|Image source : wikipedia.org|
The words ‘ Taj Hotel ‘ were sprawled across a neatly carved wooden plank that dangled from the tattered remains of a piece of coir , infront of the impoverished building . Here , the kitchen bustled with activity 16 hours a day . The hotel owner Divakaran howling out the names of the ordered dishes in his fresh crocky voice was a regular event .
One would be awe struck seeing the number of people making a bee line to the place when the clock strikes 1 p.m . They ate in between chatters , when they shared with their friends , the subtle details of the hours they spent sweating it out in the galvanised rocks of the gigantic hill . In return , the farmers from the nearby fields would mutter their share of stories as to how the vivacious bull managed to plough the whole 2 acres of the now barren land in a matter of hours , thus preparing it for the next sowing season . They never complained nor did they shower brain curdling words of cuss on the ‘ chef ‘ when a small piece of stone that made its way eluding the sieve , almost threatened to cut through the tooth’s enamel .
This was the lone retaurant , rather a coconut leave thatched hotel , that stood indomitably in the centre of the village, offering satiety to the many growling stomachs at appropiate hours of the day .
” Lalitha ! Is the fish curry ready yet ? “
The shrill , albeit concerned enquiry of Divakaran prompted the women members who donned the chef hat to work in haste . ” Yes , its almost ready , Divakaretta . I just have to transfer it into the tumbler ” . Lalitha shouted back .
Speaking with all the fervour and maturity of a working women is Lalitha , a fifteen year old fragile girl who has been working in the hotel for the past five years . She was the youngest worker of the hotel , but she moved about with the confidence and agility of a professional . She has always been a matter of admiration for the villagers for she was the epitome of sacrifice according to them . The village women who sat grooming their children at home , while their husbands went out to climb coconut trees to bring home money, used to look at her with their eyes brimming with sympathy . Cleaning up the kitchen after cooking food for the husband , they used to crowd together under the shades of the trees to gossip about the wealthy kochamma of the Summerhouse , the sole bunglow in the village ,among a multitude of other juicy topics . Lalitha’s name would spring up at times while they sat mongering , their knifes deftly slicing ripe mangoes or jackfruit .
Lalitha was the sole earner of her family , which comprised of her mother , Praveena and younger sister , Kavitha . No one in that village happened to have enough glimpse of her father . He had eloped with his wife’s sister right after they moved to the village . The women in the village still remembered the heart wrenching sight of Praveena , yelling and whining on knowing it , with the days old Kavitha crying out in hunger at a dingy corner of the house . The ten year old lalitha on returning from her school was greeted by the boiling sight of her mother striving hard to free herself from the clutches of the villagers , who tried their best to drag her away from the damp ,velvety fringes of the well in the neighbourhood .With welled up eyes , she had run to her house to return back to her mother with a soft bundle of pink skin cuddling in her arms . On seeing her baby , Praveena had broken down , slumping to the soil unconscious . She never felt the gritty surface of the soil on the sole of her feet since then . Nor could she feel the warmth of her baby in her arms after that day . She would lie still on the cold , rock hard surface of their wooden cot inside their house , day and night , paralysed .
Her neighbours surfaced at regular hours for the next couple of days , with left over food packed in crisp banana leaves . Some offered money to surpass the adversity that struck her out of the blue . As days passed, they started becoming wary of the fact that the deed was slowly becoming a routine . Sensitivity gave way to sensibility . And the world was silent again . People started being oblivious even to her family’s existence . Lalitha never saw the green walls of her school since then . Seeing the dreadful state of her family , the hotel owner Divakaran , one of the kindest minds in the village , had brought her to the hotel to help in the kitchen during the day . She was left with no choice but to carry her baby sister along with her to the hotel those days , locking her mother in their house meanwhile .
Five years passed in the blip of an eye for the villagers . But not for Lalitha . She cringed , she cried , she toiled hours inside the hot, humid rooms of the kitchen . She saved each penny, hoping one day she would open her money box to be welcomed by so much wealth in it that she could leave the job and resume her studies .
|Image source : Anthropology.com|
” Lalitha makes the tastiest fish curry in the whole of the village ” . Divakaran stated with utmost pride . Lalitha retreated back to the kitchen . The other women who helped with the cooking looked at each other , a scoff jutting out from every face . Lalitha was used to this . She harked back that weary eyed Janaki , who had come home to sit preaching in her ears for hours , to join her profession which , according to her , satisfied the craving of spineless men in the nearby town . She had ceased to bother what other women opined years back .
Today was the most important day of the month . Divakarettan would pay them salary for all the trouble they took in wielding his hotel forward . She had intended to request a leave from him for the next day .
” Why Lalitha ? I dont remember a day in the past five years when you werent here with me in running this place . What happened dear ? “
Lalitha hesitantly replied , a glint of joy sparkling lightly at the corner of her lips , ” The admissions for the first standard classes is opening tomorrow . Its not an English medium school Divakarettta , but i am planning to enroll Kavitha this academic year . As one among the many little girls in my school , i used to kindle the dream of pursuing a good job sometime down the years , but now my younger sister’s future shines brighter in my hopes . I want her to be able to achieve what i was not destined to. “
” Oh . You are so good Lalitha . And you have grown so much from the hapless little girl who sat weeping at the corner of your house five years back . I am so proud of you , my child . Is anybody coming with you dear ? ”
” Yes , Sharada chechi , our neighbour , would accompany me to the school tomorrow morning . ” Lalitha eyed at Divakaran’s hands while replying . Divakaran , smiling softly at her was opening his wooden chest to add a 1000rs more to Lalitha’s salary .
Seeing the reluctant emotion playing on her eyes , he continued , ” Take it as a credit , Lalitha . Ask your sister to return it when she earns her first salary . I know its several years down the lane . But let us leave it that way for now ok child . I havent said this to you before , but you should know that of the workers here , you alone nurture that quality of mind to sprinkle a little bit of commitment as well to the duties you perform at your workplace . Here , take this and head home fast . Its already beginning to pour . ”
With the money tucked away safely in her purse , Lalitha hurried back to her neighbour’s house to pick her sister up on her way , her heart fluttering with hope , her feet swaying in excitement . For the first time in the past five years , she felt that she had something meaningful to look forward to when the dawn broke out each day .
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