This is a folk tale from our country, Bharat.
Somu was a farmer who lived with his wife Ammu and nine-year-old son Damu in a village in some part of Bharat. Somu and Ammu generally never got angry with each other or with Damu and so there was always peace in the house and they were a happy family.
However, one day, there was a big quarrel between husband and wife for a small matter.
It had rained the previous night. Somu had gone out into the muddy fields and after doing lot of work, came home feeling very hungry. When he came back to the house, he removed his dirty footwear and kept them in the verandah which had just been mopped sparkling clean by Ammu.
Ammu was already very tired. Seeing what Somu did, she flew into a rage. Somu was extremely hungry and he also shouted back. This turned into a big fight and both of them stopped talking to each other. Both of them thought they were right and so did not want to apologise and speak to each other directly. If they needed to communicate something, they used Damu. This was going on for a few weeks. Damu felt sad that his parents were not talking to each other but what could he do? He was after all, a kid.
One day, Somu had gone out and Damu was playing inside the house. Ammu was drying clothes outside on the clothesline. An old traveller, carrying a small bag was walking past. He was feeling very hungry and thirsty. He saw Ammu and decided to come and ask for something to eat and drink.
So, he came up to Ammu, gave a wide grin and asked “Is your husband there?” (In those days strangers would hesitate to come inside the house when only a woman was present). She looked at him and said with a stern face, “I don’t know where he has gone and when he will come back”. She turned around in a huff and went back into the house.
Damu heard the voice of the man and came out to see who it was. Seeing his mother rushing inside, Damu went to the man and said innocently, “My father and mother fought with each other and so they are not talking to each other for the past few weeks. By the way, who are you?”
The man was very shrewd and decided to take full advantage of the situation. “I am Mama. Tell you mother that Mama has come to visit you. I am on my way to the city. I am feeling very hungry and thirsty.” (Mama refers to maternal uncle in Bharat)
Damu ran inside to his mother. Pointing to the man outside Damu said “Amma, do you know who that person is? He says he is Mama and is visiting us on the way to the city. Seems he is hungry and thirsty”
Ammu thought “Mama?? He is not my Mama and he is not Damu’s Mama. Hmmm.. So, he must be Somu’s Mama who did not attend our wedding. Well, he being a guest, I should have not spoken so curtly. He need not know what is going on between me and my husband”.
Thinking thus she went outside and welcomed him with sweet words. “Come inside Mama, please come. I finished cooking just now. Please wash your hands and feet and come to eat. Damu will give you company” (In good old days there was always extra food cooked for unexpected guests)
‘Mama’ was extremely happy. Washing his hands, feet and face, he came and sat and ate nice hot tasty food on a big banana leaf, with Damu by his side. Damu finished eating and as he went outside to wash his hands, Somu appeared at the doorstep. Peeping inside, he saw the man sitting and eating. He looked enquiringly at Damu. Damu said, “Appa, Mama has come. He enquired about you only first. Poor man, he was very hungry and Amma offered lunch”. Saying so, Damu ran off to his friend’s house.
Somu thought, “Mama?? He is not my Mama and not my son’s Mama either. So, he must be Ammu’s Mama. I have not met all of Ammu’s Mamas and surely he must he one of her Mamas which is why she is serving food with so much affection. Let him not know that we are having a quarrel”. Thinking so, he went inside smiling at the man who was relishing the last bit of the tender mango pickle.
“Welcome Mama! Very happy that you came. Did you eat well?”, asked Somu. The man, slurping the curd rice from his palm said “Yes, very nice lunch! I was going to the city and thought I would drop in and see you all. I will leave after a short nap”
“Sure sure!” said Somu and took a mat and pillow and spread it out for him in the verandah. “Since it is a cloudy day, it is cool outside, hope you don’t mind sleeping here outside” he said.
“Not at all” said ‘Mama’. After a little while he lay on the mat and started sleeping. Somu and Ammu had their lunch one after the other with both keeping stony silence. Somu had to clean some seeds for sowing in the field the next day and Ammu had to wash the dishes. It was more than an hour when they finished their respective jobs.
Just then Damu came back from his friend’s house. As he went inside, he asked his father, “Appa! Where is Mama?”
“There he is, sleeping on the verandah” said Somu.
“Only the mat and pillow are there Appa! Mama is not!” said Damu.
Somu and Ammu went out to see but ‘Mama’ was gone. They were both very annoyed as the man had not even bid good-bye after the nice lunch and hospitality.
“What sort of a person is your Mama? He could not even bid good-bye to you and has gone off?” Somu shouted at Ammu.
“My Mama?? He is your Mama, isn’t he? The one who did not attend our wedding?” Ammu retorted.
“Who said he is my Mama? And that too the one who did not come for our wedding? I thought he was one of those innumerable Mamas you have…” said Somu.
“Innumerable? You think we are some Asura clan to have innumerable uncles? Don’t you make fun of my family,” said an angry Ammu.
Soon they were yelling at each other at the top of their voices. At one point there was a young voice which said loudly “Wait wait , Stop!”.
It was Damu. He looked at his parents and said “Appa, Amma, I am not bothered if that Mama was neither of yours but he is certainly a Mama sent by God. Otherwise, who else could have made you both speak to each other? Do you know how bad I was feeling that both of you were not talking with each other? If only that Mama had not come, would you have started talking to each other? I am so happy that that Mama came. How I wish he had stayed here for some more days?”
It was then, that Somu and Ammu understood how much Damu was affected by their behaviour. They also realized how they had been taken for a ride by someone, because both of them were too egoistic. They felt ashamed.
“Yes! Mama restored normalcy. Long live Mama whosoever’s Mama he is” said Ammu and laughed aloud.
“Thanks to the God-sent Mama. May he live long!” Somu chipped in with a loud guffaw. And then they became one happy family once again, thanks to ‘Mama’!
Now, can you guess from which region of Bharat this tale is from?
The answer would be ‘No’. This tale could be from any part of Bharat, for, the special quality of hospitality and treating a guest like god, is common all over Bharat. Athithi Devo Bhava!
And equally common all over Bharat is the special affection and regard towards “Mama”!!
Wishing all of you a wonderful New Year!!