25 September 2011

Summer with Daughter

Big surprise! This post has been selected for BlogAdda’s Tangy Tuesday Picks. Thank you, BlogAdda team.

I live in a place where it snows half of the year. The winter here is so cold it is like living in the refrigerator. In fact the fridge is warmer. Whenever the temperature drops sharply——I leave the fridge door open. Rest of the year, weather is unpredictable: Rain, blizzards, tornados, hailstones——sometimes all these in a single day. People bet on weather and lose——weather wins always.
Some nights it snows so much, I can’t locate my car in the morning. The snow mounds over the car, hiding it completely. Once I find it, I cannot open the frozen door or if I open it, the car won’t start; once started it skids and swerves all over the road. Life is rough.
Here, we have a short summer. Last year, after months of snow, we were all geared up for the sun, when it suddenly started next year’s snow. Summer had come and gone——just like that.
In Kinnigoli, the place where I have come from, everyday is a summer day. One or two times in the year, it rains for a week continuously, as if someone at the top had forgotten to turn off the tap——but once the flood is over it’s all summer.
In these harsh weathers, my daughter——18 months now——was forced to stay inside; being confined to the four walls, she was vulnerable to develop a frog-in-the-well vision of the world. To avoid this, this summer, I took her to as many outdoor places as possible. These outings would have continued, God knows how long, had I not met the 3 naked men. That incident kind of put a stop to my wild road trips. We have some time before we come to that incident.
Candies from heaven
On her first outing——a sky diving event——a diver was supposed to drop chocolates as he descended with a parachute. Many children were gathered. Babies, and kids too small to run around, were held by parents. I was one of them.
At the appointed time, the light-aircraft circled a couple of rounds above our heads. Eventually, a parachute was dropped, that swayed lazily from one end to other, making it difficult for the children to pinpoint the landing. Children ran all over the place for the promised candies——that were not dropped! Obviously the diver forgot. He had forgotten the whole purpose of the event. The kids were deeply disappointed by this negligence. Unaware, subconsciously, they learned the lesson: Life is not fair. For myself, having learned that lesson long back, I learned a new one this time: People when at Top, often, forget the people at bottom——the very ones who sent them up.
Once safely on the terra firma, the diver——wearing one of those shiny glasses where you could see yourself, comb hair if needed——waved at imaginary friends in the crowd. And then, a woman, with shortest possible skirt, ran to him, and melted in his arms. They kissed passionately.
She was probably a tennis player, or in her hurry to meet the friend from the skies, she must have mistakenly slid into her kid-sister’s skirt. In their passion the couple had forgotten the kids looking longingly at the heavens——for the promised candies. Some of the nearby children were shorter than the hem of the woman’s skirt; thus they were alarmingly close to a shocking-revelation unsuitable for their age.
Luckily, I had bought some candies at the gas station; though, I was not expecting this fiasco, I wanted to avoid competing with children for the falling candies. This foresight saved me. I gave a candy to my daughter. Instantly, her face brightened; she forgot everything else. In the end, it turned out to be a good day, after all.
One more time
All right guys, I am going to do this one more time. New writers start with memoirs, and gradually move on to fiction. All my past attempts at this transition have failed, miserably. As a result, my memoirs are turning into more and more fictitious.
The CIA, now, has a file on me. They are mystified about the person who has so many curious stories to tell. How can so many crazy things happen in one person’s life? They wonder. My reasoning: these are not my stories. These are your stories. Or at least these are as much your stories as they are mine. This statement sounds Kahlil Gibranish: mystic, confusing and makes no sense.
I have written so much about my personal life, not only I don’t have anything new to say, but also, in retrospect, whatever I had said in the past might not be entirely accurate. Now don’t get me wrong; the things I had said in the past are not lies, but facts have been craftily altered, events have been fabricated, truths have been diluted, literary license has been used generously. In short——you cannot sue me. Still, even after my open acceptance, readers prefer these pseudo memoirs over my short stories. I have never seen a writer doomed with such worse luck.
The good thing about memoirs is they don’t have to be real! I can talk to my readers, casually, as I am doing now; tell them irrelevant and unbelievable stories. Somewhere at the end of this article, I am going to tell you an unbelievable story of 3 naked men. It is funny, but nowhere related to this article!
Short story is a different animal. You can not crack jokes or narrate irrelevant anecdotes. Everything needs to be focused and related. Hence, they are boring. Even editors at Daiji are skeptic and reluctant: “Do we really have to publish this?” They wonder on receiving my story.
After considerable delay, when one such story finally gets published, I get around 20 hate mails. This one I received for my last story——I know, you haven’t read it——Monster: “Where is the ending of this story?”
On seeing this mail, I wondered, Is this a rhetoric question or a metaphysical one? Something like, what is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Where were we before birth and where do we go after death? Is this an infinite cycle of birth, death, and re-birth; and, in the same line of thoughts the ultimate question: where is the ending of this story?
After the last fiasco, I am back to my memoirs. But this is probably my last pseudo memoir. I need to seriously concentrate on fiction. After this article, I am going to write a short story: Bona and right after that I will write one-more short story: The right man. I am skeptic though. The names don’t carry much promise. I may have to write one more, final, last-last, I-swear-I-won’t-do-it-again, This Is It——memoir. We will see.
Identity crisis
Other time, I took my daughter to a kids’ party. We were given identical hand bands. This was to tag the kids to the right parents. “Don’t lose the band,” the girl at the counter had said. The warning made me so much conscious, I missed the fun, missed the party. While returning, to my horror, I noticed my daughter had lost the band.
“I need to call the manager,” said the girl at the exit.
“Wait a minute now,” I said, “No need to get panic. If you look at us, you will notice an uncanny resemblance.”
“That is not a proof that you’re the father.”
No matter how I begged, I couldn’t convince her. Later, two men with dark glasses took me too an adjacent small room. My identity was verified by drivers’ license. I had to provide my home address. Many questions were asked: Grandmother’s middle name; the street name where I was born; Formula to find the radius of a circle; my first girlfriend’s name (Here I gave my wife’s name); and, finally, my “real” first girlfriend’s name.
Things are lot different back in Kinnigoli. A few years ago, I went to the local bank to open an NRI account. I filled the form and gave it to the woman at the counter.
“Wait for few minutes,” she said, “I will give you the cheque book and documents.”
“Don’t you want to see my passport for identity proof?”
She gave me a mean look. “Are you not Mable’s son?”
“Of course you are. I know Mable. During her delivery, our Bijju was in the next room. Your father was not around——gone for a smoke. God! What a family! Guess, who took care of you in the initial hours?”
“You?” I said skeptically.
“That’s right! Do you know what you did?”
“You wet my sari.” She continued, “Today you are a big shot. You fancy long hair like a woman of questionable character. Your half shirt is in and other half out. (I promptly tucked in). Standing here, with the air of the person who owns this bank-building, you have the nerve to show me a piece of paper for identity proof. I know your whole family. Your grandfather, a fine gentleman, in his younger days, I must say, was considerate about my feelings-”
I got alarmed: where is this leading to?
“Do we need to go into all that, now?” I said, cautiously.
“You started all this——wait a minute,” She seemed to recollect something, “Are you not the one who as arrested?”
“No. That was not me.”
“But the police did come to your home?”
“You can say that-”
“But they didn’t do an arrest?”
“It was all confusion,” I explained, “They came for something else at the neighbor’s. But one of them wanted to use the restroom. And, finally at the time of return they didn’t know the way back, so I jumped into the front seat of the police jeep; and you know people-”
“How nice——Looks like a cinema-story.”
This went on for sometime. But I got my work done. I am from a small town. You don’t need a document or id card; people know each other for generations.
A Nobel candidate
Another time, at a party, the music was so loud and the flashing lights created such a confusing atmosphere, it scared my daughter. She had not seen human beings in such exhilarated states. Eventually, the host noticed this and we were gently led to a small room.
In the room I met other Fathers tending children at various stages: sleeping, soon to wake up, indifferent, and some were hyper——they must have had one too many chocolates. The room looked like a concentration-camp and the occupants looked like aliens. Prior to my daughter, though I had a substantial share of wild parties, I had never noticed such a room.
I took a corner seat. The person next to me had two children: One was about to sleep. And, the other——sleeping——was showing signs of waking up. (No two siblings sleep at the same time! There must be some scientific explanation for this——but times are not ripe yet for that breakthrough.) Anyway, I was talking about the person next to me. He looked as if he had lost interest in the whole world. In him, I saw my future.
But soon I realized I was wrong: the guy was quite smart. He talked about energy, mass equivalence and some obscure scientific concepts; while talking these things, he seemed strangely possessed and became as excited and energetic as the people dancing outside. Of course, much of the mumbo-jumbo went over my head. “Exactly, what is your domain?” I asked him.
“Theoretical Physics,” he said, “I was writing a white paper to prove E is NOT equal to MC square.”
Oh my god! I don’t know much about Physics——abandoned that muck right after college——but I know this, the moment one disproves the energy mass equivalence, you will get a long-distance call from the Nobel committee. Apparently, this guy had not received such a call.
“Then what happened? Did you realize the falsity in your silly presumptions?” I must say there was a touch of sarcasm in my voice. (The same kind, my critics assume, while finding faults in my articles.)
“No No” he said, “I was very near to success.”
“Oh! Then?”
“My wife got pregnant…” he waited searching for words, “The twins take all the time——”
All my life I had wondered why my parents or grandparents——intelligent people——didn’t invent anything significant. My parents and grandparents share 19 children (As of the publishing of this article) and uncountable grandchildren. Every time, I make an effort to draw the family tree, somewhere down the line I need to start over again, because of the fresh branches! I don’t know how many cousins I have. As I write this, somebody is pregnant. And some of them I have met so seldom——I have seen Halley Comet more often.
Parents with single child are holy people. And, those with more than one child are saints. They deserve an award. Someone should distribute discount coupons or some such stuff to keep up the moral. Once you have children it becomes increasingly difficult (read impossible) to achieve your goals; unless you have goals like watching the sunrise, waving at school buses, enjoying the clouds, observing the growing grass, listening the birds and smelling roses. Considering the fact that we all die one day, these goals are not that bad; I might try them myself, someday.
A peek at heaven
My daughter babbles a few words now. The first word she said was——NO. (Not being mama had supremely upset her mother.) We didn’t teach her that word; she learned that on her own. Now she says NO to everything. To derive a positive response from her, I need to phrase my questions in double negatives: Do you NOT want to eat No mum-mum?
Seasoned writers avoid double negatives——they are confusing. The person who uses double negatives frequently is an amateur——or Shakespeare, who got away with almost everything. In the absence of a good dependable dictionary (or thesaurus), the bard had made up his own words; thus he contributed a sizable chunk of words to the English language. Who else could have come up with the line, ‘where art thou, Romeo?’ that didn’t really mean ‘where are you, Romeo?’
I am amazed to discover, how washing machines, car rides and vacuum cleaners put babies to sleep. (In my school days, I always used to spell the word VACUUM incorrectly. Why two Us? I also used to spell the word incorrectly——incorrectly! That was because I was regularly-irregular to my classes. Ok, let’s stop this thing.) One would wonder——logically——babies would prefer silence over these noisy alternatives. But looks like these very alternatives soothe them with the warmth of mama’s tummy.
One time, police stopped my car at 2 AM in the morning. When they stop a car at that time, they are very cautious. They take a long time to check the license plate and verify your records. Meanwhile a backup car with lights turned off quietly makes a presence in the adjacent street.
“Have you been drinking?” asked the cop, finally made a presence.
“I am a teetotaler,” I said.
“A what?”
“Never mind. Being a writer, I sometime tend to be a bit articulate. In short, I don’t drink.”
“But your red-eyes tell a different story.”
“I am sleep deprived.” Then I pointed to my daughter in the child-seat. That cleared all the confusion. The cop had gone through that stage himself.
Other times, when she doesn’t sleep, I take her to Wal-Mart, which is open 24 hours. Usually, in the wee hours, it is empty——unless another parent is making rounds, like me. I have acquainted a few such parents; when we meet at these unholy hours we usually check notes and discus baby stuff: diaper rashes, milk bottles, baby food etc.
My daughter is quite attached to me. She takes all my time. This whole article is written while she was sleeping. Whenever she sleeps, I run to my computer and type a few sentences.
Hiding behind the front door, she eagerly waits for my return from office. I need to practice utmost care while opening the door. (I can’t make sudden entries like Kramer). Once inside, I need to pick her up first thing——I can not remove shoes or do some other thing. I did that once, and she started a wailing and ruckus; she thought I was ignoring her and giving more importance to mundane things.
No one had shown so much attention to me, ever——not even when I was a baby. In fact people ignored me to such an extent, I used to scribble my ideas on paper and one fine day realized that there are kind people willing to publish whatever I write——I became a writer.
Having a child around is a great learning experience. You learn new things, everyday. For e.g. Baby soap, when applied to eyes doesn’t cause burning. Baby toothpaste can be actually swallowed——I use it as a cheese spread. I found many long-lost interesting things under the couches and dining tables——some of them are so tasty! Gripe Water has such low percentages of alcohol it is actually safe for adults. Many a nights, tired from office work, I consume a small peg (30 ml) of Gripe Water before drifting into sound sleep.
Young men from Texas
All these baby-outings stopped or at least reduced drastically after the last trip. We had covered all the neighboring locations and were driving aimlessly in an unexplored distant place. I stopped the car at the signal for 3 young men to cross the road; they stopped in the middle of the road and gave a dramatic bow. And then suddenly——God, why didn’t You warn me?——they dropped their pants. This is America: anything is possible here. The town being new to me, I thought, this could be some kind of local custom of welcoming-the-guests. Different places in the world have different and unique ways of receiving guests.
Only later, I realized that the show was for the convertible next to mine, full of teenage girls. The girls giggled. (Young men had mistakenly assumed that nudity arouses women. It will take them years to digest the myth. What women like is not naked men, but a man who is an un-intrusive listener, who derives no logical conclusions from her talk.)
Throwing a second and final side-glance at them, I had concluded, correctly, that these young men were from no other place but Texas. In my younger days, I would have totally approved their gesture——possibly joined the welcome party myself. But days have changed——I am no more the wild and adventurous person that I was once. I pitied these men. And, wholeheartedly wished that they realize the wrong path they were treading and prayed to God to give them enough sense to make a U-turn at the earliest.
In my heart of hearts, I am really scared. The world is becoming dumber every day. The things that were unheard a few years back are norms now. Where is this leading? I get terrified when I think about the children not yet born——what is in store for them?
Once again, I am drifting into one of my dark moods. Let’s not delay a bit; let’s jump to the end-part right away——before I screw up this whole article. (Thank you though, for hanging around till now. I am sure many have already left. I think I should stop this incurable habit of talking to my readers inside brackets.)
Another premature ending
I remember like yesterday, the day my daughter was born. Being inside the labor room, I was one of the firsts to welcome her to this world. In my anxiety, I had counted 19 fingers and toes; and the nurse had suggested for a re-count starting from one——instead of zero. When I saw her first time, I was surprised to notice that she didn’t look like my wife, but I knew she was looking like someone in the Family——from Father’s side. I had struggled and failed to recollect that person. Only, in the parking lot, when we were taking her home, I had seen myself in the rear-view mirror and suddenly it dawned on me that the baby looked like me. She is miniature me. It is like re-living my life: replay! This is super-cool. (I know, I just used a worst modifier; but please, let’s leave it like that for once.)
A few days back someone stopped my wife at the department store.
“Are you Lobo’s wife?” he asked.
“Well, yes. Do I know you?” she said.
“No you don’t,” the stranger said, “I saw the child. She looks like Lobo. And I thought——”
It’s a beautiful life.

Note: If you liked this memoir, you might like the others in the series as well. Click Here. 

Note: This article was earlier published on Daiji.


Late noon, I locked the cash-counter, informed the cook and left home for lunch. Our hotel serves lunch for many: field workers, day to day laborers and occasional visitors. I though, never take my lunch at the hotel. No matter how busy I am, I make a point to eat at home.
Everyday, I cross the railway-gate, before the mail-train arrives. Once the gate is closed, the junction gets crowded. The train is still new for us. Even now, whenever a train passes, children run to the tracks and wave. People stop their chores, to have a good look at the passing mammoth. Spoiled brats place coins on the rail and wait in hiding, for the train to flatten it.
After lunch, I take a nap on the charpoy, under the jack-fruit tree. Inside the home, heat is unbearable. In the evening, just before the customers come for refreshments, I reach the hotel.
As I started walking along the rails, I heard the honk. I stopped at a safe distance and waited for the train to pass. Then something I saw shook my soul. Laksmi was playing on the tracks——she was deaf by birth. Presently, I saw the train entering my vision.
In my younger days, I would have raced for rescue, but I am just a shadow of my youth. Then I saw another person, Mohan, between me and the child. That gave me a huge relief. I thanked all Gods and Goddesses, for sending the savior.
“Save the child,” I shouted.
Apparently, Mohan had not seen the child, for he waved at me to repeat whatever I was shouting.
“Save the child.”
Only then he saw the child, and a look of horror came on his face. The train was alarmingly close. He took a couple of quick steps. Then he stopped. He didn’t move, instead cupped his ears in both hands, and squatted on the ground. I started running towards the child——a futile run. The train didn’t stop. It dragged the lifeless body for miles. Later I came to know that our station-master had to call the next station to stop the train. Police found the body a few hours later.
A large crowd had gathered, in the veranda of the victim’s house. I stood at a distance. Inside the house I saw my wife, Manju, consoling Laxmi’s parents. I didn’t have the courage to face them. The girl was their youngest. The elder one, a boy, has been sent to his grandparent’s house. I could not stand the wailing and mourning——I left the place after some time.
Being a witness, I was summoned to the police station. I preferred to go alone. But Manju wanted a dependable person to accompany me. Finally, I went with Sankara, my brother-in-law, who promised to take me on his bike. He owns the local gym; hence, he doesn’t have any time constraints.
At the station, I gave a detailed report of the event.
“When will you do the arrest?” I asked the inspector.
“What is your question again?” said the inspector. He was tall, dark and well built.
Not understanding the sarcasm, Sankara was about to repeat the question, when I gave a slight nudge.
“Nothing important, sir,” I said. I had never talked to this inspector, in the past; though, many a times, I had seen him racing on his bike, in front of the hotel. I had never been in a station; the unfriendly atmosphere made me uneasy.
From the station, we went to the hotel. The regulars were eagerly waiting for fresh news. Ignoring them, I went straight to the kitchen, to get updates from the cook. Our tea-boy had not returned from the vacation.
On my way out from the kitchen, I saw Mohan’s future father-in-law, retired Subba Rao, reading paper, at a corner table. Usually, he takes active participation in the debates over local politics. But today he was quiet and distant. I pulled out a chair and sank into it.
“Police will do an arrest soon,” I said. After a pause I continued, “If I were you, I won’t give my daughter to an animal.”
He let out a sigh, closed the newspaper neatly, paid the bill and went out——A sad man. But all this happened before the wedding, which is good for him.
Customers at the hotel, talk only about the accident. I heard many versions of the incident: some farfetched, some creative, some so much far from truth——they were just lies. People forget that I was an eye witness. The local newspaper ran the same story for days; they didn’t have anything new to report. At last they had to change the headlines for the fear of losing circulation.
Traumatized by nightmares, I wake up at odd hours. On the fateful day, in the final moments, the child had looked straight into my eyes, or may be this is my imagination. I no more know what is real. For a couple of days, I didn’t go to the hotel. The cook took care of the business.
Constable Ranga informed me yesterday, that an arrest is no more an option. He gave me some legal jargon: Police can not arrest a person for failing his moral responsibility or some such preposterous thing. I know the police: they just want to wash their hands off this matter.
Ranga had spread the news. The regulars at the hotel——at least a few of them——were waiting like vultures to hear my reasoning about this new development. I had no convincing answer; I shouldn’t have lied to Subba Rao in the first place. This whole thing occupied my mind as I entered the hotel.
But, then I saw something that made me lose my control: Mohan was at a corner table having his breakfast. I dashed to his table and swiped away his plate.
“How dare you enter my hotel?”
The chattering of the regulars stopped. Even the sizzling dosa-making noise from the kitchen halted.
“Get out from here,” I said.
Sankara came to me; he sensed the situation.
“Should I throw him out?” he asked. But Mohan was already on his way out.
“One of these days,” Sankara said, “I will teach him a thing or two.”
That worried me. In the past I had avoided my brother-in-law. He is impulsive. I don’t approve some of his actions during the past election. “I can handle this,” I said.
In the past I had never interacted much with Mohan. Except the few times I had gone to his home to pay my daughter’s tuition fee, there was not much interaction.
“Vasu, you are a little harsh on the lad,” said postman Inas.
“First pay the month long pending bill, then give me your preaching,” I said. That silenced him. The regulars turned away their faces.
“Mohan’s marriage has been called off.” Manju informed me at dinner. I continued eating in silence.
“People say it was your suggestion.”
“I don’t care what people say. I said whatever I thought correct.”
“Why are you getting involved in unnecessary matters?”
“I am not getting involved in anything. In fact I don’t want anything from him. Stop Pammi’s tuitions. No need to have any contacts with the beast.”
“The poor fellow has a bedridden mother-”
“I don’t care. I don’t run a charity business.”
“Think about Pammi. Her marks are not good.”
“I will find a new teacher. Where is she?”
“In her room.”
“Did she eat?”
“No. She is there since evening. She didn’t do well in a subject. Principal has warned her of not promoting to the next class, if the marks in the finals were not good. He wants 100% results in SSLC. He has a lot of pressure from the English Medium School.”
I found Pammi in her room, typing on her mobile phone. I had gone there to console her; but seeing her wasting time on the cell phone irritated me.
“Day and night you type on the phone. If only you had written so much on the exam papers, you would stand number one in the class.”
She ignored my sarcasm.
“What do you plan to do, if you lose a year?”
No response.
“Say something. I am talking to you.”
She continued typing. “Probably you want to slap me now…” she murmured.
I was just about to do that. It took a supreme effort to control myself.
“If you are not interested in study, start working in the hotel kitchen from tomorrow-”
I banged the door and came out. Last few years, I have been worrying about the opportunities she would miss because of the lack of education. I worry she will end up like me——A village life with no future.
Years ago, in a similar situation, I had told Father that I rather prefer to work in the hotel than learning useless math theorems. Father had raised a hand, a sharp blow was on way, but I had blocked his hand in mid air. I held his hand and squeezed a bit that made him wince in pain. I was young and arrogant. I told him: “In future, I want you to think before raising a hand.”
The words just came out of my mouth, they were not planned. How I regret, every moment, if only I could go back in time and erase the past. Since then, Father never raised a hand. Soon after, I joined the hotel. He neither consented nor objected: He was just indifferent. That was his stand, till the end, for pretty much everything I did.
On the death bed, he was asked if he wanted to spend his final moments with his son. He desired a talk with Sastri——his dear friend.
Long back, before I was born, Father had not come back till late night from a swim at the river. People lost hope. He returned in the wee hours. Only Sastri was waiting for him, all night at the river, for he knew his friend would come back.
Presently, Sastri was summoned for the last time; the two friends chatted about an hour in private. I was outside the room, all the time. I didn’t hear what they said. Sastri never mentioned about it; he stopped coming to the hotel after Father’s death.
I see the same indifference in my daughter’s eyes. Sometimes I wish, if only she had hated me, instead of the unconcern.
Yesterday, I saw Laxmi’s parents, at the riverbank. They had come out for fresh air, being inside the house for days. A few pedestrians stopped to exchange kind words. Life won’t be same for them. But people have already forgotten the past. I see Mohan now and then. He is free. In retrospect, there is no justice in the whole incident. Are we to keep quiet and turn a blind eye? If no one raises a voice, then how are we different from animals? My thoughts broke off, as I saw Sankara parking his bike. It was a little early for his visit.
“Pammi is still going for tuition,” he said. An uncontrollable fit seized me.
“Take me to his home.”
On the way, I didn’t say anything. My whole body shivered with rage. We parked in front of Mohan’s house.
“Stay here,” I told Sankara.
“Why don’t you let me handle it? I will solve this permanently.”
“I will ask your help when the situation goes out of my hand,” I told him.
I darted into the house and opened one of the doors——found his bedridden mother. “Is that you Vasu?” she said.
I didn’t answer. I found Mohan in the next room. There were no students. He stood up seeing me. I went straight to him.
“If I ever see my daughter in your home, I will break your legs.”
I didn’t wait for his response. While returning, Sankara threw many questions; I ignored him.
The second day, I saw Pammi——school bag on the back——at a distance, coming to the hotel. She had gone to the tuition and had been promptly sent back. I could sense this from her manner.
“We can talk this at home,” I told her before she said anything. Sankara was next to me.
“So this is what you do,” She said, eyes red, chest heaving, “You enter people’s house without permission and threaten them of breaking their legs.”
“Elders know what is good-” started Sankara.
“I am not talking to you,” she cut him off and turned towards me, “you are no different from him.” Pammi had never liked her mama. I didn’t want to create a scene in front of the customers; some of them were already throwing curious glances at us. I waited for her to leave.
“Mohan is setting your daughter against you,” Said Sankara. He was right; At least the fool had gathered that much correctly.
At dinner, an awkward silence prevailed. Pammi was sober now. The whole evening, I was brooding over whatever she said at the hotel.
“I don’t like my daughter lecturing me, at my own hotel, in the presence of customers,” I said, measuring every word. “When you run this house with your money, do whatever you like.”
She pushed away the plate and left the room.
“Pammi-” Manju called her.
“Let her go.”
I was awake till late night. Manju spent a long time in the kitchen, washing the plates; a couple of times, I heard loud noises of plates clanking——her way of showing disapproval. When she finally came to bed, she slept on the edge, farthest from me.
Since the moment Mohan entered my life, I had lost peace. Things were running out of my hand.
Though, I don’t have permit for serving alcohol in my hotel, on special occasions——like after the local elections or yearly jatra——it is allowed in moderation. Indian cricket team had won an impossible victory. After the match, a large crowd had gathered at the hotel. Drinks were served in opaque glasses to regular customers.
“I can take anyone here,” Sankara was challenging someone in the crowd. I had seen him gulping a couple of large pegs, behind the kitchen counter. Though he was tipsy, his animal strength was well known.
“Anyone here,” Sankara shouted, “I will use only one hand.”
Outside, at the bus stop, I saw Mohan; a devilish thought came to my mind. “I know a person,” I said loudly to the crowd, no one in particular, “who can challenge Sankara. I am ready to bet any amount.” I pointed Mohan. The crowd got wild. They wanted blood. Someone rushed out and dragged Mohan inside the hotel. Bets were laid. I was the only one betting against Sankara.
I walked up to him. “You wanted to take over,” I told him in undertone, “this is your chance.”
I didn’t care for money. I wanted to see the monster crushed: bloodied and begging for mercy.
Tables were pushed to the corner. The crowd made a circle leaving out the place for the contenders. Fresh liquor bottles were passed among the crowd——no more concealing the alcohol. Butler Bona noted the bets and explained the rules to the crowd: A bare fist fight, till one of the contenders fail to rise. Alarmingly composed, Mohan looked like a detached spectator——not the person whose fate was at stake.
“Do you understand the rules?” asked Bona.
“No rules,” shouted Sankara. “Mohan, I warn you. If you want to leave, do it now.” He had removed the shirt; his skin was oily; his muscles were shining in the amber light.
“Do you have any questions?” Bona asked the underdog, who remained silent. The crowd got restless; they didn’t like these formalities.
“Are you deaf?” Bona——self appointed umpire——pulled Mohan’s sleeves. On a regular day, Bona is a quiet person, but today he had had one too many pegs. “Do you have any questions deaf mother-f*#$er?” He pushed Mohan, who stood erect, not acknowledging the jostle. Mohan looked straight at me. For some reason the crowd had gone silent.
“Do you have any questions?” The question was asked the third time, impatiently.
“Can I kill him?” Mohan said, pointing Sankara.
I heard him very clearly. The words thundered in my ears. For years, sitting at the cash-counter, I have analyzed customers: Simple people, frustrated laborers, farmers waiting for rain, women no more young. I have seen all sorts of them. And now, in Mohan, I saw a man in desperation: A cornered man. On any given day, he was not a match for Sankara. But, I saw the fire in his eyes. I saw the determination. A determined man can achieve whatever he wants. I realized he would do what he said.
I went to Mohan. “Leave this place,” I said. He left without a word. The crowd booed. “Go home,” I told everyone and went inside the kitchen.
Sankara was not in a position to ride his Bike. I took the front seat, while Sankara leant on me from the backseat. We rode along the river.
A small group of devotees were coming to the river. The rhythmic chants and musical instruments occupied air. I stopped the bike in the corner, to make way for the devotees. On the old, railing less, bridge I saw the silhouette of a person. The bridge has been abandoned, since drunkard Boja fell off it to his demise 3 years ago.
“It’s Mohan,” said Sankara. “He sits there all the time.”
“I wish someone would push him off that bridge to his end.”
“I was going to do the same thing, had you not backed out.”
I gave the fool a sharp look.
“Be thankful, I saved your life.”
He gave a nervous laugh. “Let’s go from here,” he said.
I found Manju at the gate. “Pammi has not returned from school; she is not picking the phone either. Her results were announced today.” I had forgotten about the results. I tried calling her in vain. Then, I went to our neighbor and called from Ramya’s cell phone.
“Pammi where are you?”
“I am at-” she recognized my voice.
“Talk louder; what is that noise in the background?”
“I am going to a place you cannot reach,” I heard that very clearly amidst the background noise. She disconnected.
“Where is she?” Manju had joined by then. Her eyes welled up.
I left Manju with her brother and raced the bike towards the river. I had heard the chants on the cell phone; she was near the old bridge.
At the foot of the old bridge, I dropped the bike and raced towards Pammi. She had already covered half-way on the bridge.
“Pammi,” I shouted. “Wait!”
She got surprised seeing me.
“Please,” I said, “don’t do it.”
She looked at the water below. It was high tide in the river. No boats were crossing, water had a mad rush.
“I failed in the exam.”
“Don’t worry about it; next time-”
“I can never live up to your expectations…wait!” she shouted, “If you take one step forward, I will jump.”
In that moment, I realized she won’t listen to me. I had failed her. Painfully, it dawned on me that these were the final moments. When she was a child, I used to spend so much time with her. She was very much attached to me. Somewhere the bond was broken and mundane things took precedence.
“Pammi, May I talk to you for a moment?” It was Mohan. He had approached her from the other side of the bridge. “Suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary problem,” he said.
“I don’t need your lecture.”
“Think about your mother,” he said.
“This is none of your business.”
“If you jump,” said Mohan, “I will jump too.”
She looked at him, wide eyed. “Can you swim?”
“You didn’t save Lakshmi. How come you are so generous today?”
“I don’t have an option.”
“Don’t think you can talk me out of this-”
“I am not doing any such thing,” he said, “But if you jump, I will jump too. I will try my best to save you.”
“Why this sudden change?”
“I was scared.”
“I was scared at the train. I thought I would die. I froze. That incident has haunted me every night. I can’t sleep anymore. I get scary dreams. I see the child in them. By placing you here, God has given me another opportunity. I cannot leave you to kill yourself. I cannot have two deaths on my conscience. Please don’t kill yourself. Let me help you. Save me. I am begging you.”
He squatted on the bridge; covering his face, he wept uncontrollably. When Pammi placed a hand on his shoulder, he clutched it like a drowning man grasping for the last straw. He wiped off the tears from the back of his hand. “Thank you,” he said, “for saving me.”
I don’t know how long I sat on the riverbank. It was dark, when the sky broke and the rains started pouring. The water quenched the fire in me, and cleansed my soul. Mohan had not only saved my daughter, he saved me. The scales fell off my eyes. I saw things clearly: I was neither an avenger, nor a weapon of God. I am just a weak person.
The rain was not stopping; when I got up, drenched, I saw a person in all-white, standing at a distance. I don’t know how long Sastri was waiting in his umbrella. Certainly, he had been waiting for quite sometime. Not knowing what to say, I just stood in front of him. He came forward and took me under his umbrella. We walked home in silence.

Note: If you liked this short story, you might like my other short stories as well. Click here for more. 

Note: This story was earlier published in Daiji.