The doors to my room open to the sound of buses gruelling to reach destinations under their human loads in the rush hour. I blink and greedily check the pujari, who woke me up, for my breakfast. It’s just coconuts and bananas again! Long time since I got jaggery or some milk for a change. Ever since that woman who regularly paid for palabhishekams moved to another street, my calcium intake has been scary low.
The mouse is still asleep by my foot. He looks fat and well-fed. His night-time tirades are paying off. Strange these cities are. Its humans are hungry and its mice, fat. It was just the other day that a man fainted on my doorstep out of hunger. Taking him for a drunkard, nobody took any notice. When the pujari came back from visiting the lime juice seller, he splashed some water on the man’s face and gave him some to drink. He sat on my steps and munched on one of the mouse’s coconut pieces (ha ha! Serves him for being fat). Before leaving, he glanced at me thankfully. I felt guilty at not helping him myself. But after the furore these people created when they found that I drink milk, I always think twice.
I nudge the mouse with my toe out of jealousy. He just stretche and goes back to sleep. Pujari finished giving me a bath, decorating and performing arathi. Now he will go sit on the steps and watch the buses huff and puff on the hot tarred road. And I am ready to receive my humble number of devotees.
The first ones are the IT employees who wait right outside for their bus to arrive. The things they pray for! ‘I will break 101 coconuts if you get me a onsite opportunity’, ‘may the fellow who is coming to see me this weekend be the one’, ‘why is my neighbour going abroad for vacation and not me?’, ‘please take my mom-in-law to heavens beside you, as she will be more comfortable there’…
Lazy bums can’t figure out a way for themselves.
Next comes old maamis in pairs from the colony behind mine. They bring me garlands made from yellow flowers (how I hate the smell!) from their courtyard, too stingy even in old age to buy me nice flowers. They sing in their trembling voices some off-beat song. They ask for long life and blessings for their children and their children in turn. Sporting a long face, it becomes increasingly difficult not to join the mouse who is rolling with laughter under my heavy garlands. On my birthdays they bring me sweet homemade modakams. Except for those I wouldn’t really listen to them croak.
Then there is an unsteady trickle of passers-by stopping and voicing their concerns. The mouse meanwhile yaks incessantly. He gets touchy if I ask him to shut up. So I play along and answer in monosyllables while happily daydreaming.
I wake up from my afternoon nap to the sound of bells and of tiny feet jumping to ring it. The small school girl of 5 returning home hanging on her grandpa’s arm always has a biscuit to offer me. But pujari refuses it and I eye it mournfully. She has an eclectic list of wishes. ‘save her injured dog’, make her teacher like her poem’,’ find her umbrella before her mum finds that she has lost it’, ‘make her parents stop quarrelling with each other’… I wish I could tell her that it’s all regular and to just concentrate on playing with her friends to her fill. But guess she will have to find that out as she grows.
As the night falls, the mouse gets very agile. He glares at the pujari impatiently to leave. Then he makes his way through the water outlet and joins his friends outside to raid kitchens and gardens. I stretch my legs and stand up to visit my own friends. We share laughs, food and stories. Occasionally somebody talks about a tiny temple getting demolished to make way for a mansion and we all grow silent for a minute. Then we start discussing who is hosting the next festival and it’s all merry again.
Note: The little temple at my bus stop may have been a little inspiration here.