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.”