Hungry – Prasun Roy, Kolkata

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Rahul felt hungry! It was a strange sensation that made him feel uneasy and Rahul was unable to understand what his mind and body was asking for.

The young man of twenty-seven years, was traveling to his ancestral home for the last rites of his maternal grandmother. Rahul had reached Kolkata only a day ago. The cremation had already been done, but the religious rituals for the last rites were pending. Rahul took the express-train from Kolkata to Azimgunj Station, a suburb of West Bengal. It was a four-hour-long trip that was supposed to reach its destination around noon. However, a sudden disruption in timetable caused the train to be delayed by another two more hours. The rising heat and humidity of the summer, made Rahul perspire profusely and raised his frustration as he sat inside the compartment.

Rahul had spent the lion’s share of his life in Denver, Colorado. His parents had migrated from India when Rahul was less than a year old. As he sat inside the congested compartment of the train, his mind flew away towards recollection of his childhood days. During his annual visits to the city of Kolkata, along with his parents, his grandmother used to come from their village and the family used to spend a month together in Rahul’s father’s apartment. Rahul had never visited his ancestral home, where his grandmother used to live. His father never preferred to visit the village! He disliked the unhygienic environment and illiterate culture. Rahul didn’t have many memories of his grandmother, but deep within his heart, he cherished the warmth of love that she garnered for him and the beautiful milk-cakes she used to prepare for him, every time he visited Kolkata.

As he got down at the Azimgunj Station, Rahul thought, “I am famished! My stomach is crying out loud for some food!”

However, the rural setting of the small railway station and the unhindered flow of dust in the wind, made him feel a bit skeptical about the hygiene. His ancestral village, Haldipara, was another ten-kilometer-long bus ride away. With the gastronomic turmoil inside his body, Rahul knew he would not be able to manage the journey. He was traveling alone, as he was representing his parents, and didn’t have the luxury to fall sick.

Rahul came out from the station and saw a little sweetmeat shop at a corner. Even from a distance, the place reflected a cleanliness that attracted Rahul’s attention. He thought, “Let me eat something there. Skipping breakfast was a bad idea before I started my journey.”

Rahul went inside the shop, sat on a table by the road and ordered for a plate of Samosas. The shopkeeper took out two pieces of the freshly made delicacy and placed the plate in front of Rahul. However, just as he was about to take his first bite, Rahul’s eyes fell on something in front of him. Beside the table, stood an old lady, perhaps a beggar woman, with her eyes fixed on the Samosas!

Rahul could not take his bite. He felt uncomfortable. Within his mind, a question wheezed, “Has this woman eaten anything since last night? How hungry is she? Certainly, I cannot be hungrier than her! She looks so despondent and helpless…”

Rahul took one Samosa from his plate and gave it to the old woman. She took it with an unimaginable ecstasy, blessed Rahul and went. The look in her eyes melted his heart and felt a strange pang in his heart. Rahul was not used to such scenes and sat wondering for a while. After, he finished the other Samosa and got up. He felt relieved after quenching the thirst of his digestive juices and sensed revitalization of his energies.

As he went near the bus stop, Rahul looked at his watch to note the time. The bus was supposed to leave within the next fifteen minutes. As he stood and waited, Rahul thought about the upcoming appraisal time at office and what his boss going to say. His financial status would be defined by what rating he would receive and that would subsequently shape his career progress. His mind got engrossed in these thoughts while he stood and daydreamed. He had managed to earn a prosperous career after graduation and with his wit and talent, he aspired to soar high through the ranks within a couple of years.

Again, Rahul felt a pang of hunger. This time he didn’t understand why he was again feeling hungry. The sensation made him feel giddy and he started to feel anxious.

“I just had a Samosa!” wondered Rahul, “This cannot be hunger! What am I feeling?”

Presently, a local vagabond came and stood beside him and said, “May God bless you son! I see all your dreams would soon come true… My celestial powers are giving me this vision!”

Rahul tried to avoid eye contact and looked away at a different direction. The vagabond came closer and whispered with a sardonic smile, “Son… I have not eaten anything for the last two days…”

This time, Rahul stared at the vagabond. The old man had a body that was emaciated far beyond his actual age and had given the man the structure of a living skeleton. He was visibly poor and underfed and looked ailing. Rahul took out a decent currency note and handed it over to the man.

The overjoyed vagabond touched Rahul’s head and before leaving, said, “You are an angel! I don’t have to beg for food anymore. I can devote myself to God now.”

As Rahul got inside the bus, he looked outside the window and saw that the vagabond was begging in front of the passengers of another adjacent bus. A sudden thought struck Rahul’s imagination. He felt amused and thought, “We are so similar! We are rascals of the same tribe! He is begging for more money, when he should be devoting his energies towards God… while I am thinking about my appraisal, when I should be grieving the death of my grandma! We are both hungry for money!”

As the bus started to move, a young lady hurried inside with an infant in her lap and sat beside Rahul. The little child was crying loudly and the lady was struggling to calm her down.

The cacophony of the baby’s cries created a visible discomfort among the passengers and the young lady was left embarrassed. Rahul decided to help and began to many funny expressions at the baby and cajoled her from his own place. The little creature felt amused by this and stopped crying. It first smiled and then began to laugh.

The young lady said with a sigh, “Thank you so much! I was not able to calm her down for such a long time! I thought she was hungry, but even after feeding her, she kept on throwing her tantrums! Now, you have finally managed to bring her to peace!”

As the passing wind fluttered over his face Rahul wondered how he himself cherished the attention of his parents and how he craved for their love, even at his matured age. He replied with a smile, “She was hungry for attention!”

Rahul reached his ancestral home at around four ‘o’ clock. His distant relatives greeted him inside, gave him some refreshments and then all of them sat down for performing the religious rituals of the last rites. The entire episode took another hour and the formalities got completed. It was the first time Rahul had been to this village and he roamed inside the earthen house where his grandmother had spent her entire life.

Rahul didn’t feel bad in that rural environment. There was a sense of peace amid everything. However, his pang of hunger crept back. Rahul wondered, “What is going on? Why am I still hungry?”

As he pondered over his strange feeling, a distantly related aunt came up to him and said, “Rahul, here are some milk-cakes that your grandmother had made a couple of days before she passed away. She used to say that she was making them for you! She knew that you loved her milk-cakes. I don’t know whether she understood that she won’t live long and that is why she made these!”

Rahul felt an emotional upheaval and took a piece from his aunt and placed it inside his mouth. The milk-cake melted away like butter and, after a long time, Rahul’s hunger vanished!

As everybody left, Rahul sat on his grandmother’s bed and wondered, “I now know why I was hungry! Throughout the day, my hunger had shown me so many aspects of my own character! I felt my hunger for food, my hunger for money and success, my hunger for attention! But, I was still HUNGRY!”

Tears rolled down from his eyes as Rahul looked around the room. It smelled of his grandma’s presence. Rahul looked up and tried to say something to the invisible air, “Nothing could calm down the real hunger in me. Only your milk-cakes did! I am sorry, I could not be with you when you went away grandma! I was and I am… really HUNGRY for your LOVE!”

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