Bhel Kumar


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“It is already 5:30 P.M hurry up, “ಗಿರಾಕಿ ಬಂದ್ರು” <“Customers arrived”>?” Seena shouted sitting on the edge of a stone placed strategically to slow down any vehicles passing by. ‘Bhel Kumar’ doubled his pace as he knew for a fact that he just had 30 minutes of day light left and as the sun sets the place gets darker.

His business for the day was largely dull! he had not met his ends for past few weeks now which had worried him, “No money anywhere!” exclaimed Seena who had declared himself as a sales representative for Bhel Kumar’s 2 feet by 2 feet push cart. Painted with saffron, the cart was a gift by his father ‘Muniyappa’. Kumar was the only one form his village situated 40 kms from the nearest town amidst the lush green ghats to pass 10th. Kumar had secured second class. He was not the brightest student of his village, it was just that there was no competition to him, Kumar’s father Muniyappa was the man known for his ‘Jack of All, Master of None’ traits. Muniyappa’s dream was to set up the biggest provision store in his village and he was so dedicated to his own dream that he had even chosen a small piece of land to build his provision store. On one evening Muniyappa was drunk totally and walked straight from the toddy shop to the piece of land where he had dreamt of building his provision store, pushed a rock and inscribed on it “ಮುನಿಯಪ್ಪನ ಅಂಗಡಿ” <“Muniyappa Stores”>

Days passed by, Kumar’s mother ‘Sarsama’ fell critically ill and needed treatment, “It’s all god’s wish” exclaimed Muniyappa in distress, poverty was killing him and his family. Kumar has entered 10th standard just then. Kumar used to walk atleast 50 kms by walk to reach to his school. There were times when he could not even reach school due to landslides blocking quarter length of the road. Deserted from the main township the village had a nature’s gift to itself, a waterfall falling approximately from 80 feet. The discovery of the falls was itself an accident as the falls never existed as per the history of the village and perhaps could have been the result of a dam construction in the neighboring village. It actually had served as a new silver lining for the village as the government looked to cache on the growing popularity of falls among the tourists.

It was on a fateful day when Muniyappa was walking across the village he heard some kind of a notice being shouted out “ನಿಮ್ಮ ಹಳ್ಳಿಯಿಂದ ಈ ಜಲಪಾತಕ್ಕೆ ಗೈಡ್ ಆಗುವುದಕ್ಕೆ ಇಷ್ಟ ವಿದ್ದರೆ ಸಾಹೇಬ್ರ ನ ಬಂದು ಕಾಣಿ, ಅದಕ್ಕೆ ಬೇಕಾದ ಸೂಕ್ತವಾದ ತರಬೇತಿಯನ್ನು ಸರ್ಕಾರ ನಿಮಗೆ ಕೊಡುತ್ತದೆ “ <“If any one is interested among you to become a guide from this village for the falls, please drop by to govt officer’s office, we will give you suitable training for the same”>

Listening to this, Muniyppa ran with out a second thought to the Govt office to register himself for the position of guide, known for his charming nature Muniyappa was the obvious choice too and before he could blink his eye he was sent to Bengaluru to attend the Guide Training school. Muniyappa was on could nine, he was the first one from his village to visit bengaluru, he was filled with so much joy that he danced all through the previous night drinking and treating his fellow villagers. It was a feast, Kumar had sneaked in with Seena to watch his father dance to the tunes of toddy, Seena exclaimed hiding behind the bushes “ನಿಮ್ಮ ಅಪ್ಪ ಹೋದ!” <“Your Father has lost his mind”>

A month passed by and Muniyappa had returned to village as a certified Guide and with the stipend he had earned from his training, Muniyapa had bought few books to Kumar for his 10th exam upon the advise of his superiors in bengaluru.  “ಮಗನ್ನ ಓದಿಸ್ತೀನಿ” <“I will make my son study” vowed Muniyappa to himself.

On his return from Bengaluru the entire village was curios to know the learning’s of Muniyappa. Some of them had even challenged to prove Muniyappa wrong no matter what. The real curiosity was the fact that every one was aware that muniyappa would have learnt something else apart from the guide training for sure. “ಮುನಿಯಪ್ಪ ಬೇರೆ ಏನ್ ಕಲ್ತೆ? ಹೇಳಪ್ಪ” <“Muyniyappa what is that you learnt extra?” questioned the villagers to which Muniyappa just smiled in silence. As weeks passed by Muniyappa one day ran to Kumar’s school dragged him out of his class which was anyway not contributing anything to any students and asked him to cut 1 KG of onions. Surprised by his father’s instructions Kumar was clueless and so was his mother whom Muniyappa had asked to boil 2 dozens of tamarind. The neighbors stood their astonished, as muniyappa ran across the village’s only vegetable mart to get chilies and some more unseen and unheard of ingredients. As the villagers stood in astonishment it became more clear that Muniyappa had learnt a new dish from his training days and he called it “ಕುಮಾರ್ ಭೇಲ್” <“Kumar Bhel”> he was very proud to introduce his new business a snack which he claimed to have introduced after applying his own nativity into it, it was just an ordinary Bhel Puri but yet he declared it as special and even informed his idea of starting a cart on the road leading to Falls. Muniyappa had won the day for himself!

Kumar himself was elated, the entire village knew him as “bhel Kumar” overnight. He called upon his close aide and offered him a plate of “Bhel” and proclaimed himself as the inventor. Muniyappa’s latest business took off like rocket in the initial days, the rainy village accepted it as a perfect evening time snack, the tourists obviously had no choice and before his competitors could wake Muniyappa had passed on the knack of making the bhel to his son, “ಇದು ನನ್ನ ಘನತೆ ಪ್ರಶ್ನೆ, ನಡೆಸುಕೊಂಡು ಹೋಗು” <“This is our respect! grow this into a tradition”> he whispered in Kumar’s ears before he went on to a long sleep that night.

Kumar overtook Muniyapa’s cart…….as days passed by

“It is already 5:30 P.M hurry up, “ಗಿರಾಕಿ ಬಂದ್ರು” <“Customers arrived”>? Seena shouted  “ನಾ ಬೇರೆ ಕೆಲಸ ಮಾಡ್ಬೇಕು” <“I want to do something else”> Kumar shouted back as he cut the last dozen of onions, it was the last batch of customers he would get for the day. Five years had passed by. The falls had almost lost his glory due to another deviation dam construction, the tourists had reduced largely and “Bhel Kumar” was just an ordinary name now. Having passed his 10th his ambitions was to work in a Pvt Limited company. His mother was ailing and took to bed most of the times. His passion to make Bhel was deteriorating! Kumar looked at Seena and Seena inturn looked back only to indicate that it was time wrap for the day. That night Kumar and Seena went to the same toddy shop where they had seen Muniyapa dance to the tunes of toddy and had their first tryst with alcohol, deep inside Kumar knew he wanted to explore the brave new world and not run “Bhel Kumar” cart anymore.

The next morning while cutting the papers for his evening business, Kumar noticed an ad in the paper which read of a vacancy in a Pvt Ltd company in Bengaluru. A new adrenaline rush zipped through his nerves, the moment he read the ad he knew that this was his gateway to the whole new world. Kumar called on seena to take care of his cart for one day! as he had to rush to town to post the application form, Seena almost fainted in shock, it was a matter of pride for him, it was as if Kumar had written an entire village’s will in his name. He quickly rubbed his ears and asked again assertively “ನಾ ನೋಡ್ಕೊಬೇಕ? “ <“Should I look after?”> Kumar’s patience was running against time as he rushed out to the bus only with one instruction “ಖಾರ ಕಡಿಮೆ ಹಾಕೋ ಲೋಫರ್ “ <“Make sure you don’t make the bhel hot, Loafer”> Seena stood their with a big gleam on his face, it was the most memorable day for him.

Days had passed by, it was yet another dull day at business, Seena was as usual sitting on the edge of the rock looking for customers, as the sun was slowly setting, the place got windy and all the cut papers for the Bhel few onto the face of Kumar. It was not a great day for him as he shouted out of frustration and threw every cut  paper he had in the cart, probably he was expecting some kind of reply from the Pvt Limited company in Bengaluru, Seena ran in to save his friend from a temporary mental balance only to find a post man running towards the cart.. “ಕುಮಾರ ಪತ್ರ ಬಂದಿದೆ ನಿಂಗೆ, ಬೆಂಗಳೂರಿನಿಂದ”  <“Kumar you have got a letter from Bengaluru”>  It was his joining letter as a office boy, the letter read “We are pleased to offer you a role of office boy in our esteemed company” Kumar for a moment could not believe his own eyes, he pestered Seena to read completely ignoring the fact that he was the only one in the entire village who could even come close to reading and writing. Seena hugged Kumar in joy with tears dropping from his eyes, Kumar shouted into the sky that he was coming to Bengaluru. The entire village was excited, first it was his father and then him. Kumar, that day packed his cart and ran through the village making his point; panting he reached home and kept the letter in the hands of his ailing mother and promised her to take to a better hospital. Kumar had found a new life, a new reason for his smile.

Over next few days Kumar prepared himself for the biggest challenge of his life, he had entrusted his cart to Seena who was his obvious choice “ಅಮ್ಮನ ನೋಡ್ಕೋ, ಮನೆಗೆ ಸ್ವಲ್ಪ ದುಡ್ಡ್ ಕೊಡು.. ಮಗ ನೋಡ್ಕೊತಿಯ ತಾನೇ?” <“Take care of my cart and mother, share some money with her..”> Seena promised to take good care of the cart, Kumar packed his bags and left without even looking at the cart even once, he was guilty at heart, he had broken his promise to his father but he consoled himself for a better future. Kumar wept from inside as he waved at Seena from the window of the bus.

It took around 10 hours to reach Bengaluru from Kumar’s village, it was a very dull, cloudy morning in Bengaluru, Kumar had instructed the conductor of the bus atleast 30 times to wake him up as soon as the bus reached bengaluru. “Majestic!” Shouted the conductor as Kumar got up in a jiffy and with excitement got down and took a deep breath only to cough miserably after the deep breath.  His first engagement with the city had not gone so very well but his priority was something very different, without even thinking twice he started running left, right, center trying to reach the address of the company mentioned in the job letter. Kumar wanted a bright start for his journey! He reached the address with great difficulty only to find a board at the entrance of the building which read “Company is shut down” Kumar stood their gazing at the board and for the first time there was no expression on his face, his body was cold and he felt a sense of numbness through out his body. Kumar’s dreams was shattered into pieces, the Pvt Ltd company had shut down.

Once again Paper flew over his face as he stood their gazing at the board as tears started slowly rolling down his cheek. The world seemed to pause for him…….

Years passed by…… and…

Seena now runs “Kumar Seena Bhel” which is quite famous and attracts people from atleast 10 neighboring villages, Seena employs atleast 4 other boys to manage the peak hour rush as the Falls regained its glory after the government demolished the second Dam, the road leading to the falls is now one of the most populated highways of the state and fondly named after “Kumar Seena Bhel” road.

Kumar runs a small Bhel shop in Bengaluru and never again returned to his village

-Abhishek Iyengar

 

 

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