The Sun was trying hard to wake up…slowly removing the sheets of darkness. It was 5 am and the horizon was slowly turning from red to lighter colors as the Sun announced it’s arrival. Manjunath was brushing his teeth while trying to look at his image in the old mirror…an image which was an incomplete one as the mirror had lost most of the silver which gave the mirror its magical powers…but what the mirror had lost…it had gained in memories…it had witnessed Manju grow from a lanky boy into a lankier Man…now father to a lanky son. But the mirror was a mute spectator, who always showed the truth. Manju had the means to buy a new mirror…but this one held sentimental value for him as it belonged to his father…till he was alive. He had inherited this rather cheap mirror and kept it as a prized possession.
After cleaning up, Manju went into the kitchen. A strong but tangy smell of sambhar filled the air. He started working on the idlis…the kitchen was filled with a heady mixture of steam and smoke. He took out the first load of idlis and arranged them neatly in baskets made of plantain leaves. As he was refilling the idli maker, his twelve year old son, Karthik ventured into the kitchen,’Appa, give me one’, he pointed to the green basket from which fresh steam was rising. ‘I didn’t see you brush your teeth, get that done and I will give you two of those’. Karthik was not the one to give up so easily. ‘But Appa, if i brush after eating the idli, won’t it clean the idli also from my mouth and keep it fresh, longer’…’Don’t try to be smart, so early in the day…get fresh and arrange the cycle..then you can whatever you want’…Manju ordered. Karthik was disappointed, but promise of the reward acted like caffeine. He was sparkling fresh within a few minutes and was putting together the appendages on an old but sturdy bicycle. After getting everything in place, he took the cycle out for a trial run…he had learnt to ride the bicycle recently and never let go of any chance to pedal around the locality. He was now tall enough for his legs to reach the pedals and he had never felt any happier.
Karthik came back to the kitchen.’ Appa, your cycle is ready. Can I have whatever I want now?’ he asked with a mischievous smile and went straight for the bowl full of sewai upma. Manjunath had prepared this separate from rest of the food, esp. for his one and only child. Manjunath and Dayamma, had been married for fifteen years. For Dayaamma, Manjunath was second only the god who was his namesake. She would walk into a lake of fire if he told her to, such was her devotion. She had managed the small household intelligently, even with a meager income which her husband brought home from his work as n office assistant at a private firm in Bangalore’s industrial area of Peenya. She had contributed to the household herself by taking up odd jobs of maids or nannies around the neighborhood full of working class people.
Dayamma and Manjunath had packed the hot and fresh food in little bags and were now placing it in large bags attached to the bicycle. Since the last four years, every morning, Manjunath would start from his house at around 7 am. A busy and wide, National Highway 7 separated his colony from rest of the Bangalore, which he would cross at the traffic signal. He would go around giving away home-cooked nourishing food to homeless people…sleeping on footpaths…under bus-shelters…anywhere he could find them, till he ran out of food. He would then go to his normal day job. Manjunath never bragged about or felt proud of the charity that he indulged in. He never missed on this personal charity initiative on any single day…on rainy days he would get a little late…but he came.
He had made friends with some of the destitute homeless men and women, through small talk. Many of these people had been forced out of the family by their own family members…some by their own children. They were broken…emotionally and physically. Most of them never responded to his smile or innocuous question about their well-being. Manju never asked them about their families. He loved to discuss local politics or the weather with these folks….but never their families. Although, at times he didn’t mind sitting down and sharing their grief and anguish. He knew, this action eased their pain and anger. One of the homeless men was a businessman and in the prime of his life owned a car and a house. Then his two sons decided to band together and threw him out of his house and his business, both. They were his own children…how could he fight them or take them to court…heartbroken and distraught, he just gave up on them. Manju also sensed a feeling of guilt in this man…as he held himself responsible for the deeds of his children…maybe he never paid attention. Manjunath had decided to make sure, he gave his child all the time and attention that he could and would be an ideal example for his child to follow. Karthik was growing up to be a well mannered and street-smart teenager who had a very good understanding of what was morally and ethically correct.
There was no reason behind this charitable act. He had not seen any dream where one of the many gods commanded him to feed the poor. It just happened one day…while walking back from office, with an un-finished tiffin in his hands…he saw a man digging through garbage…with a pack of dogs vying with that man, for any edible item in the stinking pile. Something clicked inside Manju’s brain…here he was planning to throw away the food in his tiffin, prepared so lovingly by his wife…the food which this poor man may find tomorrow in the same garbage heap, if he came before the dogs did. A sword of shame pierced right through his soul. Manju called the man and gave his tiffin to him. That man must have been hungry for days…after he hurriedly finished off the food and returned the tiffin…he thanked Manjunath for his kindness. The feeling of gratitude which Manjunath saw in that man’s eyes, was more satisfying than anything else he had experienced in life.
He hesitatingly talked to his wife about his plan to distribute food among the poor…and to his pleasant surprise, Dayaamma gave her full support to the idea. She had a valid point when she said ,’ the blessing of these helpless people is way more precious than any piece of jewelry that you could buy me’. Manju had felt proud of his parents for finding him such a wonderful person as a soul mate.
With his cycle loaded with fresh, home-made idlis, sambhar,uttapams and chutney, Manjunath started his two hour trip through the streets and lanes of northern Bangalore. Day was getting warmer, as he felt sweaty within five minutes of cycling. Manju was thinking about buying a small computer for karthik on his birthday, by taking loan from his Provident Fund. karthik’s birthday was just fifteen days away. He was now at the traffic signal and as it turned red, he started to cross the road, slowly. As it was a saturday, the traffic was rather light on the road.
Jeevan singh, wanted a cup of tea very badly. He was also fighting a tooth ache since yesterday and it was getting more stronger with the hour. Jeevan had been awake through the night as he wanted to see the dentist, first thing in the morning. He was feeling happy that the ordeal of waking through the night was paying off. He was now entering the city of Bangalore and could see any dentist he wanted within next three hours. As he fumbled with the paracetamol tablet and a badly beaten plastic bottle of water, the tablet fell down. He bent down to pick up the tablet, while keeping his head up. As his fingers failed to grasp anything which felt like the powdery tablet, he put his head down to locate the painkiller….the steering turned slightly to the right…he heard a thud…then, he felt something go under the both the front and rear tyres his truck…it didn’t feel like a speed-bump…he slowed down and put his head out to see a twisted and crushed bicycle and a man’s body, now crushed and splattered across the asphalt. He could also make out white idlis strewn across the road and tangy smell of freshly made sambhar. There were not many people on the road at this time…so without wasting a second, Jeevan made the decision and sped off.
Manjunath had seen the truck coming at a rather slow speed towards the intersection. He assumed that as the traffic signal was red, the truck would stop and so he started moving his bike across the zebra crossing. As he started moving he waved at the old man across the street, who never talked or smiled to him. That’s when the truck smashed against him. As he went under the truck, he didn’t evn get a chance to have his life flash in front of him. The crushing weight of a gas-tanker’s tyre, opened up his skull and his mid-section…his brain with all the memories and future plans, embedded in the billions of neurons, now lay on black asphalt..under the sun…in the open. His internal organs splattered across…intertwined with each other…and his blood…all six liters of his blood…getting absorbed into the white, pristine idlies…some mixing with the hot sambhar. People rushed to the spot…his home was barely a stone’s throw away…Manjunath’s neighbour somehow mustered the courage to go into his house and inform the unsuspecting family about this massive tragedy. He didn’t say anything to Dayamma…just took her by the hand brought her to the spot…She could make out that something really bad had happened and was preparing herself for the shock…tears welling up in her eyes…but nothing can prepare a person for what she saw in front of her…her husband crushed to death…unrecognizable…unimaginable…her knees gave up…she fainted. People didn’t allow Karthik to see the remains of his father. As Manjunath’s remains were being put together by the police, piece by piece…the old man who was last to have seen Manju alive, came over to the spot…picked up one of the red idlis and just stared at it. One of the policeman asked him if he was alright…’I am alright’ said the old man ‘but the god above seems to have some ego problems…I think he is a very jealous god…he could not bear another man taking his position in the eyes of a few…these organs and tissues that you all are so disrespectfully scrapping from the road..they made up a man who did a very simple thing…he gave food to us…saved us from hunger…without asking for any daan-dakshina in return…he was more than a god to us…that’s why the jealous god removed this pious man from this earth…but he won’t be able to remove Manjunath, the real god from our memories and blessings, amen’.
The old man’s word became true within a few months. After learning about Manjunath’s selfless charitable endeavors, his employers launched a community kitchen in the area around which Manjunath delivered the food. Dayamma was asked to supervise, but she politely refused. She had kept her husband’s legacy alive by delivering food to the homeless…through help from some local NGOs whose volunteers collected the food cooked at Manjunath’s home and distributed it. Dayaamma knew that Manjunath’s soul will not rest in peace if this activity stopped. She was right…