Tuesday, November 13, 2012


It was time for the arrival of the train. The station was crowded. Since a cabinet minister was arriving by that train, a large number of people had assembled at the station to receive him. Then there were the usual crowds of people who had come to receive some and those who had come to send some off. The canteen was swarmed by many of these people and a host of others who appeared to have come to the station only for the purpose of dining in the canteen.

Periasamy had a lot of work to do, a lot more than what both of his hands together could handle. The job of washing dishes appeared never-ending. The plates and cups washed by him were coming back to him in no time after getting stained with food remains. The endless cycle of washing plates only for making them fit to be stained again and thus facilitating their coming back for cleaning, seemed too exasperating.

His hands were getting fatigued by the non-stop repetitive work. He felt that his energy level  was coming down and that the pace of his work was becoming slower, resulting in the heap of dishes to be washed growing in size by the minute. Or was it that the dishes were coming to him at a faster rate than at which he could wash them?

Whenever he moved his hands, there was intense pain. When he forced his hands to lift the plates, the hands threatened to drop the plates down. He had to exercise extreme caution to ensure that his hands didn't carry out their threat.

"Why are you standing there idly? Customers are waiting there and plates are needed immediately. Show some briskness and wash the plates quickly, you lazy.....!"

It was the canteen manager shouting from his seat. The abusive epithet used by him at the end of his address pinched Periasamy a little, though he should have been inured to such language, having heard it used on him so many times. The manager could never help using vituperative language spiced with choice epithets while speaking to him. How else could he put such 'precious' words learnt by him to use?

The abusive expression denigrating his mother used to make him both angry and sad during his initial days in the canteen. But over a period of time, he got used to such insults. But the scars left by those words would get opened every time he heard the words, making him feel the pain every time the words were uttered.

'I am standing idly, says the manager!'

'Who is idling, you stupid man with a blinded vision? Get up from your seat, come here and have a look. A man like you sitting passively, glued to a cushioned chair, doing nothing except for collecting cash from the boarders can have no idea about my work. You have no right to judge me without even bothering to have a close up view of the enormous amount of work I am dishing out.'

Periasamy could only think of such a repartee. He hoped that someday, he would be able to say it aloud.

But the very next moment, he pitied the manager. 'Poor creature! After all, he is also a slave like me. If I do menial jobs wearing a shoddy trouser, earning two hundred rupees a month, he sits at the cash counter clad in a white dhoti and ironed shirt and earns three hundred rupees a month. In a way, both of us are in the same boat, living a life of indigence. Perhaps, he embezzles a little cash now and then. Who knows!'

There was another boy engaged for the cleaning job but he didn't turn up for work that day. Periasamy was consequently overburdened. 'Instead of sympathizing with my plight, the manager calls me idle! What an ungrateful world is this!'

Periasamy had a hard time picking up the plates from the tables, wiping the tables clean, bringing the plates to the washing room, washing them and carrying the washed plates to the kitchen.... And the tables had to be wiped clean every few minutes, as if by waving a magic wand!

'What will be the time now?' he wondered. From where he was standing, he could not view the clock at the station platform. Nor could he be sure whether the clock was working. The darkness inside the station and the artificial lighting that was trying to drive the darkness out, both made it impossible for him to estimate the time.

He came out of the canteen for a while and looked at the clock fixed near the ceiling of the platform. the time was half past eleven. There were a few more minutes for the train to arrive, if it would arrive in time. Once the train arrived and left, the crowd in the canteen would become thinner and he would get some relief.

The touch of cool, fresh air in the platform was refreshing to his body which was totally fatigued by the heavy work done in the stuffy atmosphere inside the canteen. He took in the fresh air deeply and felt somewhat invigorated.

He felt a sharp pain at the back of his neck, which he sensed to have resulted from a blow. Somewhere within his body, a pump was activated which sent a stream of tears to the back of his eyes where they were trapped. He turned back.

It was the Proprietor of the canteen!

Periasamy's body froze momentarily. This was not the first time that he was experiencing the trauma of getting beaten up by the man. The memory of his past experiences of having been a victim of the Proprietor's brutality sent shivers down his spine, caused by the apprehension about what might follow.

The Proprietor held Periasamy by his ear and dragged him towards the manager's seat with a force that made him feel that his ear was going to be torn out of his body. After reaching the manager's seat, the Proprietor delivered a massive punch on Periasamy's jaw and then yelled, "You little devil! When the canteen is overflowing with customers and stained dishes are piling up like a mountain, you have the temerity to take a stroll on the platform with the air of the Station Master supervising the functioning of the station! Perhaps, I shouldn't blame you for this. It is my fault. I am paying you more than what you deserve while also allowing you to eat unlimited food in the canteen whenever you want. Naturally, you can't help eating your way to laziness..."

He raised his arm again intending to deliver one more blow but for some reason stopped short of delivering it. He then turned his attention to the manager. "What are you doing here as the manager? If he wanders away without doing his work, is it not your duty to pull him back after giving him a spank? What are you doing sitting idly at the cash counter? Resting comfortably under the breeze of the fan? I don't know when I am going to be rid of useless idiots like you! Okay. Don't be glued to your seat. Go into the kitchen and check whether there is enough wet flour needed for making idlies..."

The manager tried to say something but thought better of receiving the rebuke silently. He quietly went inside the kitchen, complying with the proprietor's fiat. On his way back from the kitchen, he came to Periasamy and delivered his own package of tirade."You monkey-faced creature! Can you not remain in your work spot even for a few minutes? Driving a herd of sheep will be easier and more rewarding than supervising undisciplined pigs like you.!...."

His offensive torrent continued for some more time and ended as usual with questioning the chastity of Periasamy's mother.

Stomaching everything silently, Periasamy turned his attention to the mountain of stained dishes laid before him.

When Periasamy returned home that night, he felt completely enervated. The physical strain resulting from long and strenuous work coupled with the mental strain caused by the humiliating treatment meted out to him by his manager and the proprietor had drained out all his energy and enthusiasm, making even walking home an arduous task.

When he reached home, Chinnasamy was sitting outside his hut, smoking a cigar.

Chinnasamy was Periasamy's father. Periasamy had sometimes wondered why he was christened Periasamy, meaning 'the Great God', while his father had been christened Chinnasamy, meaning 'the Little God.' When he once asked his father about the significance of this, his father dismissed his question nonchalantly remarking, "What is there in a name? One has to be addressed by some name. That's all."

Periasamy was not satisfied wit this reply. Thinking about this often, he came out with his own explanation for the anamoly. Perhaps his father wanted his son to live his life much better than he himself had been able to and hence gave him this superlative name! However, in course of time, names had lost their significance and had become mere symbols of identification.

Chinnasamy had no regular job. He was engaged as a casual laborer, taking up different kinds of manual work that were available to him at different times. Some days he would earn twenty rupees and some other days he could hardly manage to earn five rupees. And there were days when he had no work and consequently no earnings.

He had three daughters, of whom the eldest was married. Though her husband turned out to be a drunkard, who would dissipate a major part of earnings on drinking and would not only make his wife starve but also ill treat her, Chinnasamy decided not to be bothered about his daughter's plight, rationalizing that his responsibility to his daughter was discharged with his getting her married off.

His second daughter had eloped with someone and Chinnasamy felt relieved of another responsibility!

He was looking for a suitable bridegroom for his third daughter.

Of his two sons, Periasamy, his fourth child, had been working as a cleaner and bringing home a handsome sum of two hundred rupees, in addition to having a free breakfast and lunch at the canteen.

Chinnasamy was striving hard to help his youngest son Muthu to get a job. Once this was done and the marriage of his third daughter was also performed, he could have the satisfaction of discharging his obligations to all his children.

Chinnasamy asked him "So, what's new?"

Since this was not a query but only a greeting not requiring any response, Periasamy went into the hut without saying anything.

Inside the hut, his mother was taking gruel. Seeing her son, she said, "Come on my child. Have some gruel."

Since Periasamy was provided with some food in the canteen, he had been avoiding taking any food at home, considering the limited supply of food available to other members of his family.

He didn't take any food in the canteen that since he had no inclination to eat anything after the treatment he received from his superiors. However, looking at the quantity of gruel available, he decided against curtailing his mother's ration and said, "No Mom. I had something just before leaving the canteen. I am not hungry. You have it "

Periasamy came out and sat near his father. Chinnasamy had just finished smoking his cigar. Therefore he started talking to his son.

"Our Muthu is likely to get a job."

"Where?" asked Periasamy, spontaneously enthused by this unexpected news.

"You know that a new factory has come up in our place, making some paper products. The contractor who had done the construction job for the company has promised to get Muthu a job there. To start with, Muthu will be engaged only as a casual laborer on daily wages but the contractor says that after five or six years, he may be absorbed there on a permanent basis."

"How much will he get?" asked Periasamy curiously. "Around four hundred rupees a month?" He was surprised to discover that his feelings of disgust and dejection have suddenly vanished.

"You are being too greedy!" chided Chinnasamy. "You expect people like us to get such handsome salaries? He will be paid ten rupees a day of which one rupee will go to the factory supervisor as his commission for his services in employing the boy. (We should be thankful to the contractor for not demanding any cut!) If the boy gets work every day as the contractor assures me that he will, he will work for twenty five days a month and will earn two hundred and twenty five rupees a month. Much more than what this lad deserves!"

He didn't know that the boy would be asked to sign a voucher for fifteen rupees, out of which five rupees would be shared by some middlemen including the contractor.

"When is he likely to get the job?" quizzed Periasamy.

"The contractor has asked Muthu to meet the factory manager tomorrow. Muthu may be asked to start working from tomorrow even."

"Thank God. Our hard times will get over shortly. We will be able to afford at least one square meal a day," said Periasamy in an excited tone.

"Yes. I also expect to save some money for your sister's marriage." said his father.

The family had a sleepless night discussing plans for making use of the additional income Muthu was going to bring in!

While returning home from the canteen the next evening, Periasamy was even more depressed than he was the previous evening. He was repeatedly touching his trouser pocket feeling its bulge and reassuring himself that the sum received by him by way of his wages was intact.

His home wore a festive look, with jubilation reigning high. The paper company had given a job to Muthu as a helper on daily wages and he had already completed his first day in the factory! He would be paid at the end of every week. Muthu was overwhelmed by the thought of his earning nine rupees a day.

When Periasamy reached home, Chinnasamy was advising Muthu about the virtues of discipline and frugality. He was virtually dictating a list of 'dos' and 'donts.'  Periasamy  heard some of them, as he entered the house..

Muthu should always carry his lunch of gruel prepared by his mother to his workplace lest he should spend money for buying lunch from his factory canteen or any other place.

He should take extra care to avoid being trapped into habits like smoking and drinking not only because they are harmful to his health but also because they will be a drain on his earnings.

If at all he had to take food outside on some days, he should buy his food from a place that offered the cheapest fare.

In any case, his daily expenditure should not exceed fifty paise on an average.

And so on.

Periasamy was given an enthusiastic welcome. Everyone vied with each other in conveying to him the good news of Muthu's getting a job.

Chinnasamy said, "Periasamy! Do not for a moment feel discouraged that you are earning less than your younger brother. Though your salary of two hundred rupees may be less than the two hundred and twenty five rupees being earned by Muthu, your earnings will be more if the cost of free food you are getting in the canteen is added to your salary."

He appeared to be anxious to assure Periasamy that his financial contribution to the family continued to be the most valuable. He then started recapitulating the plans they had made the previous night.

Periasamy recalled the scene in the canteen that evening. When he was about to leave home, the canteen  proprietor called him to his cabin, paid him the wages accumulated till that day and curtly informed him that his services were being terminated.

Shocked by this unexpected blow, Periasamy prostrated at the feet of the proprietor and cried, begging him to forgive him for his wrong doings, if any.

Even the hard-hearted proprietor was moved a little by Periasamy's pleadings and took the trouble of explaining to him the rationale behind his decision.

Periasamy was not being terminated for any misconduct on his part. It was decided to replace the porcelain plates and cups being used in the canteen with paper plates and cups, since use of paper cups and plates would be more economical on account of saving of cost of washing. The severe water scarcity in that locality was also a factor. Hence the proprietor had decided to dispense with the services of Periasamy and the other cleaner and to employ only a girl for cleaning the tables.

It was the additional piece of information provided by the proprietor that startled him. The paper plates and cups would be supplied by the new paper factory that had come up in their town - the same factory that had given employment to his younger brother!

It appeared strange to him that he had been deprived of his job by the same factory that had given a job to his brother Muthu! He felt thankful to the paper factory for compensating the loss of his job by giving a job to his brother, thereby restoring the economic equation of his family.

Chinnasamy was still expatiating on his plans.

Periasamy was about to intervene and break the news of his losing the job. But on second thoughts, he decided to let his family revel in its dreams for some more time, before he would shatter them with the revelation of the bad news.

Written in the year 1980

Sunday, November 11, 2012

When Scenes Change...

"So you like the room, don't you?" asked the landlady.

Raghu was about to say 'yes,' almost automatically but allowed second thoughts to take over, before he   opened his mouth. 'Will the room be airy?'

He expressed his doubt to his prospective landlady rather reluctantly, "Will the room get good breeze?"

"Good breeze?" exclaimed the landlady. "Good heavens! One can't stand the powerful flow of air into the room. The previous occupants would keep the window closed most of the time. 'Was it for preventing any foul smell entering the room from outside?' he wondered.

It was then that she opened a small window whose very existence came to his notice only at that time. The opening of the window brought some sunlight into the room. But the breeze which was reluctant to flow into the room didn't appear to be very keen to testify to the landlady's claim.

However, Raghu felt that the room was tolerably good.

"So, what is your decision?" demanded the landlady in a tone suggestive of giving him an ultimatum.

"Okay, madam. I like the room. I will move in tomorrow," hastened Raghu, as if driven by a fear that if he dithered any longer, she would show him the door. He added "if it will suit you too," as an after-thought. His initial reluctance stemmed from his misgivings about the appearance of the room and the facilities available. Located above a dark, narrow and steep staircase, the room presented the appearance of a magician's cave. But his misgivings were swept aside by the uncomfortable thought of the ordeal of searching for another accommodation and he was prompted to quickly accept the one that was readily available.

As Raghu looked out of the window which appeared to be the only likeable feature of the room, he saw another window in a house on the opposite row. It appeared to be a mirror image of this window, placed exactly on the opposite row so that a person standing behind one window could directly look at the face of another behind the opposite window. When he was about to turn back, he noticed a sudden flash of light on the opposite window. At first, it appeared to be a lightning but unlike a lightning, it didn't disappear but seated itself on the inner side of the window. A young girl was sitting across the frame of the window.

When Raghu moved in the next day, his first act was to open the window and look out. His eyes involuntarily rested on the opposite window. The flash of lightning that appeared on the window the previous day was still there. It was as if she had been sitting there in the same posture since the time he saw her the previous day.

It appeared strange to him that he should have set out to first look for her in the opposite window. He was about to turn back and attend to other things but he felt an urge to have another look at her. He was surprised that he wanted to have another look at her when he had not even taken a good look at her the first time. He rationalized his behaviour by thinking that such desires arose due to the natural curiosity of a bachelor.

When Raghu looked at her again, he observed her closely. What struck him more was her posture than anything else. What an impressive posture! Though she should have been sitting on the sill in a relaxed way, it appeared as if she was posing for a photograph, nay a sculpture. (One doesn't pose for a long time for a photograph!) The way she was sitting inside the frame of the window, tightly clasping the window grills, seemed to suggest that sitting at that place in that posture was the most important thing for her in her life! Her gaze was fixed on the sky. It reminded him of a poem he had once read:

'Though eyes are in communion with the stars
 Hands don't extend beyond the window grill.'

She presented a perfect model for that verse, he thought.

Several months passed by. The landlady was asking him every now and then whether he was getting a good breeze. Since, while being in the room, he was spending most of the time standing near the window, he was enjoying a good breeze all right! If his legs pained due to prolonged standing, he would lean on the window frame, in an attempt to fool his body into believing that he was relaxing. His window didn't have a sill like the one on the opposite house, for him to sit.

Standing near the window every evening after returning home from work became a regular habit with him. And on all days, the girl was sitting near the window of the opposite house. In fact, the moment he entered the room and opened the window, he would see her sitting at her usual place, as if waiting for him! She would be holding a book in her hand as though she needed an excuse for sitting there! Except for going into the house a couple of times, she would never leave the window.

Both of them were looking at each other, often staring at each other, untiringly. They even retired to bed at the same time after switching off the lights.

After a few days, this 'affair' began to trouble his mind. He was feeling guilty about what he was doing, not being consciously aware of his intentions and feeling apprehensive about what appeared to him as the impending gloom. He knew nothing about her, her family and her social status and wondered whether he could marry her overcoming the possible objections from both of their families. He was not even sure whether he wanted to marry her. If he didn't, why was he looking at her everyday, also misleading her about his intentions in the process?

Over the years, he had developed some expectations about the girl he would marry like most young men do. He wondered whether this girl would meet his expectations.

There was a letter from his father. His parents were in the process of fixing up a girl for him to marry. He was asked to go over to his parents' place to finalize the proposal.

After reading the letter, Raghu looked at the girl in the opposite house. As usual, she was staring at him. For a moment, his heart was filled with an overwhelming flow of sympathy for her. But the very next moment, he shut the door of the window. When he went to the office the next day, he applied for leave and left for his parents' place the same evening.

When Raghu returned to his room after a few weeks, he brought his wife along. Both of them had to stay in that room for a few days till he could rent a bigger house. As he walked along his wife, he was reassuring himself about her beauty and his privilege of his partnership with her by turning to look at her face repeatedly.

They entered the house and after introducing his wife to the landlady, climbed up the stairs to his cavern. On entering the room, his wife asked him, "What kind of a place is this? This room is like the store room of my house, dark and stuffy. I don't know how I am going to live here!" She opened the window so as to let the sunlight in.

Seeing her open the window, his heart-beat count doubled. 'If the girl in the opposite house sees my wife, how will she feel? Will she think that I have cheated her? But why should she think so? Did I ever tell her that I was in love with her? Did I assure her that I would marry her? But.. if she had imagined that I was in love with her, will she become heart-broken? Will she hang herself from the roof of the room adjoining the window so that I will be forced to look at the gruesome sight of her body hanging from the ceiling through the window?... Oh.. God!'

Picking up some courage, Raghu came near the window and standing behind his wife, had a sneak look at the opposite window.

The window of the opposite house was closed! Perhaps, the family had gone out.

The window remained closed for the next few days also. Perhaps, the girl's family had vacated the house. He felt immensely relieved by this prospect. However, he wanted to know for sure. But then he didn't know how to ascertain the truth. He thought of asking his landlady but he didn't want to create any problem for himself by showing that he had some interest in the people living there.

After a week, there was some activity in the opposite house. The window got opened. Raghu observed that some other family had moved into that house. He felt more relieved, his feelings of guilt and anxiety slowly fading away.

When Raghu returned home from the office, he saw his wife standing near the window, looking out. He went and stood near her. She greeted him and then withdrew to make him some coffee.

His eyes spontaneously focused themselves on the window of the opposite house. A lad was sitting on the sill of the window, the same place where the girl was sitting in the past, looking at his house. On meeting Raghu's gaze, the young man turned aside suddenly. Raghu realized that the lad had been sitting there looking at Raghu's wife who was standing near the window till a few seconds back. A surge of anger rose within him.

He shut the door of the window immediately.

His wife who came in with the coffee cup, was puzzled by his action and asked, "What happened?"

"Don't you feel stuffy?" responded Raghu without thinking of what he was saying. "I mean the air brings in a lot of dust. Well, we have to shift to a better house immediately."

Unable to comprehend what he was saying, his wife stared at him wondering what could have gone wrong with him so suddenly.
(Written in the year 1982)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Postscript of A Will

"Has everyone come?" asked the lawyer.

The men and women assembled in the room turned their gazes at each other.

The middle-aged man wearing a pince-nez wore a mischievous smile on his lips as he queried, "What did you say?"

The irate lawyer stared at the questioner for a moment as if wondering why the man didn't wear his hearing aid, especially when his ears were free from the burden of carrying his glasses (thanks to the pince-nez!). Gathering his patience, he said in a raised tone, "I just asked whether the people concerned have all come."

"Your question sounds legally precise only after you have reworded it now" remarked the questioner, obviously not needing a hearing aid, "because I find that quite a few of the people present here have no business to be here at all!"

"And you are one of them!" came the quick repartee from a middle aged man sitting next to him. An old lady joined the attack against the snide remark of the young man by retorting, "Let not anyone claim monopoly to the legacy of the deceased person."

As some more people were getting ready to join the altercation, the lawyer intervened firmly and put a stop to the wrangle. "Who has a claim to the legacy and who hasn't will be known presently, once I  read the will. In the meanwhile, let not anyone make judgements about who should be here and who shouldn't."

As others enjoyed the lawyer's dig at the man with the pince-nez, the lawyer with a smug feeling of having gained control over the situation, mockingly sought the approval of the audience to go ahead "Now, will you people allow me to start reading the will?"

"Please go ahead but for heaven's sake, spare us of the legal verbiage and confine yourself to the core. I am a little scared after looking at the voluminous pile of papers in your hand" remarked another member of the audience.

"If only you will stop lecturing to me on how to do my job and start listening to me for a change, I will be able to complete my job in time" snapped the lawyer in a tone of rebuke. "For your information, the will is very short, straightforward and precise. There is no legal verbiage in this will. The will was drafted by the deceased Sundaram, who as you all know, never studied law. The will is terse. It comprises just one sentence. But.."

The lawyer stopped, with the air of a raconteur pausing a story at the point of suspense and surveyed the gathering with a gleam of sadistic satisfaction. Everyone had their eyebrows raised, with their eyes reflecting their anxieties and impatience over the unfolding of the suspense.

"But..." continued the lawyer in an affectedly cautious tone, ".... there's a story by way of the postscript of the will."


"I never knew that my uncle had a flair for story writing!"

"May be he has willed his properties to the one who will get his story published!"

Reactions varied from wild amusement to cynical despondency.

"Sharpen your hearing faculties. I am going to read the will now."

The reign of suspense was instantly established.

In the next few seconds, the sharpened ears were rocked by an explosion. The shock and frustration resulting from learning the contents of the will manifested themselves as unrestrained tirade and vilification.

"Fantastic nonsense!"

"I have always considered Sundaram to be a little eccentric but I have never imagined that he would drive himself so crazy!"

"Hypocrisy of the highest order!"

"A deliberate act of sadism with the intention of making fools of all of us!"

The lawyer enjoyed the fireworks for a while and then said, "If you have finished expressing your reactions to the will, may I proceed with the story - I mean - the postscript of the will? Those of you who want to listen to the story and give your reactions to the story as you have, to the will, may stay on. Those who can't stand verbiage, legal or of other kind, are free to leave.

The lawyer waited for a few minutes. No one was inclined to leave. Everyone appeared to be eager to learn the answer to an exciting puzzle that defied their understanding.

The lawyer began to read the papers.

He was about twelve years old at that time. He was studying in the sixth standard. He had a puny appearance for his age but intellectually, he had outgrown his age.

In the classroom, he was able to catch up with the teacher at a faster rate than the teacher was able to deliver his teaching. Having grasped the subject in its entirety even at the beginning of a lecture, he found the teacher's elucidations superfluous. Even as the teacher was trying hard to get the ideas planted in the minds of the students by harping on the theme, the boy would be thinking ahead on the subject, his thoughts taking dips at further depths of the subject. When the teacher completed his presentation, he won't be aware of one of his students having developed a level of understanding of the subject deeper than his own.

His aptitude for Science was particularly precocious. As his Science teacher demonstrated some experiments with a sense of pride as if he himself had designed those experiments, the boy would watch them with his eyes widened in excitement. When he witnessed the spectacle of a piece of Sodium metal glowing brightly and swimming fiercely in a tub of water like a speeding trawler resulting in a colourful show of chemical reaction, he would feel as if he was journeying into an exciting new world. Some of his experiences would make him feel that he had discovered the purpose of his life. In the nights, sleep would elude him as his mind would be chewing the cuds of such experiences and his body would feel electrified.

As he learnt more of the amazing facts of Science, he began to experience a sublime feeling that appeared so divine and so much out of the world.

It was the English class. There was a lesson on Isaac Newton in his English prose book. Since he had already got acquainted with Newton as one of the architects of Modern Science, he evinced a special interest in that lesson.

How did Newton become such a great scientist? The boy had been told earlier that Newton had made his greatest discovery about the gravity of the earth by a sheer accident - instantly hit by an inspiration on witnessing the fall of an apple from a tree. But when he learnt Newton's life history in his text book, he came to realize how Newton had devoted his entire life to the cause of Science, how he had pursued his ideal with a single minded devotion and how painstaking his efforts had been towards his search for the Scientific truth. This realization planted in his mind the seeds of an idealistic life in pursuit of Science, a life emulating that of Newton.

Newton - What devotion did he have for Science even as a boy! Starting with the study of simple instruments and devices by disassembling and reassembling them and using the knowledge gained in the process to invent  revolutionary devices like the Windmill, the Telescope etc. through diligent research and relentless pursuits, toiling for days and nights together, he went on to discover scientific truths that revolutionalized not only Science but the lifestyle of the world as well.

Suddenly, a quirky thought passed over his mind. For a tiny fraction of a second, he saw himself as an image of Newton on his mental screen. Even as this thought flashed through his mind, his whole body was filled with a sense of excitement. He asked himself, 'What would I be doing now, if I were Newton?' He couldn't arrive at an answer. But the question continued to haunt him. And every time, the question came up in his mind, he experienced a new sensation.

After this reflective experience, his interest in Science became more and more intensified. He felt the urge to learn everything about the universe, the forces controlling it and the various parameters governing the functioning of the universe. His school textbooks on Science did not quench his thirst. The laboratory experiments that excited him earlier now appeared like games designed to amuse children.

The acquaintance he made with some Science journals in his school library grew into an intimate friendship. His new "friends" carried him to many new amazing worlds whose very existence was unknown to him all along.

Time passed by and he was also passing over the grades mechanically. Since he was not paying much attention to textbooks, he was not able to score well  in the examinations but he was getting through them and moving up to higher grades all the same.

He never took much interest in reading newspapers but would browse through the pages casually since he had been told that he should keep himself updated with the current events. One day, one particular news item attracted his attention. It was a news story about the award of Nobel prizes in various branches of science. As he was reading the names of people selected for various disciplines, he was stirred by a unique feeling. The screen of his mind came alive instantaneously and he saw certain images flashed on it.

Though the images were somewhat hazy, he was able to identify the figures. There were Newton, Einstein, C.V.Raman.......and....... Unexpectedly, he saw his own image popping up on the screen. And coinciding with the appearance of this image, a desire spurted out from the depth of his mind. And the desire instantly expanded and filled his entire mind. It didn't stop growing till it reached the top of his scalp. Then, it was no longer a desire. It became a determination, a pledge, a commitment and the raison d'etre for his very existence in this world. 'I WILL GET A NOBEL PRIZE IN SCIENCE.'

As he realized the spontaneous conception of the ideal, he became aware that his life had a new meaning. The question of how to transform this ideal into reality didn't bother him. The 'how' factor appeared irrelevant and superfluous. All that mattered was that he had accepted the ideal. He had no doubt that he would be able to realize his ideal.

He failed in the school final examination that year.The subjects of History and languages which he had neglected undid him. Though this setback did not affect his pursuit of Science, it hit him by stumping his higher education.

Even as he was trying to salvage his position by concentrating on the neglected subjects and preparing to clear them in the next attempt, he was struck again by the intransigence of his father. Like King Dasaratha realizing one fine morning that he was near the end of his life and that it was time to crown his son Rama*, his father wanted him to give up his studies and take over the family business. The son's protests and pleadings were to no avail, his failure to pass the school leaving examination proving a handy weapon in the hands of the father.

Though forced to abandon his studies and look after the family business, he did not give up his ideal. He hoped that he would be able to soon convince his father that he had no aptitude for business and return to his field of interest.

But he was struck by fate yet again. His father's sudden death shifted the family burden entirely on his shoulders. He had no choice except to carry on the task of managing his family business. Pressed externally by the burden of the family business and internally by the burden of his cherished ideal, he was just treading on.

Years passed by. He got married and had a son. Though inextricably entrenched in his family business, a part of his self was trying to pull away and dive into the orbit of scientific research. He didn't achieve any remarkable success in his business but was not a failure either. But the deep wound in his heart inflicted by the impact of the heavy blow struck on his ambition remained unhealed by the passage of time. Like Milton who lamented on his failure to make use of the faculties given to him by God, he was also constantly brooding over the scattered pieces of his dream. He was discharging his responsibility mechanically, acting from a sheer sense of duty.

His son was about 12 years old and had entered the secondary school just a year back. One day, he ran to his father exclaiming "Dad, dad!...."


"Dad! We need not buy matches for our house hereafter."

"Why?" quizzed the puzzled father.

"I have found a way to create fire without the use of matches."

Even before the son could complete his explanation, the father had a spark of excitement rising in his mind like the flavour of the arth rising up immediately after the first few drops of rain hit the ground. The spark kindled a fire that instantly engulfed his entire body. With his mind feeling light after many years, he encouraged his son to spell out his 'discovery,'

The boy didn't explain it in words but demonstrated it in action.

It was a simple act of focusing the Sun's rays through a magnifying glass on to a piece of cotton and inflaming it. It was a well known experiment but the excitement and enthusiasm shown by the boy in performing the feat electrified the father's spirits. His mind was invaded by a puff of fresh air forcing open its doors and windows that had remained closed for the past many years.

"Hey  Newton!"

He lifted up his son and tossed him fondly. After all, his ideal had only faded but not been completely effaced. His dream was still alive. Here was his son - a product of his own flesh and blood - who had emerged to carry the torch forward. His son would avenge his failures and turn his dream into reality.

For the first time in his life, the son saw a cheerful father. He never knew that his father could smile and be so enthusiastic and affectionate.

He started preparing his son to the task ahead. He made his son gradually understand what was expected of him. Initially, the son was not consciously aware of the onerousness of the task before him. As he grew older, the import of his father's message slowly dawned on him. And the understanding did not please him. Though he was too young to think deeply on such matters, it was clear to him that his father had been totally out of touch with reality. After all, for him, the demonstration of creating a fire using a lens was only an exciting play. It was astonishing to him that his father could misconceive a simple act of fun to be a display of his aptitude for science. The truth was that he found Science lessons to be highly incomprehensible and consequently abominable.

But he didn't have the courage to tell the truth to his father.

However, the truth came to be known to his father eventually. When the news of his son not getting promoted to the next grade because he failed in Science (of all the subjects!) reached him, he realized that he had been holding on to an illusion about his son's capabilities. It was like a shattered hope magically getting fixed up into its original shape only to be shattered again. The disappointment that struck him for a second time was severe in its intensity like a second heart attack. And he did not survive the second attack for long.

As happened in the case of his father, the son also had to shoulder the burden of running the family and taking over the family business at a young age. The son took over the reigns of the business with a feeling of guilt - the guilt of having frustrated his father's hopes.

Time kept its pace, unmindful of the turbulence of human minds.

If there had been a Nobel prize for business, he would have been a strong contender for it. Though accidentally thrown into the world of business, he found that he had an innate aptitude for business. He developed the business that was being lukewarmly run by his father into an empire within a short time. He used several strategies like expansion, diversification, forward integration, backward integration etc. even though he had no academic or professional knowledge about these concepts. He emerged as one of the leading businessmen of India within a couple of decades. 'Business India' once chose him as the 'Businessman of the year'. He was in the  'Fortune' list of top five hundred businessmen of the world. The rewards, recognitions and honours that befell him were many. However he remained as a person with an active physical body and a septic mind.

The shadow of guilt resulting from failure to work for his father's ideal was constantly haunting him, making his achievements inconsequential and his very life irrelevant. Since he considered his life to be a meaningless existence, he did not turn his attention to marriage and family life, considered essential for a meaningful life.

As he was desperately pondering over a way to preserve at least some pieces of the shattered dream of his father that had been constantly whirling around him ever since his father's death, he saw a spark entering his mind from nowhere.

The spark slowly evolved into a beautiful flame - a flame that would incinerate the heap of guilt that has accumulated in his mind and serve as an everlasting glow illuminating the greatness of his father.

His father wanted to become a Scientist and win the Nobel prize for Science, a goal that might have been attained by him but for the waylaying by the fate. Then he wanted his son to accomplish what he couldn't. But the son was totally unfit for the task.

Yet, he could make the world link the Nobel prize to his father.

"I will the institution of a prize named after my father 'Sadasivam Memorial Prize for Science' which will be equal in both monetary value and reputability to the Nobel prize. This prize will be given for the same branches of Science for which the Nobel prize is given. I leave all my movable and immovable properties listed in Schedule 1, to the trust that will be constituted for this purpose, as per the terms specified in Schedule 2."

The lawyer paused for a while and looked at the gathering. Someone was heard cursing the deceased man.

(Written in the year 1982)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Delusions Short-Lived

"Meet Vimala, my wife. Vimala! This is Krishnan, my classmate in the college. We ran into each other today after many long years."

Vimala greeted Krishnan with a formal smile.

"Vimala! Engage our guest in conversation. I will be back in a minute." Parasu went in, leaving them in the drawing room.

It was quite unlike of Parasu to have brought a friend home. This was the first time that Parasu had introduced someone as a friend. Vimala had even wondered whether Parasu had any friend at all. As far as she could know, Parasu's acquaintances were limited to his business circle and he seldom extended any of these acquaintances to the personal level. She had also not come across any correspondence from any friend.

So, it was a surprise to her that for the first time after her marriage, a friend of Parasu had made his appearance.

"Parasa said a lot about you" said Krishnan breaking the silence.

Vimala didn't respond beyond broadening her smile. She was wondering whether Krishnan said that just to initiate a conversation or whether Parasu  would have really told him something about her.

What would he have said? What could he have said? 'My wife's name is Vimala. She is a nice, smart and understanding woman.' Something like that?

"Hmmmm.   What did he say about me?" she asked, sounding jovial.

"That you are educated and intelligent. That you are an avid reader. That you have a keen interest in arts, literature...'

A burst of laughter emanated from her instantly and involuntarily.

"Anything wrong with what I said?" asked Krishnan puzzled at her sudden laughter and sounding embarrassed.

"No, no... I was asking myself how your friend came to know of these details about me... I could not help laughing. I am sorry, if I have upset you."

Her reply, rather than easing his embarrassment, intensified it. "Why, of course, he is your husband!"

Vimala realized that she had been a little too frank with a stranger she got acquainted with, only minutes before.

Parasu joined them presently. "Vimala, do you know why I introduced Krishnan to you? He is also of your type. You both have many common interests. Like you, he is also a connoisseur. In our college, he was nicknamed 'library Guard' because he would spend most of his time in the library. His conversations would always be about paintings, music and books and most of us would avoid him like a plague. But in spite of our different interests, we had developed a mutual liking for each other and our friendship had stood the test of time, as they say in books! He has not changed much. He has taken up a new assignment as the Resident Representative of a company. He is his own boss and has flexible working hours. At present, he doesn't have much work and has a lot of free time. He can be of good company to you, if you wish. After all, you have also been feeling bored sitting lonely in the house."

"Oh yes, he is always welcome" said Vimala more by way of a courteous response. She wished that Parasu had said this to her in private. But  Parasu never had any time for private conversations.  Nor did he ever show any concern for discretion and niceties.

Subsequently, Krishnan visited their  house a couple of times. Parasu was not home during those times. Parasu had never been in the house during day time, since his business matters occupied his entire day.

Vimala was not sure whether to encourage Krishnan visiting her when she was alone in the house. Krishnan himself was very discreet by not staying for more than a few minutes and observing reticence.

Vimala wondered what made Parasu befriend someone like Kishnan with whom he seemed to have nothing in common. There was a wide gulf separating the aptitudes, interests and tastes of the two. To Parasu, the world was confined to his business - its opportunities, problems and challenges and the excitement it offered to him. He had no interest in or time for any other thing. Even his newspaper reading was focused on news items concerning or affecting his business. He had a tight schedule and allocated time for various things he has to do in relation to his business. He would talk to Vimala only during the time he allocated for her in his schedule! He believed in living life as per his plans and programs. And he was particular about sticking to his schedule and would resent and frown upon any deviation.

In contrast, Krishnan did not appear to evince much interest in his job. He had an inclination towards spending his time  in reading and artistic pursuits. What had brought the two of them together was an enigma to Vimala. Did Parasu ever have a different side to his personality? And if he did, does he still have that?

The question why Parasu thought it fit to introduce Krishnan to her continued to haunt her. Was it the result of a guilty feeling that he was unable to share any of her interests? Or did he feel bad about not spending much time with her, as any average husband is expected to?  Did he feel that he could make amends for his shortcomings by giving her a chance to interact with his friend who had interests similar to her own?

If this was his line of thinking, then it was amazing, thought  Vimala. She never expected such an understanding of her needs from Parasu. Perhaps she had not understood her husband fully and had underestimated his concern for her.

After a few days of acquaintance, Vimala was surprised to discover that she had developed a liking and even an admiration for Krishnan. She realized that his claim of having a deep interest in arts and literature was not mere humbug. He did have an aesthetic mind and fine tastes. Parasu had not exaggerated while talking to her about Krishnan's interests.

He had a deep knowledge on the trends and developments in Tamil literature. He could make intelligent evaluations of various literary works in Tamil. He also had a keen analytical ability to compare the styles and contributions of various Tamil writers with writers in other languages like English. When he differed with her on some issues, he refrained from being argumentative but reiterated his views politely yet firmly. He was unsparing in panning the works of certain women-writers whom he considered to have had no understanding either about women's issues or about the art of writing.

Once, he reluctantly showed her a poem written by him. When she kept a poker face and remarked, "Who doesn't write poems these days?" he laughed heartily without feeling hurt.

Both realized that they had become good friends. They met more and more frequently and spent a lot of time discussing topics of mutual interest.

Finding that Krishnan was hardly spending any time for his professionl work, she teased him by questioning the wisdom of his company paying a huge salary to an idle person like him.

He replied, "Okay. I will ask my company to stop paying me. But you should ask Parasu to pay me instead."

"What for?" retorted Vimala in mock anger, "for using our furniture, increasing our electricity bill and for exhausting the stock of coffee powder in our house?"

"Oh! Is this the way you treat your guests? I will put in a word to Parasu."

"You are welcome, sir! I am only speaking  for him. It is his master's voice that you are hearing now."

"I will convey this also to him."

Both laughed aloud. The mention of 'His Master's Voice'  led to the discussion about the new release of music records by HMV.

Parasu  gave her two tickets for a new film. Parasu would take her to two films every month regularly. This was a part of his schedule and he never missed this part of his schedule as he didn't the other parts. But he had never given her the tickets. Since he was taking her, the tickets would be with him. 'Why is he giving me the tickets now?'

She was apprised of the reason quickly. Parasu asked her to take Krishnan along, since he had some other engagement.

"You want me to go to the theatre with Krishnan?" asked a perplexed Vimala.

"You heard me right" was Parasu's brief reply.

Vimala was hesitant to follow his advice. ' I don't understand how he can be so liberal? Does this show the extent of his faith in me and his friend? Or is he planning to divert the time he has scheduled for me to his business by deputing Krishnan for the task ? After all, Parasu has no interest in watching films and the time he has been spending  for taking her to films is a kind of sacrifice for her sake, from his perspective. Or, is he giving us both a long rope and putting us on some kind of a test?'

She immediately dismissed the last possibility since she was sure that Parasu would not stoop to the level of playing such cheap tricks.

As advised by him, she went to the film with Krishnan.

After that occasion, they had no inhibition about going out together. They frequented movie houses, drama theatres, exhibition halls and libraries.

It was after several weeks that Parasu talked to her about Krishnan. It was one of the rare occasions when Parasu was so relaxed before going to bed.

"How is Krishnan?" asked Parasu, sounding casual.

"He is fine" replied Vimala tersely.

"We were very close in the college. After leaving the college, we had lost touch. I accidentally met him after a very long time."

Vimala listened silently, having nothing to say. After a pause, Parasu added, "Poor fellow! Unfortunately, his marriage has become a disaster."

"Is that so? What is it? I didn't even know that he was married." said Vimala, her surprise showing in her tone and expression.

"His wife was not a good match to him."

'Am I a good match to you?' was the question that instantly sprang up in her mind. " Really? What was wrong?"

"There was an unbridgeable gap between the two. He is an intellectual and is a man of fine tastes. His wife is an uneducated village woman. There was nothing to hold both of them together."

"But then, why did he marry her at all? Was he not aware of her background before tying the knot?"

"I don't know. But as you know Vimala, a marriage is arranged considering various factors. He might have agreed to the arrangement due to his parents' pressure or due to the lure of a huge dowry offered by the girl's parents. Or, he might have just been carried away by her looks.  Whatever might have been the reason, he found out that he couldn't get along with her."

"Are they still living together or have they separated?"

"They have separated all right, not legally though. He has sent her back to her parents and has no intention of living with her again.  As you know, he can't get an immediate divorce. He has to wait for a couple of years before seeking divorce."

Vimala didn't know what to say.

"He says they lived together only for a short while and during that period, there was absolutely no compatibility between the two, not to speak of harmony. He craves for an intellectual company and his wife was in no position to provide such a company to him. So he decided to live separately from her. He was very much depressed after the separation .... He says, he has been able to revive his interest in life only after meeting you. In you, he finds an intellectual company that invigorates his spirits. That's why I encouraged your friendship. I think it will be good for both of you. You must also be finding life more interesting talking to him and moving with him. Am I right?"

Vimala felt the anger rising in her like a fire burning inside her. 'Krishnan! What a hypocrite he is!  He marries a simple village girl fully knowing about her background and then deserts her saying that she couldn't provide him with intellectual company! Intellectual company - my bare left foot! I was so naive to be carried away by his graceful demeanor and intellectual outlook.

'Parasu is an angel. I can't even compare Parasu with Krishnan. Parasu understands that he can't give me good company though he is unable to do anything about it. But he realizes that just as the machines in his factory require periodical maintenance, I also need some inputs now and then. And he provides for them in his own way by doing things like taking me to films, notwithstanding his tight schedule, these may not have the desired effect on me though!

'But Krishnan? Marrying an innocent woman with the full knowledge about her background, then deserting her on the pretext of incompatibility and posing to her to be a gentleman, without feeling even an iota of remorse for the injustice perpetrated on his helpless wife!

'No wonder he has not talked to me about his marriage. He is scared that I would certainly disapprove of what he has done and cut off his relationship immediately. Let him come here tomorrow. I will throw him out, after giving him a piece of my mind!'

Her thoughts were interrupted by Parasu, "What are you thinking so deeply about, Vimala? Pitying Krishnan for his fate? What can we do about? Leave it... It's getting late. It's ten thirty now. Switch off the lamp!"

Parasu's words and the smirk on his face reminded her of Parasu's time-table. Oh, today is Thursday. She switched off the lamp with a feeling of irritation.

(Written in the year 1982)

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Buzzer

The shrill cry of the buzzer jolted Arumugam from his seat. The short-lived nap and the exciting dream was snuffed out instantly by the prolonged ring of the buzzer.

The ring of the buzzer sounded like the simultaneous humming of a million bees. The spectre of  several thousand mosquitoes singing in chorus while whirling around the ear might describe it better, felt Arumugam.

The ringing of the buzzer was unbearable to him. He despised his Manager who frequently activated the demon by pressing  the button of the buzzer and pumped a torrent of noise in his head. Perhaps, the placement of the button was so convenient to make pressing it a favorite pastime for him!

Armugam had no choice except to dance to its tune, if one can call the cacophony a tune. After all, he was a peon in the office who should respond to the ringing of the buzzer and attend to the needs of the person pressing it.

He had a stool for his seat outside the Manager's cabin. And right over his head was the abominable instrument.

He had seen and heard various kinds of buzzers and calling bells in different offices and homes. They were of varied types ranging from the musical types playing pleasing tunes to those spurting out husky and hoarse tones. But the one in his office emitting such a ghastly noise appeared to be specially ordered for him!


The damned buzzer again! It was hardly ten seconds since it rang the last time. It was his mistake to have not barged into the Manager's cabin immediately after the buzzer rang. The ruthless Manager won't grant him even a few seconds to respond and struck again with the deadly device.

Perhaps that despicable instrument was deliberately positioned right over his head only to ensure that he (the peon) would respond to its call instantly and rush in, without even a few seconds' delay.

"Yes, sir"

"....Oh...Why did I call you?...Ah....Well.....Where is that KMV file? I have been searching for it for the past half an hour."

"It's here sir. Right on your table." He picked up the file and handed it to the Manager.

"Oh...I see...Ok, ok....You may go now."

Arumugam beat a relieved retreat and was almost out of the  room, when the buzzer shrieked again. Unable to bear the impact of the noise  on his nerves, he instantaneously pulled himself back into his room, almost jumping in. He felt a powerless rage surging through his entire body at his Manager's insensitivity in activating the buzzer again even before he could make his exit.


"Ah....  What's it? ... Why did I call you?....Wait..Wait....Yes..Send Panchapakesan in."

As he came out, Arumugam was cursing his fate for the umpteenth time. 'What sort of a job is this? Whenever the Manager wants to call someone in, he summons me by pressing the deadly buzzer and asks me to send that person in. Why couldn't he summon everyone directly by pressing the particular buzzer placed over his head?'

He wondered how it would be if the Manager were to call Panchapakesan, the Accountant, directly by sounding a buzzer situated on the wall behind his desk. The thought of Panchapakesan getting jolted out of his seat on hearing the buzzer pounding him from behind with its shrill voice made Arumugam laugh aloud.

After sending Panchapakesan to the Manager's room, he returned to his seat. Even while being seated on the stool, he was constantly daunted by the prospect of the buzzer giving out an explosive cry any time.

The Manager's stenographer Miss Sakuntala was seated very near Arumugam. She must also be finding the cacophony of the buzzer intensely annoying. He wondered how she seemed to be totally unaffected by this.


Arumugam almost tumbled down from his seat. A revolutionary idea of imposing a ceiling on the number of times the buzzer could be pressed per day germinated in his mind. As he turned towatds the Manager's cabin,  he looked at Sakuntala. She didn't even move her attention from the typewriter. Why didn't the noise disturb her?

Perhaps the buzzer annoyed only him because it was targeted only at him. Why should others be annoyed when they knew that they were immune to its assault?

By responding to the cries of the buzzer and answering its summons, he had become a slave of that mechanical (or was it electrical?) device, he mused. The buzzer, not the Manager, was his real boss! He had become its errand boy and was being terrorized by its call. Oh, what a life he was living!

A funny thought occurred to him: He is sitting inside the Manager's cabin and the Manager is sitting on his stool. Arumugam presses the buzzer and rattled by the battle cry of the deadly buzzer, the manager rushes in and says, 'Yes, sir.' He is deeply engrossed in a file and has not noticed the Manager coming in and standing before him and pretends to be searching for a paper in the heap of papers accumulated on his table. With his pen supporting his jaw (another sign of his deep thinking!),  he presses the buzzer again. The Manager standing unnoticed before him, unable to stand its cry (though coming from outside the room) jumps like a toy activated by the turning of its key.


Arumugam jumped like a doll activated by the sudden turning of its key.

Arumugam was retired from his job last week. Till his retirement, he remained only a peon. His fantasizing a role reversal had remained just a fantasy. Even on the last day, he danced to the wild tune of the devilish buzzer.

The Manager was still there. Another man had been posted in Arumugam's place to answer the Manager's call. But his replacement was lucky. His ear drum seemed to have had a filter to tone down the shrill cries of the buzzer. He was a little deaf. Perhaps, the buzzer in his office was designed to be effective for people with hearing deficiency as well. No wonder, it had the effect of rattling normal persons like Arumugam.

Though his dreams had remained in the domain of dreams, he enjoyed the pleasure of living with his dreams. Perhaps, if there was another birth, he could exchange places with his Manager and relish the sight of the Manger answering the buzzer pressed by him. Didn't the Law of Karma say so? He was not sure. In any case, the idea of next birth appeared intangible.

Arumugam reluctantly opened the compound gate of the house and stepped in. He proceeded to the door, looked for the calling bell and pressed it.

Oh God! The horrendous shrill released by the calling bell was no less insufferable than the noise delivered by the buzzer he was used to in the office he worked.

He heard the creaking of a sofa inside and imagined the person who was sitting there. The memories of the innumerable occasions of his jumping from his seat flashed in his mental screen for a while. He could not suppress his smile.

The door was opened and the figure of his ex-Manager appeared in the door-frame. "What Arumugam? What has brought you here?"

"Nothing, sir. I was just passing by this road. Seeing your house, I thought I would just drop in and pay my respects to you. Good bye, sir."

Without waiting for the response of his host, Arumugam turned back and walked with a feeling of immense satisfaction. After all, he didn't have to wait till his next birth!

(Written in the year 1978)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Stray Incidents

As he woke up from sleep in the morning, Balakrishnan's eyes involuntarily reached the portrait of 'Ambaal.' (the Mother Goddess) that was hung on the opposite wall and then shifted to the clock on the adjoining wall.  It was exactly 6 am. This 6 o' clock rendezvous had become a routine for the past many years.

As his eyes habitually moved down and sighted the calendar hanging beneath the clock and read the date as the 24th, he sensed an uncomfortable feeling rising from the depth of his mind. Unable to immediately place the source of that feeling, he got up from the bed and walked up to the door to pick up the daily newspaper that would have been slipped under the door by the newspaper boy even before the dawn. But he couldn't find the newspaper there.

He paused to think. 'The boy would always deliver the paper by 5.30 am. What has happened today?' At that moment, his memory came alive and discovered the secret of the uncomfortable feeling that was pricking him. 'My God! Today is the 24th and today, there's a Bandh*!'

Balakrishnan was instantly gripped by a feeling of helplessness. Because of the Bandh, his daily routine would be crippled for the day. Getting food would be a major problem.

He thought of first refreshing himself with a cup of Coffee and then deciding on his plans for the day. Then it occurred to him that no milk would be delivered for the day. the State-owned Milk Supply corporation had already announced that it would be suspending the supply of milk on the day of the Bandh. This was the consequence of some of its delivery vans getting damaged in the violence that erupted during the previous Bandh.

Balakrishnan had not come across any private milk vendor in that area. Whether technology and development had made life more comfortable or not, they had definitely destroyed the systems prevailing since long, he mused.

He lit the stove, boiled the water and prepared coffee decoction. As he drank it raw, having no milk to add and his diabetic state not allowing addition of sugar, he felt refreshed by the friendly aroma of coffee, though tasting bitter.

Having nothing else to do, not even having the newspaper to read, he lay down on the cot. His idle mind started generating many a stray thought.

'It is pathetic to live alone in old age. But I am not living alone. I live with my daughter and her family. Since she has gone on an excursion with her family at the expense of her husband's employer, the Government of India, I have to be alone in this house for a few days. The rules of the government don't permit me to enjoy the leave travel facility provided to my son in law. Well, the government regulations could have shown some consideration to a retired old man incapable of taking care of himself and living with his only daughter! But even if the rules had permitted, could I have been able to join the tour? The list of diseases with which I am said to have been afflicted runs longer than the list of medicines prescribed by the doctor!'

Then he thought of his grand daughter. 'My dear Deepti! (What a name? They say this is a modern name. I wanted her to be named Maheswari after 'Ambal.' But they won't settle for such old fashioned names!) What will she be doing now? Where will they be today? Must be in Simla, as per the schedule. Will Deepti be able to withstand the extremely cold climate of that place? Who will tell her bedtime stories and put her to sleep?'

Presently, his thoughts came back to the problem at hand.'What will I do for my food today?' Since his daughter's family's departure for the tour, he has been dining at Tirunelveli Mess. 'But will the mess be opened today when there is a Bandh? If it is not open today, then I will have to starve for the day and starve to death, since I can't withstand hunger.'

'How many times did (my wife) Rukmini beseech me to learn to cook some rice at least? I ignored her pleadings due to my complacency and male chauvinism. I thought cooking was entirely a woman's job and it was disgraceful for a man to learn cooking!'

'She has also left me. May be she is standing somewhere in this room mocking at me for having not listened to her. No, she won't. She will only be sympathetic and lamenting my intransigence.'

He decided to take a chance by going to the mess after 10 o' clock and take a nap till then. There was nothing else to do anyway!

It was nine o' clock in the morning when Mathangi alighted from the bus. The bus was stopped somewhere in the outskirts of the city. It was due to the Bandh. 'But should people stop the buses coming from other places from reaching their destinations?' reflected Mathangi indignantly. It occurred to her that people who cause troubles and sufferings to other people must be tied to cots infested by bugs. As she relished the feeling that such novel (crazy) ideas occur to her resourceful mind, a smile appeared on her face effortlessly and her agitated feelings were tempered a little.

Since the bus journey was abruptly terminated, she had to walk about two miles to reach her sister's house. There was no other go. Even cycle rickshaws and bullock carts seemed to have gone off the road.

As she observed the plight of her co-passengers who had started walking with great difficulty carrying their baggage and some their children too, the waves of anger hitting the walls of her mind  rose up to a new height . 'People who are responsible for this must be rounded up and...(what punishment would serve them best?)'

Knowing that there was a Bandh, she wouldn't have undertaken the journey at all. Since the bus was to have reached the destination in the early morning, well before 6 am - the time scheduled for the Bandh to begin - she didn't perceive any problem. But her assessment had been proved to be wrong.  The bus was delayed four hours en route and the poor passengers had to suffer the consequences. She should have known better about the punctuality of the buses run by the State!

But she felt that in a way they were lucky to have been brought so near their destination. The organizers of the Bandh didn't have the heart to allow the bus to complete the remaining couple of miles in the last leg of the journey. But then, if she had been stranded at a far off place, her plight would have been worse.

She started walking, making the mental effort to ignore the increasingly felt effect of the weight of the suitcase she was holding in her hand.

"You know that there is a Bandh today. Don't go out. Your friend's house will not be washed away tonight, especially when there are no rains. You can go there tomorrow."

Ramesh digested the sarcastic exhortion of his father but looked at him with subdued defiance. 'How I wish he learns to communicate his views without using his lung power! If he had been a lawyer, he could have achieved success by scoring over his opponent by the sheer power of his stentorian voice. But working in a private firm and forced to submit himself to the whims of his boss without even a murmur of protest driven by the fear of losing his job if he chose to air his opinion, he vents out his pent up feelings on the people in the house!'

"No daddy. I have my Mathematics test tomorrow. We plan to study together."

'I have no alternative to tell a lie. Parents will always fall for the cause of study and only for the cause of study. If I stay home, he will pester me to keep studying throughout the day. If I can't enjoy myself during a day of Bandh when everyone (including my daddy) keeps away from work, I will end up being the most miserable guy in this world!'

"Okay then," relented his father with forced resignation and added, as if to show that he was still in command, "but be careful."

"Can I take the moped along?" asked Ramesh.

The authority that had to be suppressed by the demands of the situation sprang up fiercely and manifested itself in high decibels. " I will break your leg if you touch the moped. It is brand new and you are bent upon ruining it!"

"No daady. There are no city buses today and there is no other mode of conveyance.."

"What happened to your bicycle?"

"It got punctured and I left it in the mechanic's shop. The shop won't be open today."

"Why don't you walk, you lazy ass?" shouted his father. And having exhausted all his options, yielded, "Okay, get lost!"

Ramesh didn't lose any time . He vanished with the moped immediately, without even bothering to preen his appearance.

As Balakrishnan was coming closer to the mess, the possibility of the mess being open appeared more and more remote. His apprehension was confirmed when he was able to sight the closed door of the mess. The last straw of hope was also blown out into thin air. Yet he walked up to the closed door. 'Is this what called hoping against hope?' he wandered. Even as a sense of gloom came over him, he regretted having taken the trouble of walking up such a long distance. Now he had to walk back all the way. If the mess had been opened, walking back after taking food would have been no trouble at all. It could even have been enjoyable with his mind relishing the taste of the just consumed meal.

Resigning to his fate, he turned back and started walking back when he heard the sound of the door opening.  Wondering whether he had really heard the sound or it had been only his imagination, he turned his head back. He found that the door was opened partially and the face of Narayanan, the owner was the mess appeared like a picture trapped in a frame. He winked at Balakrishnan even as his eyes were cautiously looking around to spot any sign of danger.

"Come in, sir. Quick" he urged Balakrishnan panickingly. In the next few seconds, Balakrishnan was virtually pulled in and the door was shut.

"What! You are not closed today?" exclaimed Balakrishnan in a voice filled with excitement and relief. His spirits stated rising further as he took in the familiar aroma of Onion Sambar mixed with the signature aroma of other delicious dishes. He was filled with glee when he witnessed a couple of people sitting inside and taking food.

"What if there is a Bandh?" replied Narayanan with a reciprocal feeling of excitement."Shall I let down regular customers like you?" ('Or will he forego a day's income, for that matter?')

Balakrishnan thanked 'Ambal' and Narayanan together and sat down for his lunch.

Madhangi spotted the young man  riding the two-wheeler coming towards her. As he came nearer, she realized that he was not a young man but only a boy - a boy of sixteen years.

The burden of her suitcase was pulling her down making it difficult for her to walk. The trick of changing the load from one hand to the other would not work any more, with both hands having been strained to the limit. The hands had already sent a notice to her brain threatening to secede from the body if they were not relieved of the load immediately. Her brain was concerned about the situation but was feeling helpless. And hardy half the distance had been covered.

The sight of the boy riding the two-wheeler came as a relief to her, as she considered the prospect of seeking his help. Her highly orthodox upbringing would have normally made the idea of having a ride with a member of the opposite sex totally unacceptable. But he was not a man, just a boy, quite younger to her.  So, there was nothing wrong in taking a ride with him, especially when the circumstances would justify it, she thought.

Ramesh was pleasantly surprised when the young lady with a suitcase in her hand stopped him asking for a lift.

"You will drop me at Thandavarayan Street, won't you?" she demanded, rather than asked.

"With pleasure madam! Please get on the pillion" said Ramesh enthusiastically.

Mathangi would have liked him to have addressed her 'Akka (Elder Sister)'  rather than 'madam!'

Balakrishnan found the food much more delicious than usual and helped himself with more, letting go of his self imposed restraint for once.

As he was sipping the 'Rasam'  from the cup, in keeping with his habit, he heard the sound - the sound of the door being pounded impatiently.

Narayanan's reflexes sharpened instantly. Like a cat stiffening its body on sensing danger, his entire body froze for a while. Releasing himself presently, he commanded everyone in a whispering yet authoritative tone. "All of you get up and wash your hands."

He then reluctantly moved towards the door.

Balakrishnan was still weighing the prospect of finishing his cup of 'rasam,' when Narayanan opened the door a little and peeped out.

The door was slammed open from outside and a mob barged in.

"You have the temerity to run your mess stealthily when the entire town is observing a Bandh?"

After hurling this charge at Narayanan, one of  them sought to punish him using his stick.

"Come out you shameless gourmands!" shouted another, at the helpless boarders.

Pandemonium set in amidst a chorus of shouts and attempts to ransack the place, damaging the furniture and interiors in the process.

Balakrishnan started running out in panic. Pointing at him, someone yelled, "There flees the proprietor of this mess. Catch him and teach him a lesson he will remember at the time of the next Bandh."

Balakrishnan cried out, " I am not the proprietor," but his voice was choked by the overwhelming feeling of fear. With panic running high, his blood pressure went up. His cries of protests having got lost in the din and confusion, someone started chasing him and another hurled a stick at him which hit his neck.  He tripped at the edge of the pavement outside the mess and fell down on the road.

Emboldened by the  lean traffic on the roads and enthused by the pride of carrying a young lady on the pillion of his moped, Ramesh was driving the vehicle faster than usual. When he was about to whistle a popular song, he noticed an old man tripping off and falling on the road. Since the road was narrow and as a disciplined driver he was driving on the left side of the road, he had to steer fast to the right to avoid hitting the old man. Turning the steering fast while driving at a high speed, he became nervous and his hands lost their steadiness. The vehicle traced several curves before dashing on a dustbin and falling down. Mathangi was thrown away due to the impact. With her head hitting on a hard surface, she began to lose her consciousness.

Before Ramesh could recover from the shock, he was encircled by a group of people, most of them part of the gang that ransacked the mess. One of them admonished him. "You have chosen the day of the Bandh to go on a merry round with your girlfriend, you senseless urchin?"

The admonition was followed up with a slap on his face.

Ramesh protested in a choking voice, "Sir, she is my sister."

A smile appeared on Mathangi's face on hearing him referring to her as his sister even as she was sinking into  a deeper state of unconsciousness.

"What is the use of talking to this little boy? Let us set fire to his vehicle" suggested a man of action. This was enthusiastically endorsed by others.

Griped by fear, Ramesh started pleading desperately "Please pardon me sirs, for coming out on the day of the Bandh. But don't damage my moped. It was bought  with the hard earned money of my poor father. For heaven's sake, please show some mercy!"

His pleas became futile.

The fire that engulfed the vehicle seemed to be burning inside him as well. He recalled with agony his father's words of caution when he asked his permission to take out the vehicle.

Balakrishnan felt like floating on air. His blood driven by increasing pressure was hitting his veins forcefully, flooding his heart and making him feel extremely tormented by mixed feelings of pain and dizziness. His thinking became incoherent and it appeared as if all his accumulated memories were being forced out of his mind. The certainty of fast approaching death stunned and totally unnerved him.

'If I am going to die now, there will be no one even to cremate me. How I wish that this happened when my daughter was here! But then, if my daughter had been here, I would not have ventured come to this place in search of food. So, where am I now? Hello, a cup of 'rasam' please!..'

When his last trace of consciousness was leaving him,  his grand daughter Deepti appeared on the screen of his mind and asked him, "Tell me Grandpa, how did the prince who was cursed to be a frog become the prince again?"

The lady who appeared on the TV screen to read the evening news was all effervescence in her flamboyant costumes and make up. She began to read the headlines after greeting the listeners with her charming smile, "..Except for one or two stray incidents, today's Bandh passed off peacefully,.." her smile broadening.

* 'Bandh' meaning 'closure' in the Hindi language refers to a general strike called for by some popular group or political party to force the attention of the people/government on some issue agitating the minds of some people. Though the response to a Bandh is assumed to be spontaneous, in practice the closure is often imposed by using coercive methods and violence by the organizers and their supporters.

(Written in the year 1989)