Who am I? Remember seeing a mid 40 aged man with thick black glasses, well ironed white shirt and dark brown pant? Yes, I am that common man from Indian public places. I’ve lived in the semi-village town for 30 years now. I just decided to recollect one particular story with you today. I’ve always been a pious man. I go to temple every Saturday to pay my ablutions to Perumal. Oh yes, I do strongly believe he is taking good care of me and that I am always and will be answerable to him. My religious views aren’t that important but what is of interest is this one lady just outside the temple. I don’t know here name, but I’ve called her Akka (elder sister) and she calls me Thambi (younger brother) from time immemorial, although I believe she is as old as me.
Akka came to the town around 25 years ago, in extremely dirty clothes with her father and mother. Very soon, due to some rifts, both her parents were killed which left her to herself. I don’t remember seeing her for a couple of months after that, but later she started sitting right at the entrance of the temple, selling flowers to offer to the god. I could clearly see she was scared of her surroundings. Nevertheless, pious as my parents were, and something charming about her, I went towards her. “Need some flowers? These are Perumal’s favourite.” and I would buy some from her, even though I never really understood why a temple should be littered with flowers. Eventually it became a habit to buy flowers from her, much against my better judgement. Was it to just talk to her for a brief while? From shyly going to her to buy some flowers, we grew to “Akka! Did you know that a new pan shop is coming up near my house?”, “That’s great thambi! Here you go, your flower garland. Yeah, you can pay me towards the end of the month. I might make some gulab jamun tomorrow. I’ll get some just in case you decide to visit the temple”. I grew really fond of her. She was a very hard working soul. I have always been well off in terms of economic status and hence there was always a tinge of condescension for people who I thought did not have a goal in life. It never stopped me from socializing with them, but I always assumed a morally higher ground.
One fine day, she got married. I couldn’t stop crying when I came to know that she was leaving the town to go and live in the city. Her husband was a cobbler and he was planning to open a huge shop. She came to our house standing at our doorstep sheepishly. My mother took her in fondly and asked her to sit, while she went and fetched me. I won’t come, as I was angry with her for leaving the town. But I got around and went to meet her and gave a warm hug. She said nothing and left. My life was as usual after that. Over the next couple of years, I finished my polytechnic and was thinking of a career path. Years passed as I sat and contemplated about it, but eventually decided to open an electronics shop in our town for the time being. I did that for almost ten years and was beginning to start getting exasperated with the stagnation in my life.
I was as usual going to the temple one fine Saturday when I saw a familiar face selling flowers in a basket. Akka was back. She had a small boy beside her curiously nibbling a raw mango slice. I went to her with a questioning face. She looked at me intently and we both smiled. I knew something went wrong but I never wanted to ask what it was. I was very happy that she was back in town. “Thambi, why don’t you try this new garland? It’s made thicker than usual.”, “Yes Akka. Add it to the monthly ledger will you?”, “Sure. Oh and might make some payasam next week. Will get some for you.” Life was back on track.
I very closely saw that boy grow up, as he was with his mom in the evenings. She seemed to be working harder now, almost as if she found her life’s calling. For all the fondness I had for her, I never really appreciated that she had no goal in life. Or so I thought.
Over time, her boy grew up to be a strong and well educated man. He was very courteous with me but also exuded great confidence. In the mean time, Akka also grew economically. She bought a table instead of a small basket for flowers, then two tables and finally a small hut where she sold all temple items apart from flowers. She was the same with me though, the caring elder sister, offering sweets every other week and telling me stories about how her boy was performing.
So that gets us to this day. A fine Saturday evening when I decided to go to the temple as usual. Again, I saw Akka and went to her. Today I was particularly pensive about my life and the choices I made, but wanted to talk to her anyway. “Thambi, I heard you are thinking of closing the shop and going for a government post? I think it’s a great move. Here, take this coconut and camphor. No no! It’s from me, I won’t add its cost to the ledger. I am planning to buy a new shop new Malayappa temple. I’ve been approached by some to offer them some work, so I thought this is a nice way to go about things.”, I was listening carefully and suddenly asked her, “Akka, do you not have a huge goal in life?”. She seemed taken aback and visibly confused. “What happened Thambi?”, “Akka, I always see you selling flowers or other paraphernalia. Did you ever think about your goals, ambitions and so on? Don’t they bother you? Doesn’t it bother you that you are stuck here, selling flowers?”. She smiled, the sweetest and the most innocent smile I saw in ages. “I do have Thambi. I have goals, ambitions and I am stuck here only for those.”. It was my turn to be confused. “What are you saying akka? You never spoke to me about these things? What is it? Do you wish to live in the city and work somewhere?” “No Thambi, my ambition is here. Turn around, and see who is walking towards us”, and there I saw her son walking confidently towards us. “Greetings to you uncle! Amma, I may have gotten a job in a near by city. I think it’s a marvelous offer. I won’t work there for long, but I think I’ll get to learn some new tools. What do you say uncle? Do you think I should take a leap?”. I smiled. I found my answer.
I had a long discussion with one of my friends about how ambition means differently to different people. This story is something I concocted for the same reason. So I wish to give my friend credit for this post.