Ram Ki Dukaan
Ram Ki Dukaan
Far end towards the sea in a village called Bharadkhol, Ram had set up his shop a long time ago. He wouldn't make much business, but it was enough for him to feed his wife and himself. 'Ram Ki Dukaan' was written on a slate with a chalk. The slate was cautiously placed on a wooden stand in front of the shop.
Three years ago, a little kid, who seemed to be about seven years old, had come to his shop with a two rupee coin in hand. She stared at the slate for a while, and thought deeply for some more time. She took out a slate pencil from her bag and corrected the spelling of 'ki' and gave a proud smile. She then turned to him and handed over the two rupee coin. She then pointed at a bottle with coconut biscuits inside.
'Nahi beta, two rupees not enough. Five rupees,' he said.
The little girl's expression suddenly turned dreary. The disheartened girl turned to walk away from the shop when Ram called her back and gave her a cookie, taking the two rupees from her. The teary eyed girl gave a warm big smile, wiping off her little tears.
Ram felt a pleasant emotion across his heart. He and his wife could never have any kids, and was hardly around any. Gifting something to a little one made him happy, he felt his heart soften. 'What is your name?' He asked.
But the girl didn't answer. She just stared at him with a long smile on her face. 'You know Hindi?' He asked. She nodded, but didn't reply. 'Aapka naam, your name?' He asked once again. Yet, no reply.
She then did something surprising. She took out the slate fixed to the stand, erased everything and scribbled something over it and showed to him. From what he could understand from her writing, it read 'Bol nahin sakti' (I can't speak).
That was when he realised that the little girl was mute. He loved her even more now. He admired her intelligence, and her interest to read and write. He wished her luck and sent her away.
The next day on, she became his regular customer. She would come everyday, after finishing her school. She would come with a two rupee coin and demand a five rupee biscuit. It didn't matter to him though, giving away the biscuit in loss. What mattered to him was that she wasn't starving, and was happy and content.
In days, Ram and the little girl formed a bond inexplicable. He would tell her stories about his parents, childhood and his little experiences of school. He always reminded her how lucky she was to get to go to school. She would listen with such intent, and then give a smile to acknowledge that she understood him. This went on for the next three years. Everyday, he would get about five minutes with her, and his fatherly instincts suddenly appeared. Sometimes his wife would shout at him because he was running in much loss because of selling her biscuits at a less rate, but he didn't care.
But today, Ram was worried. It was the first time in three years that the girl hadn't turned up. He knew something was up, because she would spend time with him even if she were ill. So at five o'clock, Ram closed his shop and left to search for her.
All he knew was her name, Meera. After some persistent convincing to reveal her name, the girl had finally used the slate to communicate and tell her name.
He looked for her from hut to hut, house to house. He looked for her by the sea, away from the sea, basically, everywhere. The last house he visited was about two kilometres away from his shop. There he saw about five people sitting outside in the yard, out of which two were women. They were evidently weeping, and he didn't want to disturb them. However, he also knew this was his last chance to find the girl. So he asked them for Meera and one of those weeping ladies pointed her finger to the inside. Slowly, he went in. As he entered, he saw her asleep. She was breathing, and he was thankful for that. But he knew for sure that there was something wrong. Beside her, a strong man was sitting. He went to him and asked about Meera. He replied in a very slow tone, much contrary to his persona. 'My beti Meera, she has cancer. And we cannot support her financially' he almost cried.
It took Ram to a surprise. She was always a healthy girl, and even the fact that she was dumb couldn't stop her from moving on. She was intelligent, smart and a very beautiful girl. He had always dreamt of her as his own daughter, and now, his daughter was in death bed counting days to live.
Another two years later, Meera was healthy and sound. She resumed her studies, and thankfully, it didn't take much hard work to cope up. Life was getting easier, and her surgical complications of the past had subsided. She was a strong girl once again. And it was time for her to meet her Ram kaka, she thought.
She began her journey from her school to the shop, which was about a kilometre away. Her pocket money per day had increased now, and she had five rupees with her. She wouldn't have to pay him less, she thought. With a smile on her face, she walked to Ram Ki Dukaan. As she approached the shop, she noticed some changes. First, there was no wood stand with slate. The name stood right on top of the shop, painted on concrete. Second, the name wasn't Ram Ki Dukaan anymore. The board read 'Kamlesh Kirana'. Third, it wasn't Ram Kaka standing inside the shop. It was a man who she couldn't recognise.
Where is Ram Kaka, was the first thing on her mind...
She had to find him. She went to the new store and asked the new shopkeeper about Ram Kaka. She couldn't speak, so she opened her school note and wrote it down on a paper. Apparently, he couldn't read. So he called an educated youth walking down the street to read it for him.
'Oh, Ram Ki Dukaan was closed a long time ago. He sold this shop to me for a very reasonable amount of Rs.50,000. I am running it since then. He also sold all his land to some other people.' he declared.
'What? When did this happen?' She wrote. She was shocked to know about this. Why would Ram Kaka sell his only property? Is he okay?
'Three years ago' he confirmed. 'But if you want to meet him, you can meet him in a hut by the sea' and pointed out to the hut. It was quite visible from the shop.
While walking to the hut, she reminded herself of the day she met him last. When she was later diagnosed with cancer, her parents had stopped sending her to school. But they couldn't afford to get her treatment done. It was when, according to her mother, a kind man sent 1,00,000 rupees in cash. That combined with some other donated money was sufficient to get her cancer treated. As she remembered the story about the fifty thousand, it struck her. The angel was here all this long. The angel who saved her life.
She ran to the hut, looked at her Ram Kaka. He was asleep on a chair, and she didn't want to wake him up. So she waited in the hut for about an hour, when he opened his eyes. He looked at her, and she looked at him. She ran to him and gave him a big tight hug, reminiscing her bond with him.