By: B.R Raksun
The Man With Bananas
saw him many times in our area. He is a simple man with ordinary-looking clothing. He is staring at nothing but the sky.
Is it despair? I really don’t know.
It is a hot summer afternoon. Kalainar Park is pale with very few people. All are resting under the shade of trees, breathing the fresh air. This man is not like them. He is staring at the sky as if he is speaking with the blue sky.I saw a banana hawker. He came to me and asked me to take a few bananas. I said I didn’t want to. Then he went to that man and asked him to take bananas. He stared at the hawker and the bananas in his hand. The bananas were fresh and robust, smelling good and tempting. He is just staring at the bananas as though he was seeing bananas for the first time, or not seeing them ever before. He is looking at the bananas as though he is hearing something - the bananas are whispering to him new stories.
He did not answer the hawker.
I don’t know what the hawker thought. He took a big bunch of his best bananas and put them beside him on the bench and said, “Eat one today free of charge, and only purchase bananas tomorrow from me. I know you will like my bananas.’’
He never responded.
He was looking at the banana as though he was looking at his own long separated friend whom he had just met and was speaking with him. The banana hawker has gone. But he was not out of my view.
Just then I saw a monkey jumping from the tree behind his bench and took the banana. He was silently staring at the monkey as though he was feeding his own pet. While the monkey unpeeled the banana, threw the skin on the bench and ate very happily, he kept staring silently at the monkey. The monkey finished eating and thanked him with a look and went back to his tree.
I really wondered at his attitude. I don’t know why, but I thought I must ask him for his name and the reason for his uncommon attitude, perhaps despair - or anything else. So I walked towards him slowly.
I sat beside him. He did not see me. He was still watching something in the sky which I could not see.
“Hello!” I said, looking at him. Now he returned to consciousness.
“Hello Sir!” he said.
“I have seen you many times here. Are you living around this area?”
“Yes Sir!” He said.
“May I ask you one question?”
He consented by tossing his head. I asked him why he was watching the banana with such a strange look and why he did not eat the banana before the monkey caught and ate it. He laughed like a saint.
He told me few things.
“I am a farmer from a small village in a remote and rocky area. We are dependent on rain for anything. For drinking water we have to go miles from home. In our fields we have crops like ragi, jowar and bajra. We depend completely on natural rain. If we have no rain in monsoon time, we have no food for the whole year. Our food is just ragi or bajra, we cannot afford to eat rice”.
Then he paused for a while.
I am just beginning to understand what he knows about the bananas.
“We have fruits like custard apple, mango and jack fruit. But we have no bananas. I did not have the chance to eat a banana in my native home. So I have the desire to taste a banana, but I didn’t have the opportunity to eat this fruit till today. You know, the Gods may be happy because in the temples, coconuts and bananas are offered to them - holy Prasad in temples are everywhere in India. When I came here for a job and had none for some time, I visited many temples and prayed to God for a job. I got a job. I have not prayed for a banana. Maybe I have been given only coconut pieces as holy Prasad, not a banana as holy Prasad. So I think that I will have no chance of eating a banana.”“Why do you think so? You can have a banana from any small roadside shop and it’s not even costly.” I said.
He laughed looking deeply into to my face.
“Everything is not as easy as we think. It looks easy but it is not easy because our capabilities are not equal. So everything is easy and difficult too. One day I wanted to have a banana from a roadside shop. I asked the price. The shop keeper said “Just a thousand rupees” and I wondered how the prices had soared. I really don’t know why the prices were sky high in no time, overnight! “A thousand rupees!” I was murmuring. Meanwhile a person came and took one banana. He gave a thousand rupee note to the shop keeper. While eating, he took another thousand rupees note from his wallet and gave it to the shop keeper, saying “It’s so good. It’s so good, I feel it’s worth two thousand!” I was wondering, as my monthly income is less than a thousand. This was my dream.”
He paused and I smiled.
There is no wonder nowadays that people dream frequently, since the prices of common vegetables are increasing so much: people see them like pieces of gold.
“I thought it best to try my luck one day and stood outside a banana shop. But unfortunately I had just enough change in my pocket to buy only one banana. No way, I decided to eat a banana. So I gave the entire change in my pocket and took one banana. Just then, I saw Rama Samy coming towards me. He is my landlord and number one miser. I concealed the banana in my pocket. Rama Samy smiled, looking at me - he did not ask anything. But I said “I came to have a banana”. He looked at the shopkeeper and asked for one banana. He looked in a hurry to go somewhere. Looking at me, he said “pay him for this banana as well” and went away.
“As I told you, I have no money”. The shop keeper was new to me. So I took the banana out from my pocket and returned it to the shop keeper saying I was going to the hotel to have my supper and I would come back and buy it. I knew the shop keeper did not believe me and he smiled and took back the banana as though he knew that I didn’t have the money.
The man stopped telling his story.
I was really fascinated, as though he were telling me a thriller. I wanted to know little more about him, so I asked “what are you doing here?”
He smiled again. The same smile of a saint.
“I am not educated. I worked at a local transport company as a hired laborer. They transported bananas to vegetable shops throughout the city. But we never had the chance to have a banana to unpeel and eat.”BW
BR Raksun (S. Bhaskara Rao) lives in Chennai in India. Since 1974, he has worked as a freelance translator & copy writer for leading Advertising Agencies in India. He knows English, Hindi, and Telugu. He edits two monthly magazines in Hindi and one weekly in Telugu. A number of his translations of Indian stories in Telugu and Hindi are published. He loves photography and has posted more than six thousand photos on Flickr by the name brsun.
Banana Writers has published his first English story.