Three things made that old man who came to our house on that Onam day different.
First, though he spoke to us as if he had known us for ages, he was totally a stranger to us.
There were not many beggars in our area and we knew them very well.
There was a blind man and his wife who used to come to our house on every Monday.
There was a bearded old man who came expecting the usual Re 1 coin from my mother on all Wednesdays.
A tall man with a dirty long shirt frequented on Thursdays while a very old man with a bent back came murmuring on Saturdays.
There was only one beggar in the area who didn`t stick to any particular day. Narayanan who stayed on the veranda of an old building nearby would come on days when he was too tired to roam around carrying his big bundle. (In fact, Narayanan and his mysterious big bundle was the theme of a play which we enacted on an Onam day many years ago.)
These were the less lucky people in our area.
The stranger who came begging on that Onam day had deep and bright eyes, fair skin and snowy hair.
Seeing him, we children whispered,``He is Maveli...``
But my mother treated him like a beggar.
She gave him food.
As he started eating his Ona Sadhya, we discovered the second reason why he was different.
``What is this,``he asked.
``Sambar,`` mother said.
``Is this how you make sambar?``
Mother who believed she made the best sambar in the world challenged: ``What is wrong with this sambar?``
``Sambar can`t be made by putting a few vegetables in masala water. See, the masala needs to be made with right ingredients. You should make the masala at home. Don`t buy the sambar masala from shops... Making sambar is an art. The vegetables should not lie in the samabar like this.``
He continued the postmortem of my mother`s sambar. Simultaneously he explained how to make good sambar.
My mother was listening to him and I knew her half smile was hiding the real anger.
``Learned it? I hope you will give me a good sambar when I come here next time. ( I heard next time. But my sister still insists that he said next Onam.)
My mother gave him Rs 10. Holding that in his hand, he turned. As he moved slowly down the road from our house, we found out the third reason why he was different.
While the man walked down the road, Narayanan was coming to our house carrying his big bundle. We saw the man speaking to Narayanan and giving him something. And he left.
Narayanan slowly came to the house. He was holding the Rs 10 note my mother had given to the stranger.
``Who is he? He gave me Rs 10,`` he said with wonder.
We also said: ``Who is he? ``
``Who knows, may be Maveli,`` I suggested.
Narayanan didn`t hear it, but repeated the old question ``Who is he?``
Whoever he maybe, a good thing happened after his visit: My mom started making tasty sambar - the sambar I miss on this Onam day.
Also read: Onam, the most secular festival | Customs that make Onam