A Pinch of Salt

Now that Covid is mostly over, it’s time to take a vacation. My wife was nagging me to go to Vaishno Devi as we were supposed to go for a long time now. I was not very sure of going for a pilgrimage though.

In the meantime, I went to my village to tend to my farm. Budha Baba was taking care of the Banana orchid with all sincerity. He came every morning at 8.30 am sharp. He hardly wasted time and constantly kept working.

I felt at peace because Budha Baba was taking care of the entire orchid single-handedly. He was more than 65 years old, well-built, and full of strength despite his age. He was from my neighboring village from where most of the people come as farm laborer. I did not know much about Buddha Baba so one day, with all curiosity, I called him and asked him to sit next to me.

I made a cup of tea with the electric Kettle and offered it to him. It was 9 o’clock, and he was fully charged to work. While he was telling me everything he was going to do, I stopped him and began asking him about his family.

“Don’t you have children?” I asked.

“I had one son and two daughters,” he said. “I also have ten grandchildren,” he added proudly.

“Oh, why the hell are you working so relentlessly at this age?” I questioned.

His face became dull. He replied with a mellowed tone, “What to do, Babu? Life is full of struggle till the end.”

He continued telling me about his family. He had two sons and two daughters. All of them were married by now. His elder son was married and living in a different village as a house husband. His wife was from a well-to-do family, and she put this condition for marriage that he had to become a house husband. As they were from a very poor background with very negligible land holding, he accepted the condition. They had two children and were now living happily. But he never bothered to check about the well-being of his parents. He was kind of totally cut-off from his parents.

The second son went to Mumbai as a construction worker but came back with a deadly jaundice. He could not survive that and passed away leaving behind his wife and two sons. His wife started a small Kirana store in front of their house to earn some money. She used to sell cigarettes and gutkha as well. Because of that, her shop was always filled with smokers and gutkha addicts. One of the frequent smokers was a rice mill agent who somehow wooed this woman and eloped with her, leaving behind her two children, a daughter, and a son.

Now Budha Baba must take care of his old wife and two grandchildren. He said, “Babu, life is not that easy for everyone. At this age I must work as I have to not only ensure provisioning for the household but also ensure that these kids grow up well.”

While we were talking, Budha Baba saw someone outside the gate and got up. I turned and saw a very old woman with a stick, standing in front of the gate. I went and realised that it was Budha Baba’s wife, and he was trying to say something. I went to welcome her inside. She was feeling shy, but somehow, I managed to call her inside. In the meantime, Baba was yelling at her. I calmed him down and then tried offering his wife some tea. She said “No.” with shyness. I asked her why she was there.

Baba started yelling again, “Look, Babu, she has pain in her knees due to arthritis and came walking 1.5 kilometers. I do not know for what reason. Tonight, her knees will get swollen, and I must take care of her. Just ask why she is here.”

I looked at her and smiled. Then I asked, “Any problem? Do you want Baba to go back home today for any chores?”

She said, “No, Babu. I just came to give some salt.”

With surprise I asked, “What? You walked all the way to deliver salt?”

She explained, “I prepare food every morning and give it to him in a tiffin. After he left, I gave food to the grandchildren who were getting ready for school. They said that the food was without salt. Then I realised that I had forgotten to add salt today. I added it instantly and gave it to the kids. Then I realised that Baba would not eat food without salt in it. Baba is very finicky about his food.”

“Oh! Stupid woman! We have salt here on the farm. Why did you walk so much just for a pinch of salt?” Baba yelled again. Though he was yelling, his wife was smiling. In his yelling also she realised it was his concern.

I asked, “Don’t you have a mobile phone at home?”

Baba said that he did not know how to operate one. He said that it was his daughter-in-law who used to have one and because of that phone she eloped. “Now I do not want any phone at home. What if this buddhi also eloped with somebody? Who will feed us then?” Baba joked with laughter.

“This man has gone mad,” said his wife annoyingly.

After some time, Budha Baba went to drop her, came back and started his work. I sat for a while with goosebumps. An old woman of more than 60 years with arthritis problem walked 1.5 km just to deliver a pinch of salt so that her old man would not go hungry.

I think all of us need this pinch of salt in our lives to fight our share of problems. Though life was not fair with Baba, he had his strength walking with a stick. This is one of the best blessings God can give.

I called my wife and asked the date when I could buy tickets for Vaishnodevi and suggested to her that we could do a Kashmir trip as well.


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