Continued from: A Piece Of Raw Ginger (III)

“Why aren’t you wearing a bindi?” she asked, changing tracks.

I touched my forehead and found it sans bindi, as I knew I would. I don’t wear a bindi when I am travelling.

“I don’t wear one when I’m traveling”, I confessed hesitantly. “It always falls off.” Was anything ever so lame?

She glared at me in an exasperated way, pursed up her lips at my naughtiness and turned to her large cloth bag. For a few minutes she rummaged about until she found what she was looking for. Taking hold of my right hand imperiously, she turned it palm up and placed two objects on it. One was a small, thin prayer book. The other was a brass kumkum holder.

“You keep these with you”, she commanded.

Before I could ask her why she said, “See, this is Guruji”s prayer book. You will have good luck and good health if you read it every day. And this is for kumkum. When you leave home, put a dab of kumkum on your forehead. Even if your bindi comes off, this will remain. Your forehead looks bare (meaning devastated). It should not look like this, am I not right?”

Tears prickling my lids, I took the prayer book from her hand.

“But this is in Marathi!” I wailed. “I can’t read this!”

“Wait”, she said soothingly. “I’ll read it out to you.”

Yeah, like that would help! I muttered mutinously.

But off she went, reading her little prayer book with devotion and reverence. Page after page she read; page after page of words I made neither head nor tail of. All I understood was this woman’s devotion and faith. I listened, enthralled. She read on, in her sing-song voice.

It’s funny how, in this journey of life, even though we may begin at different times and places, our paths cross with others so that we may share our love, compassion, observations, and hope. This is a design of God that I appreciate and cherish.

~ Steve Maraboli

When she finished, she closed the little booklet and handed it to me. The little brass kumkum holder was sparkling clean. The way she had held it before she gave it to me, showed that it was precious to her. I returned both items to her and said, “You pray for me and my family. That will be much better, won’t it?”

She nodded thankfully. I suppose she knew I wasn’t the praying type.

While keeping the objects back in her bag, she rummaged about at the bottom of the bag again. This time her hand emerged clutching a handful of green and red berries. Silently, she offered them to me.

“I can’t eat berries, I have a cough”, I said.

“Yes, yes. You do have a cough, must not eat berries. They’ll worsen the cough. Wait!” And she dived into the bag once more.

This time she came up with a large, multi-pronged piece of raw ginger. She broke off a two inch piece from it and gave it to me as she broke off a smaller piece and popped it into her own mouth.

“Bite a piece of this. It will soothe your throat. If I have nothing else, I always have a piece of raw ginger in my bag. It helps to soothe the throat, quell nausea, is an anti-inflammatory and also has analgesic properties. You must keep a piece with you when you are traveling. “

I bit a piece of that ginger. Within minutes, it began to soothe my throat. Magic, I thought to myself. There fell a companionable silence between us.

She seemed less agitated; less anxious and scared; more at peace somehow. Something within her seemed restored and healed. I don’t know why I got that feeling, but I did. I have no idea what caused the healing for her. Maybe it was simply telling me her story, maybe it was because of the way we had laughed together. Whatever was the beginning of the process, I knew it was completed by her giving me this piece of ginger.

She needed to give me something- not as payment- but to exchange as an equal. It was as if she was saying, “You gave me what you had, now let me give you what I have. I know you too need what I have to give.” And there she was absolutely right. I did need it- and not just because my throat was sore. I too needed that circle closed. I didn’t want her to go carrying a burden. It freed us both; made us two people sharing equally. What a gift! I was so grateful to her for having done this. How wise of her! I muttered to myself admiringly.

“I’ll go back to Akola today”, she said, out of the blue.

“Really!?” exclaimed I. “That would be good! But what about finding work?”

“I think I will find work in Akola itself. After talking to you, I remembered someone who had promised me work if ever I needed it. I don’t know why I didn’t think of her before. Maybe I was too upset to think clearly”, she said smiling.“Why do I need to wander about like this? My son will worry about me needlessly. It is not right. I should go back. Don’t you think so?”

I nodded happily. “If you don’t find work in Akola, you can always start your own specialty catering service. I am sure many people would give you orders for home-made kaju-katli and shakkar-pare.”

“If I don’t find work, if nothing works out, I know I have a back-up. I can call you and you can tell me how to get to Jabalpur. Then I will pay you a visit. But something tells me I will find a way out soon.”

I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you’re going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.

~ C. JoyBell C.

I nodded, smiling. Hurriedly, she got up.

“This train”, she pointed to a train which had been standing on the platform for the past half an hour, “goes to Akola. I had better get on to it now that I have decided to go back. But I will say something first.

“The way you hugged me, I will always remember. You made me feel like I was in my mother’s arms. But you are also my younger sister. You are an only child and so am I. You have given me courage today. One day I too will give you courage, I am sure of that.

“When my son’s wedding is fixed, I will call you. You must come; you will, won’t you? I might only give you bhakri and you might have to sit on the floor and eat, but still, you will come?”

Eyes glistening, she stood before me. I held her gaze so that she would know I meant what I was saying.

“Yes”, said I. “I will surely come. I want to eat the bhakri you make.”

I pulled out my wallet, opened it and half pulled out two hundreds. “Shall I give you some money?”

She saw me willing to part with two hundred rupees. She held my gaze for a few seconds, then smiled. Shaking her head she said, “Just give me 10-20 rupees. I’ll have a cup of tea. Seven rupees for a cup of tea, imagine! Thieves!!” She laughed happily, mock outraged.

I handed over twenty rupees to her. We hugged once again. With that, she was gone without looking back even once. I sat on that stone bench and watched her disappear into the milling throng. I don’t know which bogey she boarded.

I wrapped the left over piece of raw ginger in a fresh paper napkin and tucked it away in my bag, trying to make sense of the past four hours. I’d have tried to convince myself that I had been dreaming. But I know it was no dream. It was as real as the rising sun.

I had a Piece of Raw Ginger as evidence.

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A Piece Of Raw Ginger (Con)