Sun-god was blazing . Doubt overwhelmed me. I remembered the conversation with Shuk back in Mumbai. “Have you gone mad? Do you know that you have to distribute gallons and gallons of lassi ? How on earth are you going to manage it ? You have not actually promised, have you?” “Well, I have,” was my shaky reply. “Can you not return the money?” “Nope.” Now Shuk turned all practical – “Tell me, if someone caught you on the parikrama path and offered you lassi, would you accept it?” I was shocked. “Of course not, I don’t want to die of food-poisoning!!” “Then child, how can you expect others to drink lassi from your hands? In these days, when people are dying like fleas, especially in Dham, out of chicken-buniya and what-not, do you really expect people to be so ignorant as to drink road-side lassi, offered by Kishori-alone-knows-who-Madhumati ?” Shuk was being awfully patient with me. “Sorry raja, I did not ask for it. ‘Donor’ das inflicted it on me. ” (Since, in this case the brother who has donated for thsi noble cause is extremely good Vaishnav, he will be be hurt if i drop the slightest hint of his name, it is best we honor him as ‘Donor’ das. )
“We are now in Kurukshetra, and we cannot return. Better blow your Panchajanya and get started.” The most dignified reply I could muster, except that my voice did not sound dignified at all, rather it came across as a squeak, vast contrast with Panchajanya.
Here I was sitting at the baniya’s.
“Ratu bhaiyaa, I want glasses. Lots and lots of them”, I croaked.
“Why didi, any Vaishnav-bhojan in your kutir?” he looked surprised. He seemed to ask, “And why am I not invited?”
I shook my head. “I am supposed to distribute gallons and gallons of lassi, especially to children.” My voice sounded mournful.
“Ee baat kaa?” He was full of enthu. Suddenly an idea struck me. Why not ask him with whom I should place an order for such huge quantity of lassi ? He was aghast. “Didi, aap lassi order kaahe doge? Aap khud lassi banaao naa.” I struck my head. No way ! He insisted, “Didi, is se badhiyaa lassi banegee, saaf-suthraa rahega, aur Thakurji ko bhog bhee lagaa sakoge. Dil me tasalli rahegi, ki aapne bhakton ko achchee aur shuddh cheez pilaayee.” He added gently. Both Shuk and I were overjoyed when we heard this.
“So how do we go about this – please guide us.”
“Simple. You place an order for good quality dahi. You can always taste it to see whether or not it is fresh. Add sugar, a pinch of salt. Then buy enough ice. Crush it and add it to the curds, then stir the curds using a hand-mixer. Do you have one?’ I nodded vigorously and urged him to go on.
“Nothing else. You are done. ”He replied with a broad smile. “I will reach everything to your house. Oh yes, you will need at least half-a-dozen rickshaws. So you better book them in advance. Send one of them here to collect the dahi, glasses, sugar, salt and ice.”
“But..but…how much sugar and ice in how much dahi?” I was still unconvinced.
Immediately he rattled off precise amounts like a robot. “Now shoo off you both ! “ He said laughing.
“Radhe Radhe Ratubhai!”
“Radhe Radhe didi”.
While walking towards the rickshaw-puller’s house, I had another brainwave. Why not tell Khemu to gather five more of his biradari-waale ? There is no need for us to walk around in this hot sun, you now ! As soon as Khemu heard our plan, he leaped up to venture on our Lassi-abhiyaan (Mission Lassi). He started hollering – “Ay Jiddu ! ay Guddu ! Lachhmi jeejee, zara Lakhaa ko bulaai de!” In no time six rickshaw-pullers had surrounded us. I unfolded our plan to them. “We have to distribute lassi on the Giriraj Parikrama path, especially to the children. I think there will be more crowd in Govardhan. The market place is the best. What do you say? After all we have lots and lots of lassi. How much will you charge and for how long? Since we do not know how long it will take for all lassi to get over? People may want it or may not want it. We may have to wait the entire day for all the lassi to get over – it is a huge quantity, you see?” I was very open with them. They started laughing.
“Didi, do you have some great penchant for Govardhan, or is it part of your manauti ?”
I looked quizzically at them. An old Ricksha-walla Chacha spoke –
“I mean, you will meet the same Parikrama yatri in Govardhan and at Radhakund. The yatri who will be at Govardhan, will surely come to Radhakund also. Without doing Radhakund Parikrama, how can she or he complete a parikrama? Therefore there is no need for us to go all the way to Govardhan. The closer you are to your home, the more relaxed you will feel, yes, Lalli ?” Shuk and I nodded vigorously.
“Achchaa then, when do we start ? Early morning? You see, we have lots and lots of lassi …”
“No”, came the firm answer. “We shall start only at 4 in the afternoon, not before that.”
A wail escaped from my lips – “don’t you understand ? We have lots and lots……..it will take all day and night……..”
But they had raised their hands. Enough ! The verdict had been proclaimed. We were to meet at 4 PM that very afternoon. Janmashtami was the the day of vrat, the biggest and the best day in Braj. The happiest day. The right day for Mission Lassi.
My spirits that had shown some small sign of life some minutes earlier, once again sank in the bowels of doubt. I asked Shuk, “Would you drink lassi from an unknown person on the roadside, on a Day of Vrat ?”
“No way !!!”
Sri Radhe ! Again I had goofed up. But where were we going to find all those rickshaw-pullers? I had already paid them in advance. Oh never mind ! When they arrive, we will simply notify that we had postponed Mission Lassi by one day. And Ratubhai was not going to send the ingredients for lassi unless and until we dispatch a rickshwalla to his shop. Thus elated, we entered the house, only to be greeted by a radiant Rambaksh, Ratubhai’s son. “Bapu is so excited that dear Didi and Jeejaji are going to distribute lassi, and that too on the paavan-avasar of Janmashtami, that when he saw Chiddu’s big Maruti van pass by, he stopped him , piled all the items in it, and bundled me off !” He said grinning ear to ear.
I knew when I was doomed.
It was hardly 3 O’clock, when all the rickshaw-pullers had lined up outside the gate. Shuk called the men inside, and all of them got busy. Huge blocks of ice were rolled in gunny bags, and beaten with hammers and all sorts of carpenter’s tools to crush it. Mega-size dekchis containing dahi were brought in. We women started churning it with Boss hand-mixer/grinder. In between Rambaksh unloaded bags of sugar and pushed in fistfuls of salt. “Ekadashi salt”, he grinned. And then he gingerly pushed a large-size fancy looking colorful box at me. “What is it?” I raised my eyebrow suspiciously. In a semi-whisper, conspiratorial tone, he offered, “gulaab and Kewra-jal – something Bapu had forgotten, but I thought of it at the last minute.” Of course ! ROYAL LASSI ! Wait till I tell this to ‘donor’ das !
- “Lo didi, taiyaar ho gayebo ! Ab bhog lagaai do !” Raju bhaiyya’s (the dahi-walla) holler broke my reverie. Shuk held out a washed tulsi leaf at me while my friend Brajeshwari handed me a new plastic glass from the pack brought by Rambaksh. As I caressed the leaf between my hands, Raju bhaiyaa shoved me aside. “Chalo hato, tohhse kachhu naahi hoibe. O Ramuaa, tanik tulasi le aaiha toh !” I looked up to see the Brijwasi men lauging at me. Rambaksh had already gathered an armload of manjaris and leaves from our Tulasi-van. Raju bhaiyaa took the entire lot, and without washing them, he simply went on taking fistfuls of tulasi manjaris and leaves, heartily crushed them between his huge palms nad dropeed them in to each enormous dekchi. Then two Brijwasis lifted one dekchi an dplaced inside the deity-room. “Lo babuni, dekh liyo ! this is the way to offer lassi to Lali and Lala.” Oh Sure ! I nodded mutely. I was not at all sure of what I was going to face next. The sight of all that enormous quantity of lassi was making my head reel. Images of serious devotees loomed up in front of me – “Today is Janmashtami Vrat – the One day that each and every Hindu observes, yes, even those who do not keep Ekadashi, certainly fast on Janmashtami. No way we’ll touch outside food.” I could see Shuk and I tilting huge pots of lassi into Lalita Kund. Should we do it from the front side of the kund or the back side – that was the only decision I yet had to take. Donor das ne achchaa fasayaa humko
- (to be continued….)