Ramchandra! Gate kholo….
He ran helter-skelter when he heard her loud but silky voice booming through the corridors.
His lack of confidence caused him to stammer and this made him the butt of jokes among his colleagues and friends. Whenever they teased him, he gloated with happiness. At least they noticed him. His ordinary face, trademark security guard’s pot belly and a uniform made him almost unnoticeable.
Underpaid. Ignored. Exploited. Lonely.
These four words pretty much summarised Ramchandra’s life.
He had resigned to fate until one day, he got the golden opportunity to guard the most prestigious office in the building…
He wasn’t born into this career and nor was it a career of choice. He belonged to a tiny village 65 km from Indore in the heart of Madhya Pradesh. It was a cluster of about 25 closely held huts. It was a nameless village, too small to have a name.
Some called the village kuye ke paas vale ghar.
The inhabitants were simpletons who made a living by tilling the land around the village. Despite it being the 21st century, modernization had still not reached here. Child marriage was a norm in his village and he wasn’t spared either. There was no electricity or water connection. The village well was the only source of potable water. Letters took 15-20 days to reach and one had to walk 5 km just to make a phone call.
One day, a rich man swooped upon the village like a mighty eagle and snatched away their homes. He had papers to prove that the hutment was illegal.
Everyone was rendered homeless and penniless.
It was the month of May. All the inhabitants were scattered and left to fend for themselves. Ramchandra and his family wandered off to search for a place to stay and reached another settlement. A family of hospitable acquaintance offered them respite in the scorching heat. After a few days, they were shunted to a small hut. He had a large family: his wife, 5 children, parents, brother, sister-in-law and their three children fought for space. He built a tiny shed beside the hut and the men slept under that.
Sexual urges were scheduled with pre-decided turns and timing.
The women managed the home and performed odd jobs to earn money while the men worked in the fields. This village was slightly better than the previous one. Letters took 7 days to reach and the nearest telephone booth was about 3 km away.
They lived a frugal existence, till his wife subtly told him that she was pregnant…again. This was the last straw…he had to do something better to help his family. There had to be another means of survival. He scratched his head and wiped the perspiration from his brow.
He rummaged his belongings and fished out a visiting card. His next task was to find some money. He found a few coins at the feet of the idol at his home’s tiny temple. He clutched at them as if they were life-saving tools. He walked briskly for the next 2 hours to reach the STD booth in the scorching heat.
His trembling fingers dialled the number, after a few failed attempts, he finally got through…
Sh…Sh…Shukkklaa ji…helloooo…hayluuu…Hum bol rah ahu…Ramchandar…pichle saal jhaade mein Gulshanwa ke byaah mein mile the…
J…jh…jee…jee…Ramchandar…haan…jee…naukri chahiye tha…koi bhi…pa..paa..pagaar…aacchha hoona chahiye…Jee…accha…aa jaayenge…kkk…kal…kal nikalte hai..tatkal sey…aaa…aaa…teey hai…Mummmbaai…
He hung up hurriedly before his coins got over. His heart jumped with joy, there was a flicker of hope in his dark life. He had encountered the lion-hearted Shukla ji at a wedding last winter. Shukla was a sharp man who loved to speak with his mouth full of paan. He bragged about Mumbai, the city of gold where an ordinary bus conductor could become a superstar and a driver could become an industry icon and where Shukla became Shuklaji. Today he owned two paan shops and was the head of security at a prestigious office in Mumbai.
21-year-old, Ramchandra bade his wife goodbye amongst the cries and screams of his 6 kids and 4 nieces and nephews. (Just after his wife delivered, his sister-in-law got pregnant as if she was in a hurry to win a race.) His brother hugged him and his parents showered blessings.
Their blank cheque was leaving to get encashed in Mumbai.
He landed at the crowded CST station and was as scared as a mouse. The aura of the busy energy engulfed him almost instantly.
Days turned into months, and months to years. It was 15 years since he was in Mumbai. He had turned 36 this year but he felt as if he was 50 years old.
For the last 15 years, he worked in the same place as a security guard. Each day, he woke up at 5 am in a dingy 100 sq. feet room that was shared by 13 others. He tried to wake up before the others so that he could finish his morning duties in peace. He prepared breakfast for everyone and wolfed down his plate with a cup of tea. He rushed to work. He was given the most difficult duty on the roster. He had to stand outside the gate and direct the traffic. All day long, he directed the traffic and shouted at miscreants who parked wrongly. His weapons were his screeching whistle and a stick that he used as a deterrent. Since he was uneducated, this was the best job that they could give him. After 12 hours of non-stop duty, he would rush home and help out with cooking and cleaning. After dinner, he simply crashed in his bed.
Every month, he sent 85% of his salary to his village. At times he performed overtime only because night duty guards were paid twice as the day duty guards.
He missed his wife and children a lot. He yearned for her warm embrace. At times, he just wanted her to press his tired legs while his children recited English poems that he never understood.
He used to call home once a month. She hardly spoke. The regular news was exchanged and they hung up like strangers.
The feeling of having someone who wanted to speak to him was enough for him to sleep peacefully that night.
When he visited his village once a year, he felt like an outsider in his own home. After the initial excitement died down, they all went about their daily routine and wondered when he would go back so that the money flow begins again. When he was at the village, he yearned to go back to Mumbai.
…so his life continued in this manner until….
She was the most powerful lady in the building. Stunningly beautiful and extremely strict. People shivered when she passed by. She was fretting and fuming because her the current security guard was caught taking bribes. Shuklaji stood there helplessly imploring her to wait for a few days as his best guard was on holiday. She looked around and her eyes met Ramchandra’s nervous gaze. She asked Shuklaji to send Ramchandra as the new guard at her office.
At first, he couldn’t believe it. As the feeling sunk in, he felt so overwhelmed that he wanted to cry. Since that day, he took charge of the office as the new security guard. The cool air of the AC felt like heaven. The quiet environment on that floor was extremely soothing to his worn out ears.
He worked very hard to earn praises of his new Memsahib. He had grown extremely fond of her grace and élan. She was eloquent, well-dressed and disciplined. It was rare to find a person who was frank, open and honest with her feedback – whether it was criticism or praise. She could mesmerise anyone with her manner of speaking. She switched between gentle, firm and strict as per the situation.
He respected her more than he respected his mother or wife. She was like the holy goddess whom he revered and respected.
There was only one problem, more than half the times, he couldn’t understand what she wanted. Since the past 15 years, he had held the fort at the gate. He had absolutely no idea about how an office worked. Despite all his efforts, he ended up getting scolded every single day. He used to dream about one day when he would earn praise from her. It became a mission in his useless life.
One lazy afternoon, Memsahib called him to her room. He proceeded with trembling gait.
When he peeped in, she looked up from her busy desk and said:
“Good job Ramchandra! Aaj sab theekh hua.”
He left the room red-faced. This was the first time in 15 years that anyone had praised him. And to receive it from memsahib was the biggest trophy in the world.
Just then, Shukla ji walked into the office.
“Ramchandar, tere bade waale bete ko bahut tez bukhaar hai, doctor ne jawab de diya hai. Tumko jaana hoga.”
It took Ramchandra a few moments to picture the face of his eldest son. Was he the same boy who wanted the t-shirt…or was he the one who wanted the shoes…his memory failed him. He was getting confused between the eldest and the second born. He then remembered that the elder one was shorter. He couldn’t remember the last time his son spoke to him or hugged him.
The timing was wrong. So wrong.
Here, memsahib…her praise…and there his son’s illness…
He turned to Shuklaji,
“Bol do, paisa bhijwa doonga…”
No stammering. Just a queer sense of liberation. A new sense of self.
Did this story touch your heart? Do let me know in the comments section. Don’t forget to like and share the story.
—Penned by Mayura Amarkant
This is my sixth post in the #Stories&Poems category. Here are the others:
- From this world to the next, a transition in waiting
- The Power of Prayer
- The day I died…
- The long wait…is this your story?
- Chapter Extract: How was Anju raped?
(Image courtesy: Google & my personal gallery)