Fiction: Rebirth

April 19, 2018 Fiction , POETRY / FICTION

Nagesh Jayaraman photo

 

By

K.S. Subramanian

 

 

 

There is a lot of resilience in the lives of the lower rung, though unrevealed, but one either looks down or rarely casts an eye on them.  One does see a flower vendor sitting before the famous temple in one of the upper class localities (I wouldn’t risk calling it middle class lest I be called snobbish or unchivalrous) who keeps earning from morn till night after buying it in bulk from the Flower Bazaar in Chennai.   And bet on it she would not be returning to a smoothly run home when she returns at night.  Or a tea vendor who has his shop tucked away in a safe side lane with a prominent printed paper on the wall echoing the statutory warning “you smoke here at your own risk”.  He earns a lot better in a day (manages to give away even change for a Rs.2000 note) because he has an office in front and his shop is invariably under invasion.  There is a wall to their lives which one does not penetrate usually but anecdotes do slip through the maze.  And when it does you are astounded.

Chandra, 55, is still chirpy, buoyant and always up on her toes.  Her energy would have made any office-goer pull his nose in surprise; she would alternate between being a mini canteen owner in the morning on made up shop on wheels at the lane corner, preparing hot idlis/dosas with spicy chutney at low price; in the evening would sit with well culled flowers for sale.  Her menu was the toast of the passers by, mostly security guards, office staff mindful of the purse and occasionally the petit bourgeoisie when the purse started to bite them.  And she always served on a plantain leaf to be thrown into a nearby big dustbin.  She could be nasty too in verbal onslaught if any one was callous enough to put it on the wayside.  She had her own notions of hygiene and one tilted with it at his or her own peril.  She knew enough pedestrian politics to say “Sir if Bharath is going Swatch why not me….?”

“Easwar….get this water can to Sir’s home.  I promised to get it in two days for him and it has taken three.  He is cribbing that he has spent thrice more on Aquafina bottles than for this can.  I feel sorry for him…”  Chandra shouted to her son as was her wont though she doted on him.  Her first son, a talented chap who worked in an automobile unit, got married and to her painful realization later drifted away from her.  If estrangement was a painful toxin that penetrated every family’s life then marriage hastened the process.  He rarely visited and as and when he did it really led to a dysfunctional experience.  He now had his children, priorities changed and the in-laws were far too protective about him.  Rather they took him in their palm, as the saying went.

“Yes…ma..I will leave it at the door if he is not there..” said 20 year old Easwar who would take her diktat.  Easwar loved his mother deeply though not given to be expressive about it.  He was equally disdainful of his brother unable to fathom the bitter truth how one could get progressively distant from the family.  “After all mother has been bending her back to earn day and night but hardly thinks of herself. “  he mused as he walked with the can on his strong shoulders.  “We have our own home but never looked to anyone for a loan.  I too earn but when I need money for daily expenses mother has never said no.  How could my brother become so selfish, think the world began and ended with his wife? “   Easwar wished his family had disowned his brother though circumstances willy-nilly had made it so.

Chandra watched her son solicitously taking the can to the nearby building.  One of the customers admonished her for letting her son carry weight.  “Amma….you are being cruel to him.  This is not the age to carry water cans on his shoulder.”  Partly annoyed she hit back with a smile.  “Easwar will do what I tell him.  And he will never complain.  Because I sell these cans for a price and it gets steady income.”  She sighed while spreading the dosa stuffed with sparkling onion pieces on the steaming iron plate. Little plumes of steam rising from it raised a scare that the dosa would turn black or too papery but her skills were tailor- made.  “You have to keep more sources of income to keep hearth burning.  Do you know how much we suffer when monsoon pours and we are out of work for days?  You won’t even glance to see whether I am there or even alive.  Your day is done once you eat and leave.”

Easwar left the can at the door and glided down the stairs.  He was an acknowledged and much solicited expert at making silver figurines from the wax models got out of the stolid stone idols.  He had a dignified income monthly from numerous assignments handed over to him by traders in the city.  They even financed his trips down to other cities where exhibitions or festival sales were on offer.  Chandra told him “Boy!  The day will come when I won’t use you for all these menial tasks.  I know you do it uncomplainingly but I feel miserable inside. The day you fix yourself up on a salary I will let you go.”  There was a tear at the corner of the eye which was too stuck in emotion and reluctant to drop.  Easwar got annoyed and spat out at her.  “Come on ma….get rid of all this muck in your head.  Did I ever say anything to you?”  Their bond was more in hearts than in words.

 

 

Easwar was not used to stray thoughts and emotions cluttering his head as many are and quite contended with a routine rhythm.  That day proved to be an exception and perhaps decisive too.  Having spent his time meticulously carving a figurine based on a wax model in the workshop he showed it to his supervisor for his nod.  The latter was reserved in his praise but his eyes showed keen satisfaction.  “Easwar!  You have deft hands which will work as well on weaving a saree.”  The words rather tumbled out.

His two close associates – Ganesh and Arvind – were tired after a day’s work and wanted a siesta to break the conundrum.  Ganesh was particularly feeling out-of-sorts and couldn’t help it spilling out.  “Guys!  Why don’t we have a jolly good time…..buy some spicy stuff and also a bottle of beer in a bar?  A long time since I moistened my tongue.  Tonight I feel like going wild a bit, make the best use of it.”

Easwar’s brow instantly got into a twist and he remained silent, but eager.  He had gone with them once to the bar, spluttered on a couple of sips to their snigger and kept away.   Arvind didn’t mind for he was used to such jaunts with other friends at least twice a week.  “I am all for it.  Never mind Easwar for he is going to be just a presence, if at all.  Shall we move then, tell the supervisor and buzz off.”  Easwar didn’t take kindly to the remark and bristled to his brow.  The previous experience had more or less baptized him in the revelry and he didn’t want to be treated like a toddler.  The morbid, inescapable fear of his mother swelled again but he fought it with his chin.  “Don’t rule me out Ganesh” he said.  “I am not a baby learning my steps.”  Ganesh, who was fond of him and had known his family well, patted his arm.  “Easwar….your only problem is your mother but she will have no cause to know.  You have been spending all evenings with her and there is no time for fun.  Time you found an evening for it.”

They spent a longer time than was usual in the bar drowning two bottles and venting out some frustrations deep in the recesses before sense of time dawned.  Ganesh stayed in the vicinity and dropped Easwar at his home at 10 p.m.  The front door was closed and from inside the puzzled mutterings of Chandra could be heard.   She was not used to seeing him returning home late hours but that night had food parcels and assorted stuff to be delivered to neighbors.  “I don’t know where is he….tried his office but they told me he had left.” she told her friend, voice creased with anxiety.  “Rarely does he go anywhere without telling me.”  Her friend consoled her with apt words when Easwar came in sight.

Hardly had the words “Ma…had my dinner with Ganesh…won’t eat” come out of Easwar as a face saver Chandra was shrill.  “You have gone without telling me.  I had to leave the shop open to deliver the parcels to them.  You spend only some time in the evenings with me to do some work.  Should you grudge even that?  Your brother has deserted me and goes about as if we don’t exist.  He does not even admit that I made him into what he is now.  He is an ungrateful wretch and you seem to be no different.”  Her eyes almost popped out in anger and uncontrolled anxiety before her trained nostrils smelt alcohol in his breath.  “Ma…wait a minute..don’t run away with words.”  Easwar tried to remonstrate but to no avail as it went worse.

“You are drunk…” she yelled as the discovery cut into her psyche.  “Your father had this problem and took a long time to shake it off.  I am just about managing to run the home and you are out to wreck it. “   Then burst out a fusillade of abuse and accusations for which Chandra always seemed to have a lot of energy to expend on.  Easwar fell silent and went to his room.  He felt a bile of anger and unhappiness rising.  “What have I done that she should pounce on me?  Am I not entitled to spend an evening with friends?” he muttered.  “Why should she use such a horrible language?  Guys of my age live in comfort and have all the rights.  Am I a money-producing machine at 20?”  A sudden surge of depression made him feel that affection too came out with strings attached so long as you accepted it without queries.  If this was the case then he would have to think of mother’s or somebody’s negative reaction before he ventured to exercise his rights, be it for right or wrong.  “Does she know how much of time and pain is gone through in the job I do?  Oh! Does anyone care?  None sees beyond the tip of his nose.”

Silence of night enveloped the house and the city as Chandra, tired of the day’s chores, was hardly aware of the son before sleep took her over.  The day had broken but she got up a little late, made tea and was in usual buzz to prepare for the shop.

“Easwara….you cannot be sleeping this late.  Your friends are to be blamed for it.”  She got into his room and was left speechless, stunned.  Then a howl of shock and agony came from her.  Easwar hung from the tiled roof, almost breathless and in obvious pain.  Her howl brought the neighbors in and in the melee of shock, concern and disbelief they brought him down.  He was alive but not out of the woods yet.

Chandra screamed, unable to digest the experience.  “What have I said or done that he should go to the extreme?  You were there yesterday.  Did I say anything more than what any mother would have said?”  Her friend consoled her.  “Chandra….this is not the time to grieve.  Let us rush him.”

Easwar was taken in an auto and the formalities of law had to be waived temporarily for immediate treatment.  None of them could harbor such thoughts as the need for pooling money took precedence.  They always rise to the occasion, stand together when an unforeseen incident of this magnitude happens.  “We must thank the doctor and his staff for responding immediately” one of them said.  “What would have happened if they had refused?”

Beset with shock a habitually chirpy and loquacious Chandra became a slab of stone.  She felt she had been parachuted into a vacuum and left there.  Then began three days of agonising wait alternating between hope and despair while  the doctor, who valiantly and meticulously fought for Easwar’s life, saw a scintillating ray of hope.

Chandra was lying on the floor, stupefied and sobbing.  Language failed her then. It was an occasion when shock made one numb.  The doctor, sensing her condition, spoke to her friend.  “Amma….he is out of danger.  But it was a herculean task to bring him back to life.  His vertebrae was dislocated slightly but has been restored.  But tell her it is a kind of rebirth….You must thank God for it, not me.”

The doctor had reasons to say that because he was burdened not only by the need to save a life but the implied risk of facing the law.  It was an unwritten understanding born out of fear in such cases that few doctors would take the gauntlet.  A day later Easwar was back to consciousness, took time to recognize all and sundry including his brother who for once appeared shaken.  It took a day more for the smile to crease his mouth.

 

 

“It is rebirth for him.  How else would I put it?” Chandra told her friend, who compassionately pressed her weak hand.  “But I have been brought out of a jolt…suddenly made to realize my own faults, the tendency to fly off a handle.  Do you know he was like hanging loose in the void clutching at my little finger?  God! He is back with me. “  She took hold of herself with a pause. “ One thing for certain.  I have to nurse him back to normal health now.”

Her friend was canny and sensible.  “That you will have to do but take care of your words….handle him right.”

Memory normally plays truant and in a case like that of Easwar took an inordinately longer time to return.  His speech remained sporadic, in bursts but he was intelligible to his loved ones.  His eyes lit up at the sight of acquaintances who solicitously enquired his mother about his health and he smiled. Smile always resurrects the roots of life.

To Chandra days didn’t matter when Time bestowed the biggest benediction to her.  The day of rebirth too came when her mobile rang.  It was Ganesh.  “Ma….my supervisor wants to know if Easwar is in a condition to return to work.  Does’nt matter if it takes more time.   He is willing to wait.”  Chandra smiled and said “He would be happy to hear you again.  I will ask him.”

Easwar, who was listening, took the phone and spoke. Then he looked at his mother with a beaming smile.  “ma….I am going back to work.”

 

 

 

 

 

K.S. Subramanian

K.S.Subramanian, India has published two volumes of poetry titled Ragpickers and Treading on Gnarled Sand through the Writers Workshop, Kolkata, India.   His poems have appeared in Asian Age, a daily published from New Delhi and other centres. Also in magazines, anthologies and web sites such as thebrowncritiqueblogspot.com, www.yorickmagazine.com, poetrymagazine.com, poetrypacific, Kingston writers creative Blog, museindia.com, vigilpub. Café dissensus, unesco.it, Tuck Magazine among others.  He is a retired Senior Asst. Editor from The Hindu, one of the leading and well known dailies in India.

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