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Hunger - Written By Rosei Kajan - Translated By Divya Parthipan

ரோசி கஜன்

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Ganesan strolled leisurely on the Galle Road at Wellawatte, in particular on the sidewalk opposite Chapel Lane.


Earlier when he was ready to leave the house, his youngest son Parasu had stopped him at the door and said, "Where are you off to when the ceremony is about to start? And that too all alone?"


A few months ago Ganesan had a bypass surgery done on him, hence the family's concern.


"But I've come back after many days and you don't let me go near the diner at all. At least this way, I can see the places I'd wandered around all my life." Ganesan had been adamant.


"Don't go too far, Dad. You need to be back in ten minutes." He hadn't missed the command in his son's loving voice.


"What am I? A child?"


After fondly patting his son on his shoulders, Ganeshan had left the house and reached the Galle road within two minutes. Around the corner stood their diner.


His dream of many years was finally going to become real in the new two-storey building at the back.


Ganesan stood for a few moments in front of the diner.


These days the diner, where the most delicious delicacies and refreshments of this area were served, once barely managed to accommodate ten people. Despite that, the place had been his solace in those early and difficult years.


The glitter from all the years of hard work reflected off of him. Wasn't this where his life took a different turn? Ganesan watched it longingly for a few more minutes, then slowly began to walk away.


His glances alternated between both sides of the road. No matter how many times he had seen it, every inch of this place had the power to rouse up a tide of new emotions.


Did you know that some memories of childhood, whether they’re pleasant or grim, are etched deeply into oneself as if on stone?


Once upon a time… fifty years ago… he had come to this area as a ten-year-old boy. He didn’t know his father and had no interest in knowing him either. Adoring or abusive, his mother was his entire world.


In the beginning Ganesan would flinch when memories of those days took shape inside his mind, but as years progressed he even stopped hating those thoughts.


At an age when hunger dominated his life, he had managed to digest the event that had caused him disgust, fury and bitterness.


Those were the days where he had scrambled around with feet bare, cracked, and sooted, clinging onto his mother’s torn saree with a begging bowl.


A full day of begging had brought little to quench the starving boy.


That’s right! For him, only the stomach would beg to be looked after. No matter how barren his feelings were, he could acutely spot both hunger and thirst.


On a day like that…


Ganesan tried to put out the memories beginning to flare up again.


In his mind, the question sprang up with force: ‘Do I need to entertain these thoughts now, especially on such a happy day?’


Despite that, memories surged out quick and plentiful, unwilling to wait for a response.


It was a nipping cold night; almost midnight though the street was still alive.


And... his extended hand was pointing to the front of a building. He and his mother were huddled along the curb in front of the lined shops.


The craving emptiness in his stomach had refused to let him sleep. The biting cold didn’t help either. The old sarong was already lost to the cold and felt damp. The boy, as always, tried to clutch his aching belly tight with his hands, and tried to snuggle into his mother.


His mother's stomach would have been burning with hunger too. Her son's proximity may have been irritating too. What more? The sight of that man lying not too far. His one foot was disabled. No one knew when and where he had come from. He had been in the vicinity the last few days. Even though she had managed to ignore his gaze, tonight she could not contain her feelings. As he lay and gazed at her from an arm’s distance, her son’s proximity felt like ember.


"Get away devil! I’m stuck with you from dawn till dusk.”


She pushed the boy with all the strength she could muster. At that moment he had appeared to be her biggest burden.


The man’s eyes flashed with desire and victory.


The boy burst into tears as he fell away from the torn sack. He looked at his mother's eyes sparkling in the dark with anger.


"Mother has become mad these days.”


He grumbled, but couldn't sleep anymore. When he realized that a nearby diner was closing, he took a shaky breath and ran towards it with whatever energy his malnourished body could spare.


'Surely sir will give me something to eat.' His mind was desperate. He felt giddy at the slight chance of something to eat. He consoled himself that if he could get rid of the street dogs that scavenged the trash, he could get a little more.


'It's enough for me and Mother!'


His hopes were not dashed. There was no need to scavenge the litter and fight off the street dogs. The young man in charge of the diner packed some food parcels in a plastic bag and extended it to him with a kind look in his eyes.
 

ரோசி கஜன்

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The boy sat down on the spot and went through the parcels… his heart flying.

Now about to sit on the sidewalk and dig into the food, he suddenly looked to where they were sleeping, and got to his feet to swiftly cross the narrow road.


"Mother! Come and eat! There will be plenty left for tomorrow." And then he stopped…


Ganesan tried to squash the memory of the scenes that had followed, and sighed.


Even after all these years, his heart would beat faster and faster. He was a ten-year-old boy again.


He was a wealthy man with property, a loving wife, and three treasured children. But he had not managed to overcome the suffering brought out by these thoughts.


Yet unlike at his young age, he was no longer prone to anger.


On that day, the boy's mother would have been in her twenties. A tall erect figure, reminiscent of a muddied portrait.


'Mother may or may not be present now.'


The idea of joining hands with the memories of the woman may very well have doused that anger of his younger self.


The man who was moving slowly now came to a stop, his gaze transfixed at a point where there stood a two storey-building with six shops. But once upon a time this land had been covered with bushes.


The young boy was carrying the food. He hadn’t found his mother where he had left her. A hunch out of nowhere had made him walk into the rustling shrubs and there he saw it ...


The mother who had shouted 'Shut up devil!’, not too long ago ...


He could not bear it. Wasn’t he the one who had been annoying his mother for some time now? He had also spouted hatred towards him. When the man had been trying to talk and ogle the only person in his life, it had made him furious as it had his mother. Hadn’t he even thrown a stone at him and broken his forehead? But now ...


That wretched street lamp need not have been so bright!


The boy's whole body shivered. He threw the food bag on them and ran away. He hadn’t dared to look back. He ran and ran and wandered about aimlessly.


Ganesan felt a lump in his throat. He turned back.


Yet the mind continued to cling stubbornly to the past.


After more than a week of loitering about, the boy's heart had begun yearning for his mother. When he finally returned to that place ...


Ganesan’s eyes were misty now.


He had lost the only person in his life. What if he hadn't run away? Maybe he would have continued to be a burden for the woman. He could have taken care of her offspring and led the group of ducklings into a career of begging.


Ganesan walked faster.


The owner of the diner had felt pity at the boy with tear-dried eyes who was slumped at the entrance, and had employed him. Thus began the boy's career. His early struggles paved the way to growth and one day he would own the business himself. Perhaps he threw the very fury caused by being thrown out by his very mother, into his business.


Maybe that day he ran away from the clutches of a cruel life in search of a nest that was filled with love and affection.


Again Ganesan felt the cloudiness in his eyes. Did he for a moment think that he would live such a life today? No, nor the woman who bore him.


"Daddy, where have you been for so long? Everyone else is here, come along!" His son ran up to him and took him by his hand.


The building was to be open for the homeless for night-stays from today. Up to a hundred and fifty could be accommodated and basic amenities and breakfast would be provided. Facilities were separate for men and women. Many homeless street-dwellers sat on the terrace, eagerly waiting for the opening ceremony to begin.


"Look here, sit like this." His son stopped to guide a crippled old woman to a plastic chair before following his father.


For the past few days, the old woman had been anxiously scanning the area surrounding the diner with her ailing eye-sight. Now as she leaned back on the chair, her eyes gently closed and she felt the hunger swallow her, just like that fateful day.


'I gave birth to seven. Today there is no one to give me even a mug of water,’ she reminisced as tears formed between the dried up lids.


"Mother, this is for me and this is for you! Please eat!" The voice of a boy buzzing into her ears troubled her.


The boy who ate every bit of rice as if it were ambrosia, had thrown all of it away on that fateful day.


"Did you see how arrogant he was?"


The man had remained undisturbed by the boy’s action.


"He's a little devil”


She hadn’t thought of denying it.


"Where will you find the runaway boy?" said the man dragging her towards him. She hadn’t given much thought, paving way for two more offspring.

'Is my eldest alive or not?'


She thought more of her lost son now, when all her senses were declining.

"We're hoping to quell your hunger as well as we can. It's my father’s dream."

Ganesan's son, who had started the ceremony, was speaking to the attendees as the food parcels were being served to everyone in the group.


Ganesan placed a parcel in the old woman’s hands and said, "Eat mother!”, and then he moved onto the next one.



(May 2019)






 

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