Monday, October 23, 2023

Mother too is a teacher

 “Arun, the food on the plate is getting cold. Why aren’t you eating?” asked Lalita

“I hate this South Indian food that you make daily. I will complain to dad that you are starving me often if you do not make pasta, noodles or North Indian food, “replied the eight-year-old boy.”
“I love to cook different kinds of foods for you, but this cannot be a regular occurrence. Your dad also does not like them much. I cannot make many varieties daily as I have to rush to the office. Be a good boy and eat what has been served,” explained Lalita with great care and concern.
“No, I would rather starve than eat this horrible stuff,” defied the brat.
“Do not try to blackmail me. If you starve for a day, it will not hurt you. If you are not eating, you had better go to your room. I have already explained to you why and if you still have a problem, there is nothing I can do.
“I will tell Dad that you have starved me and thrashed me when I protested.”
“When did I ever beat you? Why are you lying? I have given you a lot of affection, but you still hurt me when you talk like this. Tell your dad what you like, but my conscience is clear,” said Lalita
Ravi lost his first wife when she gave birth to Arun. He struggled to bring up the child despite having the help of his sickly mother. He refused to marry again despite his mother’s pleas. After his mother’s demise, things became worse. He lost opportunities of promotion as he would not go to other places. He confided his problems to his colleague Lalita who always gave him a patient ear. Gradually their meetings grew frequent, and both soon found they were in love. They got married once Lalita expressed her willingness to be a mother to the boy.
Lalita really liked the boy and took care of his needs without any prompting from Ravi. Being disciplined herself, she tried to inculcate the same in the slightly wayward boy making him do things like getting ready for school on time, doing homework without fail, and keeping his things at appointed places in an organized manner. He resisted this and rebelled sometimes. Lalita would not easily let go. But in the matter of his food, she was not really very strict. Every now and then, the boy would demand a pizza, chat, pasta, tacos, or noodles and when refused would threaten her. Often, she would give in more out of affection than fear.
She was expecting daily that Ravi would talk to her about the boy’s complaints when they were alone. But he never spoke about it. He was loving and affectionate to her as ever. She wondered whether he was waiting for her to broach the subject lest she got offended. She could not bear the suspense of his total silence. When they were alone watching TV one day, she gently asked him whether Arun had complained about her.
“Ravi, I think I have been a little strict with Arun on his homework, tidying up his things and getting ready for the school bus. I have also not allowed him to eat often the junk food that he is fond of. He rebels no doubt. I do pamper his taste buds once in a while but not whenever he wants. I wonder whether he spoke to you about this,” she asked softly.
“Good you are disciplining that brat. He is naughty sometimes,” he said
“You haven’t said whether he spoke about my disciplining and refusing to yield to his demands.”
“Frankly he has never spoken a word against you. In fact, he was telling me one day that his teacher was praising him for not failing even once to submit the homework and that the credit went to you. He likes you very much. Why did you ask? Did he ever threaten that he would complain to me?”
“Yes, he always does that. That was why I was a bit concerned” she replied
Suddenly she found herself hugged from behind by tiny hands. She turned to find Arun giggling accompanied by Ravi’s laughter. The boy sat on her lap and said “Amma, I love you more than my dad. He calls me naughty and a brat. When I came to drink water, I heard what you were telling Dad. I am sorry for scaring you with the threats that I would complain to Dad. I found it an easy way to get a Maggie or pasta from you though not as often as I would like. I promise I will not do so again." He added innocently, “Tell me, Amma, is it wrong for a young boy to love pasta, noodles and such?”
“No, not at all provided it is not eaten frequently,” said Lalita even as she hugged the boy smothering him with kisses.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Elementary, my dear Watson

It was already past noon on a hot day and the sultry weather made it unbearably oppressive. Neela found the busy road outside neither noisy from the honking of vehicles nor did she hear the loud voices of hawkers to attract customers. Neela peeped into her mother’s room to see her sleeping soundly on the bed in the cool comfort of the AC. Neela sat quietly on the recliner by the side of the bed. It was a Saturday afternoon with no office work and she closed her eyes wishing to relax for a while. The steady and soft snore from her mother Shyamala made Neela turn to see her face.

It brought to her mind the frequent bickering with her over what her mom perceived as her disinterest in settling down in life. She was highly qualified and had a well-paying job. The fact is she was in no hurry to marry and had also not found a man to her taste. She was already 29. With the demise of Neela’s father two years back, her mom felt responsibility had fallen on her. A month back her mother was pleading with her to allow her at least to find through her contacts someone suitable for her leaving the final decision with Neela. She could not bear the pathetic sight of her sobbing mother beseeching her repeatedly and Neela in a fit of remorse agreed. Ever since the old lady was calm and satisfied that a big hurdle had been crossed even as she spread word among her contacts.

The sound of the doorbell woke Neela up from her reverie and she rushed to the verandah to find a young man standing outside with a packet.

“There is a packet for Ms. Neela, possibly containing a book or two. I would need her signature,” he said holding a form in his hand. He was a tall and sturdy man who looked handsome despite his clumsy beard and drooping moustache. The dark mole on his forehead over the eyebrow was prominent.

“I am Neela. You can give it to me. But, are you in the habit of guessing the contents of the packets you deliver to the customers?” she asked with a mocking smile.

“Here is the form for you to sign. I object to the insinuation that I pry into others' packets. It was as plain as the nose on your face that the packet contained books. You can open and see for yourself,” he replied in feigned anger.

Aghast at the way he spoke to her but impressed with the way he spoke in fluent English; she took the packet after signing the form but did not allow his insolence to go unrefuted. She asked him in an angry tone,” How dare you speak to me like this? Which courier company are you working for? I would like to speak to them. What is your name?”

“Why are you taking offence at a simple guess and making a mountain of a molehill? Anger doesn’t suit you, young lady,” he said with an injured innocence on his face.

Hearing the loud conversation, Shyamala hurried to the verandah and looked at the young man and the red motorbike parked near the gate.

“What is the problem, Neela? Poor man, he has come in the hot sun to deliver a parcel and is perspiring all over,” she asked.

“Amma(mom), he has the audacity to guess the contents of the packet and when I question him, he has the cheek to tell me that anger does not befit my face. I wish to lodge a complaint with his company about his bad manners,” Neela spoke agitatedly.

“Calm down, Neela. I see no great misdemeanour in his guessing the obvious content and telling you about it. He has not opened the packet after all. When you shouted at him undeservedly, he still paid a sort of tribute to your face by saying that anger spoils it,” the old lady said to the chagrin of her daughter and to the surprise of the young man.

 Turning to the young man she remarked,” Your face is familiar though I am unable to place it readily. I think it would be best for you in your profession to speak to a minimum to the point as you are meeting various kinds of people. By the way, you are sweating a lot. Do come inside the verandah and have a cool drink. May I know your good name? Could it be by any chance Sudhanva?”

He gave a surprised look at her but drank the Coke hurriedly. “Thank you, madam, for the kindness and for the cool drink that I badly needed as my throat was parched and dry. I like the positive way you look at things, a rare trait these days” he said.

Turning to Neela. he said before leaving,” I am sorry to have upset you. Please do not spoil my livelihood by complaining to my office I hope you get another packet soon when I can present it with greater civility and manners,”. As he closed the gate and got on to the bike, he smiled at her waving his hand. Leela's face turned slightly red as she watched him speed away on his bike but was confused and curious to note that there were no other parcels on the bike for delivery.

She opened the packet and found to her delight two paperbacks, ‘The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel and Falling in Love Again by Ruskin Bond.’ What a nice choice but who could have sent these so thoughtfully, she wondered.

Later in the day, Shyamala told her, “I have already told you about a young man 32 years old who is coming to meet you tomorrow at 4 PM with his mother. He has a doctorate in Economics from an American University with a diploma in management from Stanford and is in a very good position in the US. They are happy with your profile and like you from the photo I showed them. Please do not go out in the sun but make yourself free for the whole Sunday.”

“Do you have his photo?” Neela asked.

“No, you are going to meet him anyway tomorrow. I wish that both of you warm up to each other and hope this alliance fructifies by the grace of God,” Shyamala said. After a pause, she added, “His mother lives in our locality just two streets away and I have met her in the park many times. It was only two weeks back I broached about my search for a match for you when she volunteered her interest in you for her son,” she explained.

Sharply at 4 pm the next day, a young man with his mother and two other ladies came as promised and were received warmly by Shyamala. Neela was in her room waiting eagerly to be called.

After the pleasantries were over, Neela was called to the drawing room. She entered demurely in a fine silk sari adorned with selective jewellery. When she turned to see the young man, she was taken aback for a moment when she saw the dark mole above his eyebrow and was struck by his similarity with the courier guy she was arguing with the day before. Otherwise, this man was clean-shaven with well-combed hair in trousers and a casual T-shirt of good quality. She could discern a faint smile on his face when he looked at her. He handed her a small box with a flourish making a gratuitous remark that he was neither aware of the content nor could he make a good guess.

Neela looked at him puzzled by his remark bringing to memory the tussle had with the courier guy the previous day. There is something more than what meets the eye, she thought to herself.

His mother broke the intervening silence and asked her son,” Sudhan, have you met her earlier by any chance the way both of you reacted to each other?”

“Let me explain, Amma, in a while. Turning to Shyamala, he asked her “What made you ask me yesterday, whether my name was Sudhanva?”

“I saw the name partially on a red motorbike parked in the portico of your house when I visited your mom with the rest of the name covered by a tarpaulin. I remembered your name is Sudhanva from the conversation I had with your mother. It is one of the thousand names of Lord Vishnu. Hence when I saw the same red bike on which you came to deliver a packet to Neela, I surmised it could be you in disguise trying to have a look at her before the formal meeting. Am I right?” Shyamala explained.

“Smart lady! You are absolutely right” exclaimed Sudhanva to the laughter of others.

He turned to Neela and asked, "What made you look at me with puzzlement?”

“Elementary, my dear Watson, your dark mole on your forehead is a dead giveaway. By the way, I thank you for the two excellent books I was looking to buy,” she remarked as she extended her hand that was clasped with alacrity by Sudhanva.


Tuesday, October 10, 2023

The debt of gratitude

Usually, Delhi airport would be very crowded and some days there would be mayhem causing a lot of inconvenience and delay. Luckily it was not so today and Madhavan could board the plane for Chennai easily. The plane was expected to depart on time. A brief profile of Madhavan would not be amiss here.

Madhavan has been working with the Government of India in New Delhi for decades and residing in a large apartment allotted to him. He had a year for superannuation. After a good education, his two sons and one daughter found jobs abroad in the US, Australia and Germany and settled there. He wished to spend his final years in Chennai where he had spent all his childhood till he completed his education. His wife had no objection as she had her siblings and other relatives in Chennai and other towns nearby. He was on the lookout for a small plot of land to build a modest house and had spread the word among his relatives and a few friends about his requirement. Nothing was materialising as quickly as he had hoped for.

He was bound for Chennai to attend a conference for two days. Having been away except for occasional visits, he was wondering who could help him in locating the land as he had lost touch with the folks he knew.

As his mind was reminiscing about his younger days, his memories took him to his boyhood friend and neighbour Pacha of the same age but short in height. While Madhavan lived in a separate bungalow with his parents, sisters and brothers, Pacha resided in a thatched hut at the rear corner of a vacant plot next to Madhavan’s house, The owner of the vacant plot, it seemed, lived in Singapore or Penang and the residents in the street have not seen him. There was a barbed wire fence separating the house and the land.

Pacha’s father Manoharan, a Tamilian, was a painter by profession, colour-washing and painting houses in the locality with irregular income, especially during monsoon months. His mother Bhuvana was from Andhra and Pacha had two sisters. It was a tough living for them with a meagre income. They were a nice family, non-interfering and helpful when a need arose. Although not on socialising terms, the relationship was neighbourly and cordial.

 Madhavan suspected that his father had the house colour washed every year, more to help Manoharan with some money than real need. His mother too did not lag behind his father and gave without fail daily the leftovers to Bhuvana. Here again, Madhavan felt his mother was consciously cooking more than required for the sake of the poor family. After a few months of use, she also gave the family her saris and his sisters’ clothes. The coconuts, plantains, papayas and mangoes that the trees/plants yielded were shared liberally with them. Madhavan’s father was a lawyer with good practice and was affluent. He got varied gifts from his clients on all festive occasions some of which were again given to them by his mother. Pacha’s family was treated with dignity despite their poor circumstances.

Madhavan lost touch with them after he moved to Delhi but had heard from his mother that Manoharan had fallen one day from scaffolding and broken his legs and was rendered unfit for work. The two girls had discontinued study and took up jobs as caregivers to aged people either immobile or affected by dementia. Pacha who had studied up to class ten undertook odd jobs till he finally attached himself to a politician as his acolyte and assistant. Years passed by and Madhavan’s parents had passed away and their house was sold. Pacha’s family, he came to know, were forcibly removed from the plot years back by some relatives of the owner. Their whereabouts were not known.

When there was an announcement about the fastening of seat belts as the plane was to land soon, Madhavan woke up from the reverie and wondered whether he could ever meet Pacha again.

The next day he was busy the whole day in a conference with state government officials and business honchos that included foreign companies too. It was there he befriended a senior state government official with whom he worked closely during the day. They decided to meet the next day in the official’s room to finalise some pending issues before the report was made. They took a liking for each other and the official insisted on Madhavan having lunch with him the next day.

Things went smoothly the next day and by lunchtime, the pending issues were sorted out for the report to be ready by evening. It was during lunch with the official, that Madhavan mentioned his efforts to find a small plot for his house through the Government Housing Board. The official suggested Madhavan should meet the minister in charge of Housing and Urban Development that afternoon if the minister was free and in office. Madhavan was lucky to get an appointment at 4 PM thanks to the efforts of the official.

When Madhavan was ushered into the large and luxurious room of the minister, he found a fat and short man in a spotless white shirt and dhoti standing to receive him. The face seemed familiar and Madhavan was trying to recollect when the minister exclaimed with a beaming face,” Are you not Madhu who lived in T. Nagar years back.”

“Yes Sir, would you by any chance be connected to one Pacha who lived adjacent to my place?” asked Madhavan deferentially.

“Hey Madhu, how could you fail to recognise me? I am the same Pacha, your good friend. Thanks to the affection and support of my benefactor to whom I attached myself when young as his errand boy, I have risen in the political party and am presently a minister after a long stint as Corporation Councilor, and Chairmanship of several government boards. Nothing of these would have been possible but for the kindness and benevolence of your parents in feeding and educating us when my parents were struggling against poverty. My sisters are married and well-settled in life. I have dedicated my life to working for the betterment of poor and disadvantaged sections as your parents did in a small way. I have not married,” he said.

“I am so fortunate and lucky to see you, Pacha, in a comfortable and high position. I attribute this good turn to your parents who were honest and hard-working and never strayed from a straight path despite the poverty,” Madhu replied.

“Madhu, I am happy you will be coming soon to Chennai and I want your help in guiding me on the several philanthropic activities I am doing. I heard about your search for a plot of land to build a small house. I came to know your children are abroad. It is not safe for elderly people to live alone in separate houses.

Let us not get involved in government lands. I have a well-thought-out suggestion. I have built four apartments next to my house in Raja Annamalai Puram, spacious three-bedroomed apartments, each slightly more than 2,000 square feet in area. I have rented them out and one of them is vacant. I have decided to transfer that apartment to your name if you kindly agree and thus the matter bothering you would get sorted out. What do you say?” asked Pacha.

“A 2000 sqft apartment in RA Puram must be costing a bomb and I cannot afford it. I am looking for a tiny plot, not in a posh locality, to build a small home,” Madhu demurred,

“Who asked you for money, Madhu? Why do I need four apartments beside a house for a single person like me? This is not given to you but is a very small token of boundless gratitude of me and my family to your parents. But for them, we would have all starved. I cannot take a no from you. If you feel embarrassed, you can donate a small portion of the money you intended for land towards the charitable destitute homes that I have built. When it is convenient for you, please visit Chennai with your wife so you can both see the apartment and register the sale deed. That would discharge me from my debt of gratitude to your parents” pleaded Pacha as he hugged him affectionately.

Madhavan was very happy that the power, high position and fame he had acquired from the political field had not sullied Pacha’s noble character and he continued to be an honest and humane person devoted to the cause of the poor. Madhavan was also pleased that he could continue to be with his friend adjacent to his house and assist him in his philanthropic activities.


Tuesday, October 3, 2023


Tirumalai was leading a humdrum life working as an accountant in a private company. With a small salary that was barely enough for his family of wife, two children and an old mother to take care of. The month ends were a struggle to make ends meet. His mother fell sick frequently due to bouts of asthma needing immediate medical attention. The quarterly school fees and the extra expenditure on festive occasions were two things he dreaded most. He was a pious and honest man given to no vices. God-fearing man, he did his daily puja twice in the morning and evening, praying for greater financial comfort.

He remembered one incident often told by his mother in his younger days about how Adi Sankara invoked the blessings of Maha Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, for a poor woman who had nothing to give him as alms except a dry gooseberry fruit and how the Goddess showered gold on listening to his Kanakadhara Stotram. Little wonder, he chanted this sloka daily with devotion but to no effect so far.

When his wife reminded him about the due date within a week for the school fees, he kept quiet. though seething within, with anger and disappointment at the total indifference of Goddess to his intense pleas for improving his financial circumstances. He decided in frustration that day would be the last one for his daily prayer to Goddess if She did not pay heed to his prayers. He arranged things in the puja room mechanically, lighted the lamps and decked the idols with flowers. His mind was not calm but perturbed at his inability to increase his income.

As he sat for the prayer, his wife was busy in the kitchen, the children readying themselves for school and the maid swiping the floor. He commenced his prayers by reciting Kanakadhara Stotram instead of reserving for the end as he did usually and did not say the other prayers. Instead, he looked at the Goddess's picture and complained as if She was standing before him,” I have been praying for years sincerely with sincere hope you would come to my succour as you are known to be compassionate. But there is no sign of your having heard my prayer. You have been indifferent to my struggles. Where else can I go to get my grievance sorted out? I have lost all hope in you and decided to stop asking you anymore if you do not help me here and now,”

He closed his eyes not knowing what else to do. The minutes trickled past with nothing happening. As he got up in disappointment and anger, he smelt the heightened fragrance of incense, the tolling of the bell on its own and the increasing brightness of the oil lamps. A thrill passed through his spine as he looked up at the picture to witness in disbelief a shower of shining gold blocks in the shapes of small cubes, spheres and circular coins on the brass plate with flowers and Tulsi leaves. It stopped within a few seconds leaving a small pile already. His wife, children and the maid were standing outside the puja room patting their cheeks with their palms.

He eyed the plate with greedy eyes and clasped it close to his chest even as he triumphantly looked at his wife and children. But they, overtaken by the suddenness of the miracle, were seen prostrating before the Goddess in gratitude for the immense unexpected blessing. Soon they picked three pieces from the plate to feel the rare gift.

The ungrateful Tirumalai, who was gloating and jumping over the successful outcome of his threat to stop the puja, forgot to fall at the divine mother’s feet. Outraged at his despicable behaviour, his wife admonished him for his lack of grace and gratitude even as she rushed back to the kitchen. The children too withdrew quietly leaving him alone in the silence that ensued.

He sat on the floor and started counting the number of pieces. He left the plate before the Goddess in the puja room and started thinking about what to do with the newly acquired wealth till his wife called him for breakfast. As they were eating, the maid screamed,” Amma please come here at once to the puja room.”

All of them rushed to see the gold pieces on the brass plate had turned black like charcoal. Tirumalai took one and found it light. It broke into two pieces when he applied pressure and left a black line when scratched on the floor. He was crestfallen and hit his head with his hands cursing himself. “It serves me right, the wretch I am, doomed to poverty.”

When his wife looked at her children meaningfully, they drew the three pieces each from their pockets to see them sparkling in golden colour and were seen beaming in joy.