Vantage point

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Antu Barva by P. L. "PuLa" Deshpande

Fourteen years ago today, Purushottam Laxman Deshpande, arguably the most influential and beloved person from Maharashtra, died at the age of 81. He left behind a gargantuan legacy in the form of his books, plays, songs, movies, essays, social work, but more than that, the lasting impact he has had on Maharashtra. Every couple of years, I translate one of his essays or short stories on this blog. This time, I have chosen Antu Barva, a fictionalized life sketch that he created as an amalgam of several people he knew in Konkan. It is not exactly LOL funny, but is light-hearted while still tugging at your heart-strings. It is meant as a depiction of the tough life in Konkan in the middle of the 20th century, and the sort of complex and poignant characters such a life spawns.

But as somber as the basic subject matter is, PuLa manages to inject humor into it, even if the humor is dark. When I first read Antu Barva, I just read it as a slightly humorous life sketch. As I have re-read it and re-heard its narration over the years, I have come to recognize it as something beyond just that. It is one of PuLa's best allegorical social commentaries in my opinion. He was duly recognized for Vyakti Aani Valli, the book that this sketch appears in, with a Sahitya Akademi Puraskaar. In that book, I think this is THE most impressive and multi-layered sketch.

For years, I considered translating Antu Barva here but was too intimidated given how nuanced it is. PuLa gave Antu a specific Konkani "voice" (in text form as well as when he narrated the sketch for TV) that is impossible to translate. No matter how well I tried, I thought I would end up doing injustice to the original work. This is in addition to the usual difficulties in translating PuLa's wordplay and nuanced observations. So it is with a great sense of trepidation that I am even attempting this today. A LOT will get lost in translation. But I hope PuLa's fans will forgive me any errors. Because I think this particular piece is one of the greatest literary achievements from an Indian and it deserves a wider audience.

Miss you, PuLa. Bhool-chook maaf kara.

Ratnagiri's middle lane has been home to some towering personalities over the years. God used a unique formula when creating these people. These people tend to be a metaphorical amalgam of Ratnagiri's most famous products - sweet mango, rough jackfruit, hard coconut, irritating colocasia leaves, and intense betel nuts whose one bite will make your heart jump up your throat.    

It is in this unique Ratnagiri soil that Antu Barva grew and ripened. Actually, Antu's age doesn't really justify people casually calling him just "Antu". When I first met him 12-14 years ago, not just his stubble, but even the hair on his ears and chest had turned white. His teeth had mostly gone "Annu Gogtya".

Going Annu Gogtya = falling.

This is an idomatic phrase that Antu Barva coined. A lawyer from Ratnagiri named Annu Gogte has been standing in the local elections for many years. Standing and then falling. Repeatedly, without even coming close to winning. So even if a bucket falls in a well, Antu asks "has the bucket gone Annu?"

When someone is talking about old Antu, they just refer to him in the singular casual "Antu". As it is, characters from Konkan are quite singular. But no one calls Antu just "Antu" to his face.  They call him Antu sheth!

True blue Brahmin Antu got this trader caste suffix "sheth" decades ago. After all Antu himself had committed a sin justifying this demotion. During the first world war, Antu started a shop near the docks. It failed spectacularly even before the Treaty of Versailles. But that short-lived stint as a shopkeeper was enough to turn Antu into Antu sheth.

After that, no one remembers Antu doing anything specific to make a living. He manages to somehow score at least two square meals a day from somewhere. He has a little plot of land with a garden that has a couple of dozen coconut and Alphonso mango trees, sprinkled with the odd jackfruit and tamarind tree. He has a little single-room shack on that land. He has the right to draw water from the nearby well. Antu sheth manages to get by on all this.

I first met Antu at Bapu Hegishte's store. I had gone there to buy some cigarettes when Antu's face peered out from behind a newspaper. He slid his reading glasses up his forehead and said,

"You're Lawyer saheb's son-in-law, right?"

"Yes" I replied.

"Ahha! I recognized you right away! Please, have a seat, please. Bapu, some tea for our jawaibapu (a respectful term for son-in-law)!"

I had no idea who this guy was, suddenly acting so familiar. Antu sheth himself explained,

"Your father-in-law is a good friend of mine. Tell him Antu Barva said hello."


"Hmmm....when did you come from Pune?"

"Two days ago."

"Of course....the first Diwali after you got married....haha...ask him for a Ford car!"

"He is your friend. Why don't you tell him?"

"Haha, you're from Pune after all. Can't get the last word with you." he laughed. "So...staying long or just a flying visit?"

"Just a short trip. I'm leaving in a couple of days."

"Excellent! It's always good to keep such visits short. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that. Don't end up like that Kasopkar's son-in-law. He set up camp for six months. Finally Kasopkar lost his patience and made him plow his land! When a son-in-law stays with you for too long, he starts feeling like a pain in the neck, right?"

"You're right." I nodded.

"Bapusheth, I hope you recognized our lawyer's son-in-law. We are both your father-in-law's clients, jawaibapu."

Bapu Hegishte smiled and folded his hands in greeting.

"Welcome. Would you like to have some tea?" he asked.

"No, it's okay. It's really hot right now."

"Of course, it's always going to be hot in Ratnagiri!" Antu jumped in. "You can't sleep in a cowshed and then complain about the stink of cow piss! If Ratnagiri had cool weather, they'd have called it Shimla, not Ratnagiri!"

Before I could say anything, Antu continued,

"But the heat is way worse in your neighborhood with all those houses next to each other. Come to my garden near the beach. My garden do you say...."aircondition"!"

Antu sheth said the last words in English and laughed, and then added,

"That's our country joke, jawaibapu!"

Then he addressed Hegishte again.

"Bapusheth, did you know our jawaibapu here is a writer? Writes plays and movies and what not. Behave properly when he is around or he'll write a hilarious farce about you."

The pride I felt on my fame having spread even to someone like Antu Barva was dashed by Bapu Hegishte's next question. Bapusheth looked me up and down carefully for a few seconds and said,

"What do you do?"

"What the hell do you mean what does he do?" Antu thundered. "Are you insane, Hegishte? Take out that pile of raddi old newspapers and open them. You'll see his name and picture in dozens of places! He makes movies!"

"Movies!!?? Really??" Hegishte's expression changed to one of wonderment and he looked at me as if I was God.

"Jawaibapu, speaking of movies, can I ask you a question if you don't mind?"

I could see the naughty expression on Antusheth's face as he asked me this.

"Sure, go ahead."

"How much money do you make from one movie?"

This wasn't my first trip to Konkan. So by now, I had gotten used to dealing with such intensely personal questions.

"That really varies from movie to movie." I deflected.

"But still....I mean I have read that you get like a million or a million and a half."

"No way! There isn't nearly that kind of money in Marathi films."

"Yeah, but still. Even if you don't get fistfuls, you must be getting at least 2-3 pinchfulls?"

"You get it sometimes, and also lose it sometimes." I stuck to being vague.

"Well of course, it's a business after all. When it comes to business, you win some, you lose some. It's all part of the game."

Antu sheth got philosophical. But only for a moment.

"Can I ask you one more question? Only if you don't get angry."

"What's there to get angry about? Go ahead."

" know....whatever we read about these film actresses in magazines and that real or is it fake like Gangadhar Basthe's "real" Belgaum butter?"

"What do you mean all this about film actresses?" I kept a straight face and pretended to not get what he was saying.

"Quite a skillful guy you are, jawaibapu. Skillful! You'll make a great witness in court!" Antu sheth was having none of it. "All this about film actresses as in...the whole index finger nostril thing."

I didn't immediately get what he meant by the whole index finger nostril thing. So Antu sheth gently tapped his index finger against his nostril and winked. Fortunately, before I had to say anything, a waiter arrived with the tea Hegishte had ordered.

"Looks like all the cows in Ratnagiri are still pregnant, Jhampya!" Antu made a sarcastic remark to the waiter on the color of the tea. And then he poured the tea in the saucer and started slurping it.

Actually, Antu sheth could have just said to the waiter in plain words that the tea was low on milk. But he preferred the "all the cows are still pregnant" phrasing. Why just Antu sheth? Almost everyone from that middle lane in Ratnagiri spoke in that sarcastic obtuse way.

By now, Antu sheth and I have become good friends. In the last decade or so, whenever I have gone to Ratnagiri, I have spent time with him. He always included me in his group of friends, taught me the ganjifa card games they played. And over the years, I heard a lot monologues on the odd philosophy of life that those men in their 60s had developed.

I even learned all the idiomatic phrases the group had come up with. They all dressed similar. A cotton loincloth from the waist below, a small cotton scarf on the shoulder, worn-out sandals, one hand holding a walking stick, and the other holding a jackfruit. Dressed like that, Antu sheth would roam around in the neighborhood calling his friends to join him every afternoon.

"Govindbhat! Wanna play a couple of hands?"

"Paranjape? Are you awake or have you turned into a python?"

I too became a part of their card game gang. If once in a while, the card game wasn't really panning out well, Antu would put the cards down and say to me,

"Jawaibapu, why don't you sing a Malkauns or something? Godbolya, bash a little tabla with our guest. Khaju sheth, open your decrepit harmonium."

And then we'd have an impromptu jam session for a bit at Antu sheth's orders.

"Jawaibapu, your pipes are kick-ass!" he'd compliment my singing in his unique way.

Every other year or so, I'd visit Ratnagiri and attend Antu sheth's court. But with each visit, the court seemed to be getting smaller.

"Antu sheth, haven't seen Damu kaka around." I asked once.

"Who? Damu Nene? He is living it up! I am told Rambha is rubbing oil on his bald head, and Urvashi is airing him with a fan!"


"What do you mean what? Damu Nene got transferred from Ratnagiri!" and Antu Sheth pointed to the sky.

"Oh!" I finally understood what he meant. "I am so sorry. I had no idea."

"Why would you have any idea about it? Do you think that they're going to announce on the radio that Damu Nene has croaked? His family did pay for an obituary in the newspaper though. Heh, they wrote he was loving, caring, friendly, pious, and what not. What do the newspaper folks care? As long as you are paying, they will publish any nonsense."

Antu continued in his characteristic manner.

"Damu Nene and loving? Hmpf! Even when he was lying dead on the pyre, the furrow on his brow was intact! One day he decided to sleep outdoors because it was too hot. They found him dead the next morning. Lucky bugger. Died on Ashadhi Ekadashi too! So there were two processions from Ratnagiri that day. One for Lord Vithoba and another for Damu Nene. Damu died on Ashadhi. And then on Dussehra, Dattu Paranjape crossed the border and did seemolanghan. The first guy croaked, the second guy waiting for the third. They say things happen in three."

Antu looked at me mischievously and shrugged.

And that's the essence of Antu Barva for you. Standing at less than 5 feet, bronze-fair complexion, small pockmarks on his face, small gray eyes, creased skin belying his advanced age, half his teeth fallen....or "gone Annu"...leading to a new habit of poking his tongue through the gaps while talking.... and with all this, weighing in at barely 100 lbs.

Every aspect of Antu Barva's earthly existence was getting worn out with each passing year except for two - the nasal booming voice and the slick intelligence fed by decades of rubbing coconut oil on his head.

It wasn't just Antu sheth. Almost all the men his age from that part of Ratnagiri were of a similar bent....which was a crooked bent. Their language was unnecessarily complex and their attitude exceedingly cynical. They didn't feel happy if someone did well, and didn't feel sad if a tragedy befell someone. There was no joy for births, no mourning for deaths. Most of them apart from Antu didn't really like music, but didn't dislike it either. And when it came to food, the taste and flavors didn't matter, as long as their belly got filled. The engine of their life never really faltered when it ran out of steam, nor did it go fast when it did have some steam. But the road their lives took was like every road in Konkan- serpentine.

That's the hand life had dealt them. Even though their lives were full of the wholesome coconut tree, their fates and thus their tastes leaned less towards the sweet creamy inside of the coconut, and more towards its tough shell.

One summer, a second-rate theater company from Mumbai was touring Ratnagiri staging Ram Ganesh Gadkari's famous play Ekach Pyala. I went to watch it. The production was barely competent in the first act. At intermission, I walked outside to the hissing clinks of soda bottles being opened. Under a Kitson lamp, I saw Antu sheth's diminutive form. He was talking to the fur-cap clad manager of the theater company.

"'s the attendance?" Antu sheth asked.

"Not bad." the manager gruffly replied.

"Not bad? Most of the chairs seem empty. Why don't you let me in for half price?"

"No way!" the manager shook his head rudely.

"Why are you brushing me away like a lizard? I heard the first act from out here anyway. The guy playing Sindhu doesn't seem to be very good."

[aside - in the early-to-mid 20th century in orthodox Maharashtra, it was taboo for women to perform on stage. So much like in Shakespeare's days, female parts were usually played by men. The legendary Bal Gandharva excelled at this and one of his most famous roles was playing Sindhu in the first staging of Ekach Pyala.]

"The guy playing Sindhu doesn't seem to be very good." Antu sheth said. "He sang 'lage hridayi hurhur' like a squeaking mouse. Did you ever hear how Bal Gandharva sang it?"

The manager got pissed off.

"I'm not begging you to come watch it!" he thundered.

"But the town is full of your advertising boards begging us to come watch it." Antu sheth instantly replied. "And yesterday your people were going door to door with fliers. As it is, it's mainly empty chairs you are showing this play to. How about four annas?"

"Four annas? What is this? A monkey performing on the street?"

"That's better than this! They perform first and then circulate a plate for money. Why don't you try that? If the next act is better than the first one, I'll pay you an extra four annas!"

The people standing around them started laughing and the manager got even more upset. That's when Antu sheth noticed me.

"Namaskar, jawaibapu! How's it going? How's Ekach Pyala?"

"It's okay." I said.

"I'm sure you got a complimentary pass. You're from the same community. I have heard that barbers don't charge each other for shaves."

"No, nothing like that. See, I bought a ticket."

"Then why a wishy-washy response like "it's okay"? You've paid hard-earned money for this, haven't you? Assert your rights as a paying customer. Call it what it is. Utter crap. Especially that guy playing Sindhu is totally useless!"

"What do you mean the guy playing Sindhu? It's a woman playing the role." I told him.

"WHAT??" Antu sheth looked genuinely shocked. "You're kidding me! That voice and that built! If she decides, she can lift Sudhakar up like a baby! Sindhu indeed.......more like Sindhudurg!"

"So you watched the play after all?"

"For a few minutes. Moved the curtains from the window and had a peek. Hmpf! Even gypsy performers are better than these idiots."

Antu sheth spat out another unsolicited opinion and walked away.

But that's pretty much what his life was - spitting out unsolicited opinions. I knew Antu for so many years, but I never found out much about his family situation. Once Anna Sane from Antu's court had let slip a mention of his son.

"What? Antu sheth has a son?" I asked.

"Of course he has a son. Not only that, his son is a Collector!" Anna Sane nonchalantly said.


"Yup. He's in charge of collecting tickets on Byculla station." he deadpanned without letting a single muscle move.

"Doesn't look like he helps out his father financially."

"He does sometimes. When he can. He has his own family. Besides, a Western Railway compartment has been attached to a Central Railway train."

A PhD student could do a dissertation on those guys' peculiar idioms and phrases. I was well-versed in the language by now but it took me a few moments to realize that this was code for an inter-religion marriage.

"So you see, Antu sheth has trouble with his post-bath rituals at his son's place. Plus apparently his son is also into some other Anglicized habits if you know what I mean. So how can Antu sheth spend too much time there? Still, once Antu sheth swallowed all the insults and went to Mumbai to see his grandson. Came back looking like he had messed up a math problem."

"Every Dussehra and Diwali, Antu gets his son's love in the form of a money order. Not much, maybe 5-10 rupees. For a few days after that, Antu acts like he's won the lottery and splurges as much as he can. Which isn't much."

"Understandable." I said. "After all, how much can a ticket collector's pay be?"

"Yeah, the pay is pretty meager. But one hears that a ticket collector can also make a little more on the side, especially in holiday season if you know what I mean." Anna said. "Nothing wrong with it of course. If he has an opportunity to make some money, why shouldn't he? You know how it is in this country. If you get caught taking a ten rupee bribe, they put a striped cap on your head and send you to prison. But if you get caught taking a million rupee bribe, they put a Gandhi cap on your head and send you to Parliament! Democraticaly elected people's representative!"

Politics was the most favorite topic for Antu sheth and his buddies to express their unique opinions on. They had profound thoughts on every politician and party. One year, there was a famine in Konkan. Konkan is always facing a famine as it is. But this particular one was so bad that in Antu sheth's words it had "been approved under the Famine Act".

Nehru was touring the famine-hit parts of Konkan. He visited Ratnagiri for a speech and the whole town was caught up in Nehru-mania. One evening, someone asked Antu sheth,

"Antu sheth, I didn't see you at the speech?"

"Whose speech? Nehru's? Hmpf!" Antu sheth's disdain was obvious. "What nonsense. There's a famine here. Stop giving speeches. Give us food! This is like seeing a man drowning and instead of saving him, reading from the Quran to ensure that he doesn't end up in hell. Utterly useless. But everyone else is stupid. Oh, Nehru is here? He is giving a speech? He gives great speeches! Let's go! Bloody lemmings!"

"And now that Nehru is in Ratnagiri, what did they do? Idiots took him to show the house, room, and bed where Lokmanya Tilak was born! Morons. Tell me, did god appear in Gangadhar Tilak's dreams and tell him that your wife is going to give birth to a great leader? How would anyone even remember what bed Tilak was born on? But who cares? They just showed Nehru some random room and bed and bluffed - this is where Tilak first went WAAAAAAAAAA."

"Morons! Where's the proof? Where's the proof? Did they get the midwife from Tilak's birth to certify the bed? Hmpf! Forget Tilak. It's been a 100 years since he was born. You tell me. Can your own mother confidently identify the room and the bed where she gave birth to you? Go ask her and then tell me about Nehru and Tilak."

And so ended the rant.

I always wondered if there was anything or anyone in the world that Antu sheth and his friends had respect for. If they ever had a polite dignified response for anything at all.      

Somebody's son became a Professor. And Antu's response,

"Professor? In a circus?There used to be this Professor Chhatre in circuses performing magic tricks."

Someone opened a new store. And Antu's response,

"Tell him to have a bankruptcy form ready. It'll save time when the inevitable happens."

Who knows what school of philosophy these guys followed. More than half of them survived on money orders from children and relatives. They saved money from that and file lawsuits for the strangest reasons. Every lawsuit is stuck in delayed hearing dates. These guys have a big beautiful sea coast, coconut trees, gardens, everything you could reasonably hope for to be happy. But that apparent prosperity gets punctured by an occasional bout of misfortune and all that remains is an impenetrable shield of gallows humor.

Somehow the topic of Gandhi came up. And Antu sheth got on his soap box.

"Gandhi? What Gandhi? Traveled all over the world, but never came to Ratnagiri! Because he was smart. He knew that here, no one gives a damn about his loincloth or his walking stick. We are all just as naked and just as skinny. And his obsession with spinning khadi. It's all useless. Our own Shambhu sheth. All his life, he followed Gandhi's teachings and spun khadi for his clothes. Forget the British government, even Ratnagiri's Collector Gilligan didn't fear his "civil disobedience". And you're talking about Gandhi."

"Then there are all his hunger strikes and fasts. Half of Konkan is hungry and fasting, and not by choice. Someone who is well-fed will find something remarkable about hunger strikes. What do we care? Don't get me wrong. I am not saying Gandhi wasn't a great man. He was. But in our books, under what column should we make an entry for his greatness? And if you are talking about independence, then that had nothing to do with Gandhi, or Tilak or Savarkar."

"So did independence just fall out of the sky?" I asked him.

"It's up to you to find out where it fell out of." Antu replied. "One thing I am sure of is that the Brits left because they got bored. What more was left for them to loot? Their Raj business started making a loss, so they effectively declared bankruptcy and went home. The potter left with his pottery, and we sit here cradling his leftover broken pieces. This is all just a cycle of life and bigger than anything we can comprehend. It's not British rule, nor is it Nehru's rule, nor people's rule, nor anyone's rule. It's the creator's rule."  

"So how did your creator end up siding with the British?" I asked.

"Don't be silly. The creator is sitting pretty on his throne. He just played a small game."

"A game that translated into 150 years of slavery?"

"It's 150 years for you and me." Antu sheth was steadfast. "The almighty's wrist watch doesn't move forward by even one second unless a thousand years go by for us. In his eyes and on his scale, all this is just a minor game that lasted barely a millisecond."

When these emaciated old men started spouting this philosophy on the front yards of that impoverished middle lane in Ratnagiri, with dark shadows formed by the dim light of their age-worn oil lamps dancing on their wrinkled faces, my heart couldn't help but shudder.

"Socialism? What socialism? All nonsense, I tell you. Not even two mango leaves are alike. And these guys want to pretend all men are equal. In the creator's eyes, each individual is unique. How are they going to have equal opportunities or equal outcomes? But everyone is just blabbering....socialism is coming. Just like that Ratnagiri's legislator is saying...Konkan Railway is coming, Konkan Railway is coming. Sure, Konkan Railway is coming. And it's tracks are going through where one-armed Pandu Gurav's toilet used to be. Even if it does, is it going to make Pandu's shoulder stump sprout an arm? What difference will it make?"

"And without an arm to plow his field or pick his crops, no matter what you do with that damn railway, what good is it going to do him? He is still the same. Just because India became independent, does not mean that Hari Sathe's lazy eye got fixed. Nor did Mahadev Godbole's paunch disappear.  Nothing really changed. Even in the fabled Ram Rajya, Ram didn't uproot Hanuman's tail and attach it to his own ass. No. Ram stayed a man, and Hanuman stayed a monkey."

At such times, it almost seem like the Goddess of Wisdom Saraswati is sitting on Antu sheth's tongue.

"You're right." I said.

"Don't just say I am right for the heck of it to be polite. If I am wrong, say that and correct me. You might be younger than me when it comes to age, but when it comes to education, you are my elder, jawaibapu!"

Once in a while, Antu sheth will say something genuinely from his heart, without any sarcasm. But there is always some burning issue close to his heart underlying what he says.

The last few years, I could not go to Ratnagiri as often as I used to. In the meanwhile, Ratnagiri finally got electricity, its own college, tar roads, and all other features of 20th century life. When I met him after that, I said,

"Antu sheth, your Ratnagiri has now become posh! Electric lights and everything. Did your house get an electric connection?"

"No, not yet. But it's good that it's dark. Tomorrow even if I do get electricity, what is there to look at in that bright light? A penniless life? Who needs electricity to look at chipped walls and leaking shingles? It's better that my poverty stays hidden in darkness."

And then he laughed loudly for a full minute like it was a joke.

This time I saw that his teeth had gone almost completely Annu Gogte. I also learned that a couple of more friends of his had passed on and that the card game court was emptier than ever. For a change, I spotted a sense of love, longing, and kindness in the way Antu sheth spoke. I guess the empty seats at his card games were starting to make a place in his heart.

"Joglekar's son got a big promotion and moved to Delhi!" Antu sheth voluntarily shared some pleasant news without his customary sarcastic rejoinder. "Took his old man to Kashi, Haridwar, Vishweshwar, Hrishikesh and all. Fed a 100 brahmins there. Old man Joglekar was thoughtful enough to get me a small sealed pot with water from the Ganga. When you come visit next time, jawaibapu, you'll probably see that the seal has been broken and the water was poured down my throat if you know what I mean."

The next time I visited Ratnagiri, fortunately Antu sheth's Ganga water pot was still sealed.

"Wow, jawaibapu, wow! Congratulations! I heard you're going to England! Congratulations! Have a great trip. Just one "request" for you. Now I have to speak with you in English. So a "request"."

"What request?"

"Go see the Kohinoor diamond once. For some reason, it's an obsession I have always had, the Kohinoor diamond. I can't go see it, but you do it on my behalf. And then come back and tell me how it looks. See all the sights in London and Paris and everything!"

For some reason, I was overcome with a desire to touch his feet, something I had never done before. Right there on the street, I bent down and touched his feet.

"Live a long life!" Antu sheth touched my head gently. "You are a good person, which is why you are so successful."

I said goodbye and started to leave. I had barely gone four steps when I suddenly heard the familiar


"Yes, Antu sheth?" I turned around.
"Forgot to ask you one thing. Are you going alone or with your wife?"

"Both of us are going."

"That's good. Don't mind me, I just had a nagging doubt, so I asked. You are going far away to learn something new. So I was reminded of Devayani's tale from mythology. Hahaha. Convey my blessings to your wife too. I am telling you, your good fortune is all because of her. That's all life is eventually about - the right woman."

Antu sheth paused and continued.

"Let me tell you something. Just between us. My wife passed away 40 years ago. Since then, the alphonso mango tree near my door has stopped flowering. When she was around, the tree yielded hundreds of mangoes every year. But since she know....fate can take really strange turns. Sorry, I am rambling. Anyway, safe travels. So when are you leaving from Ratnagiri?"

"Tomorrow morning by bus."

"Direct Ratnagiri to Mumbai?"


"Good call. Once someone completes that journey, then even traveling around the world seems easy in comparison. The other day Tatya Jog made the trip. He is still trying to locate all his bones.  Told me some 7-8 bones are missing!"

And he started laughing hard with his mouth wide open. I noticed that there was only one tooth remaining that hadn't gone Annu Gogte.

The next morning at 5 AM at the bus stand, I again heard the familiar cry,


Antu sheth approached me and gave me a small paper pouch.

"I know you don't believe in god, jawaibapu, but do me a favor and keep this in your pocket. It is holy ash. It will keep you safe. You are going to London by air, so this small pouch shouldn't add too much weight to your luggage."

I put the pouch in my pocket. As the bus got going, I saw Antu sheth lift his shirt and gently wipe tears from his small blinking gray eyes. In that dim dawn light, seeing his bony chest and his concave stomach which had all but touched his back suddenly tugged at my heart.

Just like Konkan's jackfruit, it's people taste sweet only when they ripen for a long time.