A heartwarming short story about a little girl in Indian hinterland. The narrative is simple and comforting. But the story asks a very tough question – what’s in a name? And apparently, it’s a lot.
Pushpa, as she was named by the local priest, was on her scheduled walk to Sukhdev chacha’s orchard. It was her daily routine. Pushpa got up early. She was first to the nearest farm for nature’s call and then to the river to freshen up, just like the grown up women of the village. Then to the orchard to pluck fresh flowers, which she later wove together into beautiful garlands. She sold the garlands to the people coming to the village temple. She had been doing this for almost a year.
One day when Raghu, a farmer in the village, went to the banks of the Kosi river he found a little girl, hardly two years old, almost unconscious, floating on a small wooden log. Raghu rescued the little girl.
Raghu was a kind man. He wanted to keep the girl. But he already had three children, two daughters and a son. He took her to the village priest who was also a member of the village Panchayat. The priest suggested they keep her in the temple during the day and that Raghu take her home in the evening. She would come in to the temple in the morning, play with the village children who visited the temple, listen to the morning prayers and stuff herself on the prasad in the morning and afternoon. In the evening, Raghu would take her home, feed her a roti and let her sleep with his children.
The priest and Raghu often asked her about her home but the little girl couldn’t remember anything useful.
As time passed, she became more and more acquainted with the temple activities, and with the priest and the villagers. Some villagers called her Chutki, some called Guriya, the priest called her Pushpa. She liked none of the names, but she never complained.
She started helping the priest. She also used to sit and listen when the priest narrated holy stories of Rama, Krishna, Shiva and many more. She loved the story in which Hanuman lifted a mountain to save Lakshman. She also liked the story when Rama ate berries that were already tasted by Sabari. As she grew older, the priest taught her to make garlands and advised her to make them daily. Gradually she started making more and more garlands and one day the priest called her, gave her a mat and said, ‘From now on, sit at the temple gate and sell your beautiful garlands!’
She liked selling her garlands although she had no idea what to do with the coins people gave her. The first day she got some coins she ran to the temple and put some of them at Lord Rama’s feet. She gave the rest to Raghu. He was in tears that day.
Today was a special day because a minister from the city was visiting the village. She plucked the best of the flowers and made the biggest garlands.
The temple was more crowded than on other days. There were people from other villages, there were policemen holding laathis. She took her spot early in the morning but worried when two of the policemen stood just in front of her. ‘Will you please move aside,’ she cried in a shrill voice. The policemen smiled and moved aside.
After few hours a convoy of white Ambassador cars halted in front of the temple. As the minister climbed up the temple stairs Pushpa started calling out loudly, ‘Garlands! Fresh garlands!’ With each ascending step her call grew louder. Just like the other villagers, the minister also couldn’t ignore the little garland seller. ‘How much should I pay?’ the minister asked politely after he bought five big garlands.
Pushpa had no idea how much to say. She had never asked for money. People usually just gave her whatever they wanted. The minister smiled. ‘Okay, tell me is there anything I can do for you? I am a powerful man…’
‘Can you lift heavy stones?’ she asked.
‘Ha ha! Not that type of power. I am powerful because people listen to me. They do what I say…’
‘Oh, then can you ask them not to call me by those funny names,’ Pushpa said. ‘Alright, but what is your real name?’ Pushpa remained quiet. ‘Why, don’t you know your name?’ the minister asked. ‘No!’ she replied.
One of the villagers narrated her story to the minister. The minister called the police inspector and ordered him to find her real parents as soon as possible. The inspector nodded. The minister then looked at Pushpa and said, ‘I promise you my dear, you will soon come to know your real name…’
The next morning, at the end of her scheduled walk, when she arrived at the temple the priest looked upset and angry. He was accompanied by the police inspector. As she approached the priest burst out, ‘Hey you girl! From now you will not enter the temple … do you understand?’
Pushpa couldn’t understand why the priest was behaving like that. She kept walking forward saying, ‘But I have made garlands, and today I have put extra marigolds, and….’ Before she could finish the priest pushed her away with a stick. ‘Out, I said,’ he shouted.
‘And…,’ the priest spat out, ‘your name is….’