Friday, 1 March 2013

Puttaparthi Flour Mill





KVRK Bhargav




Faithfully negotiating the narrow streets of Puttaparthi village on my scooter with five kilos of wheat I reached a small flour mill. There was a flight of three steps and the shop cum house was perched on top of it. As I dismounted the scooter helping the load of wheat on my shoulders, a lady  perhaps in her late sixties made her way out of this small and dingy dwelling as if emerging out of a cave. Her feet were finding it difficult to carry the heavy load of her body. She was swaying like a pendulum while slowly making her way to the entrance. She studied deeply this unexpected customer with her plastic gaze. Her hair was a mixture of black and grey made into a small pony tail. There was a look of tiredness on her face.


The mill was dimly lit with a bulb hanging precariously from the ceiling with the help of an electric wire having green and white wires interlaced with each other shedding diffused light through a blanket of cobwebs. A new grinding machine stood at the entrance busy making dough with a constant rolling sound. The grinding mill just behind it looked tired like her owner doing her work with great difficulty as if complaining about the ambience of the shop and sulking due to her new found jealousy of having a new, youthful and energetic partner. There was a network of strings weaving a framework with different type of sachets hanging from them in eternal wait for someone to come and buy them.
There were photos of Lord Sai and Jawahar Lal Nehru adorning the pale walls due to a veneer of fine flour dust accumulated owing to the huffing and puffing of the mill. The portrait of Nehru had a resentment in its face due to lack of care which a great freedom fighter and erstwhile PM of the country deserves. Photo of Bhagwan Baba received all the attention with a vermillion dot on his forehead, some sugar candy in a plate as naivadya, a beautiful garland of marigolds hanging from his neck and ethereal aroma of incense burning in front of him. After all he is the one who will take care of the shop and not the former PM of India.
The domain on the land was under the control of rats and cockroaches while the heavens were under the control of spiders. There were protests from the rat community whenever the owner took out any provisions for selling it to the sparse customers trickling to the shop like the water drops escaping from a nearby panchayat tap.
The lady was busy grinding wheat of one of the customers and when she finished doing it, an altercation ensued. "I told you, I will charge Rs.6 per kilo from now on, you have to give me that amount", she thundered on this timid, pale and sickly lady.  The customer calmly remonstrated, "Amma, how can you increase the cost from Rs. 3 to Rs. 6, please give some consideration.""No! Get the exact money and take your bag, till then it will be in my safe custody," the old lady said with some venom in her voice. I have been telling people to get that extra amount, you know the costs are sky rocketing," her eyes searched for some support in my face. I gave a blank expression, as I might be next to receive this barrage.
When I handed over the bag of wheat, she immediately said, "Babu, the costs have increased, so I will charge six Rupees per kilo of wheat instead of three. If you agree to it I will go ahead and grind the wheat".  I nodded. She gave an impression of a lady who was obsessed with earning money.
She poured the wheat in the chute of the grinding mill, adjusted the settings of the mill and put a bag at the output with utmost deftness all the while keeping an eye on the road for any new customers coming to the shop. Her eyes fell on a toddler who was standing hidden behind the counter of the shop with only his eye line and a tiny hand with a two rupee coin visible.
What is it?", she asked the boy sternly while seeing the wheat falling in a constant flow into the mill. Granny! I want this chocolate", the boy replied showing a big glass jar having a brown coloured confectioneries. "You can't have them they are worth five rupees", the old lady replied rather dismissively. Crestfallen the boy turned back to retrace his steps all the while looking at those brown coloured delights.
Seeing the boy retracing his steps in disappointment, the stern face of the lady took a softer tone and called the boy, "Aye! Take it but don't get less money next time", all the while unscrewing the lid of the bottle. She took the toffee in a dark brown wrapper and put it in the tiny hands of the boy with a sweet smile deceiving her stern and languid exterior. The boy's face lit up, vivacity danced in his eyes, as he received the chocolate and jumped down the three steps hurdle and vanished.  She turned back to the mill, carrying the remnants of the boy's expression on her wizened face.
She turned to me and searched for the same joy in my face and said with a twinkle in her eye, "You see, giving is always joyful." I gave a smile in agreement.
I understood a profound thing that day. Goodness is some thing which knocks at your door if you have the eyes to see it irrespective of place and time. He is always ready to show His presence, we should be receptive to experience it.
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