4

The old aunt felt in the toy box hoping to find a "poori" which might perhaps have remained there by an oversight. But there was none! She licked her fingers. When a dam, keeping all the desires in check, bursts the desires rush out uncontrollably. The mere thought of wine arouses an irresistible urge in the alcoholic. The aunt's desires were similarly aroused, and she lost her conception of right and wrong conduct. She tried to control her desires but her efforts were defeated; she asked Ladli to guide her to the spot where the guests had left their plates after the meals.

Ladli could not comprehend the meaning behind this strange request. She held Kaki's hand and guided her to the spot. The old woman, whom hunger had rendered insensible to right and wrong conduct, began rummaging through the plates and eating the leftovers! They tasted delicious! The old aunt still had a trace of consciousness which admonished her for eating scraps from the trash can. But old age is the last stage of that disease called craving when all the desires become focused at a single sensory organ; in the case of the old aunt it was the sense of taste.

Just then Rupa woke up with a start; she realized that Ladli was not by her side. An alarmed Rupa looked below the bed thinking the girl might have fallen off. When she could not find the girl, Rupa got off the bed. She soon came upon the girl standing quietly and the old aunt gobbling the leftovers.

Rupa was numbed with shock; she experienced the same emotions which she might have experienced had she been watching a cow being slaughtered right before her eyes. There could be no greater despairing scene than the one she was watching right now - an old woman feeding on leftovers! Her aunt was committing such a disgraceful act merely for few scraps of food! She felt as though the world had stopped and the sky was spinning over her head. It portended some great evil to come. Rupa felt no anger; anger bows before grief! Her eyes brimmed with pity and fear. Who was responsible for this sin? She raised her hands to the heavens and with genuine repentance sought God's forgiveness.

Rupa had never before experienced the results of her selfishness and unjust behavior towards her aunt; but, now, the realization came to her in a flash. "Oh, I have been so cruel! Such is the impoverished state of the person whose property we are enjoying! And it is all because of me! I have committed a grave sin! God, forgive me. Today was my son's engagement ceremony; a large number of people had their food and I served them like a servant just to earn a good name. But the aunt whose property I am enjoying went hungry!"

Rupa lighted a lamp, went to the kitchen and returned with a plate full of food. She had taken care to place each food item at its proper place on the plate so as to appear decorative. It was past midnight. The sky was filled with stars; it seemed as though plates made of stars were laid on the sky and the gods were feasting on divine food. But even the gods couldn't have found so much pleasure in their heavenly food as the old aunt found upon seeing the plate in front of her.

"Come Kaki, have your food. I committed a grave sin today; please forgive me. Please pray to God and seek forgiveness for me," Rupa said in a tear-choked voice.

The old aunt had already forgotten all the insults and ill-treatment. She sat eating contentedly, goodwill oozing from every pore of her body. She appeared just like an innocent child who sits down to enjoy the sweets forgetting all the scoldings and beatings suffered in obtaining them. Rupa sat at a distance watching this heavenly scene.

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  • Union Public Service Commission - www.upsc.gov.in
  • IIT-Kharagpur - www.iitkgp.ac.in
  • Indian Statistical Institute - www.isical.ac.in
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  • Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad - www.iimahd.ernet.in
  • Indian Institute of Mass Commission - www.iimc.nic.in
  • IIT Bombay - www.iitb.ac.in
  • Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad - www.ismdhanbad.ac.in
  • Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi - www.bitmesra.ac.in
  • Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training - www.cifnet.nic.in
  • Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad (Deemed University) - www.iiita.ac.in
  • Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kochi - www.cmfri.com
  • Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai - www.tiss.edu