3

The guests finished eating. The family members had their food. The musicians, the washer men and the cobblers had also eaten. But no one gave a thought to the old aunt. Buddhiram and Rupa were determined to punish the aunt for her insolence. No one felt even a pinch of pity for the aunt's old age, her helplessness and senility; only Ladli felt distressed.

Ladli was fond of her grandaunt. She was a simple girl; she was not fickle and did not play pranks. Ladli felt her heart wrench on both the occasions when she saw her parents drag the aunt to her room. "Why don't we give grandaunt enough to eat?" she asked herself again and again. "Must the guests eat everything? What harm would have come if grandaunt had been served food ahead of the guests?" The little girl wanted to go and console the grandaunt but couldn't out of fear of her mother. She had not eaten her share of "poories (unleavened deep-fried bread)" but had kept them hidden in her toy box. She wanted to give those "poories" to the grandaunt. Ladli was getting impatient to execute this task all the while imagining the happiness of the old aunt upon receiving the food.

It was 11 pm; Rupa was sleeping outside in the courtyard. There was no sleep in Ladli's eyes - she had not been able to deliver the "poories" to the grandaunt till then. When she was assured that her mother was fast asleep, Ladli withdrew the toy box. It was very dark and the little girl felt scared. There was a dog lying nearby which suddenly stirred and rose. This cheered the child - a wakeful dog, rather than all the sleeping people about, gave her courage. She picked up the box and made for the grandaunt's room.

The old aunt had fallen into a swoon; when she regained consciousness she could only recall that someone had dragged her and flung her as though from a mountain. There was complete silence when she regained consciousness. The old aunt realized that everyone had partaken of their food and fallen asleep putting her own hopes to sleep. How was she to spend the night? Hunger gnawed at her insides.

"Oh, don't they have even a little sympathy for an old woman who might die any day! I crave only for a little food and nothing else. I am an infirm who cannot see or hear properly. If I committed a mistake by going to the courtyard, Buddhiram could have told me to come later as people had not finished eating. But, instead, he dragged me and pushed me. For a matter of a few "poories” I was insulted before everybody; even after ill-treating me this way, they fed everybody but did not give me any thought." With these thoughts troubling her mind, the old aunt lay down disappointed. She was overcome with grief and wanted to cry but she stifled her anguish afraid of disturbing the people.

She unexpectedly heard someone speaking to her, "Kaki (aunt), wake up: I have brought you poories." The old aunt recognized Ladli's voice. She got up swiftly and caressing Ladli took her into her laps. Ladli removed the "poories" and offered them to the aunt.

"Has your mother sent them?" the old aunt asked.

"No, these are from my share," Ladli said.

The old aunt fell upon the "poories" and gobbled them in an instant.

"Kaki, is your hunger sated?" Ladli asked.

A little rainfall rather than cooling the atmosphere warms it further. So it was with the old aunt; the few "poories" had intensified her hunger all the more. "No dear, please go and get some more 'poories' from your mother," she said.

"Mother is sleeping; if I wake her up she will beat me," Ladli told her.

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