A small voice called diffidently from a shack near a mall, “Bhau, fresh vegetables, lowest prices.” Bhau means brother in Marathi language
An old woman in an old saree smiled under a flickering kerosene lamp. Pressed for time, I shrugged into the darkness, bought vegetables, thrust some notes, and hurried off.
Confidence, success, tinged with insolence, cockiness, brashness, brands freak, describe me.
Next time I went to the mall, she called “Bhau!”
Self-consciously I grunted sullenly, “What?”
She held out some notes. “You gave more money.”
I was shocked! Hotel staff wanted tips for inflated bills, bad food and watered drinks. This poor woman was returning money! I suddenly felt small at this honesty.
I started buying at the shack when possible. One day it rained, she invited me in and I was wary of dirt on my branded clothes.
The shack was neat and aluminum pots glimmered from constant scouring. A portrait of God Vitthal resided in a small shrine. An earthen wood-fired stove purred merrily filling the room with an aroma of onions and potatoes. I suddenly felt homesick, remembering my grandmother in my village Dharwad.
I felt guilty when she pulled out a plate, and dashed out steaming vegetables and hot jowar Bhakari.
The first mouthful hit my soul. I nodded shamelessly when she offered a second helping. Her husband coughed in a corner.
“He is unwell and cannot work.”
I coaxed her to speak.
“We are farmers from Mulshi and came here ten years ago and have three sons.”
“You don’t stay with them?’
‘We are old, a burden they insult us, hence this shop. We are happy with what Vitthal gives.”
“Showed him to a doctor?”
“Yes. It will cost 50,000 rupees. From where will I get this money?” She showed me the medical reports.
“Vitthal will help if he wills.”
The old woman would refuse money or help. My posh flat felt bare in front of the tiny hovel. I realized that my snobbish, high-society wife did not have the same caring devotion as this old woman.
My HR manager heard me warily, expecting me to demand the firm pay for treatment. She suggested that I donate my unused health insurance anonymously. I agreed and an ambulance picked them up.
I returned a few months after an overseas assignment, and set out to find them. The shack was closed, and I dreaded the worst!
One morning on my walk I saw them as they pushed their filled hand cart to a shop.
The husband pushed hard to take the full load as his wife surreptitiously pushed from behind easing the load off her man. He had recovered and they had saved enough to rent a small shop!
I have never seen a couple who were happier and more devoted. They taught me simplicity, devotion, courage, and pride. It took an illiterate poor vegetable seller to bring me down a couple of notches. I felt blessed!