The rains had stopped. Alas, the Electricity board was slow to catch up, and we were in darkness still. A gentle breeze unsettled the raindrops lingering on the trees outside in the garden, as if trying to keep the rain going on its own. The breeze snuck in through the open window, and threatened to blow out the lamp lit in the corner of the room. The air was redolent with ajji's saaru and hurlaikayi palya, and four sleepy heads clustered around her, hungrily devouring the handfuls of rice she handed out, and demanded a story.
Which story... ajji pondered. Dhavala! came the answer in unison. And Dhavala's story it was.
My dad liked horses, ajji said, and Dhavala even more so. He was a white horse, pure white. Not a dark spot, not a blemish, the kind that the Maharajas ride. And what's more, Dhavala was the smartest horse that I have ever seen.
However, it was not long after that Dhavala left our house, continued ajji. There was a Doctor in Jagalur, and he was a very close friend of my father. It was only fitting that when he left Jagalur, my father's farewell gift to him was Dhavala.
After Dhavala left with the Doctor, I often wondered how he was. Oh, we were sure he would be looked after well....but it was only much later, when the Doctor visited us again that I came to hear about how he saved the Doctor's life once. In those days, ajji said, we had no cars and trains to carry us from one place to another, and buses were few and far in between. If you had to travel, you used bullock carts or horses. This is what the Doctor did when he travelled the District, treating patients. On one these trips, he was in the middle of a jungle when dacoits attacked him. They encircled him, preventing escape. The Doctor feared for his life. Silently, he prayed the Lord, and whispered a plea to Dhavala - you are my only hope, he said, save me. Dhavala seemed to understand. He charged at the circle of the thieves, as if to test their strength. he did that a few times, and each time, the men bunched up and held him back. The Doctor despaired, Dhavala has failed me he thought, until....the horse made an almighty charge against the circle, stopped inches from the men, swivelled abruptly!.. galloped thunderingly, and jumped high, effortlessly clearing the men at the opposite end of the circle. They were free!
And we listened, mouths open, minds agog and totally unheeding of the fact that we had infact eaten at least twice as much as we normally did..........(For ajji, it was a job done, four fussy kids fed. Time for bed)
The story doesn't end there, resumed ajji. Dhavala landed in the direction that the Doctor originally planned to! needless to say, they went on to reach their destination safely. Dhavala served his master for a long time, finally joining the Maharaja's service, and proudly rode in the Dasara procession. Who knows, it is even possible the Yuvaraja himself rode on his back.
Now, what takes me back to that day, what makes me sigh at those fond memories? Not just ajji's fragrant saaru, nor the fascinating story. It was the remembered images of that beautiful woman, radiant in the light that the guttering lamp, and the warmth of her utterly unconditional love.