A Short Story
Illustrations by Jayashree Krishnan
“Your son has eosinophilia, Vasantha Ma,” Dr G declared. “He should avoid dusty places. He needs to get a little stronger. I’ll give him a syrup that should help with the wheezing,” he continued. “Don’t worry,” he assured Venu’s mother.
As she left the clinic, Venu’s mother was concerned. She and Venu’s father had spent a few sleepless nights tending to Venu’s wheezing. However, Venu now felt special. He had a fancy sounding condition that he could brag to his friends.
Venu’s father suggested that he bite on a handkerchief when wheezing symptoms started. Venu was puzzled at first but decided to give that a try. The syrup worked for a few days as Venu was able to go to sleep faster. The kerchief trick didn’t work for him and his mother didn’t want to deal with the “ecchal” kerchief next morning.
Somehow, word reached Venu’s family that raw eggs worked well for eosinophilia. After some back and forth with the hut dweller and poultry keeper Ramaswami across the street, it was arranged. Ramaswami would deliver an egg every morning at 6:15 am. Venu would need to break it open and eat it raw.
A small crowd had gathered to watch the grand first day event. Venu’s sister Kamala, his brother Renga, his mother, Ramaswami and his son Rangesh egged Venu on as the egg was broken and he swallowed it’s contents whole. It was a gross taste and Venu just managed to avoid throwing up on everyone. This spectacle continued for a few days. But Venu couldn’t stomach it anymore. He rebelled and the whole idea was shelved.
It was just a few days to go for the annual Chitrai Ther (“Chariot”) festival in Srirangam. The town was abuzz with preparations. White disinfectant powder was sprayed everywhere, vendor stalls kept popping up. Police outposts were installed and traffic diversions put in place. Venu was especially excited for this festival. Now that he was an older boy, he could venture out into areas that were prohibited earlier by his parents and others. He was especially keen to get to the back of the chariot to see the big youth climb on huge logs and ride it down. The logs were used to get the chariot rolling from a stationary position. It was like a lever, Venu made a connection from his Physics class. Venu was also keen to get a taste of the Bheema Pushti Halwa. He was hopeful that it would provide him strength to cure his eosinophilia. “Take that, you stinking eggs,” he said to himself.
Venu managed to get 1 Rupee from his mother to spend. He budgeted 25 paise for Coconut water, 25 paise for Jack fruit and 50 paise for the Halwa. It was going to be an awesome day, he thought.
Venu sneaked out of home when everyone else was busy. His sister wanted to go with him but he found an excuse to leave her behind. As he neared his grandparent’s home, he greeted them. His thatha asked him to be careful in the crowds. Shouts of “Govindo, Govindo” filled the air. The Ther was rumbling proudly as hordes of people pulled the huge jute ropes onwards. The Ther was draped in bright colours and he could spot the Bhattars standing next to the Lord. It must be so thrilling to be so high up and being pulled by thousands of people, he thought.
As he tentatively approached the back of the Ther, Venu was awestruck by the scene. Those logs seemed so much bigger than he had imagined. He really wanted to ride up one of the logs but couldn’t gather much courage. When it was on the ground and the big youth took a break, he climbed up on one of them and felt mighty thrilled.
Now, it was time to find the Bheema Pushti halwa stall. The previous year, he had seen it near the Raja Gopuram, so he walked towards it through the difficult crowds. After some time trying to locate it, he asked a man “Sir, have you seen the Bheema Pushti halwa stall? I can’t seem to find it.” The man replied immediately with a knowing smile “oh boy, I just saw him near the Gandhi statue. He was very busy. Shall I take you there? I am going that way only.” Venu thought for a moment and realizing the challenge of the crowds said “ok sir, please take me there”. “Follow me, keep close” said the man. As they walked, there were Police announcements every few minutes asking people to exercise caution against pickpockets and to keep their children in tow at all times.
The smell of the halwa was quite captivating. There was a short line and Venu debated spending 75 paise or 50 paise for the Halwa. He could always get jackfruit later, he thought.
“Give me halwa for 50 paise,” he said excitedly. In a flash the halwa was in his hand and he started tasting it. After he had finished eating, he noticed the man that had helped him still there. Venu shouted “Thanks Sir. This halwa is very good.” The man came closer and said “There is another stall near Devi Talkies and his halwa is even better. We can go check it out if you want” Since it was on his way home, Venu accepted and started walking with the man.
As they approached Devi Talkies, the man asked Venu where he lived. Venu told him about Periyar Nagar and the man remarked that it’s a nice colony. “Why don’t we take the bus so you can walk less?,” the man said. Venu declined and now could feel the sudden grip of the man on his wrist. He tried to free himself but couldn’t manage it. The man dragged him closer to the bus and pressured him to climb the steps. Venu was distressed and too paralyzed to scream. He had a sudden flash of Shivaji as the hero in a film he had seen recently. With a mix of cunning and bravery, “Veera Shivaji” had outwitted the British.
“Veera Shivaji,” screamed Venu at the top of his voice and bit into the man’s wrist. The man recoiled in pain and let go of Venu’s hands. In a flash, Venu got free and ran away from the bus. The man tried to pursue but on seeing the throngs of people looking at him, hesitated and walked away. Venu ran and hid behind Devi Talkies.
Once the coast was clear, Venu made his way as fast as possible to his home.
“That Bheema Pushti halwa was very good, Amma,” he declared in an excited voice. “Next year, can you give me 2 Rupees please for Ther?,” Venu implored.