Saturday, March 3, 2018

The fortuitous realization

“Amma, why do you buy for Shanthi the same good quality and design of dress materials as ours for every occasion? She is after all our cook’s daughter,” questioned the two daughters Rohini and Chandra in chorus their mother Raji.
“I am greatly disappointed with your attitude. Do not be petty minded and jealous. She is also of your age living with us in our premises. Her mother has been working for us since the day I got married. I consider them a part of our family,” replied Raji with slight irritability.
Not mollified, the eldest Rohini said, “We are not petty minded. Only you seem large hearted in equating Shanthi with us. Hereafter we will select our own dress materials. You can buy anything that pleases you for her.” When Raji did not respond, they left the room in a huff. This was the first time she spotted their jealousy for Shanthi.
It was only then an earlier incident came to her mind. Shekhar was not in town. It was a Sunday when all of them were having breakfast, she noticed the two girls Rohini and Chandra were whispering to each other and giggling at Shanthi.
“What for are you both giggling staring at Shanthi? It is bad manners. Come out with your answer and till such time we will stop eating our breakfast,” Raji said in an irritated tone.
When they did not answer, she said “I am giving one last chance to tell me truthfully why you both smirked at Shanthi. If you do not come out, I would no more share the table with you two and would prefer to eat alone.”
Shaken by fear, Rohini blurted out, “We were wondering at the audacity of Shanthi although the Cook’s daughter taking the seat on the table even before we took ours.”
Raji flew into rage and told them curtly that Shanthi too was like the other two girls for her and that she would no more tolerate such silly behaviour from them.
As she lay in the bed recollecting the harsh words from the girls and the earlier incident, she could not resist the flashback of the initial years of her marriage with Shekhar. Her father had died leaving her mom and herself, a baby then, in penury. It was a struggle for the young woman to bring up the child though her brother was supportive to the extent he could afford. It was only after Raji completed her inter that she could get a job in Sundaresan’s, an auditor, office. Being intelligent, she learnt her job quickly and managed his office and files well. The auditor, a distant relative, used to wonder how quickly she had picked up the tax laws and efficiently presented the draft returns of the clients for his examination. He relied on her more than on his qualified assistants and article clerks. He gave her good increase in salary to enable her family live in comfort. He treated her with dignity and affection as if she were his own daughter.
Though Raji’s mother wished her married, Raji was not interested as she was apprehensive if her husband would at later date refuse to keep her mother with them. Years went by till one day auditor Sundaresan paid a surprise visit to her apartment on a Sunday. The driver came inside and left a large basket full of fruits. Flustered by this unexpected visit, Raji dusted the chair with her sari and requested him to be seated even as she called her mother. After the introduction and pleasantries, Sundaresan turned to Raji and said,” I have come to discuss some marriage proposal for you with your mom. I do not mind, rather I would prefer, your sitting here to listen.”
Turning to Raji’s mother, he said “I have my cousin’s son who is a lawyer in the city commanding good practice. He will be five years older to Raji. An unexpected tragedy struck about two years back when his wife died suddenly in an accident leaving behind two girls. She was a social worker working in a NGO for protection and upliftment of destitute children. She was also an honorary secretary of an orphanage that was run very efficiently. She was a very kind and generous lady. The loss left my nephew shattered and he struggled to bring up the two small girls. My cousin could persuade his son with great difficulty to marry again as it was difficult to bring up the girls without a woman in the home. I can testify to my nephew’s   character and suitability as a match for your daughter. Your daughter would be well off and I do not foresee any objection from him to your continuing to reside with your daughter. Since I am interested in the wellbeing of both Raji and my nephew, I made bold to make this request to you,”
The lady kept quiet for a couple of minutes before saying,” Raji is very fortunate to have you as her mentor. Personally I have no objection especially when recommended by you but would leave it to Raji to decide. I can only persuade her but not prevail upon her,” and turning to Raji told her, “You have heard uncle and you know he is your well-wisher. I feel that this is godsend and we should not let go. Tell him your view as it is most important.”
Raji was silent for a long time and finally spoke,” Amma, I will go by what you and uncle decide is good for me. I only wish for an assurance from the lawyer that he would allow you to stay with me even after marriage. I have no other demands.”
Shekhar turned out be an extremely affectionate and warm person and took special care that all comforts were given to Raji’s mother. Being a high profile lawyer, he could afford to employ a mami (lady cook) and relieve the old lady from the chores. He had no objection in Raji continuing to help his auditor uncle as she was used to.
The two young girls got attached to her easily. Everything was hunky dory and she had no care in the world except that she had no baby of her own. It was then Shekhar confided in her that the two daughters of his were actually adopted from an orphanage as his wife could not conceive. He also let her into the secret under strict confidence that the two baby girls were generously adopted without any reservation by his wife despite their rescue from a brothel when their mothers deserted them. Raji was initially shocked to hear this news but wondered at the good nature of his first wife and easily reconciled to the fact that she was blessed with two daughters, what if adopted from whatever source. On her part, Raji took under her care the cook’s girl also as one more daughter.
Back from reverie, she decided to broach about the peevish behavior of the two daughters to Shekhar. Surprisingly Shekhar returned from office early that day and was resting in the bedroom in the first floor.
“Are you not well or what? Why unusually so early?” she asked him even as she ran her palm over his forehead.
“Nothing. I am quite fine. There was no work and I thought fit to spend time with you. How are things at your office? How are the three girls who are all at the same time into their teens? Must be a taxing responsibility to oversee them,” he said laughingly.
“They are never a burden to me Would you like a cup of coffee to refresh you?” she asked and shouted from the staircase” Rohini, get papa a cup of coffee from mami”
She then related the day’s incident and the earlier unsavory behaviour about the two girls to him. She never expected that this would infuriate him as he started shouting at the top of his voice, “What do they think themselves to be, Princesses or what? I have been wanting to break the news about their adoption from an orphanage for a long time but kept quiet keeping in mind your wish. If this was their behaviour, I would even tell them their real source…” when Raji put her palm on his mouth gesticulating him not to talk.
He pushed her hand and was about to continue talking when they heard a gentle knock. It was Rohini who entered with coffee cups in the tray. Her face was taut and Raji noticed from the opening Chandra standing outside. Shekhar did not talk to Rohini and started drinking coffee.
“Go and tell mami that we would be there in 15 minutes for dinner. All of you be there,” said Raji softly though she suspected that the two girls must have overheard what Shekhar was telling her.
When they went down, Raji was surprised to see the two girls set the table with Shanthi sitting on her chair watching them silently. It was Rohini who broke the silence telling, “Amma,we are very sorry for our rude behavior. It will not happen again, we promise.” Chandra was then seen standing behind Shanthi putting her arms on her shoulders.
Raji said, “It is fine and I appreciate you both for this apology.Do not worry. To me and your dad all the three of you are the same and apples of our eyes.”
Mami who was watching them from the kitchen wiped her moist eyes.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The jinx

As the car sped along the dusty road to my ancestral village, my mind went back to my last visit as a young boy of five years with my dad to my grandpa’s home. Vague memories of a spacious home lingered with its long open courtyards with shining wooden pillars along the corridors on each side leading to several rooms. I distinctly remember the darkish triangular cavity on the wall outside each room for placing the oil lamps and my running around the corridors touching each of the countless pillars as I ran past. Nothing else came to my memory save the wooden carved idol of goddess Lakshmi above the large ornate front door.
A relative of my grandpa was residing with his family in a couple of the rooms at the rear and taking care of the house. My parents who were in Penang rarely went there as a family, as my mom a Burmese never showed much interest in visiting India. It is almost three decades since I had been there with my dad. I was in US studying in a college, when my dad died. We wound up our home at Penang and my mom came to reside with me. There were some legal issues with one of my cousins laying a claim on the paternal house till it was finally decided in our favour. My visit is primarily to take stock of the situation and arrange for disposal of the house if a good offer came along.
As I stood in the courtyard and surveyed the encircling wide corridor and the well maintained dust free furniture, I could not but exclaim, “Uncle, you have maintained the house so well with not a speck of dust anywhere or broken plaster on the walls. The paints also look fresh and the varnish on the pillars shining.”
“Your dad had left a corpus and the interest from it is used for maintenance of the house,” the relative said.
“That is thoughtful of him though he had not mentioned it to me,” I said as I looked around with pride at the beautiful old heritage house, a relic of the fading past.
“I will show you around the house in the morning. The room with the light on is meant for you. You may like to wash and change the dress before dinner. It is ready,” he said as he carried my box to the room. I looked at the triangular pirai(cavity) on the wall by the side of the door and asked “Do we still keep oil lamps here?”
He smiled and said, “No, the old practice is gone. It dirties the wall with smoke and there are no occupants too.”
The dinner was typical South Indian type a bit spicy and hot for me but tasty nevertheless. Aunty, a soft spoken lady, smiled with pride when I said that I had never tasted a meal like this in my life and that the food served at Indian restaurants in US was a pale apology to this authentic version.
“What is that chair covered with a yellow bedsheet over there?” I asked pointing out to a chair on a corner by the side of long sofa with side chairs. It looked as an old model reclining chair with swing out foot supports.
“Oh, that one, “ he remarked patting his cheeks with his hands in reverence and continued, “There was a saint and a siddha purusha known as Pambu siddhar with control over snakes and great mystic powers whom your grandpa held much in reverence. He visited this house once and occupied that chair. Ever since your grandpa’s prosperity grew vastly and his philanthropic activities also took a pronounced turn. Your grandpa gave the chair an exalted status and never allowed anyone to use it. No one occupied that chair ever since save on one occasion after the old man’s demise someone by mistake occupied that chair.”
“Why what happened to him?” I interrupted hastily.
The uncle remained quite lost in thoughts before he mumbled,” He was found dead the next day in mysterious circumstances though he was hale and hearty. Ever since we had the chair covered by cloth to prevent a recurrence.”
“Bull shit,” I said in disgust at the credulity of the people here and added, ‘It could be a coincidence. Personally I do not believe in the occult powers of saints and simply because someone sat in that chair, it gets power to kill others who sit on it. Come on, please remove the cloth,”
“Pray, do not make any irreverent comment. It was because of the revered chair with its mystic powers, many potential buyers are hesitating to buy this house. They shudder at the thought of what would befall if the chair was removed from the existing place,” he replied with folded hands.
A thought struck me whether this would be a ploy to prevent the sale of this mansion and who could be the beneficiary. Would it be the poor uncle or a wily prospective buyer to prevent others from buying and to depress the price by making it a distress sale? I decided to explore the matter further and if need be by discussing with other village folks.
I did not pursue the matter further and after dinner went to my room by the side of the sofa set and the chair to retire for the night as I was tired. I could not sleep. There was the stale smell of an unused room coupled with the pungent incense of a joss stick. The ceiling fan was slow and noisy. It was then a kitten came to the room meowing gently. It scrambled on to the bed possibly as it was used to find a stranger occupying it. I held it in my hand and gently stroked it even as it purred in contentment when a vicious idea struck me suddenly. I came out of the room with the kitten in hand, removed the bedsheet slightly from the chair and laid the feline on the chair and came back to my room.
I was woken up early morning by some noise outside and came out to see aunty crying inconsolably with uncle trying to calm her. On seeing me, he stood up and said, “There had been a mishap last night. A pet of my wife and much loved by her, a kitten was found lying dead outside our house. I wonder how it could have jumped up to the high window to go out of the house. It has never done earlier. Further what killed her is unknown. What adds to the mystery is the bedsheet covering the chair has been meddled with by the kitten as no one else would touch it. Could it be that the dreaded fate had befallen her for daring to climb on to the chair?”
There was a sense of guilt and bewilderment at the tragic denouement. Maybe there is an element of truth about the jinxed chair. It cannot be coincidence second time. But my rational mind as a teacher of science would not subscribe to the jinx associated with the chair. I simply said, “I am sorry to hear about the sad end to the kitten. Could it be, it was run over by some vehicle or speeding cycle?”
During day time, I went around the village talking to the people about weather, the facilities in the village, the absentee land lords and the difficulties it caused to the local economy, and the falling prices of buildings with no new buyers. Only a couple of neighbours mentioned about the spell around the chair in my house but denied any knowledge of its putting off the prospective buyers.
I decided to break the jinx around the chair and was even prepared to throw it away. That night when everybody had retired to their bed, I took out the bedsheet and reclined on the chair resting my feet on the swing outs. It was a comfortable chair and the cane back gave a cozy feeling. I left the chair after sometime leaving it uncovered. The aroma from the flower plants wafted in through the window.
As I returned from the walk the next morning, there was a commotion outside the house with a crowd of men and women standing around at a distance and gazing at something. I saw my uncle and aunty looking crest fallen and standing with their arms folded at a distance from a long cobra with its raised hood on the steps of the house. The mention about siddha purusha’s professed control over snakes flashed in my mind. Could the presence of cobra be just a coincidence as it seemed to my rational mind or a warning to me that his powers have been tested in total insouciance?
 I was not sure but my immediate aim was to get rid of the cobra and assuage the hurt feelings of uncle. I folded my arms in obeisance towards the cobra and prayed for it to leave. To everyone’s relief and to my great surprise, the cobra shrank its hood and slithered away. It was then I realized that there are things beyond the ken of human understanding and my scientific mind could offer no ready answer to what happened before my eyes.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

55 word fiction

1.      1. Strange feeling
The lone beggar boy outside temple was startled at the continuous tinkle of coins in his bowl. Some generous man, he gratefully thought. There were 20 coins. Elated he crossed the road and put one coin in each bowl of the beggars squatting outside the church. Strange feeling, he felt, in giving instead of receiving.
2.      2. What did I tell you?
Alzheimer is in my family line. I keep it at bay by playing constantly Sudoku, Mahjong and mind games Strangely very few come to me to chat in my crowded colony. My daughter forgets my morning coffee and when reminded says I had already drunk. What did I tell you? You seem to be forgetting.
3.      3. Strange kid
I gave to the boy 20 rupee note for 18 rupees for tender coconut.
Returning two rupees taken from adjacent blind woman’s bowl, he said,” I am no beggar to take extra.”
Strange kid!  “Who is she?”
“My mom.”
“But she seems begging?”
“What if? She is blind and begs while I am physically fit.”
4.      4. The company
It was raining heavily and I was looking for shelter.
A man stood drenching outside a desolate house.
“Afraid of getting in? Seems haunted. We can keep company,” I said extending my hand.
Shaken by icy grip, I froze in fear as I saw in lightning flash his eerie smile on his hollow cavernous mouth
5.      5. Threat call
Continuous ring
Fix your funeral for tonight
What crap? Who are you?
You squealed. Boss did not like your article.
What article?
You know, you ungrateful wretch,
I did not write any. Who is your target?
You Joseph
I am telephone mechanic at junction box. What number you want?
Sorry wrong number.
 6. The invention
I met in bazaar my scientist friend. He was ecstatic.
“You seem very happy.”
“Yes, no more thirst for humans. I have found a pill.”
“Awesome!! Is it affordable?”
“Dirt cheap. Waiting for patent. I will become stinking rich!
“Production commenced. Commercial in two months.”
The Bisleri water bottle in his hand seemed odd.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The unexpected tryst at Starbucks

I was slowly sipping coffee to beat the annoying head ache at Starbucks. The interview was slated for 9am. It was nearing 10 am and I could see no lady in jeans and light blue top she said she would be wearing. I was irritated but closed my eyes deciding to hang on for another 30 minutes.
I opened my eyes when I heard a slight rustle and saw a young woman seated opposite to me. Unluckily this was not the one I was expecting for she was in strikingly colourful but elegant salwar khameez. I just nodded my head when she said hi. She must have seen me sweating and wiping my face repeatedly with handkerchief despite the cool atmosphere. I heard her cough a little to draw my attention but I ignored her and was in no mood for small chatter being in depths of despondency.
“Hello, are you OK? Any discomfort? Can I be of help?” she asked softly.
It was then I looked at her. Holding a cup of coffee in her hand, she smiled at me. She must be in her mid-twenties and was charming. With some hair styling, she would look extremely attractive. “Thank you for your concern. I am fine,” I said.
“Something is bothering you, I am sure. You need not have to confide. I am a psychologist trained to help people in distress, the lonely and the lost, the drunkards and drug addicts and even people wanting to end their lives. I can figure out in a trice when someone is agitated. That is why I asked you. Sorry, if I had intruded into your privacy,” she said.
I looked at her intently and could see a genuine concern in her beautiful eyes. I decided to talk to her hoping the head ache would disappear and my mood would improve. May be the lady in jeans and blue top would appear meanwhile. Who knows, this fetching one may even become a friend.
“Okay, I am a bit disappointed. Came here for an interview for an attractive position in marketing but the lady who was to interview has not turned up.” I paused looking at the interest with which she was listening.
“That happens. Something urgent might have cropped up. Why the sad look? I hope she would be contacting you soon,” she said
“No, there is a hitch. She asked me to send her without fail a copy of my passport before the interview when she fixed the day and venue. I could not send and may be that could be the reason for her skipping this meet. “
Why, have you lost the passport or what?” she asked.
“No, it has expired.”
“That is no issue. You can explain to her. It can be renewed fast,” she exclaimed.
“There is a problem. I cannot tell you more,” I said somewhat curtly.
“It is ok. I will not compel you, if you do not wish to. It is just that I felt like helping you,” she said in a disappointed tone. I kept quiet pondering over the matter for long whether to confide in her or not and then decided to spill the beans. Things cannot become worse, I thought.
“My passport would not be renewed, I am sure,” I feebly said. When she cast a questioning glance, I continued,” I have served a term in prison and police records have it.”
Her expression in her face changed to one of disbelief. “Oh, why were you put in prison, it baffles me? “
“I am not as clean as you imagine. I am sorry to disappoint you. I am only a graduate. I came away from my small town trying for a job. I could not get any for more than a year and started living by my wits doing all sorts of illegal things to sustain myself. I could not go back home. I am ashamed to tell you that I had even pilfered bags in buses and railway stations and threatened old women at secluded ATMs and snatched their money. Unfortunately, I was caught on one occasion and sent to prison for one year. Ever since the release, I have kept myself clean wanting to lead an honest living and settle down. I am virtually starving and I need a job badly. But with no experience and my inadequate qualifications, I am being rejected everywhere. That was why in a weak moment I stole a management degree from an acquaintance and changed the name to apply for this job. If I had got this job, I would have turned new leaf. But it seems, it is not to be,” I said.
“What you did is very wrong. You must look for a job within the country suiting your qualification and not hope to shine on borrowed plumes. I am sure you would have been found out sooner or later even if you had been offered the job. Being honest is the only way to mend your life. You can study online further if you wish to while working. But to expect a good job on a fake certificate reveals that you have not really changed or felt any sincere remorse for your criminal past. I cannot sympathize with you even a little bit,” she said emphatically.
“Yes, what you say is correct. I sincerely regret my past transgressions and criminalities and am determined to be on straight course. I have resolved no matter what, I would not do anything illegal. Any job even physical labour that can sustain me here would do,” I saw her kindly face smile a little.
“I do not think that would be necessary. May be something would come by. Do not lose heart and slide back to your old ways.”
 “Would you be able to help me to get a job using your good offices? I know none here. Even the meeting with you is god sent, I think. If you can help, would be beholden to you for life,” I said
“I was thinking on those lines. The NGO where I work needs a hand to assist me and have asked me to find one myself. I am willing to take you but you will be on probation for a year. I warn you any slight wrongdoing would mean you would be out of the job instantly and even reported to police. Mind you, I will keep a close surveillance on you. Promise me that you would not fail me,” she said as she proffered her hand.
When we shook hands vigorously, she said. “I am famished. Let us go and eat a sumptuous breakfast.
As she lay in her bed happily, a quick thought flitted across her mind. What a physique and how handsome he looks with his curly hair and a permanent twinkle in his eyes, she wondered. She could not resist the urge to meet him again and looked for the purse in her handbag where she had put the slip with his address. Oh my god, where did I keep the purse she bemoaned. It was not there. She had gone only for a fraction of minute to get sugar leaving the bag on the table. Could it be….my god?

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The scornful smile

The man in starched uniform, possibly an Assistant Jailer or someone below him, bellowed at the man opposite him in a gruff voice, “Your fourteen-year term is over, Namdhari. Collect your things and leave the place. Try to walk the straight path. Do remember you are not welcome here. “
There was a slight movement in the facial muscle of Namdhari. In his early fifties, strong built, with a week’s stubble, unkempt hair and shifty eyes, he simply nodded his head that signified nothing. As he trudged out of the prison gate with a small bag in his hand, he collected the saliva in his mouth with much noise and turned round towards the gate to spit it in contempt.
 He stood for a few minutes and surveyed the scene. There was none waiting for him. He lit a beedi and walked towards the railway station, with a steady step that showed no sign of remorse or indecision about his destination. At the station entrance he had a shave and haircut from a wayside barber, had a bath from the nearby well and wore a faded jeans and a red and black striped T shirt. None of these could hide the deep scar running from head to his left ear or minimize his wicked look. Keeping the small change, he discarded the rest of the things in the bag. He breathed long and relished the freedom in the air.
The scene at the early morning at the village that he left about 15 years back was familiar. It was smoggy and dark even as sun had risen. He crossed across to the tea shop and ordered channa bhature and tea. There were a few villagers sipping tea and talking to each other. They stopped conversing when he entered. He thought none recognized him or spoke to him. There was an embarrassing silence. He quickly ate and left the place. He heard to his chagrin the resumption of the loud conversation amidst the laughter.
As he walked to Late Nathuram’s house, the events that happened when he was here fifteen years back unfolded before him like a film. He was a vagabond with no job then and lived by his wit cheating, thieving and deceiving people. He chanced to come to Nathuram’s house one day fully drunk seeking a job to work in the fields and tend his cattle. Nathuram, a kind man, was seated on a cot with his young son of about eight years. Though he had heard about his shady character, he was willing to employ him hoping the steady job would transform him to be a responsible member of the village.
It was then Nathuram’s wife Savitri came out of the house holding a tray containing tea and cookies. She was petite and extremely good looking with smiling eyes. When she saw a stranger she pulled up her sari to cover her head and her face partially. Namdhari stared at her without taking his eyes off her even as Nathuram told his wife, “This man seeks a job in our farm. He has no family and would live in the shed at the rear. I am thinking of asking him to work.”
Savitri hated him at the first sight at the way he stared at her and for the lust in his eyes as he ran his eyes over her body. She knew surely he meant trouble. “We do not need any fresh hand. I have already promised our maid Putli that her husband can work from next week,” said Savitri in a decisive tone.
Nathuram turned towards Namdhari and said,” Sorry, I was not aware of her promise to our maid. When something comes up, I will send for you. Have the tea.”
Namdhari yelled, “Aren’t you a man? After promising me, how can you listen to a woman, you henpecked fellow? She will pay for it very dearly.”
“Your disrespectful talk confirms the apprehension I had initially of you and which I was ready to ignore. I have no more use for you. Get out of my place before I get you thrown out,” shouted angrily Nathuram.
Seeing Savitri contemptuously laughing at him, Namdhari in a fit of rage pulled out a revolver and shot two rounds at Nathuram with one hitting his stomach.
Nathuram in utter disbelief in his eyes fell on the ground clutching his belly even as blood quickly covered his body. Savitri shocked at the turn of events rushed to his side. As he was squirming in excruciating pain, Namdhari grabbed Savitri’s hand and started pulling her towards the house shouting, “You will soon regret for laughing at me, you slut. I never expected to have you so soon in my grasp.”
As she was resisting and trying to bite his hand, a stone thrown from somewhere hit his head loosening his grip as he faltered. Savitri freed herself and ran towards the nearby well and jumped into it. Meanwhile hearing the commotion, a few farm hands rushed and overpowered Namdhari. The little boy who ran towards the well from his hiding place shouted at the farmhands to save his mother from the well.
By the time Nathuram was taken to the nearest hospital, he had lost much blood and breathed his last making it a murder case.
Woken up from his reverie as he neared Nathuram’s house after so many years, Namdhari was wondering whether Savitri who would be in her forties be alone in the house. Quickening his pace in anticipation, he found the courtyard in the front empty. Emboldened by his luck in finding no one, he climbed the footsteps leading to the patio till he found a young man in his twenties come out.
“Who ae you and what do you want?”
“You may not remember me. Are you Nathuram’s son? Your mom would know me,” said Namdhari
“Yes, I am Nathuram’s son. I have no idea who you are. You have not answered my question as to what brought you here.”
“I came to meet your mother to find out whether she has any work for me here,” Namdhari replied with a leering smile.
“You can meet her. Please come in,” he said and took him to small room that was barely furnished and made him seated on a bench. ”My mother would soon meet you,” he added as he left the room.
Namdhari was rejoicing at the prospect of meeting Savitri and decided to be tactful before gaining her confidence. As he was lost in thoughts about her petite figure, he failed to notice a farm hand leaving a gunny bag under the bench till he closed the door behind. He looked around to call the young man and found no windows. As he knocked the door hard, he felt something cold at his feet. When he looked down he found to his horror two darkish full grown cobras with raised hoods staring at him to make a move. In a reflex action he pulled his legs up only to be bitten by both the cobras. His screams for opening the door was met with deafening silence. Soon he fell down frothing at the mouth and the colour of his skin turned blue.
The door opened after a while with a farm hand entering the room. He deftly caught the cobras and put them back in the gunny bag before leaving quietly.
The young man entered and said ”However old you become, the deep scar on your head and the jaw betray your identity. I had also information from someone at the teashop, that you are back from prison. We hurriedly made some preparations to meet you in a fitting style. You wanted to meet my mother. She said she was not interested in meeting you. I hope my father’s soul would be at peace today wherever it is.”
Namdhari was breathing hard with difficulty and realized his life was  ebbing out when he heard the same contemptuous laugh he had heard years back  from outside the room.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Giving is a blessing

Born with a silver spoon in the mouth and blessed with a good natured wife and intelligent children, John Sebastian had nothing much to wish for. The only troubling thing was his embarrassingly protruding large tummy that hindered his easy mobility and evoked the amused smiles of passersby. Determined to get rid of the unwanted burden, he changed his dietary habits to Spartan food and to a strict regimen of long walk daily both in the mornings and evenings. The slightly dark, large and well maintained municipal park with clean pathways with flower plants and crotons on both sides in the sylvan surroundings was his daily haunt for his constitutional.
It was Christmas Eve and he was busy with his family and was consequently slightly late for his walk on this dark evening in the pathway of the large municipal park. Except for a very few old people spending their time on the benches close to exit gate, the park was desolate. The lighting was also not adequate with lamp posts far from each other. Being timid by nature, he was uneasy about walking alone in the dark areas, but was determined not to skip the forty five minutes’ walk prescribed by his doctor to keep his weak heart in good condition. Desirous of getting out of this dark and desolate patch quickly, he increased the pace.
Suddenly out of nowhere, a man emerged from the bushes. He was a big built man but his eyes were sunk and cheeks hollow betraying his indigent condition. He simply stood opposite John Sebastian in the pathway with his threatening physique but pleading eyes without uttering a single word.  Sebastian said in annoyed tone “What is your problem? Why are you standing in my way preventing me to proceed further?”
 The man replied in a tremulous voice “I need some money immediately. Give me the money you have. I think you can afford it”.
 Sebastian was afraid to argue with him considering there were none around to help. He normally carried a small amount with him for any emergency. He took his purse and gave it to him meekly. The man opened the purse and counted six hundred rupee notes. He kept one hundred rupee note with him and returned the purse with the balance.
“This is adequate for my needs. I am sorry for taking this money like this and this is the first time I am doing this. I am badly in need and did not know any other way. Please excuse me,” he said as he hastily moved away.
 Sebastian was intrigued at this strange behaviour of the man. He was sure that the man was not a habitual offender and remembered how his hands trembled when he took the purse and counted the money. His curiosity thus aroused he followed the man at a safe distance. After passing through a few lanes he reached a hut. John Sebastian hid himself outside the hut the man had entered.
He heard the man crying and telling loudly to his wife, “I have become today a despicable robber taking away money from some stranger without earning it and my whole body is cringing in shame and guilt. God would never forgive me for this sin and my hands would surely be dipped in boiling oil in the hell.”
His wife consoled him saying “What other alternative did you have to save the starving children from death. They have not taken a morsel since two days and are weeping continuously in pain. No one around here is willing to help. Neither of us got any work even after much search. I am also not comfortable with this way. I will not ask you to do it again, I swear upon God. Please excuse me. When we get better off, we will put hundred rupees in the hundi at the temple”
 Sebastian heard the man repeatedly beating his head with his hands and sobbing in remorse. Unable to bear this and to pacify him Sebastian entered the dimly lit hut. On seeing him, the man was startled and started crying loudly saying” Oh God, police have come to take me.”
 Sebastian patted him on his shoulder and asked him to calm down telling him “Do not be afraid. There is no policeman,” and in placating tone told the man who was shying away from him, “There is nothing to fear. No harm will come to you. When you took only one hundred rupee note from the purse and returned the balance, I realized you are no criminal and that circumstances must have forced you to take this crazy step. My impression is vindicated by the feeling of guilt shown by you and the conversation with your wife that I overheard. I have forgiven you already. I have now seen your pitiable condition. You can work, if you are willing, as a gardener in my house from tomorrow. Follow me to see my house.”
He thrust the balance money in the hands of the incredulous and sobbing man standing before him with folded hands and said, “Buy some food for all of you and join for work tomorrow.
The man and his wife fell at the feet of Sebastian clasping his legs. The bewildered children too followed suit by falling on the ground before him. The man mumbled “Saheb, you have saved us from falling into a life of wickedness and misery. You are our saviour and we are beholden to you for life.”
Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, and kindness in your smile.” Mother Teresa

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The hangman’s dilemma

It was a small tiled house  that had not seen a colour wash for years on the outskirts of a small town. Nandu lay on the charpoy gazing vacantly at the ceiling in the dimly lit room He had become silent and morose, ever since he heard from the small health centre that did the duty of a government hospital, that his only daughter needed an immediate surgery to relieve her from the acute pain. The local health centre in a ramshackle building had no facilities for surgeries and the private hospital in the adjacent town was the only one in the vicinity that was equipped to do surgeries. He had no money to pay the amount they demanded. His efforts to borrow from some known people did not fructify as they knew he had no regular income to return the money.
“What is the point in idly staring at the roof when Neelu is crying in pain? You must accept the offer on hand readily without the morals of your action coming in the way. Do you want the girl to die for your false principles? It is not something that is new to your family. Your father did it many times and so did your grandfather. It is your hereditary calling. Get up and tell the authorities your willingness to do the job and they can arrange a date,” pleaded his wife Meenu.
“You don’t understand Meenu. It is not false principles as I have myself done this earlier and our family has been the traditional hangman. That is why they are persuading me to take up the assignment and luring me telling that the fee for the services is presently high. But what bothers me is something different that you are not aware of,” replied Nandu.
“Tell me what bothers you more than the suffering of our only child? Have you become immune to suffering of people by having hung criminals in the past?” asked Meenu.
“No, not at all. I have no qualms in doing my hereditary profession. But, in this case hanging the young man who has been convicted wrongly would tantamount to murder,” said Nandu
“Why, was he not sentenced to death by a judge after considering all facts presented to him? Since when you have become a bigger judge to question the judgement? Your job is to do a professional job when the jail authorities ask you. You are not a supari killer. Do not let your mind trouble you by some ethical notions. If there is a miscarriage of justice, the judge will be answerable to god. I urge you to go today itself and convey your willingness. With that money we can get our daughter treated quickly,” implored his sobbing wife.
“I am surprised that you feign ignorance when the entire world knows that this young man hardly 21 has been framed and made a scape goat for the brutal murder committed at the instance of a neta. The only fault of the boy was he stumbled on the body lying hidden in the bushes when he went to answer the call of nature early in the morning. He was foolish enough to touch the body to see if it was alive and handle the blood stained machete that was lying by its side leaving his finger prints all over,” explained Nandu.
“oh, my god, what happened there after?” asked Meenu.
“The idiot messed up further by wiping his blood stained fingers on his dhoti. When this illiterate fool went to police, they took note of his blood stained dhoti. The finger prints on the machete nailed him further. All his protestations about his innocence were of little avail and the poor fellow was taken into custody,” commiserated Nandu.
After drinking a glass of water, he continued “The wily neta seized the god-send opportunity and in connivance with the police managed to get him charged with committing murder for personal reasons.”
“When the case came up before the judge, he could not explain satisfactorily why he went far inside the bushes when it was still dark exactly to the place where the body lay to relieve himself and why he took the murder weapon on his hand and wiped the blood on his dhoti. The circumstantial evidence was heavily against him as in the previous week only, he was seen quarreling with the dead man opposite a tea shop for stalking his sister and misbehaving with her.
The dead man was a rowdy and a side kick of neta and knew many of neta’s secrets and his benamis. The revenue authorities were after the neta who was apprehensive that his house could be raided any time. He did not want any trail to lead to his benamis and feared that the sidekick who knew too much could be a potential threat to him. He had him liquidated through his hatchet men.”
“Everyone knew but could do little being afraid of wicked Neta. I could not also do anything to help him but I am very clear that I will not do the hanging of an innocent man. He has an aged mother and two younger sisters. I cannot take up this assignment even if they offer me a lakh of rupees,” said Nandu with a finality.
“If the whole world knew as you say, was the judge not aware of the wrong accusation?”
“What can the judge do? He goes by the evidence presented. There was no lawyer for the young man and a government lawyer was provided and he did not evince much interest for whatever reasons,” said Nandu with a sigh and added “Do not worry. I will find some way to get Neelu operated soon. The doctor had said the surgery can even wait for couple of months and she can have pain killers.” Pacified, she did not argue further.
Five weeks later one evening Nandu asked his wife to get ready for daughter’s surgery. Surprised, she asked “Where did u get the money so soon when everybody you know had refused? “
“Don’t you bother about that. That is neither important or urgent. Get ready and tomorrow morning we will go. Have some clothes for all of us,” he said. Meenu did not pursue the matter and was happy that her daughter would soon be normal.
A fortnight later post surgery on one evening as Meenu was leisurely plaiting her daughter Neelu’s hair on the pial outside her house, a car screeched to halt opposite their house. Who would be coming to our house in a car, wondered both mother and daughter, when a tall dhoti clad rich man and his well-dressed wife got down and approached them. The driver followed them with a big basket on his hands. Nandu had gone out on an errand.
The bewildered two rose when the man with folded palms asked “Is this Nanduram’s house? Am I speaking to his wife and daughter?”
“Yes Saheb, he has gone out and would be back by night,” Meenu said.
“Can we both come in? We have come to thank him for the great help he had rendered to save our daughter from the jaws of death. This is a secret that should not be told to others. He had very kindly donated his kidney though in a hush hush manner for obvious reasons,” said the man.
Confused and shocked as Meenu was, she remarked,” It could be someone else as my husband had not mentioned about any donation to me.”
“No, it is only your husband. He confided in me that the money was urgently needed for daughter’s surgery. Did your daughter undergo any surgery recently?” asked the man.
When she nodded in agreement, he added “He did not bargain and wanted money for meeting the expenses for surgery. I did not give much thought to it then. When I see my daughter fully cured and resumed her studies, I realized that Nanduram has not given not only his kidney but given my daughter a fresh lease of her life. From what I learn from you, the selfless man has given his daughter also a new life. I was suffering from a sense of guilt that I had not compensated him adequately for his great sacrifice. I have brought some money that would do justice for the sacrifice he has done.
Meenu’s heart, while sorry for her husband losing a kidney, suffused with pride at the thought that her husband had ethically declined to hang a man whom he knew for certain was innocent even when no one would have accused him of any wrong in doing his professional duty and more so when the money was badly needed for saving his daughter.”
“I am sorry for my incivility in making you stand outside. Please come in,” she said as she hurried to the kitchen to get buttermilk for them.
“Circumstances do not define you. How you deal with them does.”