Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The kind heart

The solitary hut was in the outskirts of the village.
“Open the door” shouted constable Manickam. He had come walking across the rugged fields.
The door of the hut remained closed and there was no response but could see a dim glow of chimney lamp inside.
“Is Kannabiran inside? I have come from the police station. Be quick to open the door”
This was met with silence. Manickam kept his head on the door to hear some whispers inside.
“I can hear your voices. I will give you three minutes. If you do not open the door, I will break it” he said and waited patiently.
The Sub Inspector was coerced by local political functionary to arrest the poor chap even without a written complaint. Manickam did not know why the politician was angry with the man. The verbal complaint was Kannbiran hurled a stone at the politician without any provocation and he had half dozen witnesses to corroborate it. The SI was a meek man and never rubbed the politician on the wrong side. Manickam loathed the wicked leader.
“Your time is up. If you do not open the door instantly, I am kicking it open” shouted Manickam.
The door slightly opened and a face of a young woman appeared through the opening.”He is not at home. He has not come home for two days” she said.
“Let me in” he said and when she did not yield he pushed open the door and entered.
The room was dimly lit. She had a six month old baby in her arm, a two year old boy was seen clutching at her leg and a three year old girl sitting near the chimney lamp. A small 10x10 space it was practically empty except for a trunk box at the corner and some bundles wrapped in old clothes partly hidden by a bed sheet hung on a rope. Poverty was writ large and the boy was crying evidently in hunger.
“Why is the boy crying? Has he not eaten? Brighten the lamp by raising the wick”
“They are both very hungry. There is nothing to give except some old gruel. They refuse to drink as it has become stale. I haven’t eaten also” she started crying.
“I am sorry. When he comes home, will you ask him to see me immediately?”
 “Surely. What for you are searching my husband?”
“I was told he threw a stone at local leader and he has lodged a complaint.SI is very angry. Let him come and apologize.”
“You are like my brother. Please save us from him. He wanted my husband to take away some child and hide here for a few days .Is it not wrong? How will I feed the child when we are hungry ourselves? My husband being a father himself refused and the leader is making false accusation” she said
Manickam then saw some movement of the bed sheet and when he saw intently he could see a pair of feet underneath. He pretended not to have noticed.
“Anna (brother), please help us. Upon God and my children I swear he had not done anything wrong. His refusal to do illegal thing has angered the leader”
“I do not know all that. I will come tomorrow again. Your husband is not safe here as the leader is angry with him. Do you understand?”
“Can we run away to my mom’s village?”
“Do not tell me anything. Have these 100 rupees. Buy some food for all of you.Beware, I will come looking for him again tomorrow may be with SI.”
“Thank you anna.God bless you”
“It is ok .Remember you people are not safe here. Do you understand?” he repeated.
When she nodded her head slightly, he wrote in his notebook “Accused not at home” and briskly walked away.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Girl's saviour

The results were just out in the school. Sowmya heard someone tell that she had failed this time too. Afraid of facing her father, the 13 year old foolish girl quietly left her home. It was dusk and the sun was fast disappearing making it dark. She did not know where to go. She hurried towards the ashram where she thought there would be many people. She started running fast when she saw some young boys running behind her at a distance shouting something she could not hear. She could only understand they wanted her to stop. She had read how risky it is to get caught by young boys. She was panting for breath, her legs were paining and she thought she would fall. But she did not give up and summoned all her energy to run till she fell down unconscious.
“Get up, my child.Do not be afraid” she heard a soft voice. She looked up to see the tall swamiji in flowing silken  robes from neck to foot in cream color, long silvery beard and smiling eyes that evoked instant trust and respect. A gentle fragrance of sandalwood emanated from him and there was the smear of sandalwood paste on his forehead.. Beads of rudraksha adorned his neck.
When she got up on her feet, he turned back towards the ashram.”I will talk to you later about your problem. Just accompany me” he said and proceeded to discuss with his disciples both men and women who had accompanied him about the cycle of births and deaths, law of karma and final liberation. From time to time he either gently patted the girl or ran his hands over her head with affection.
Suddenly he stopped and asked one lady disciple “What is expected of you in life?”
She kept pondering for a while and hesitantly replied “is it, Swamiji, to work for liberation from this cycle of births and deaths?”
“True, is there not something more?”
“Is it to lead the given life happily with abandon?”
“Yes, you are right but also show love and care to the lonely and lost” said swamiji.Everyone nodded in agreement.
As they entered the ashram the rest of the people dispersed and the two went to his abode. He said “Have fruits and pomegranate juice and rest for a while. I will finish some ritual and will be back to hear you”
She was so tired that she fell asleep after eating and drinking the juice. Around 12 midnight, she stirred when she felt someone touching her. She opened her eyes and found she was on a large bed with swamiji sitting by her side.
“Do not be afraid. Tell me about yourself. Did you run away from home? Do you belong to this place? Who were the boys who were chasing you?” asked the swamiji gently.
“I failed the second time and was afraid that my father will beat me. That is why I ran away. I do not know who the boys were as it was dark. I wish to go back home. I am feeling very sleepy”
“It is ok.Why home, you can stay here permanently. I will take care of you and see you are in good comfort. No one need know you are here. Stay in this abode and help me with errands. Do not be afraid of anything. I will take care of you as if you are my own. Sleep now and you will feel better in the morning” he said as he drew her near him.
The girl resisted as he put his arm around her and patted her cheeks. But he did not let go. She screamed and he closed her mouth and embraced her tightly. Just then there were thuds of heavy feet outside and repeated knocking of the door. The girl screamed again and he slapped her. Annoyed at the disruption, Swamiji asked angrily “who is that? Don’t you know I am not to be disturbed while I am meditating?”
“We are from police. Open the door or it will be broken open” said a stern voice. Some assistant of swamiji was heard shouting to swamiji that a large posse of armed policemen had arrived in a truck.
Seeing no way of escape, he opened the door to find many policemen. They found the young girl sobbing inconsolably and rushing to them. No questions were necessary as it was all evident. The swamiji was taken away. The inspector told the girl “Have no fear. I think we came in the nick of time to rescue you. You must thank these three young boys who alerted us when you were taken to ashram We acted after a complaint from your father that you were missing.Don’t you know that you should not come alone to this unsafe place? We have already complaints about this ashram. Your father is waiting outside. We will take a statement from you and your father in the morning”.
One of three young boys who happened to be her class mate said “Sowmya, did you run away because you thought you had failed? Actually it was a typist’s mistake. It is Soumiya and not you. The school subsequently corrected the list.”
How wrong she was in perceiving her saviours as her stalkers, she thought overwhelmed by the good turn of events.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

One person's relief is another's agony

Shalini was running noisily around the founder’s statue in the centre of the lounge. It was a decent and comfortable senior home.
“Shalu, come here. We must hurry to meet great grandpa. You must be a quiet and be good girl before him. No mischief remember” Vimala said to her five year old daughter.
“Is he your grandpa? Does he know me? Why is here? Is he sick? Where is grandma?” came the questions one after the other.
“He knows you but may not remember your name. He is forgetful these days and cannot hear well. If he calls you, go to him” Vimala said without answering about grandma.
He is her maternal grandfather around 87 living here for last ten years. Initially grandma was also with him till she was shifted four months back to a hospice after she well down in bath room and went into deep coma. She was a pillar of strength to him till then acting as his eyes and ears. Financially well off, they commanded all comforts. Till Vimala’s mother was alive, the two stayed with them and liked their daughter much. They moved to the senior home thereafter. .Vimala’s dad had also passed away. Vimala came once a month to visit her grandparents. The senior home was far away in the outskirts of the city.
Grandpa, an emaciated and shrunk figure, was sitting on the cot vacantly looking at the ceiling. He did not hear her coming but turned when saw the shadow cross him. There was no instant recognition. His vision had dimmed.”Thatha (grandpa), Vimmu here” she said loudly near his ear. His face brightened and there was a smile.
Shalini who was watching till then from the entrance came shyly towards him. He beckoned her and made her sit on his lap even as he ran his palm over her head with fondness.”What is her name?”he asked Vimala.
“Shalini, we call her Shalu, thatha”
When the old man turned to Shalini with pride, she asked him “Where is grandma?”
His face fell and a touch of sadness spread across it.”Vimmu, how is patti (grandma)? I have not seen her for ages. I feel lost without her. When did you see her?”
Vimala wiped the tears from her eyes and said “I know. I have come to take you there. I have taken leave today. Get ready in five minutes.”
“Why are you crying?”he asked
“Some dust particle fell, I think.. Shalu, get down from grandpas’ lap for him to get ready”
In a few minutes they were driving towards the hospice.”Vimmu, is everything fine? Why are you taking me there early in the morning. I haven’t bought any fruits too for her. She likes oranges. Can we get some on the way?”he asked
“Patti  is sick, isn’t it? You haven’t seen her for four months. So I thought I will take you there. I am certain she will not recognize you but you will have the satisfaction of seeing her who loved you most and served you all through her life”
He became silent and with the towel wiped his face.face. Vimala could not read what passed through his mind. Luckily Shalini had fallen asleep on her great grandpa’s lap.
When they reached the hospice Vinod, Vimala’s husband, was waiting there with a few friends. She held her thatha’s hand and along with Vinod proceeded towards patti’s room.”Thatha, be brave. This will be the last time you will be seeing her” Vimala said.
The old man dazed as he was did not grasp the full import of her remark and looked at her questioningly. As they entered the room patti lay on the cot covered by white sheet except her face that had large bindi.The hospice authorities had put a rose garland around her neck. Her face was calm and looked as if she was in deep slumber.Her end had been peaceful.
She feared that thatha would break down but he went near her and called her name Seetha twice as if she was alive. He did not touch her but stood gazing at her for long with tears flowing along his cheeks. He covered his mouth with his towel and let out a muffled sob.sob. Vinod put his arm around him and took him out.
"Thatha,patti was like a vegetable with no hope.The end is a relief for her.Do not grieve" said Vimala
The body was taken to a waiting ambulance and just as Vinod and his friends were entering the vehicle, Vinod turned back  and came rushing to Vimala and thatha.”Take thatha to our home. He will stay with us hereafter. I will have his room in the senior home vacated in two days. Shalu will be happy to have him”
Shalu though inappropriate to the occasion jumped in joy and snuggled close to the confused and sad thatha.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Murari’s gift

This was written seven years back
Murari was both happy and worried when he received the invitation for the wedding of the company owner’s daughter. He was just an assistant in the accounts department and has been with the company for almost a decade. He had never been called by the owner even once but has heard him address meetings on important occasions. He was not sure whether the owner knew his name. Yet he was the only one of the staff members in the accounts department to have received the invitation. It came along with a colorful box containing two large Iaddus with liberal sprinkling of cardamom, pista, almond, kesar, saffron and many other fragrant spices.
 He was delighted as he was chosen among the many though he did not know how and why he was selected. He heard that another in Quality department had received the invite. He was not aware that a few staff members were chosen at random from the computerized list as the owner wanted one or two from all grades of staff from different departments to be included in the invitee list. The owner was not aware of who all had been invited.
Murari’s immediate worry was what gift would be within his affordability and also appropriate for owner’s daughter. It was only last week he had taken a loan of thousand rupees from his neighbour for buying gas refill and some grocery items. He had already availed credit from the provision stores and the shop keeper refused to extend further credit. He was worried from where he can raise the money for buying a decent gift commensurate with the owner’s position.
When he reached home, his wife and children were very happy seeing the packet from the famous mithaiwallah.They had never tasted laddu of such quality and taste. Each laddu was big and about the size of a small water melon fruit.Murari and his wife thought of the ways to raise the money for the gift. She told him that if the owner gets impressed with the gift, he may be inclined to give more than the usual annual raise. He told her that bada saheb may not even see the gifts from people like him. Nevertheless both agreed that the gift should be befitting his status.
She approached her brother to lend them two thousand rupees. After much haggling he parted with only half the amount.Murari comforted her and himself saying that it is not the cost of the gift that mattered but only the sentiment behind it. After a long and extensive search, they settled for a Rajasthan printed bed sheet in beautiful multicolored design. It cost slightly more than the money borrowed from her brother.
On the Barat day he went in his best dress to the posh marriage hall. There were hundreds of cars with large crowd of invitees and entrance was regulated by police by scrutiny of invitation cards. He could see many politicians, industrialists, government officials and rich friends of the owner. He also saw the senior officers of the company receiving the guests. They did not take notice of his presence. He was standing in a corner alone when a couple of his colleagues from quality and personnel departments also joined him. They found comfort in mutual company.
When the entire bade log had finished meeting and congratulating the couple, Murari and his colleagues mustered courage to go near the couple and hand over the gifts deferentially. The owner was talking to some VIPs and none introduced them. After giving the presents, they hastily withdrew from the dais. While the colleagues made a beeline towards the dining hall, Murari was in no mood to eat. He felt very small and an utter stranger in that crowd. He left the place immediately unnoticed by anyone.
When he reached home, his wife was surprised at his early return. His children ran towards him asking what all he ate. He was morose and silent. His wife understood and brought him three chapattis with achaar.
A week later he found the company owner’s driver talking with the cashier with a packet in his hand. Murari heard him telling that bada saheb had given him that gift. When prodded by the cashier as to what the packet contained, the driver opened the packet to reveal the Rajasthani bed sheet in multicoloured design that Murari had presented.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The 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 frequented by tourists. The ambience was good, the food delicious and service excellent. All the rooms were generally occupied except the corner room on the first floor. It was in fact 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 a couple of years back. She was not accompanied by anyone. She said that she missed her train and would leave the next morning. The room was let out to her.
 When there was no response to the repeated knocks by the bearer for the morning coffee she had ordered the previous night, the police were 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. The room had ever since 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 of a dying woman from the bed. The hotel management had to keep it closed reluctantly but never spoke about the room to the visitors. The hotel staff believed the dead woman was haunting that place waiting for the culprit to avenge her murder.
Prakash, a daring young man 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 keys for the corner room in the first floor. The clerk explained that room was not let out. When he dropped names of leading politicians 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 care of them. He showed him the pistol that he always carried to allay his fears that ghost would harm the occupant. As the owner was out of station the clerk had no choice but to let out the room. The sheets were changed, the room made spic and span and air fresheners used 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 corridors. Prakash remained awake unperturbed with lights on and was eagerly awaiting the unsolicited nocturnal visitor. 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 in the presence of police. They found Prakash still bleeding profusely with the pistol on his hand. He made hideous and strangling sound before his life ebbed out. A doctor in one of the rooms examined him and shook his head sideways to signify that all is 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. When he went to close the windows by drawing the curtains, he found on the wall a smiley drawn in fresh blood..He was certain the ghost would never return.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Shuklaji's compassion

Shuklaji rose from ranks and is now a politician with a good following. He had amassed staggering wealth in a short period not all them can be said to be clean. Hard working he ran chit funds, enforced  settlement of disputes out of court, did civil contracts for government and also had a prosperous real estate business by virtue of his clout. He demonstrated his social responsibility by constructing a hospital in his wife’s name that boasted of free treatment to a few poor patients.
 There was wide spread speculation that if his party won he could even become a minister. True he had a seamy past with charges under most counts of penal code but none had led to conviction. It was rumoured that he either bought off witnesses or they mysteriously disappeared afraid of him, as his acolytes say. The important thing was he happened to be in good books of the higher ups in the party.
But in life it is not always rosy and hardship comes abruptly. What started as breathlessness, swelling of legs, nausea turned out to be serious. He was diagnosed with serious renal failure needing urgent kidney transplant. He got admitted in his own hospital and was waiting for kidney.. There were restrictions in getting kidney donated from outside except close relatives..It just cannot be bought. More than two months had passed. He was on dialysis. His family members were worried as he grew weak. Even the party chief enquired of his health and expressed concern. His doctors assured him that they were on the lookout for donors, brain dead or cadavers.
It was then one poor boy in acute abdominal pain on the right side got admitted under free quota.. According to hospital sources, there was considerable delay in bringing the boy promptly to the hospital though the boy’s dad was heard telling that he brought the boy without wasting time.. Nevertheless surgery was carried out immediately but certain complications unfortunately set in. The surgeon and his team, it seemed, battled hard to save the boy’s life but God’s will was otherwise. The jobless father of the boy was shattered and crying. He was very poor but was gently persuaded in private to agree in writing to the harvest of good organs which otherwise would go waste.
It is a matter of minor detail that the boy’s father got a good job in Shuklaji’s company along with a hefty donation for undisclosed amout.There was a big havan and massive poor feeding at Shuklaji’s house. The latest news is that Shuklaji was seen moving around  briskly in his constituency even as tongues from the rival side wagged in suspicion.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The old man's worry

‘Ugh, ugh, ugh” the old man was coughing incessantly all through the night. The cough syrups did not help. It was pathetic to see him struggling for the last one week.
His son went to his bed and gently rubbed his back to ease the pain.”Drink some warm water, appa (dad).It will give some relief” he said
“Raju, please do not send me away” said the old man and started coughing again holding his chest with his palms.
“Who told you?” asked Raju
“Sama. I am afraid to stay elsewhere and wish to be with you all till my last breath. I implore you, please do not send me away” he pleaded pathetically.
“Appa, Sama is having annual examination. This is crucial. Your constant coughing is disturbing his studies. Our flat is not big. Your condition is also not improving. Please understand that it is only for a short duration and for your benefit”
“I can shift to the rear balcony. It is covered and almost like a room. That way it may not disturb Sama.I cannot tolerate outside food. I am accustomed to your wife Vanaja’s food. Please Raju”
“You are adamant, appa.Vanaja is not able to manage the chores in the house and give the attention you need always. It is for short duration only. I will ensure they give you good food. Do you think I would want you away? But the examination, Vanaja’s poor health and your condition forces my hand. This arrangement is better for all. Please cooperate. We have decided after careful thought. I will be coming and meeting you frequently. Do not worry. Be ready to leave tomorrow by 7am.”
The thought of senior home with many sick in-mates and the indifferent attention he had heard about scared him. He was also worried that the frequent visits of Raju would taper off. He loved his grandson Sama very much and was unwilling to leave him.Vanaja is a nice person taking care of him as a daughter would do. He did not know what brought about the change in their minds. He was cursing his wretched cough. Could it be a mere excuse, he even wondered. He could not sleep the whole night.
As the vehicle entered the big building complex, a wheel chair appeared to take the old man. Everything was spic and span with shining granite floor. He wondered whether a senior home could be so opulent
“Raju, this does not look like a senior home. It is more like a hospital. Are we not supposed to go to senior home?”he asked
“Appa, how did you get the idea that you would be sent to senior home when I am there. Your cough is worsening and I am afraid you have infection in the lungs. The doctors here will take care of you. Vanaja or myself will get food from home. In a week I will take you home. Sama also can study without worrying about you. Your condition has affected him much. I did not tell you wantonly about hospital lest you refuse knowing your aversion to hospitals and the smell of disinfectant”
Overwhelmed with emotion and wiping his eyes, the old man said “Raju, forgive me for thinking you are putting me in an old age home. You are a gem indeed”

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Peter's defiance

It was a day care for kids. With more than a dozen kids, Lolita was busy daily except weekends. She had a young maid to assist her. The toddlers and children came around 8 am and were picked by 3 pm by their mom or dad. There were lots of toys, dolls, building blocks, toy trains and even play area with slides and swings. They were provided with materials for drawing, coloring, and picture books for reading. They could play till 11 am when they should have something to eat and then sleep for two hours on the beds assigned to each.
The kids though noisy were generally obedient and never threw any tantrums. They may sometimes resist eating or going to bed but generally yielded to persuasion. Today Lolita’s neighbor Agnes had to go out of town very early in the morning and was expected in the evening. Her husband was on tour. She came with Peter and requested that he be taken care of for just this day. She agreed though Peter was demonstratively unwilling to stay. He would not allow Agnes to leave till he finally relented after she sat by his side cajoling and pampering him.
Lolita knew from his face that he had not taken kindly to her. He didn’t mingle with other children even when they exhibited interest to play with him. He stood glum for a while in a corner. There were tears at the corner of his eyes as he looked at the closed front door. This is perhaps the first time he had been left behind by Agnes.
The other children were enjoying playing games or sliding or swinging. Some were busy coloring. One boy climbed up the stairs two or three steps and jumped down. Suddenly Peter jumped on the sofa standing on legs.
“Peter, get down. No standing on the sofa. They will get dirty” Lolita said sternly. He paid no heed to her and started bouncing on the sofa like a madcap. The rest of the children stopped playing and watched curiously with subdued mirth at his disobedience. Lolita obviously could not permit this defiance in front of other toddlers. She grabbed him by his ear and brought him down. With a mournful look that showed hostility, he went to a corner of the room. He turned a deaf ear when the kids called him. She decided that she will no more agree to keep him. She was after all doing this work as social service to the community.
When it was time for food all the children ate bread sandwich, some cookies and drank the milk. Some did with relish while a few did unwillingly with grimace on their faces. But none refused except Peter.He would not touch them and instead turned his face towards the door expectantly. When she forced him, he spilt the milk on the carpet. Lolita turned towards the children and asked them to go back to the hall. She forced Peter to stay back.
“C’mon, Peter, I say eat the bread and drink the milk. You are spoiling other children with your bad behavior.”
He kept mum even after repeated cajoling. She did not get the hint that he was not happy to be here and wanted to go back to his home. There was nothing she could to make him eat. It was time for sleep. While some children went to sleep, a few pretended and were watching Peter through the corner of their eyes.
It was then the buzzer rang. Surprised who it could be, Lolita went to open the door with Peter following her. It was Agnes and Peter jumped on to her   shouting ‘bow wow, bow wow’ and wagging his tail in great glee. Agnes was equally delighted hugging him and rubbing her face on his wet nose. Lolita heaved a great sigh of relief and turned to Peter only to see the hostility had vanished and his tail was wagging happily.