I must have been about 7 year old. I had recently learned how to tuck in my shirt and do my hair. But I was more proud of the fact that I could now cross the street on my own.
Summer vacations were on and Sun had no plans to bestow its courtesy on us Punekars. I was out that day visiting a famous temple in Pune along with my mother. Temple was famous because God sitting there was not only rich but also answered prayers of everyone visiting him. Or that is what my mother told me. I don’t know what prayer my mother had to offer. I was just feeling hungry and wanted to get done with it as soon as possible. So stretching my neck and lifting my toes up, I tried to get a good look at the hoard of devotees. God’s fans. ‘Fans’ because ‘Followers’ was too big a word for me.
I could see we were part of a big queue looking like a tail of rat going inside a hole. It was hot and it was getting annoying every minute after another. After having carefully observed how the little kitten lapped up spilled over milk over the stairs, I did not know how to pass my time. I kept hoping that we get close to the temple’s door as fast as possible.
And then a sound of 50 paisa coins jumping into the steel bowl caught my attention. I saw a man with tattered clothes sitting outside the temple. “He is a beggar” mother told.
I looked at him and then looked elsewhere as he caught me doing so. He was not bothered. With an askance glance, I spotted a little girl sitting next to him. She was wearing a red frock or rather ‘once used to be a red’ frock. Her hair reminded me of Pinki, my neighbor girl. Kedar and I used to tease Pinky all the time over her messy hair. For some reason I felt, this girl had much better hair than Pinky.
And suddenly the girl smiled at me and I saw that she had really bad set of teeth. She surely did not brush them 2 times a day.
She kept looking at me and then the man sitting next to her, maybe her father stretched the steel bowl towards me.
I felt a little scared. I held my mother’s hand tighter and tried to hide behind her.
The little girl was no more smiling. But she kept looking at me. Next thing she did was to fold her hands at me. As if I was someone who could really help her. I even wanted to. I did not know how.
Meanwhile mother took me inside the temple and I saw her with her hands folded at God. Same way the little girl with curly hair did at me. I was not God. Or was I, for her? I kept seeing her in my head as I closed my eyes.
Beggar outside the temple had his back against the God, whom people came to visit from so far.
Here inside, I folded my hands after a reminder or two from mother. That was the last time I prayed to that Idol. I asked him to give her a new frock and not make her fold her hands like that. Ever.
Later before taking an auto rickshaw back home, I looked for the sight of that girl. She was still sitting there. Kitten had jumped into her lap and she was patting its back. Although I was far, I could feel the kitten was making a purring sound. It tells you that it is happy. And that little girl?
I kept looking at her while the rickshaw driver started the vehicle. She finally lifted her head up and saw me from far. She smiled wide open. She looked cute in spite of her yellow teeth. It made me happy. Smile was all I could give her that day. I felt much taller than I was.