By Promila Chitkara
The roads were clear of people and machines, covered with fallen leaves on both sides, leaving the centre untouched. The contrast of yellow leaves and black tar was striking, soft and fragile leaves against tough and durable tar. After decades one could delight in bird song, crystal clear, not buried under the noise of incessant traffic. Feast for eyes, feast for ears, heart’s delight. My feet walked me to the first grocery store.
“Stay outside, we will bring what you need.”
“Black chickpeas,” I requested. But of course, the stocks had been emptied weeks ago; I’d woken up late to the emergency.
“Sorry, ma’am. No chickpeas.”
Eating chickpeas soaked overnight has proved a healthy diet for my chronically troubled stomach. And how easy it is to prepare. Black chickpeas, the pebble-like ugly ducklings of the world of lentils and pulses, are high in dietary fiber, rich in vitamins and minerals, good for digestive disorders, diabetes, and cardiovascular health. And I was left with a few grams at home. I didn’t want to break this new diet regime – the latest and healthiest start to my day.
The before-noon sun on the last Saturday of March in Delhi was lovely and lukewarm. It brightened the outside world and removed the darkness within me, so what if it were only temporarily. I walked to another store, only to get the same response. I checked out a few more grocery shops in the vicinity but none had the black diamond! One has to try her best…
Before I set out, my father had asked me to go to another small store, but it was in the opposite direction from all the others. He had sounded sure that I would find a few packets there. I was neutral, leaning toward ‘no luck.’ I knew I wouldn’t find them but I went and checked anyway. My Organic India jute thaila (bag) was heavy with other things I’d found (four bars of soap, one hand wash, five or six packets of cookies, etc). My right shoulder hurt, but I couldn’t dare shift the thaila to my left arm – no physiotherapy has persuaded my tenacious tennis elbow to go gently into the good night.
“Lord, it’s not something I should ask you for. So, if I find chickpeas, it will be your wish/prasad. If I don’t, it would still be your will.”
The store was only a few yards away now. I wondered how my father, who has been confined to the house for several years, knew about it when I did not. Had a neighbour told him about it?
“Uncle, do you have black chickpeas?”
“Yes, beti (daughter),” he replied warmly.
“Give me two kilos if you can, please.”
“I only opened my store to collect my own rations. I was going to close the shutter in a few minutes. My wife has asked me to stay home for the next couple of weeks. Why should one risk one’s life and health for money?”
“Oh, so the store will remain closed for weeks! Please give me one more kilo if you have the stock.”
“Yes, I do, beti.” And I also found matchboxes that other stores had run out of.
A man wearing the uniform of a security guard arrived and asked the shopkeeper for a bar of Lifebuoy soup. “No stock!” he was told. I had four bars of another brand of soap. Soap is soap. In the times of lockdown one can’t be choosy.
We are bereft of essentials and have things of little use in abundance. During wars, natural disasters, pandemics, humanity is reminded of what we really need to survive: food, water, shelter. All other accumulations, to collect which we waste away our lives, become a source of misery in these times. Recently, someone posted a status on WhatsApp: ‘Ghar utna hi bada hona chahiye jitni jhado lagane ke aukaat ho. (The house should be only be as big enough to meet one’s needs)’. I have known my needs for decades, and that’s why I have been wanting to downsize my home to a one-bedroom studio apartment.
I offered the security guard a bar of soap. He took it. But he didn’t pull back the hand in which he held a tenner. A tenner was not what I needed. I had received chickpeas prasadam (blessings) from the lord. The security guard needed a bar of soap, by His grace he found it. These small blessings are what make life a beautiful journey.
What happened on the last Saturday of March has stayed in my consciousness. It has brought me a sublime joy that no big things have brought. One has to experience something like this to be able to understand that what we need is little things at the right time, not luxuries in a future perfect never-never land.
Promila Chitkara is a technical writer by profession but a seeker of the Truth at heart. Working with an MNC, she lives in New Delhi. Her inner search has led her to allied interests such as astrology, tarot, past life regression, Pranic and crystal healings. She knows she has a long journey ahead.
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