Thursday, December 21, 2017

The scornful smile

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Giving is a blessing

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

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The hangman’s dilemma

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

The aftermath of a broken journey

“Any problem? You are sweating profusely and holding your hand on your chest,” I asked the well-dressed man over fifty as he leaned on me in great discomfort. I was travelling to Chennai. The train halted at Bengaluru Cantonment station for a few minutes. I had to repeat the question before he replied in feeble voice, “Yes I am not really well. I have a history of heart problem and I think it is an attack. Can you kindly help me in reaching a hospital? The pain is unbearable and I am feeling breathless.”
“Do you have any one at Bengaluru? Can you give me the contact number?”
“None. I came this morning on some business and….,” trailed of as he closed his eyes.
Without wasting a moment, I decided in a split second to help him out unmindful of the interview I had the next day. I knew that timely medical attention was essential in heart attacks. With the help of co-passengers, I lifted him bodily to the platform and had his luggage and mine brought down. The train left soon immediately. With the help of the station-staff I was able to take him in a taxi to the nearest good hospital. Once in the emergency, the doctors took over inserting on him various tubes and administering medicines. In a short while they rushed him to ICCU.
I was lost in my thoughts as I reclined on a sofa outside the ICCU. It was past 11.30 PM. The interview didn’t matter much as I was in a senior position already. I waited for him to get stable to collect his contact-address for informing his relatives.
“Are you his son? He is stable as of now but would wait for a day to watch his progress. Please fill in the forms for admission and pay the advance” said a charming young doctor from the ICCU.
 I replied “No, I am just a co-passenger in the train. When he fell sick and I saw his condition was serious, I decided to discontinue my journey and rushed him here. I am relieved that he is stable and in safe hands”
“My god, how compassionate and kind you have been to a total stranger! Had you not brought him promptly as you did, he would have surely died. You know, about thirty percent of patients die before they reach a hospital or get medical attention. Lucky he had you as a co-passenger and his chances of survival appear good”, she said.
I requested her to find out from the contents of his pocket, the contact-numbers of his home and assured her that in the meanwhile I would fill the forms and make advance payment after talking to his people.
She smiled at me and said “I am simply touched by your extreme kindness and compassion not ordinarily seen. I will be here very soon with the details. I am actually a little free till the next emergency case arrives.”
My thoughts went back several years to my dad. We were then in Kolkata. He was travelling one night to Bhilai on official business. He suffered a heart attack midway in the train in the middle of the night. His co-passengers were sympathetic but made no efforts to attempt a CPR or to contact the guard to keep a doctor in readiness at the next station. The train moved on even as my dad was struggling with angina and breathlessness. By the time the train reached the next station that was at quite a distance, he had breathed his last. It was in the morning as I was leaving for my school that my mom got the telephone call breaking the shocking news. Everyone felt that had he been given prompt medical assistance; he would have lived. But he was unlucky to be in a train in a desolate stretch with none capable of rendering a CPR.This was etched in my mind.
I was woken up from my reverie by the doctor as she said “Dozed off? Here are the contact details. He is stable and you can see him. One thing I wish to say. I have never come across such a nice person like you in my life. Tell me, what made you break your journey for an unknown person and save his life? Do you live in Bengaluru?”
“I will talk to you after meeting the patient. Please wait for me” I replied before I went to meet him in ICU. He looked much better, though wan. He smiled at me and profusely offered thanks for saving his life like a son would for his dad. He asked for my details to be given to the doctor and that his son would get in touch with me. As he went on talking about his debt of gratitude, I motioned him to silence and said that I would meet him the next day.
When I saw the doctor waiting for me, I introduced myself as Krishnan and gave all details about me and my mobile number.
“I am Radha. You haven’t told me what made you break the journey for a stranger. This is something unusual and admirable “she said
 I then related the incident about my dad and his tragic end in the train without medical aid. I told her, “I realized when I saw the old man in distress how much he needed someone to help him. I decided in a split-second that no matter the broken journey or the missed interview, it was a call that I can hardly ignore. I am happy that I could help him survive the crisis.”
“Here is my number. You can call me anytime for updates. I would be happy to be of help to such a good Samaritan,” she said with a bewitching smile extending her hand.
 I clasped her hand with both hands and said with a mischievous grin” Be forewarned. You will get innumerable calls for updates this night and hope to continue thereafter.”
“My pleasure. I look forward to, Krishnan,” said Radha casting her mesmerizing spell on me.
It may be of interest for readers to know that the old man recovered completely and as a token of gratitude sent me a handsome reward the details of which would remain undisclosed at his specific request. But what was the most heartening outcome from this broken journey was what started as calls for getting updates took a romantic turn that culminated in my finding my life partner in the attractive doctor.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Flash fiction

It was around 8am Ananthan was talking on the landline phone in the drawing hall. He seemed deferential in tone and all attentive. The caller must have been his senior boss on urgent matter.
His six-year-old son came running to the hall and tugged his shirt calling “Papa, come with me”. He looked at his child angrily and signaled with his hands to remain quiet,
The little boy did not stir but pulled him more vigorously and said sobbing “Papa, come quickly. You can talk on phone later.”
Balancing the receiver on the ear and simultaneously cupping it near the mouth with one hand, Ananthan slammed the boy on his back and pushed him away even as he shouted, “You dirty scoundrel, get lost from here before I kill you.”
The boy who fell down rose up immediately and clasped his dad’s legs crying inconsolably and telling, “Papa, amma has fallen down on the kitchen floor and not answering. Fire is burning big all around. I am terribly afraid. Come immediately
Ananthan dropped the receiver and ran towards the kitchen shouting “Why did you not tell me earlier, you fool,” even as he heard a loud sound from the kitchen side.
The Saviour
Gunaseelan was waxing eloquent at the local Corporation school on Children’s day on his concern for children and the gross violations of Child Labour Act. There was a large crowd of children and their parents, mostly mothers.
He thundered on “It is highly deplorable that in our country that tender children who should be studying in primary and elementary schools are employed in tea shops, tailoring, provision stores, eateries, match factories and fireworks units toiling all day long in unhealthy conditions. The Child Labour Act specifically prohibits children below some age limit from employment.
It may be said that the poor parents themselves send their children for work to augment family’s income. Still it is illegal as it barters away the children’s golden future for narrow temporary selfish ends. I strongly condemn this practice and vouch to take it up for stricter enforcement of laws. I would plead in the legislature for a special grant of monthly allowance of Rs. 1000 to children in BPL families. The quality of mid-day meal should also be greatly improved and books and notebooks given free.”
There was an audible appreciation with loud clapping for a long time. Gunaseelan was happy at the good impression he had made before the parents particularly two months ahead of the elections.
He concluded his speech with a loud statement in his stentorian voice, “Every child found working is a stigma to this constituency and particularly against me. I am sure you would extend your support to fulfill my pledge made before you .”
As he alighted from the car past 11pm and entered his house, he shouted “Meenakshi, send that boy Babu to my bed room. My legs are aching after a long day of speeches.
As he lay on the cot in the air conditioned room with his legs stretched, the eight-year-old kid Babu in his shorts and banyan was seen standing massaging the man’s legs continuously. At frequent intervals the leader was admonishing the boy, “You dirty scamp, massage properly giving good pressure. If you do not do well, I will flog you and starve you.”
It was more than an hour and the leader was seen dozing with a soft snoring. The room had turned cold. The hungry and sleepy boy slightly slackened a bit prompting the leader to get up and give him a sharp cuff (குட்டு) on his head with his closed fingers. “Rascal, are you sleeping when I dozed a bit? I will skin you alive you scoundrel “exploded the great saviour of children.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The distant rainbow

Palani, an incurable alcoholic beat his wife Bhagyam daily in the evenings for money. A lazy loafer, he brought no money for the house. With three young children to feed, Bhagyam worked hard in many houses. Life was a monotonous daily grind with nothing to enthuse and only back breaking work all day long. It was the last week of the month with not a grain of rice let alone other essential ingredients to cook a broth. The left overs she brought from houses where she worked hardly helped to keep even the kids from hunger especially at the end of month.  In desperation she often toyed with idea of suicide along with kids but would abandon such thoughts when she saw their trusting eyes and start visualizing a better tomorrow
Palani was tottering to get up after getting fully drunk at a cheap arrack shop when a friend by his side proffered a twenty-rupee note saying that it was found by the former’s side.
“It is not mine, I have spent all my money” Palani mumbled but the equally inebriated friend insisted it was his and added “You are ruining your life by drinking. What have you done for your wife and kids so far? Surprise them with some snacks with this.
 The confused Palani took the money and started ambling towards his home. Pricked by the taunt of his friend, he was filled with remorse when he thought of Bhagyam and the children. As he vowed that he would stop drinking, he saw the shop selling molagai bajji (chillies bajias) and other namkeens. He took molagai bajjis wrapped in old newspaper and hurried in his unsteady walk.
This particular evening, Bhagyam had made gruel from broken rice she had borrowed and diluted liberally with tangy butter milk she had brought from a household Hardly adequate, it only kindled more hunger. Each one had a large glass with some quantity kept for Palani.
The chimney lamp was flickering starved of kerosene in the dimly lit dark hut. As Palani entered, he saw the children jumping with joy amidst peals of laughter. Bewildered he saw a smiling Bhagyam with her eyes glued on a small TV placed on a rickety shelf covered by his lungi, a freebie from the generous government ahead of a municipal poll. He too joined the gaiety and danced with the kids happy with the new bounty. In the commotion, the packet of molaga bajjis lay uncared for on the floor. The distant rainbow is more enchanting than a small blessing on hand.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Turning the world into a joyful place

 Shanmugam sat on the step of the temple tank seeking peace for his troubled mind. He had no job and was eating for the last few days  the prasad whenever given in the temple. Despite the cool breeze from across the tank, he was restless and sweating. The noise of vendors, the chatter of devotees and the laughter of playful children around a carousal irked him. He was also feeling hungry but had no money.
He was startled when he felt a soft touch on his back and turned to see a girl of five years sobbing inconsolably. She could not tell where her parents were or where her house was. He could sense people were looking uneasily at him talking  with a well-dressed girl but he had no mind to leave the girl stranded and vulnerable. 
Before considering the option of leaving her at police outpost, he searched the pocket of the girl and luckily found a slip with address. The girl in the meanwhile tugged his shirt and showed the balloon vendor with colourful balloons. He searched his pockets to find no money to his dismay and then unrolled the sleeves of his torn shirt and found a crumpled five-rupee note to his joy. The girl started smiling in glee as she held the big pink balloon in her tiny hand.
Though the house was near, he thought it prudent, to take the child by auto to avoid skeptical glances. The driver after initial hesitation agreed when Shanmugam explained. The girl speedily ran into the arms of her anxious grandmother screaming “patti” and turned to say Ta-Ta with a beaming smile to Shanmugam who was watching her along with the driver from the gate. Evidently the parents were still tracing the child as they were not seen.
He had forgotten for a moment the auto driver looking at the happy reunion of the girl with her family and turned to see the  driver waiting patiently. Shanmugam quietly unwrapped his only earthly possession and gave the wrist watch to the driver. The driver looked with disbelief at the man and declining the watch said “Get in.I have been watching you from the temple area and it is rare to see kind hearted people like you. I noticed you did not also ask the old woman any money for the efforts you had taken. Come on, you look hungry and let us have some tiffin in a hotel. Keep the watch with you. By the way, can you drive an auto? Otherwise, I can teach you in a week.”
Shanmugam suddenly felt his heart light with no worries and the world a joyful place to live in. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Murari’s revenge

Murari walked the long stretch from the desolate railway station to his village. It was sweltering hot with not a blade of grass moving. He could see no cattle grazing or birds flying. Perspiring heavily, he took the water bottle from his bag only to find it empty. He threw it away and looked around in frustration. He knew from the familiar scene he was almost near the village that he had left five years back in anger and humiliation. The anger had not died down but still simmering inside waiting for the revenge to soften it. He could gather the guts to avenge only now. He sat on the bench of a tea stall on the outskirts of the village to have tea before proceeding further
As he entered the village, he started trudging with a deliberate limp to mask his identity towards his old house to find the hedge between his house and the adjacent Bola’s house had been removed and the whole space enclosed by a common boundary wall. His house, a small tiled structure in the vast ground that was adequate for his wife and two boys stood undemolished but the cattle shed had been expanded with many cattle in it.
Trouble started when Bola cast his covetous eyes on his land. He wanted it to make one large ground along with his to start an akhada. He tempted him with a good price but when Murari declined telling that it was a family property coming from several generations, Bola started threatening him. He was a wicked man with several criminal cases of intimidation, assault, cheating, rape and land grabbing against him. He had managed to stay out of law enforcement due to his clout with local MP as his sidekick. He became insistent that Murari part with the property and when rebuffed he warned that his family would pay one day for his adamancy. Murari ignored the veiled threat
Till one day, he came to rue for not judging correctly the extent of Bola’s greed and cruelty. He returned home one evening from the fair in the adjacent village to find to his great horror his children lying outside the house shot dead and wife lying dead semi naked inside the house with deep cuts by knife across her face and several places on her body indicating much resistance before being violated.
Shocked he ran to Bola’s house screaming incoherently and mad in rage at the enormity of the crime. He saw several of Bola’s henchmen in the compound. Bola came out instantly and denied any knowledge of the gruesome killing or having heard any noise and commiserated with Murari at the tragedy. Murari could see through the smirk on his face his false pretensions and knew who the culprit was. He swore to himself in the name of his honour that he would avenge one day the death of his family.
Five long grueling years had passed by and he was at last back at the village with revenge still gnawing his heart. He saw someone sitting inside the porch in Bola’s house with his face partially covered by a pink towel and the eyes with sun glasses. Murari involuntarily felt for the country weapon on his side and moved closer with confidence towards the gate to get a clearer view of the man. Murari was sure that his own beard, his limp and unkempt hair would not give him away. He had also grown thinner in these five years.
 “Hey, who are you and why are you standing there? What do you want? shouted the man from the porch. Murari could recognize the gruff voice with no difficulty.
“I am looking for one Murari who used to live here. He is a distant relative of mine,” replied Murari.
“Öh, oh. Don’t you know that he left this place year back along with family after selling his house? He was not making much money from agriculture and went in search of better prospects. Poor man, he was a good person,” said the man from the porch.
“Any idea where they have gone?” asked Murari
“No, he did not leave any information with anyone about his new place,” said the man.
“Thank you. I am unlucky to miss my relative. I will be on my way,” said Murari as he walked away.
There was silence for a while and the man from the porch asked one of his men to see whether the visitor was visible. The man went near the gate craned his neck and peered both sides of the road carefully as it was dusk already. He turned to the man in porch and said the man had gone and was not to be seen.
The man sprang up throwing away his pink towel and hailed his family to come out of the house. The men not knowing why the master was happy joined in the laughter much like Gabbar Singh’s men. Bola turned to his wife and said, “I knew it was Murari. The chaiwala Munni rang me up saying that one-man resembling Murari was walking towards our house with a limp. So I covered my face, had our men standing outside to scare him and asked you people to remain inside. Come on, let us celebrate our good luck.”
As Bola, his wife and two children of his danced their way to the gate and peered outside, Murari popped up suddenly from behind the side wall and as he put his hand on the side pocket he said “Lucky I am, that you celebrated your escape a bit too early. I had hidden myself inside the well outside the wall and knew you would come out but never expected the whole family. I have been waiting for this day for five long years. I thank God for my good fortune”
The henchmen who started crowding towards the gate fell back as Murari avenged the murder of his wife and children but spared the Bola’s wife and her children as he felt he had no quarrel with them. He did not care for his life anymore and started walking whistling a Sholay tune loudly. He felt lighter in his heart and better as a human as he walked with a spring in his step. The men stood back half perplexed and half afraid to follow him.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Pavitra perplexed

“How is he doing?” Pavitra heard from behind as she was busy changing the IV fluid after observing the vital signs from the various monitors.
“One moment doctor,” she replied as she checked whether the fluid was flowing properly. “He is stable and all vital signs are normal, “she said
“Good” said Dr. Mukundan as he took the file from her hand and observed the drowsy patient for a minute. “Continue the same medicines till I review tomorrow,” he said as he moved to the next patient with Pavitra in tow.
It is a small but reputed cardiac care hospital headed by Dr. Mukundan who had earned his stripes by studying and working in a renowned American university and its hospital. He was still young in his early thirties and was considered a leading cardiologist. Pavitra has been working as a nurse for the last five years and only a year back was posted in the critical care ward after some intense training. Ever since she interacted with Dr. Mukundan in the ward at least twice a day.
Being a conscientious, hardworking and intelligent nurse with gentle and soft spoken nature, she had won the confidence and esteem of the doctor. She was the only one amongst the nurses who got an ad hoc increase in pay a few months back triggering a mischievous gossip among the nurses within her ear shot that the doctor had a romantic interest in her.
What crap she thought to herself, but felt inwardly happy though she felt that the relationship with doctor was formal and professional. However, in the nights while on bed, she could not resist thinking of him, his tall physique, handsome face and friendly demeanour. She even started wondering whether there could be a truth in the gossip as otherwise why she should be singled out for a raise in salary. But, she was quick to smother such thoughts when she remembered her family of mother and younger brother in college dependent wholly on her salary and that marriage was out of question till her brother completed his education and got a job. She was nearing thirty but still looked young with a very charming face and lissome figure.
A week later as Dr. Mukundan was leaving the ward, he asked Pavitra to follow him with a couple of files. This was the first time he was asking her to see him in his room. Could it be he wants to express his feelings, she wondered setting butterflies flutter in her stomach. Her cheeks turned red as she hurried behind him with a couple of patients’ files.
“Sit down Pavitra. I have been wanting to talk to you in private for some time Let me first tell you that I am highly satisfied with you. As a nurse you have an admirable combination of knowledge of your work your functions in the ward, nursing skills, right attitudes, and the noble values of treating your work as a service. The feedback from patients has been good. I am very fortunate to have you in my team and wish to take it forward to a personal level. I know you have a mother and brother in college and how much your salary means to the family. I have spoken about you to my mom and she would like to meet you. Can I pick you up at 5pm tomorrow?  Wear a good sari,” he said with a smile.
That night she could hardly sleep. She did not breathe a word to her mom and waited to see further development She started thinking that this could be a prelude to happy events to follow.
He came at the appointed time and took her in his car to his palatial house. As she entered, she saw an old lady with kindly eyes seated on a wheel chair. The lady smiled at Pavitra and beckoned her by name to come near her. She said “Just as Mukund told me, you look really beautiful and I have taken an instant liking for you.”
Embarrassed Pavitra looked at Mukund who intervened to say” Pavitra, you see my mother is an invalid. She needs someone to assist her and provide her company when I am not there. I know how efficient you are and decided to bring you here.” He paused to see her reaction.
This was a hammer blow to Pavitra crashing all her dreams. Her anger and frustration grew inside her as she felt cheated. When she stood dazed without replying, Mukund prodded her “Do you have any objection to being a companion to my mom? Be assured that you will find this role much more rewarding and comfortable than your present job.”
Pavitra did not know what to say to this unexpected development but realized he was cunning. She wished to run away from this treacherous man. She put her handkerchief to her mouth   and turned towards the door to hide her tears.
Mukund’s mom who was watching all the time with a grin quickly intervened to say “Stop joking, Mukund, why do you find pleasure in teasing her and playing with her emotions? She must have grown lot of her dreams. Do not ever shatter them even in jest.”
She drew Pavitra close to her and said “He is always playful. He wants you to come here as my daughter-in-law and give me your good company. You can still be associated with the hospital.Do not worry about me as I have many servants to take care of me. Ever since he set his eyes on you in the clinic, he has fallen flat for you. Would you please agree to marry him? I will talk to your amma and do the needful. They would be fully taken care of. Have no worry on that score”
When she saw Mukund watching her eagerly, she put her head shyly down and started scratching the ground with her toe.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Krishan Srivastava’s faux pas

“I have heard you patiently but none of the reasons given by you can explain the steep fall in your regional sales. This is the last quarter and your sales hitherto is a measly 59% of the target. Our director made a caustic mention about this. Your team members are good. I suspect there is a failure of leadership. What do you plan to do? This may be the last chance,” said Krishan Srivastava, shortly addressed KS, General manager (Marketing) to the Northern regional manager Kuldeep Singh.
“I am sorry, Sir. The market is bad with supply more than demand. Our competitors are plying the customers with heavy discounts and long credit even when their prices are lower than ours. We are trying our best focusing on our quality and brand. I am sure things would improve this quarter, Sir,”
“Kuldeep, I do not agree as other regions are doing very well. The real reason is elsewhere. You have been working with me since your management trainee days. As a father figure I have been wanting to talk to you on some personal matter but was restraining myself. I have decided to speak out today in your interest. Can I proceed?” asked KS
Kuldeep kept quiet avoiding KS’s eyes.
“Your silence is understandable. I am getting to hear from several sources that you are having illegal relationship with a woman employee in your division and spend lot of time talking, messaging and going out with her. You have a wife and two children. We have not taken action as there is no complaint. Since this has affected your official work, I am compelled to advise you to discontinue this liaison to avoid an immediate transfer,” warned KS
Embarrassed by the revelation, overcome by fear that his family would come to know and shaken by imminent transfer, Kuldeep Singh short of falling at KS feet pleaded forgiveness with the promise that he will stop forthwith his association with Pinky.
“This won’t do. You cannot resist the temptation and will start meeting her outside office. But I am clear that a transfer to another region alone would bring sense to you and justice to your wife, I am anyway getting her transferred to another office in the same city” KS said in stern tone.
“I swear in the name of my wife and children that I would have nothing to do with her,” and as an earnest, he pulled out from his pocket and placed on the table a box containing bottle of perfume. ” I intended to present this gift for her birthday this evening at a restaurant and now I have no more need for it. Kindly excuse me and I am a reformed man,” he said and wiped the tears from his eyes.
“Okay., do not worry. Take this bottle away and give it to your wife,” said KS
He shuddered and said “This will only rise her suspicion for I have never given her perfume as she is allergic to pungent smell,” and left the office hurriedly.
It was already 5.45pm and KS remembered that his wife Lalitha and children would be waiting at a friend’s house for a birthday party. In a hurry he slipped in the perfume packet in the side pocket of his coat thinking of his wife.
There were a lot of guests, some common friends and some known faces with many children playing around in the large hall that was brightly lit. Lalitha’s friend and her husband welcomed him warmly. KS removed the coat and hung it in a coat stand and reclined comfortably in the sofa by Lalitha’s side. The party commenced with cake cutting and birthday songs. The hostess soon came around the guests with hors d’œuvres and drinks. There was gaiety and laughter all around.
Suddenly a shrill tone of a mobile was heard. Everybody stopped talking and looked at the direction of sound. KS knew it was from his instrument in his coat pocket. As he was trying to get up, KS’s young son rushed towards the stand. He put his hand in the coat pocket and took out the box containing the perfume and after reading the name of the perfume on the box said loudly “Mummy, Papa has bought a scent for you”.
When Lalitha asked “What are you blabbering?” the boy   read out loudly “With deepest love to my Pinky darling, ever yours, KS” that was written on the box. The mobile had stopped ringing meanwhile. Lalitha rushed to the boy and snatched the box that had the inscription Gucci Flora.
KS sat dazed and frozen on the sofa. One jolly friend let out a loud guffaw and exclaimed “What a gaffe? Behind the innocent facade, you seem to be enjoying life with sidekicks.”
“It is not mine and belonged to one Kuldeep Singh, a regional manager in my office,” KS was explaining even as his voice was drowned with peals of laughter from men and looks of derision from women.
KS with a bewildered face looked at Lalitha. He knew explaining there would only invite contempt. There was utter disbelief and deep hurt in her face. Covering it with her hands unable to bear the shame, she ran out of the hall. Silence fell in the hall. The hostess followed by KS ran behind her. She wrenched herself away from KS when he tried to put his arm around her. They left the party with Lalitha sobbing and the children confused.The party was a big flop by one indiscretion of KS putting someone else’s gift in his pocket without checking and that too of one with the same initials 
The moral is if you have to buy a gift for your wife, buy it yourself; never carry someone else’s gift.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Sunita's compassion

Sunita madam was taking her class. She saw Sumitra from the corner of her eyes sitting morose in one of the rear benches and frequently wiping her eyes. She knew the girl well and was also aware that the young thing had lost her mother and her father was an alcoholic. He had married again but the step-mother was not kindly disposed to the poor girl. The thought sat heavy on her mind. She went through the lessons hurriedly and was relieved when the bell rang announcing lunch time. She called the young girl of thirteen near her.
“Sumitra, I have been observing you during the class and you were crying. Stop it and cheer up. Tomorrow is the annual day when prizes would be distributed by the chief guest. You have been an outstanding student topping the school in every examination and extracurricular activities. You are being given a special medal and there will be a special mention by the Principal about you. You must be happy. Tell me what is troubling you?”
“M’am, you know all the prize winning students have been asked to bring their parents for tomorrow’s function. They are required to be on the dais along with the student while receiving the prize. You know the situation in my house. Dad will not be in a fit condition in the evenings to come to school. My mom has also refused to come. There is a fight daily in the house and yesterday it was the worst.”
Sumitra remembered how she sat crouched in fear in a corner listening to the noise from the hall. It was his drunken dad mouthing profanities and her step- mother sobbing. There were the noises of glasses, the bottle-opener dropping down followed by loud swears, beatings and finally slamming of the door. She never went down when her dad and mom were together. He had begun drinking ever since Sumitra’s mom died, three years back. He was a loving dad but never demonstrated his affection even when her mom was alive. It was only her mom who was her best friend in whom she could confide anything and everything. Her step-mother Savitri was also very affectionate to her initially. It was all the mistake of her dad which turned the affection to dislike. He would taunt her needlessly telling her he married her not for her beauty but only to take care of the motherless girl and in the process, he unknowingly drove a wedge between them.
The school was in all festoons and the music blared through loudspeakers. The lawn was filled with students, parents and teachers. In a corner, snacks and tea were being served. Groups of people were seen standing along with their children talking animatedly, some with teachers and others amongst themselves. Sunita madam was looking for Sumitra and smiled to herself when she saw her in the corner where tea was served helping the guests with spoons, sugar and paper-napkins.
An announcement was made requesting the guests to sit down in their seats and the prize-winning students to assemble by the side of the dais with their parents. Sunita went near Sumitra who was standing at the rear with a glum face, and said “Look here, it is not your fault that your dad and mom could not be here. Cheer up. I am there for you. Wipe the tears off your face, my darling girl.” She moved away as the proceedings began with a prayer song.
After the welcome, the prize distribution started. As the name of each student was announced by the Vice-Principal Sunita madam, the student along with parents came up the dais to receive the prize from the hands of the chief guest. There was an endless stream of prize-winners coming up the rostrum with beaming smile, with their parents in tow.
Finally, Sumitra’s name was read out with the special mention that she was declared the best-student among all the classes not only in academic performance, but also in all extracurricular activities. When the chief guest stood up with a medal, he saw the girl coming alone towards him.
He remarked “Where are your parents? Don’t they know this is a red-letter day for their child?” There was a murmur amongst the audience and some muffled jeering remarks. Sunita madam walked towards the Sumitra and stood behind her. She loudly announced that her parents were not in a position to attend. Turning to the chief guest she said “You can deem her as my adopted daughter.”
 When the chief guest saw her with a puzzled look, the Principal was seen walking towards them telling “Sir, you may consider me as her god-father. She has made us all proud by her achievements and good behaviour. I may add she is a role-model for all the other students.”
Sunita madam was seen wiping her tears even as she clasped Sumitra tightly. The chief-guest pinning the gold medal on her said loudly “Pardon me Sumitra, I didn’t know the circumstances of your parents not being here. I am so happy to hear the praise heaped on you by your teacher and the Principal. I pray to the Almighty for your success and happiness in life. Do remember that you are doubly fortunate in getting such a teacher and Principal.”
The entire crowd was surprised when they saw Sumitra falling full length at the feet of Sunita madam and the Principal. The audience rose as one man and gave a standing ovation amidst joyful cries of “Sumitra, Sumitra” 

Let us raise a toast on this Woman's day  to teachers like Sunita madam who are hard to come by and who serve with such compassion and empathy, helping the hapless children realize their self-worth and esteem.