Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The world is not bereft of good people

Varadapuram is a nondescript railway station in a Southern state serving a few villages around it. It had no distinctive features except for a tiled room for the station master and a small waiting hall adjacent to the room with its three sides open. A few trees aligned along the fence provided shade to the platform during hot summer and a sanctuary to the unattended cattle, goats and stray mongrels that roamed on the platform unhindered. Saravanan who was in charge of the station performed different roles like issuing tickets to the passengers and collecting tickets from those who alight at the station besides receiving the trains with green and red flags in his hand. The station could boast of only one track abutting the platform. Only two passenger trains stopped at the station either way in a day. Arumugam, an aged man who walked with a limp, had his daily job of ringing the bell to announce the arrival of incoming train, keeping the premises reasonably clean and doing occasionally the duty of a porter when there was a need.

One train was scheduled to arrive at 11.45 am daily. It was 11.30 am already on a particular day. He saw a woman entering the station with a baby of two years on her hip, a big bag on her other shoulder and a box in hand along with a girl of five years and a boy of seven years holding the girl’s hand. The woman was shouting at the girl who squatted on the floor refusing to enter the platform. As the boy dragged her inside, the girl’s wail grew louder. Her petulant ways went on for more than ten minutes to the chagrin of the woman. To her distress, Arumugam started ringing the bell as the incoming train was sighted at the outer point. The train stops for just a minute or two at the station. The station master Saravanan had already come out to the platform with the flags tucked under his arms.

Arumugam warned the woman that she must hurry as the train would not wait for long. But the little girl now lay flat on the floor swaying her legs and arms rendering the boy ineffective. The woman looked at Arumugam with folded hands as if seeking his help. Realizing the sad plight of the woman and the risk of her missing the train, he in turn looked at the station master with pleading eyes. Noticing the slight nod of his head, Arumugam rushed towards her with the four wheeled trolley used normally to carry gunny bags of crop for loading in the trains.

He snatched the box from her hand and the bag from her shoulder to put them on the trolley even as he shouted at her, “Don’t you have any sense of time? Why do you come so late to the station? Lift the grouchy girl bodily and sit of the trolley holding her tight,” even as the boy jumped with joy on the trolley unasked. Arumugam dragged the trolley towards the coaches even as the train slowed down to stop at the station. After a slight scramble to find the right coach, he hustled the woman and her children with the baggage into one even as the train started moving with a whistle.

The unknown woman with grateful tears from her eyes bent her head low in deference at her benefactor even as she watched the receding figure of Arumugam wave his hand with satisfaction and a smile on his face.

In less than 15 minutes, a few men and women came rushing to the station shouting,” Where is the woman? A woman with a boy and two girls? Have they by any chance left by train?”

“What is the commotion about? Tell me slowly in detail,” asked Arumugam.

One villager came forward and replied, “That wicked woman has kidnapped two girls and a boy. Have you seen her boarding the train with the children?”

“Yes, the woman took the train. Whose children, are they? Where is the father?”

They pulled another man from the crowd and said, “He is the father,” and nudged him to speak. But the man who looked drowsy was silent for a while and when prodded again blabbered incomprehensibly.

An old woman from the fringe volunteered to say, “Ignore these men>That prattling man is the father and the woman is the hapless mother of the three children. Not a day passed without this wicked man beating her blue for no reason and unable to bear the agony anymore, she wisely took her children away to her parent’s place. These men are his heartless buddies at the arrack shop. I rushed with them to ensure that no harm came to that unfortunate but good woman from these drunks if they found her. Lucky that she boarded the train with the children.”

When the men with raised hands threatened the old woman with “You dirty hag, we will teach you a lesson fittingly when we reach the village. How dare you complain about us?  Soon your hut will burn and you will be rendered homeless. How dare you follow us?”

The station master Saravanan in his uniform who was listening to the conversation warned them in a stern voice,” I have heard every word you people said. Beware of the consequences if you cause any trouble to anyone and now quietly disperse from the government property at once. Do remember that I will not be quiet if some harm comes to the old woman”

Even as the men turned to trudge back silently, the brave old women bent with folded arms and said, “Luckily the world is not yet bereft of good people.”


Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Living gods are still around


Diwali was on the next day. There were festoons and sparkling serial lights everywhere in the bazaar. The sales were brisk with shops awash with goods in glittering colours and designs on the shelves and platforms and with an overflowing crowd of people eager to buy.

 I had nothing in particular to buy but came to the big departmental store to while away my time watching people buy things crazily, maybe on borrowed money. I saw a woman in her early forties, with a small boy and a girl slightly older in tow in the store watching the shelves from a distance. From her appearance and ordinary dress, I could surmise she was not in good circumstances. The young boy was tugging her at every shelf and pointing out some item or the other he desired. She  dragged him away gently but firmly. The girl was quieter and was seen comforting the boy.

I saw them moving towards the discount counter offering, long held but unsold, dresses at dirt cheap prices. She selected after a long time two dresses one each for her kids and moved towards the sweet stall. The boy wanted many delicacies but when his mom bought half a kg of the cheapest sweet, he started crying loudly. She took care to make a detour to the gate by avoiding the fireworks and crackers section.

As they were nearing the entrance, someone collided against the girl who was holding the sweets packet. The box opened and all the contents fell down on the floor. When the girl quickly bent to pick the sweets, the security dissuaded her saying it was a very dirty place with so many people walking in and out. The lady’s face was grim as tears trickled from the eyes of the girl. The boy started pleading that they go back to buy again. But the lady dragged them away outside.

I could not forget the faces of the crying boy, the silent girl with guilt writ large and the sad woman. I wondered why God kept some in perpetual want while some in needless plenty. It made my heart heavy and I lost the mood to linger anymore in the shopping centre. I had no money in my pocket then to give. But I collected her address saying that I would come soon with some sweets and crackers. A man next to the security, who was listening to the conversation, nodded his head at me with a smile.

An hour or so later, I went to the one room tiled tenement. I saw a white van of the store with its name on it on the road outside. The room was not bright with a dim light. There was a man in a driver's white uniform standing with two large baskets in his hand.

” These baskets are for you and your children. My boss, the owner of the shop, every year on Diwali eve gives gifts like these to some unknown people. He saw you and your children at the entrance of the departmental store.  Please have no worry as he is a very decent and good man,“ the driver said.

The boy jumped with joy and the girl smiled. The woman after some hesitation accepted the baskets to find new and good dresses for all, plenty of sweets of different varieties, fruits and crackers for the kids. There was a cover addressed “To my sister, Happy Diwali” with 1000 Rupees inside. 

The driver smiled at her and said “Yes, this is the way my boss celebrates Diwali each year bringing cheer and smile to some unknown needy family. He is my living god”

“Mine too,” I said as I handed over the two packets and added “Here is my small bonus gift for the girl who dropped the sweets and the boy who missed to see the crackers section.” 

The joy and the smile on their faces, I felt, would bring me greater cheer and happiness than what  the festivities could offer

(Do not wait for extraordinary circumstances to do good;;try to use ordinary situations)

Friday, November 4, 2022

The ‘crazy’ woman under the temple car


It was a town known for its Krishna temple going by another name of the lord. The much renowned temple and its large tank drew devotees all through the year. There were a number of small shops on the front side of the temple selling different things.

This story is not about the temple or the lord housed in its precincts but about a ‘crazy’ woman in her 60’s clad in a faded frock who lived under the temple car(chariot) for years. No one knew exactly how she came to live under the temple car or where she hailed from. She was short, olive-skinned with a flat nose and slanted eyes. Possibly she hailed from some Eastern country but people assumed it was Burma.

The young kids must have troubled her in the initial stages by making faces, throwing stones or crowding around her that must have made her cross and ill-tempered. This grouchy temperament must have fetched her the name ‘crazy’. She was otherwise harmless, good-natured and kept away from others. There were unfounded stories about her, that she bathed in the temple tank daily in the middle of the night and that she stood with folded arms at the temple gate looking towards the sanctum sanctorum after the bath. But it was a fact that one Venkatesan, a kindly shop-keeper whose shop was close to the temple car gave her the left-over food after his lunch.  A few of the many pilgrims who came to the temple threw fruits, biscuits, water bottles and coins before her.

Be that as it may, there was an aged resident in one of the houses adjacent to the temple and close to the tank. He was living alone and having his food daily from a hotel adjacent to his house. A quiet man, who wore his dhoti cross-legged in traditional manner and sported the namam prominently on his face, was known for his daily regimen of visiting the temple twice a day and for his religious pursuits. He must have been a man of means as he donated liberally to the temple causes like feeding the poor during festival days. He never mingled much with others.

It was one early morning that some passer-by found his door ajar with a blood-soaked towel lying near the front door. His shouts gathered a few people and a policeman who were standing at the front of the temple. The policeman warned the people from entering the house lest they disturb the evidence and gingerly went inside alone. The body of the old man was found in the front room adjacent to the main door. He had been hit several times by a wooden log from behind with no evidence of a fight, suggesting that the visitor was a known acquaintance.

Enquiries by the police started after a case was registered for homicide. There were no clues left behind except the blood-soaked wooden log. The police dog pursued the trail of the accused only up to the bottom step of the tank. Two months passed by without any progress in the case. It was one hot mid-day, when the policeman in mufti who kept a vigil on the house from temple side stepped into Venkatesan’s shop adjacent to the temple car to sit under a fan and have a glass of cool water. After the initial pleasantries, the conversation led to the murder case that was at a dead end.

The policeman expressed surprise that no one from the shops or the people who were present at the temple's large mandap(portico) had seen on that fateful day anyone entering the house that was clearly visible. He wondered how the case can be resolved unless someone gave a lead.

The conversation led to the crazy woman under the temple car. “Do you think the old woman can throw some light as I have heard that she remains awake and takes bath in the​​ middle of night in the tank,” asked the policeman.

“It is all hearsay about her remaining awake and praying to god at midnight after bath. No one ever talked to her to find out whether she is cogent and normal. I do not think anything useful will come out of her,” replied Venkatesan and added as an afterthought,” People call her crazy for years and I doubt whether her testimony would hold any good.” The policeman did not pursue the conversation thereafter.

Venkatesan surprised the woman by taking the food himself that afternoon instead of his assistant who usually did, He dissuaded her who tried to stand up and sat on a stone by her side. “I think you know our language as you have been here for many years. You must have known that the aged man who was living adjacent to the hotel had been killed. Do you remember him?”

“Are you referring to this old man?” she replied by putting her finger on her forehead and showing the namam shape.

“Yes, the very same man. Tell me what all you know,” he prompted her.

“Oh, oh, was he the one who was killed? I suspected when many policemen visited his house and he was not seen thereafter. Keep it to yourself and do not tell anyone lest some harm befalls you. I have seen one stout man, who was also tall with a steel bracelet on his right hand and a long mustache hanging on both ends, visited him frequently. He used to come sometimes in a small red car with someone else driving the car. I have seen him accosting the old man when he came out of the temple after his daily visit some days. I have not seen him for some months and do not remember to have seen him that day,” she spoke clearly indicating no craziness as her prefix suggested.

“Did you see anybody else on that fateful day at the house of ​the ​aged man?”

The ‘crazy’ woman looked at Venkatesan for long without saying anything which prompted Venkatesan to ask again, “You have not answered my question. Did you see anyone else?”

“I do not remember,” she replied. This time Venkatesan looked searchingly at her eyes for long before he got up and left.

The vigil by police was intense with constables stationed on all the streets around the temple. A week later they found a tall stout man with the bracelet and drooping mustache peeping at the house from a red Maruti wagon. The police nabbed him and took him to the police station. On enquiry, it was revealed that he was looking after the lands of the aged man in a nearby village for several years and met him whenever he came to the town. This was corroborated by the village authorities. Being an unlettered man, it appeared that he had asked the village authorities to file a complaint with the police about the murder.

Left with no other lead to investigate, the inspector decided to meet the woman under the temple car.

“Do not be afraid. I have come to seek your help. The tall man who came in the red car was in fact supervising the old man’s land at the village and visited him often in that connection. He is in the clear. Think carefully and tell me truthfully whether you saw any other man on that night the aged man was murdered. We cannot let an innocent man’s murder to go unresolved and the perpetrator to go free unpunished.”

The ‘crazy’ woman kept quiet for a long​ time​. Pressed repeatedly, she said, “I am sorry I cannot tell you. You find yourself.”

Further enquiries revealed from other shopkeepers revealed that Venkatesan wanted to expand his store and was persuading the aged man to sell his house or let out the front portion of his house for opening a brass and stainless-steel vessel store and that the aged man was unwilling. This led the police to contact the tall stout man who was supervising the lands and learn that the aged man had mentioned that he was being intimidated by the shopkeeper.

When the inspector again questioned the woman whether she knew about the meetings between the shopkeeper and the aged man, she refused to answer. Warned in a stentorian voice with authority and a threat that she would be taken to police station if she did not reply properly, she buckled under pressure and said, “How can I betray my benefactor who had fed me for years?”.

After some initial resistance, Venkatesan after the usual treatment in police custody confessed to the crime but pleaded in extenuation that he was in a drunken state when he was slapped by the old man.

Though I would not like to injure the felicity of the readers, I am compelled to disclose that there was a brutal attack on the old woman the same night by some unknown assailant but luckily it was not fatal.