Monday, August 31, 2009

The jinxed house

Sivamani Iyer had a large family. When he was transferred to Madurai he found an old and spacious independent house within his affordability. Although the house was pretty old with most of the roof tiled except for the front side, it was close to market and bus stand. It was a corner house abutted by main road on the front and a small road at the side with an alley on the rear. There was a well in the compound with a couple of coconut and guava trees. It was Iyer’s sheer luck that he got this house for a small rent as the broker put it. .Iyer brought his family soon. They were all very happy as they all along lived in a small portion consisting of four rooms in a single row with interconnecting doors. The children enjoyed playing in the garden and his wife was happy at the large supply of coconuts for her kitchen.
It was a month later around 9-30 pm when the family members were chatting in the living room that was under the tiled portion, they heard a rain of small stones on the roof. They could not make out what it was. It had stopped in a few seconds. While they were engaged in surmising what it could be, there was another rain of stones for a longer period. When Sivamani Iyer started to go out, his wife pleaded with him not to venture out alone. Even when they were debating there was another hail of stones. Accompanied by his two young sons, he went out with a torch in hand. There was a small alley behind his house. He could see none in that lane. It was dark with no street lights. After waiting for some time, he returned to the house. There was no further incident that night. But peace of mind was denied to them as the stone throwing continued with regularity at intermittent intervals of a day or two.
Sivamani Iyer’s wife was mentioning these strange happenings to the ladies of the adjacent house keen to know whether they too had similar experience. She came to know that none of the previous tenants stayed in that house for more than a month or two and vacated it mostly in haste. They have heard people say that it was an unlucky house visited by ghosts. This was the reason the owner gave such a big house for very small rent. They could not however enlighten Iyer’s wife what or who threw the stones though they gave the gratuitous advice that it is better not to live in such a jinxed place with young children.
It was then Iyer decided to seek the help of his friend who was an inspector in the police department. Both were certain that this was no handiwork of ghosts. The patrol car visited the side road and the lane a couple of times in the nights for a week and found none strolling in the dark alley. But on one of the nights there was stone throwing. Iyer’s police friend discussed the matter with the owner who lamented that the house remained frequently unoccupied for this reason. He added that some people offered to buy the house at throw away price and that he was not willing to sell. This bit of information set the police man thinking. He devised a strategy to catch the culprits.
On the third day there was the usual downpour of stones on the roof tiles around 11pm.Immediately there after, there was a knock on the front door.Iyer and his wife in a trembling voice asked who it was at that odd hour. It was the inspector who shouted”Iyer, open the door. I have caught the culprits .You can come out safely.”
When iyer opened he saw the neighbour and his two sons standing beside the inspector. He said they have confessed to their intimidatory tactics with a view to scare away the tenants and buy the property at low price. The neighbour unexpectedly fell at the feet of Iyer and begged him to save him from further action. He pleaded he had a big family and his daughter was to get married in a month’s time. He promised that Iyer and his family could live in peace and that he would be eternally grateful for his forgiveness.
Iyer requested his Inspector friend to drop the matter and wanted to know how he zeroed in on him. The inspector said it was easy as he had planted a constable for the night on the top of the tree behind the neighbour’s house. Luckily Iyer’s neighbour got into his act the same night.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mangala’s decision

Mangala did not fail to notice a young man trailing her wherever she went. This has been happening since a week. He kept a safe distance but was observing her movements meticulously. She dodged him many times but could not shake him off. She could surmise that this should be the handiwork of Mukund, her husband. He is a coward, never open and always doing things on the sly. Her marriage has become a disaster. She cursed none else than herself. She remembered her father telling “Mangala, be careful. I do not like the look of this fellow. “ She was mad in love with him and dating him almost for a year. He was also an engineer like her and working in another firm. She met him at a common friend’s party.Tall, dark and muscular, he was the dream guy for any woman. Suave and charming in manners, he swept her off her feet. She was adamant in marrying him. Her parents gave in unwilling to displease their daughter.
It was all hunky dory in the beginning. But she soon realized she had made a mistake in her choice.Mukund was not straightforward. Given to boozing and partying, he was not a home bird. She had heard from some of her friends that he was a Lothario. She wouldn’t believe them thinking the charges were the outcome of jealousy. She soon became a mother of two kids. He insisted that she relinquish her job and take care of the home. Her dad had meanwhile passed away and mom stayed in an ashram.
In nine years of married life, she found that the relationship was not close. She realized that being married to a handsome man may be good but the more important thing is the kind of person one is wedded to. It is the latter that determined the quality of married life. She discerned a growing distance these days from Mukund.He came usually late in the night and sat before TV with a bottle. There was hardly any conversation except in monosyllables. He frequently stayed away the whole night under some pretext of work. The cell was invariably switched off. A couple of times she got a response that he was not in office when she rang up the office in the night. She suspected of his having a mistress or a couple of them.

One day when he had gone out to a nearby shop, his cell that was left behind rang. There was a woman’s voice”Mukund, are you there? You are supposed to spend the night here with me.“ It got cut when she did not respond. When he made the usual excuse to work in the office that night, she confronted him with the message. Cornered, he brazenly said “Yes, I have friends and I spend my time with them. I find their company more interesting than yours. What is it you are going to do? Divorce, you wish to seek. Take it.” Shocked she kept quiet sobbing at the same time. He left the house immediately.
She decided to teach him a lesson in his own way. After the kids left for school, a black car would come daily to pick her up. She would return by 3pm when the kids returned from school. She ensured that neighbours saw her leaving daily.Mukund received a typed letter “Do you know where your wife goes daily after you leave for office? A well wisher“. This rattled him so much he employed a private agency. The agency fellow confirmed her daily outings but could tell no more as to whom she was meeting. He decided to accompany the sleuth. When he saw her in well dressed clothes enter a house, the sleuth confirmed that this was the place she was daily visiting. He barged into the house in great anger calling”Mangala, I have found your secret hide out. Come out with your lover if you dare me.” After some minutes Mangala came out with her mother and other lady inmates of the house in ochre robes.
Mukund felt awfully embarrassed before their silent presence. He said with remorse “Sorry, Mangala.I have been a fool in assuming something different.. Kindly excuse me.”
Without uttering one word she produced the petition for divorce from her bag. Her mom said “Mukund,It is good for you to think about this carefully. .Mangala has secured a good job too. Why carry on this pretence of a relationship that has turned sour? If you think you have turned a new leaf , you can approach her.after six months. Please leave her alone for the present”
Mangala intervened to say “Sorry mom, I do not like to live with this person any more. I regret for ignoring dad’s warning that this man appeared fake on the first day he saw him.. I do not want to repeat the mistake.”
Was Mangala right in her decision to break the bad marriage or should she have given him a chance to mend his ways?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Haunted room

It was not a starred hotel but a decent one that commanded a steady flow of patrons. The hotel was by the side of a large lake in a small city flooded by tourists. The ambience was good, the food delicious and service excellent. All the rooms were generally occupied on all days except the corner room in the first floor. It was the best room with large French windows on both sides with the magnificent view of the lake on one side and the green mountain on the other. But this room always remained locked not because the owner reserved it for himself.
There was a story behind the door remaining locked.A young lady executive had taken that room for one night years back. She was not accompanied by anyone. She said that she missed her train and would leave the next morning. When there was no response to the repeated knocks by the bearer for the morning coffee she had earlier ordered the previous night, the police was summoned. When they broke open the door, the young lady was found strangled to death after a criminal assault. The sniffer dogs could not give any clue of the whereabouts of the culprit. Ever since the room always remained locked. A few brave men on different occasions who insisted on hiring the room telling they did not believe in ghosts came away running in the middle of night scared after they heard hideous and strangling sound from a dying woman from the bed. The management had reluctantly to keep it closed and never spoke about the room to the visitors.
Prakash, a daring youngman with rationalist views and no belief in god came to the hotel one evening seeking a room. He appeared a jolly fellow with a pleasant smile in his face. It happened that all the rooms were occupied that day. When the reception desk told him that no room was available, he pointed out to the board where keys were hung and showed the corner room in the first floor was vacant. The clerk explained that room was not let out. When he dropped names of leading politicians and informed his relationship to one of them and threatened that the hotel would come to harm if they refused to oblige, the clerk had no option but to reveal that the room was a haunted one. The young man with a derisive smile assured the timid clerk not to worry about the ghosts and that he can take of them. He showed his pistol that he always carried to allay his fears that ghost would harm the occupant. The owner was out of station and the clerk had to let out the room. The sheets were changed and the room made spic and span before Prakash moved in. After dinner Prakash was watching a movie till midnight and then read a novel for some time. The lights in all the rooms were switched off save in the verandahs and the corner room.Prakash remained awake unperturbed and was eagerly awaiting any unsolicited nocturnal visit by strange beings. When nothing happened, he switched off the lights and went to sleep.
After about thirty minutes, a loud sound of a pistol shot emanating from the corner room was heard by all the occupants. The reception clerk along with a few security men came running. They knocked the door repeatedly. When there was no answer, the room was opened with police assistance. They found Prakash bleeding profusely with the pistol on his hand. He made hideous and strangling sound before life ebbed out. A doctor in one of the rooms examined him and nodded his head sideways to signify that it is all over. The police found the windows tightly secured and found no evidence of anyone breaking into the room. The body was sent to hospital. The police left the hotel surmising it a case of suicide. The reception clerk remembered the smiling face of Prakash and shook his head in disbelief.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

vengeance

Vinod and Sharmila were married for more than ten years. They did not have a child for several years after their marriage. They tried all treatments but to no avail. They went on pilgrimage to various places hoping for divine grace. When nothing helped Vinod started disliking Sharmila.He was always abusive and even beat her for the smallest of faults. Life for became a misery for her. Unlettered village girl as she was she bore the indignities with resignation. They were living in a chawl where there were many houses. All the neighbours pitied her but could do nothing to change Vinod.
There was one Surinder from the same village as hers who used to visit her and console her now and then. He even suggested that she run away with him from the vile Vinod. But she turned down the suggestion hoping things would improve. It was then that Sharmila conceived to the great delight of Vinod. He took great care of her during her confinement. They soon had a son Mahesh on whom Vinod doted. Right from the day he was born, the boy was the apple of his eye. But his dislike for his wife never changed even after the birth of the son. He continued to torment her day in and day out. He did his best to turn his son also against her. The hopes of Sharmila of a happy life after the birth of the son were shattered.
To get over her disappointment, she plunged herself in social work amidst the community helping the needy women and children. The boy pampered by dad grew to be a brat and unruly. He did not take to studies seriously with the father pampering him and started loafing around. He never cared for his mother and came home only to demand food and money.Sharmila, denied the love of both the husband and son, waited for an occasion to wreak her vengeance on Vinod.
One day as she was returning home from the neighbourhood, she was hit by a speeding water tanker. She was rushed to nearby government hospital. Doctors tried their best but she started sinking. Word was sent for Vinod. When he came, she called him by her side and told him “I have only one worry when I am dying. Mahesh has turned into a good for nothing fellow. I am worried about him and his future. I am afraid with nothing to do he may soon fall in bad company” Vinod said ”Don’t worry, I will see that our son does some honest job to earn his daily bread.” The chance that Sharmila was waiting presented itself then. In a feeble voice uttered with considerable effort she muttered in his ear before breathing her last ” Our son, who said so? He is my son.” leaving him for ever with the haunting question who it could be.

A vital clue

I remember I was in an intensive care unit after what they told me was a massive heart attack. I was fully conscious and aware of the many tubes attached to me. I was not afraid of death. My wife had pre deceased me. My daughters are well settled and well provided for. I was only worried about the various large amounts that I had kept with my three friends. I must confess it was not clean money. I have not been very honest as a politician though I was a small fry in the hierarchy. But the system allowed us all to make our riches.
Having made adequate wealth, I became tired of the lies, threats, deceits and even manhandling involved in this business. I wanted to settle down to a peaceful life spending quality time with my grand children. I wished to collect all the dues and donate them to various charitable causes to atone for my errant ways. But I could discern that my friends were reluctant to part easily with the money entrusted in their care. I knew that I had the clout and the musclemen to force them to pay. They were also aware of this as I had already set in motion the process with mild threats. It was then this wretched heart attack intervened with my plan. I had wisely as forethought hid in my pocket the scrap of paper where I had scribbled their names and the amounts they owed me.
It was past mid night. The nurses had all retired to their work area after their late rounds. I saw a shadow moving surreptitiously in my room a bit late as it pulled a couple of tubes from my nose and mouth. I started gasping for breath and could not shout however much I tried. I felt I was out of my bed and could easily go to the nursing station. I tried to convey my predicament but they went on with their chores oblivious of my presence.
I saw my nurse then go into my room and coming out with a shriek. Soon there were doctors and some people in uniform possibly from police to catch possibly the burglar. The police were carefully searching me and the windows looking for clues of the burglar. I was uneasy till one of the inspectors rummaged through my dress in the cupboard and took the scrap of paper. He showed it to my daughters before carefully keeping it in his pocket. I saw my daughters weeping though I was not aware of the reason. They made no attempt to talk to me. Soon I saw a stream of leaders of my party and friends visiting my room silently with flowers and garlands. The three friends to whom I had given my money were also there with over sized wreaths and shedding tears. I saw them giving each other meaningful glances.
It was only when my daughters fell over me and wept inconsolably I realized that I was no more alive and that I cannot communicate with them. I was disappointed at my failure to recover my money for distribution to noble causes. It was when I heard one policeman telling the other they had a vital clue to crack the case, I was greatly relieved

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Going the extra mile

This is not the usual story that I dish out daily
In our sprawling colony there are many young boys playing cricket in the large open area. There was this boy Vignesh living in my block whom I have never seen playing with others. He is a well built boy and appeared sound in health. I have heard that he topped his class. I asked him one day why he was not playing like others of his age do and whether he did not like playing cricket. He kept mum. Prodding him further I found that he did play earlier and that he usually got out very soon within an over or two and that when he bowled the other players thrashed the ball to the boundary. As a result he found himself all the time picking the ball and throwing. He felt he was not good at the game and gave up though he liked cricket very much and watched the boys playing through the window of his apartment. I knew where the problem lay and spoke to him at length on the need to persevere to give him the confidence he badly needed.
I told him the best cricketers of the world like Tendulkar, Lara or Ponting do not succeed all the time and that they make centuries or fifties only in about 25% of the matches they play. Likewise even Pete Sampras, John Borg or Federer rarely succeed in more than 60% of their first serves. There are many successful actors who are sent away as unfit several times before they are accepted. I told him trying half a dozen times will not just do. Success in the chosen field rests largely on the staying power and that people fail because they lack perseverance. I narrated how Columbus in search of new land wandered in the unchartered and hostile sea for 65 days with no sign of sighting a land. The other sailors insisted that they return as they were tired, depressed and lacked the confidence. The morale of all was very low. None would have criticized if Columbus had returned without finding a new land. But Columbus would not give up easily but persisted with determination. He hung on even when odds were against him. He went the extra mile that most do not go. He got his reward soon and discovered the great country known as America.
When told not to give up playing, Vignesh asked me whether he should continue to play the game even when he was failing repeatedly as he did. I told him perseverance is not doing the same thing again and again without correcting the past mistakes. I told him to watch others play, their stance, and their footwork, give more concentration and effort. I said it applies not only to cricket but to all things that we do. One should be hungry for more knowledge of the things we take up, its technique and the likely problems. For a marketing man, it means learning more about the product, its end uses, meeting more customers, spending more time explaining, finding new contacts making more telephone calls, getting up early and going to bed late. He should always be on the look out for better ways of doing his job.
There cannot be a better example for perseverance, I told him, than Abraham Lincoln. In his political career he failed many times in the elections and suffered personal tragedies too but he persisted till he was elected as President. He never thought defeat as a failure but as a postponed success.
I told him Perseverance in action means:-Finishing what is commenced no matter big or small-Doing more than what one is asked and contributing more than what is required-Continuing to work when others have quit. There is no competition in the extra mile.-Practicing constantly the principle of self esteem and exhibiting a positive attitude especially when the going is tough
I could see in the face of Vignesh, a rush of blood, a new determination and a firm resolve to succeed in cricket. He promised that he would give the game a fresh try keeping in mind my advice.
Soon after this incident I left India. It was years later when I was chatting with a neighbour of my colony at a marriage function, he asked me “Do you remember the boy Vignesh living in your block those days? He plays for the Ranji Trophy and has been included in the list of probables for the national eleven. People tell me that he is a very sound batsman with proper technique and will go places.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Who wins your praise?



Ramu had been living in the house of Suren since his younger days. Suren knew that he was on orphan hailing from his village to whom his rich father had taken kindly and kept him under his care. Ramu was brought up like the other children in the family and had received the same education up to the college level.Ramu on his part did the master proud by studying well and topping the college. A bright and honest chap he had endeared himself to one and all in the family by his pleasant behaviour and smiling face.
Over the years he had grown into a tall and handsome man who can put to shame even the matinee idols. Suren’s father asked the youngster to oversee the servants in the house and its management. Entrusted with the running of the household, Ramu was scrupulously honest, sincere and hard working. Suren’s father liked him as much as any other member of the family and trusted him blindly. When the old man died suddenly, Suren who had also a soft corner for Ramu allowed him to continue as before.
Things were going smoothly till Suren’s only daughter Vaishnavi who was a college going girl fell for this handsome man’s good looks and strong physique. She too was an exceedingly beautiful girl, intelligent and fun loving. When the girl started making advances to him and indicated her love for him, Ramu did not take advantage of her yearning for him. Knowing his position in the family as a servant and aware of all the affection shown to him by Suren’s dad since his young days, he never encouraged her. He kept a safe distance and even indicated to her his lowly position, his antecedents as an orphan and the likelihood of him being accused as an ungrateful wretch. He advised her that she choose someone befitting her status in life and leave him alone.
But the girl madly in love with him just would not allow such talks to dissuade her. She made him drive the car for her to be dropped in the college or when visiting malls and thus chose every opportunity to be alone with him.Ramu was in a quandary. He too liked her but resisted such thoughts to engage his mind.It was when her pleadings to return her love became persistent and she started holding his hands or putting hers on his shoulders, Ramu decided to put an end to this. He was afraid that he in a moment of weakness he may be tempted to accept her love. His loyalty to the family and sense of gratitude overcame his personal predilections.
He tactfully mentioned to Suren his predicament and asked him to relieve him from his duty. He also said he had spoken to none about this. Suren was touched by his sense of loyalty and his act of self denial. He wondered what any other young man would have done in a similar situation.He had a private discussion with his daughter though it is not known what transpired in the discussions. The girl seemed to accept the logic in his advice and kept away from Ramu.
Suren removed him from the household making him his personal secretary in his big office. He made him stay in an independent accommodation. He sent him for training to different institutions and made him work in several departments for short periods. Given his talent, hard work and innate intelligence, Ramu became indispensable and a Vice President in the office in a matter of few years.Suren found that Vaishnavi’s affection was not a mere infatuation but an abiding love that withstood the long lapse of time. He was willing to do any thing she wanted and what greater thing can there be than in entrusting her to the person she loved most. Ramu now had the social status and matching charm as that of Vaishnavi.Suren possibly kept the word he had given her while discussing the issue initially.
Who wins your praise in this episode? Is it Ramu or Suren or the girl who bided her time to win Ramu’s hand?

Monday, August 24, 2009

God in the smile of poor

That was a large temple not far from my house. Though not as famous and rich as Tirupati it attracted large number of devotees. I visit this temple on Sundays to offer my prayers. The short road to the temple was lined with petty shops on both sides. As in other temples here too one witnessed beggars young and old, blind and maimed seated on either side of the entrance. The shrill pleadings for alms chased the devotees till they entered the portal of the temple. The security men at the gate would not allow these hapless to enter the temple. Being a day of leisure, I do not rush through the several sanctum sanctorum of gods and goddesses. I sit and watch the people, how they pray, how they call out the names of gods, their singing when arati is done and their intensity of devotion by their body language.
I saw a middle aged man well clad in white kurta and pyjama standing ahead of me in the line for prasad. He appeared well to do. The temple being affluent with large donations from the people was generous in the distribution of prasad. Unlike other temples where the quantity given was hardly the size of a ping pong ball, it was the size of a large orange here. After collecting the ksheera (halwa) that oozed with ghee, I sat in a corner to savour it when I chanced to see the white dressed man emptying hurriedly the prasad from his hand into an ever silver vessel. I watched him with curiosity as he rushed to a tap nearby to wash his hands and stand in the line again to collect the Prasad. He came again with the prasad to put it in the vessel only to rush to the line again. This process went on half a dozen times. I was very angry at the shameless and selfish man appropriating a large portion of the prasad for himself. However I did not see him take even a morsel out of it. I smothered the urge in me to accost him to give a bit of my mind. I waited to watch his activities a little more.
He hurriedly went round the temple with me closely following him. When he went out of the temple with the vessel in hand all the beggars as if in anticipation sat down quietly in the line. He went on distributing the prasad along with a rupee coin patiently to each and every one with a genuine smile in his face. I was struck with wonder at the strange behaviour of this man and felt ashamed at the hasty conclusion I had made. It mattered little to him what others felt about his action as he verily saw in the smiles of these poor people the Gods residing in the temple

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Life is not a level playing field

This is different from the usual stories that I post..Please do not mind.
Not all of us are born with silver spoon in our mouths. Most are born in poor or in not so well to do families. The rich wallow in affluence not knowing what hardship is like while the latter wade through their lives constantly fighting battles to lead a life of dignity without having to struggle for their next meal. The choice of being born rich or poor is not in our hands. It is all destined by fate or god as you may wish to call raising a question why life has not been made fair for all. It is an unalterable fact that world is imperfect offering no level playing field. The gifted and deprived live side by side. This is not only true among the people but also in every aspect of the universe. Some countries are prosperous endowed with abundant natural resources while a few are in arid land or deserts where nothing of value can grow or be found. Some have population disproportionately small to their plentiful natural wealth while the others have too many people for too little of natural resources. Even within a country some parts are flourishing with people enjoying a higher standard of living, health and literacy while other parts are burdened with poverty, illiteracy and diseases. The leaders in some places are capable and good while it is not always so in many places. One can be born in any region, in any gender, tall or short, weak or strong, good looking or ugly, fair or dusky. Life is not supposed to be fair to all. It is impossible to make all men and women identical in all respects. Life is a game of cards where one is dealt with a different hand or cards and asked to play the game. You win or lose based on how well you play and may lose even when you play well.
Instead of cursing our fate for the misery in our lives and complaining about what is wrong with life, we should accept the fact that differences persist from one to the other and endeavour to overcome the difficulties. There is little point in cursing the fortunate few all the time and endeavouring to bring them down to the lower level instead of combating the hardships and working one’s way up. Self pity is the last thing one should indulge in. This does not mean that the society we live in should ignore these imperfections and perpetuate the differences. The society or the government should make conditions congenial for the hapless and provide scope for improvement of their lot by positive discrimination to the extent possible. The laws of the land must be equal for all and should not favour the rich and hurt the poor. That is the reason why our constitution provides that there will be no discrimination against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth or any of the m.
Despite these the handicaps one is born with continues to dog thro one’s life until overcome by diligent efforts. When one accepts the crude fact that life isn’t fair, two scenarios unfold .If the person belongs to the fortunate few, he will develop a compassion for those not well placed. He or she would be motivated to help others overcome their difficulties though voluntary efforts. He would also motivate others like him to do likewise. It is the same philosophy that motivates the rich countries to assist the poor countries thro aid, grants and easier trade terms to remove poverty. The same is true of individuals too who through philanthropy attempt to level the playing field. On the other hand the hapless many to whom life hasn’t been fair accepts the inevitability of the inherent imperfections and stops bemoaning their lot and work courageously to surmount the difficulties. Many developing countries have become wealthy nations by dint of hard work. Likewise many individuals have become rich by dint of hard work. There is no open sesame except sustained effort to upgrade oneself and improve one’s position. The lives of an Abraham Lincoln or a Dhirubhai Ambani or many of the businessmen and industrialists who from humble stations in life have made it to the top are lessons for the poor not to get traumatized by the disadvantages but to work hard to succeed in life.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The hidden treasure

The clothes of Raju’s family of four were found everywhere on the chairs, sofa, treadmill, sewing machine and even study tables. With both Raju and Ramya working, there was no time available to fold the clothes once they were taken out of the dryer. Everyone was changing the clothes minimum twice daily. Whenever the door bell rang, all of them ran to hide the clothes before answering the bell. Raju and his wife were looking frantically for a chest of drawers of the old type with five rows of spacious drawers and the top one comprising of two smaller drawers. They could not find them in any of the furniture shops. Such a piece they were told is out of vogue. One shop keeper advised them to search for such a piece in auctioning firms. It was in the third shop they found one quaint piece made in rosewood with an ornamental elliptical frame at the top for holding a mirror. There was of course no mirror in the piece on display. It was big enough to accommodate all their clothes. There were no takers in the last three auctions. The floor price was not high. Though outsized and inconvenient, they settled for the price the firm quoted and had it brought to their home.
There was fight in the home as to who would take the bottom two drawers. They decided that the children should use them as they could bend more easily and frequently than the older people. When the clothes were put in the drawers, Raju’s son who had a keen observation for details complained that the bottom drawer assigned to him was slightly smaller in volume. They found it to be true but could not make out the reason.

Ramya surveyed the rear side and found a small hole at the bottom enough for a needle to enter. The boy thrust the needle from the rear but the tip did not show on the inner side in the drawer. Tapping the side Raju found it hollow. With suspicions aroused a quick examination was done by their son who found small screws at four places of a small square in the centre of the inner wall. They opened it immediately and found to their great astonishment jewellery of the olden years like those worn on the waist, arms and necklaces of golden coins. They were all bundled in clothes and hidden safely and secretly by some one who had got it made initially .Its current value could be several lakhs of rupees. Discreet enquiries without divulging about the find revealed the piece had changed several hands and that the firm which sold had no information about the original owner.
The question that was bothering their minds was what should be done with the treasure discovered. It neither belonged to them nor to the auctioning firm. Raju did not want to retain it though Ramya had her covetous eyes on a couple of jewellery.But Raju was clear in his mind that nothing should be taken. There was little point in selling to jewelers for converting to cash for distribution to noble causes without exposing themselves to innumerable questions and even suspicion. The IT department was another bugbear. Handing over to police was not a preferred option for them. They spent restless days and nights till they finally dropped the bundle in the Hundi at Tirupati temple. They had a lingering fear though for a few years whether the original owner would trace the furniture to them and claim the hidden jewelry.



Friday, August 21, 2009

A timely wit

It was past seven in the evening and was getting dark. The young woman was waiting for the bus for more than an hour. Only one bus plied in this route and that too once an hour. It was a desolate place. Three wheelers were whizzing past without stopping. What started as a drizzle soon became a windy rain. The bus stand was open on all sides with a cover only on the top. There was a middle aged man sitting in the middle of the stand on the platform of a pillar. Not well dressed, unshaven, he had tinted glasses.
She asked him’ Sir, When did the last bus go? Will it be more than an hour?
He replied “I do not think any bus left in the last two hours. I have been sitting here for long. It should come any time. Don’t worry”
As she was getting nervous, a drunken young man came to the stop and stood close to her smoking a cheap beedi and blowing smoke at her. It appeared to her from the way he was staring at her, it was not safe to stay here long. She didn’t know what to do. The smell of cheap liquor and his continuous blabber made her move closer to the middle aged man.

He said loudly “Don’t worry, young lady, I am here by your side. I can take care of you. We both are waiting for the same bus.”
Hearing this drunk moved away from the shelter in the rain. She said “Thank you Sir, I could not stand the stench of liquor and the smoke from that man. He was also edging towards me. Fortunately your words scared him away. I am indebted to you.”
He said “Tut, tut, what is the big thing in this? You would be like my younger sister.”
It was then the long awaited bus screeched to a halt. When she clambered on the steps, she looked behind. The middle aged man was walking slowly towards the bus feeling the way with his white stick. She asked the driver to hold on till the blind man climbed. When he was on the steps she lent her support and made him sit in the one seat that was available. Her eyes became misty with gratefulness for his resourcefulness and presence of mind despite his handicap..

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Courtesy begets courtesy

It was like any other tiring day for Kumar in the office. The reception lounge was crowded with customers with all of them waiting for their turn to meet him. He was a sales officer in a government company selling steel rods and structurals.The demand then for steel rods was very heavy far exceeding the availability. Housing activities were at peak. The rods were sold in the market by private traders and producers at a premium .Being a government company, the prices were fixed and much lower than the market prices. As a result all the house builders mostly drawn from middle class made a beeline to this office. There was a good system of registration of demands and supplies were made on first come first served basis. Kumar was an honest officer following strictly the rules laid down by the company.
The afternoon was relatively less busy. One visitor who met Kumar mentioned that he was an inspector of police and that he had applied for a small quantity of steel long back and was awaiting the company’s offer. Kumar promptly checked the records and found his turn had come due. He offered him a coke and meanwhile arranged the offer to be given to him on the spot. The inspector was greatly impressed with the customer service and thanked Kumar profusely before leaving.
It was about a month later Kumar was to leave by Shatabdi for Chennai urgently on an official business with his colleague. His colleague had to cancel his journey at the eleventh hour as he was unwell. Kumar was at the office up to 1 p.m...When he reached the counter for cancelling the colleague’s ticket and obtaining refund it was already late .He was then approached by a decent gentleman telling him that he was to travel by the same train urgently as his father had taken ill suddenly. Considering the fact that he hardly had fifteen minutes for the train, Kumar readily agreed and exchanged the ticket for the money. It was then a policeman appeared from nowhere and charged him with selling the ticket on black. Kumar pleaded with him that he was an officer in a government company and was in a hurry to catch the train. He requested him to let him go assuring that he would not commit such a mistake of selling directly. But the policeman was adamant and took him to the police out post in the station platform. All his fervent pleas to the constable to let him go fell on deaf ears.
Once he entered the police outpost, the inspector who was seated in the chair stood up and came forward to shake Kumar’s hand. With a beaming smile he said “how come you are here, Sir? Please take your seat.”
Kumar was bewildered at this bonhomie and was not able to place him. Seeing this, the inspector said ”Have you forgotten me, Sir? I met you a month back at your office for an offer of steel rounds. You not only obliged me promptly, you had even offered me cool drink as it was very hot and I was perspiring.”
Kumar replied “I have come here, Sir, under different and rather embarrassing circumstance. “
Even before he completed the inspector asked the constable as to why he brought his respected friend to the outpost. The moment he began narrating the incident, the inspector bellowed at him in anger” you idiot, rush to the guard, Saab is coming.”
Turning to Kumar he said “I am extremely sorry for this incident. I am unable to offer you even a cup of coffee as the train is about to depart. I cannot forget how nice you were then. Please do not mistake me.”
He came with Kumar up to the compartment and saw him off. As Kumar sat down in his seat with the train slowly moving, he realized that courtesy always begets courtesy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Friends forever

Anju and Sweta were class mates in LadySriramCollege in South Delhi. .Anju was strikingly beautiful while Sweta was chubby and plain looking. Both had taken commerce group. They were very close to each other, had similar tastes and shared their lunch boxes.Sweta’s father was a leading Chartered Accountant with a big office in Sundar Nagar.He had very good business with many reputed firms as clients . They lived in a posh colony and had three cars.Sweta was always well dressed in rich clothes and came to college in car. Anju on the other hand was from lower middle class. Her father worked in a government office on a modest salary. They lived in a small government apartment in Kidwai Nagar inadequate for the six members in the family.Anju was a good student and often helped Sweta in her lessons.Anju went to college initially by bus and after a month or two Sweta invariably picked her up. The difference in status did not stand in the way of their affection for each other.Sweta never put on airs or flaunted her prosperity. Sweta wanted to be a CA like her dad. Anju had modest aim of seeking a job after graduation.
Time flew fast. Immediately after the final examination in the third year, Sweta was married to some relative of hers on the father’s side. She left Delhi soon thereafter and the contact between two friends abruptly ended.
Anju by virtue of her good look got married to a computer engineer who was particular about beauty. After a couple of years they went to US. Her husband in association with a few friends promoted a dot com company in its hey-days and made his millions.Anju had two daughters. After fifteen years they returned to Bangalore and settled down in a nice suburb. He started a company that was flourishing.Anju’s health suffered a set back with acute back pain. She was advised bed rest. It was then she had advertised for a lady cook in the papers. There was no good response.Anju was disappointed. She was resting after sending the girls to college. The servant maid who went to answer a bell came and announced that a lady has come in response to the advertisement for the cook.
When the maid brought her to the room she found a fat lady of her age in a cheap sari, grey in hairs, wrinkled face and a sad face. After a few minutes the lady asked whether Anju ever lived in Delhi and studied in SriramCollege. It was then it struck like a hammer blow that the lady before her was none else than Sweta.Bewildered and uncomprehending at the turn of lives, she asked “Sweta, how come you are in such a position? What happened? Your husband was in flourishing business and rich.” She asked her maid to get coffee and snacks.
Sweta replied” Anju, I was waiting for years to share my agony with someone close to me. My mom had passed away. My father was always haughty and spent all his time in the clubs with friends drinking and playing cards. He never took any interest in the family. Soon after he had a heart attack, he got me married to Suresh a distant relative on his side without ascertaining fully the background. Both I and my mom were against the alliance. My father being a domineering person, we could do little to stop the wedding. Suresh was an engineer and was running a publishing business and had a press. My father had not made proper enquiries about his financial standing or about the income from business. He was given to understand that their family had huge landed property but was not aware that it was all mortgaged against the debts taken. Initially till two sons were born, life went on smoothly. Suresh was lazy by temperament and did not upgrade the machines in keeping with technological developments in the industry. The business went down. My parents had meanwhile passed away. My brothers ignored me. Suresh took to drinking and started pledging my jewels. He sold the house I got from my father. With his wasteful habits and no steady income all the money vanished soon. One son, a college drop out, had turned a vagabond. Luckily the second son, a responsible chap, has just finished the final year of engineering thanks to the generous help from a cousin of mine. I need to work till this boy gets a job to keep the hearth burning. This is my sad story”
Anju thought over the matter and said”Sweta, I am very sorry at the way fate has been cruel to you. Let us be friends for ever and not alter it by being employer and employee. I will request my husband to provide a good job for your son in his company. His office pays very well. I am sure things will brighten up for you. I can let you stay in an out-house in another building for a year. But make sure your husband is kept in his place

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Divine help

The morning paper no doubt carried the usual forecast of the meteorological department about the likely light to heavy showers in the evening. Yet when Vasantha left her house to do some urgent shopping, the sky was very clear with no indication of any rain. As she finished her purchases and came out of the large super market, it was raining heavily. Most of the customers were waiting in the portico for the rain to subside. The wind was chilly and strong. But it did subside after an hour when the roads by then were flooded with water. She luckily saw a bus to her destination crawling opposite to the supermarket in the inevitable jam. She ran towards it and got into the crowded bus. She breathed a sigh of relief that she would be back in her home within thirty minutes. The bus started moving slowly and the rains also commenced again with greater fury. The road was filled knee deep with water. She could see many cars stranded after they broke down. It looked hours as the bus inched its way towards the destination. She regretted her decision to go out despite the warning of a possible rain as she also wondered who ever attached importance to the weather predictions of the department.
The bus stopped at a stop that was about half a mile away from her house. It was raining cats and dogs. The conductor urged her to get down quickly. There were no trees nearby except a transformer. The bus stop was just adjacent to the transformer. It was getting dark. The road was dimly lit. She was afraid to wade through the knee deep water with a heavy parcel in her hand. She was apprehensive of open man holes that she had seen earlier.. There was not a soul in sight. No auto rickshaws could be seen. It was those days when mobile phones were not in use. She got really nervous though a brave lady by nature. When things looked so formidable with no ray of hope, people turn to god. She too prayed intensely to her ishta devatha Lord Guruvayurappan, the presiding deity of Guruvayur to help her reach home. Tears were trickling from her eyes as she continued the prayer amidst the unrelenting rain. Her clothes were drenched and legs started aching.
It was then a rickshaw puller appeared before her as if from no where and shouted at her “Have you gone mad, Amma, standing under a transformer in this heavy rain? Are you not educated enough? Get in quickly. I will drop you.”
She asked him” My house is in 2nd cross street three streets away. How much do you want?”
He laughed saying “What a foolish woman you are asking me such a question in such a situation? You give whatever you feel like. This is not the time to bargain. Get in fast”
He dropped her soon at her house and pocketed the money she gave him without even looking at it to know how much she had given. Vasantha sincerely believed that it was Lord Guruvayurappan Himself who had answered her prayers for no rickshaw puller in sane mind would be dragging the vehicle in such a downpour in that desolate road..
The air was cold and it was still raining heavily as Vasantha stood watching at her saviour fading away from her eyes at a distance in the dark road.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Handicap

Arjun was an 11 year old boy studying in class five. A puny boy with a round face, he always wore a pleasant smile on his face. Though a bright kid in the class, he was seated in the last bench. One may ask what is wrong with that except that this boy was affected with polio in one leg and used a crutch to walk. Though amiable in disposition, the other students never mixed with him. When all the others were playing, Arjun would be sitting on the bench alone watching them play or reading a book. Some of the mean students hurt him by calling him names like one legged horse, a halt or a crutchy. Some even derived sadistic pleasure by dislodging his crutch as they walked to make him trip. Arjun never lost his cool on such occasions and made light of them by laughing along with them.
The class teacher one day asked, “Arjun, why don’t you sit in the first bench.You are short and not visible.”
Arjun said, “Sir, I would like to sit in the last bench as it is convenient to keep the crutch against the wall away from the legs of others. I can see the black board clearly.”
The teacher had a look of worrry but remained silent though not satsified with the reply. There was an annual sports meet falling within a week and names were invited from the willing participants for events like running race, long jump, high jump, marathon race, lemon and spoon race, musical chairs, obstacle race and sack race. The boys huddled in groups, discussed amongst themselves and filled the forms with the events they wished to participate. Arjun was sitting alone in the last bench.. No one came near him or invited him to join. In the last hour of the day the teacher collected the forms as each student went to his table. When Arjun limped his way with his crutch and handed over his form, the class broke into laughter.The teacher was angry and hit the table with the ruler and asking”What is there to laugh about, you silly boys?”
When Arjun gave his form, the teacher told him in kind tone”Dear boy, it is not compulsory for all to participate in the sports. If you wish, you can watch the events along with others.”
Arjun replied,”No, Sir. I wish to be like anybody else a normal person and I have given my name for sack race. My friends will all be handicapped with their legs tied in the sack.God has already endowed me with a handicap. I think sir we are all evenly placed.Please permit me to join.” The teacher rubbed his eyes with his handkerchief as he accepted the form. There was a pin drop silence in the class.
It was the sports day and sack race was the last event.The entire school was there watching the event. They knew Arjun was particpating in the event.Fifteen boys along with Arjun ran the race. No special handicap was given to Arjun even though he took the help of his crutch. The whole crowd watched with bated breath Arjun leading the pack unafraid of his falling down. As he breasted the tape, the whole crowd gave a standing ovation and the thunderous applause took along time to die down. As the Principal rose from his chair and went near Arjun to pat him on his shoulders, there was again a deafening applause.
“How do you feel Arjun on winning the race?”asked the Principal.
“I feel normal like any other boy and happy to be part of this meet” replied Arjun. All his class mates thronged around him and shouted “hip hip hooray Arjun.”

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Teacher's recompense

Suneeta was asked by the principal to handle class V that year as Mrs. Alexia who was in charge of this class had resigned.Suneeta found she had one problem boy in her class. She has been in this school for years and never had seen like this child. Kartik was a shy, intelligent and well behaved student. But he paid no attention to what was being taught. She had to call his name thrice or even more whenever she had a question for him. He was always lost in thoughts. He did not mingle with other boys and girls even during play time. Always morose no one had seen him smile. The other children understandably ignored him. He came to the school in shabby and unpressed clothes. His hair always needed a cut. He wore a much used pair of shoes that needed a replacement. Naturally this disinterest in studies reflected in his performance and he stood at the bottom of the class. Her initial attempts to reprimand the boy by punishments brought no improvement except a hurt in his eyes.Suneeta was a sincere and hard working teacher. She could not admit defeat in the case of this boy who was otherwise normal.
It was by accident that one Sunday she met Mrs. Alexia in the market. When she broached about this boy to her, Alexia’s eyes became misty as she narrated his story. Kartik was actually the brightest boy in her class, very jovial and a natural leader. He was her favourite child. It all changed when he lost his mother in class IV. .His dad whom she had seen once was a good for nothing drunkard. He took no interest in this only child of his and brought a woman to live with him. She too did not take kindly to the boy and made him work for long hours.Mrs Alexia felt sorry that she could not help the boy as much as she wanted as she had to leave the school.
Suneeta was moved by his sad story. She changed her approach to the boy. She spoke lovingly and encouragingly to him. She could win his confidence only gradually. She shared her lunch with the boy on occasions. She spent more time with him to bring him up to the level of his class. She persuaded the school management to extend scholarship to him and out of the money bought new dresses and shoes. Her love and compassion paid dividends when he started scoring high marks and was the second in the final examination.
On the last day all children brought the teacher gifts wrapped in multi coloured papers in ribbons of assorted colours.Kartik too brought one in a used envelope tied loosely with a twine. She opened it first and saw a pair of cheap ear tops. He said this was his dear mom’s and had saved it from others eyes. He said he had nothing else to give her and pleaded with her to accept the same. She instantly removed the pair she was wearing and wore the one gifted by him. For the first time she saw his face wore a large smile.
Years rolled by and Kartik she learnt was in a college doing MCA. He kept in touch with her once a while always thanking her for her affection and love that filled the void created by his mom’s demise.Suneeta was happy that her efforts to give him confidence, motivation and the love he missed when he was young had worked wonders. She was thankful to god that she realized in time the power that teachers had in imaginatively moulding the lives of the wards under them
It was year later that she got a phone call from Kartik requesting her to accompany him for the University Convocation. She wore his mom’s ear tops he had presented her when he was in class V for the special occasion knowing she was filling his mom’s place. Her joy knew no bounds when he was declared University topper.
Tears started flowing from her eyes when he hugged her and cried “Miss, you had lifted me from the gloom that enveloped me. It is only your steady affection and the efforts to teach me that made a man of me. I see in you my late mom. But for you I would have been a wastrel.”
The thought occurred in Suneeta’s mind that it was only Kartik who opened her eyes to the true role of a teacher. He quietly removed from his coat pocket a jewel box containing dazzling and costly pair of ear studs and implored her to accept this token of his love and gratitude..


Friday, August 14, 2009

The brewing storm

Saroja 12 year old had not run away from her home .Her mother had brought her from the village and left her in the care of Suneetha who was on the look out for a domestic help.Saroja hailed from the same village of the previous maid who had worked for seven years in Suneetha’s house. A young girl with good features, she looked pleasant. Suneetha assured the mother that she need not entertain any fear about the well being of the girl and that she would be taken care of like the other children in the house. It was a small family of husband and wife with two children besides Suneetha’s old mother-in-law.
The two children in the house were disciplined, tidy and methodical. They would wake up early in the morning, have their bath, put the used clothes in the washing machine, finish their breakfast and will be off to the school. The rooms would always be spick- and- span. Saroja would also be up early, clean the front side and sprinkle water. She learnt to operate the washing machine. After washing the utensils, she loaded them in the dish-washer. Thereafter she swept and swiped the rooms. The work was not heavy and she was more of a handy help to Suneetha to fetch things, answer the door bell and phone, collect the clothes from the clothes line, fold them and put them in the respective cup boards. The girl was very quiet and efficient. Everyone was happy with her. She even joined the children in the board games on holidays.Suneetha never stinted on food or clothes for Saroja.Her mother-in-law had a special liking for the girl and in the afternoons spent time talking to her or asking her to massage her aching limbs. The old lady often used to regret that her daughter who was also in the same city did not have a good maid and frequently had to do all chores herself.Suneetha made sincere efforts to locate one for her thro Saroja’s mother but failed to find one..
About six months later the old lady went to her daughter’s house to stay for a couple of months. It was only in the evening that Suneetha noticed that Saroja was not to be seen in the house. She searched hither and thither in the colony in different neighbouring flats but could not find her.Saroja never went out without telling her.Suneetha became very nervous wondering how the girl’s mother would react to the incident. The girl was nearing 13 and good looking. The news about the abduction and killing of girls after rape in a northern city were very recent with bodies being discovered daily.Suneetha’s imagination ran wild fearing all sorts of dangers to the girl.Infact she had grown very fond of the girl over this period. Her mother-in-law was also not there to comfort her. She rang up her husband Sekhar who was in an important meeting. He felt that the girl would have gone somewhere nearby with her local friends and assured Suneetha that they can report to the police if the girl did not return by 8pm.
The girl did not turn up and Sekhar returned only around 9pm. They felt that it was late to go the police station and that it would be advisable to make some more efforts before approaching them. The whole night Suneetha remained awake and was crying unable to get even a wink. She prayed to several gods that she would visit their temples and donate money if only the girl was traced back safely without any problem to her.

Early in the morning there was a telephone call that Sekhar’s mother who was a diabetic and heart patient had left behind her medicines inadvertently requesting him to bring them immediately. When Sekhar went to hand them over, his sister asked him whether he would have tea. When he agreed, she called “Kutti ponnu (Little girl) bring the tea in the tray”. When the girl appeared with the tray, Sekhar was rendered speechless. It was the missing Saroja.He raised his voice in anger and asked her “How come you are here without informing my wife? Who brought you here? Don’t you have common sense that we would all be worried?” The girl started sobbing.Sekhar’s mom intervened ”Sekhar, why do you raise your voice? I only brought her here. You very well know that your sister’s health is not good. She cannot work for long hours. She has no maid. I brought Saroja to be here with me till I stay here. What is wrong? I should have informed Suneetha but the decision to take her with me was taken at the eleventh hour when the auto rickshaw had already come and was waiting.”
Sekhar was upset but kept quiet and informed Suneetha immediately of the discovery. On his way back he was thinking of the hurricane storm brewing in his household.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Differing perceptions

I have a distant relative of mine by name Paru mami living with her only son. Her husband had not left her in good financial circumstances. Past eighty, she is fairly in good health and takes care of her personal chores without help. With her reduced vision restored after minor surgery, she spends lot of time listening to music, reading dailies and magazines and watching TV serials. She is unaware of her slightly impaired hearing and the volume of her TV is heard in the neighborhood. Not given to any religious or spiritual pursuits, she does not bother about the ‘the other world’. A worldly-wise lady she is not given to loose talk in the presence of her son and bahu.Her dutiful and loving son leaves early and returns late in the evening from his office. Her relation with her daughter-in-law Shreya is cordial but formal. Shreya coming from a decent family is a Chartered Accountant working in a company. She is a very nice and gentle person who takes care of her mother-in-law like any dutiful bahu. My aged relative has really nothing much to grumble about.
A few oldies visit Paru mami in the afternoons when she is alone and spend a couple of hours daily except holidays gossiping and discussing their pains and bahus. This old lady has the habit of boasting that the amiable relation she has with her bahu has a lot to do with her own innate goodness and man management skills. She will not give any credit to the good natured Shreya for her accepting this old lady as a part of her family and for being considerate and kind to the extent possible consistent with her office commitments. That young lady leaves the lunch in hot box, snacks for the afternoon and coffee in flask. This clever lady will tell her friends “My bahu is in a hurry. I told her that I do not mind serving myself from the hot box. God has given me strength to manage my own affairs. I am not dependent on any one”. She will conveniently forget to tell about her weekly visits to the doctor every Saturday escorted by her bahu. The usual refrain of the lady was that all problems between mothers in law and bahus arose because of the foolish handling of the latter by the former and letting the grip go out of their hands. Little did she realize that her own bahu suffers in silence the conceit of this lady more out of respect for her husband and treats her talks that she comes to know as mere prattle of the aged.
Paru mami’s daughter Malati is living close by in a big house with her husband. Her well to do mother-in-law who was living with her elder son had to move here when he went abroad. That lady is very old and frail but managed her affairs well and is very affectionate to her bahu. Given to reading scriptures, she spends most of her time rolling beads. Being very flexible in nature she adjusted to the new surroundings. She gave ample sum each month to her daughter-in-law for her upkeep. But the daughter could not visit her mom as frequently as she did before as she had joined some painting and computer classes to keep herself busy and away from the home. Her retired husband stayed at home most of the times.
Paru mami’s refrain these days to her group is that her daughter Malati is confined to home tending to all the needs of her old mother-in-law and that she gets easily exhausted not being in the pink of health. She is unable to visit her much although she is at a stone’s throw forgetting carefully to mention about her painting and computer classes. The other oldies know that Malati is obese and indolent by nature, that nothing is wrong with her health and that she needs to walk daily to reduce the flab. But they commiserate with Paru mami and tell to her glee that none could match mami in her strong independent spirit, self esteem and her ability to manage the difficult modern day ‘office going and educated ‘bahu.
The last I heard was that Malati’s mother-in-law had joined a well maintained and well-to-do senior citizen’s home on her own insistence far away from the city. She wanted the quiet and peace of the suburbs to pursue her spiritual ways. Paru mami, I learn, is unusually silent these days in her afternoon sessions apprehensive that she may be sent to an old age home lacking the wherewithal to pay for deposit and monthly maintenance for a well-to-do senior citizen’s home. But her kindly bahu continues to be the same caring and gentle lady entertaining no such thoughts.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Power of compassion

Though growing old myself, I do not enjoy the company of old people. I am more at home with youngsters born several decades later. This unwillingness to mix with persons of my age or senior to me could have stemmed from my unconscious fear of seeing my image in them. It could also be that the oldies talk more about their problems: declining health, reduced money and disinterested children. It leaves even the most cheerful chap a little depressed. It never struck me that the younger folks with whom I tried to get close would have similar reaction for me. Luckily I was with kinder people and never had occasion to feel unwanted.
It was then I had a request from a friend of mine in Kolkata to visit a senior citizen’s home run in the suburbs of the city where I lived and give him my impressions. Possibly he had an old relative with no or poor income of his own in mind. My wife had also been urging me for long to donate some money to one such home. At her suggestion I took bundles of dhoties, towels and saris for giving the inmates.
It was a house with five small rooms, a hall, kitchen, three toilets and two bath rooms. There were no cots. Four or five slept in each room on mats with the hall possibly accommodating more. A middle aged man in khaki uniform informed that the manager would come only in the afternoon. Having seen me alight from a medium sized car driven by a driver, he had no objection to my seeing around. He was engrossed in talking to some woman that he paid scant attention to me. What I saw made me sad. Most of the inmates who were in the hall and rooms appeared lonely despite living in a crowd , fragile people ready to break down and full of stories of neglect and indignities. Most of them , shriveled with age, sunken cheeks, bald heads or silvery hairs, bent in body with a walker to stand steady, drooping mouths exposing a few stained teeth with cavities, thick glasses or a dangling wire from the hearing aid, did not present a pleasant sight.
When I was looking around to place the bundles I had carried, they said in plaintive tone “Sir, please distribute these to us yourself as otherwise they would not give us. They will be sold.”
I was shocked and said that I do not believe the management would do such a thing.”
They replied in chorus ” We do not know about the management. The fellow whom you saw outside will take away every thing. Now and then people come here and donate sweets and namkins, blankets and such things. He will keep most with him and give us very little. Please, Sir, give it before he comes. We will wear them immediately.”
I asked my driver to keep that fellow busy in case he finished his talk with the woman. Meanwhile I distributed all the clothes and left the surplus with them to be given to other inmates when they come. I distributed the ladoos and the namkins then and there. I spent an hour with them discussing their routine and their lives. It was not much speak about. It was a pathetic revelation of how cruel and indifferent the society has turned over the years towards the older people especially when they become dependent on others for support financial or physical. The problem is acute in cases like this home where the inmates are poor and unable to pay large sums demanded in better homes. The food supplied is inadequate and the same bland fare day in and day out. Medical facilities are not much to write home about. They suffer silently may be with sympathetic words from each other. People also become self centred in adversity. Each one of them was biding his/her time for the god of death to give deliverance from this cruel world.
Firstly no relatives visit them. Even the few who come once in a while stand at a distance for a few minutes exchanging some words in a voice that is monotone. There will be no enthusiasm or love or even a touch or caress. The servants and the man who worked in the home always talked rude in rough voice. These people crave for kindness and love that they have missed in their homes. They long for caring words and a little demonstration of concern for them. The twilight years are spent in despondence and worry.
How nice it would be if the schools were to send their young girls and boys to these homes in bright and colourful clothes to sing, dance and prance before these oldies. They can enliven their days with humorous stories and laughter lifting their sagging spirits and making them feel they are wanted. The one positive spin off would be the children learning the power of love and compassion to the lonely and lost

Monday, August 10, 2009

Karthikeyan's dream

Karthikeyan was a middle aged person, timid, God fearing and superstitious by nature. He would read daily the astrological predictions in the news papers and magazines for his zodiac sign. He wore several rings in his fingers with different gem stones to ward off the evil effects of planets. A regular visitor to the temple, he would do pradakshinams (walk around clockwise) of the navagrihas nine times. There was a black dog in a neighbour’s house in the big housing complex where he lived. This dog would normally be quiet for days but on occasions start howling for two or three days continuously. It so happened that every time the dog started howling, there was a death within a few days in some house in the complex or adjacent buildings.Karthikeyan noticed this happening with never failing regularity. As a result whenever the dog started whining which it did invariably after dusk and during nights, Karthikeyan would become uneasy wondering who the next victim could be. He would discreetly inquire about any ill health of the neighbours in the colony and would confide to his wife of his apprehensions if he hears someone is seriously sick. He had complained several times in vain to the owner of the dog about its howling in the nights and the loss of his sleep. He even toyed with the idea of selling off his flat and moving out of the area. But real estate prices were forbiddingly high that he had to put up with this nightmare.
One late evening he was returning by walk thro the road adjacent to the burial ground. It was a desolate road and people avoided that road unless very necessary. There was a slight drizzle and it was getting dark.Karthikeyan saw a tall, dark and burly figure approaching him from the opposite direction. There was none else in the road. He naturally became nervous and moved to the other side of the road. He found the black figure also moving to the other side.Karthikeyan started praying to God and reciting several slokas.When the figure came very close to him, he fell down on the ground with his heart rapidly pounding, body drenched with profuse perspiration and his vision blurred. The figure knelt down by and asked him in a booming voice” Dear Son, is anything wrong with you? Do you need any help? “He could not make out the face but muttered ”I am feeling giddy? I should be okay soon”
When the figure did not move but stood by his side, he mustered enough courage to ask” Thank you very much, Sir May I know who you are?” When there was no response, he repeated the question asking whether the figure had not heard him. The figure replied “Do not be afraid ,my son, I am the God of Death” On hearing this there was goose bumps all over his body and he was rendered speechless. The figure spoke to him in kind voice telling him there was no cause for fear for him. Emboldened Karthikeyan narrated his experience of coming across deaths each time after the whining of the dog and sought to know what could be relation between death and dog’s crying. The God of Death told him that dogs have the vision to see the Messengers of Death prowling about in the vicinity of the person about to die. Karthikeyan then mentioned about his uneasiness every time the dog whined and the sleepless nights he underwent. He prayed to God whether he can know which person would be dying so that he can be peaceful adding that he would keep the information to himself. The God of Death declined to help him and when he persisted with his request, He took pity on him. Before disappearing he said “I cannot divulge the information directly. But in your dream in the night when the dog cries, you will know which neighbour would be popping off. But never forewarn the individual or his kith and kin.”
In the succeeding months whenever the dog whined, Karthikeyan got his answer in the dream. On his part he kept the promise by not uttering to anyone. He was no longer afraid of the dog’s premonition and could sleep peacefully till one day a few months thereafter. The dog started howling continuously in annoying tone for two days. When the promised dream never occurred Karthikeyan grew tense and started wondering who would be the likely person. He went to sleep that night praying to the God of Death and reminding Him about his failed boon. The next morning his wife tried to wake him up nudging his lifeless body.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

One kind act begets another

Murugan worked in a small job with a low remuneration. He was married with two children. He had an aged mother also with him. Life was a constant struggle for the couple. His wife too pitched in with some earnings distributing milk sachets early in the mornings. His children were studying in a government schools. The school for the elder boy was about two kilometers away and he had to trudge by foot, rain or sun. He has been pestering for long his father to get him a cycle as many of his class mates had. However much Murugan wanted to comply with his request, his poor income had higher priorities. One month it could be medical expenses for his mom, another month repair to the leaking hut or the payment of arrears with the shop for provisions taken on credit. Each month was no different from the other.Murugan’s neighbour bought a new cycle for his use and asked him whether he would like to have the old one. He demanded just Rs.200 knowing that Murugan cannot afford more. He however gave him two day’s time to buy it as he needed the money he owed to cycle shop. The boy’s demand turned into an insistent cry on hearing this.Murugan lost his temper and slapped the boy into silence.

He left soon there after to attend an auspicious function at his sister’s place. He borrowed Rs.100 for buying a gift. On his way he was struck with remorse at having been rude to the young boy but consoled himself that he would soon find someway to get a cycle for the boy. His sister’s family was better off running successfully a grocery store. His sister and her husband were happy that he participated in the gala occasion and presented him with an envelope containing Rs.250.
Murugan decided on his way back to request his neighbour to accept Rs.150 initially for the cycle and the balance to be paid subsequently. As he was retuning home from the bus stand, he met his colleague who was in tears. He had a pitiable story to relate. His young son was knocked down by a speeding three wheeler and was left bleeding in the road in what was a hit and run case. The boy needed medical attention and help.. His colleague had raised some money by pledging his wife’s chain but needed more, however much he could spare. Murugan thought of his sobbing son and the neighbour’s cycle for a moment. He said “I would like to help you but I have a small amount for some other pressing purpose. I realize the urgency of your need.”
“Okay Murugan, I understand. I have been trying several sources since morning. Let me go and find out from some others” The colleague patted Murugan, turned back and hurried into the narrow alley.
As Murugan watched him leave, he felt a slight wrench in his heart.”Hey, wait a minute. Take this Rs250.This is all I have. I will find out some other way to sort out my problem. Your need is more pressing than mine. If you need me at the hospital, tell me. I can come.”
“Thank you so much for the help. There is no need for you to come to the hospital. Let me rush” his friend replied
Murugan felt light in his heart though he felt sorry that the boy’s cycle will have to wait. When he reached his house and knocked the door, his son opened the door with a beaming smile. When he saw in the corner his neighbour’s cycle and raised his eye brows in askance his wife in answer to his unasked query said “Our kindly neighbour had left the cycle this morning and said you can pay whenever convenient even after six months. Our boy is waiting for your arrival and permission before trying it out.”
Murugan was speechless for a moment wondering at the ways of God and how one kind act begets another.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

How I turned a Mohan Bagun fan

Having been brought up in soccer- starved Chennai, I knew nothing of football when I landed in soccer-mad Calcutta (now Kolkata) in a Nor’ester month on official transfer in early Seventies. Within a month I knew that football was a passion with Bengalis and no conversation is complete amongst my Bengali friends without debating the relative merits of Mohan bagan, BNR, East Bengal or Mohamedan Sporting club often ending in abuse and rarely in blows. I was all at sea not knowing the names of leading players or the rules of the game. Being a greenhorn, I had no fancy for any particular club. I remained discreetly silent with an air of all-knowing indifference. The city was divided not on the basis of religion or political affiliations as we witness elsewhere. You have to be pro- one of these clubs and naturally anti - others. It was an exclusive choice not permitting your taking kindly to more than one club at a time, only black and white with no shades of grey. I believe these days the craze is much less, but then in Seventies, it was amazing and at times horrific. I knew a person, who would starve for days if his East Bengal lost. If they won, entire neighbourhood would be feasted with Hilsa fish. I didn’t know then that East Bengal was associated with Hilsa and Mohan Bagun with prawns. Depending on which club won, particular variety will vanish from market. Such polarisation of people on the basis of loyalty to the clubs is to be seen to be believed...Nevertheless it is the love for football that binds the city without regard to status, age, gender, language or religion however much it is divided on the playing days.
It was then on a hot Sunday afternoon while I was returning home from an errand I saw a middle aged guy in a gaudy yellow shirt and Dhoti with a jholna bag hanging on the side with unkempt hair walking on the other side of the road close to my house talking to himself with gesticulations. I took him for a mad cap and when I saw him moving towards me I gave him a wide berth by moving hurriedly to the opposite platform. I was a bit scared and profusely sweating when I rang the bell of my apartment nearby.
.When my young daughter opened the door, I mentioned about this amusing but scary man.
No sooner I started telling her, she stopped me and asked ”Was he wearing a yellow shirt with a bag on his shoulder and talking to himself”
I said “Yes, how do you know?”
“Appa, he is a Mohun Bagan pagal, he will invariably ask you “Do you like Mohan Bagun or East Bengal? If you say per chance East Bengal, you are finished as he will immediately give you a hard slap”
“My God,” I muttered thinking how close he came to me and how deftly I avoided him.
She continued saying “He was a leading player in his days in Mohan Bagun and lost his moorings when he broke his leg and had to discontinue playing. Poor chap, he is otherwise a harmless fellow”
It was at that moment I chose Mohun Bagan as my favourite club and started walking bravely on the same side of the platform with my yellow shirt friend. However he never asked me to my disappointment the eagerly awaited question. But I did not switch my loyalties as there were no pagals in the vicinity swearing by East Bengal or Mohamedan Sporting clubs.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A gift with a difference

My husband Kumar hated meaningless spending on festival days like Diwali on clothes, jewellery, sweets, fireworks and varied gifts to near and dear. He felt they had no religious sanction and each family tried to outdo others in getting bigger and costlier things. While he did not belittle the religious part of the festival, he was against aping others in this mindless spending spree. But he never imposed his opinion on me or other members of the family. He used to gently point out that vast majority are suffering without basic requirements and that such lavish spending by the fortunate few is socially unacceptable.
He never accompanied me to shops on such occasions. I used to get him each year any one of the items like new suit lengths, good shirts, costly tie pins, branded shoes and even gold chain. He was a gentleman who cannot hurt others and when he accepted them with a small smile, I could guess what passed in his mind as sheer waste of money to demonstrate one’s love for the other. Still I could not allow such festive occasions to go by without a gift from me even though I was aware that they never impressed him.
Last year I did something different, something after his heart for Diwali. Kumar is not very rich though he earned enough to make us live comfortably. Yet he set apart a portion of his income for philanthropy no matter there was pressing needs elsewhere. He donated money to hospitals for treatment of poor, to schools for scholarships to needy students and in kind like blankets and sweaters for poor homes. He never mentioned this to others, not even to me on many occasions.
The idea came to me when I accompanied my friend Vasumati to a destitute home for girls run by private efforts with great difficulty. What was started as a noble cause floundered when the promised money from different sources was not forthcoming.Vasumati along with a few friends tried to keep it running. They were after persons who could afford to donate for the cause. She wanted to involve me too in this cause of seeking liberal contributions. It was a pathetic sight to see young girls of varied ages from two to sixteen dressed in tatters. The clothes were not even adequate to cover themselves with dignity and adequately. Some of them did not have spare sets to wear. They were walking in bare foot. They frequently stayed away from the school for want of a clean dress. The home found it difficult even to provide two square meals. Often they had to make do with conjee for the nights. There were about forty inmates then. I was so moved by their condition that I instantly wrote out a cheque for Rs.50,000 from my personal account in favour of the home for purchase of two sets of dress for Diwali.I kept the receipt carefully. That Diwali I kept the purchases to bare minimum and skipped the gifts to friends and relatives.
I put the receipt in a brightly coloured envelope addressed to my husband with the inscription ‘With best wishes for a Happy Diwali”.On the day prior to Diwali when the family members assembled to see the purchases, they were a little shocked at the poor spread. No silks, no Conjeevarams, and no jewellery they found just one set of daily wear clothes for each from Khadi Gramodyog.To the surprised husband who could not believe what he saw, I thrust the envelope in his hand. With everyone curious to know the contents, Kumar broke into a large smile when he saw the receipt. He said this is the best gift that he had ever received from me. His happiness rubbed on others and soon we looked forward to celebrating the festival with gusto in our own new found way.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A child's compassion

I pack the lunch boxes with three chapattis and sabji or pasta or four idlies for my school going children aged 11 and 9. The items vary almost daily. They leave after breakfast around 8am and return only at 4pm.While I found the girl, the elder of the two, grumbling that I stuff the lunch box with too much of the items, the younger one was asking me for more. I thought being a boy and playing all the time whenever there was leisure, he must be burning more calories and have greater appetite than the girl. I started keeping more of the items that I made and was happy he liked them. One evening when we were having supper together my husband asked the boy “Sunil, you seem to have a ravenous appetite. Have you not taken your lunch or what?” I remembered that I had kept six chapattis with plenty of alu sabji.It appeared strange that he was eating more than what a normal boy would eat after a heavy lunch. Sunil replied with a hurt look “I am hungry. Is it improper to eat more?” My husband did not pursue the topic. But this was rankling in my mind as I gave him lunch more than normal for a boy of his age. His lunch box was always found wiped clean in the evening. I did not ask him anything then.
The next day I went to the school and met his class teacher. After the pleasantries I asked her how Sunil was faring. She said ”Oh Sunil, he is a gem of a boy. I am proud to be his teacher. Very well behaved, he is one among the first three students.”
“Does he participate in games and play as well?” I casually asked.
“I am sorry. That is one point I wished to tell you myself. He doesn’t participate in any games and always prefers to sit on the sidelines. He needs to exercise. Otherwise he is a very lovable boy”
That evening when we were alone, I asked “Sunil, I want you to tell the truth. I am stuffing your box daily with more than adequate lunch. Yet you seem to be hungry in the evenings. I met your teacher today. While she is happy with your performance in studies, she mentioned about your lack of interest in games and physical exercises. You don’t also seem to burn your calories justifying your hunger. Tell me what exactly the matter is. Are you eating in full the lunch I give you?
After some hesitation he said ”Mom, please do not get angry. I share my food daily with Mohan. He is a very poor boy and does not bring lunch. On some days he does not even take any breakfast as nothing is available at home. He is reading on scholarship.Mom, he is first in the class. When everyone is eating the lunch would it be proper to leave him alone starving? To tell you the truth I give him more than half the share. Please do not get upset. Have you not told me about Eashwar Chandra Vidyasagar and his generous heart?”
”Sunil, I am not upset with you at all. But you should have told me all these before my asking.. It is not proper to hide facts” I said.
“Mom, I was afraid you may reduce the quantity and tell me not to share.”
I could not suppress my tears at the simple innocence and the compassion this boy had for his hapless class mate. I told him “I am proud of you. What you did is right but take your mom into confidence always.”
From the next day I started using a bigger lunch box and stuffing much more than what two boys can consume