Riding along the streets with a crazy vegetable seller sitting behind me, both of us cackling away like a bunch of wild cuckoos, nearly falling off the bike with laughter - what a perfect way to start the day! :) :)
Meena is this crazy spirited funny vegetable seller on my street, I buy all my vegetables from her. She is loud, speaks her mind, is extremely witty and sharp, and everyone on the street is afraid of her - her nickname in the locality is Lady Rajinikanth. [Rajinikanth is a Tamil film legend] I once heard her call some random guy "Eh Kottathalaya!" [you basket head!] because he sniggered at her hero pose while passing by. And he fled, he instinctively knew it was better to not stop and argue.
But she adores me, for some reason. I get hugs and free vegetables and hilarious Vijaykanth imitations. She talks to me in Tamil and I reply in Kannada, and we understand each other perfectly. She sometimes tries to speak English and keels over laughing - "Ya ya!" I rarely ask for change, and she often refuses to take money - we keep no accounts. Our huge difference in class and economic status doesn't bother her at all. She introduces me to random people as: "There are only two Ammas I respect in this world - one is Jayalalitha, and the other is this lady here." :)
This morning she asked me if I could give her a lift to this place on the other side of the main road, she needed to pick up vegetables from another seller. I was returning home after my gymming, but of course I said Yes. Breakfast could wait. So we career down the street, with her shouting and waving to all the street-side vendors and everyone laughing and cheering at this strange spectacle.
She has no helmet but she is confident she can "take care" of any policeman who dares to stop us for her not wearing a "chatti" on her head. [Helmet. Chatti is an earthernware cooking pot.] And I believe her. She is totally fearless. During the bandh [shut-down protest] a while ago I have seen her standing with her vegetable cart when dangerous-looking men rode down the empty street with flags, getting people to shut down the few remaining open shops. No one came to her cart or asked her anything.
We cross over and go through some narrow lanes. She keeps saying "Right!" for "Straight", so I have to take some drastic sudden turns, and nearly lose balance - but we laugh and laugh at how funny that is. :)
On the way she makes a mocking comment about a woman sitting at her doorway and making yellow flower garlands. Turns out it's her sister. :) She doesn't talk to her - "She's so stingy!' I get that. Both of us are united by our belief in generosity. We don't wait for another life to give ourselves away. We know life is too short to be petty.
We come to her fellow vegetable seller parked in front of one of the many temples in this area, and pick up the bag of beans. Meena's got them sent from her hometown in Tiruvannamalai. Because of the money crunch, she doesn't have much cash and is now trying to get vegetables this way. But I have never seen Meena pity herself - ever. She takes it all in her stride, is always full of life and fight, and always has a joke for everyone. Even after she was hospitalized for a month once. She is my role model and hero, though I will always fall way short of her levels - there is no comparison between my problems and hers.
I learn along the way that she has only two meals a day, though she gets up at 3.30 every morning to go to the big market to pick up vegetables. Rice at 10 AM and then dinner. At the traffic signal we admire the golden statue of Raj Kumar, the legendary late actor. "Poor man, remember how he was caught by Veerappan?" I had totally forgotten that incident.
We are back near her cart. I stop a random passer-by and ask him if he could take a picture of us. He looks terrified, not sure whether he should run away or stay - I can only imagine Meena staring at the poor man from behind my back - and finally succumbs and takes a pic of this very unlikely pair of riders. Meena does her serious nonchalant film hero imitation. And then nearly falls off the bike cackling. :)
We walk back to her cart. A small flock of pigeons have descended on the footpath where her mother is sorting leafy vegetables, and she exclaims in delight. We both get excited over silly things. We pay attention. We don't need a lot to be happy. We are blessed.
I have no complaints against a life that includes such mornings.