Rani and Kunal are cousins. Their mothers are sisters, Santoshi is Rani’s Mother and Meena, the eldest, is Kunal’s Mother. They lived in a village not very far from the holy river Narbada. But what made them “special” (as believed by the society) was that they belonged to the top caste. The Brahmins.
They grew up playing on the Ghats of Narbada along with the children of Navik’s, who were considered low caste or “Untouchables”. The Navik’s spend all their lives around the river swimming, taking people from one Ghats to another. One of them was Mahesh. In any condition the Navik children were not allowed at the Brahmin’s home even for playing. Kunal’s and Rani’s Nani was a very strict woman and she made sure that she keep her grandchildren “pure”. Since the children bathed together in the “Holy” river, it was ok to be together. But only till the Ghats.
As time passed both the families moved to cities and the life continued their, changing the ways they lived, they think but only for the children. Kunal lived very near to Rani’s house and kept visiting frequently. Whenever his family had to go to village for the matters of their Haveli’s or fields, Meena would keep her children at Santoshi’s house.
It was late winter afternoon one day, when Kunal was returning from his coaching that he saw Mahesh. Mahesh had also moved to the same city and was living in a government hostel as now he was a national level swimmer. Kunal was extremely happy to know about Mahesh’s achievements. They both sat together and remembered the time they spent together at the Narbada Ghats. Kunal invited him home but Mahesh hesitated reminding Kunal that he is still the same untouchable boy. Kunal tried convincing him that things have changed but Mahesh did not agree. Since Kunal was insisting hard, Mahesh said that he would come only if Kunal’s family would allow him.
Kunal was at Rani’s home that week as his family had to go to village for some property matters. When he returned he found out that his Nani had also come to Rani’s house. Kunal knew that convincing Santoshi would not be hard but he did not know how to tell this to his Nani. At dinner, Kunal told his Masi and Nani about Mahesh’s achievements and asked if he could bring him home. He was not sure if his Nani would agree to this, but to his surprise, she agreed immediately.
Mahesh came to Rani’s house to meet Kunal and his family the next evening. To Kunal’s surprise, his grandmother was very friendly with the boy and was even insisting for dinner. “Dinner?” Kunal said. “Its 5:30. Who eats at this time?” But his grandmother was adamant. She had already prepared chapattis and vegetables stew. Santoshi cooked rice and dal and started cutting salad. Kunal was unable to understand the behaviour of his Grandmother. Not only this was unusual for her but also it was no time for dinner. May be Mahesh’s achievements have mellowed grandmother’s superstition, he thought.
Mahesh was in a dilemma. He knew that he is at the house of Brahmins and also that he was not hungry at all. He also did not wanted to eat and tried hard to slip from the situation, but Nani was not the one to back out. She kept insisting.
Seeing that Mahesh is shying away she held one hand of Kunal and let him sit on the floor and served two plates. Mahesh had to sit down. They both ate in silence. Only the grandmother was not quite. She kept calling her daughter Santoshi and kept filling Mahesh’s plate. Poor Mahesh had no choice but to eat. After a few minutes, judging by the look on Mahesh’s face, Kunal finally stood up and said, “Enough”. Let’s keep the remaining love of yours for his next visit Nani”. Mahesh stood up too. He was happy. Too happy. His friend’s family, who had never allowed him in their house when they were in village, have not only allowed him to sit on their sofa but have also given him food. He was indebted. The change that Kunal mentioned was real.
As soon as he stood up, Santoshi bent and took Kunal’s plate inside the kitchen, leaving Mahesh’s plate at its place. Kunal, struck for a moment, understanding what is happening, immediately bent down to take Mahesh’s plate. But Nani held his hand and looking at Mahesh said, “You can wash your plate at the tap outside the door”. The colour on Mahesh’s face changed. He bent, took his plate and started moving towards the main door. Kunal gave an angry look to his Nani for a second and then ran after Mahesh and tried to take the plate from him.
Mahesh said nothing but did not allow Kunal to take his plate. He silently washed his plate, kept it tilted at the wall and left without saying anything.
Kunal saw him leave with red eyes and as Mahesh left, he stormed inside and shouted,” What have you done? Why? What was the need of even feeding him when he himself was saying no? Why? What was the need of this humiliation?”
Nani first ignored him and instructed Santoshi to clean the floor and sprinkle some cow urine around.
Then as Kunal’s shouting was continued she said, “Aare, don’t you know, feeding an untouchable is considered sacred. We all will go to heaven. It is so hard to find them here in cities”. She looked at the small wooden temple build in the kitchen and folded her and bent her neck saying this.
Tears rolled down. The anger now converted into deep sadness. Kunal said looking at his Nani and Masi, “Are you sure that by doing this you two have reserved seats in the heaven”. Saying this Kunal left the house too.