Have you ever wondered, walking past the grocery store, how the man behind the counter could keep his hands off the sweets in the glass jar? Yes, me too. Nearly every morning on my way to school, I would see Chettiar in his crisp white veshti and white khadi cotton shirt, sacred ash smeared liberally over his forehead, sitting impassively behind the counter in his grocery store. He was clearly the master of all he surveyed. And every morning, I would wonder how he was never tempted by the gorgeous little globules that shone out from the bell jars that stood on his table.
In all those years, I never once saw him unwrap a little toffee and toss it in his mouth. Not even during those idle summer afternoons when most people preferred to stay indoors and Chettiar's store would be quiet for want of customers. He seemed strangely immune to the sweet temptations that were so tantalisingly close at hand. How could that be?, I tried to reason. May be he had them when I wasn't looking. That must be it. After all, I reckoned, I passed by his store two or three times a day. And he must be helping himself to handfuls during rest of the day. Just to be sure, I started going past the shop more often. Sometimes, I would turn the corner and observe him secretly. But not once did I see him reach for the jars. This must be some sort of a miracle, I was convinced. Whoever heard of a man who did not grab the treats when they were at arm's length?
I never got to the bottom of the mystery. Some months later, we moved out of the house and subsequently, Chettiar's store gave way to a high-rise apartment. Last week, I saw Chettiar again. I was at the traffic lights when a scooter pulled up next to my car. Chettiar was sitting behind someone, his son presumably, on the scooter. He was smaller than I remembered him. More condensed and shrunk with age. As the two-wheeler raced ahead of me, something fluttered out of Chettiar's hands. It landed briefly on my windshield before being blown away. It was a small square of transparent green crinkly paper. The kind used to wrap toffees.