Mr. and Mrs. Soundaryam ran Athithi Devo Bhava — a small joint in the city of Chennai. People from all walks of life crowded around the stall and business was quick, often rushed, with hardly a minute to be wasted as the middle-aged couple churned out hot fluffy idlis, dosas and vadas that were served on leaf plates and accompanied by fresh coconut chutney along with the popular red curry of the south — the tangy and mildly spicy sambar. Mr. Soundaryam served up the delicacies while his wife engaged herself in the cooking process. Their daughter Maithili, often assisted them after college hours.
Lively conversation lent an old world charm to the small setting with the noise level diminishing to an uncomfortable silence whenever a passing constable joined in. It was remarked that Mrs. Soundaryam possessed nerves of steel, as she would nonchalantly chat with the khaki clad visitor while her husband quietly loaded up the plates.
The establishment also offered a gaggle of street children, a free-meal-scheme that allowed them to attend the local school and work on their lessons. One evening, the group’s leader approached Amma and informed her that a ‘veliyoorkaaran’ visited their shop every morning to ogle at Akka and relentlessly pursue her. Their Akka seemed to be troubled by the heckling so could their police friends be informed?
Amma’s reaction to the query came as a surprise. She pondered aloud about the vagaries of their cuisine and elaborated in mock seriousness, ‘Let’s gift the newcomer something special. How about an extra spicy curry to stoke those raging hormones?’ Uproarious laughter followed the remark once comprehension dawned. ‘Our motto – Athithi Devo Bhava,’ she said, ‘is to ensure that an esteemed guest enjoys his repast. And that is exactly what we shall do.’