A Thamil Short Story in English
Thirupthy (Satisfaction) by K.Saddanathan
Translated by K.S.Sivakumaran
was at the Nallur Music Hall that I first met him.I was listening to an
enraptured rendition of Carnatic music in 'Thodi' raga when I noticed the
little boy sitting at my side in a leaning posture, seeming to be me trying to
understand the serene atmosphere around him. Softly, without disturbing the
enchantment of those sitting around, he asked me, endearingly, 'Do you want
some kadalai? ' I had no desire at all at that stage for gram, but I
looked at him in the dim light. He was small and slim, with what seemed very
thin legs and hands. Looking more closely I noticed dry shrunken cheeks, but
still his eyes were large and shining with a lively light.
He had in his hands a longish bag made of Ola leaves. He took out a packet of
gram from inside and extended it to me. I told him Thambi, little brother, I
did not want any. Unaccountably, I felt bad about rejecting his wares, but I
had an upset stomach and also it didn'tt seem right to be munching kadalai in
He must have been disappointed with my reply, but he smiled and turned away
and came round to the woman seated on my other side. Softly, this time without
a smile, he asked, Hot, hot roasted kachchan - do you want any? But she just
ignored the packet of peanuts he held out. And as he moved around I saw that
no one bought either gram or peanuts from him. This was not quite the place
for him, I thought. Even though he was now at some distance, I could still see
in my mind the small inquiring face, and the large eyes, and I suddenly felt
heavy at heart and saddened, as though bruised.
This was an age when parents were constantly nagged by children wanting
kadalai, ice cream, coloured candies, dodol and other preserved sweets,
lollipops, chocolates and the like. But here was a small boy, not quite an
adolescent, behaving responsibly. Why was he doing this? Perhaps he has some
difficulties at home, or is harassed, sent out with his wares in an act of
cleverness like carrying palmyra fruit on a little bird's top. Is he a boy who
has lost his father, or is his father without a sense of responsibility,
roaming around grazing like the temple bull or maybe drunk? Maybe his mother
and his siblings depend on him for their own existence.
I thought of my childhood, my mother sending me neatly to school, and making
me study each evening, and the empathy towards him opened its floodgates. I
felt I should buy something, and was about to call him when someone else
without any hesitation or bargaining bought four packets of one or the other
of his wares. He took the packets deftly out of the long Ola leaf bag and
quickly counted the coins held out to him and put them in his pocket. Moved
now away from my melancholy, my heart lighter and almost joyful, I could
concentrate again on the music.
Ramanathans singing filled me. He was still singing the Thodi raga with its
nuances. I felt like floating in the wind, engrossed in enchantment.
I happened to meet him again the next Saturday evening at West Street. This
time he had balloons of different colours. It is now the selling of balloons,
I thought. What had he been doing in the meantime?
He came near me and asked. Buy a balloon?
I gave him a five rupee coin and he gave me a balloon and balance of two
rupees. Keep it, I said. Give me a rupee. He said, and I obliged, not sure
why. He gave me one more balloon. He's straightforward, I thought. His
behaviour showed clearly that it was not begging but a profession that he
Two more boys, in clean shirts and clean shorts, came running up and bought a
few balloons. He blew the balloons and tied them expertly and efficiently.
Standing by his side I asked him, Thambi, where doyou study?
Year Seven. He would have been about twelve, though he looked smaller.
Must be brilliant in class?'
He smiled. I melted in the smile and asked him why, with the studies he should
be doing at this age, he
was roaming about.
His eyes dimmed. The lips trembled, and his nostrils seemed to twitch and
broaden. Seeing this I felt that somehow I had wounded his feelings, and I
started to move away.
He came closer. My father died four years ago, when the shell fell on him at
Sharing his sorrow, I took his right hand into mine and asked him, How come
you came to Senguntha from Sivapragasm Street?
We are now living in Senguntha me and my mother and my younger sister. My
sister also studies. She is truly brilliant.'
I pondered. For the three burning stomachs there had to be something to eat,
to fill them even half way. Then he also had a burden, to study. Could he
handle all this? His posture showed that he could.
I bought three more balloons from him.
"Why, do you have five children? His voice revealed surprise. Perhaps he
thought I was too young to have
Yes. I smiled. I didn't want to share with him the fact that I don't have
children. In any case there were plenty of children to give
these balloons to. My neighbourhood is full of children of the right age for
balloons, with quaint smiles, like Kausi, Chowmi, Thilak, Duwari,Vipul all of
them came to mind,
I looked at him. He had moved away, calling out his balloons energetically.
Without disturbing him further, moving away, I found myself contented. I
walked home full of emotion.