Friday, July 31, 2009

The deep scar

Guna, a school drop out, fell into bad company and turned into a petty thief to find the money for his booze and other vices. While he had not graduated to more serious crimes like house breaking, he was content with picking the pockets in crowded places, stealing boxes in railway station and once in a while snatching chains in desolate roads during dusk. He had a stolen scooty for his easy mobility. He is accustomed to spending short durations in jail only to get back to his old ways when out of it. His name figured in the police records as a suspect and he used to be ‘interrogated’ in the police stations off and on whenever there was a theft from important people. He got a deep scar in his neck when there was an internecine fight amongst the different groups of bad elements. There was therefore no difficulty in identification. He came from a decent family and all attempts by his parents and siblings could not succeed in making him mend his ways. They gave up in disgust.
As ill luck would have it, his next victim was a family member of an important political functionary. The politico's wife and daughter had made heavy purchases and were keeping the baggage in the boot of the car. As they were bringing some more packets from the portico, the packets already kept in the boot had mysteriously vanished. One of them should have stood guard while the other one brought the purchases. This elementary precaution they ignored to their big loss. The police swung into action to nab the culprit. They know the usual lot operating from different localities and some were even on friendly terms. One of the constables, Manickam, was assigned to look for Guna who had vanished from his usual haunts. The police could not get the lead and pressure was mounting on it to recover the stolen goods..
The police man was practically on the road for the last three days and wherever he went he was drawing a blank about Guna.He had to get him at any cost. On getting some tip that he might be in a village on the outskirts of the city, Manickam proceeded to the place. It was around 4pm when he entered the village. He saw a big fire raging and burning the large cluster of huts. Gusty winds helped the fire spread fast from one hut to another giving little time for the residents to bring out their belongings from their thatched houses. Scared people came out running with whatever worthwhile they could lay on. Some were found coming out with young children, some with invalid old men or women on their shoulders and some with boxes, beds, vessels and what not. There was utter confusion amidst the screams and wails rending the air. Black smoke enveloped the area. Manickam saw one young woman screaming that her baby was in the hut that was already in flames. None dared to go in. Suddenly one young man leapt into the hut through the opening that served as an entrance and came out in a few seconds with a bundle wrapped in sheets of cloth. His dress was on fire on all sides. He gave the baby to the crying mother and fell down screaming in agony. The surrounding people tried to put out the firs by pouring sand and mud. Some poured water. He was badly burnt but looked he would survive.
Manickam craned his neck to see who the brave lad was. He saw the darkened face of the young man initially and soon his eyes froze on the deep scar on his neck that stood out clear. Everybody around him was praising the boy for risking his life to save the young baby. The tears of fear of the mom turned into tears of joy.Manickam wiped his misty eyes and pretended not to have seen any scar as he trudged on his way back.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

An act of gallantry

Kunal never wavered after he finished his graduation about his career. His dad, grandfather and several uncles had served in the army with distinction. When he decided to join the army, his relatives made fun of his family ‘monopolizing’ the army. It was a matter of genuine pride in the family that Kunal is continuing the family tradition. His only sister Kiran was unhappy and pleaded with him that there are other ways too of serving the country. She was close to him and wanted him to be near her. She has been watching in the TV the loss of young lives in the border and in the areas of insurgency. She was scared but could not express her fears to the other members in the family. She was already being ridiculed as a timid girl born in a martial family.Kunal comforted her assuring her he would be in touch with her regularly.
After the initial training and a couple of years in some postings in civilian areas, he was sent to Northern part of the country. Terrorists and spies were infiltrating from across the border and disturbing the peace of the country side. They were ruthless and cruel people bent upon creating disaffection amongst the people.Kunal and his group were combing the areas relentlessly to flush out the hiding insurgents. It was a risky and never ending job and one never knew where they were hidden. Some locals gave shelter to these under duress and threat.
It was a wintry evening.Kunal was seeing thro his binoculars the distant shanties and mud houses for any prowling figure. He suspected some movements.Focussed as he was in looking for the marauders, he got separated from his other colleagues. It was then he heard a shrill scream”Bachao, bachao”.He could see at a distance three young men dragging a young girl from out of her hut. There were none nearby to help the girl. Her shrieks became persistent but weaker. The three men had AK47 rifles. It was clear their intentions were not honest. For a fleeting moment, Kunal saw before his mind’s eye Kiran’s face plaintively seeking his help.Kunal realized there was no time to lose. They may soon hide behind the bushes with the girl to ruin her life. He knew he had slim chances of overcoming three thugs who are generally sharp shooters. He pictured his sister for a fleeting moment and wondered what he would do in such a situation. Without wasting a moment he took a careful aim and shot the fellow who was dragging the girl. It found its mark. The other two let loose the grip on the girl who started running away. There was immediately a shower of bullets at him. One hit his knee and he could hardly move. He knew they would be coming to get him. He was silent and intently looking for the slightest sound. It was all silent for long time in what looked like eternity. His knee was paining much and bleeding. He then heard a rustle of the leaves nearby and took an aim to fire a blind shot. It caught its quarry unawares. When he fell down screaming, Kunal heard a thunderous shot scrape past his neck. When he fell backwards, he saw the third terrorist aiming the gun at him unsure whether he had hit him already. In a split second Kunal shot him point blank even as the rebel emptied his gun on Kunal.There was a trace of proud smile in his face that he could save his ‘sister’ in time and also kill three terrorists single handed..
While he was given months later a posthumous award for his bravery, none knew of his act of gallantry except his unknown ‘sister’ whom he had rescued.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Daffodil Principle

I saw this story in a site adapted as an email forward.I could not resist my desire to share with you all as it has a great message

Several times my daughter Carolyn had telephoned to say, "Mother, you must come to see the daffodils before they are over.'' I wanted to go, but it was a two-hour drive from Laguna to Lake Arrowhead.
"I will come next Tuesday", I promised, a little reluctantly, on her third call.
Next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy. Nevertheless, I had given word. Though loath to make the journey, I drove there. When I finally walked into Carolyn's house, I was welcomed by the joyful sounds of happy children. I delightedly hugged and greeted my grandchildren.
"Forget the daffodils, Carolyn. The road is invisible in these clouds and fog. There is nothing in the world, except you and these children that I want to see badly enough to drive another inch!"
My daughter smiled calmly and said, "We drive in this all the time, Mother."
"Well, you won't get me back on the road until it clears, and then I'm heading for home!"
"But first we're going to see the daffodils. It's just a few blocks," Carolyn said. Sensing my incredulity, she added, “Don’t worry, mother. I'll drive. I'm used to this."
Soon, we were sputtering our way through the grim mist. Only a desolate road in sight and a howling wind for company. I glowered at my otherwise sane and sensible Carolyn, who was so hell-bent on this daft venture.
"Carolyn," I said sternly, "Please turn around."
"It's all right, Mother, I promise. You will never forgive yourself if you miss this experience."
After about twenty minutes, we turned onto a small gravel road and I saw a small church. On the far side of the church, I saw a hand lettered sign with an arrow that read: "Daffodil Garden". We got out of the car, each taking a child's hand, and I followed Carolyn down the path. Then, as we turned a corner, I looked up and gasped.
Before me lay the most glorious sight.
It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it over the mountain peak and its surrounding slopes. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns: sweeping swathes of deep orange, creamy white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, and saffron and butter yellow. Each differently-colored variety was planted in large clusters such that each swirled and flowed like a river with its own unique hue. There were five acres of flowers.
"Who did this?" I asked Carolyn.
"Just one woman," Carolyn answered. "She lives on the property. That's her home." Carolyn pointed to a well-kept A-frame house, petitely sitting in the midst of all that glory. We walked up to the house.
On the patio, we saw a poster. "Answers to the Questions I Know You Are Asking", was the caption in flowing, cursive letters. The first answer was a simple one. "50,000 bulbs," it read. The second answer was, "One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet, and one brain." The third answer was, "Began in 1958."
For me, that moment was a life-altering experience. I thought of this woman whom I had never met; who, more than forty years before, had begun, one bulb at a time, to bring her vision of beauty and joy to an obscure mountaintop. Planting one bulb at a time, year after year, this unknown woman had forever changed the world in which she lived. One day at a time, she had created something of extraordinary magnificence, beauty, and inspiration.
The daffodil garden taught me one of the greatest principles of celebration. That is, learning to move toward our goals and aspirations one step at a time -- often just one baby-step at a time - and learning to love the doing, learning to use the accumulation of time. When we multiply tiny pieces of time with small increments of daily effort, we too will find we can accomplish magnificent things, even change the world.
"It makes me sad in a way," I admitted to Carolyn. "What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five or forty years ago, and had worked away at it 'one bulb at a time' through all those years? Just think what I might have been able to achieve!"
My daughter summed up the message of the day in her usual, plainspoken way. "Start today," she said.
She was right. It was so pointless to think of the lost hours of yesterdays. The way to make learning a lesson of celebration, instead of a cause for regret, was to only ask, "How can I put this to use today?"
Use the Daffodil Principle. Stop waiting...
Until your car is paid off...
Until you get a new home...
Until you organize the garage...
Until you declutter your desk...
Until you lose or gain weight...
Until summer/spring/winter/fall...
There is no better time than right now to be happy. Happiness is a journey, not a destination.
Don't be afraid that your life will end. Be afraid that it will never begin!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An act of fairness

I give bread every Sunday to the poor who are assembled at the gate of the adjacent church. I carry twenty packets. Most days this is found adequate. Some days there are more beggars with virtually a scramble for the limited number available. Some would take the bread, hide it and move to sit in another place in the line to collect extra bread. Keeping an alert eye, I would not give to the same person twice as there were not many to go around. I also avoided giving to able bodied men unless I had surplus. It is still difficult to remember their faces. Only on some rare rainy days a few packets would be rendered surplus.
There was some special service in the church that day. Many had come to pray and the road was jam packed with cars and vendors. It was a hot day and the beggars were all sitting line with protruding hands seeking alms. I feared they were too many for the number I carried with me. I started giving from the head of the line on both sides of the gate. When I came at the end of the line, I was followed by many clamouring for the bread. I knew some of them have collected already. I had one packet left. I saw a small girl of eleven standing in a corner. She was polio affected. Gawky with unkempt hair, she did not move towards me but was watching me. I went near her and thrust the packet in her hands .

As I was moving away, I felt a tug at my shirt. There was this girl with sad eyes looking up at me. Thinking that she was asking for one more packet I bellowed in anger “I gave you just now. How dare you pull my shirt?” Holding a packet in her hand she replied in meek voice “Sir, you had given me twice by mistake. The second one you thrust on my hands and went away even before I could open my mouth. Please give this to some one else” I was struck with remorse for my unjustified anger and was greatly touched by her sense of fairness amidst the deceit all around her. “That is all right. Keep this also with you” ,I answered with a smile thrusting a ten rupee note at her out stretched hand.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Swati's new home

Nandita and Kishore were married for seven years. Nandita even from young age had a fascination for babies and relished playing with them. They tried to have a baby but to no avail. Months and years flew by with no sign of conception. They visited many doctors and had innumerable tests done. Though the tests revealed nothing adverse, doctors could not pinpoint any specific reason. They counseled patience and gave examples of how women conceived even after ten years. The parents of the couple were aware how much they longed to have a baby and kept praying all gods for one.

It was then that they took a joint decision to adopt a baby girl. They contacted the adoption centre and gave the parameters of the baby they were looking for. It is to be a baby girl above one year and less than two. They were particular about the complexion. They were both very fair and desired that the girl too should match their colour.They wanted the baby should have good features. The adoption centre did not have one meeting their requirements readily although it had many babies.Nandita declined even to have a cursory look. They decided to wait. Rohini, the head of adoption centre, had an idea. There was a young baby girl just 4 months old, fair complexioned and charming .She suggested the centre can take of the baby for a year and the couple can adopt the infant there after. She wanted the couple to have a look. Nandita and Kishore found this reasonable and readily agreed. The little baby Swati had a twinkle in her eyes and was smiling in a cute manner. They took an instant liking for the baby and found her the answer to their dreams and prayers. They assured the centre that they would adopt her after a year and to prove their earnest gave a hefty donation to the centre. They also conveyed their decision to visit the centre every weekend to spend time with the girl.

Light in heart and happy in mind they started dreaming of the days with the baby. It was then one morning Nandita felt unwell.Kishore had not left for office. She thought it was tummy upset and when she had unbearable nausea he took her to the family doctor. She examined her and broke into a large smile. Congratulating them she said they are soon becoming parents. Both of them could not suppress their ecstasy and hugged each other unmindful of the doctor’s presence.Nandita soon had a baby girl. Surprisingly the baby was dusky in colour and not so good looking. This did not bother them much.

Understandably their visits to the adoption home had reduced during her confinement days. Since birth of the baby she was busy nursing it. It was then Rohini from the centre rang up one day reminding that a year and six months have passed and Swati can be adopted any time. Rohini had a nagging doubt ever since she came to know about the conception whether the couple would be interested in adopting Swati, more so when they had a baby girl. She thought possibly they would opt for a boy. Many couples fail to return for finalizing the adoption after choosing the baby. They have second thoughts and look for another baby. But Nandita was clear in her mind that Swati is her elder daughter and the position would not change even in the altered circumstances.Kishore had also not wavered even when his parents obliquely hinted at giving up the proposal for adoption. Nandita’s friends too questioned the rationale of her adopting another girl when she had one of her own. Nandita did not budge and stood steadfast in her decision. She had given her word to Rohini to give Swati a new home and a new mom. She started looking upon her as her daughter from day one and thought that Swati and her new born sister would be an ideal twosome complementing each other. Within a week Swati was seen playing with her younger sister in her new home.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The sixth finger

Priyanka is a bubbly young software engineer with high ambitions. An extrovert she loved all good things in life, she had a disdain for anything that is conservative. Immaculately dressed to kill and with an attractive face, she was the heart throb of many in her office. She mixed with all freely. Being very good at work, she was noticed by the higher management and quickly rose to supervisory position. Her parents were pleading with her to get married ever since she found the job. She had been putting off waiting for the right person. There was this Sunil in her office who is sharing the same cabin with her. A tall and handsome guy with a curly hair and sixth finger in his hand, he had made several advances but Priyanka chose to ignore them. She was not sure whether she was put off by that protruding finger. This did not deter Sunil from his amorous endeavours.But she never encouraged him and kept him at a safe distance.

It so happened that when her parents showed her the photograph of Anand who was a management graduate working in a multinational bank, she could not say no. He looked charming with a twinkle in his eyes. His parents were known to the family and he was one among several brothers.Priyanka agreed seeing no specific reason to reject. It was all hunky dory initially. They had a spacious apartment with all facilities. As months elapsed they found they could hardly find time to spend together. She left early in the morning after breakfast and returned around 8pm after a strenuous day. Anand left at 9am and returned not earlier than 10pm.Weekends were the only time but even this was disturbed frequently as Anand left for office on Saturdays too to return dog tired by 6 in the evening. Anand was a serious guy given to intellectual pursuits and reading. A man of few words, he was the antithesis to Priyanka who kept talking and giggling all the time. There was an emotional chasm growing wider as days went by. Their love life was nothing much to talk about with both of them spent out by the time they returned home. In the three years that went by there was no sign of any child. Anand was unwilling to seek medical opinion. She would be watching the TV and sleep off in the sofa. He would be browsing the net till late into the night till he dozed away. In between he went on tours for three or four days twice a month. Life was mechanical and insipid with frequent quarrels on inconsequential matters.Priyaanka found excuses to go to her parents’ place at the drop of hat.

Sunil on his part pursued paying attention to her. He surmised that things were not going well between the couple. He spoke to her in comforting ways and helped her in her work that was falling behind. Gradually he endeared himself to her and Priyanka too derived the comfort of sympathetic shoulders to rest upon. On days when Anand was on tour, she went out with Sunil to malls, theaters and restaurants. One thing led to the other, she was soon on very intimate terms with him. Things brightened up and she looked forward to each day and contrived ways to attend office on Saturdays too on some pretext. While their torrid love affair went unnoticed and unrestrained, Anand was happy that there were no frequent tiffs at home. He worked harder to get a lift out of turn.

It was then one day when Priyanka told her parents that she was on the family way, their joy knew no bounds.Anand too was excited that he hugged Priyanka with delight. He thought with a child at home, it would become a haven of happiness and harmony. The affair with Sunil meanwhile continued unabated with Priyanka brimming with ecstasy. Months went by and soon she gave birth to a baby boy. Her parents, Anand’s parents and Anand were all waiting eagerly for the nurse to bring the babe from the delivery room. When the baby boy was finally brought wrapped in blanket, all of them exclaimed in unison the baby was a replica of Anand and taken after him in features and complexion.Anand’s mom however said the baby is having curly hair unlike Anand but that made the baby cuter. Priyanka heard all these wearing a smug smile. Anand was in cloud nine thinking of a housewarming after she returned home. Later when Priyanka was nursing the baby, she found to her horror the baby had a sixth finger.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Loyalty in misdeed

I was in class 7 and my best friend was one Daniel who was older to me by three years.. A big built fellow dark in complexion with an unkempt hair, he had no interest in studies. His father, an engine driver, was rarely at home. He was not afraid of his mom. He used to steal pencils and other writing instruments from other boys. He swore when challenged.. He was detained in every class by an year. He used to mock at the teachers and send paper aero planes in the class when the teacher turned his back to the class and wrote on the black board. He was a bully and none dared to expose the culprit for fear of blows when asked by the teacher. He was a sort of hero for me and I assumed he had Samson like powers. When I meekly asked him how he got so much strength in such an young age he would tell me that he can take six eggs at one go and that he ate meat daily. He would open my lunch box during the class and gulp the contents without even asking me. That was the price for his friendship, I would console myself. He smoked stealthily. The class teacher reprimanded me a couple of times” Why do you mingle with that good for nothing fellow. You are studying well. Keep away from him. Otherwise you will turn like him. I will report to your father ” I knew the teacher was right but I did not have the guts to antagonize Daniel and my friendship with him stemmed more out of fear and awe for him than genuine camaraderie.
It was a week before Ganesh Chathurthi. There was a big park opposite to the school with many were trees that had small seeds in red colour with a block spot(Gundumani) at one end. It would resemble an eye. I wanted these seeds for the Ganesh Idol made of damp mud that I was planning get from the market. As the tree was tall I sought Daniel’s help in getting the seeds. He willingly agreed and in the morning recess for 10 minutes, we both scaled the compound wall and went to the park. There was none around in the park. Daniel easily clambered up to the top of the tree to pluck the seeds. The branch he was standing on gave way and he fell down. He was writhing in pain and my effort to make him sit failed as he was heavy. He was crying. I looked around and finding no one, I ran to the school, jumped the wall and went to Head Master’s room. With heavy breathing and sobs in between I told him of what had happened and how Daniel was crying in pain. The HM did not ask me anything and immediately sent the PT teacher with an attendant. When we went to the park we found Daniel in the same miserable condition. They lifted him and took him to a nearby clinic. It was a multiple fracture and he was in plaster both in leg and hand. In the evening when I went with my father to see Daniel, he told me that he thought wrongly that I had run away till I brought help. He was absent from the school for nearly a month. The Head master called me to his room late in the afternoon and told me that leaving the school in the midst of classes without permission and scaling the wall were all punishable acts . Still he was letting me off with a simple warning as I came to him promptly to report the incident to get help and medical assistance to my ally in misdeed.
It was to my utmost surprise next morning that HM recounted the incident in the morning assembly for prayers and praised me for boldly coming to him to seek his help even though the two us had left the school premises without permission and for my loyalty to my friend. The Ganesh puja was celebrated with gusto that year with the red and black eyes that I had carefully saved in my pocket before running to the Head Master

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Small lady with big heart

It was a hot and sultry day. There was no breeze and the leaves in the trees stood still. It was the busiest part in the city with all the textiles and jewellery shops. There is always a milling crowd in the narrow road. The newly opened air conditioned ice cream shop was making good business. People made a bee line to it to enjoy the comfort of the cool atmosphere and savour the ice creams of many flavours and varieties. There was a cone ice cream dispenser too.
One little boy in shorts with a sleeveless banyan and bare feet was standing outside and staring at the shop and at the young kids of his age who went in and came out with a cone or a cup in their hands. His clothes were dirty and his hair had not seen a wash for ages. Afraid to go in he was lingering there for long time. Finally he mustered the courage to step in. He was pulled out by a strong hand as he pushed the door to enter. With tears trickling down his eyes, he came down the steps and sat on the parapet wall.
A puny old lady who was panting heavily behind the boy when he was pulled out muttered “tsu, tsu” as she went in. In a jiffy she came out with two cones of ice cream and offered one to the young boy. The misty eyes of the boy could not comprehend why the lady was giving him the ice cream that he longed for. She said “Never mind the rude security man. They don’t know the hurt they cause.” The boy flashed a big smile at the small lady with a big heart and ran away happily licking the cone

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The mysterious box

I was a young boy then studying in school. I came home daily for my lunch as the school was very close by. One afternoon when I came home, I saw my mother in tears. She asked me to accompany her to my grandfather’s house a few miles away. When I asked her why she was crying, she said “Do you remember ammanji (cousin).He died last night and the cremation will take place in a few hours. You must accompany me” I said “Yes mom, I don’t know much of him except that he used snuff often. I shall come”

I have seen him many times whenever I visited my grandpa’s place. He was no real cousin of his and only a distant relative. He had lost his wife several years ago and had no children. He had none to look after him in his old days. My grandpa who was well off with a sprawling big house with many servants persuaded his relative to stay with him. He was treated like any other family member with dignity and lot of respect. None knew how he was related to grandpa and yet everyone called him ammanji.He had worked as a teacher and was very proficient in English language. A voracious reader of fiction usually taken from a local library, he was generally very reticent and yet when he spoke he made everyone laugh with his witticisms. An addict to snuff, he possibly had not much income, except for buying the snuff and a few daily needs of his.

I remembered very well that he had a small almirah on the wall for his use. He used to give me round mint peppermints in white colour that tasted sweeter if you drank water after you had consumed them. There was an old small wooden box in his almirah that he rarely took out in the presence of others. But we knew he opened it daily twice in the morning and evening peering inside it for a few minutes. Whenever I was in that house, it used to be a pastime for me along with a few cousins who were living there somehow to discover what he was shielding from the prying eyes of others. Try as we did, we never succeeded. It was always kept locked with the key tied to his sacred thread (poonal as it is called in Tamil.)We boys used to surmise that it must contain some valuable stuff like gold jewellery of his wife or currency. One roguish cousin in his adolescence felt it could contain love letters. I mentioned about this strange habit of this old man to my grandpa hoping that he would help us resolve the mystery. Instead he upbraided me for my inquisitiveness in other’s personal matters and sternly asked me to cultivate good behaviour.

Memories flashed through my mind of the snuff, the mint peppermints and the wooden box as I went along with my mother. Everyone at grandpa’s house was sad as if their next kith or kin had passed away. My grandpa, whom I have always seen as a strong personality, was in uncontrollable tears. Many elders who called themselves his students had assembled and were seen praising him for his various virtuous qualities.

It was after ten days when I had accompanied my mom for some concluding day function, the topic of his mysterious box came up for discussion. My grandpa had the box brought by one of my uncles and he opened it with the key he had retrieved from his relative’s body. Everyone including uncles, aunts, my mom, cousins rushed to grand pa’s side to have a look at the contents. To great disappointment, it was almost empty except for a few coins, a book of Bhagawad Gita and an old post card size black and white photo that had gone pale and brown by efflux of time. My grandpa rubbed his eyes that had gone misty when he saw it and uttered”Ammanji and his wife”

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The relief

Saswathi, thirteen years old, was a mentally retarded girl. Gawky in her gait and ungainly in her walk, she was quiet most of the time but went hysterical on occasions. There were long periods when you would not suspect of her disability. She would talk sensibly for hours and ask very pertinent questions. One would not know why she screamed on occasions as the doors to her house were always closed. She had a younger brother who was normal like any other child. Her mother never allowed her to go to the neighbouring houses. But Saswathi knew how to dodge her mom and often escaped to other flats. In many houses she was not welcome. She would pick all things from the show case and butter fingered as she was, would drop them. When something gets broken she would cry inconsolably and plead with the lady of the house not to report to her mother. She would lift her skirt and show the burn marks she received as punishment. It was a pathetic sight for a girl of 13 sobbing like a young kid, wiping her nose with her upper cloth. She would relate with exaggeration to the willing ears how her mother wished that she commit suicide instead of being an embarrassing burden on the family. She would narrate in detail to some of the gossipy neighbours the fights between her parents or about things not usually discussed in public. She was a simpleton unaware of the mean people who encouraged her to talk by their sweet words. She would not cover herself properly and would ask the young boys playing cricket to include her too. Her mother would rush from nowhere and drag her inside after slapping her. It was a regular sight and the boys would hang their heads in pity for the girl when she gets beaten in public.
Her mother used to tell her close friends in the colony that the girl was cunning and not as simple as she appeared to be. She would deliberately scream aloud when she saw some people around her house. She craved for attention and pity from others. On one occasion she went round the colony telling that her mother was dead when she was actually asleep and did not respond to her calls. Schools were not willing to admit her. Her father had no regular income. He kept changing jobs frequently. To make up for the income her mother did odd jobs, taught music to the children in the colony and also undertook tuition for small children. The lady worked hard to make both ends meet. Her husband would stay away from the house for three or four days now and then without informing her. A recluse he never took interest in the family and was not a steady support to his wife.

It was then a young doctor came to live in the same building. A psychiatrist he witnessed the tantrums thrown by this girl intermittently. The mother approached him for help. He became a regular visitor and a sort of family friend. But the girl took a dislike for the doctor and shouted at him to go away. Her irritability became pronounced whenever the doctor was around. She would be put on tranquilizers when things went beyond control. Over a period of time the neighbours were talking in hushed tones that the doctor was seen most afternoons in her house. Whispers were also heard that he was helping the family financially. The neighbours mostly women were jealous of the mother who was fetchingly good looking. The main topic in their gossips would revolve around what was perceived by them as a passionate affair between the doctor and the mother. There was no credence to this except their malicious surmise.

It was a year or two later when one afternoon everybody heard Saswati’s loud screams from the flat. They thought it to be one of her usual bad temper. When the screams became persistent and loud, they rushed to help her but found the doors bolted from inside. Smoke was coming out. Her mother was evidently not there. They shouted back asking the girl to open the doors. When this proved to be of no avail, they broke open the doors. It was too late to save the girl. She died in the hospital that night. It was perhaps a relief both for the girl and her mom. But the incident set the tongues of neighbouring women busy with all sorts of baseless stories. Sympathy for the girl was one ingredient that was missing in their rumour mill.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Crashed dream

I was learning DTP in a private institute as I could not afford a college education. My mom was working in a private clinic... I visited daily the local government library to read the various dailies and magazines. There were many books and novels but a deposit was to be paid to take two books to home. I read the books in the library itself as I never liked to sit alone in the house when mom was away.
I was reading a supplement of a paper looking at the situations vacant column. When I turned I saw a young girl of may be sixteen or seventeen from the adjacent table looking at me. . She looked pretty with a small nose and well chiseled features. She was in a much worn out faded salwar suit that indicated her not so affluent circumstances. There was some apprehension in her eyes. There was no book before her. Some dailies were kept aside. I resumed reading the vacancy column for a moment and then turned again at her. She was still looking at me. When I looked at her she put her head down. This went on for a couple of times when I smiled at her and asked whether she wanted to say something.
“I am waiting to see the supplement you are having in your hand. When you have finished it, please give it to me before others take it “she said softly
“I am sorry I didn’t know. I was just browsing without any specific purpose. Please have it” I said as I handed over the paper
She smiled and said “Thanks. Someone told me of an ad that has come today.”
As she went back to her table I saw her long hair in plaits falling almost below her hip. She looked graceful in her walk. Though I had no inclination to read, I brought an astrological magazine and turned inside its pages. Now and then I looked at her side and noticed she was also glancing at me sideways. After about half an hour she stood up, lingered for a moment at my table with a faint smile in her face before she left.
That night as I was lying in my bed, I was dreaming of my future, of a steady job as a DTP operator and about the girl I met in the library. I cursed myself for not asking her name and whether she visited the library daily.
I was there the next day in my best T shirt and jeans. My heart sank when I found she was not there. I took a couple of papers with appointment supplements to the same desk and sat there hoping she would come. In twenty minutes she came hurriedly and I could see the expectancy in her face when she looked around and at my table. I smiled at her and showed the opposite vacant chair. When she sat down I said “I am Selva learning DTP and living near Ganesh temple in the next street. What is your name?”
“I am Akila” she replied after some time. When prompted what she did, she said “I stopped school after class10.I am learning typing “
“Why are you not studying further?” I asked
“I have no parents. I am living in my uncle’s house next to the flour mill.. He cannot afford though he is affectionate towards me. I am looking for a job.”
“I am sorry to hear that.” I said I felt pity for the girl. We have been ever since meeting at the library almost daily except Sundays. When her birthday came, I wanted to give her some small gift. She refused telling that her aunt is watchful and if she finds any new thing she will enquire and stop her from library and typing classes. We became very fond of each other and wished to spend as much time as possible together.
One week later when I met her one day in the library, she smiled at me but looked away quickly. I felt she was trying to hide her face. I moved to see her face with tears trickling down. I asked her what bothered her. She did not speak but looked tense. When prompted, she said, “Uncle has decided to shift to a village near Salem this Friday. I do not wish to go out of Chennai. I want to be here permanently. I feel like crying”
I was shocked and couldn’t gather words immediately.”I know Akila.Don’t worry. We will find a way out We have still three days” I replied without knowing what else to say.
“Selva, I am shy to tell you. Please find some way to keep me with you.”
. “I know. I am also in love with you,Akila.” I said
She was just seventeen and not a major and we cannot elope. I wanted to check with mom whether she can keep her with us. I told her “Give me time to think. I will come up with some solution before Thursday.
I discussed with my mom that night itself. She was supportive and assured me that she would discuss with the owner of the clinic to employ that girl as they were already in need of one assistant. She also said that Akila could stay with us till she found an alternative accommodation with the nurses. She asked me not to give hopes till the matter was finalized. I did not go to the library the next two days. On Wednesday night when she got the OK from the doctor, my mom said we could go to her house the next day morning and talk to her uncle. I was jubilant and could not sleep the whole night.
There was no difficulty in locating the house when we went to the flour mill. When I asked an elderly woman where Akila lived, she showed a locked door and asked who I was. When my mom explained the purpose of the visit, the woman said”How unlucky the girl is.She was crying for the last two days.She never wanted to leave this place.Her aunt kept her locked and did not allow her to go out fearing she may run away. They forcefully took her with them yesterday morning itself instead of Friday they had originally planned. Are you related to that nice girl?”
“My mom replied “, No. But we wanted to get related to her. Do you have any idea of the place they have gone to/”
“No, they did not leave any address behind them”
As my mom put her arms around me, I knew my dreams had crashed.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Last rites of Rajamani Iyer

All the relatives and friends had assembled. It was not a sudden end. Rajamani Iyer had been keeping unwell for some days. He knew that his time had come. He had called his priest (sastrigal) who was more of a friend than a priest to do some pujas to different deities to lessen the effects of his sins. He had also given money liberally to be given to the participants. He had some discussions with him privately when none was present. He generously donated money to various charitable causes in consultation with his lawyer. Being a methodical person, he organised his affairs with clinical precision leaving nothing unsettled. He was a leading lawyer and commanded a good practice. He was a rich man and had five daughters. His wife had died at a fairly young age. He did not marry again.
There was a muffled murmur amongst the assembled relatives as to who would perform the last rites for Iyer as he had no son. The priest had not yet come. His assistants were doing the prepatory work. It was only after he came things would be clearer as to who would be assigned this task.
Iyer’s body was laid upon the floor. His face showed no signs of pain or distortion. There was however, to the discerning eye, a faint smile was visible. The assembled men and women went round the body as a mark of respect. The daughters though sad did not wail but wept in subdued manner. With the arrival of the priest, things started moving faster. Everyone was looking at him with suspense written on their faces. The eldest son-in-law Sekhar went near him and gently asked “Sastrigal, who will be doing the last rites for the departed soul there being no son“
He replied”There is no problem .That is decided. Call Swaminathan to come here”:
“Which Swaminathan are you referring to?” Sekhar asked
“There is only one Swaminathan I know in this house. Call Kamakshi mami’s son quickly” said Satrigal
“You mean our cook Kamakshi mamis son?” asked Sekhar incredulously
“Don’t waste time asking questions now. I will tell you later. Go and bring him after giving him a bath.”
The boy twenty years old fully bathed came in wet clothes and commenced doing the rites as bid by the priest. The relatives expected someone from outside would be nominated by the priest for this purpose but never expected their cook’s son assigned that duty. The gloomy atmosphere was made gloomier by this fact. Soon the body was removed from the hall for the last journey amidst the hysterical sobbing of the daughters, accompanied by commiserating words of relatives and left for the crematorium in a van.
It was only late in the evening that they were all assembled in the hall after bath and a late lunch. They were discussing amongst themselves in hushed tones about the departed man, his good qualities, compassion and helpful nature. They recalled instances of his affection and generosity. But there was slight reference to the propriety of Swaminathan doing the last rites that was the prerogative of a son. Someone said that it was better that someone known to them did the obsequies than an unknown stranger.Afterall Swaminathan had grown in this large house since his very young days as part of the family with Kamakshi mami working for them for nearly two decades.
The priest came around 8pm and explained the nature of ceremonies and rituals to be done in the succeeding days and gave the list of things to be procured.After some general discussions, he took aside Sekhar to the office room of Rajamani Iyer.
“You asked me some question in the morning for which I could not give you a satisfactory reply then. We had to hurry up the ceremony. Secondly, it was a delicate matter that I wished to tell you only in confidence on the promise you will keep it to yourself.
It all happened more than two decades back. Your mother-in-law fell sick and Iyer brought this Kamakshi to help in the house. She was a destitute left in lurch by her husband who had run away. Some kindly soul had referred her case to Iyer who readily brought her home.
As you know she was fairly good looking.Within a year, Iyer’s wife passed away. Till then everything went well, Kamakshi took care of the house and the children dutifully. One day when there was none at home, devil entered Iyer’s mind and he forced himself on the hapless woman. Despite protestations, by virtue of his might, the gratitude she had for him and her utter dependence on him, she succumbed to his lust. Swaminathan is the result of the sin. He regretted later sincerely for his serious crime and never touched her again in his life. He agreed to own up his mistake and even offered to marry her. When she refused, he begged her to keep it a secret and continue to serve the family as before and that he would take care of the boy as one of his children.
When he fell ill, he called me one day and broke down when he told me of his misconduct and wanted that Swaminathan should do his last rites being his son. I learn he has in his bequest left considerable money for Kamakshi and her son. The lawyer will tell you in due course. Let us not sully the image of my friend Iyer by making this ugly news public. I trust totally your discretion in the matter.”
Later at dinner when everyone was curious to know, what the priest was telling him in private, Sekhar said ” Sastrigal was explaining the onward journey of the soul to the astral world and generally about after life. He also specifically said since Swaminathan has performed the last rites of Iyer and will be doing all ceremonies for him in future, he must be regarded as his son and given the respect and place due to a son”
Kamakshi mami who was standing by the door of the kitchen and hearing the conversation wiped the tears from her eyes.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Silence is speech of love

The view from the revolving restaurant at the top of the tall building was panoramic. Shalini and Shekar in their twenties were in happy mood sharing leisurely a bowl of the creamy pasta with mushrooms and roasted garlic. They were more engrossed in their conversation than on the food that remained unattended for most part. They were seen giggling and covering their mouth with their hands as they were speaking in low tone, almost a whisper, of what possibly were sweet nothings. As they appeared newly married it could be about their dreams for the future or about her culinary skills. They could also be exchanging their views on when to raise their family and how they would manage the kids with both working. But the chat and the banter must have been sweet as they were interspersed with frequent laughter and holding of their hands.
When Shekhar started talking on his mobile phone, Shalini saw across the table an old couple sitting in a corner. The old man must be in his early seventies with silver white hairs dressed in velvet like corduroy docker and T Shirt with coloured stripes. The lady elegant in her blue silk sari must have been a bewitching beauty in her younger days. Both were quiet and not talking to each other for long .Shalini could see the large masala dosa on their table that they nibbled slowly. She could see one of their hands was intertwined with that of the other. She started wondering how a couple could be so distant and silent when she and Shekar were chatting non stop. They do not seem to be grieving to explain the emptiness at their table as they were smiling at each other. She saw the same waiter who served her table placing a bunch of deep red roses on their table and taking a small slip of paper time to time from the old man. Must be their wedding anniversary they are celebrating quietly and missing perhaps their children away at foreign countries. But then this was an occasion for merriment and thankfulness to god for blessing them with a long life together. She expected gaiety and loud cheer instead of the strange stillness and serene calm that enveloped their table.
She shared her thoughts with Shekar who also felt it odd for the couple to remain uncommunicative that long. They had finished eating and called the waiter for the bill. When the waiter came with the pad containing the bill and Shekar had paid with a generous tip Shalini could not suppress her curiosity. She asked him “Forgive my inquisitiveness. I am just curious to know whether anything is wrong with the couple at the corner. I haven’t seen them talking to each other for a very long time. Obviously the bunch of roses signifies a happy occasion.”
He said” Madam. I know them for a very long time as they frequent this place and insist on my table. They are the most loving couple I have ever seen. Today is their fiftieth wedding anniversary and they had a quiet celebration. Their children are abroad.”
“I have seen the old man giving some slip whenever you went to their table.” Shalini asked.
Oh, you mean that. They are just orders of the dishes they want. It is a sad fate that the madam is dumb and cannot speak while the old man lost his hearing completely a decade back. They are still the most loving couple I have ever seen.”
This brought to Shalini’s mind the gentle caress of each other’s hand that she had witnessed. She felt behind their silence there was the deep love and concern for each other in the twilight of their lives. The world was silent between them with not a word spoken or a single gesture shown by hand to communicate. But they obviously worshipped each other. For them silence is speech of love. As Shalini and Shekar passed by them, they bowed their heads in reverence and silent admiration.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Not a ransom

Have you seen Khubsoorat with Dina Pathak and Rekha playing roles in it. The lady of the house in the film was a no-nonsense, nose upturned type with no trace of smile in her face. Her writ ran in the house and her wishes were commands strictly obeyed. The character in our story is no different but slightly worse.Parvatham mami never took a No for an answer. Hers is a large family of five daughters and three sons. She had a few grandchildren also living in the house. Her husband Subramanian was a timid man with shifty eyes and small build. Others called him henpecked but he did not take umbrage at it.Parvatham was a big built woman with stentorian voice and when she walked one could hear the thuds of her steps. That she was disagreeable and evoked more fear than affection amongst her children and husband is a fact none disputed. She decided what dress to be bought and what dress to be worn on what occasions, what should be the daily menu giving no regard for individual preferences, what courses they should take in their colleges, what time the TV can be on and what serials can be seen by whom. The younger daughters never liked her autocratic ways and detested her habit of checking their mobiles or refusing permission to chat with friends. She was in short a terror in the house running it at her will and whims. She was a well intentioned lady though and being the only daughter in her house, pampered and spoilt, she grew to be a termagant. One gets the scenario of the house, I hope in this description.
Of late, she suffered from memory loss and would repeat the same instructions again and again. She would rebuke the servants for not carrying out her orders that had already been complied with. But she would strongly deny that she had any complaint of amnesia and none argued with her for fear of her foul mouth. It was on one such day she was not seen at the dinner table. Everyone scurried hither and thither searching for her in all rooms. She was not there. No one knew of her going out. They went out searched amongst friends and relatives but could gather no useful information
The next day they lodged a police complaint for missing person. Two or three days had elapsed with no news about her whereabouts. But there was a total metamorphosis in the atmosphere at the house. One could hear shouts, peals of laughter, happy guffaws and joyful screams with many running about without fear of reprimand. The old man was before the TV watching WWF wrestling matches nonstop alternating in between cricket and tennis. One could hear the buzz of mobiles nonstop. The dining table got totally a different fare with several items to suit individual tatstes.They took the plates and watched TV sitting on sofas that was earlier strictly forbidden. They got up late, took baths whenever it pleased them. There was a total laissez-faire or anarchy depending on the way you look at it. There was a sense of freedom though they inwardly missed the old lady and pangs of sadness were felt.
At the suggestion of the old man, an advertisement with her photo was inserted in daily. Within two days, they received a call from an old age home.
“Sir, I am the Secretary calling from ABC old age home. Three days back some people brought her here in the night. She seemed a decent looking lady. She could not answer them properly. We saw the advertisement today. We wish to send her away to you. She is threatening all and ordering the other inmates as if she owned the place. We are not running the place free. We collect 7500pm from each. We cannot keep her free here. Please come and take her immediately.”
The son who attended the call said, “Mom is safe at an old age home. She is suffering from amnesia but her old imperious ways have not left her. They want her to be taken away as they collect Rs7500 pm.”
There was some silence. One of the sons nudged by his wife spoke” Mom is not well. We had problem even when she was in full possession of faculties. Now with amnesia, I shudder. Why not allow her to continue there? We can go regularly to visit her.”
The son spoke to the secretary .We will give you a ring in five minutes. Please wait”
“We cannot wait. We can keep her with us on Rs 10000pm or we shall bring her early in the morning to leave her. Please convey the decision in five minutes,” said the Secretary.
There was another hushed conference and everyone looked at the old man after explaining that house now bore the atmosphere of a home instead of an hostel earlier and they be allowed to enjoy the freedom for some more time.
Like the Oracle, the old man finally gave his ruling.”Let it not be mistaken that we have no affection or concern for Parvatham.She loved us so much that she was willing to bear the cross of being disliked by all. But it is a fact that she trampled on the corns of everyone here. The house is wearing a joyful atmosphere now after years of stuffed feeling. She is also not physically well and needs rest. Although the secretary’s words that he would bring her here tomorrow smacks of black mail, we will not succumb to ransom threats. We would on our own accord allow her to stay in old age home for a year. Each one of you should promise to visit her frequently. Tell the Secretary accordingly and give a cheque for one year fee.”
There was great rejoicing and dancing which the old man said “This is not becoming of us. We really miss her.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Clinching evidence

Surender Khanna was languishing for the last two days in this small lockup covered by a locked steel door. When he was asked earlier by a constable to follow him, he did not know why he was being taken away at 10 pm from his hut. He asked his shocked wife to stay behind and not come to the police station on any count in the night. His two children, a girl of thirteen and a boy of ten years were sobbing. Surender Khanna had no history of crime or even minor offences. He was a quiet person minding his own work. His only weakness is for a glass of liquor after the day’s hard work and none ever knew he ever drank except his wife.
The Sub Inspector with his frightening bushy mustache that extended from one ear to the other asked him in a gruff tone, ‘How long are you working with Naren? “
Which Naren, Sir?” asked Surender Khanna softly
There was an instant slap on his face by the SI followed by a bark “Are you acting? I will break your bones, mind you, if you dare ask questions again..I mean the loafer Naren who lives in the adjacent street of yours.”
“Oh, that Narendra kumar.He studied with me in the corporation school and I know him from my younger days. What happened to him, Sir?”
“He murdered a man, to whom he has been selling ganja and who had not paid him, when he threatened to expose him. We have knowledge that he has been supplying the stuff but there is no proof to clinch in the court. If you sign a statement that you knew Naren for long and are aware of his dealing in ganja, we will let you away. We know you are a good man. We need this cooperation from you to render justice to the murdered man” said the SI
Sir, I have not seen him for some months. Honestly upon God, I am not aware of his dealing with Ganja. Though he was threatening the petty shop keepers and forcibly collecting mamool and spending the money on liquor and cheap women, I know nothing of ganja. I actually avoided his company for these reasons.”
“So you are not willing to cooperate with police to punish a murderer because he is your close friend. Mind you, fool, you will come to grief if you do not cooperate with us.I can book you also in the same case. I have enough people who will give evidence of your partnering with Naren.It is late. Be a good man. You have a young wife and a teen aged daughter. Tomorrow morning your wife will come. Talk to her if you wish to. I want the statement by 9am..Don’t say I have not warned you. I know the ways to extract the statement from you. Don’t push me to that length.” saying this he left.
He could not sleep that night at all. He was tormented with the thought if the police fellows foist some false case and put him jail, his wife and children would come to the street.. They had none to look after. There was no money too as they were living hand to mouth. But his conscience would not allow him to utter a lie against Naren as he had no contact with him at all .He did not know how to escape from the clutches of police without making a false charge on a man who did no harm to him.
Early in the morning at 7am the policeman nudged him with his baton. He saw his wife standing before him with her disheveled hair and eyes that spoke of sleepless night. She was crying inconsolably.
Surender asked her “Why are you crying so much? What happened? Did anyone trouble you? Tell me quick. I am unable to bear the agony.”She said hitting her head with her hands”I am not seeing our daughter since morning. She went out at 4am to relieve herself. I dozed away. In the morning when I wake up she is not there. I checked hither and thither. She is not to be seen.”
Surender was shocked beyond words and started crying like a child along with his wife. The SI entered just then and asked what the commotion was all about. When the constable explained about the daughter missing, he laughed loudly.
He called Surender by his side, patted him on his shoulder and said in a very assuring voice “Don’t worry about your daughter. I will fetch her unharmed within an hour or even less. But you must do your duty to the country in punishing a murderer by signing this statement. Read carefully. You have only said that you have seen him having possession of ganja in the past. You are not talking of murder or any such thing you have not seen. I will not ask you to do such wrong things. I am interested in your welfare for the sake of my sister, your wife. Be good and reasonable.”He ordered two cups of tea and placed the pen in his hand. He told the constable to leave them alone.
When Surender wanted to see the girl first, the SI told him “OK,I will have her searched immediately and bring her here on the condition you agree to sign the statement. Tell me in five minutes after talking to your wife.”
In ten minutes the drama ended with the girl safely with Surender Khanna and his wife and the signed statement in the hands of SI.
A fool proof evidence of ganja-dealing by Naren was available with the police to clinch the murder charge.







Sunday, July 12, 2009

Unsolicited call

There was the welcome news that government has decided to put a stop to the telemarketing calls soon. Hopefully such pestering calls as below received at all odd hours would come to an end.
The telephone rang.Ranjana who was busy cooking something rushed to answer the call. There was no caller ID facility in the instrument.
Caller: Hello, can I speak to Mr.Srinivas please?
Ranjana: He is not available at the moment. Who is calling please?
Caller: May I know with whom I am talking?
Ranjana: His daughter. I asked who is calling.
Caller: When is he expected?
Ranjana: I am not prepared to answer you unless I know with whom I am talking. I am busy in the kitchen. Tell me quickly what do you want/.
Caller: Sorry madam, I am Sandhya
Ranjana: Sandhya of what? Can’t you be a little more specific? Are you representing any company or are you my father’s friend?
Caller: I am calling from BFC- Best Finance Company.
Ranjana: What is it about? Are you marketing some financial product?
Caller: No madam, we want to tell him about a new scheme that is very lucrative.
Ranjana: He is not interested in any investment.
Caller: But this is a once in a life time chance. I know he will be interested.
Ranjana:How do you know he will be interested? Has he invested in the past with you?
Caller: He is one of our valued customers and has been investing through us. We are particular that he is kept informed of all attractive avenues for investing. When is he expected?
Ranjana: Do you know how old he is?
Caller: No idea madam. But he is an important high valued customer for us.
Ranjana: Is it so? I can tell you on his behalf that he is not interested in any investment lucrative or otherwise. I am busy. Please do not trouble us any more.
Caller: Madam, what is the convenient time to call him.
Ranjana in an exasperating tone: I told you, I think clearly, that he is not interested in any investment. I am rather busy. Please do not trouble us anymore.
Caller: Nevertheless I would like to explain personally to him.
Ranjana in an angry tone: You are just being adamant. Tell me your home number. I will ask him to call you when you are cooking. He is past seventy five and has no money to invest. He is broke. He has gone out to find whether the bank would advance him a small loan on the strength of his monthly pension. He may not get it and he will be interested to explore whether BFC would lend him some money.
The phone at the other end went dead.
Later Ranjana was telling her father laughingly”Dad, that BFC is troubling me daily with telemarketing calls. I know you are not investing through them. Why did you enter your name and address when you collected some share application forms from them. I told them that you are broke and actually need an advance. I am sure that girl would bother us no more. I hope you are not upset with me”

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Seventh commandment

I am in this hotel for the last one month. I have never stayed away from my home this long. I miss my wife and my children. I wanted to be with her badly. We were a loving couple longing for each other like newlywed even after fifteen years of marriage. My head office turned down my request to visit my place for a week as the deadline for the project was tight. I have never betrayed her trust in me and never looked at other women. I have never flouted the seventh commandment “You shall not commit adultery” though I had doubts tormenting in my mind during the last one week on the wisdom of following it.

It was a Saturday evening and I was in the restaurant having my tea. I was in no hurry to get out and was watching the people, more particularly the women, arriving and departing. It was then I saw a tall woman in her late thirties lingering a bit near me till she finally settled down at the adjacent table. She turned her face on all sides and her eyes rested on me for a fraction of a minute before she commenced ordering to the waiter. She was not exactly a beautiful woman but there was certain grace in her deportment, along with her smiling eyes and a swell figure to boot. My mind was already thinking how nice an evening with her would be and even fantasizing the exciting possibilities if she were a bit cooperative. I wished to start a conversation with her and as luck would have it her handbag fell from her lap without her knowledge, it seemed. I literally jumped from my chair to pick the bag. There was a startled look in her face for a second followed by a beaming smile showing her well aligned teeth.
“Thank you so much. I didn’t notice” she said demurely.
”I saw you were unaware of its falling and I had the pleasure of being of small help” I said
“How sweet of you to have taken the trouble .I am Ratna.Are you alone on your table?” she asked with the unspoken suggestion that I join her.”
“Let me come here if it ok with you. My name is Ranjit” I said as I shifted to the chair opposite hers. As she winked her eyes and smiled at me, I knew instantly here was an easy lay.
We were soon talking as if we knew each other for long time talking about weather, making jokes and about interesting places to see in the town. She said she played bridge very well and asked me whether I do. I said I am no mean player and that I participate in tournaments. She was happy that we have common interest. As she put the sugar in my cup, her hand brushed against mine and she showed no urgency to take it away even while glancing at me with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. When I grinned at her I felt her legs rubbing my shoes. My heart skipped a few beats and blood began to race in my body.I stammered to ask “Where do you stay?”
She opened her purse, tore out a slip of paper from a pocket diary and scribbled her number. Giving it to me she said “Call me at 7pm.We can have dinner together and get some fun.” She stood up and extended her hand. As I proffered mine, she squeezed my hand hard and asked “You seem scared. Are you married?”
“I blabbered “Yes. I am married and have a loving wife.”
"It does not matter. You can give a call if you are wishing to have some good food and nice time” she replied. She stopped a few yards away and winking at me said “I shall be expecting your tinkle.”
I kept the slip on the table and turned to watch her move elegantly swaying her hips. I decided then no matter what to break the commandment once and once only even as I prayed to God to forgive me this one time.
At 7pm Sharp I gave her ring. I heard her sweet drawl ”Ranjit how sweet of you. I was frantically expecting your call. I promise you will enjoy every moment here. Just a second “
I heard her calling someone “Ravi, I told you about the guy I met in the restaurant. He is good at bridge. We will now have the fourth hand. He will be here in five minutes”
All my dreams crashed even as she was saying “I was talking to my husband about your visiting our house. and how good you are in bridge. Please …………” I slammed the phone down.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Strange ways of destiny

It was past midnight.Subodh was staring at the blade lying on the table before him. He was at the height of depression and hopelessness. Failure stared at him in whatever he did. He had no clue why life was cruel to him and what he could do to end the pain. He was the eldest in a large family that lived in a village on a small land holding. A portion of it was taken away by the government for a private industry. The family was virtually starving as they had no steady income.Subodh’s remittance from his small income was not adequate There was a message asking him to send some money immediately as his father was admitted in the hospital Subodh could not raise the amount. His employer refused to help and instead he was rude threatening to sack him for his indifferent work. He felt that he was in a bottomless dark pit from which there was no way out. He felt there would be no relief from the misery and that tomorrow could be worse than today. He always fought to overcome suicidal thoughts but the magnitude of the problems was such he decided death alone would put an end to all his pains. There was none to confide to or comfort him. He had locked the small room inside and was sitting dazed trying to summon the courage to cut his veins with the blade.He felt this was the most peaceful way of dying.

There was a knock on the door. He ignored it. The knock became louder and persistent. He still did not stir. He then heard the heart rending wail of a woman pleading him to open the door. He went to the door and asked her without opening what the matter was about. She said she is from the adjacent portion and that her son was very sick and dying. Her husband is not at home .She wanted him to help her to take the boy to the hospital. He bestirred himself from the melancholy thoughts and went out to take the boy to the hospital. He ran hither and thither to find a three wheeler at the unearthly hour till he found one a little farther away. Once in the hospital the doctors rushed the boy to emergency. He waited there till 3am along with the woman and then walked back home. He was thoroughly exhausted and fell asleep.

He woke up a bit late and went directly to the woman in the next portion. He was relieved to hear that the boy was better and would be sent home by the evening. This incident had driven away to some extent his depressing thoughts. His employer called him that day and paid him Rs.1000 to send home telling that he was in a bad mood the previous day and never intended what he had spoken. Subodh’s spirit rose and the world looked not as bad as it was till then.
In the evening he went to see the boy. He was about 16.The boy touched his feet and thanked him profusely for saving his life. It appeared that he had failed in the board examination and in a fit of madness he swallowed rat poison unable to bear the ignominy and shame he brought to his dear parents. He said but for Subodh’s timely help in rushing him to the hospital he would have been dead and that by his kind act he had given him a hope that all is not lost. He was determined to study well and pass in the next examination.
Subodh thought to himself that it was the boy who had actually given him a fresh lease of life and wondered at the quirk of fate by which two lives that were bent upon death were saved by each other.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Lost and found

It was lunch time.Naresh was proceeding towards the nearby restaurant for his lunch. The road was a busy thoroughfare with fast traffic moving nonstop on the three lanes on either side of the road. He vacantly looked at the other side of the road. He stopped dead for a moment. It was unmistakably Anita, his only love. Her figure was blurred by the passing vehicles .She was walking hurriedly stopping every few moments to turn around and gaze at the buildings. But he can tell Anita even from miles away. There was her inimitable regal gait and the unique way she coiled her hair. He could not believe in his luck. He could not see her face.He shouted “Anita Anita” and his voice was drowned in the roar of speeding vehicles. He wanted to run and get her. There was no respite from the fast-moving vehicles. There was a road divider too.
It was three years since he lost touch with her. She went away abruptly to another country along with her parents without leaving her address behind. Soon after, he had also changed the job and the city. It was only a few months before they parted; they became friends at a theatre. She had come with some of her girl friends. One of them had not turned up.Naresh had no ticket and was disappointed to see the House Full sign. It was then she offered him the spare ticket. They sat side by side. She was very beautiful. It was only during intermission, he could thank her. She smiled back.
They met almost daily thereafter and soon were in deep love. Before he mustered, the courage to propose to her she left abruptly. He was pining for her and had no common friends. It was then he had put an advertisement in a leading daily on her birthday addressing it to Anita with his pet name she used, contact number and office address. He was certain she would see and respond.
He saw her across the road moving away fast. He suddenly felt a strong urge to possess her and make her his wife He dashed across the road dodging the speeding cars like a mad man. The vehicles braked suddenly with screech of tyres with some collisions ahead. He could manage up to the road divider and jumped over it. A traffic constable who was in the vicinity blew his whistle in an effort to stop him. Nothing would deter him in his mad rush. After a few seconds respite on the divider, he foolishly ran across the road only to be hit by a speeding SUV.The cars and vehicles on that side stopped one by one and there was a small crowd craning at the body splashed in red with blood.The constable took charge of the situation.The girl was moving fast unmindful of the commotion behind her.
She was seen showing a cutting of a news paper to a passerby asking for address in the ad that appeared in the morning paper

Monday, July 6, 2009

A rose amidst the thorns

Sakthivel always sat alone while all his class mates played boisterously during the lunch recess. A young boy of twelve, he was always found looking forlorn. He was good in studies and very well behaved. The teachers liked him. Even Arun his close friend had no clue for his strange behaviour When asked for the reason, he just kept mum. Arun and Sakthi used to walk back home after the school.Sakthi’s house was near and as soon as they neared the house, he used to run inside. Never once he had taken Arun inside his house. Arun had seen Sakthi’s dad and brothers on many occasions outside the house.Arun never took a liking for them somehow. He could not tell why he disliked them but he knew instinctively they were not good.
One day Arun saw Sakthi with a black eye and swollen jaw. It appeared that he must have cried a lot. He would not utter one word when asked. Arun gently persuaded him to confide promising him secrecy. It was then he learnt that Sakthi’s dad and brothers were evil men, had no steady jobs and earned money by wrong ways. They invariably drank in the nights. His mom used to get beaten daily. He hated them and wished to run away from them along with his mom
He was beaten that morning for being a witness to their torturing a man mercilessly. The poor man was wailing in pain and telling them that he did not know what they were asking him. One of the brothers saw Sakthi peeping through the window, dragged him and beat him up till his mom rescued him. Sakthi told that he had seen young boys kept in custody bound and blindfolded in an attic till they got money from the boys’ parents.Sakthi said he had no courage to die though he wished to and was afraid that he too may become a wicked person if he lived in that house. When he asked Arun whether people can survive if they fell from third floor, Arun scared him telling such people turned into ghosts.
Arun met his teacher during lunch recess and expressed his fears about Sakthi.The teacher called him when alone and gently ferreted out from the boy the happenings. The boy told him that he hated his father and brothers but was worried about his mom. His said the people in the neighbourhood despised them and would not talk to them. They thought even his mom and himself were bad like others in the family and he was terrified by the thought he would also be branded a wicked man when he grew older.
The wise teacher consoled him telling his fears were unfounded. He told him that everyone knew Vikarna the youngest of the wicked Kauravas was a good natured person not given to evil ways like his siblings. Likewise a beautiful rose blooms in all its beauty amidst the thorns. People do not reject a rose simply for the reason it is found amidst prickly thorns, rather they go in search for it. There is no way that he would be termed wicked. He promised the boy that he would try to resolve his problem.
The teacher met the correspondent of the school that night itself. It was a school conducted by a mission with hostel facilities where poor boys were admitted without payment. The teacher convinced him for admitting the boy in the hostel .He thought of telling his parents that Sakthi was a bright boy and the school wished to make him a topper. He felt Sakthi's dad and brothers would agree considering it a good riddance. The teacher was happy about the solution.
The next morning when the school was about to commence they discovered Sakthi's body on the rear side of the school. He had evidently jumped from the third floor in a state of depression. The teacher was badly shaken and Arun was full of remorse that he did not grasp the significance of Sakthi’s question the previous day. It is another matter that the wicked man and his sons were soon nabbed for abducting and keeping in illegal custody a young boy for ransom. While they did time in the jail, the woman was employed to help in the hostel.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Appearances are deceptive

Mr. Iyer is not exactly a pleasing personality. In his early Seventies, he wore a constant scowl in his lean and long face. Not given to much talking, his replies were always in curt monosyllables. The kids in the colony were afraid to play near his ground floor flat. He made their lives miserable when they broke the window pane long ago. He will snatch the ball and drive them away. The elders in the colony too kept a safe distance from him for no particular reason. He never participated in the social functions of the colony on the new year, diwali, flag hoisting days etc.A placard hung at his door ”Do not disturb between 11 AM and 3PM”
Mr. Iyer had bought his flat when the colony had sprung up twenty years ago. His wife who mixed well with other ladies in the colony passed away five years back leaving him alone. They had two sons who had migrated to US after their studies. Initially they were visiting once in a couple of years and this abruptly stopped after they found American partners in US. The old couple steeped in tradition was upset initially and reconciled themselves to the realities. The sons visited India when their mother passed away and the visits stopped thereafter.
Iyer though financially well off with a good pension, was a man of frugal habits. He had no extravagant tastes and led a simple life with very few wants. He never parted with his money easily. He used to protest when maintenance charges were hiked by the colony association. He traveled only by bus and very rarely used three wheelers even during hot summer. A deeply religious man, he picked flowers from the adjacent bungalows during the morning walks for his puja and never bought from the flower vendors. He went to the local municipal library to read the news papers. He rarely visited others and none went to his flat too. The residents of the colony regarded him as a miser and left him alone.
One morning the milk vendor knocked at the door several times and there was no response. The door was not open as he usually did at 5AM.The neighbours went around knocking in vain the windows in other rooms. They waited till the afternoon. It was then police help was sought to open the door. He was found dead having passed away peacefully in his sleep. His sons were informed and one came the second day. A wreath was laid on behalf of the colony members. After the last ceremonies were over, the son called the office bearers of the association and told them
“My father has considerable property. He was a disciplinarian in our younger days. Always Spartan in living, he had a large heart. Even I was not aware of his softer side till this day. He has left a will bequeathing the entire wealth to various charitable causes.Twentyfive per cent he has given to the local school for scholar ships to the poor children, twenty five percent to the local mission hospital for free treatment of the needy and another twenty five he has left to a couple of old age homes. Out of the balance he has given some amount to the local temple and has left a bequest of rupees five lakhs to the colony association for its corpus fund and for the development of colony with his wish to provide a play ground for children with swings, slides and other play facilities.”
The residents who had gathered there could hardly believe what they heard and wiped their misty eyes thinking of the departed noble soul. They genuinely regretted that they had not known the real man and judged him by his outward demeanour.He could have led a life of luxury but chose the hard life voluntarily to provide money for causes close to his heart.. Such men like Iyer with rough exterior possessing a heart of gold are rare.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Skipping the dinner

As a young chit I remember palming off a counterfeit one rupee coin or a torn two rupee note that I found difficult to dispose of elsewhere in the day to an old woman selling spinach under a dark lamp post without a bulb. I had neither realized the enormity of my act nor felt any remorse then that a poor woman was being deprived of her legitimate earning. I used to put a stone in an empty Hamam soap wrapper and keep it on the middle of the road and watch eagerly for any passerby to lift it to get deceived. There was a childish pleasure in such pranks to mislead people. But one incident changed me completely.
I was then twelve then and my mom asked me to fetch a few things from the grocer. There was a heavy rush in the shop. The bill had come to Rs. 159.I totaled the bill and found that it should have been Rs.179.I checked it again and found the grocer had made a mistake .I kept quiet and produced two hundred rupee notes and took back the balance of Rs.41 without a murmur. When I returned home my father in the hall took the balance and the bill. He found out the mistake and asked me whether I had not checked the bill before paying. I told him with a pride that I had indeed checked and found out the mistake. He thundered “How come you have become a cheat? Should you not have pointed out the mistake and paid the correct amount? Go and return the Rs20” I protested ”I did not cheat him as you accuse me. I had paid whatever amount he had asked for. If he made the mistake, why should I rectify it? Had I given any extra amount inadvertently would he have returned?”
My father flew into rage.” I am ashamed of you. How come you talk like this? True you are not responsible for other’s character. But you are accountable for yours. Do not indulge in specious arguments. Go and apologize to the grocer after returning the money.” As atonement for what he considered as a serious lapse on my part, he did not take his dinner that night. I could see from my mom’s eyes how upset she was with me. This made a deep and lasting impression on me that certain values are not negotiable and should be observed strictly under all circumstances.
That was many decades back but the lessons learnt are fresh as ever. Even when the mistake would remain undetected and none would be the wiser, it would be unethical to take what is not one’s due or do what is not permissible. The instances of some three wheeler or taxi drivers returning the possessions left behind however valuable they are to the owners or to the police are shining examples of such extreme rectitude. Their own wants would not tempt them to retain what was not theirs. As Oprah Winfrey put it real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody is going to know whether you did it or not. Integrity is not a conditional word changing according to circumstances but a relentless pursuit of honesty in all our acts.
There can be occasions when there are conflicts between this virtue and the business requirements of a few companies that one worked for. But one should always remember that personal ethics remain supreme and unalterable and steer clear of any wrong doing personally. Charging the customer more, supplying inferior material not visible to naked eye in lieu of one promised, poor service, not refunding what is due in time may all pass muster in a seller’s market but is nevertheless unethical. Insider trading, false claims in prospectus and sanitized balance sheets all fall under this category. Misuse of office stationery, vehicles and facilities seen as mere peccadilloes are in fact serious ethical aberrations. Everyone will have had some reprimand in the younger age from the elders as the skipped dinner by my father in my case. These should serve as beacon lights to guide us safely from the treacherous shoals of temptation to beat the system. To preserve integrity and to nurture a strong will to do the right in our wards, we must forego occasionally our dinner and punish ourselves for their errant behaviour.