Divine Encounters

Urmila was running late. She needed to complete the cooking within 10 minutes and start packing the lunch boxes. One for her father in law, one for her brother in law and another for her husband. But the cooker was too obstinate and refused to open. Her mother in law Padma usually was the one who cooked everyday. Urmila usually helped her cut vegetables and her daily task was just to pack boxes after the cooking was done. The drumstick sambar needed the Tur Dal for completion.

“Why did I decide on drumstick today, of all days?” Urmila lamented inwardly. Her husband Mohan had never been fond of finding chunky pieces of drumstick in his lunchbox; instead, he preferred the pulp mixed with rice. He often remarked that it seemed undignified to eat drumstick among his peers at the office canteen table. Urmila using a spoon took the pulp out of the drumstick while she waited for the cooker to release all the pressure to take the Tur dal and Rice out.

“Once the boxes are done, I must check on Athai. Hope her headache goes away soon” Urmila thought to herself, while Sriram her brother in law walked in to the kitchen.

“Anni, let me set the table for breakfast. Idly and Chutney right?”

“Thanks Sriram. Yes. The idlies are ready, let me just garnish the chutney.”

The family always ate together for breakfast as well as dinner. Breakfast was a quick affair as all the men folk had to rush to work but dinner was always a relaxed, happy meal. Padma Athai would occasionally gather them in a circle, mixing rice with kuzhambu and forming small balls, often adding a vegetable or appalam, which she distributed to their eager palms. The banter added to the flavour of the meal. They always overate on such days! However, lately, the desire to have rice for dinner had waned, making this tradition increasingly rare.

Urmila’s father in law, Ramasamy, a leading lawyer was the first to come for breakfast. He was on the phone with a prospective client. Mohan was yet to come down. “He must be definitely searching for his favourite pen” thought Urmila. But decided to allow him to search for it himself and walked into her mother in law’s room. Padma Athai didn’t look good. Her eyes were red and she was sitting up propped on a pillow. The room smelt of Amrutanjan.

“Urmi, can you please close the curtains. The sunlight is making my headache worse”

“Athai, how about having a couple of idlies. After that I will give you a pain killer” Urmila asked while she made the room darker by drawing the curtains.

“Let the men folk eat and leave. Bring the idlies later. Also give me your dupatta. That soft cotton one. Tying it on my forehead will help reduce the pain”

Urmila quietly left the room after gently securing Athai’s bandana around her forehead, feeling a pang of sympathy for her. As everyone gathered around the table, helping themselves to idlies and chutney, the molaga podi remained a staple, an unwavering presence despite the variety of dishes available. Similarly, curd was a must-have accompaniment. “Urmila, come. You too eat with us”, her father in law insisted.

While Urmila took a plate from the kitchen, she noticed that Mohan had found his pen which was in his shirt pocket and he and Sriram were busy talking about the IPL match which CSK had won last night.

Ensuring everyone had grabbed their lunch bags before heading off to work, Urmila prepared a plate with two idlies and a dollop of curd. Carrying it into Athai’s room, she paused, allowing her eyes to adjust to the dimness. There, she found Athai sprawled on the bed, a pillow pressed against her head as she let out soft moans of discomfort. “Urmi…I can’t bear the pain. It has become worse now.”

“Let me tie the dupatta tighter Athai. You need to eat something so that I can give you the pain killer”

“Oh no. I feel nauseous. Take away the food from the room. I can’t think of food now. I feel queasy”

Urmila carefully applied more balm, adjusting the dupatta snugly around Athai’s forehead, and gently hushed Shantha, the helper, who was engaged in a loud conversation on her phone while mopping the floor. Urmila felt utterly clueless, lacking any experience in dealing with illness of any kind. Padma Athai, aside from occasional headaches, rarely fell ill, and the others in the household were similarly healthy. Urmila, a freelance graphic designer, had entered this household as a new bride just last year.

“It’s getting unbearable”, Athai groaned.

Urmila pondered taking her to the doctor. Their physician would be available only after 11 am. But Athai was now sitting up and holding her head and groaning. She sat beside her and started massaging her head and neck. Then Urmila started praying. To her Lord Venkateswara. HE was the first she turned to, always. Massaging Athai’s forehead gently, she prayed hard for this terrible headache to go away. How can anyone suffer so much with a headache, she thought to herself.

Shantha stood at the doorway and beckoned to Urmila to come out. Urmila gently rested Athai’s head on the propped pillow and tiptoed out. Shantha pointed towards the gate and said, “The boy is asking for food”. A little boy of about 10 years stood there with a big naamam on his forehead wearing a veshti, holding a bowl in his hand.

“Oh..It’s Purataasi Saturday! (Purataasi is the month which is special for Lord Vishnu. And on the saturdays of this month devotees make special food for Lord Vishnu which is called Thaligai)  Let me give this boy some food” Urmila mixed some sambar with the rice, added the potato roast and emptied the plate on to his bowl. The boy’s Naamam seemed to shimmer in the sunlight and his face seemed truly divine.

“Ezhu Malai Vaaasa Govinda Govinda…” chanted the boy and walked away.

Hurrying back into Athai’s room, Urmila braced herself for the possibility of finding her in more pain. To her surprise, Athai was sitting up and actually appeared much better.

“Urmi, my headache is now gone. I feel fine now. Bring the idlies. I am so hungry suddenly…wait…let me come to the table myself…”

Urmila stood there speechlessly staring at her. Something struck her and she went running to the gate and peeped outside. Raja Street was deserted. There was no sign of the boy.

Athai asked, “What happened? Who are you looking for?”

“For Purataasi Saturday, one boy came wearing a naamam asking for rice…Was looking for him. I wanted to see his face again for some reason. It was so angelic and divine.”

“Purataasi? Saturday? What’s wrong with you Urmi…It’s neither Purataasi month nor a Saturday. It’s Chithirai and today is a Wednesday. I think you got confused with my headache galaata this morning…”

Urmila shook her head in confusion and walked into the house.  Athai was seated on the dining table and was humming her favourite, “Sri Ranga Pura Vihaara..”

Later, at her 4PM phone call with her father she related this incident. Everyday, Urmila’s father, Alagesan, a doctor by profession, called her exactly at 4 PM just before he got ready to leave for his clinic.

“Appa…But what made me think it was a Purataasi Saturday!”

“Urmi…God has His unique ways to alter our thinking. And HE often manifests in different human forms. It is up to us to recognize the divinity whenever it presents itself. We must always keep our mind and heart receptive to receive His blessings in various forms “

“So true Appa. HE sent this little boy home to cure Athai..”

“Urmi, He was answering your sincere prayers. Remember you told me you specially prayed to Lord Venkateswara. When you were a baby, we used to carry you to Tirupathi every 3 months. You used to love playing about in the Q complex and wait for the Lords darshan. But most of the time you would have fallen asleep just as the Q was entering the final darshan. Obviously, HE remembers you. HE was not sleeping!”

Urmila pondered over her father’s words much after she had finished her phone call.

“Thank You dear Lord Venkateswara…” she said quietly.

Padma Athai was bustling about in the kitchen with Shantha. She was going to start her yearly Avakkai Pickle making ritual.

* Adapted from a real life incident which was narrated to me by my friend. 

Images: By freepik

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