Sunday, December 20, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Being a widow, living in a thatched roof house, working as a servant maid… nothing made her feel poor. But it was the first day in her lifetime Malathi felt the sting of being poor. Without a telephone connection at home she felt paralyzed. "If only I had a telephone at home, my son would have called up by now", Malathi lamented within herself. Her son who went to school that morning did not return back home. Her attempt to find him in and around the school turned futile. She wasn't even sure if her son remembered her owner's telephone number which she had given him long back to be used for emergency contact. She prayed and hoped that he should be back anytime. The sunset, the emergence of darkness, the loneliness of the night, the speed of the clock; nothing seemed to stop… so was Malathi's grief. It was already 11:20 PM then. The only option left with her was to wait for dawn and approach the Police and her owner for help. Her neighbors consoled her, promised help and had jus left. She was silently crying all alone at home. She heard a car stop near her house. It was her owner's car. She came running surprised to see him there at that time of the night. The owner had brought good news for her. He informed Malathi that he had got a call from the Railway police that her son was at the Tambaram railway station. Malathi went with the owner in the car to pick up her son. She couldn't control her tears on the way…she kept weeping while her owner consoled her. Malathi was relieved, her tears stopped only after the policeman handed over her son to her. He was bit rude with Malathi. He murmured… "Pullaya pathuka theriyadhuna edhuku ivunga ellam pethukranga". Her owner dropped back them at home. Malathi and her son went to bed at 3 AM. She knew that her son had actually tried to runaway from home. She did not ask him anything about why he decided to runaway. She just hugged her son and slept.
If there was anything in this world that Shivaji would hate…it was his school and his books. Shivaji the eight year old son of Malathi was a very reluctant school boy. The smell of the book meant poison to him. His mother had to change his school 3 times in 3 years-courtesy his perforamance! Teachers had tough time trying to get Shivaji write something in his books. This is the limit. I can't tolerate anymore the hardship of tackling books, school and teachers. The world is open for me and here I start to explore! Shivaji decided to runaway from home. He loved his mother very much. He cannot afford to miss her. But he hated his books more than that. His hatred and the fancy of he unknown world persuaded him to flee. That day, he walked out of school towards home. But then took a 'U' turn towards the east. After 2 hrs of non stop walking, he reached the Marina beach. He played there till his heart was content. Twilight hours have always been at home with books for me. Today he was at the beach playing with the waves. He felt he was at the top of the world. With the same enthusiasm he took his school bag rushed to the Napier's Bridge. With the all the force he could apply, he threw his bag in the river. He bid good bye to his studies and headed south. He was walking along the road aimlessly. He then boarded a bus and reached Tambaram. With the available money in his pocket he bought loads of snacks to keep himself occupied during his unscheduled journey. It was already 11 PM when he reached the Tambaram railway station. He was switching between platforms not knowing which train to board in which direction. A policeman saw this wobbly boy moving around in school uniform. With suspect and sense of responsibility, he approached the boy and started enquiring. Learning the boy's plight, the policeman warned him of serious action if he doesn't get back home. Shivaji broke down in fear. He did not know the way to reach his home. All he remembered was the telephone number of the SIR for whom his mom worked. And that brought him back to his mother.
Malathi felt lost looking at his son's attitude towards school and studies. But her only hope for life was her son Shivaji. Hence she took the hard decision of stopping school as per his son's wish. It was Shivaji's wish and priority to work as a mechanic at an auto shop for which Malathi had to oblige. With a tough heart she let her son go for work as a mechanic. Being mechanic at a tender age of 8 was no mean task. But Malathi had to do it as this was the only way she found to retain Shivaji with her at home!
Shivaji loved his new avatar as a mechanic. Hard core work with nuts and bolts, frequent visits to tea stall to buy tea and snacks for his boss and colleagues, being part of big people's gossip, going to movies in gangs, Shivaji was enjoying every moment of his life. Frequenting to tea shop to buy tea and cigarette for his boss started taking the toll on him slowly. One day he was enthused to try his style at smoking. Initially he struggled, but his interest drove him better everyday. He soon turned expert in smoking. Every time he went to the tea shop he would get a cigar for himself, smoke out to his heart's content and only then get back to work. His boss started noticing the delay in getting tea every time. One day he followed him candidly to observe what has been causing the delay. Seeing Shivaji stop to smoke, in a fist of anger his boss slammed him hard. It was a coincidence for good that Malathi was out to the shop that day when she saw the person thrashing Shivaji on the road. Malathi could not control her anger when she was informed that Shivaji had learnt smoking. She pulled him to house and cried for hours together. Finally it was time for the dejected mother to decide. She had to put a full stop to his mechanic life which took him to bad habits. From the next day, wherever she went, she took Shivaji too with her. This went on for few weeks, when one day her owner asked her about her plans for Shivaji. Malathi had no plans in mind, but all she wanted was Shivaji to grow up as a good man. The owner's brother was to arrive at his place for a one month vacation from the US. The owner offered to pay Malathi extra money if she accepted to have Shivaji stay here at his home to assist him during his brother's visit. Malathi saw this as a safe bet as Shivaji would be under her eye sight.
The Owner's brother arrived. Shivaji's daily work was to ensure that his room was always clean, assist him in daily chores as required and take care of the garden. Shivaji did not enjoy this work, but this was better than being idle. Days passed, and Shivaji felt bored with his work. One day while cleaning the room, he saw his master's wallet on the bed. Tempted to see what was inside, he opened the wallet which overflew with money. Devil's mind pulled out a ten rupee note from it and inserted it into his pocket. He did not spend that money the whole day. The next day when was convinced that his master had not realized anything about the missing money, he spent that ten rupee for buying himself some chocolates. He was generous enough to give chocolates to his friends nearby too. The next day he pulled out a 50 rupee note. Got lots of chocolates. The other day he pulled out a 100 rupee note and got the best of the chocolates available in the market. When his friends enquired from where he got the chocolates from, he lied that he got them from his uncle who had come from Dubai!
Poor Malathi, she was unaware about all these. Days passed and Shivaji had become not an intentional, but a habitual thief. His master had indeed observed money missing from his wallet everyday, and one fine day Shivaji was caught red-handed. The owner and his brother threatened him that he will be handed over to the police. But they did not do so for the sake of Malathi. Shivaji had no guts to face his mother with the thief scar on his face. Ashamed of himself, Shivaji decided to flee the house once again. This time he managed to get into a Kerala bound train.
Life takes you in its own path if you do not choose one for yourself. This is true with Shivaji. He wandered around Kerala for many days without food and shelter. Finally he landed at an orphanage in the foothills of the Western Ghats. From the ninth year of his life, till he turned nineteen, for ten long years, he spent his life at the orphanage. Cutting trees was his major task all these years. He grew up amidst holy fathers and sisters of the Christian missionary which ran the orphanage. In these ten years, everything changed. Shivaji became Antony Raj. He learnt to be good, he grew strong but he never knew how to read and write! As children grew up as youngsters, they no longer needed the shelter of the orphanage. But it was never time for Antony Raj to leave as he never knew what the world was outside the abode.
One fine morning when Raj was about to leave for his daily work, he saw a familiar face at the reception. It was his mother!!! He ran towards his mother and stood speechless. He had no excuses to offer, but still his eyes revealed his gratitude for his mother. His mother's search for him was the sign of forgiveness and love. Malathi had undergone lots of trouble and pain finding her son. The 10 year long wait was worth it. He got her son as a revived youngster. She was happy to see her son as a new person. They both headed back to Chennai with new hopes of a new beginning.
Malathi was not ready to see Shivaji as Antony Raj. Though Raj was bit detached about shedding his Christian identity, he felt his mother's comfort with Shivaji was the need of the hour. Antony Raj reincarnated as Shivaji again. He wanted a job to take up the bread winner role. What work can an illiterate expect in a metro? Even to become a driver a SSLC certificate is mandatory. Previous history of being a mechanic did not allow that thought to reap in to their minds. The most flourishing IT industry did show a way to them. One of Malathi's neighbors who was a food supplies contractor to one of the leading IT solutions concern in Chennai promised Shivaji a job as a pantry attendant. New khaki uniforms, ID card, shoes, cap…Shivaji had a new lifestyle ahead.
Witth all hopes of a new begining, Shivaji jump started with his new career. His job was to give away coffee and snacks for the food tokens surrendered by the employees. At times employees would give money when they don't carry tokens. At the end of the day, Shivaji had to make sure he had enough tokens and money to account for the number of cups of coffee and snacks he had vended out. The few Rupees which the coffee cost did not matter much to the well to do employees. They never cared to take back change at times. Shivaji never understood the money and token tallying. All he would do was to submit everything under his desk to his supervisor. There have been days when Shivaji had given more money than the daily sales amount. Shivaj never noticed this but the supervisor acted as though he never observed. Days passed, weeks went ahead, and Shivaji was fast settling in his new job. Bad time did soon catch up with him. One day his supervisor noticed that few tokens worth Rs.5 were less than the number of cups of coffee sold that day. It could well be a case where couple of employees did not handover tokens when their group gave a bunch together or Shivaji might have given back extra change when someone paid by cash. But the supervisor was very rude to accuse him of stealing. He gave a stern warning to Shivaji before he let him go. Very upset of what happened to him, Shivaji became more conscious and started double checking the tokens and cash for every sale he made. Next two weeks went fine but then history repeated again. Today the shortage was equal to Rs.18. Being the second time and a bigger value than the former, Shivaji had to undergo embarrassment with public words of insult and being branded as a cheat. Devastated by the events, Shivaji went home with a heavy heart. The young man who has never cried since his early childhood broke down to his mother expecting consolement. Malathi dearly spoke to her son trying to bring peace to his mind. But then, when Shivaji was almost getting rid of his tears, Malathi slowly requested… "Panama eda eduthirindha kudutidalam pa"… This was the most hurting moment in Shivaji's life. He was dejected to the core that even his mother had element of doubt in him, thanks to his childhood history! Without uttering a word, Shivaji walked out of his house. He kept walking aimlessly. He reached the Napier's bridge from where he threw his school bag into the river when he was 9 yrs old. Now at 19 years he stood there repenting for all his mistakes. In anguish he burst out crying aloud. It was the cry of the century.
The road ahead is rugged. But certainly there is a path. Shivaji will survive.
"If wealth is lost, nothing is lost. If health is lost, something is lost. But, if character is lost, everything is lost."