You are on page 1of 65

A COLLECTION OF

SHORT STORIES
BY

MANOJ NAIR
Book I
A Collection of Short Stories

Contents
The Old Man 3
The Village postman 12
A love letter 21
A Life of crime 35
The street dancer 49

2
A Collection of Short Stories

THE OLD MAN

The day in our village Neyyarinkara started early. By five in the morning most of the villagers

would be at the river bank. We went there for our morning bath, to brush our teeth and wash

dirty clothes. As I was eight years old, I did not have to wash clothes. I could also have done the

bathing and brushing at home with the water from the well in our backyard. Mother did not allow

me to go near the well. The river was a kilometer from our house. The street which ran across

our gate ended at the river bank. During the sun light hours of the day, I ran up and down this

road a thousand times. Running off to school, returning from school, going to the market to buy

groceries - I knew every bump and bend on the road but in the dark of the early morning hours, I

would hold on to mother’s hand for support.

At the river bank I recognized most of the people. They were the regulars. The village policeman

was there. I could also see the teachers from my school and most of the shopkeepers. Even

Raghu the village thief was there, bathing at a safe distance from Gopalan the policeman. Mother

took a lot of time to finish her bath. First, she would wash all the clothes she had bought along

with her. Then she would brush her teeth and finally take a dip in the gentle waters of our

Neyyar. I would finish everything in a couple of minutes, come out of the water and wait for her

on the sandy river bank. I loved to listen to the conversations of the elder folks as they stood

there preparing for their bath. It was while waiting for mother to come out of the water that I first

met the Moopan.

3
A Collection of Short Stories

In Malayalam, the language we spoke at home, Moopan meant old man. The man was old. To

my eyes he looked as old as my grandfather if not older. He was sitting inside his shop. It was

more of a big wooden box than a shop. Wooden planks held together by rusted nails on three

sides. A tin sheet on the top to keep the rain away. In front the shop had an opening. A portion of

the wooden planks was cut in half and was held up by hinges. The old man was inside the shop

at all times. There were ledges on the walls of his shop which had jars of different shapes and

sizes.

“What are you doing here all alone?” the old man said as he spotted me standing there all by

myself.

My first reaction was to slide away and go back to standing near the river. One look at him and I

realized he could not be dangerous.

“I am waiting for my mother to come out.”

“What is your mother’s name?”

“Kalyani,” I said.

“Oh! you are Narayanan the postman’s son?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I have never seen your father coming to the river for his bath.”

“He has his bath at home. We have a well in our house.”

“And you like coming here so early in the morning?”

I shrugged and kicked at some sand which was lying in a heap. The old man smiled.

“Don’t you go to school?” he said.

4
A Collection of Short Stories

“I am in the third standard at the Government Boys High School.”

“Are you good at your studies?”

“I stood first in the under ten boys athletics competition. I got a gold medal for that.”

“Does that mean that you are not good at studies?”

I winced. It was a trick question. I hated trick questions. Adults always had this habit of trying to

coax answers out of us using such trick questions.

“I got a B grade in my exams. That is not bad, but I am better at sports,” I said.

“Your grandfather was also good at sports,” the old man said.

“You knew my grandfather?”

“We were close friends during our school days. I had to stop studies after the fourth form, he

continued till his sixth. He stood first in all the sports competitions.”

“I got my gold medal for coming first in the under ten boys division,” I said happy that I was

being compared with my grandfather.

I loved my grandfather. He used to play with me. He would tell me a new story every day. I used

to sleep in his room at night.

“Grandfather is now in heaven,” I said.

“I know,” the old man said, “most of my friends are now in heaven.”

He became silent. The light from the single wicker lamp burning in his shop, added more creases

to his face.

The Moopan’s shop specifically catered to the early morning bathers. Coconut oil, ummi- kirri

powdered burnt rice husk which we used to rub on our teeth, small one-inch pieces of soap

different brands for bathing and washing clothes - he only stored such items. He also stocked the

5
A Collection of Short Stories

stalk of coconut leaves with which we used to clean our tongue. All combined these essential

ingredients for morning bath cost ten paisa per person. People found it easy to bring a ten-paisa

coin rather than carry all these from home.

“Is my son troubling you?” mother’s voice stopped our conversation.

“Oh no! He is a smart boy. He tells me he is good at sports,” the old man said.

“It would have been better if he had paid more attention to his studies,” said mother.

Mother was always like that. Putting me down in front of others. She firmly believed that you

should not praise you children before others. It invited the ‘evil eye’. I did not believe in the

concept of an evil eye. Then you could not argue with mother. I could get spanked right there on

the street. Father was easier to handle. I stood there, head bowed inspecting my toes as they

played with the sand.

“Come boy lets go to the temple,” said Mother.

That part of the morning program was why she dragged me along with her every day. Father did

not believe in God. Mother said he was a communist. I did not understand what that was but

knew that they were happy people who did not have to get up early to go to the temple. I knew

that I would also grow up and become a communist - anything that could get me a few hours of

extra sleep. Not that the temple was a bad place to visit.

Our village temple was small but beautiful. It was in the shape of a square. A series of square

shaped structures one within the other. In the inner most square was a small roofed house where

the idol of the God was kept. Mother would stand at a distance along with other people all with

still wet clothes and pray. Mother had taught me how to pray. I followed her instructions to the

6
A Collection of Short Stories

letter every day. My prayer was always the same. I would ask God to set easy question papers in

the exam. It never worked. I knew God would have only himself to blame if I eventually became

a communist.

Every day after my bath I would run up to the Moopan’s shop and watch as he served his

customers. After he had served them all, he would turn to me and we would resume our

conversations. I told him about school. How difficult mathematics was and how confusing

science could be. I told him how much I enjoyed athletics and football. The Moopan told me

about the rhinoceros beetle and the red palm weevil which could destroy coconut trees. He told

me about his wife who had gone to heaven when he was thirty, leaving him with a son who had

eventually run away from home - never to return.

One day as mother and I reached the river bank we found a crowd of people gathered near the

Moopan’s shop. The shop was closed. It was the first time I had seen the shop closed. In fact, it

was the first time any one in the village had seen the shop closed.

“Why has the Moopan not opened his shop?” someone asked.

“I don’t know. Why are you asking me?” someone else replied.

“I cannot have a bath without coconut oil in my hair,” said another person. I looked at the man

and saw that he had about a hundred and fifty strands of hair on his head. There was not much

that the moopan’s hair oil could have done for him.

The next day the scene was repeated but this time the number of people standing were far less.

Some had come expecting this to be the case with their hair already greasy and small pouches of

7
A Collection of Short Stories

ummi-kirri. When the shop remained closed on the third day, people stopped asking questions

about the moopan.

“Why is the moopan not opening his shop?” I asked mother on our way back home.

“I don’t know Kittu,” Mother called me Kittu, “maybe he has gone to heaven like your

grandfather?”

I did not like her reply. It made me sad. I said nothing on the way back home.

That day after school on the way back home I took a different route. During my conversations

with the Moopan he had told me where he stayed. It was a place behind the temple. Normally

nobody used that road. Our temple had a paved street right outside its main gate. The other three

sides were full of shrubs and wild overgrowth. I had to walk carefully to avoid getting cut by the

thorny bushes. In a distance I could see a small thatched hut.

“Any one at home?” I said.

There was no reply.

“Is there anyone living here?” I asked again this time almost shouting the words out.

There was a faint cough from somewhere inside. Cautiously I went in the hut. It was dark inside

and it took my eyes a few minutes to get accustomed to the light. The smell inside the hut

reminded me of my grandfather during the last days of his life. Grandfather was always in bed

during those days. He did not have the energy to walk around and sometimes soiled his clothes.

The hut had that same smell. In the dim light I could make out the Moopan lying on a cot in a

corner of the room.

8
A Collection of Short Stories

“Don’t worry grandpa,” I said, “I will get someone who can help.”

I ran towards my house, half way through I changed direction and ran towards the post office. I

knew that in a situation like this it was father who could be able to help better.

“Father….father, come quick. The moopan needs your help,” I said as I entered the post office.

It was a week day and there were people standing in queue at the counter.

“What are you doing here?” said father his head popping up from behind the counter.

“Father the old man needs help. He is not well,” I said.

“Which old man?”

“The Moopan. The old man who runs the shop near the river bank.” I said.

“How do you know that?” father asked.

“I went to his house. I saw him lying there in bed. He cannot get up. Hurry he needs help.”

“How do you know where the old man lives?” one of the men standing in the queue asked me.

“He told me,” I said, “Father please can you come now? He needs help.”

“I need the stamps and the envelopes,” said another man standing in the queue.

“My money order is urgent. My son needs the money for his college fees. He is staying in a

hostel.” said a woman standing behind him.

Father looked at the clock on the wall behind us. It was two thirty in the afternoon. The post

office was open till four in the evening.

“Today we will close early,” said father and the queue moved closer to the counter.

I waiting at the door. I could never understand adults. A man was suffering and all they could

think of was stamps and money.

9
A Collection of Short Stories

“Kittu go home or your mother will be worried,” said father. He also called me Kittu at home.

“I want to come with you,” I said.

“No. Go home take my tiffin box with you and give it to your mother,” said father this time his

voice was firm. I obeyed.

“Where were you?” mother was at the door step.

I told her everything.

“Why did you go inside that old man’s house?”

“Amma, he is not well,” I said.

“Have I not told you not to trust strangers?”

“Amma he is old and sick.”

“Kittu he could have hurt you,”

“Amma, he reminded me of Appupan,” I said. I could not stop the tears as they poured down my

cheeks. I repeated, “He reminded me of Appupan.”

Mother smiled and bent down and lifted me up.

“Such a big boy and you still cry. Don’t worry your father will take care of him. He will take

care of the Moopan. See! you are so tall when I carry you your feet touch the ground!”

I laughed in spite of my tears as I saw that she was right. My feet were touching the ground.

The shop remained closed after that. Every morning I would stand near it as I waited for mother

to return after her bath. Somewhere in my mind I hoped the old man would come and open the

shop. I knew that it was not possible. Father along with a few villagers took the old man to the

10
A Collection of Short Stories

hospital. He sat there besides the old man for a few days, coming late at night. Every day he

would tell us what the doctors had said about the old man’s condition.

One day father came home early from the post office. I was playing in our courtyard. As I ran in

father caught hold of me and picked me up. He kissed me on both cheeks. I was embarrassed.

Father never behaved like this. It was mother who hugged and kissed me and I hated it.

Father handed me a package wrapped in an old newspaper. He asked me to open it. I tore open

the paper. Inside was an old photograph of two boys.

“Do you know who that is?” said father pointing at one of the boys.

I looked carefully but did not recognize the face.

“That is your appupan – my father. And this is the Moopan standing with him,” he said, “this is a

photo of them from their school days. In fact, this is the only photo of my father from his school

days that I have seen. The Moopan wanted you to have this picture. The Moopan died today in

the hospital.”

Father choked as he said it. Mother was standing there listening to him. I could see tears rolling

down her cheeks. I felt sad too. Then I looked at the photo. A photo of two boys holding hands,

laughing at the camera, not a care in the world and then I felt happy again.

I knew that my Appupan and his best friend were together again.

11
A Collection of Short Stories

THE VILLAGE POSTMAN

Narayanan was checking the air pressure in the cycle tires. He pressed down with all his

strength on the handle bars. The tires fought him back. He was satisfied.

“No need to pump in more air today,” he thought.

He checked his watch. It said five minutes to ten. It was time to start his mail delivery rounds.

Everyday of the week Narayanan would start his mail delivery round by ten. The route he took

depended on where the letters were to be delivered. In the village it was said that you could set

you watch by looking at Narayana making his rounds. Narayanan was proud of his reputation.

The salary of a postman was low. Sometimes he wished he had studied more, that would have

helped get a better job.

Narayanan’s father Gopalan Pillai was a farmer. A farmer who lost his wife when he was in his

early forties. She departed leaving him with two sons still in school. Narayanan and his younger

brother Krishnan were good at sports but to excel at studies required more than a healthy body.

Year of droughts interspersed with years of floods ensured that Gopalan’s efforts were all

wasted. He vowed that his sons would not end up as farmers. He was elated when both his son’s

got government jobs. Narayanan the elder son became a postman and Krishnan joined the army

as a sepoy. When Narayanan got married and had a son, Gopalan’s happiness knew no bounds.

But as the saying goes all things good must come to an end. One day Gopalan slipped and fell on

a wet floor. He slipped into a coma and eventually passed away in his sleep.

Narayanan was an active member of the communist party while still in school. He would have

been happy with a simple funeral for his father but that was not to be. His relatives, most of who

12
A Collection of Short Stories

never helped Gopalan when he was alive, insisted on a traditional funeral. His wife, Kalyani a

devout Hindu supported them.

“It is important that al the customs and traditions be followed. If not, the soul does not achieve

salvation,” Kalyani said.

All the old timers nodded their heads in agreement and Narayanan was voted out.

Now all that remained of his father was a photograph, which hung near the main door of his

house. Every day as he started for work, Narayanan would look once at his father’s serious

countenance and only then leave for the day.

“Please can you post this letter?” a voice brought Narayanan back to earth. This happened every

day. People would stop him on the way and hand him letters which they had written but as yet

not posted.

“Yes, why not” said Narayanan and put the letters in a different part of his bag. He would now

have to carry them back to the post office and then stamp them and then deliver them to their

address.

The letter receivers were usually the same. House wives with husbands in distant cities, Parents

with children in hostels. These addresses repeated after a fixed number of days. Narayanan noted

such small details. He also carried money orders. Money sent by post and eagerly awaited by

their recipients.

Narayanan had almost finished his round for the day. He took out the last letter from his bag. He

looked at the address and for a moment was lost. He had stamped it at the post office but not read

the address then. It was an address of a place behind the temple. He had never been there before.

13
A Collection of Short Stories

As he rode his cycle up the temple road, he realized he would have to walk the rest of the way.

The road behind the temple was full of bushes and shrubs. This was no place to ride a bicycle.

“Narayanan, finally you decided to visit the temple!” said Unni, the tailor whose shop was next

to the temple. Narayanan had put his cycle next to Unni’s shop.

“No!” said Narayanan and smiled. Everyone knew he was a communist. They just liked to rib

him once in a while.

“Is there a house behind the temple?” Narayanan said.

“There are two-three huts not sure who lives in them. Why do you ask?” said Unni.

“I have to deliver a letter” said Narayanan.

“Rajamma? Anyone by that name here” said Narayanan. He saw only one house behind the

temple.

There was no reply. He repeated his question, this time in a louder voice.

Narayanan heard a low cough from inside the hut. An old woman came out of the hut. She stood

there holding on to the crumbling pillars supporting the hut.

“Who wants to know? I am Rajamma.”

“There is a letter for you.” Narayanan said handing over the letter to her.

“There is a mistake. I do not have any relatives. This should be for someone else.”

“No! That is not possible. See it clearly say.

Rajamma Amma

Behind Shree Krishna Temple,

14
A Collection of Short Stories

East Street, Neyyarinkara Post Office. Trivandrum.

“The address is correct, but as I said I do not have any friends or relatives who would send me

letters.”

“It is from Bombay.”

“I do not have any relatives here in Neyyarinkara, why would anyone in Bombay send me a

letter?”

It was a good question. Narayan now had a problem. As per the rules his job was to deliver the

letter at the correct postal address. He was at the correct postal address but the addressee was

refusing to accept the letter. Then he found a way out.

“Read this letter. In the first few lines you will know if this is for you or not.”

“I can hardly see you properly. How do you expect me to read? I do not have money to buy

reading glasses.”

Narayanan sighed. This was another ‘service’ that came with his job. Narayanan opened the

letter and began reading.

I, Mohamad Usman am a chief mechanic at Bombay Construction Company in Kurla. I am

writing this letter on behalf of one of my workers who say he is your son. His name is Sreekumar

and he says he ran away from home when he was twenty years old. This incident happened five

years back…..

Narayanan stopped reading as he heard a crashing sound. The old woman had fainted. She was

lucky that she fell on top of a rotting bed and then slid on to the floor. If she had fallen directly

on the floor, she would have broken all her bones.

15
A Collection of Short Stories

Narayana ran and picked her up. He lay her down and went inside the house. He bought some

water and sprinkled it on her face. When the woman came to her senses she started wailing. The

wailing brought Unni and a few of the shopkeepers to the house.

By evening the news that Rajamma’s long-lost son was alive was the hot - topic of discussion in

the village. People who never in their lives had seen or known Rajamma spoke about her as if

she was a close relative.

The boy’s story was indeed remarkable. He had jumped on a train and reached Bombay. There

for some time he had begged and survived on the scraps thrown out by hotels. Then Usman had

found him and given him a job. Five years later the boy had saved up some money and was

planning to send his mother some money every month.

“This is a miracle! Now do you believe in God?” said Kalyani

“Why should this make me believe in God?” said Narayanan.

“Is it not a miracle that Rajamma’s son should return now. The whole village had given him up

for dead. Even the police had closed the investigation and now after five years news comes that

he is alive.”

“Nonsense think of how much he had to struggle in these five years. He was surviving on scraps

from dustbins. And what of Rajamma’s suffering all these years. He was the only support she

had. With him declared dead she was living the life of a recluse all these years. What was her

fault that your God made her suffer like that?” Narayanan countered.

16
A Collection of Short Stories

“It is a miracle that her son is alive. Your communist brain will not understand it but I know and

the whole village agrees with me that it is a miracle.” That was the end of the discussion. They

did not speak for two day after that.

A week after the letter the first money order for five hundred rupees arrived at the post office.

Rajamma beamed with pride as she signed to receive the money.

“My son has sent this. I do not want his money. All I want is to see him once before I die, “she

said to anyone who would listen.

Sreekumar’s coming to the village to meet his mother was the event of the year in Neyyarinkara.

The entire village had gathered at the railway station. Very few trains stopped at the small

railway station and those that halted stopped for a few seconds. Seeing the massive crowd

gathered at his Railway Station the Neyyarinkara Railway Station master halted the train for a

full minute. Like some V.I.P the boy got down and was received by a tearful Rajamma. There

was hardly a dry eye in the crowd. Overcome with emotion the station master offered them a cup

of tea in his cabin. Son and mother decided to go home instead.

The next day when Sreekumar took his mother to see a doctor they were again followed by a

crowd. Rajamma was weak. All the years of grieving and extreme poverty had taken its toll and

the woman was ailing. Most of his leave of two weeks Sreekumar spent on visiting doctors and

hospitals. A tearful Rajamma was there at the railway station the day her son returned.

Rajamma’s condition took a turn for the worse after her son left. All the medicines her son had

purchased remained on the shelves in her hut. After a few days the people also forgot all about

17
A Collection of Short Stories

the mother and son and went on with their lives. Narayanan was the only occasional visitor to her

house. He went there to deliver a letter or hand her money sent by her son.

One day Narayanan was about to start his mail rounds for the day when the telegraph machine

started rattling out a message. It was a telegram. Narayanan read the message and for a moment

did not know what to do. He reread he message. It said.

“To Rajamma STOP Son Sreekumar dead STOP Fire accident at factory STOP Call 022

2801234 STOP from Usman STOP”

Narayanan folded the message and kept it in his pocket. He delivered all the mails and came

back to the post office. That day as normal he locked the post office at four thirty and left home.

He did not tell anyone about the telegram. It was a telegram and the rules required it be delivered

immediately. For the first time in his career Narayanan broke the rules. That night Narayanan

tossed and turned. He could not sleep. If was not that this was the first death telegram that he

had received. He had delivered numerous such messages before. Something was different in this

case. He was unable to muster the courage to deliver the telegram to Rajamma.

The next day he used the telephone in the post office and dialed the Bombay number given in the

message.

“Can I speak to Usman. I am calling from Neyyarinkara, Sreekumar’s village.”

After being put on hold for some time he heard a man’s voice on the other side. The man

identified himself as Usman. His story was short. There had been an explosion at the factory. A

few workers had died and Sreekumar was one of them. Usman had got severely burnt but was

now recovering. Sreekumar had a saving of a thousand rupees.

“I will send that money as a money order to his mother.

18
A Collection of Short Stories

Narayanan did not say anything. There was nothing much to say. A week later the money

arrived. Narayanan had not said a word to anyone about the telegram. That day he had forged

Rajamma’s signature in his register. Now the money had also come in.

He went to Rajamma’s hut. When she came out to meet him, he gasped. She was hardly able to

walk. He helped her sit and then told her that Sreekumar had sent her a money order for five

hundred rupees. From the expression on her face he realized that she was not even able to

understand what he was saying. Narayanan went into the house and made a bowl of gruel for her

to eat. She was having difficulty in swallowing it. As a little bit of the food went in she asked

him to write a letter to her son.

It was a rambling account. Rajamma talked about the time when she had taught him to walk. Of

how scared she was he would fall. She narrated about the time when he went to school. She gave

the names of his friends and what games he played with them. The effort was too much for her.

Rajamma eventually fell asleep narrating the letter and Narayanan carried her inside the house

and laid her on the bed. He covered the old woman with a sheet and went back into the world.

That night Rajamma passed away in her sleep. One of the shopkeepers who was passing by the

way thought of checking on her and found her dead. The news spread and soon people gathered

at her house. They asked Narayanan to send a telegram to her son to inform him about the

accident.

“That would not be necessary,” he said, “I have the phone number of his Bombay factory. Let

me make a call to them.”

19
A Collection of Short Stories

He went into the phone booth and closed the door. Then he dialed the Bombay number, informed

Usman about the death of Sreekumar’s mother and put the phone down. As he stepped out of the

phone booth Narayanan said, “Sreekumar died yesterday. There was an explosion at their

factory. They are sending us a telegram. Let me see if it has come.” He went in a returned with

the old telegram. No one bothered to check the date. They were too shocked with the news of the

son’s death.

With the money he had received Narayanan conducted a funeral for Rajamma. The whole village

attended. The rituals were done for both mother and son. Narayanan the hard-core communist

was in the middle ensuring that all tradition and customs were followed to the letter. More than

the villagers he thought he knew the mother and son. He was there not as the village postman, he

was there as a family member.

20
A Collection of Short Stories

A LOVE LETTER

Gopalan looked at the clock on the office wall. It showed five minutes to nine. He smiled. As

usual he was in office before time. Gopalan was always the first in office. At times he had come

in before, Shyamalan the peon. It was Shyamalan’s job to open the office. Besides opening the

doors, he was expected to sweep the floor, wipe the dust of the tables and arrange the files on the

shelves all this before the office staff came in. Shyamalan was also supposed to be there by eight

thirty. He never came that early. Gopalan always reached before Shyamalan.

Gopalan came by bus. He lived twenty kilometers away and used the state transport buses for his

commute. Every morning he would get up at four, meditate for half an hour and then do yoga for

an hour. A quick bath later he would go to the kitchen and prepare both breakfast and lunch.

Gopalan lived alone in a rented house. His village was about four hours by train. His parents

lived there. The only son of a retired school teacher, Gopalan was happy he had landed a

government job by the time he was twenty-four. It was not a high paying job. He was a lower

division clerk but it was a government job. He was sure with his hard work and dedication he

would rise through the levels. After all he was sincere and hard working. No one could deny him

that.

It took Gopalan an hour by bus to reach his office. He would get on the bus by seven thirty and

reach office by eight thirty. By eight the buses would be crammed with college students and

office goers. Gopalan avoided that crowd by thirty minutes. Not that the buses would be empty,

half an hour earlier, but at least he did not have to dangle on the footboards.

This was his first job and he was determined to make it a success. Within days of joining he had

realized that there was no way the office doors would open early. Shyamalan lived near the

21
A Collection of Short Stories

office. Someone who knew said that his house was within walking distance. Yet he came in just

five minutes before the official office start time. Office hours were from nine in the morning to

five in the evening. This was for weekdays. On Saturdays office was over by one. This was the

rule- what was written on the faded board in a corner of the office. In reality the staff would

come in by nine thirty or ten and by four thirty the office would be empty. Saturday by twelve

Shyamalan would be preparing to lock the doors. That is if Gopalan would let him.

Gopalan also believed in God. Every Sunday he would go to the village temple and pray. Not

that Hinduism expected him to go on a Sunday but that was the only day of the week he was

free. Gopalan had tried to get a house on rent near the office. The monthly rent amount had

shocked him. On his fifteen thousand rupees per month salary, the rent he could afford got him a

house which was twenty kilometers away. Luckily, he did not have to send any money home to

his parents. They were both retired school teacher and their combined pension was more than

their son’s take-home salary.

As Gopalan waited outside the office door he saw Shyamalan at a distance. Shyamalan came on

a cycle. It was one of the fancy geared ones. It looked costly. Gopalan wondered how he was

able to afford such a costly cycle on his peon’s salary. Gopalan checked his watch. It was eight

fifty-five. Shyamalan was in no hurry to reach office.

“My God! Is that clown circling those college girls?” thought Gopalan.

Shyamalan was indeed going around in circles around a group of girls who were walking down

the street. There was a girl’s college a kilometer away.

“This man is a nuisance. Not only is he late but he is also harassing girls on their way to

college.” Gopalan thought

22
A Collection of Short Stories

By the time Shyamalan reached the office it was five minutes past Nine. Gopalan was furious.

For the first time in his six months service he was going to be late. There was a register in the

office and Gopalan like all the staff members would sign his name and add the time while

entering and leaving the office. There was no check to verify the details entered. It was all on

trust. Gopalan was proud of his entries. It showed a time before nine every day but today that

record was going to be broken.

“Do you know that you are late? The office is to be opened before nine in the morning. Today I

am late because of you.”

Shyamalan pretended not to hear him. He was humming a tune. It was one of the latest movie

songs. He had seen the first day show with his friends. The memory was still fresh in his mind.

The tune was a catchy number and he had been humming it since the time he had heard it.

“Can you open the door. I have to start my work.” Gopalan said.

“What is the hurry? There is no one else here. They do not come before nine thirty. What is the

point in opening it so early?”

“That is the rule. Government offices are to start at nine AM sharp. “

“Rule!” Shyamalan yawned.

By the time Gopalan reached his desk it was ten minutes past nine. He had wrestled with his

conscience as to what time to enter in the register. He had come early but entered the office late

because the door was not opened. Should he enter 9:00 AM or 9:05 AM he thought.

Finally, he entered 9:05 AM and attached a comment next to it mentioning – Door was not open

had to wait for five minutes outside.

23
A Collection of Short Stories

Gopalan was not happy with that. He would complain about Shyamalan to the Section Head.

Paulose Joseph, Gopalan’s section head came around nine thirty. After reaching office he would

immediately rush to the toilet. Fifteen minutes later he would come out and go for a cup of tea.

The office canteen supplied tea at the desk but there was a small road side tea shop which all the

staff members preferred. There after downing a leisurely cup of hot tea, Joseph would amble

back towards his desk. All this would take about an hour. At ten thirty when Joseph returned to

his desk, Gopalan was waiting for him.

“So, what is the problem?” said Joseph.

“Sir! He should open the door on time. I was late by five minutes in entering. I had reached by

eight thirty-five but had to wait for thirty minutes outside the door.”

“Why do you come so early?” said Joseph still not able to understand the nature of the

complaint.

Gopalan stood there for a moment. He thought of presenting his words with a different logic.

He started again.” Sir! The rule is that the office doors should be open by nine a.m sharp. Also

by then the tables should be cleaned and the dust bins emptied. For that to happen Shyamalan

should be in the office by eight thirty. He comes just a minute before Nine.”

“Have you completed all the assessment reports I sent you yesterday?” said Joseph.

For a second Gopalan was silent.

“No Sir! There are fifty files in that bunch. I completed twenty yesterday and will finish the

remaining before leaving for home today.”

24
A Collection of Short Stories

“Good! Now instead of wasting your time talking why don’t you do that. After you have finished

those files write a summary report. You are good at writing, write that report and give it to me. I

need to send it to the Director by noon tomorrow. Now go.”

Gopalan went back to his table and was soon immersed in his files. He forgot to drink his tea,

finished his lunch in ten minutes and was back at his table. He hardly looked up but feverishly

worked at the files. A loud laugh distracted his attention and he looked up. He saw Shyamalan

sitting on Joseph’s desk. They were laughing at some joke. Gopalan shook his head in disgust

and got back to his files. He stopped complaining about Shyamalan after that.

A week later Malati joined the office. She joined as a lower division clerk in Gopalan’s section.

Long plaited hair, big expressive eyes, slim figure - Malati was distracting. Joseph had asked

Gopalan to explain the working of the office to her. Gopalan would start explaining in earnest

but then when he looked into her eyes he would forget what he was speaking and stumble on his

words. She was assigned a table opposite to Gopalan’s desk.

Malati also had the habit of coming early to office. She would reach the office door by eight

forty-five. For Gopalan this was a God sent opportunity. All the time spent on Sundays visiting

the temple were finally paying off. He started paying more attention to his dresses. He always

wore a white shirt, full sleeves. Sleeves folded up to the elbow. That was his style. Simple but

elegant. It went well with black trousers. Gopalan ensured his shirt and trousers were well

washed and crisply ironed. He started cleaning his sandals every day. All the jumping on and off

buses added tons of dirt and grime to it. He kept a dirty rag in his desk to wipe the dirt of his

25
A Collection of Short Stories

sandals. As they waited outside the office door, they talked. Just casual chit chat. Malati would

talk about movies and dresses while Gopalan explained to her how to balance a ledger and how

the annual statements were prepared. Malati listened carefully nodding her head at all the right

spots but the minute someone else came she would leave the conversation and go with them.

Gopalan and a few of the older staff members got their lunch from home and preferred to eat at

their desk. Gopalan began cooking and carrying a little extra in his lunch box. He hoped that

someday he would get to share it with Malati. She lived near the office. Malati could easily go

home, have lunch and return. All well within the lunch hour. Yet she preferred to have lunch at a

nearby hotel. Most of the younger office staff went there. She tagged along with them.

After a month of Malati’s joining a miracle happened. He saw Shyamalan coming to office by

eight forty-five.

“You are early!” said Gopalan trying to make it as sarcastic as he could.

Shyamalan ignored the jibe he looked at Malati standing there and said “Good morning!”

Malati smiled back at him.

“Did you have to wait for long?” Shyamalan said.

“No! I come around this time every day,” Malati said.

“I come around eight thirty,” said Gopalan but Shyamalan ignore him.

“I will come at this time then, “said Shyamalan, “Then you would not have to wait.”

He continued addressing Malati.

She smiled again and said, “Thank you!”

26
A Collection of Short Stories

Gopalan felt as if someone had slipped a hot burning piece of coal down his back. From that day

onwards, Shyamalan came early. He would open the doors early and dust one table and arrange

its files - Malati’s. Shyamalan would remain there near Malati’s desk till the other office staff

members came in. Gopalan tried to join in the conversation. Shyamalan and Malati spoke about

movies, actors, clothes and fashion. Areas where Gopalan had nothing to contribute. He would

just stand there listening to the conversation. After a couple of days, he stopped trying.

Gopalan’s parents were pestering him to get married. They argued that they were now old. They

said that he needed to settle down. Gopalan agreed to all their terms. He disagreed with them on

one point. He said he would choose the girl. For that he did not have to look far. Right across the

room in his office was the person who he thought fitted the bill perfectly. He decided to take

things into his own hand. He decided to write Malati a letter and confess everything.

Gopalan believed in horoscopes and palmistry. He believed in omens and good luck charms. He

chose a good day to write the letter. What better day than a Sunday. After returning from the

temple Gopalan sat down. He put pen to paper and poured his heart out. He wrote about how he

felt the first day she stepped in the office, how he felt every day when he saw her and how he

looked forward to seeing her every day for the rest of his life. Words became sentences and

sentences combined to form paragraphs. Gopalan filled up two sheets and only then did he put

his pen down.

Most people hated Mondays. Gopalan was looking forward to it. Monday signaled the start of a

whole week when he would get to see Malati sitting at her desk, across him. He was also eager to

27
A Collection of Short Stories

hand her the letter and express his love for her. It would have been easier to just say the words

but the problem was of privacy. She was always with someone else. In the morning hours it was

Shyamalan who loitered around her like a parasite. During office hours Malati would be with

other staff members. A letter, Gopalan thought, was the best way to convey his feelings. He put

the letter in his pocket and went towards her desk.

Malati was working on some file and did not notice him standing there. Gopalan cleared his

throat and she looked up.

“Are you not feeling well,” she said.

“I am perfectly well.”

It was a long awkward minute as Gopalan stood there. Malati looked up again from her work.

“Is there anything else?”

“No nothing…. I…. are those files still pending from last week?” Gopalan said pointing at a pile

of files on the locker behind her.

Malati turned to look. In that brief moment Gopalan took the letter from his pocket and placed it

on the table. He placed it right in the middle of the desk and started walking away. At that

moment a gust of wind from the open window blew the letter off the desk and onto the floor.

Gopalan did not notice this as his back was turned. Shyamalan who was passing by saw the

paper fall, picked it up and handed it over to Malati.

“This fell from your desk” he said.

Malati took the paper from him, smiled at him.

28
A Collection of Short Stories

Malati looked at the folded piece of paper. She turned it over and looked at it from all sides. She

was certain she had not seen it on her desk earlier. She opened and began reading. By now

Gopalan had returned to his desk. As he settled down in his chair, he stole a glance at Malati and

saw her reading his letter. His heart was beating wildly. He had chosen the words with care. His

teacher in school would have given him full marks for the choice of words in that letter. That is if

he ever dared to hand over such a letter to his teacher.

Most dear Malati, the starting line captivated her. As she read the letter Malati’s face turned a

bright shade of red. In her entire school or college life no one had ever written such a letter to

her. That she had always studied in girls-only school and colleges may also have had something

to do with it. Growing up on a steady dose of Bollywood and Malayalam movies had

conditioned her mind to a great extent. By the time she had finished reading the letter she was in

love. She looked at Shyamalan who was standing at a distance and smiled. Shyamalan who was

holding a bunch of files saw the smile. There was something different about the smile from

Malati. It was not the usual thank-you-for-cleaning-my-desk or thank-you-for-fetching-my-cup-

of-tea smile. This one was different. The cheeks were all red and the eyes were acting coy. The

files fell from Shyamalan’s hand and spread its contents on the floor.

Gopalan was eagerly waiting for the response to his literary efforts. He looked at Malati, first on

the sly then amassing some courage he looked straight at her. He noticed something strange. She

was looking at Shyamalan who was also staring back at her! Gopalan did not understand what

was happening and that too during office hours!

29
A Collection of Short Stories

“I did not know you could write so well” said Malati still blushing.

The office group was walking towards the hotel during lunch hour and she was at the back

walking along with Shyamalan.

“What?” said Shyamalan.

“It was poetic. I have never seen such fine writing outside classical poetry,” said Malati.

Shyamalan had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, but he was not going to let that

show on his face. To cover his confusion, he smiled.

Later during lunch, others in the group noticed Malati and Shyamalan’s chairs a bit too close to

each other. The two were so busy talking to each other that they hardly-noticed when the others

finished their lunch and left. They came in ten minutes after lunch hour ended. Not that it was a

big issue as other than Gopalan none of seats in the office were occupied. Gopalan was worried.

He had anticipated a torrent of emotions towards him from Malati. Instead she completely

ignored him. It was as if he had cease to exist.

“She is a decent girl. Maybe she is too shy to express her feelings in front of others. I will speak

to her tomorrow morning.”

He thought and comforted himself.

The next morning Gopalan was walking towards the office by eight thirty. That was when he

saw another miracle! He saw Shyamalan was already there! Gopalan saw someone else standing

with him. It was Malati! She was standing there talking to him.

30
A Collection of Short Stories

“That ruffian! He is now trying to steal my Malati!” Gopalan thought and almost ran up to the

office.

The two were laughing at some joke when they saw Gopalan.

“Oh! You had to come in so early!” Malati said.

There was disdain in her tone. She seemed upset that he had come early! Gopalan did not

understand what had happened. Seeing her he had thought that he would use the opportunity to

speak to her and continue on the base which the letter had set up. Instead Shyamalan was there.

“Open the door for him, “said Malati. Shyamalan immediately complied.

For the first time in his one-year tenure at the office the doors opened for Gopalan by eight

thirty-five. He signed the register. He felt happy as he looked at the office entry time next to his

name. Then he went and sat at his desk. That was when he noticed that he was alone in the

office. He ran to a window and looked out and saw Malati and Shyamalan walking up to a near-

by restaurant. This was not what he had expected. He looked at the pile of folders on his desk,

sighed and got down to work.

After a few days Gopalan had stopped looking in Malati’s direction. He returned to his old ways.

He stopped cleaning his sandals. Some days his shirt would be crumpled but he did not care. He

stopped carrying a little extra food in his tiffin box. He knew his life was going through a bad

phase and hoped that matter did not get much worse. That was until the day someone came to his

desk and handed him a cover. It was a wedding invitation. Inside it printed in neat artistic font

were details of the marriage of Shyamalan with Malati!

31
A Collection of Short Stories

“This will be the first marriage between office staff in this office,” said Sathy Devi. She was the

senior most typist in the office. In her fifties she was due to retire in a year’s time. She was

discussing with Kartikeyan the new section officer. The other staff members were listening in.

Shyamalan and Malati were on leave – in preparation for the wedding. Gopalan as usual was at

work, ignoring the conversation at the desk a few feet away from him.

“Do you know Shyamalan is getting a car in dowry?” someone said.

“He does not need a dowry. He comes from a well to do family,” someone else replied.

“Has to be. If someone can afford to live so close to this place, he has to be rich.”

“Malati also lives somewhere close. I always wonder what it was that attracted them to each

other?”

“Oh! she told me once. Shyamalan had written her a nice love letter. She was floored by the

words. That is how it all started…”

Gopalan had heard enough. A cry of anguish escaped his lips and he jumped up from his desk.

Everyone turned in his direction. Gopalan ran towards the door. There was a limit to how much a

man could tolerate. This was unfair. He had poured out his feeling on the piece of paper and

someone else was benefitting from it. This was definitely not right. He ran out of the office.

“What happened to Gopalan?” someone said.

“Who knows. I always found him a bit weird. Do you know he comes in half an hour before

office time?”

“As if all that extra work gets you any extra money!”

The office staff returned to their gossip.

32
A Collection of Short Stories

Gopalan was out on the street. It was about eleven in the afternoon. He had never come out at

this time of the day. The roads were jam packed with traffic. Car, busses, scooters raced each

other on the street. People crossing the street at random, brakes screeching, driver putting their

head out and abusing the pedestrians, traffic policemen trying to control the madness. Gopalan

had never seen this world. He was dazed. He usually came in and left when there was little

traffic. He stood there dumb struck for a few minutes stunned by all the madness unfolding

around him. Then at a distance he saw Shyamalan and Malati.

The two were standing in front of a huge shopping mall. They were looking at the mannequins

on display. Gopalan could see them talk and laugh. He could imagine what they would be

discussing. It had to be about the clothes. He had heard enough of their morning discussions to

know what they always discussed. Then he saw Shyamalan point towards something, Gopalan’s

eyes followed in the direction and saw a huge movie poster hanging outside the Mall. It was

announcing a new movie releasing that week. The couple could be seen in an animate discussion.

They had big shopping bags in both hands, everywhere there was traffic and noise and yet the

two seemed to be oblivious to their surroundings.

Gopalan watched them from afar, saw them smile and then something happened. It was as if an

electric bulb had popped in his brain. He saw before him a couple that was perfectly matched.

Malati and Shyamalan complemented each other. Their interests, likes, dislikes all matched

perfectly. Gopalan felt as if a weight had been lifted of his shoulder. He went back up the office

stairs walked up to his desk and sat down. He looked at the files scattered around on his table. He

began arranging them in neat piles. Then he took out a cloth from the lower drawers and cleaned

his sandals. Satisfied that they looked neat he settled down to work.

33
A Collection of Short Stories

Life was back to normal.

34
A Collection of Short Stories

A LIFE OF CRIME

Neyyarinkara was a small village. Everyone in the village knew everyone else. Raghu was

one of the most ‘popular’ men in his village. He was popular for all the wrong reasons.

Householders and shopkeepers were uncomfortable when he was around. Women quickened

their pace as they passed him. This was not the case with the village children. They adored him,

for them he was a hero. Raghu was the village thief.

Destiny played a crucial role in Raghu’s life. He was named Raghavan Nair and his was a

normal, happy childhood. That is, for the first seven years, when his grandfather was alive. After

his grandfather’s death, Raghu’s father splurged his family inheritance on liquor and friends.

Once the funds ran out his ‘friends’ left. Next his wife left him and was never heard of again.

When Raghu’s father died of alcohol induced liver complications, the boy was still in school.

With no one left to take care of him, Raghu was moved to an orphanage. From that day onwards,

people knew him only as Raghu.

The Sisters at the orphanage taught the children different skills. Skills of a more practical nature

like book-binding, embroidery, basket-weaving and candle making. Raghu remained in the

orphanage for seven years. When he turned fourteen the Sisters asked him to move out of the

orphanage. The rules were clear. The orphanage only provided shelter for boys till the age of

fourteen. Girls were luckier and got to stay till they were nineteen. It was assumed by that age,

they should be able to fend for themselves. For the second time in his life Raghu was orphaned.

35
A Collection of Short Stories

For the next couple of years, he tried his luck surviving through honest hard work. He worked in

a hotel as a part-time dish washer and full-time sweeper. Business was bad and the hotel downed

its shutters and put Raghu back on the streets.

Next, he went to the city and worked in a garage. It helped him learn how to operate machines.

He learnt how to dismantle and fix broken gadgets, vehicles and machines. He realized he was

good at this type of work. The garage owner took a liking to the young hardworking boy. The

garage owner had a son whose main occupation was wasting his father’s hard-earned money.

One day some cash went missing from the garage owner’s safe. It was money he had kept aside

for his daughter’s wedding. A part of the money was recovered from a locker where Raghu kept

his belongings. Raghu denied having taken it but no one listened to him. The police men

mercilessly trashed him in an attempt to get him to confess to the crime. Raghu’s denials fell on

deaf ears and he was thrown in jail.

Three months into his sentence the remaining money was recovered from the garage owner’s

son. The boy unwitting blurted out stealing the money while in a state of intoxication. He also

confessed having planted the money to get rid of Raghu. The confession got Raghu out of jail.

Once he came out of jail no one wanted to hire him and he returned to his village.

His first step into the world of crime was by accident. He was travelling on a jam-packed bus.

The passenger next to him got up and left. In his hurry he dropped his wallet. Raghu who saw the

wallet fall, put his feet on it and hid it from view. Later when no one was watching he pocketed

it. The wallet contained a thousand rupees. He was about to throw the empty wallet away when

he saw it had a concealed pocket. Inside that he found a driver’s license and credit cards. Raghu

36
A Collection of Short Stories

thought for a moment and made up his mind. He would return the license and cards. He was not

in the business of destroying others lives. He took an envelope and on it wrote the name and

address showing on the driving license. Next, he placed the cards and license inside the envelope

and added a small note. ‘I only needed the money. Sorry.’ He sealed the envelope and posted it.

Two days later the local newspapers reported about the ‘Thief with a Conscience’. Raghu like

that caption. He decided that he would target only the rich, like the robber whose story the sisters

told him as a child. The one who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. There was a problem

with this idea though. In Neyyarinkara there were no rich people. Everyone was equally poor,

some were poorer than the others. Raghu slightly modified his rules to adjust to the conditions.

He decided never to rob people from his village. He decided he would targeted tourists, people

who came to visit his village.

As a village there were few sights that attracted visitors to Neyyarinkara. One of them was the

village temple. The temple had an interesting story behind it. The story was from a time long

before the temple was built. A prince was being chased by some ruffians. The prince’s life was

saved by a shepherd who showed him a place to hide. Not able to find the prince the ruffians

went away. The prince emerged from his hiding place but was not able to find the shepherd. The

prince was convinced it was God who had come down to save his life, disguised as a shepherd.

He vowed to build a temple on the spot. Years later when he became the King he fulfilled his

vow. The story was hundreds of years old and it attracted tourists. This was the crowd that

Raghu targeted.

37
A Collection of Short Stories

Every morning at ten the first tourist bus would arrive. The buses came and went till five in the

evening. This time period between ten to five was Raghu’s ‘office hours’. He did not steal much.

A purse here, a gold chain there. Just enough to meet his immediate needs. If he got anything

extra he would drop that in the temple donation box. Raghu liked to keep his life simple. Too

much money would attract a lot of attention. His profession required anonymity.

One day Raghu saw a young couple get of a bus. They looked like a couple of newlyweds. They

had that casual, do-not-care-about-the-world attitude of the rich. They were holding hands,

smiling and giggling a lot. The woman had a carry bag slung on her shoulder. Her husband

carried a small pouch in his hand. Raghu walked closer to them.

“See that tree? That is where the king hid,” said the husband.

“How do you know? Did he tell you?” said the wife and she giggled.

“Yes, I was one of his bodyguards,” said the husband.

“For now, you concentrate on my body. The King will take care of himself.”

Raghu winced. This was the type of silly conversations one heard in the movies. He tried not to

hear what they were saying. Instead he focused on the bags in their hands. He noticed that the

man had a firm grip on his bag. The woman walked as if she was not bothered about her carry

bag she had slung on her shoulder. Raghu devoted his attention on the small bag in the man’s

hand.

38
A Collection of Short Stories

Entry into the temple was through a narrow-carved stone door. The door was only five feet high

and required a person to bend to get through. It was meant to signify that an individual had to

bow to enter in the presence of God. The crowd had to squeeze through the door to get in. Raghu

positions himself right behind the couple and while they were busy trying to get in, he slit the

lower portion of the bag. A small pouch fell down. He picked up the pouch and instead of going

into the temple he got out.

“Raghu, what are you doing in the temple?” said Unni, a tailor, whose shop was right outside the

temple.

“Why? Am I not allowed to enter the temple?” Raghu said. He held one end of his dhoti is such a

way that the pouch in his hand was hidden from view.

“I was joking. Off course everyone is welcome here. This is God’s house. Who am I to restrict

entry here.”

He laughed and Raghu joined him.

At a distance from the temple, Raghu reached a desolate road. Ensuring that there was indeed no

one around Raghu took out the pouch. As he opened it he almost let out a shout of joy. Out

tumbled a thick gold necklace, a couple of gold bangles and a gold ring with some colored stone

embedded on it. Raghu was no expert in evaluating gold, yet he knew that what he had in his

hand would be worth a lakh in rupees. This was the biggest hit he had ever made.

For a brief moment, he felt bad for the couple from whom he had stolen.

“They looked wealthy. They can easily buy more jewels,” he said and consoled himself.

39
A Collection of Short Stories

Raghu had a few ‘friends’ in the village who helped him dispose of his ill gained riches. For this

situation he knew just the right person - a jeweler. Since everyone in the village knew him it was

not possible for him to go in through the main door. He used a back door to enter the shop.

“This will be worth at least one and a half lakh if sold legally,” said Sarath, a jeweler and

Raghu’s friend.

Sarath knew it was a gamble dealing in stolen gold. It was the heavy bargain that he made on

each deal that made him do it.

“I need seventy-five thousand rupees,” said Raghu.

“Ten thousand.” said Sarath.

“Nonsense! Sixty-five,” said Raghu.

“Twenty” said Sarath.

Finally, they agreed on forty thousand.

Sarath took the gold inside and came out with the cash.

“Now disappear before someone sees you. “said Sarath.

That evening Raghu was in a country liquor bar. He had to celebrate. It was the biggest hit of his

career and he wanted to enjoy his success. He was not a drunkard and he never exceed his limit

of two pegs. A middle-aged man came and sat down next to him. The man had previously been

sitting at the other corner of the room. He had been to the loo and after coming out forgot where

he sat previously! The waiter brought the man’s glass over.

“You know this money is for my daughter’s fees” said the man without an introduction.

40
A Collection of Short Stories

“What?”

“My wife asked me to deposit the money at my daughter’s school,” he said and laughed, “I say

what use is it to teach girls? One day she will get married and for the rest of her life she will

wash dishes.”

“You are that truck driver joseph’s son, aren’t you?” said Raghu.

“The truck driver died years ago. I am still alive,” said the man.

“What class is your daughter in?” said Raghu.

“Seventh or eighth standard. She is a student in the Little Flower convent.” said the man, “They

will throw her out of school if they fees are not paid. That will be the best result for all of us.

Why waste money studying in a costly school? I told my wife the government school for girls is

good enough. There she can learn for free. Again, why even go there? What is the use…”

Raghu did not answer. He finished his glass and walked out of the bar. That night he could not

sleep.

“I do not need all that money. The fees are just a small amount. It would not make a difference to

me. I would still have a lot remaining.” He thought as he tossed and turned in bed.

Early next morning he went to his old orphanage.

“I want to meet Sister Stella,” he said.

“Wait here,” said a sister, “and don’t take anything from here.”

“As if there is anything worth taking in this place” said Raghu.

“What did you say?” said the sister.

“Nothing. I just said that I wanted to meet Sister Stella.”

41
A Collection of Short Stories

“Raghu! what brings you back to the orphanage son?”

Sister Stella loved all the children in the orphanage equally. It did not matter to her that Raghu

was a thief now. For her he was someone who could be reformed through love.

“Sister! I need your help. Do you know anyone in the Little Flower school?”

“Little Flower? Yes, the principal there was one of my students.”

“That is great Sister. This is what I need you to do for me….”

Coming out of the Orphanage, Raghu walked to the bus stop. It was time for the tourist buses to

arrive. At a distance he spotted something which made him stop. It was a police jeep. Police

Inspector Gopalan was standing near Unni’s shop. Raghu could see Unni talking to Gopalan and

vigorously shaking his head. Raghu slid away from there.

Raghu realized he had to keep low for some time. He had to keep low and at the same time keep

out of Gopalan’s radar. He walked towards the river bank. He must have hardly waked a few

steps when he heard someone shout in pain behind him. He turned and saw an old man had

slipped on the road behind him. Raghu ran over to help.

“Can you get up, sir!” said Raghu.

“I think I broke my leg.” said the old man.

The old man was wearing a saffron colored dhoti and had a shawl of the same color covering his

upper body. A string of rudraksha beads were hung around his neck

“Can you move you toes?” said Raghu.

The old man tried and cried in pain.

42
A Collection of Short Stories

“Let me get you to a hospital.”

Raghu saw a taxi at a distance. He knew the driver. He had repaired the taxi once when he

worked at the garage. He hailed the taxi and together they carried the old man to village clinic.

“It is not broken. You have twisted your ankle. There is nothing to worry. I will write you some

pain-killers but it will heal with some rest.” said the Doctor, “Did you come to visit the temple?”

“Visit? Yes, I came here for a week. I am staying at my son’s house. My son works here,”

Raghu settled the old man’s bills at the counter and left. Earlier he had paid the car driver the

fare as well. It was good to have money in your pockets. It was bad that it was running out fast.

Raghu checked his pockets. He still had about thirty thousand left with him.

“Enough good deeds for the day,” he said to himself.

He began planning what he would do with the remaining. He could do with some new clothes.

Nothing fancy, just a new set of shirts, trousers and a pair of dhotis. That would cost about two

thousand rupees.

He was planning on what colors he would buy when he felt a firm hand land on his shoulders.

“You thought you would escape and make us look like?” Inspector Gopalan along with two of

his constables caught hold of Raghu.

Before he could say anything in his defense he was bundled into a jeep and rushed to the police

station. There the remaining thirty thousand came out of his pockets and then there was not much

to say.

43
A Collection of Short Stories

By evening the news of Raghu’s arrest had spread in the village. People were discussing it

everywhere. Inspector Gopalan was gloating in his office. He had heard about a thief in the

village. There were doubts about Raghu but there was no evidence. Now he had the man in his

grasp. He began writing out his report when one of the constables came into the room and

saluted him.

“Sir! There is a Sister from the orphanage here to meet you.”

“Send her in,” said Inspector Gopalan.

Sister Stella came in. She smiled and for a moment even Inspector Gopalan smiled back.

“Please sit-down Sister. How can I help you?” he said.

“Inspector. I heard you have a man in your custody.”

“There are a lot of men in custody. Who are you referring to Sister?”

“Raghavendran Nair, you may know him as Raghu,” said Sister Stella.

Gopalan stiffened. The smile disappeared and he began twirling his moustache.

“Sister he is a thief. I caught him red handed with a lot of money. Thirty thousand rupees to be

exact. Why are you trying to protect him?”

“That is my money. I gave him the money to start some business.”

Gopalan almost fell out of his chair.

“What do you mean you gave him the money? Where did you get that money from?”

“That is the church’s fund. We have a fund to help our children set up business ventures of their

own. He grew up in our orphanage.”

“I don’t believe you Sister.”

44
A Collection of Short Stories

“Ok then you will believe what this woman has to say,” said Sister Stella and turned her head

and called out, “Janamma can you come in.”

A middle-aged woman came into the Inspector’s office.

“Janamma can you tell the Inspector what you told me.”

“Sir, Raghu used two thousand rupees from the money the sister gave him to pay off my

daughter’s school fees. This is a fee receipt from the school.”

Janamma placed a receipt for two thousand rupees from the Little Flower Children’s School on

the Inspector’s desk.

“Perhaps you would believe this man then,” said Sister Stella and two more men came in. One

old man and the other a young man supporting him.

“I slipped and fell on the street and Raghu took me to the hospital. He took me there in a taxi.

There he paid the bills and cleared all my dues. This man helping me was the taxi driver.”

The taxi driver nodded his head, “Yes sir! Raghu paid me the money for the taxi.”

“Why should I believe all of you?” said Gopalan.

He was getting irritated by this parade of Raghu’s supporters.

“If you wait for five minutes you should get a phone and then maybe you would believe us,” said

the old man.

“I do not understand. Why would I get a phone call?” said Gopalan.

He wanted to say something more when the phone on his desk started ringing. An angry Gopalan

picked up the phone.

“Hello, Neyyarinkara Police Station,” he said gruffly.

Then a transformation happened as he listened to the voice on the other end.

45
A Collection of Short Stories

“Yes Sir! said Gopalan, “Yes Sir! Right Sir. Yes Sir” he kept on repeating.

“4723,” Gopalan shouted.

Inspectors had a habit of addressing constables by their serial number. The constable came

running and saluted Gopalan.

“Set Raghu free.” said Gopalan.

The constable was surprised.

“Sir! what about the report we are drafting for him?”

“Just listen to what I say. Throw that report in the dustbin. Set Raghu free.”

“Inspector, can I have the money back. The money you got from Raghu. That is the orphanage’s

money,” said Stella.

As Sister Stella, Janamma, the old man and the taxi driver came out of the police station, a

surprised Raghu followed them.

“I do not understand how this happened. Sir how did you know that a call would come on the

Inspectors desk?”

The old man laughed and said, “That was my son. I told him how you had carried me to the

hospital and also paid for my treatment. He has asked me to thank you.”

“That was nothing. I just did my duty towards a fellow villager, but I still don’t understand why

did the inspector listen to your son and let me go?

“Oh! my son is the deputy superintendent of police for the district. He is Gopalan’s boss.

Gopalan has to listen to his boss.”

46
A Collection of Short Stories

The old man laughed. He got into the taxi driver’s cab and they drove away.

Janamma thanked Raghu for paying her child’s fees and she went her way.

Only Sister Stella and Raghu remained.

“Sister, I do not know how this happened. He also handed back the money.”

“When you came to me and asked me to pay the child’s fees I had my doubts about the money.

When you were arrested I became sure of what had happened. Doctor Krishnan at the medical

center met me and told me how you had brought the old man there for treatment. We both knew

he taxi driver, your friend. With the drivers help we contacted the old man who agreed to come

and speak for you. Janamma was more than ready to come with us when I asked her. I was only

trying to find people who could create an alibi for you. It was a coincidence that the old man’s

son was a senior police officer. That was not something that I had planned. May be that was God

playing a role in helping you.”

“Sister the money… I got it by selling the gold…” Raghu could not complete his sentence as

Sister Stella interrupted him.

“My story did not end there. I may be living in a convent but I do know what happens in this tiny

village. I know all about your friend Sarath the jeweler. He told me everything. I will give him

back whatever money is remaining. The money you have already spent is my price to keep quiet.

Sarath is ok with that. He has returned the gold ornaments back to the young couple. They are

not filing any charges against you now, because they do not want to spend time in courts. Now

let me come to you. What is the matter with you?”

Raghu stood with his eyes down cast. He could not look at Sister Stella.

47
A Collection of Short Stories

“Son, you have a good heart, you help people who are in need. Why can you not do something

good with your life. This time you were lucky God saved you. That might not be the case the

next time. Now, I leave it up to you to decide what you want to do with your life.”

Sister Stella walked towards the orphanage leaving Raghu standing there. It was getting dark. He

looked down the road. On one end of the road was the bus stop where the tourist buses came

every morning. In the opposite direction it led to the orphanage. He thought for a moment and

then started walking towards the orphanage. He was going to meet Sister Stella. He knew what

he was going to do. He was going to teach the children at the orphanage how to repair machines.

Along with the broken machines he decided he would repair and rebuild his own life.

48
A Collection of Short Stories

THE STREET DANCER

“Kurup saar! You have to go home now. I need to lock the temple gates,” said Madhavan.

Madhavan was the guard at the Neyyarinkara Krishna Temple. He was the only guard and he

was in a hurry to go home.

Madhavan’s duties started at four in the morning when he opened the temple gates. After

opening the gates, he would go around of the temple to ensure everything was in order. Only

after his ‘all-clear’ would the priests enter the shrine. Once the priest entered and started their

rituals Madhavan relaxed. His duty ended at eight in the night when he would lock the main

gates. Come rain or shine the routine never changed. Madhavan took his job seriously. It was

eight fifteen and he was getting late.

“Kurup Saar! I have to close the temple gates” said Madhavan repeating his request.

Gopinathan Kurup was in his mid-forties. He looked younger for his age. Had it not been for the

bald patch on his head he would not have looked a day above thirty-five. Clad in a pale white

dhoti a silk shawl thrown around his bare upper body, he was seated on the ground in a corner of

the temple courtyard. With his back leaning against one of the massive stone pillars.

“Saar!” Madhavan repeated.

“Yes! Yes, I am leaving. You know I like to sit here. What will I do at home? There is no one

there,” he said.

Madhavan nodded his head. He had heard this from Kurup a thousand times. There was nothing

he could do about it. Madhavan’s house was considerably smaller but it was full of people. His

son, his daughter in law and his grand-son lived with him. Madhavan looked forward to reaching

49
A Collection of Short Stories

home in time. He loved to play with his grandson. If he did not reach home in time, the boy

would be fast asleep.

Kurup got up, brushed the dust off his dhoti, rearranged his shawl around his shoulders and

began walking. His house was less than a kilometer from the temple. He inherited the house from

his father. Besides the house he got hundreds of acres of paddy fields and coconut plantations.

He was one of the richest men in the village. Unlike other men who inherited riches Kurup had

taken care of his estate. His was the perfect life. Nalinakshi Amma was the perfect wife Kurup

could have asked for. Everything was perfect till the cholera epidemic visited the shores of

Neyyarinkara. The disease did not differentiate between rich and poor. By the time the disease

was under control it had taken the lives of fifty villagers. Nalinakshi Amma was one of the first

to fall victim to the disease. They did not have any children. Kurup was left alone in the world.

People who earlier envied him for his riches now sympathized on his tragedy.

“Master! The hot water for you bath is in the bathroom,” said Satyan. Satyan was Kurup’ s cook

cum house keeper. He was standing at the gate, patiently waiting for his master to return. Kurup

nodded

“Once you have your bath I will serve your dinner,” Satyan said.

Satyan looked after the house with care and dedication. Besides cooking food, he ensured that

the house was always neat and clean. He was assisted by his wife, Laxmi. Laxmi worked in the

house during the day. She came along with Satyan at seven in the morning and left by five in the

evening. Satyan remained till about nine.

50
A Collection of Short Stories

Kurup finished his bath and stepped out. He could see Satyan had laid out the table and was

waiting for him.

“Go home. Satya!” said Kurup, “Have food with your wife and children.”

“Saar I will leave after you have finished.”

“Do not worry about the dirty utensils. I will cover them up after I have finished. Go home.”

After Satyan left, Kurup began eating. The sound of his chewing echoed in the room. He looked

at the table. It could seat eight people. Kurup sighed. He had relatives and some of them had

offered to come over and stay with him. He knew they were after his money. He kept them at

arm’s length. After finishing his meal, he covered the plates, washed his hands and went to sleep.

This lonely existence had become a habit now for him. It was more than five years since

Nalinakshi has passed away. He was used to the silence in the house.

The next morning, as usual Satyan woke him up with a cup of steaming-hot tea. Kurup could

hear Laxmi sweep the ground in front of the house. The house had a huge courtyard. In the yard

there was a huge mango tree. Every year its branches would be covered with mangoes. There

were a large number of flowering plants in the yard. Every morning the ground would be littered

with leaves. Laxmi spent half her day sweeping the ground clean.

Kurup was reading the morning newspaper sipping tea from a cup.

“Sir would you want to wear anything special today. Let me know so that I can iron it out for

you,” said Satyan.

51
A Collection of Short Stories

“Why?” said Kurup.

“Saar, I hope you have not forgotten. The festival at our temple starts today. It will be ten days of

non-stop entertainment in the village.”

“Oh! I almost forgot,” said Kurup.

He has seen the preparations going on in full swing for weeks. Pandals were erected. The path

leading to the temple was watered to prevent the dust from rising. Dancers and artists from all

over the state would come to the village for the festival. Every day a different art form was

displayed. It was the start of the harvest season. For the villagers of Neyyarinkara it was the time

of the year when they celebrated. Schools and colleges had four days of holidays while

government offices were shut for two days. Everyone celebrated.

“Keep my shawls clean. The Kathakali performances will run through the night. It can be a bit

cold that late in the night. “

“I will wait for you Saar.”

“No need Satya! Just keep the food covered and leave. I may not be coming at my regular time

for the next ten-day. You and Laxmi would also be attending some of these dance recitals,

right?”

“Saar if you allow, can Laxmi and I sleep in the back yard during the festival days? It will be late

by the time the programs finish. I do not want to travel with her in the night.”

“Why in the back yard? There are so many rooms in the house. Use one of them. You know

Satyan, I consider you and Laxmi as my family members.”

52
A Collection of Short Stories

The temple festival was the high point in the village calendar. For ten days the entire village

would deck up and celebrate. In the temple the day would start with special poojas. Teams of

priests would conduct elaborate rituals. In the evening the activities would shift to the pandals

outside the temple. Dancers who were expert in classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam,

Mohiniyattam, Kuchipudi would perform. Singers of classical music would sing ragaas in praise

of the lord. At night the Kathakali artists would take over. Their performances would continue

through the night. People came prepared for the long hours with bed sheets and pillows!

On the first day of the festival Kurup left early for the temple. He hoped to find a place to sit

before the crowds came pouring in. There were a few empty seats and he grabbed one of them. It

was six in the evening by the time the curtains went up. People were still coming in and

occupying seats. The loud speakers and microphones were not correctly tuned. After a few false

starts the performances started.

The first dance performance of the day was a Bharatanatyam recital by an unknown dancer.

Temple festivals were the place where upcoming dancers performed for the first time.

The dancer was nervous. It was her first performance in front of a live audience. She was

supported by a small group of musicians who were equally nervous. This was a troupe from a

distant village. The people noticed the ham-handed performance and hooted their displeasure.

Some of the rowdier elements threw crumpled paper balls at the dancer. The performance was

stopped and the curtain hastily dropped. There was chaos. Some people stood on their chairs

others demanded that the performance be restarted. The organizers of the event had a tough time

controlling the crowd. After half an hour of shouting, screaming, hooting and pacifying, the

53
A Collection of Short Stories

crowd settled down. The same dancer was given a second chance to perform. Despite some

minor hiccups she completed her recital and ran off stage.

As the night progressed more seasoned artists came up. It was about ten in the night when Kurup

finally decided to leave. A narrow lane led from the temple to Kurup’ s house. It was a full moon

night and he was half way home when he saw a group sitting on the road

“What are you doing here?” said Kurup as he came up to them.

They rose up and stood there.

“We are from a village near Tirunelveli. We missed the last bus. The next bus leaves in the

morning, “said a woman in the group.

Kurup saw that it was the dance party that performed first that evening. The girl who had been

hooted off the stage was also there. Without her makeup and out of the dance costume she

looked different. Kurup thought she looked more beautiful without the makeup. Her large

expressive eyes were staring at Kurup. Somewhere deep inside he felt a surge of sympathy for

the group.

“Come with me. There are enough room in my house for all of you. You can stay there for the

night and leave in the morning.”

The group hesitated. No one in his right mind offered to share his house with a group of

strangers. Kurup saw them hesitate.

“Do not worry. My house is just around the corner.”

Kurup lead the way and the group of four, three women and a man followed. When they reached

the house, they were stunned. It was a mansion.

“How many people live here?” one of the women in the group asked.

54
A Collection of Short Stories

“I stay alone here,” said Kurup.

Satyan came running as he heard the gates open. He stopped when he saw a group of weirdly

dressed people carrying musical instruments following the master of the house.

“Satya, these people are from Tirunelveli. They came here for the festival and will be returning

tomorrow. Take them to the guest house and see to their needs.”

“I remember, you are the group that performed first today,” said Laxmi as Satyan opened the

doors of the guest house.

The guest house was a separate construction in the compound. It was used on rare occasions

when relatives from distance places used to come. Those visits happened when Kurup’ s father

was alive. After his father’s death it was opened once in a month to be cleaned.

“Who lives here?” asked a woman in the group.

“No one. This is the guest house” said Laxmi.

She had taken an immediate dislike for this group. The woman looked too aggressive and the

man shifty eyed. Satyan noticed that too.

As Laxmi prepared to leave them one of the women in the group asked, “Can we get something

to eat?”

“It is ten in the night,” said Laxmi. She tried to sound sarcastic but the affect was missed on the

group.

“Can you make something for us. We have not had anything since lunch.”

“Is it so?” said Laxmi. She would have something nasty but Satyan stepped in.

55
A Collection of Short Stories

“I can get you some bananas.”

“That will do for now,” said the woman, “By the way my name is Vasanthi, I am this girl’s

aunty. Her name is Komalam. This is her mother Anandavalli and he is our brother Sugesan.”

Neither Satyan nor Laxmi bothered to remember the names. If they were leaving in the morning

there was no need to get friendly with them. Within minutes the plantains he had fetched

disappeared. They still looked hungry. Laxmi had never seen anyone eat plantains and still feel

hungry.

“There is a well in the house. If you are still hungry, drink as much water as you want. Don’t

worry the well never dries.” said Laxmi as she went out of the room.

“Sometime, Saar does the most irresponsible things. I don’t think we can trust these people. We

should send them away, first thing in the morning,” said Satyan. Laxmi was in complete

agreement with him.

The next day the husband and wife woke up early. Satyan rushed to the guest house and found it

locked from inside. Their guests were still asleep. He knocked on the door but there was no

response. He would have banged louder had he not been worried about waking up Kurup.

Kurup as usual woke up at six and came out of his room. He had his tea reading the mornings

newspaper. Laxmi began sweeping the yard and Satyan was busy in the kitchen.

An hour later Kurup was having his breakfast when he remembered about his guests from the

previous night.

“When did those people leave?” said Kurup.

“No saar! They are still sleeping!” said Satyan.

56
A Collection of Short Stories

“Sleeping? Who sleeps till seven in the morning?”

Then he recalled something and added, “They must be tired after all that travelling. Let them

rest.”

His guests woke up around ten. One by one they came out of the guesthouse. The women first

and then the man. They sat there outside in the courtyard basking in the sun.

“You missed the morning bus. The next bus to Tirunelveli leaves in half an hour,” said Satyan.

“Can we get something to eat?” said one of the women.

“There are a number of hotels near the Bus stop. You can order whatever you like,” said Laxmi.

Kurup came out of the house. Seeing him they rose and did an elaborate namaste. He smiled

back.

“I thought you had left. I hope you found the guest house comfortable?”

“It was ok. Just that we were hungry after all our travelling.”

“Oh! that is not a problem. You can have something here. Laxmi will cook something for you.”

It was rare that Laxmi and Satyan disagreed with Kurup. This was one time both of them had a

urge to argue with their master.

“You know how to make dosa’s. Here help yourself,” said Laxmi.

“Can you make it for us. We are your guests. In our village guests are not allowed to cook. It is

the host who cooks.”

Laxmi controlled herself with a lot of effort.

57
A Collection of Short Stories

“We do not have any such customs here. Also, you are not guests here. The master allowed you

to stay for the night out of sympathy. Now either you make your own dosas or you remain

hungry. Your choice.”

Laxmi stormed out of the kitchen.

Kurup spent a good part of the morning hours in a wooden easy chair. Seated comfortably on it,

he would read newspapers, books and periodicals from his collection. He loved to read. He had a

room full of books in his house. Neatly arrange and catalogued, it was the only ‘library’ in the

whole of Neyyarinkara. He even had a copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica in his collection.

School teachers from afar used to come to his library to read and refer books from his collection.

Kurup was seated in his favorite easy chair reading a novel when he heard the sound of water

being splashed. He looked up and saw a sight that took his breath away. Komalam, the young

girl, the dancer from the previous night was taking a bath, next to the well. She was in her early

twenties and not exactly a girl. Kurup noticed this. She was barely clothed and whatever was

covering her was all wet with the water from the well. Kurup forgot the rules of gentlemanliness

and stared. A few buckets of water later she realized that Kurup was watching her. She stopped

abruptly, looked at him and smiled. Kurup immediately looked elsewhere. He covered his face

with the novel and pretended he was reading.

It had been years since Nalinakshi had passed away. Kurup had lived a saintly life ever since.

The sight of this young woman bathing in such close proximity brought back long forgotten

emotions in him. Kurup struggled to continue reading.

58
A Collection of Short Stories

“What is that woman doing?”

Laxmi’s indignant voice brought him back to reality.

“There is a bathroom outside the house. You do not have to bath in public. This is not the river

bank and for God’s sake wear some clothes!” Laxmi shouted out the words, hoping to drive

some sense into the girl. Laxmi understood what these people were up to. A man living alone in

a huge house, a man who had lost his wife.

Laxmi went up to the girl and exchanged some more words which Kurup could not hear. He

could see that the words were not having much of an effect on the girl. She turned towards

Kurup and smiled again.

Lunch time came and the group was still there. By now both Satyan and Laxmi were desperate to

get them out.

“There is a bus for Tirunelveli every half an hour from the bus stand. The last bus leaves at five,”

said Satyan dropping hints which he hoped his master would catch. His attempts were in vain.

He saw the four come up to Kurup.

It was one of the woman who spoke, “Saar you have been very kind. Not many people are so

kind and helpful towards those who are in need.”

“So, you are leaving?” said Kurup.

She smiled but said nothing.

“It was always our wish to come to this temple. Now I feel bad that I have to leave in a day,” she

said.

59
A Collection of Short Stories

Then pointing at the young girl, the woman continued, “She wanted to see the dance

performances of the experts. She is young but keen to learn. It is sad that we are not able to

spend more time here.”

The girl looked at Kurup with her large eyes. Kurup had his limits. The big round eyes, her

beautiful smile and somewhere in the back of his mind the images of her bathing that morning –

all helped Kurup reach a quick decision.

“All of you can stay in the guest house till the end of the festival,” he said.

The last day of the festival was set aside for a grand procession. On that day the idol of the lord

was carried on a richly decorated temple elephant and went around the village. The streets would

be packed with people. Floats in the shape of animals and birds, decked with flowers were

carried. It all ended with a massive display of fireworks. As the sound of the crackers faded in

the distance, the people, artists and priests who had come for the festival would say their good

byes and return to their homes.

One house where no goodbyes were being said was the Kurup mansion. Over ruling Satyan and

Laxmi’s protests Kurup had opened his house and heart to the family. From the fifth day of the

festival, Kurup and Komalam started attending the dance recitals together. It did not take much

time for the villagers to notice this. Some of his friends and well-wishers tried to dissuade him

but love as the saying goes is blind.

“They are jealous of your happiness,” said Komalam, fluttering her eyelids. The eyelids

distracted Kurup. He readily agreed.

60
A Collection of Short Stories

Vasanthi and Anandavalli the two women took over the administration of the house. Sugesan the

uncle began visiting Kurup’ s fields and coconut plantations.

“An extra pair of eyes never hurt anyone. My uncle is good with workers. He knows how to

handle farm hands. Mother and Aunty are expert cooks. We will take care of you,” said

Komalam, “I will take care of you.” As she said this, her hand brushed Kurup’ s gently and his

breath quickened. All he could do was nod his head and agree to her.

One month later Kurup got married to Komalam. It was expected to be a grand affair. Almost the

entire village was invited. None of Kurup’ s friends or relative turned up. That was compensated

by a large delegation from Komalam’ s village. Food was arranged for all who attended. There

were chaotic scenes in the lunch hall as some of her relatives almost came to blows on the

question of who would get served first. The rituals to solemnize the marriage was to take place

after lunch. Most of Komalam’ s relatives left after they had their lunch. When the time came for

the marriage to be solemnized there were very few people left.

Komalam looked beautiful in her wedding saree. She was decked in jewels. Kurup had

purchased both the saree and the jewels. The previous day he had handed them over to

Anandavalli.

“I think the two women are wearing some of the jewels that was meant for the girl,” said Laxmi

as she watched the proceedings.

Satyan shrugged. There was nothing else he could do. He knew his master was making a

mistake. Satyan hoped he was wrong in his assessment.

After the marriage, Kurup and his wife went on a trip to all the holy places. It was meant for the

newly married couple to get the blessing of the Gods, but her relatives tagged along. After a

61
A Collection of Short Stories

tiring three week trip the group returned. Thankfully Sugesan and Vasanthi were missing. Only

the mother in law came back with the couple.

“Get the bath water ready. It should not be too hot,” said Anandavalli to Laxmi.

“I know how warm it should be for the master’s bath,” said Laxmi.

“It is for me. After that Komalam will also take a bath,” said Anandavalli and went inside.

Laxmi and Satyan looked at Kurup but he said nothing and quietly went to his room.

“There will be some changes here,” said Anandavalli.

She was addressing Laxmi and Satyan.

“What time do you come in the morning?”

“You have seen us, we come in around six.”

“That is what you say. I do not get good sleep at night so get up at nine. I need a cup of tea as

soon as I get up. Komalam will get up when ever she feels like it. She will also need a cup of tea

when she gets up.”

“Does this rule change once your sister and brother return?”

“They will not come back here. We had a …….” Anandavalli said, “You do not need to know all

that. Servants should know their place in the house hold.”

“Kurup Saar gets up early. He needs his tea by six. I give it to him along with the morning

newspaper,” said Satyan.

“You don’t need to worry about your Kurup Saar. Komalam will decide what he wants and when

he wants it. You two will listen to what I tell you.”

Both Laxmi and Satyan looked at each other. This was worse than they had imagined.

62
A Collection of Short Stories

“The lunch you make is bad. It is too bland. I like my food to be spicy. There should be at least

three different vegetables every day. Why don’t you make fish here? I want fish with every

lunch.”

“The master does not eat fish or non -vegetarian food,” said Satyan.

“That is his problem. I want fish every day. Komalam loves fish and chicken.”

“Non-vegetarian food has never been cooked in this house,” said Satyan.

“Can you cook it or not? If you cannot then I will get someone who can.”

“I – we can. We eat non-vegetarian food at our house. I was just mentioning that non-vegetarian

food has never been prepared in the Kurup house.”

“I told you at the start there will be changes. Lunch will be ready at twelve o clock sharp. There

will be fish at every lunch. Along with …….”

The changes were many and sweeping. It started with the kitchen, moved to entire mansion and

then extended to Kurup’ s properties.

Six months passed. Madhavan, the temple guard was checking the keys for the temple gates.

They were there in his pocket. It was time to lock up the temple. He looked around one last time.

In a corner he thought he saw someone still sitting. He shook his head.

“These beggars are a nuisance,” he said to himself as he walked towards an old man huddled in a

corner.

“I have to lock the temple gates. You have to leave now,” Madhavan said.

The man did not stir. He was sleeping with his head resting against the pillar.

63
A Collection of Short Stories

“My friend. You cannot sleep here. You can go outside the temple complex and sleep in the

garden there.”

The old man slowly got up and started walking. As he came under the light Madhavan looked at

his face. It took him a few seconds to realize that the person walking towards him was Kurup. He

looked old and weak.

“Kurup saar is that you?” said Madhavan.

Kurup nodded his head. Six months of marriage had changed his life. Changed it for the worse.

Within the first couple of months Komalam had convinced him to make her the owner of his

properties. Once the registration deeds were legalized, he became a guest in his own house. First

to go were Laxmi and Satyan. Food came from a nearby hotel. It took Kurup some time getting

used to the smell of fish, but he had adjusted. At first his love for Komalam had masked all his

smells and logic. Then reality crept in and the scales fell and he realized he had been fooled. He

had let himself be fooled by a wicked woman and her mother, but he did not feel sorry for

himself. He thought he deserved what had happened to him. He should have known better. All

that education he had received the books that he had read they all added up to nothing when he

forgot to use them in real life. He made one smart move before he signing over his property, he

donated his collection of books to the local school. Komalam and her mother did not have any

problems with that. They never had anything much to do with the books. It was the land and the

money that they were interested in.

Madhavan looked on in wonder as he saw Kurup walk slowly towards the public park, opposite

the temple. There he saw Kurup lie down on a bench and drape himself with his shawl. There

64
A Collection of Short Stories

was nothing that Madhavan could do. He locked the gates of the temple and went to his house.

He had a story to tell his grandchild.

65

Related Interests