In this life.
And, sometimes so beautifully I am ready to weep.
To help you catch up: a small detour.
Every time I come to Belur Math ‘home’ to so many of us who follow the Ramakrishna tradition, a visit to Gopal’s mobile (as in carried on his head) luchi (Bengali for puri) and tea stand is mandatory Day 2 onwards.
It is where I eat at least once in 24 hours preferably in the evenings.
Imagine that sinking feeling in my heart AND stomach when I was told …oh those temporary stands have gone!
Yet, I walked down to the passage of road which had been home to Gopal’s food stand like forever, for old times sake.
Then an old sound hit me.
Astonished, I look around for the source as the familiar, guttural bursts of ‘noise’ stun me!
And there is Manoj. You can see him in the Spiderman wind-cheater.
He beckons; continuing to make that sound which is now excited…and which I think emotes the same happiness at seeing me as I feel seeing him.
From afar he makes the motions of drinking a cup of tea and eating something.
I go towards him. He is standing right there in front of Gopal’s tea shop.
With Gopal very much there.
Which brings me to the Karma part of this ‘fairy tale’.
About 25 odd years ago, Gopal would see two boys dive into the Ganga that flows besides Belur Math from a jetty you cannot see till you actually stand there
And look for the coins pilgrims would throw in a time honored tradition as an offering to Mother Ganga.
Dive upon dive. Day after day.
Those coins were the fountainhead of their income.
As Gopal got to know the two boys, he picked up a few sounds they understood.
One was for food in exchange for some work in his stand.
So began a time of hot food neither had to pay for at breakfast and dinner.
Lunch time meant not one would be seen. For the swamis at the temple kitchen would keep food for them. And both liked to eat there.
As the years went by, both boys learnt the steps of cooking, serving, counting money, cleaning up.
In short, both were fully employable. One of the two was Manoj of the Spiderman outfit
Gopal put them on his permanent payroll.
Payroll is not a fancy term, for remember, on an ordinary day 50,000 pilgrims visit Belur Math. On a festival day a few hundred thousand.
Many, many drink tea at INR 10/-for the tiniest earthen ‘bhaand’ imaginable.
Please see photo for a real life size
Now, do the math.
I was told Manoj got married last year. Has a baby. No longer fishes for coins. He has turned respectable.
All of this may make you think…so when is she coming to the Karma part.
And what tea stand? Didn’t it disappear?
Aha. See the photo. Do you see the long line of shops? Around 30.
Each was designed and built by Belur Math for the vendors who has served pilgrims so well (in some cases not so well but this is only IMHO!) over the years.
The shops are permanent structures. THEY were given free. NO rent is taken from the vendors.
They are not the CKD bamboo-based rickety things of yesteryear and certainly not what you see all over Kolkatta.
These are NICE! And safe. And clean. And lockable at night with a stout drop down steel door.
Gopal for his good karma got two. Shop number 21 and shop number 22.
One to cook in and since, he now has a largish menu, another where he can seat his guests.
Who happily pay for meals. As I did.
Since I have just finished eating what he packed for my train journey as I dislike train food, I cannot show you a photo.
But, it was: Two pieces of fish, an egg, and two luchies.
All for INR 60/- this time only. As I am a repeat and loyal customer.
With two slices of lime and some salt thrown in free.
You cannot beat that.
Just like you cannot beat Karma.
Who is kind.
PS: Gopal with Manoj in his karmic food shop.
Jai ho to Karma.