Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Early buyer’s gift

I wish to end the year on a happy note.Here is an old and very short story to that end. Happy New Year to my readers
It was early in the morning. The old lady tried to reach the toy on the top shelf but she could not succeed. A young man who was in the same aisle rushed to her aid. When he handed over the toy, her eyes gleamed and asked him to check whether it is suitable for a boy of eight years. It appeared that she had forgotten her glasses. He looked at the details and found it was suitable..
She said “It is for my grandson. He has been wanting a remote controlled helicopter for his birthday. How much does it say it costs?”
“30 dollars.”
“Oh, oh. That is expensive. Please keep it back” she said.
“What was the price you were willing to spend?” he asked her softly.
“Why? Do you work here? My budget is around 15 dollars.  Is there any sale?.” she asked expectantly.
“No sale. But we are giving a gift to the first buyer today in the toys section” He pulled out a gift card from his pocket and said “. Here is a gift card for 15 dollars. You now pay only $15. It is a good deal. Happy birthday to your grandson” he said as left her in a hurry presumably to another aisle.
The old woman was grateful to Lord for her luck and walked briskly to the counter and said “Thanks for the gift scheme for the first buyer from your shop. I really appreciate it”
The surprised counter clerk said “What gift scheme? We have none such presently.”
The lady indignantly told her “Better check with your supervisor. Just now the young man in charge gave me the gift card. That is meant for the first buyer, he said. Please see this. Why should I tell you something that is not true?”
“Madam, this is a gift card presumably bought from this store by the young man. For your information there is no male employee in the toys section”
It then struck her that it was a kind gesture by the young man to an old lady who couldn’t afford a 30 dollar present for her grandson. She looked around only to find that he had left.

We can do no great things, only small things with great love”. ~Mother Teresa

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The early morning flight

“I have requested you countless times not to leave by early morning flights. You not only trouble yourself but also put everyone in the house to considerable inconvenience. I don’t know why you persist in harassing others!” exploded Sumitra in anger at her husband.
Murali replied softly “Why do you have to raise your voice? Our office is into austerity-drive since the last year. We are avoiding night’s halt in a starred hotel. We leave in the morning and return by the evening flight. As a senior executive, I cannot myself break the rule. How does my early morning departure affect you anyway?”
“Ha,ha! How considerate you are to others”:she replied in mocking tone, should She added”The whole house is woken up at 3 a.m. as if it is Deepavali night. Lights are on in the hall, kitchen and everywhere. You may plead you get up only at 4a.m. but you should not forget you are the cause of early morning bedlam. You wake me up at 5 a.m. asking whether I have seen your new pair of socks or spare kerchiefs. You don’t pack your things in advance in the previous night itself and raise a hell at the eleventh hour.
I am not going to put up anymore with all this nonsense of yours! Our child and I will go to bed at 10 p.m. sharp bidding you bye. We will not wake up to see you off. Do remember not to set the alarum in our bedroom. You wake up by your own device and go out of the bedroom quietly, remembering to close the door”Sumitra said unrelentingly.
“Don’t be telling lies. It is my mother who gets up early in the morning to switch on the geyser, boil milk and make coffee. Dad remains awake to wake her up as she cannot hear the alarum. Mom even offers to quickly make some upma or dosa. Most of the days, you keep snoring loudly in deep sleep even when I leave the home for airport,” contested Murali.
Rajamani Iyer and Kaveri were listening to the heated conversation in the adjacent hall from their room but kept quiet. They knew that it was best not to intervene in their discussions however untrue the statements hurled were. Murali, being a marketing man, frequently went on short tours of a day or two. He always took the early morning flights. However careful and quiet one tried to be, there are bound to be noises of the doors opening, the running water, the shower and the conversations with his hard-of-hearing mother.
Iyer would hardly sleep those nights, switching on the light now and then and waiting for the alarum to ring and Kaveri waiting for him to nudge her. They would get up at 3 a.m., get the hot water and coffee ready and keep waiting for the clock to strike four to wake up Murali .He would not get up on time and as the clock ticked by, the aged mother would get restless and the old man will be walking from one end of the hall to the other. Fifteen minutes past 4 a.m., Kaveri would go near the door of the bedroom and call gently “Murali, Murali, it is getting late.” There would be no response for a while but Iyer would hear Sumitra telling Murali in a low voice that his parents were calling.
He would finally come out hurriedly around 4.20 a.m. and get ready in a jiffy, making loud noises and intermittent conversations with his parents. The TV would be on to catch the day’s news while his mother would have put the Sri Venkatesa Subrabatham on the tape recorder. When he left the house at 4.45 a.m., the house would turn very quiet like a sea-coast town after the hurricane had left.
This was the scene when Murali left this morning too. Iyer switched-off all the lights after his son left and retired to bed. Kaveri had already slept. Both of them who could hardly sleep in the night  tried to catch a few winks before the day broke.
At 6 a.m., the servant-maid rang the bell and finding no response, rang again. Normally Iyer would have kept the door slightly ajar and be waiting for the milk and the newspaper. But this day, he was fast asleep after the sleepless night.
Sumitra got up fuming at the early morning disruption to open the door. The maid asked “Where is the periyavar (old man)? Is he not well?”
Sumitra replied in an acerbic tone, “Nothing is wrong with him. They both are still sleeping like a newly-married young couple knowing well this donkey is there for all the drudgery. It is my fate.”
The maid who knew the truth, kept mum. The aged couple was blissfully asleep, unaware of the caustic comment of their bahu (daughter in law) whom they loved dearly like a daughter.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The missing pages

It was getting dark and cloudy with a nip in the air. I could see no one around in the park and did not wish to sit there anymore. As I was getting up from the bench, I saw a dark figure hurrying towards me. I could only see the silhouette signaling frantically with its hand to wait for him. I was a little jittery and wished to move away quickly. But, the figure was faster than me and was by my side asking me to sit down for a few minutes.
It was a tall and big man draped in black blanket with a long mustache. The eyes were big and sharp and the white teeth pronounced. He looked strange though he smiled at me.”Do not be afraid. No harm will come to you. I need a small help from you as you seem to belong to this place” he said.
I mustered courage to ask “Who are you? You don’t look like a human with your unusually large frame. Tell me first before I decide to help you or not”
“Ok, let me not beat around the bush. Hold your breath! I am a Yamaduta(messenger of God of death) looking for one guy in this town” he said
“Where does my help come?” I asked
“It is like this. Such a thing has never happened in the annals of Yamaloka. Our boss Chitragupta maintains a record that is known for its infallibility and accuracy. Strangely and inexplicably something that is unheard of, a few pages of the record is found missing. There cannot be vested interests tampering with records as in your world. We are moving heaven and earth to locate. Our master Yamaraj is furious and worried about his reputation.
By chance we came to know that one Sugavaneshwaran from this town is due to die today . I have no clue about him except for his name and town. I must take his life today if I value my job. You must tell me where that guy lives here. Luckily his name is uncommon and can be easily found out” narrated the worried Yamaduta.
I assured him “Do not worry. I was born here and am living all my life and know almost all the people here being in the postal department. Give me five minutes to think undisturbed. Ply me with no questions”
“Take even 30 minutes. You are my savior. But remember I have no clue except his name and town. Make sure you do not make a mistake”
An evil idea took over my mind. I have been under great financial strain. My landlord who lives a few houses adjacent to mine has been pressing for the rental that I owe for seven months. Three days back he made a scene outside my house with neighbours watching and threatened he would throw out my belongings outside if I failed to pay within a fortnight.
My wife had also been complaining that he frequented the house almost daily when I was not there casting his lecherous eyes on her and even obliquely suggesting a couple of times that the problem of arrear rental can be sorted out amicably.
This was a god send opportunity to solve my problem. I wasted no time. Pretending that I suddenly remembered the victim’s name, I uttered rather loudly “Eureka, I know where your quarry lives. I remember his name very well. Have no worry as your problem is solved.”
The Yamaduta jumped in joy and exclaimed “Where is he? Tell me here and now. I will carry out my assignment and be gone to my place in satisfaction.”
“The man lives close to my house. He is a short and fat fellow. He is middle aged and answers to the name Sugavaneshwaran. He is married…”
Even as I was continuing to describe, the fearsome man cut me short telling,” I don’t need all these details. I will rely on your word. Just show me his house. Is there any other man in the house to confuse me?”
I said none even as I pointed out my landlord’s house. He thanked me and disappeared in thin air.
The next morning my wife came running hurriedly as I was lazily rolling on my bed and said “I cannot believe it. It seems our landlord died of a sudden heart attack around 7Pm yesterday. The poor lady is wailing in great grief at this tragedy. Get ready .We will go there.”
The next day when I left early for work, my wife asked me why I was leaving earlier than my usual time. With a poker face I replied “I am going to Newspaper office to insert an advertisement changing my name to Sukumar from Sugavaneshwaran.”

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ranjana’s wedding anniversary

Ranjana felt honestly that her husband should have remained a bachelor and not married her at all. A good man, no doubt, he was not cut for married life .Wedded to office and a workaholic, he spent long hours in the office and whenever at home with the mobile talking office-matters. In these fifteen years of married life, she could remember only three occasions when he took leave from office to take her out on holidays. One was immediately after the wedding, taking her to the various temples that passed for a honey moon and the other two, when her parents had passed away.
But he gave her a lot of freedom to do what pleased her, ample money for running the household and for buying dresses and jewelry that she desired. But he never accompanied her nor did he insist her accompanying him to office parties. It is not that Ranjana was not good looking or unsophisticated. She was a tall and very beautiful woman with an all-India rank in professional accountancy examination.
The problem was his world was very small and revolved around his office. Unfortunately they had no children to provide occasions for them to be together. It is not that he did not love her. He had a warm affection and high regard for her. But he lacked the finer sensibilities of pleasing the woman and had to be reminded even about their wedding day or birthdays. She diverted her mind to literary pursuits and had a couple of published novels to her credit. She wrote for all leading magazines and was widely read. She however nursed a deep hurt in her heart at the wooden nature of Ravi despite the mechanical conjugal life they led devoid of demonstrated love.
It was 4pm on a Saturday when the phone rang at Ravi’s office. It was Ranjana reminding him that it was their wedding day and that he had promised to come earlier than usual. He looked at his watch and the note-sheets before him. With a frown on the face and affected tone of warmth he said “Ranjana, I am on the verge of finalizing the report to go to the Board tomorrow. I will surely come but may be held up a little. Get dressed and be ready. We will have our dinner outside. Thanks, darling, for reminding me.” He took two hours to finish the job and ignored meanwhile the calls from his residence. By the time he left, it was 6.45 p.m. and it was drizzling outside.
The parking lot in the office basement was deserted as most of the people had left. It was dark when he reached his car. He fumbled for the car keys and found to his dismay that the door would not open. He tried several times and jabbed the door when he heard a voice behind him “Hey, excuse me; you seem to have a problem.”
Startled Ravi turned to look at the slightly aged man, big built, in tattered clothes and three days’ bristle smiling at him in a twisted manner revealing his yellow teeth. He looked a bit unusual and a chill ran through Ravi’s spine.
He said “Yes the door lock is jammed. I am in a hurry to go home as it is our wedding day. But I haven’t seen you here all these years”.
The man came closer and said “I have been here for a very long time and even before you joined here. You have not seen me but I see you daily as I see others. I make myself visible only when everybody had left. You are foolish to have stayed this long especially on this day”
Struck by fear by the uncomprehending words and his unnatural demeanour, Ravi stood immobilized when the old man said “Move away a little. Let me open the door. Keep the keys with you.” Ravi immediately moved away looking at this strange man placing his strong hand on the door.
There was a sudden noise of the door ripping away from the car. He looked at the car with its front door missing and could see neither the old man nor the missing door. He had just vanished in a jiffy even as he heard the sound of laughter a little away. He quickly jumped into the car, started the ignition and sped away to the safety of the road. He was sweating profusely with goose bumps all over. When a cold hand touched him on his forehead, Ravi blabbered, “Please do no harm to me. My wife would be waiting for me. I have never taken her out for long. After a very long time, I have promised to take her out and make the day a memorable one. Please, I beg you to leave me unharmed.”
As the cold hand pressed him further and shook him violently, he started howling till he heard Ranjana, “Ravi, what is this you are blabbering in sleep?
“You have been sleeping from 3 p.m. ever since you came home. It is getting late. Get ready for the dinner at the hotel.”
 He opened his eyes and saw her beautifully dressed standing before him. There was no sight of the fearful strange man or the car park. He pulled her towards him to embrace her tightly and kissed her till she pulled herself away admonishing him that the maid was still there in the house.
“Ranjana, I have been a fool all along. I thought my life would be over today even before our celebrating the wedding day. I realize what I have missed all these days. I promise to give you lot of my time and make our lives a very happy one from this moment.”

She threw her arms over him and sobbed “I am so happy today. I was afraid we were moving apart. I thank your dream for opening your eyes at last.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Computer literacy at Perumbakkam

“Amidst all the boast of our IT supremacy, the nation wants to know the extent of computer literacy in the rural parts of our country. I know that in some states laptops were given free before elections to some children. But this hardly touches the fringe of the gigantic problem. Will the honorable minister explain what the government intends to do? ” thundered the much renowned anchor of a popular TV channel at the Minister.
“A good question. I have no ready information on this but can assure you that our government is determined to spread computer literacy hundred percent to the villages. This would strengthen the governance and bring people closer to the government” replied the minister.
It is not known whether it was a sequel to this conversation in the form of directions to schools but it is a fact that Saranya, Gomathi and Nirmala of class 12 were asked by the Principal of their school  to do a project about the spread of computer literacy among the women in the villages to be sent by the school to the Education Department. She suggested a visit to a nearby Perumbakkam the next day and advised the girls to meet the womenfolk who generally assemble at the Noon meal centre of the schools to find out how much they know about computer and its usage.
It was a small village, dusty and dry. They found a few mothers sitting under a long shed adjacent to a school that did the duty of the dining hall for the mid day meal. Some women were seen cooking. The assembled women stared at the girls as they alighted from the car. The girls who were exuding knowledge, confidence and prosperity introduced themselves in Tamil to the illiterate women and explained the purpose of their visit.
“First let us ask you people how much you  know of the knowledge revolution that has taken place in the country in general and computers in particular” asked Gomathi
“Pappa(Little girl), we don’t follow anything of what you are talking about. What do you, girls, want from us? asked one woman.
“Do you suspect that we have come here to eat the food prepared for children?”asked another woman.
No,no.We need to make a survey as desired by our school. Kindly help us with your answers” pleaded Saranya
“Ok,you can ask freely anything you wish to” said one women amidst the giggles of others.
“Have you seen a computer? How many of you have seen or using it? It has a monitor like TV” said Nirmala.
“Oh, yes, we have seen big TV in Ramu’s house though that miser will not permit us to see daily.. Occasionally we are allowed to see a  Rajini or MGR movie.”
“No, not the TV we mean. We are talking of computers. There is a keyboard like type writer to the pc (They make sign of typing).If you type,  the words will appear on the screen” explained Saranya
“Oh, you mean the small black box he presses to change the film from Rajini to MGR or Kamal?”
“I love Kamal” said one middle aged woman.
“You are referring to remote of the TV”
“Who said we are sitting remote. No, we sit very close to TV, not far. We can see Deepika’s face clearly” assured one woman.
Exasperated at their innocence,Gomathi said “Answer this clearly. When you type on key board do you see words on the screen?
“Words come at the bottom only when we see SunTV news”.
The girls were at their wits end. They then remembered the laptop in the car. They brought it and opened the machine. When they saw the screensaver in colour, the women in chorus shouted “What a cute little TV box? Don’t you need current for this?
“This is not TV. This is computer working on battery now. It works on data card also” said Gomathi
“We do not have Aadhar card yet.They are promising for years” said the women in one voice
“This is data card to operate the computer if you do not have power and internet”
“Where is electricity in our huts,papa.We are not interested in computer. Do not lie to us. Please show us at least Rajini movie.” pleaded the women
The girls asked in serious tone” Do you know about emails?”
“What, email, what is that?”
“The letters you send to friends through pc”
“We do not know to write or read. Are you playing with us or what?”asked one angry woman
Exasperated with their ignorance, they explained generally about personal computer, hard disc, modem, key board, Windows, emails, internet and Bill Gates to the blank faces. The womenfolk were all the time admiring these young and pretty girls who seem to know so much about things that have absolutely no relevance to them. They found their seriousness and smile charming. This encounter was a welcome change for them till the mid day gruel was ready. They had come to ensure that their wards get it in adequate quantity.
The girls thanked the women before leaving for the time given to them.They gave each one a talcum powder box.
The three girls with a smug smile on their faces submitted a neatly spiral- bound project report about the great strides the knowledge revolution has made and about the invasion of PC even in tiny hamlets and the access to internet by farmers for agriculture, weather and the good the government is doing for them and for the village school teacher to download study materials for the children. They also mentioned about the games the kids play in their free time on the computer. The project report  envisioned every hut in the villages to have a pc within a decade and suggested all high school girls should be provided with a laptop free.

The principal patted them for the wonderful report in the fond expectation of an appreciation for the school from the department.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The new problem

Raju was the only child of Rani and Krishnan. He was born seven years after their marriage after intense prayers at all famous temples. Krishnan had a small business in hardware and paints. They showered all their affection and pampered the boy meeting every wish of his. He was put in school with all fanfare. The boy was playful and had no interest in studies. He played truant frequently without the knowledge of his parents. He was at the bottom of his class and the report card indicated that he was absent many days.
Raju had not shown the card to his parents till the teacher sent word through another boy. Krishnan had set much store by the boy and was furious when he saw the progress report. More than the poor marks in single digits, he was worried about the boy’s truancy. He was afraid he may fall into bad company and develop undesirable habits.
 He hit the boy with a cane repeatedly till his wife screamed to stop it. He told her firmly before leaving for the shop not to give the boy any food for the night or allow him to go to play. Rani tried to pacify the boy and applied fomentation on the injury. The boy shouted at her and locked the door.
Around dinner time, when she went to knock the door, she found it open with no trace of the boy. She searched hither and thither in vain and alerted her husband. Despite all efforts the boy could not be traced. Police also drew a blank. Days passed by with the mother always crying and the father regretting his rash behaviour..The boy had just disappeared. Months and years flew by. Krishnan lost his interest in his business. They commenced again their pilgrimage to all temples to get back their boy.
They were travelling in a three tier compartment to Mathura and Brindavan in the North. The train had halted at Nagpur station.Rani was vacantly looking outside the window at the station that was heavily crowded with hawkers shouting to sell their wares. Chaiwallahs and orange sellers kept coming and asking her. She always nursed the fond hope that one day she can see Raju. But luck was not on her side. The train started moving slowly.
 She started crying and Krishnan patted her telling her that others are watching her. When she went towards toilet she saw a little away a boy of Raju’s age with his face bent polishing a shoe He had long hair that almost covered his face and was in tattered dress. As her attention was on the boy, she did not notice the server from the pantry car bringing tomato soup. He collided against her and she fell down on the boy.
The boy was stunned but recovered soon and lent a helping hand to lift Rani. The moment she saw the boy, she let out a shriek and wailed ”Raju,Raju,my dear boy, What is this? I am seeing you in such a pathetic state”
Krishnan on hearing the commotion ran towards her. He saw the boy and asked him his name. He replied in Hindi”Tiwari”
He knew he was not Raju as his son had a big mole on his chin.Rani was holding the boy and crying “Raju, please come home. I miss you so much. We swear upon god that we will never scold or beat you. My darling, please call me amma.”

The boy gave her a surprised look. Krishnan told her that he is not their Raju and led her towards their seats. The moment she sat, she saw all the co-passengers looking at her with sympathy and some wiping their misty eyes. It was then she suddenly broke into a hysterical laughter and  Krishnan knew he had a new problem on hand to pray for.

Friday, November 28, 2014

A wrong move

 Ramu Sastrigal was well known in the circle of purohits(priests).Being well versed in the practice of his profession and being proficient in Vedas, he had a large clientele of well to do people and was much sought after. His house was full of aspiring assistants and trainees. He was a kind hearted and noble person helping many indigent boys find their feet. He was a strong disciplinarian and expected high standards of probity and commitment to the job. His disciples were afraid of him and spoke to him with their hands folded and covering their mouths.
He took a liking for one poor boy who hailed from his village and the son of his friend who died suddenly. Taking pity on the boy, he took him under his shelter and trained him to become a purohit.The boy, Sundaram, too was sharp and learnt quickly the mantras by rote getting up very early in the mornings. Ramu Sastrigal invariably took him along wherever he went to conduct functions like marriages or other rituals.
Sastrigal had a beautiful daughter Lakshmi studying in class 12.She was a studious student, well behaved and obedient to parents. She took a liking for the handsome and well-built Sundaram with his curly hair. Sundaram too loved her and always cast furtive glances at her whenever Sastrigal was not around. The house being full of people did not provide him an opportunity to talk to her and reveal his fascination and love for her.
 It so happened one day as he was returning from an errand on his cycle, he saw her at the bus stand waiting for the bus. He stopped by her side and said ” Waiting for the bus, is it? I am not able to see you alone to exchange a few words. We are always surrounded by people. Do you know that I like you very much?”
She did not answer him but kept scratching the ground with her toe nail. She looked at him slightly a couple of times with a trace of smile on her lips. When she saw the bus approaching she said “Oh Oh, the bus is coming. I will take leave of you.”
He replied “Come early daily. I will manage to meet you as often as possible. I love you very much.” She threw a smile at him and boarded the bus.
These secret meetings for a few minutes at the bus stand went on for a long time though they did not graduate to even clasping of hands or touching her. When she was in the final year, Sastrigal started looking for suitable alliances. It was then after much hesitation and trepidation, Sundaram summoned his courage when he and Sastrigal were alone to seek the hand of his daughter.
He spoke hesitantly”Mama, forgive me if I am wrong. But I love Lakshmi very much. I think she also likes me. I would request you to give her in marriage to me. I will prove myself worthy of being your son-in-law” he said.
 Sastrigal exploded in anger”How dare you make such a demand? How long has this affair been going on? From this instant you make your own arrangements to stay elsewhere. Although I would like to dismiss you, I will still allow you  for the sake of your father to assist me but you are not welcome in this house anymore.”
It was a month later when Sastrigal finished a betrothal function at a rich man’s house, there was a commotion that a big silver bowl that contained sugar was missing. It was a function where only close relatives and friends were present. The rich man’s brother-in-law a police officer ordered a search. To the great shock of everyone, the bowl was found in Sastrigal’s bag.
The police officer caught the upper garment of Sastrigal and shook him asking” how come with your pious image you stoop to such low act?”
 The rich man shouted at his brother in law “Take off your dirty hands. How dare you touch him? It was me who put the bowl in his bag as a surprise gift for him. He has been my guru for three decades.”
 He fell at Satrigal’s feet and sought his forgiveness for this unfortunate incident.Sastrigal who stood bewildered trembling with shame for a while, put his angavastram on his mouth and sobbed. He emptied his bag in everybody’s presence and left without uttering a word and without listening to the pleas of rich man.
He did not eat his food that day and did not sleep. He was dazed wondering how the bowl came to his bag. He did not believe what the rich man had said. His wife and daughter were pleading and begging him to have at least a glass of buttermilk.
 It was then Sundaram entered and fell headlong at his feet and clasping his feet cried”Mama, forgive this wretch. In anger at your refusal to give Lakshmi in marriage to me whom I love ardently, I did this treacherous act. I had already confessed to the crowd in the hall of my misdeed and got severely beaten. Until you forgive me, I will not get up.”
It was then Lakshmi in a rage unseen ever before screamed at Sundaram “I hate you from the bottom of my heart. I detest standing on the same ground where you are. You have no sense of gratitude to your benefactor and no devotion to your father like teacher. You are a scum of the earth. Get lost before I kill you.”

Sundaram knew that he had totally  forfeited her trust and love and left quietly never looking back.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving -a memory of the heart

It was during 1940s Rangaswamy iyengar lived in Chennai very close to a famous Vaishnavaite temple It is not that he was religious or spiritually inclined but  chose to live with members of his own community. He was quite a rich man and owned several houses and chawls in the vicinity. Though a graduate, he did not take up any job but looked after the vast lands he owned in an adjacent village.
 Though he had a large family of eight children, his kitchen served food daily for about thirty people. A distant relative from his village who had none to look after lived with him for decades and took care of the kitchen. Besides children there were elderly cousins not well off living in the house. He also gave shelter to his wife’s young relative who had lost her husband early in life. She had two children. A couple of his wife’s brothers used to come with entire family and stay for months at a stretch...
Every night around 8pm two or three poor boys would come to take their dinner. The boys would be different each day. They took turns. They were served the same food that others took even when some of the family members had not finished their dinner. This was known as vaara saappadu (weekly food).The members of the family knew these boys only by their faces. It seemed that the old man even paid for their school fees and gave them dresses during festive occasions. He never talked about the charity that he did unobtrusively.
Iyengar was a gullible man and not worldly wise. He was trusting by nature and was easily moved when he saw someone suffering. His clever ‘friends’ and relatives took advantage of his innocent nature and credulity by making him stand as surety for the loans they took but never intended to repay. More often than not, he would be compelled to liquidate such loans. Neither he learnt any lesson nor did his sons take up the issue strongly with him out of a sense of respect.
He never realized that some of the relatives were parasites living upon his income and salting away their own earnings. He married off his daughters in pomp and style. He lost many of his houses and lands for the loans others took and the expense of maintaining so many. He lost his wife too early. His sons were in ordinary jobs and were not well off. They were all living as a joint family in the large house.
Cheema aka Srinivasan the eldest of his sons was even struggling to run a decent household with his own large family. His brothers too could not be said to do well. . It was then one kindly well wisher and friend advised iyengar to partition whatever property was left amongst his sons keeping nothing for himself and allow them to live separately by demarcating portions of the house. That way no one would come to him to stand surety.Iyengar readily agreed and did the needful. He lived with Cheema.
In the course of a decade the old man had passed away. His son a bright graduate boy was looking for a job. Those days there was no IT or industrial boom. Jobs were difficult to come by. Cheema’s other children were studying in different classes. It was a life of want and struggle.
One evening a chauffeur driven ambassador car halted before the house and a young man in his early thirties in full suit stepped out. He wavered a little before entering the house. He asked Srinivasan who was reclining in an easy chair ’Years back one Rangaswamy Iyengar used to live here. Is this his house?”
Cheema replied “Yes, this is his house and he passed away a few years back. I am his eldest son Srinivasan.Sorry; I am unable to place you.”
 Srinivasan could see a tear trickling down from the misty eyes of the young man and his wiping it. When he looked at him with surprise the visitor bent down and touched the feet of Srinvasan and said softly “Uncle, you may not remember me. I am Varadan who grew up eating my dinner in your house for years. Your dad paid my fees, bought me dresses and on one occasion even bought for my sister a mangalya sutra in gold for her wedding. I am what I am today because of his generosity and compassion. I am in US and came here for a conference. I made it a point to visit my benefactor’s home though I knew he may not be alive physically. This is a temple for me. I can never forget the large hearted soul. For what I am today with his blessings, I owe in no small measure to your dad.”
He then enquired about others in the family. He came to know with much sadness how the great joint family broke up owing to adverse financial circumstances. When he learnt about Srinivasan’s indigent circumstances with even the small tenement under bank loan, he asked for his son to meet him at his hotel the next day.
He gave his son a good job in his company and also redeemed the house from the pledge with the bank He instituted some liberal scholarships for poor children in the locality school where he had studied  in memory of Rangaswamy iyengar.Before taking leave he requested Srinivasan ”Uncle, please treat me as your own son. Whatever assistance you need in future, you can ask me freely. No amount would ever be a recompense for the large hearted kindness of your father and my benefactor.”

Good men and bad men differ radically. Bad men never appreciate kindness shown them, but wise men appreciate and are grateful. Wise men try to express their appreciation and gratitude by some return of kindness, not only to their benefactor, but to everyone else. - Buddha

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Who wins your admiration?

Chelladurai has been ailing from an acute heart ailment and was not expected to live long. Past 75 he has been staying in this poor home for the last ten years. He was discarded by his children. Although life was not comfortable in the home with its Spartan meals and dormitory type of accommodation, Chelladurai was grateful for the shelter and food the home provided with no other alternative available for him. He had no place to visit nor had any visitors.
Some kindly people used to visit the home on festive occasions to distribute sweets and dresses for the inmates. Some used to give small amount to each to them. One regular visitor who was thoughtful and considerate brought with him betel leaves and areca nuts, snuff, tobacco,candies for a few who had a weakness for such stuff.
 Chelladurai had bought recently for the first time in his life a lottery ticket for Rs10 on the persuasion of another friendly inmate and kept it in his diary. He never indulged in speculative activity but bought it only to please his friend. He never thought about it though his friend would often come up with various suggestions how the winnings could be utilized in case his ticket won the prize. This was an enjoyable past time in the evenings.
Ramu was a young orphan working in the home for a paltry salary. Chelladurai had taken a liking for him as he was gentle in his words and kind by disposition unlike the others who were generally rude and irritable most of the time and went about ordering the poor inmates. Ramu also liked Chelladurai and used to spend his leisure hours chatting with him and seeking his advice and guidance on his personal problems. Chelladurai had a great trust in Ramu.
It so happened that Chelladurai’s friend who goaded him to buy the lottery ticket passed away suddenly. In the grief Chelladurai had forgotten about the lottery ticket for two months. One afternoon when Ramu and Chelladurai were talking, the latter saw the ticket protruding from his diary. He asked Ramu to keep the ticket with him and check the results
 Ramu jokingly asked Chelladurai what would be his share if his ticket won. Chelladurai instantly without hesitating said “The share would be fifty-fifty”
Surprised Ramu said”Sir, I was only joking. I don’t need any money. I have one request however. If you win huge amount, can you please expand this home, provide more facilities, give better food and clothes to the inmates and increase our salaries.”
Chelladurai replied “Don’t build castles in the air. We are destined to this lot in this birth. If per chance we get a few thousands, we can buy new mats and pillows and if there is money left bed sheets for all. They are dirty and in tatters.” Ramu was touched by his generous thought and concern for others.
That night Chelladurai unexpectedly suffered a massive heart attack and died even before he could be taken to an hospital. The entire home was enveloped in sorrow at the passing away of the kindly soul. Ramu could not control his tears at the demise of Chelladurai whom he regarded as a father figure. The vacant mat in the hall brought him sad memories. He did not care to check the lottery results for fifteen days.
On the sixteenth day Ramu was in for the biggest surprise in his life when he saw from the lottery results that Chelladurai’s ticket had won one crore rupees. He made doubly sure about the correctness of the number without telling anyone and went straight to the manager of the bank that the home dealt with and narrated truthfully the happenings.
The good natured manager asked him “Since you possess the ticket, you are the rightful owner of the entire winnings. I will get the money and have it credited initially in your name by opening an account. Tell me how you wish to deal with it. In the first instance please sign at the back of the ticket your name and write the address.”
Ramu replied “Chelladurai had expressed  his desire  that if he won some small amount, it should be utilized   to improve the living conditions of the inmates and provide basic facilities in the home without the inmates having to sleep on the floor on torn mats in cramped manner. I would request you to spend the entire fortune in expanding the home into a large building with several halls   to accommodate more poor people with facilities like big kitchen and dining hall, many bathrooms and toilets, common hall with TV. Please also ensure that the inmates get good food, clothing, and their basic needs. That alone would please the departed soul. I do not want even one rupee for myself as the ticket was purchased by him with his money.”
The bank manager stood up and embraced Ramu telling “Frankly I do not know who is more praiseworthy-the humane Chelladurai or the honest you. I think I will set apart 90% of the net proceeds after tax for building, modernizing the home with extra facilities and a corpus with you as trustee. I will put 10% for you in your name. That alone according to me would meet the ends of justice. If you wish I can make it 80 and 20 percent also.”
Ramu reluctantly agreed for 10% and left the details to be worked out by the bank manager who made a written record with proper signatures.

It is hard to answer as to which character among the three including the bank manager in this story wins our admiration most.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The magic of the kite

Dinesh and his wife Savitri along with their 6 year old son had come to South India on vacation. They had been planning this visit for a long time. Chennai was their last point. They had never seen a beach in their life. They had reserved one day in Chennai only for this purpose. When they went early in the evening, they were taken in by the bewitching beauty of Marina beach. The warmth of the long stretch of sands, the view of the vast expanse of sea with its roaring waves in the azure back ground and the accompanying cool breeze transported them to heavenly joy. Both had wanted to stand in the water and enjoy the waves lashing at their feet.
They had never envisaged the great problem that arose from their son Varun. Ever since he came to the beach, he was cross and irritable. He did not want to walk on the sand. He complained of pain in the leg. He cried that that they should not go near the water. He was throwing up all sorts of tantrums. Not all the cajoling and appeasing with candies, ice cream, and pony ride would make him budge. He stood adamant refusing to move and wailing at the top of the voice. He was afraid of the water. The couple were at their wit’s end not knowing what to do. They did not want to miss enjoying the beach after having come this far but were averse to make the boy cry further.
It was then one young boy of Varun’s age who was returning back home with his dad came towards Varun. He handed over the thread of the kite he was flying to Varun.He was elated and got immersed in keeping the kite afloat in the sky. He stopped crying and was able to stabilize the kite with the help of his daddy. All his petulance had vanished and he was walking with his parents towards the water. There was no resistance as he was busy keeping the kite in position. Dinesh and Savitri took turns to stand in the water with the waves breaking on their legs, and drenching their clothes. It was an exhilarating and new experience. The sun was still shining but they had to leave to catch the flight to Delhi.
When they started walking back towards the waiting car on the road, they saw a young boy again of Varun’s age crying and refusing out of fear to move towards the sea. He squatted on the sand, and wailed hysterically with his parents looking helplessly. Varun was amused with his parents smiling remembering the antics of their son a couple of hours before.

They were surprised when Varun walked towards the crying boy and handed over the thread of the kite that was still floating up in the sky. The same metamorphosis from fear to joy came about in the boy’s face too with Varun walking proudly with his parents towards the car.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Thank God for the doughnut

Sukanya was resting in her bed one hot afternoon reading a novel. Her children hadn’t yet come from the school. The day was busy and she had to attend to many things like going to the bank, sending an important letter through courier, a visit to the tailor and the library. It was then that she heard someone singing happily some village tunes. It was melodious and soulful. She waited for the song to be completed and then went into the small room in the rear wherefrom the song came. She found Muniyamma lying on the mat on the floor and humming another tune.
“Hey, I never knew you can sing so well. Did you learn singing when you were young?” asked Sukanya even as the maid got up in a hurry. She replied shyly, “No, Amma. I just picked up these songs from my mother when I was young. She sang so well, you know.”
Sukanya’s thoughts went to Muniyamma’s chequered life. It was only a couple of months since she had hired her. She was a real find for Sukanya who had to keep looking for a new maid when every alternate month they left the job for one reason or the other. Muniyamma lived in the small room at the rear of the flat and was provided with food too. She took care of the house-hold chores including giving a helping hand while cooking. Sukanya was relatively free to pursue her other interests.
Muniyamma, though past sixty, was slim and in good health. She had a charming face with a pleasant smile. But fate had not been kind to her. She was married when young and her husband gave her nothing except for four children. An alcoholic, he treated her badly and died young of ulcer. Life was a struggle. Her only daughter had eloped with an auto-rickshaw driver who was fifteen years older than her. Muniyamma later learnt that he had deserted her when a baby was born and that she went to Mumbai to lead a life of shame. None of the sons studied well and two became vagabonds. The eldest, it seemed, was serving a long sentence for raping a child and strangling her. One of the other two fell into bad company and was in and out of jail. The last one went to a city in the North to eke out an honest living and she never heard of him again. Her life was one of continued misery and want. She worked all day long in two or three houses as a domestic help and led a hand to mouth living till she got the job at Sukanya’s house.
Sukanya started to wonder how in such a careworn life of drudgery, Muniyamma could feel happy to break into a song with abandon. Sukanya had all the blessings a young woman can dream of: a good husband, high education, wealth, two well-behaved children and good health. Yet she was frequently unhappy at some minor inconvenience or disappointment putting on a scowl on her face. On the other hand, this poor woman with apparently not a single thing to rejoice about was singing merrily like a lark.
Muniyamma looked at Sukanya and asked “Amma you are lost in some thought. What is it? You are not uttering a single word!”
Woken up from her reverie, Sukanya asked, “Do you sing like this often?”
“Yes Amma. I do sing when I am in good mood and ever since I came to work for you I am happy.”
Sukanya was rendered speechless and wondered how this poor woman, whose life was drudgery all day long with no joy in her personal life thus far, could be happy?
She asked her, “what makes you so happy that you break into songs?’
Muniyamma replied, “God has been kind enough to entrust me in your care in my old age. You are a very gentle and compassionate person and treat me with the affection of a daughter. Your children are all well-mannered and do not treat me like a servant in the house. They come and talk to me once in a while. Your husband is a decent person and is very affectionate to you, the kind of affection that I have never enjoyed from my husband. You provide me with the same hot food that you eat and not give the left-overs. You give me clothes not for covering my shame alone, but also of good quality that I have never known in my life. You take me to the doctor when I fall ill. You are also paying me well. What more blessings can I want?”
It took a minute for Sukanya to regain her composure. She learnt that happiness lay in counting the blessings and not in bemoaning over the minor difficulties in life. She was humbled by the positive attitude of her maid-servant and learnt that happiness is available for those who seek it. It inspired her to decide that she will not lose her cool by minor stresses or small hurdles anymore.

“Let us thank God for the doughnut instead of cursing the holes in it.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ganesh's mascot

Deepavali was just two weeks ahead.Ganesh was walking aimlessly in the bazaar gazing at the shops, the glittering showcases, the screaming hawkers and people laden with bags in a tearing hurry. The jostling crowd, high humidity and the warm weather was suffocating and he wished to get away from the crowd. It was then he saw a vendor who had spread in a corner of the platform assorted things like combs, mirrors, shaving gadgets, perfumes, cheap clocks, glass beads, hairclips, safety pins, small toys and such sundry items with a placard that announced any of them is for just 10 rupees. Ganesh espied a tiny Vinayak doll in white porcelain. Without a second thought he produced the only ten rupee note he had and got it from the vendor wrapped in a newspaper tightly.
There was now a spring in his walk back home as he felt the burden in his heart had lightened. Ganesh led a miserable life always in want. He held a low position with meager salary and worked for long hours. He had a wife and two kids to take care of. He needed a big break that has been eluding him for long. He bought religiously without fail one lottery ticket each month as he strongly believed in the dictum that God helps those who help themselves and that lottery ticket may provide the medium for God to bless him with a windfall. It saddened him each month when the results were out that his time had not come. He hoped that   Vinayaka idol he bought would soon prove to be his mascot and bring him great wealth.
He kept the idol in puja shelf and placed a flower at the base. He reasoned with his wife Vimala that the small amount was well spent instead of on onions and that Vinayaka would before long bring the family good fortune. Though she did not share his optimism, Vimala made no comment.
As you have guessed it rightly, it was a month later that Ganesh hit a jackpot winning Rs 25 lakhs in a lottery. He jumped in joy and hugged his wife with the ‘Did I not tell you” look. Things improved for them vastly and they could get some comforts in life. Special prayers were held for Vinayak.
A week later while they were in the bed, Vimala told him “Our neighbour’s wife Lalitha is carrying. They have a girl already and the couple wants a boy this time. She was wondering whether we can spare our idol for six months till they get the son. I assured her that I would seek your approval. What do you say?”
Ganesh was reluctant to part with his mascot but changed his mind when his wife said” I feel we should share things that would give joy to others. That way Vinayaka would be pleased with us and bless us more”
A few  months later Vimala came running to Ganesh in tears from Lalitha’s house and said amid sobs ‘That ungrateful Lalitha accuses us for her plight as the idol we lent her brought her ill luck with twin girls instead of a son she wanted. There was a hostile look at me from her husband. What can we do if it is their karma? We gave Vinayak only because she wanted”
“Forget those foolish people. What a crap and who said girls are bad luck? Both our kids are girls. Are we not happy and feel blessed? Get the idol back soon” said Ganesh.
With idol back in puja place, Ganesh was happy at the thought of protective cover of the God. Things were moving smoothly till one day Ganesh’s brother Raghu who was rarely in touch with him surprisingly visited him. Seeing Ganesh in reasonable comfort unlike in the past, he was overcome with jealousy but concealed it cleverly.
”Ganesh,I am happy to see you well settled. I learn you got a promotion too. Our mother was telling all these had happened because of a Vinayaka idol you had acquired. You know I run our dad’s old grocery store in the village. It is not doing well. Branded a rebel and an atheist in younger days, I am not getting anyone to marry me.Amma suggested that I get your Vinayaka idol and pray for things to turn prosperous for me. Can you please lend me for one year?” he asked. Ganesh could smell alcohol and surmised he had not changed.
They had lunch together and Ganesh gave some money separately for Raghu and his mom along with the idol.”Keep the idol carefully.Vinayaka confers His blessings if you pray sincerely with faith. Get rid of vices and work hard. I am sure you will do well” advised Ganesh.
A fortnight later there was a message from his village asking him to come immediately. It was dusk by the time he went there. His mom’s house was dark with no light lit. He pushed the door to find it unlocked. At the corner on the floor was his old mother lay huddled.
“Amma, what happened? Why is there no light? Where is Raghu?”he asked many questions as he lifted his mother to sitting position. She started crying inconsolably.
It transpired that Raghu immediately on returning with the idol started preparing for a puja.His friends who came mocked at him and made fun of him for this. He left the idol as it was and went out with his companions only to return late night fully drunk. It appeared in a few days he sold the grocery store and eloped with a married woman.
“Did he give you any money I had sent?” Ganesh asked
“What money? He always beats me and takes away from me and has never given anything” she said.
Ganesh returned home with his aged mother and the idol wondering all the time whether  the events that took place were in any way connected to Vinayak idol or one’s karma. True Raghu got some hard cash and a woman he was wanting though illegal in means. There was no short answer to this question that rankled in his mind till his wife assured him that faith in God is personal and the idol is indeed a blessing for them.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The prankster in the temple

Pankaja never failed to visit daily around 8pm the Srikrishna temple near her house. It was the only time when she could wrench herself away from the house after the day’s chores. She lived in a big family in her in-laws house with her husband, his parents, and a couple of aged relatives. Tending to the special needs of the old took lot of her time and energy though she had a maid to assist her. Her husband Madhavan was very loving and a caring person. He held a senior position and earned very well. There were no financial constraints and all material comforts were well provided for.
Yet there was a vacuum in Pankaja’s mind. It is almost eight years since she married. She did not go to work due to domestic responsibilities. She wanted children very much but that wish had not materialsied.Doctors could find no deficiency in the couple and held out hopes. She waited for the miracle to happen. The daily visits to temple to pray Lord Krishna were in pursuance of such an objective. She made it a point to circambulate nine times the prakaram (corridor) surrounding the sanctum sanctorum housing the God chanting hymns in praise of Him. She had been doing this with devotion for more than a year.
She was late that day as she had to arrange fomentation for one of the elderly relative. There were very few devotees in the temple. She hurriedly offered prayers to the presiding deity Sri Krishna and other gods in the temple. The priest even remarked before giving her some Tulsi and flowers “Pankaja, you seem to be late today. I was wondering why you had not come.”
“I know, mama (uncle).I was held up with some urgent work .I had to hurry here  before the temple closed” she replied
As she started the usual pradhakshinams (circambulations), she heard a voice when she reached the rear portion. That portion was desolate, dimly lit with some dark rooms further behind. She turned around to see none when she heard from nowhere a giggling laughter as if tiny bells were ringing. She was dumbstruck in fear with heart pounding fast. She virtually ran till she came to the front side. She stopped for a moment wondering whether to continue going round the corridors. When she saw a few devotees still at the sanctum, she mustered courage and decided to continue despite the fear.
As she reached the same space, she heard clearly a voice “Won’t you stop? You are in hurry now also” She looked around and saw none. Again the same peals of laughter emanated from the corner. Her heart pounded fast that she felt it would burst. She literally ran to the safety of the front portion of the temple.
“Pankaja, why are you running and sweating profusely? Aren’t you keeping well? I hope you have your vehicle outside” asked the priest
“No, mama” she said gasping for breath and added”I heard someone talking to me from the rear corner when I did pradhakshinams but I could see no one. I could not figure out whether it was a man or teen aged person. I am afraid to go again there”
“No one is there. The kitchen is closed and the cook had left. I will come with you. Let me see who it is. Come on” he said
When they came to that place, there was utter silence and that itself  sent goose bumps to Pankaja.”Mama I am sure I heard here not once but twice. Believe me” she implored. They stood there for sometime more turning around to see all places.
“I trust you, Pankaja.Our mind can sometimes do many tricks. Now there is none here as you have yourself seen. You can safely finish the pradhakshinams.I will be sitting before the sanctum. Give me a call if you hear the voice again” he said and added” Wait one second. I will, give you sweet kesari, todays Prasad”
When she went again somewhat with trepidation sure that she would hear the voice, she did not hear any voice but froze in shock and bewilderment when she saw a young smiling child of eight years of bewitching charm standing at the corner.”Do not be afraid and hail the priest. What do you have in your hand? Won’t you give me a little?’ the boy said in a mesmerizingly beautiful voice. All fear had vanished instantly and she felt like hugging the little prankster.
“Surely it is all yours. Come near me. Why do you play pranks scaring me? Come on, open your mouth.I will feed you myself with this sweet kesari.Do you like kesari?” she asked as she fed the boy who swallowed it with gusto and a chuckle.
She heard the closing bell chime loudly and asked him quickly  “Where do you live? Where are your parents? In which class are you studying?”
Instead of answering he said “Hurry before they close the gates. I will give the answers later” and ran away into the darkness. Worried where he went, she came to the front portion and found the priest busy locking the sanctums. She left for home but with some inexplicable joy and elation. The boy’s charming visage lingered in her mind even as she reached her home.
She came to the temple earlier than usual the next day in great anticipation and did the rounds slowly lingering each time at the rear side. But the boy never showed up. It was the same the next day and the succeeding days. At the end of a week she was overcome with great disappointment that  she started crying wanting to see the boy when she stood at the rear corridor. When it did not happen she came trudging to the front portion.
“Pankaja, come here. I have something for you” hailed the priest
There were none in the sanctum besides the two.
“I suddenly had  a feeling just now  as if commanded by Lord Krishna Himself that I should give you a bowl of this Sweet Kesari and that you must take three times a little of it in the presence of   God Himself” he spoke as if in daze.
As she took the sweet dish in her hand and took three times, she perchance looked at the idol of Sri Krishna.A shock of thousand volts ran along her body as she espied the handsome small boy smiling at her. She rubbed her eyes again to make doubly sure and witnessed the same spectacle. She fell on her knees and fainted as if she was prostrating before the God.
Let me skip the details. As you must have guessed already the miracle did happen in a couple of months with Pankaja and Madhavan already choosing the name Murali if it were a boy or Radha if it were a girl. To their great rejoicing the miracle did materialize in due course in the form of a twin, a boy and a girl.