milled around, mostly villagers who brought the carts or some of the stall-keepers who waited while their shops were being opened and swept out by their assistants, usually their younger brothers or little sisters.

Balu collected money and gave change - did he count or did he trust. Anyway, the vendor seemed to have complete trust in him, for he himself left for home, saying that he would be back later. “You two can have something to eat,” he shouted over his back.

Amidst the clatter of cups and mugs and plates, and chatter and clamour of the customers, Balu found time to give leftover crumbs of bread to a few dogs that hovered around. Actually, the dogs sat still in a circle with heads moving from side to side, patiently watching Balu. Balu would not fling the crumbs at them; he would say a word or two to them and place the crumbs in front of them.

The ginger cat had a stool, all himself, and his dish of crumbs and milk.

The vendor returned. He brought an old patched knicker for Balu. “Have this as a spare, Balu. You could work here. I could make you a first class Babu. But I never know when you are around and when about.

Balu and I had some tea and bread. We spent some time in the shade of the verandah as it was warming up. We sat leaning against some crates and gunny bags, watching the passing parade of customers, walking, haggling, demanding and looking over shoulders to see if the vendors were calling them back; jests and retorts; an endless stream of sharks, eels and sheep and wolves.

Balu said he forgot about Ganga. He jumped up and gathered an arm full of discarded leaves and vegetables and stepping out of the verandah, called to a cow which was rummaging in a dust-bin. He fed it for a while, patting the hump and dewlap; and talked to it. A kindly matron looked down at Balu.

I was feeling happy. Of the turbulent guests inside, there was no sign.

Balu seem to be liked by everyone there - the vendors, the watchmen, the vegetable women, sweepers and so on. But some seemed to respect him, too. At one or two stalls I saw the fruit man or vegetable woman gave him an orange or sweet potato, and made a sign of offering to a god in a temple. Maybe he brought them good luck.

At another stall, Balu played with the vegetable woman's baby, while she argued with the customers or went out to fetch some things.

At one stall a vendor cut his finger and I helped Balu to bandage it with a rag dipped in boiling tea. At another stall I whispered ‘aspro’ when a woman complained of headache. Balu declared that his uncle was a doctor.

It was getting past midday. The heat was intense. The market was quietening down. It was cool in the deep verandahs. Some closed their shops and went home. others sat there only to eat lunch they brought with them or was brought to them by their wives or children.

There was an old woman near the entrance to the market, cooking something on a small brazier and serving it out on leaves to a few customers squatted around her.

While I dozed on a gunny bag in the recess of a verandah, Balu appeared with a couple of salty pancakes, steaming hot, on a leaf plate, and a leaf-cup containing some hot broth, with Ginger sitting astride his shoulder. He set the stuff in front of me, produced an orange, a banana and a sweet potato from his pockets, and bade me eat. He said that he and Ginger had already eaten their share. The corner was cool, the meal delicious, and I ate in silence watching Balu play with Ginger.

Balu sat cross-legged with Ginger in his lap, as I lay stretched out staring at the ceiling, watching the patterns of cobwebs.

“What do they call you, uncle,” asked Balu.

“They called me Krishna; but then it ran away or got stolen, and many things happened, and then there was Thimmy, and I don't know what - and then I found myself full of so many things and I don't know what name to give or if a name is needed,” I said, “can't think; no think, says Thimmy.”

“All this is your name?” asked Balu. “My, what a long name you have!”

“Balu,” I said, “sometimes you say, ‘father said;’ who is your father and where are your parents? Too many questions, Thimmy would say, though.”

“Oh,” said Balu, tickling Ginger’s stomach as it rolled on the floor with legs kicking up, “don't know really. One day father went for work and did not return home. Mother cried and cursed - I think father died, for mother said he was dead - then she said it was better if he died - that puzzled me. Then there was the school, and the fees and counting fingers, and beatings and I ran away. Father read books and prayed: mother cursed and cried. Father said he had no home. Father said that I need not go to school; mother said I would become a beggar if I did not go to school. Father said that he suffered in schools and that he would not force me. He told me many things, many stories, story of Rama and Hanuman and others. He said that if one trusted and always remembered someone like Hanuman who is everywhere and in everything, then everywhere is home and if you go on giving and doing, never asking, then Hanuman does everything for you. One day mother told father - if Hanuman looked after him, why did he marry and have a son and made her cook and cry and why not go to Hanuman! alright, said father and went away. I know that Hanuman did not go to school or get beaten and I too left. Tell me, is anyone bigger than Hanuman?”

“Don't know, Balu,” I said, “I have not seen Hanuman, or maybe I see too many things.”

“Then I will show you my Hanuman, not the one at the Zoo. We can go in the evening or night. You too ran away, didn’t you. You were beaten by masters or grown-ups. Don't worry, uncle, I can scare them all or run faster. But you better tell Hanuman about it.” Balu closed his eyes and muttered something, ‘Om Om’ and he fell asleep, Ginger in the crook of his arm. For a moment Thimmy seemed to peep out of Ginger and wink at me.

It was nearly closing time at the market for the night. A cool moon shone on the still warm and dusty town. Balu said it was a good time to see Hanuman; there would not be too many people around.

Balu led me along at a leisurely pace. We left town and walked along a country road for a while. There, Balu said was Hanuman. Silhouetted against the moon, atop a small hillock was a temple. We walked through a small village that straggled at the foot of the hill, and thence up a good number of steps cut in the rock, and thence to the temple. There was a large courtyard; and a well, too, cut in the rock.

It was almost deserted. Balu drew a bucket of water and we washed our feet, hands and face; finding the cool water delightful after the long, hot and dusty walk we bathed.

Then we entered the inner temple. There, in the sanctum was a most impressive statue of Hanuman in black stone. He was richly decorated; a crown of shining gems on his head; gold bracelets on his arms; a sparkling armour covered his chest; silver anklets on his legs; his tail glittered with silver and gold threads. His eyes seemed alive and his mouth set in a smile. What splendor for one who crowned three kings and he himself sought nothing.

Beside the statue stood the priest - with hands folded across his chest, eyes half-closed as if in meditation. When we approached near, he opened his eyes and hailed Balu.

“Ha, Balu, I see you have brought a friend. Come, let me do the worship for you.”

Balu produced a banana from his pocket and give it to the priest. The priest lighted some incense sticks, and taking a basket of flowers in his hands, he uttered the 108 names of Hanuman, placing at at his feet one flower for every name. The he lighted a lump of camphor as final offering.

Balu stood motionless and silent with his eyes on Hanuman, without a blink, throughout the devotional ritual.

Then the priest bade us sit down, we sat down on the cool floor, leaning against cool of the stone wall and relaxed. The priest, then, brought us two leaf plates with cakes, both salty and sweet, and leaf cups of water. He watched over us benevolently as we ate.

It is a long time you have not been here Balu you are in good health I see and this person the priest looked at me.

“My uncle, Master,” replied Balu, “he wanted to see Hanuman.”

“Balu says that Hanuman is everywhere and in everything. Then why come to this stone figure, here?” I asked.

“You speak like an educated man; I don't know how to answer. You know the story of Hanuman; or it will take all night to go over it. Hanuman means strength, self-less service, trust in one supreme Divine, so many things. So many people pray to him, and trust in him. Maybe he is behind everyone, everywhere wherever selfless service is. Hearing his name or seeing his form in stone or pictures may bring something of his strength and steadfastness. That is why repetition of the name is also recommended. And when we utter 108 names or 1,000 names for him we evoke all possible gods and all possible divine qualities, so that the oneness is made clear. After all you, or people like you keep and treasure photos of your friends and relatives, even though they are merely pieces of paper. Then why not treasure and respect the picture or idol of a great idea, a great symbol like Hanuman? Sir, I am his servant and I only serve. If he is everywhere and in everything, it is enough for me to know that he is in this stone idol also. I serve as he served, with not many questions. For more, you have to ask Hanuman. Ask him! I see, you are shivering with these wet clothes on. I will get you a change of clothes,” replied the priest.

He went out and came back with two old but clean pieces of cloth. “You may change into these while your clothes dry. You may keep them for yourself. They belong to Hanuman. You rest; I have to get the temple ready for the morning devotions.

We changed into the dry clothes and laid out our wet clothes in the courtyard to dry. Balu seemed to know what was needed for the temple work. Instead of resting, he began to draw water and carrying the buckets into the temple. The priest, with a happy face, took the water and began washing the floors and walls of the temple. I, too, joined. While the priest attended to the sanctum, Balu and I washed and cleaned the hall.

Then we rested. I lay awake while Balu lay still - the temple inside him, and he inside the temple and Hanuman grinned as he munched an apple. Ask Hanuman; asked Hanuman and he grinned wider and offered me a share of the apple.

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