A small town, its idiosyncratic residents, the interactions between them, and a rootedness to the larger culture they belong to — these are the traits that Adithi Rao's Left from the Nameless Shop shares with RK Narayan's Malgudi Days. She has set this collection of stories in Karnataka in a fictional town called 'Rudrapura', where there is a strong sense of community and life is simpler.
Rao, who has been associated with the Hindi film industry, has had her stories published in anthologies before. She makes her debut with this book, published by HarperCollins India. In this extract, the reader is introduced to two characters: A beggar who calls himself a 'star' and mutters words about a sports match, and a doctor, known to be kind and capable of healing everyone who comes to him.
(Extracted from 'The Beggar of Rudrapura', from the collection Left from the Nameless Shop)
It was a long walk to Doctor Bhaskara’s house. […] The white cloth wound around the beggar’s foot was reddening with alarming rapidity. When they reached the little brown cottage, Basavaraj made the beggar wait in the front garden. It was a riot of colours: the flowers were in full bloom and the place was lush with plants and fruit trees of every kind.
Doctor Ayya really has a way with plants, thought Basavaraj as he made his way up to the tiny front porch. With all things living, actually, and Basavaraj smiled to himself, feeling the warmth of the place touch his heart as it always did when he came to this house. He knocked on the front door and the doctor’s wife came out.
‘Yaru, Basavanna, na?’ she asked.
‘Oonamma, naane, Basavaraj,’ he replied, touching his right hand to his heart in greeting. ‘Doctor Ayya iddara?’
‘He’s resting,’ she replied, looking slightly put off. Basavaraj didn’t blame her. She must resent people interrupting the few minutes of rest her husband got in the middle of a long day’s work. The doctor was, after all, getting on in years. He must be in his mid-70s, just four or five years younger than Basavaraj himself.
Hesitantly, Basavaraj glanced over his shoulder […]. The doctor’s wife followed his gaze and winced from revulsion and pity at the sight of the decrepit, bleeding [beggar].
‘Yaru bandidare, Janaki?’ came Doctor Bhaskara’s voice from inside.
‘Ri! Swalpa baruttira? There is a patient here to see you.’ The doctor came out in his half-sleeved vest and dhoti.
‘Oh, Basavaraj. It’s you, is it? What’s the matter, is Shantamma ill?’
‘llla Doctor Ayya,’ replied Basavaraj. ‘It’s this man,’ and Basavaraj turned to indicate the beggar. Doctor Bhaskara looked at the beggar in silence. The man was looking about him vaguely, as if searching for something. He kept muttering to himself. The doctor nodded, as if understanding something that the others didn’t. There was something beautiful about him, a radiance and calm affection that made people feel instantly healed and hopeful in his presence.
‘Take him into the back garden,’ instructed the doctor, understanding instinctively that the beggar would be more comfortable outdoors than in. ‘I’ll join you there.’ He went back inside, followed by his wife.
Five minutes later, the beggar was seated on the washing stone, and the doctor was bent over his foot, which he cleaned, medicated and bound up securely. Through all the ministrations, the beggar seemed to notice nothing, not even the pain. He sat there, lost and muttering to himself about some player who had injured himself in the game and had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. A little distance away, Basavaraj sat on his haunches, silently watching the doctor work. He […] felt sure that the beggar would be alright once Bhaskara was through with him.
[…] ‘How lovely the garden looks! Do you still tend to it yourself, Doctor Ayya?’
‘My grandson helps me when he comes to Rudrapura in the summers,’ replied the doctor distractedly, for he was listening to the mutterings of the beggar with some attention as he worked.
‘I see you have a new mango tree. Raspuri, allva Doctor Ayya?’
‘Avi planted it last summer.’ A slight smile touched the doctor’s lips as he said this.
‘Only this past summer?’ exclaimed Basavaraj in surprise. ‘He has a green thumb too, then, just like his ajja. It looks a year old already!’
‘ThatwasacomplicatedtackleandabrilliantpassbyMohanty!MohantytoRobertandRobertscoresRobertscoresanothergoalthethirdgoalinthisgame!’ cried the beggar.
The doctor looked up quickly, his bright eyes peering keenly at the beggar from behind his dark-rimmed bifocals.
‘Will Avi baba be coming next summer as usual?’ asked Basavaraj.
The doctor didn’t answer for a moment. Then he said, ‘This year he will come sooner.’ A shadow passed over his face for a fleeting moment. Basavaraj felt confused. Smiling tentatively, he mumbled, ‘Er … that’s good, Doctor Ayya. I know how happy you are when he comes.’
The doctor turned to look at Basavaraj for a long moment. Then he nodded and […] stood up briskly, all traces of emotion gone from his face. He beckoned to Basavaraj, and the two strolled away from the beggar to speak in private.
‘What happened? How did he hurt his foot?’
‘The village boys were teasing him. They scared him with fire crackers.’
The doctor was silent for a minute while Basavaraj watched him expectantly.
‘They will continue to do that. They’re children, after all. Can’t stop them. Basavaraj, this man needs a place to stay where he will be taken care of. […] Do you know where he came from?’
‘No, Doctor Ayya. He just showed up at the street corner a few weeks ago. Every time we ask him where he has come from, he points in [a different] direction.’
Doctor Bhaskara turned his head to look thoughtfully at the beggar sitting on the washing stone. From time to time, the beggar patted the area around him vaguely, as if searching for something that wasn’t there.
‘His walking stick!’ remembered Basavaraj suddenly.
But the doctor was speaking again, and Basavaraj quickly brought his attention back to the conversation.
‘Take him to Brother Abranches’ […] old age home.’
‘That’s a good idea, Doctor Ayya! I’ll speak to him.’
Doctor Bhaskara moved to stand beside the beggar again. ‘Your foot will heal very soon. You will be fine,’ he told him gently. The beggar raised his head. Something shifted in his vacant eyes as he gazed up at the doctor.
‘I’m a star,’ he said quietly.
There was clarity there, and desperation, as if he badly wanted to convince. From behind the doctor, Basavaraj chuckled. But Doctor Bhaskara looked into the beggar’s eyes and nodded.
‘I know,’ he said softly. ‘I know.’
The beggar’s shoulders sagged a little then. Slowly he leaned forward and rested his forehead against the doctor, seeking, for the first time that Basavaraj could remember, physical contact with another human being.
Listen to Rao read out this excerpt
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Updated Date: Dec 16, 2018 12:00:28 IST