Mayilamma is the kindest person in Gauri’s world. She is also her best friend.
The neighbourhood doesn’t approve of her befriending the daily labourer whom everyone considers slightly dotty (as she talks to animals and keeps food in small leaves and old cracked pots all around her house for them). Gauri never pays heed and always finds time to visit Mayilamma’s house every day.
Ladies at the communal well often hint at the weird way Mayilamma raises her hands in blessing towards random strangers and beggars, trees and even small creatures, giving Gauri sidelong glances all the time. But she always turns a deaf ear.
For there at Mayilamma’s ramshackle hut, awaits her delights of a different kind; sweet rice balls with jaggery and coconut, the lop-eared puppy with the bandaged leg (one of the many rescued by Mayilamma from a tormenting group of boys) and above all, Mayilamma’s huge toothless smile! For an orphan like Gauri, left alone in this world to face the storm, Mailamma’s silent companionship is a safe haven.
Gauri wakes up early one morning, feeling thirsty. When sleep evades her afterwards, she cracks open the front door to see if it is light outside.
A fleeting movement! Gauri’s eyes quicken with surprise. It is Mayilamma, carrying a bag! “Where is she off to at this early hour?” Gauri ponders. Though hesitant at first, Gauri follows her, sticking to the shadows and making as little noise as possible. Mayilamma’s journey ends at the bridge that spans the dry river bed separating the village from the neighbouring town.
Gauri watches in amazement as Mayilamma ducks under the darkness of the bridge. Hidden in the murkiness behind a tree, Gauri discerns a smiling Mayilamma coming back up, swinging the bag, now empty.
Gauri shrinks back into the dawn twilight as Mayilamma passes her by, chanting a hymn. Though itching to go down and check what Mayilamma has left there, she is afraid of the lurking shadows and the bad people who are rumoured to live there. She waits with bated breath.
As the morning light slowly spreads, suddenly cries of happiness and delight float up from under the bridge!
Voices shout, “God bless the soul who brought this food. Give them a long life.”
Instantly, realisation dawns upon Gauri. All the mystery and speculation surrounding the miraculous packets of food left for the destitute under the bridge stands revealed before her discerning eyes.
Gauri realises that from her meagre sources, Mayilamma prepares food for the poor every day. From afar, Mayilamma often blesses the destitute who call the belly of the bridge their home, but they never guess that the hand that sends them food every day belongs to that thin, bent old lady little better off than them!
Is Gauri going to reveal their silent benefactor? Never. It will stay in her heart, a beautiful secret.
But one day, Mayilamma has a dreadful pain in her stomach. As she’s taken to the hospital, she presses Gauri’s hand one last time…
Now, Gauri sits in Mayilamma’s empty room, the silence mocking her and the Mayilamma-shaped chasm in her heart widening.
“Mayilamma, where shall I seek your kindness?” wonders Gauri, shedding silent tears.
Sighing, she gets up and goes across to a creaking cupboard to close it, to shut the door to all that gave her happiness in life.
Out tumbles Mayilamma’s grey bag into Gauri’s hands. She sighs, thinking of all that it signifies and lingers for a moment before carefully putting it back on the shelf.
And that’s when she finds it. Mayilamma’s jar of money, labelled in crude letters, ‘Food for Gods’!
Gauri’s tears drop silently into it.
A bell tolls in the distance. The day has drawn to an end. Soon, the sun will be up and the needy will be waiting.
But there’s no one to deliver them blessings now.
“Yes, there is!” Gauri jumps up.
She reverently picks up a few notes from the jar and grabs the bag with silent resolve. If she makes haste, she’ll be in time to buy the last of the vegetables from Somukaakka.
Out steps Gauri, into the glory of the golden hues of the setting sun.
Treading on the sacred path of her beloved Mayilamma, Gauri floats away in the soft resonance of the strains of a beautiful hymn pervading every fibre of existence around her.
Praises of the needy slowly float up in the air!
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