Bandya leaned against the cow-dung laden wall as he wrestled with the homework. Mathematics was the bane of his existence. He re-read the question.
If you have 40 mangoes and give away 17, how many would be left?
Bah. I will have 40 mangoes left! I am not sharing my mangoes with anyone. Who shares mangoes? They should have used lemons instead!
He scratched his head, puzzling over the problem. He was on the brink of solving it when his friend, Tatya, interrupted him.
“Do you want to play cricket?”
“No. I have mathematics homework. Can you help me?”
“Ask away. I am awesome at mathematics.”
“What is 40 – 17?”
“You can bat first.”
His eyes lit up at the chance of batting first, deflating when reality set in.
“No. Aai said no homework means no puranpolis for me.”
“Mine, too. Chal, tata!”
Bandya watched Hari kaka as he approached their hut.
“Namaskar kaka,” he greeted, with folded hands.
“Namaskar. What are you doing?”
Before Bandya could respond, he went inside.
Why do adults ask questions and not wait for the answers?
Aai yelled from inside, startling him.
“Bandya, come here quick.”
Bandya examined the roster of his activities to determine what could be wrong. But, couldn’t pinpoint anything. It was a slow day for mischief.
When he entered, aai said, “Hari is taking you to Sarpanch Patil’s house. Don’t trouble him,” she warned.
The homework, forgotten Bandya, left with Hari kaka.
“Kaka, why are we going there? Have you been to their house? How is it?”
“Sarpanch’s not feeling well, so he has asked for you. You are the special one in our village, aren’t you?” He ruffled Bandya’s hair with affection.
When they arrived, Bandya was agog. He had never seen a concrete house. He ran his hands over the walls, marvelling at their smoothness and colour.
‘Namaskar Sarpanchin,” said Bandya.
Mrs. Patil nodded. “He is inside.”
Sarpanch Patil sat moaning on the ground, holding his back. His assistant held him up. Bandya greeted him and took his position, standing next to him.
This was not his first rodeo. He was often called for such tasks. He raised his right foot, pushed the toe out. And with, a-little-extra-force kicked the sarpanch’s back.
“Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!”
Hari kaka’s face was a study of disapproval. “Slow, Bandya.”
Bandya got scared.
Will I get punished? Aai will be mad. No puranpolis?
Sarpanch Patil flexed his back muscles, rotated his shoulders, and declared. “The pain is gone! I feel good.”. He smiled at Bandya.
Mrs. Patil came over with two large ladoos, “Thanks, Bandya. These are for you.”
Woohoo! Puranpolis and ladoos. Thank you, Vithoba.
Bandya offered the ladoos to aai, who kissed him on his forehead, “You are my special healer boy. My very own payalu, my upside-down-boy!”
Bandya felt happy as he gobbled the ladoo down.
Being born feet-first has its benefits.
Sarpanch: Leader of the village.
Sarpanchin: Wife of the sarpanch.
Payalu: breech baby.
Vithoba: Deity in Maharashtra.
Puranpoli: A sweet, stuffed thin paratha.
*** In most villages, and some urban areas, a long-held superstition says breech babies are born with healing powers. It is rumoured their touch (or kick) can soothe pains, especially back pains.
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