Vantage point

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Little Girl and The Panipuri

He is a gruff looking old man with a distinct Bihari accent. I like his panipuri and often stop by for a plateful. Like all typical panipuriwallahs, he too has a handcart with a bright red cloth. Like all panipuriwallahs, he also serves 6 puris in a plate, charging 5 rupees for it. Like all panipuriwallahs, he gives you a complimentary "sukha masala puri" in the end.

A few days back I was having panipuri at his cart when a tiny girl ran up to him.

"Bhaiyya, 2 rupaye ka panipuri milega?", she chirped. She was dressed in a tattered frock, and her hair was unwashed for days. She could not have been more than 6 years old. Sparing even 2 rupees for panipuri was definitely a luxury for her. But the way her face glowed at the mention of "panipuri" made it obvious that she had given this expense a lot of thought.

"Haan, milega. Aadha plate.", the old man replied as his hand punctured a puri and filled it with ragda.

"Baad mein sukha masala puri bhi milega?" she chirped again.

"Nahi. Hum sirf poora plate ke saath hi sukha masala puri det hai.", he scolded her, as he dipped the puri with his hand into the pot of teekha paani.

The girl made a skulking face but handed him the 2 rupee coin nevertheless.

The old man handed her a plate and served her the first puri, filled with ragda, tamarind chutney, and chilli water. The little girl picked it up, the puri looking huge clasped in her tiny fingers. She raised the puri and gulped it, just barely managing to fit it into her little mouth. As she was eating the puri, her face was again radiating in a contented way.

The old man placed one more puri on her plate, then another one, and then one more. That made it four puris. I assumed he would stop, and give me the next puri.

However he placed another puri on her plate! Then three more, and that made it eight puris. Usually you get six puris for five rupees, but this man had given her eight puris for two rupees. I was puzzled.

So far, I had been looking at his hand as he dished out the puris. I shifted my gaze to his face and saw that he was looking at the little girl with an indulgent smile on his face. He gave a little chuckle as she happily gobbled down the puri and wiped her face with the back of her hand. The old man was clearly enjoying this display of unadulterated joy from the girl, the simple joy that comes out of eating something you enjoy.

The little girl placed the plate on the cart and said "Bas, ho gaya." Then she fidgeted around a little bit and asked in a low voice "Sukha masala puri milega?".

The old man got irritated and said "Boley na, Hum sirf poora plate ke saath hi sukha masala puri det hai."