Gift of Time

Gopal was a daily wage worker in the small town of Nowrali in the eastern pradesh. Quite a few of landless labourers were not guaranteed consistent work. They did not belong to the town as they did not have a proper dependable identification as per the authorities whose task was to guarantee work to the poor under various schemes brought out by elected governments. He like others existed on the ground but never was a part of the system.

These men wandered daily in search of work at middle class houses and the rich in town and did to the best of their ability what came to them. The summer made their tasks difficult when the oppressive heat did not allow them to roam freely from door to door or while they worked.

A few of them loitered near Ramaseth’s palatial house thinking that he could assign them some work at his house or at his diary ranch at the outskirts a mile away where few people were guaranteed employment if they were found to be diligent in their work.

The summer was oppressive as said earlier and the Sun as task master struck people who ventured out of the shade for too long. Last year the town had lost quite a few people this way.

Today Gopal had gone from house to house in the well to do areas at walking distance from his shanty. Everyday he covered 10 to 15 houses on an average before someone assigned him some work. The jobs ranged from anything that the house owners could not do or manage for themselves.

For the last two days he wasn’t getting any and was thinking of what to do. There was nothing to eat and he went to Manikchand’s grocery to buy some rice and vegetables. But to his dismay the shopkeeper refused to give him anything on loan. Already Gopal’s dues had crossed 500 rupees and Manikji was not willing to extend it any further.

Gopal as his nature did not complain and retraced his steps. Manikji was right. How could he run his shop on charity. That would make us people lazy. He also would fall into the debt trap and become one among the poor if he persisted to help this way. He had to safeguard himself first if he had to help others. Lord, if only i got some work, i will pay him his dues soon…sighed Gopal.

A hungry Gopal scratching his face was walking back to his hut in the sweltering heat. It was then he observed somebody sitting outside his door in the shade perhaps waiting for him to arrive. Do I know him was the thought that came across his mind as he greeted the stranger who had got up on seeing Gopal.

Are you looking for me? No and Yes replied the smiling stranger with all humility. I was sitting in the shade. I am on the way to Neemgaon and hail from Govindpur and thought of resting my legs. I went near the shade of that bungalow you see there pointing to one of a well to do family house but the people did not like a stranger near their house and then I thought of coming over here. Can I lie down here in the shade for a while till I feel fine and go about my way. Why here, come inside. Here, have some water. Gopal brought it from the earthen pot and put some biscuits he had, to refresh his guest. You can lie on my cot till you feel comfortable to make the next leg of your journey. Gopal was happy to have a guest but sad at the same time that he could not offer a decent meal.

They talked about a few things including the lack of work in the town . Call me Keshav. I have to reach Neemgaon before it is dinner as I have an important work to accomplish there. Why don’t you, Gopal, try your luck at Ramaseth’s house. I heard he is rich and needs an extra hand or two on daily basis?

I went there a couple of times but there is always a gathering of people looking for work and much abler than me. Gopal drank water to suppress the pangs of hunger that emanated and rested below alongside the bed on which the stranger had gone to sleep.

As evening approached, Keshav took leave but not before gifting a wrist watch to him saying it was the only thing of any value he had on him to gift him for his endearing nature. Gopal was at a loss to accept this looking at Keshav’s smiling face upon him but the gentle hands pressed the gift into Gopal’s palms. I should hurry now looking at the setting Sun but not before giving a parting remark. Try one more time at Ramaseth’s house and do not forget to wear this lucky watch when you go to him early morning. Gopal agreed mentally as he watched Keshav go out of sight round the corner houses.

The next day after a quick bath he left early morning and was at the gates of Ramaseth’s house. Today there was nobody looking for work except him; maybe he had come earlier than the others or as Keshav said his gifted watch was lucky for him. It was then he saw the Seth coming back after his morning walk with a servant in tow. Though Gopal went upto him with folded hands, he ignored him as if he didn’t exist and went inside. The servant told him to wait for some time before they decided if they wanted an extra hand that day.

After a few minutes Divakarji, the police officer walked into the house for what seemed a customary visit. Gopal knew him as one or two times, Divakarji had given him some work at the town police station. Looking for work here? Yes Sir, replied Gopal with hands folded. The officer observed the watch on Gopal’s right hand. It looked costly and out of place on the worker’s hand. Where did you get this? Some habits die hard was the thought that came to Divakar’s mind as the question had left his lips before he could ask something. Sir, a guest gifted it to me yesterday at my house. And who was He to have graced your house? I do not know; he appeared to be a traveller. Hmm retorted the pondering officer as he walked inside.

Welcome Divakarji what a pleasant surprise. How come at this early hour. Hope all is well? Yes yes..I just happened to take this way for my morning walk. Please be seated, infact i just came in after finishing mine and was thinking of having breakfast. Why don’t you join us. I am waiting for my wife to complete her prayers you know how she is..let me go and inform her or else both of us will have to wait for more time. He came back after a few minutes. She is always busy with Krishna and attributes all what we have today to His grace and not because of my business acumen. Anyway what news have you about the town. How has been the last week for you. For me it has been pretty busy….As they spoke, Kanta, Ramaseth’s wife walked in, greeted the officer and asked one of the servant to clear the clutter on the breakfast table as she went into the kitchen to get tea and the dishes. While chatting over as they had the khichdi and Upma, Ramaseth glanced at the wall clock. It still was saying 5:35 am so it had stopped and pointed it to her to get it repaired. He wasn’t wearing his wrist watch, strange didn’t he tie it before he went on his walk. He asked the standing servant. Do we need any extra worker today? to which Kanta replied yes we need one to clean our water tank. Yesterday we had a dusty wind and the terrace is laced with dry leaves and twigs. Okay, time I get going as he glanced at his wrist a second time as was his habit. He wasted quite a few precious minutes of the day just to look up at the time. The wheels of time never stood still though every second it never stopped looking at what we did as if it had to maintain a log of our doings…

Where is my watch, he wondered as he went upto his room and searched for it and couldn’t find it. Divakar saw the troubled look on the Seth’s face and enquired of it. I think i lost my watch during the morning walk and these servants have you noticed it anywhere? It was a gift from a person last month when I had helped a person on a night when their vehicle had broken down on the highway. I had arranged all help to get him and his family to continue their journey. For my services that night he had gifted to me a watch an antique silver costly one..Kaantaa have you seen it..Kanta’s voice came from the kichen..i will look for it. Meanwhile Ramaseth asked his servant to send for the helper waiting at the gate.

Gopal appeared at the steps of the Gopalkunj mansion where its owner Seth was talking to Divakar who was now taking his leave. Gopal came up the steps with folded hands. Can you do some work properly on this property? Yes Sir. I shall..Divakar told Ramaseth that he could count on Gopal as he himself had utilised his services.

Kanta after taking care of the kitchen chores meanwhile went into the prayer room just to see whether the window was closed. Her eyes first fell on the watch lying on the solitary chair. Oh it is here my husband kept and forgotten while notifying me about the arrival of Divakarji while she was praying.

Suddenly she heard some loud chatter outside in the verandah and came out quickly.

Where did you get the watch? I am asking you a second time. Kanta walked in to a scene where she saw Gopal in tears and surprised to see the same watch in her husband’s hand. Do you see Kanta. It seems i dropped my watch in the grass somewhere during the morning walk and this guy gets it and walks into the very same house to where it belonged to. And on top of it he has the nerve to tell me, RAMASETH of all persons that it was gifted to him by some stranger who was mad to go and rest at his place. As if there were no rest houses or lodges in this Nowrali town!!

Divakarji what do we do with this fellow. Divakar who was maintaining calm so far said..yes this is the same answer he gave me at the gate when asked of this lost watch. Well it is your call Seth do you want me to press charges and proceed now that you got your watch. The Seth replied..I don’t want to, from my side. Well off with you he shouted at Gopal, there is no work for you here anymore.

Wait a moment..Kanta said and hurried to her prayer room; the watch was still there. So she was not dreaming. Again going back and before Gopal could move out, she called him back. NOW what, an upset Ramaseth asked looking at her. He didn’t like Kanta interfering in this case. She was too kind and left a lot of such people of the hook. NOW do you want to feed him breakfast too. Kanta looked at her husband once and he kept his silence.

Now tell me what is your name..in a sweet voice she asked….Gopal. The name struck her.and where did you find this? No maam i did not find it anywhere. Keshav had given it to me for my hospitality. I gave him water and food what i had and he rested on my cot and in the evening he gave this watch as a parting gift. And he also said..Gopal broke into tears now in front of the kindness shown by Kanta. I understand please speak on, do not be afraid of these two not so gentle men with a smile she made fun of the two who were listening. Keshav also asked me to look for work here.

Enough of your talk..this guy comes looking for my fallen watch and not work and has the audacity to wear it on him as a gift from an imaginary traveler. Divakarji take him, please! I don’t have the time for all this… said a fuming Seth.

But this is not your watch. Why are you taking him to task? Your watch is still lying on the chair in the prayer room. Ramaseth and Divakar rushed to find the evidence but came out soon in a huff. Now Kanta you are making a story to help this Gopal. I now suspect you gave this watch to him when he came looking for work..there is no watch in that room dear Kanta. What do you mean there is no watch there. I will go and get it myself for you to see. The devoted Kanta went inside the prayer room and her eyes first fell on a smiling Krishna and then on the extinguished lamp. It is too windy she thought as she shut the lone window and then lighted the lamp. Getting up she casually lifted the watch from the chair. These people did they go blind in anger? How could one judge others when the curtain of anger and prejudged notions exist, and one calls himself a policeman who cannot locate a watch on a chair in a 16 square feet room, her thoughts were lapping and making her a bit agitated. She calmed herself by looking at Krishna and went out.

Ramaseth was looking at the news paper headlines as she walked in. Where are the others? She heard the gate being shut and saw Divakar taking Gopal with him. She called out to the servant to bring them back and showed the watch to her husband. See Sethji..she always chided him by calling him this way… Here is your watch. Now you see there are two of them and coincidentally both were gifted. Gopal has not taken yours..Kanta addressed the men assembled. Divakar felt guilty thinking he had acted in haste and harshly in the shadow of the affluent Ramaseth. Kanta gave the watch back to Gopal saying Gopal we are sorry for what happened and I apologize on behalf of my husband. Please forgive us and can I ask you if you are still open to the task for today at our house?

A smiling Gopal gave the watch to Kanta saying…Please keep this watch safely with you. It acted as a recommendation letter and now I don’t have any use for it. For me the Sun is enough to judge the passing time. In that case Gopal, the now mellowed Seth said we are hiring you as a full time helper with us. You need not look for work anywhere else. Gopal with folded hands said..I am so lucky. Yesterday I met my Krishna and today I met Lakshmiji as he looked at Kanta. What more do I need. Seth looked at Kanta. He was proud of her and happy that things concluded this way. He went out but not before telling Kanta to feed breakfast to Gopal before he started his first assignment at Gopalkunj mansion.

Kanta smiled at Gopal as he ate his delicious breakfast and she retired back into the prayer room and kept the watch Gopal had gifted her in front of Krishna saying Thank you for saving us from commiting a sin today early morning. Here is a gift for you for being the master of ceremonies and presiding over today’s incident. Krishna smiled at Kanta for what belonged to him had come back to him…He was busy thinking who next would receive the Gift of Time…

Churned Quotes while writing this post:

All the time you seem busy or act busy. Spare some time for me who is all the time looking at you…

You never know when the tide of time washes over you. It may lift you now and then dump you the very next moment…

The Lord is the best scriptwriter and He nevers leaves an opportunity to act in his plays even if it be, a small guest appearance…

Hunger is the worst form of punishment that is inflicted on the body. If a man or any creature is denied that basic right, the gods go hungry…

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The Boy of Tidings

It is still dark in the city as the sun was yet to wake up at the horizon from his deep slumber late last evening. It seemed he was tired of peeking through the clouds brought about by a cyclone that had ravaged many a southern state and was still streaking to conquer uncharted territories on the Indian west coast trying to make a landfall before it died down. The Ockhi cyclone had made a surprise appearance at the southern tip of India and  churned the Indian ocean and the Arabian sea much to the horror of coastal towns and villages and had played with the lives of the fisherman community who had travelled the high seas during the last few days. Though it ran shy of the indian coast so far, the wind  the churning waves and the rain had in its grip the towns of Kanyakumari, Nagercoil, the Kerala coast and had ravaged Lakshadweep islands, the damage of which is still to be known.

ockhi
Pic Courtesy: The Hindu

The newspaper boy had already started his work near one of the many bus stops in the city, trying to sort out the many news papers and magazines that he need to carry across to homes to those news hungry and elderly people who would wait for him for happy tidings as he would swirl the newspaper at them from a safe distance. He still had a good aim to reach somewhere near their outstretched hands, as if it was a offering from the gods at dawn.

But today, the winds and the slight rain had made his job difficult. Navigating his cycle through the pools of water on the streets from the overnight rains, he had to go and find out a dry stretch on the steps of each house where he could safely deliver the paper full of news that should not be drenched while his eager readers this day decided to stay within the safe confines of their home instead of looking out to welcome him.

newspaperboy.jpg

Running late, he saw the morning sun after so many days in his distribution work. The  sun with a mighty effort had finally gathered himself and had started his journey across the still cloudy skies. As he looked down, the only movement he could detect was a tiny boy braving the cold windy weather going to each home with a sheaf of papers…

Work is Worship

For those who have followed me recently, am republishing this post written 3 years ago, a long one for the happy weekend read.

Harish had come to the city 3 decades ago and barring a small stint at a bakery in his early formative years, he became a rickshaw puller just like thousand others across the country. Over the years, as the country progressed, there came the cycle rickshaws followed by the auto rickshaws but like many others Harish would not move up the ladder and persisted with his manual one and never thought of changing cities and pitched his tent in Calcutta where he had arrived in the 70’s.

Harish was in his late sixties and his daily schedule would be to have to his breakfast which consisted of rice gruel and a banana and then he would disappear into the big bustling city crowd and would be spotted at locations taking his passengers usually one or two with their luggage in tow. Passengers rarely remembered him, as for them, he was a means of cheap transport to be quickly forgotten as soon as they landed at their destinations. It always invoked the curiosity of people who have had the time to observe people like Harish to wonder about the source of  energy to pull their passengers with just two hands to their destinations miles away on roads that sometimes sloped upwards and downwards.

rickshaw puller
Credits: The Sunday Tribune

Harish due to some thought ingrained in his childhood had never visited a temple or never thought about the gods in them and always wondered whether people did get the benefit of visiting them. He must have carried hundreds nay a thousand in his umpteen trips up and down to holy shrines spread across the city. It was rather a coincidence, a strange one at that, having carted or transported so many devotees, he had never visited or entered a shrine so far, though he knew the gods and goddesses by their pictures that were splashed across by the religious minded across the city walls and in the outer precincts of the temples.

Harish lived alone all these years except for this month when he got company. It was Nandhu, a boy of 8 years, whom he had rescued from the streets on a night trip. Nandhu seemed to be abandoned by his relations in the city or he appeared genuinely lost as he thought. By the look of the poor boy, he appeared to be from a very poor background and experience told Harish to keep him with him till he grew up in age to fend for himself.

It was already 7 pm and since Nandhu was down with fever in the hut for the last two days, Harish had him at the back of his mind all day when he was scouting for work in the sun and rain who played their parts to perfection all through the day. Today was a bad day and he had made barely 60 rupees. Without at least 70, he could not take Nandhu to the doctor who lived near their shanty house for medicines. Moreover he had to get some food for dinner for both of them. He had been roaming through the city but somehow luck eluded him today. It only dawned upon him now that he had skipped his lunch like so many other days in the past.

A light drizzle had started and Harish was hopeful that someone would hail him to escape it. As minutes ticked by, he knew he had to reach and get Nandhu to the doctor before 9 PM after which Sarmaji, the doctor would not see anybody. At his wits end, his legs impatient and his mind failing to control them, in despair he cried out to the Lord, whom he knew very feebly, for help and looked around desperately for that one passenger who could give him the last 30 rupees after which he could wind up work for the day. With his legs aching and stomach on a raging fire he wondered if he would ever reach home today.  The small shops in the lane, where he and his cart were at standstill, were downing their shutters as the shop keepers too sensed that it was high time and with the rain not helping, they least expected any one to turn up at their shops.  The sun having set an hour ago, it was quite dark except for the feeble street lights which were quite a distance apart.

It was at this point of time, a couple emerged with some baggage and asked him if he could take them to the Ram Temple which was at a mile’s distance. The couple appeared young and dressed neatly in nice clothes, Harish wondered if he could reach them to their destination in time. Moreover the road to the temple was bad and had a slight slope and it would require all his strength to pull them across it. It was that moment of time the couple asked, as if in one voice, how much he would charge them. Harish was in two minds. He did not want to scare them away as he desperately needed the 25 or 30 as he had calculated earlier and asked them for 25, which was very fair considering the time and the weather.

The couple hopped on to his carriage after a bit of bargaining and settling it at 20 rupees not withstanding Harish’s fervent pleas. After the price had been fixed it was left to Harish to show his experience to handle the cart and his passengers deftly as he pulled them slowly on to their destination. It took him a short and gasping run in the last 200 meters before he reached the temple just in time or so he thought. The couple got down and thanked him and he had to wait for the lady to count 20 coins and hand them to his outstretched hands. A lightening streak flashed, as she handed him the money, with the help of which he could see the charming couple’s faces. It seems they were newly married and had come to the temple as was the custom in those places on a Thursday. He saw them climbing up the stairs and entering the shrine.

The despair call to the Lord an hour ago had worked and Harish wondered if it really was because of the Lord’s blessings, he had gained this last trip. Since it was so late and he having made his wages for subsistence for the day, he thought of entering the temple for the first time in his life. He had a lot of doubts as he climbed each step. What if the Pujari or the temple priest would shout at him for coming in such shabby and torn clothes? Nevertheless he walked on and entered the temple. There was no one in sight and having gained courage with each step, he walked on to explore the inner precincts of the shrine. He came to different places of worship allocated to each god or a goddess at various places inside the shrine. All this time, he was looking around with fear and awe, as with time, he still could not see anyone in the temple. Holding on to the coins, he at last reached the sanctum sanctorum where he saw the main deity and his consort and immediately recognized them by their robes and faces as his passengers who had graced his rickshaw, a few minutes ago.

Tears ran down his eyes and he felt his life had met its purpose having transported the Lord and his Consort in his rickshaw to the temple. As he prostrated on the floor in front of the shining glory with folded hands, he took care lest the coins would fall away and was struck with surprise when he counted them later to be exactly 25 coins, the price that he had asked initially and that too shining gold coins…

The Couple on a rickshaw

Harish had come to the city 3 decades ago and barring a small stint at a bakery in his early formative years, he became a rickshaw puller just like thousand others across the country. Over the years, as the country progressed, there came the cycle rickshaws followed by the auto rickshaws but like many others Harish would not move up the ladder and persisted with his manual one and never thought of changing cities and pitched his tent in Calcutta where he had arrived in the 70’s.

Harish was in his late sixties and his daily schedule would be to have to his breakfast which consisted of rice gruel and a banana and then he would disappear into the big bustling city crowd and would be spotted at locations taking his passengers usually one or two with their luggage in tow. Passengers rarely remembered him, as for them, he was a means of cheap transport to be quickly forgotten as soon as they landed at their destinations. It always invoked the curiosity of people who have had the time to observe people like Harish to wonder about the source of  energy to pull their passengers with just two hands to their destinations miles away on roads that sometimes sloped upwards and downwards.

rickshaw puller
Credits: The Sunday Tribune

Harish due to some thought ingrained in his childhood had never visited a temple or never thought about the gods in them and always wondered whether people did get the benefit of visiting them. He must have carried hundreds nay a thousand in his umpteen trips up and down the city to holy shrines in the city. It was rather a coincidence, a strange one at that, having carted or ported so many devotees, he had never visited or entered a shrine so far, though he knew the gods and goddesses by their pictures that were splashed across by the religious minded across the city walls and in the outer precincts of the temples.

Harish lived alone all these years except for this month when he got company. It was Nandhu, a boy of 8 years, whom he had rescued from the streets on a night trip. Nandhu seemed to be abandoned by his relations in the city or he appeared genuinely lost as he thought. By the look of the poor boy, he appeared to be from a very poor background and experience told Harish to keep him with him till he grew up in age to fend for himself.

It was already 7 pm and since Nandhu was down with fever in the hut for the last two days, Harish had him at the back of his mind all day when he was scouting for work in the sun and rain who played their parts to perfection all through the day. Today was a bad day and he had made barely 60 rupees. Without at least 70, he could not take Nandhu to the doctor who lived near their shanty house for medicines. Moreover he had to get some food for dinner for both of them. He had been roaming through the city but somehow luck eluded him today. It only dawned upon him now that he had skipped his lunch like so many other days in the past.

A light drizzle had started and Harish was hopeful that someone would hail him to escape it. As minutes ticked by, he knew he had to reach and get Nandhu to the doctor before 9 PM after which Sarmaji, the doctor would not see anybody. At his wits end, his legs impatient and his mind failing to control them, in despair he cried out to the Lord, whom he knew very feebly, for help and looked around desperately for that one passenger who could give him the last 30 rupees after which he could wind up work for the day. With his legs aching and stomach on a raging fire he wondered if he would ever reach home today.  The small shops in the lane, where he and his cart were at standstill, were downing their shutters as the shop keepers too sensed that it was high time and with the rain not helping, they least expected any one to turn up at their shops.  The sun having set an hour ago, it was quite dark except for the feeble street lights which were quite a distance apart.

It was at this point of time, a couple emerged with some baggage and asked him if he could take them to the Ram Temple which was at a mile’s distance. The couple appeared young and dressed neatly in nice clothes, Harish wondered if he could reach them to their destination in time. Moreover the road to the temple was bad and had a slight slope and it would require all his strength to pull them across it. It was that moment of time the couple asked, as if in one voice, how much he would charge them. Harish was in two minds. He did not want to scare them away as he desperately needed the 25 or 30 as he had calculated earlier and asked them for 25, which was very fair considering the time and the weather.

The couple hopped on to his carriage after a bit of bargaining and settling it at 20 rupees not withstanding Harish’s fervent pleas. After the price had been fixed it was left to Harish to show his experience to handle the cart and his passengers deftly as he pulled them slowly on to their destination. It took him a short and gasping run in the last 200 meters before he reached the temple just in time or so he thought. The couple got down and thanked him and he had to wait for the lady to count 20 coins and hand them to his outstretched hands. A lightening streak flashed, as she handed him the money, with the help of which he could see the charming couple’s faces. It seems they were newly married and had come to the temple as was the custom in those places on a Thursday. He saw them climbing up the stairs and entering the shrine.

The despair call to the Lord an hour ago had worked and Harish wondered if it really was because of the Lord’s blessings, he had gained this last trip. Since it was so late and he having made his wages for subsistence for the day, he thought of entering the temple for the first time in his life. He had a lot of doubts as he climbed each step. What if the Pujari or the priest would shout at him for coming in such shabby and torn clothes? Nevertheless he walked on and entered the temple. There was no one in sight and having gained courage with each step, he walked on to explore the inner precincts of the shrine. He came to different places of worship allocated to each god or a goddess at various places inside the shrine. All this time, he was looking around with fear and awe, as with time, he still could not see anyone in the temple. Holding on to the coins, he at last reached the sanctum sanctorum where he saw the main deity and his consort and immediately recognized them by their robes and faces to his passengers who had graced his rickshaw, a few minutes ago.

Tears ran down his eyes and he felt his life had met its purpose having transported the Lord and his Consort in his rickshaw to the temple. As he prostrated on the floor in front of the shining glory with folded hands, he took care lest the coins would fall away and was struck with surprise when he found them to be exactly 25 coins, the price that he had asked initially and that too shining gold coins…