Sunday, September 30, 2018

A faux pas

It was the corner office in the tenth floor of tall building overlooking the sea. The view was great, the spacious room was cool and yet Ratna Kumar (known as RK in short) was seen wiping his face with his kerchief. Today was his wife Sumitra’s birthday and he had booked a table for the evening at a posh restaurant. He was yet to buy her a gift and wished to leave office sharp at 6pm after this meeting. As Marketing Director of a big company, he was concerned at the dipping sales graph in one particular segment. Seated deferentially before him was one of his senior executives Rakesh Khurana (another RK) who was in charge of that particular area.
“Rakesh, how are your wife and children at Delhi? You were mentioning a couple of months back that your father-in-law had sustained back injury due to a fall. How is he? When are you bringing your family to this place? I know she is working in a Kendriya vidyalaya and trying for a transfer,” enquired RK.
“He is better, sir, but uses a walker. My family may be required to stay for a year more there. I am managing somehow.
“Good, Rakesh, I called you to discuss an important matter. The sales in your segment is very poor in comparison to others. Do not say the demand is low. All the others are doing well. The other day MD was specifically mentioning about your area. I told him that you are very hardworking and a very good material for higher responsibilities needing no supervision and that I would talk to you about the low sales.”
“Thanks, Sir, I will do my best in this quarter and show you much better results.”
“Good, leave no stone unturned to make up for the lost ground. This is in your own interest. Am I clear?
“Yes, Sir,” replied Rakesh as he stood up.
“Sit down. I am not done with you yet. There is a personal matter that I wish to speak to you in confidence. I am not sure how serious and true the information I got is and I am hesitant to broach on it. Nevertheless, since it may impinge on your performance in office and affect the company, I thought it fit to mention in private to you.”
Rakesh looked at his boss RK with apprehension not knowing what he was about to say.
“Of late I have been receiving complaints from market that sales in your area is going down and customers are unhappy for poor service, delayed deliveries and false assurances. I also hear that you are not easily available. The impression is that you have not been showing much interest in your work and frequently leave office early. I have myself received some complaints about your department from a few customers. I wondered what happened to a good executive like you,” said RK and paused.
As Rakesh kept mum with his head bent, he proceeded further. “I made some discreet enquiries and learn that you are close to your secretary Ms. Vimla and you two often go out together much earlier than office hours. It is not my intention to intrude into your private affairs outside office. They are entirely your own and are of no interest to me., But I am concerned at the poor outcome in your work as a result of this liaison that has affected the company. I am transferring that lady to a branch in the city,” he said.
Rakesh was seen uneasy and heavily perspiring. Rakesh tried to take his kerchief but pulled out from his coat inadvertently a small red coloured packet. He kept it on the table and took out the kerchief. RK took the packet in his hand and saw from the cover it was GUCCI perfume for women. There was a look of consternation in RK’s face and guilt in Rakesh’s when he mumbled sorry.
RK then grimly reminded Rakesh about his dear wife and children at Delhi and that his act of betrayal is being talked about in the office behind his back. He also reminded that ethics of the office would not permit such liaison between employees. If it did not stop, he would be compelled to take extreme steps, he warned.
Rakesh highly in remorse promised that he would mend his ways from that very moment and welcomed a new secretary in place of Vimla for him. He left the red packet on the table when leaving the room refusing to take it with him lest it tempted him.
 It was already 5.45pm and RK remembered his wife Sumitra would be waitingat the restaurant for birthday dinner. He had to hurry as the traffic was heavy around that time. He saw on the table the packet of perfume bottle and it struck him it would be an ideal gift for her. He felt no qualms in taking it as he can always reimburse the cost to Rakesh later.  He slipped the bottle that was lying on the table inside his coat pocket without even opening it as he hurriedly left.
When he reached restaurant at 6.05pm, he saw Sumitra already seated at the corner table. Mumbling sorry for being held up by traffic, he gave her a small hug and sat opposite to her in relaxed manner. Improvising Shakespeare, he said “Age cannot wither you, nor custom stale your infinite variety” and shook her hands warmly saying Happy Birthday. Sumitra watched him with amused smile, as he took out from his pocket with a flourish the red coloured packet.
Sumitra happily took the packet from him and noticed the words GUCCI written on the red cover to her great joy. RK was pleased to see the radiant face of his wife as she opened the red cover of the packet. A small piece of paper fell down to the bewilderment of RK. She curiously started reading what love message her husband had written. “To my sweetheart Vimla, with everlasting love, RK”
RK was shocked to see Sumitra abruptly and angrily getting up. Pushing the bottle towards him she cursed him, “You two timer, you have the cheek to gift me the perfume bottle you bought for your lover. Fie on you. You will go to hell. Do not ever make an attempt to contact me.” She stomped  out crying without waiting for the dinner with others in the restaurant turning their perplexed faces at them.
Dazed at the turn of events and not knowing what made her angry, he bent and took the chit to see what Rakesh had written. He sank on his chair as if hit by a sledge hammer ruing for his grievous mistake of using someone’s gift without checking fully. He knew it would take a very long time for him to explain the faux pas and pacify her.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A tryst with Tampa uncle

Narmada exploded in anger when she saw one day the following comment in her blog from someone under the name ‘Bard from Tampa’ picking several flaws in her poem.
“Writing poetry is not everyone’s cup of tea. If you still choose to write to a specific form of poem, adhere to the rules strictly. If you are not skilled in writing to form, switch over to free verse. Rhyme is desirable but should not be contrived spoiling the appeal. You do not have to throw a dictionary at the reader. Avoid alliteration like a plague. When I read your poem aloud, I felt like I was munching Jal muri with grains of sand replete. Good luck next time.”
Narmada felt the comment was very harsh and unfair. She wrote back contesting some of the points made and wished the critic were gentle in his words and encouraging in nature. He promptly apologized and admitted that he was in a cussed mood when he read the poem and that he regretted later. He had requested her to continue writing more poems in different forms. Thus started a regular exchange of mails initially and eventually ended in chat regularly.
While Narmada’s profile was known to him from her blog, she had no inkling about him except that he was in Tampa, US and perhaps elderly as he wanted her to address him as Tampa uncle. But she found his mails and chats very interesting, jovial and educative too. Being an extrovert, she gradually was drawn into discussing her likes and dislikes and even her personal problems in office and home.
Narmada, a young thing in her late twenties was working in a renowned software company after her engineering degree. A versatile woman she had varied interests.  She had a blog of her own where she regularly posted her poems, reviews of books she had read and films she saw besides her thoughts on the happenings. An extrovert she was friendly by nature and had innumerable friends.
During one of the chats, Tampa uncle asked her, “Do you like Carnatic music?”
“I play Carnatic music on violin at a reasonable level though I do it only to please my mother. Frankly I have no fancy for this type of music. But I am fond of Hindi film and pop music. My mom says I have a sweet voice and would make a name if I chose to enter that line. But I have no such interest,” she said.
“Who are your favourites in music? I have also seen in your profile that you are a movie buff. Whom do you like to watch?”
“Have you heard of Arijit Singh and Papon? Among the females, I like Shreya Ghosal and Sunithi. There are countless others coming up. Ranbir and Ranvir take the top positions in my list with Alia Bhatt and of course Deepika in my female list. I must admit I had a crush on Maddy but he has become obese these days. How about you?”
“I am fond of Carnatic music in any form and drawn to good music of other genres too. My problem is lack of time. I have no favourites. I like them all. I do not go to Hindi films much.”
What she liked about Tampa uncle was he seemed a perfect gentleman, vibing well with her youthful tastes and giving proper advice when sought for without seeming to be inquisitive. She grew to like him much for his gentle disposition and had even sent her resume to him.
Her mom was pressing her to get married but she was not keen about it. She desired to go to US for a couple of years. But her father had retired from service with just adequate pension and she had a younger sister in college. Narmada’s earnings were a great support to the family. But that did not deter her parents from advertising for a suitable groom and spreading word among relatives and friends for a prospective match. She could do little to stop them except whine to her Tampa uncle   about her plight and how unrelenting her parents were. She told him of her desire to visit US for two years on project and not marry immediately. To her dismay, he advised her to go along with her parents as they knew what is good for her.
It was then Tampa uncle asked her what were her favourite food. When she said she loved Italian pastas and Mexican and Chinese food instead of the drab South Indian fare, he gently advised in his avuncular manner to learn cooking of South and North Indian cuisine. He added that one cannot eat everyday Italian, Chinese or Mexican food.
 In a couple of months, her parents found a highly qualified professional from US through some friend. The young man was based in New York and was expected the next month. When Narmada informed Tampa uncle about the developments, he congratulated her and expressed his happiness for her. He told her that he has a plan to visit India and if the date of wedding matched with his visit he hoped to be present for her wedding. Narmada was elated at the prospect of meeting her good friend and mentor.
On the appointed day the young man Vasudevan came along with his parents to Narmada’s place for meeting her. He looked tall, handsome and a bit dusky with curly hair. Narmada too was an ideal match for him. Needless to say, it was a case of love at first sight. After the pleasantries, they went to a separate room to talk and know each other better.
Vasudevan broke the silence telling her that he had no questions to ask her and that he liked her very much. He asked Narmada to seek answers for any questions she had in mind. She smiled coyly and said she too had nothing to ask him. Vasudevan smiled at her and said he had one stipulation to make before proceeding further bringing jitters to Narmada. Being qualified he wanted her to work in US as additional income would be welcome.That is no big deal,she thought. He paused for some time before adding that she agree to his stipulation that she  remit a portion of her earnings to her parents each month.
 She was flabbergasted for a few minutes rendering her speechless and wondering how he read her mind. She involuntarily folded her hands doing a Namaste and bending to touch his feet. He lifted her and said he was fond of a typical Tamilian food though he liked very much pastas and had a weakness for Mexican enchiladas and cheese quesadillas. When a thrilled Narmada asked him about Carnatic music, he confessed his partiality towards Hindi songs by Arijit Singh and Shreya. He liked Chitras songs too.He was not sure he liked Maddy.
A doubt crossed her mind and she asked him whether he knew any elderly gentleman in Tampa. Vasudevan could  contain his laughter no more and asked her “Are you talking of Tampa uncle and his famous  girlfriend in Chennai?” 
She now knew the whole game and started hitting him fondly with both hands on his chest amidst shrieks of joy. The perplexed parents rushed in to see the blushing young couple holding their hands in laughter.

Friday, September 21, 2018

A new beginning

It was a lower middle class apartment complex built by government with thin cracks on the faded walls and with plants sprouting from the crevices. Ramaswamy Iyengar had bought this flat about twenty years back after selling his tiny share of land in the native village. Iyengar has been happily living in this comfortably situated and well connected place. Another reason for his happiness was that Kesavan Nambiar, his colleague and close friend of several years, is his neighbor in the adjacent flat.
A retired government servant Iyengar was getting a small pension. He had a son and a daughter born late in life. Govind his son had finished his MCA and joined a reputed IT company. Being bright, he was chosen by the company for long term work in US four years back. Although of marriageable age, Iyengar was waiting to finalize first his daughter Veda’s marriage. Veda after her M. Com joined a private bank earning a good salary. He was frantically searching for a suitable match for her. Traditional and conservative, always clad in Dhoti in conventional manner, he sported his caste mark prominently on his forehead and spent long hours mornings and evenings at the local Kodandaramar temple assisting in its administration.
Nambiar’s only daughter Padmini, a close friend of Veda and of same age, was an extremely good looking and tall girl. She had learnt multimedia and web designing at advanced level and was working with a big publishing company. Nambiar’s financial position was not good and the family lived mainly on the income of Padmini. Though Nambiars often claimed that his search for a good match for his daughter has not been fruitful, Iyengar confided to his wife now and then his suspicion that enough efforts were not put by them possibly due to their dependence on Padmini. The lady agreed with him lamenting at the plight of Padmini and blaming her destiny.
It was then one fine morning a rich Kerala business man with his wife and son approached Nambiars wanting Padmini’s hand for their only son. It seems they said their son was struck by the girl’s beauty when he went to the bank on some business and that they were not particular about the status or the wealth of the girl’s parents. They assured that they would take care of all the marriage expenses including jewelry, clothes, marriage hall and food. The young man looked decent and handsome. It seemed that he was assisting his father in the lucrative family business. Padmini’s parents were flabbergasted at this godsend development and readily agreed after checking with Padmini. The marriage soon over, Padmini left for her husband’s place in the same city. Nambiar shared with Iyengar under strict confidentiality that a tidy amount was given to Nambiar during the wedding as a token of gratitude by groom’s family.
 Initially for a couple of months Padmini visited her parents frequently but was not seen thereafter. It appeared that her in-laws were not letting her visit her parents and also forced her to quit her job. She was strictly told not to contact her parents. Nambiars were very much shaken and frequently shared their grief with Iyengar couple.
After three or four months, Iyengar was surprised to see Nambiar at the sanctum one morning from his office space in the temple. The latter rarely visited the temple. When Iyengar found him standing before the Presiding deity praying for long, he went near him and found his eyes closed and tears trickling down his cheeks. He stood by his side quietly waiting for him to finish.
 When he opened his eyes, Iyengar put his hands on his shoulder and asked him,” Kesava, are you alright?”
Nambiar tried to be normal and said,” Yes, I am quite fine physically.”
“I did not mean physically. You seem to be mentally tormented with some problem. I have never seen you in tears in all these years as you are a strong personality. If it is not very confidential, you can share with me. It will lighten your burden.”
Nambiar hastily wiped his eyes and said “Ramaswamy, we have been deceived. Padmini’s life is totally ruined,” and started sobbing even before completing the sentence
“Are they ill treating her because she did not bring adequate jewelry or dowry?”
“No, the matter is much more serious,” and he kept quiet without telling what the problem was.
 It took a while for Iyengar to ferret out the information that the marriage has not been consummated and that the young man was unfit for married life. It appeared that it was beyond any medical remedy.
Iyengar was shaken initially and after some deliberation said, “Kesava, there is no point in her staying there. You must bring her back immediately to your home. She is a major and can come out on her own volition. As a matter of caution, I will accompany you along with a lawyer friend of mine. He can put fear in their minds, if there is a need. Can we go in the next hour?”
When Nambiar agreed, Iyengar told him, “We will carefully think of a solution later after talking to Padmini. Whatever be the solution, staying at their place is no more acceptable.”
By afternoon, the presence of lawyer friend enabled easy release of Padmini from that hell and she was safely back at the apartment. With Veda providing company, the smile returned to Padmini’s face.
 Two days later after dinner Iyengar broached the subject to his wife. Veda was also present. His wife also sympathized with Padmini and wondered what could be done. Divorce is inevitable but what next? The fate is cruel in some cases,” she added.
 Iyengar told his wife “I have thought of a plan and wanted to know your views before expressing it to Padmini and her parents. Firstly, I am going to ask Padmini to get a divorce. This can be obtained within a short time, my lawyer friend tells me. Secondly, Govind may be willing to marry her as they know each other well. She is a good match for him. I am not going to see horoscope or bothered by any tradition or opinions. I have almost decided and just need your approval.”
Before her mom spoke out, Veda intervened and turning to her dad said exuberantly,” Appa, you are cute and an ideal father I am proud of. I can now share a secret. Though Govind and Padmini have not openly uttered, I think they are very fond of each other. How nice to have her as part of our family. Appa, please talk to Govind now itself,”
“Let me hear your mom too,” said Iyengar.
” Padmini is no doubt a very good girl. Nevertheless, I would prefer Veda’s marriage to be finalized first.”
On hearing this, Veda exploded “Do you think my marriage would be affected. I don’t care. I will find someone for me. But Govind should give a new life to Padmini immediately. It has nothing to do with my wedding.” Her mom remained silent.
Iyengar softly said, “I have already spoken to Govind. Do you know what that wily fellow said? He tells me ‘Appa, have I ever said no to you ?’”
In six months Padmini was happily married to Govind after due formalities. Veda too got a good match. 
When Iyengar went to the temple after a fortnight to resume his honorary duty, he was slightly apprehensive of how the orthodox and conservative management would react, He was pleasantly surprised to see the Trustee of the temple warmly welcoming him with extended hands and congratulating him for his  gesture. 
Kesavan Nambiar who rarely visited the temple earlier  came these days daily. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Lofty spirit in a frail frame

We live in a small town, rather an overgrown village, about thirty kilometers away from a big city. Ours is not a modern house but an old one short in width but very long one with a porch at the entrance and a large vacant ground at the backyard. It was built during my husband’s grandfather’s time. We chose to live in this place since recently as my husband had large areas of land under cultivation here and in the adjacent villages. A lawyer by profession, my husband is not practicing much these days except to help old clients. My two sons who are in the city visit us with families during weekends off and on.
One summer night past 9 P.M when I was watching TV, I heard someone calling ’Amma’. I found an old man of about seventy five, frail and small built and certainly not looking well off from his tattered shirt and much worn out cheap chappals but had a smiling face belying his indigent circumstances. 
With a soft and pleasant voice, he said “Sorry to trouble you at this late hour. I came to this place to return some amount I had taken as a loan to someone. I wished to hand over the money personally to him. That person  came home only at 9 pm. The last bus to my place had left at 8-30 pm and the first bus is only in the early morning. I do not know anyone else here. Would you kindly allow me to sleep on the  thinnai (raised platform) in the porch for the night. My relations with that person is a bit strained and there is no question of my seeking his help.”
As my husband had not returned from the city and was expected to stay overnight with my son, I hesitated for a moment. My six-year-old granddaughter Meera who had come to stay with me for the weekend said” Grand ma, please allow this thatha(grandfather) to sleep in the porch. Where else can he sleep in the night? He also looks tired and hungry.” This clinched the issue.
I gave him a mat, a pillow and a sheet to cover as mosquitoes are a menace here. Declining to have food, he accepted a glass of buttermilk when I insisted. I could hear his talking to Meera and her peals of laughter now and then. I could see a jovial personality within this frail man depressed possibly by financial worries. When I came out after some time to take my granddaughter inside, I asked him, “Do you have children?”
“Yes, I have a married son with children. He is working in Bangalore. My daughter in law is also employed in the government,” he said.
“Oh, oh, are you then living alone here?”
“It is a different story. Yes, my wife and myself are living here.Unfortunately, while boarding the bus, she fell down some years ago and ever since is unable to walk. She needs help even to take her to bathroom. Luckily one lady in the adjacent flat is very friendly and helpful whenever I go outside. After this accident my son and his wife have become distant and aloof. He used to send some money earlier before the accident whenever I asked. After the accident, I have stopped asking. I am getting some pension that is just adequate for us. I am thankful to god for keeping me physically fit and healthy to take care of my wife and manage my affairs without imposing on others,”
A thought crossed my mind. Financially not sound, advanced in age, a crippled wife, denied the affection and care of his only son in the twilight years, he was not beaten down but yet he counted his blessings instead of crying about his disappointments. He went up in my esteem by several notches. I wished him good night and went inside with my granddaughter Meera.
When I got up in the morning and went out to the porch with a cup of hot coffee, I found he had left. The mat and the sheet were neatly folded and kept over the pillow. When I lifted them to carry inside, I found a small paper neatly folded and on opening a fifty-rupee note fell down. He had scribbled in pencil “To dear Meera, with love, Thatha.”
What a magnanimous man, I thought even as my eyes became moist. It set me thinking that  bigheartedness is not necessarily the preserve of the wealthy and that a lofty spirit can exist even with people in poor circumstances. I could not stop the tears flowing from my eyes even as his smiling face in slight frame lingered in my mind.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Teacher's recompense

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