In the heart of the city of Mumbai lived a little girl called Suman. She was about twelve, with scraggly hair, tied in pigtails with a dirty ribbon; her dress was a tattered frock, the origins of which were unknown , but which obviously had seen better days at some time in the past. Suman had no address, no parents, no siblings- she did not even know how she came to be called Suman . She would sit on a boulder under the shade of an neem tree at a busy intersection on the pavement and sell flowers- mogra, chameli, jasmines, sometimes roses and marigolds too. Her fare varied with the seasons.
Suman was happy doing what she did and at the end of the day if she managed to make more than ten rupees, she considered herself lucky. It would mean that she could throw in a kulfi at the end of her dinner. In summer it was kulfi , in winter it was a cup of hot tea. Part of her earnings were kept aside to buy flowers the next day, and everything else went into meals.
Suman was a happy little soul. Her friends were other little street urchins like her and her home was any flat surface – mostly the pavement roads. Each day Suman would wake up at 4 in the morning, bathe and clean herself from a leaking hydrant and walk the three kilometers to the flower market to buy her wares for the day. By seven she was back at her little boulder. After a breakfast of buns and tea , Suman would happily sit down to await her customers. Some were old ladies and gentlemen who bought flowers from her regularly on their way to the nearby temple, some were stray customers. Suman had a ready smile for everybody.
Sometimes, when her flowers sold out before noon, Suman would run off happily to play with the other street urchins. They would run around chasing each other, play games and generally have a good time.
Suman had no idea how she came to be selling flowers. She just knew that as long back as she could remember, she had been sitting on that boulder offering her flowers to passerby’s.
One evening, as Suman sat at her place near the crossing waiting patiently for her last couple of garlands to sell out,dark clouds hovered and broke out into a heavy downpour. She huddled and drew up her knees to her chest. The humid summer heat had given way to lashing rain and the little girl was soaked to her skin. Sales has not been too good the past few weeks and Suman had not been able to save up enough money to buy even a plastic sheet with which to cover herself. It was unlikely now that anyone would come and buy her last two garlands; but Suman still waited, cold and wet and hungry.
For the first time in her life, Suman felt an emotion alien to her…she wallowed in self pity; her plight seemed unfair to her. The passing cars with their trailing red lights that sheltered people from the rain, the flats that she could see in the distance with twinkling lights and people moving to and fro . Why even the pariah dog had sought shelter from the rain r beneath the awning of a shop.
The wind speed grew and rain lashed down in torrents . The water in the nullah flowed steadily into the drains. The streets were deserted and only the little girl sat under the lamppost by her little boulder.
A loud crackle of thunder startled the girl and she looked up. Standing before her was a lady draped in a saree. She too was drenched and her hair was long and wet with a white mogra garland still clinging to her long plait. She smiled down at Suman and extended her hand. To Suman it seemed that she never seen a lovelier smile – so much kindness and warmth. Nobody had ever shown her that. The lady extended her arms and Suman handed her the left over flowers. But the lady shook her head gently and continued to extend her hands. Suman looked up bewildered and the lady smiled gently , beckoning her. Suman stood up and stepped over the flowers towards the lady. The woman brought the girl close to her bosom and embraced her. Suman felt a wild a kind of happiness seep through her- she had never believed such contentment, such security existed.
The thunderstorm lasted through the early hours of the morning and when the sun rose, it was a bright sparkling morning. The sights and sounds of the day resumed as usual. The milkman and paper boy started their rounds. Shopkeepers came to raise their shutters and start the day’s business. The old gentlemen and ladies came out for their regular trip to the temple and stopped by on the way to buy flowers from Suman .
A crowd soon gathered around Suman’s little boulder. There was no Suman there, but her little grass mat on which she placed the flowers was still there and on it were strewn a heap of white garlands made of mogras . The fresh sweet smell that had Suman loved so much.
The child must have run away, mused one. Another nodded in assent. A third wondered if she had been kidnapped and then went on her way. Suman was soon forgotten, but the freshness of the mogras lingered with the people who walked away.