PrEm Ji

THE SOLITARY REAPER (Short story)

 

THE SOLITARY REAPER


Kollam is one of the ancient cities in India, well-known for pepper and cashew trade and I live here like a homeless boor for many years, in many rented homes echoing with the ‘jet-noise’ which appear only in the evenings and their sting would elevate you the peaks of pain. The small rooms in many of them, were more efficient than most of the hot air driers designed by NASA in their heat retaining capacity, which could melt even the steel-bars of windows to fumes in no time! Friend, imagine what could happen to a human body made of 75% water, living there, other than the process of mummification! And the water, I am not willing to speak about it. Your septic tank is the next door neighbor’s well! And during the rains, they become inseparable twins! Life is hell and ALL IS WELL! Unfortunately, it’s the tag-line of every Indian city.

 ✌

Every week, I used visit at least two or three houses so as to satisfy the ongoing hunt for a good home of our own. It has been a routine for many years, and always ended up in great desperation - either we couldn’t afford a good house at a preferred location or a small house that would fit in my pocket ended up near the heavy-trafficked railway line or at the borderline of the sea which was already licked by tsunami!

Real estate broker Babu is my latest partner in the ‘building hunt’ project, as my ‘very important fierce enemy’ (wife!) had given an ultimatum of three months, and we too had covered almost a century!

“Sir, I have a new house in my custody,” Babu told my while stopping his rusty scooter in front of my newly-rented house.

“Is it affordable?”

“Tailor-made for your pocket!” Babu couldn’t hide his exhilaration and we started moving towards a known destination. “Sir, it’s a 2000 square-feet, fifteen year old house… and the asking price is rupees five million.”

“Any more information?”

“House-owner is an NRI…  But, he has a one condition…”

“What’s that?”

“He will accept only pure white money… “

“Is it?”

“He needs fully accounted money for this deal so that it can be transferred to his overseas account without any Income Tax hurdle… PM Modi is a nightmare for NRIs too!”

At last, the scooter entered into Kollam Civil station area. We crossed many small roads and he stopped the vehicle in front of a locked house.

“House owner is a software engineer in Germany and he will be here by next week…” Babu told me.

The beautiful house situated in one of the calmest areas in the city. It was quite affordable to our pocket. Actually it’s real worth was around seven to eight million rupees… Multi-hued Bougainvillea were spread all above the outer walls, which needed careful pruning very badly. A series of passion-fruit vines covered the entire frontal area, crept over even the large gate. When broker Babu was about to open the rusty lock, it was reluctant to cooperate.

“That’s not needed…”

“Why?” he asked with great bewilderment.

“Babu… I know this house in and out… The house-owner, is an old friend of mine.”

“That’s great…” Babu couldn’t hide the exhilaration… “We will finalize the deal today itself… Ramu will call me in the evening… What do you say?”

“Let me ask my wife… She is the one who will decide whether to buy it or not!”

A ripe passion-fruit fell near me and its very large smell component filled my lungs with a torrent of memories. I tore open it to feel the taste - fruity and very tart like an average human life!

 ✌

Three years back… a Sunday.

I was living in the same locality of the house that belonged to Ramu, the young man who was living in Germany. My landlord was the Godfather of all misers across the Universe and he had kept even the minute-most details of the fresh-most grass blade growing in the house compound. Poor man was our ‘live security camera!’ Every day, he used to walk around our rented house, at least twice or thrice, in pretest of morning/ evening/ mid-noon walk! That habitual miser had been living with a pacemaker in his chest for the past sixteen or seventeen years.

“He must be lying…” my wife told me one day.

“Why?”

“One million pacemakers can’t make a ‘stone’ beat like human heart…” she replied angrily.

Usually, my days began with a jogging session for around twenty minutes… And many times, I used to get two or three ripe golden yellow passion-fruits that had succumbed to the passion of the previous windy nights, in front of the nighbour’s gate. I was lucky on that day too, but someone called me from behind. A well-built man in his early seventies opened the front gate and handed over a plastic bag full of passion fruits.

“O! Thank you… Sir…”

“I am Rajan Pillai, secretary of our residential association… I thought of visiting your house since the last residential association meeting… We must know who all are living in and around the rental houses here…”

“Of course… you must… after-all we are living in very tough times…” I replied, though I was ashamed of myself that in many of our cities, the next door neighbor would remain like total stranger even after many years! Everyone lives in an island of their own with at least four security cameras to complement their weary eyes.

“You are right…”

“By the way, I am Premji, an engineer by profession and a teacher by passion,” I shook hands with the old-man.

“What do you teach, Mr. Premji?”

“I don’t teach anything… or better, I teach nothing… It’s the student’s duty to teach me…”

“You are a strange man…” he laughed loudly…

 ✌

As Rajan Pillai and Savithri Amma, his beloved wife, were suffering from chronic diabetes, I had to become the ‘solitary reaper’ of those golden yellow globes on regular basis… My sons were not even interested to smell those treasures of nature… With the help of Youtube-Baba, I tried many combinations of juice and jelly using the fruity pulp.

Rajan Pillai was an employee of Indian Railways and his wife - a government school teacher. What made them the luckiest were the high IQ of their children, which landed them in prestigious positions in their later-life. Elder boy was working as a software engineer in Germany and the younger girl was married to an army-man settled in Bangalore. They seldom visited the parents. Savithri Amma was very fond of my boys and she used to give them a portion of any of the special items made by her.

The aged couple were very active in the society, never hesitant to help people with their time, energy and money. He used to supply seeds of vegetables, saplings of many varieties of plantains and yam etc. to every household under our residential association in an old Yamaha motor-bike used by his son earlier. But, I was careful enough not to plant anything in our house compound as it was virtually impossible to resist our house-owner’s watchful eyes which moved above and around our rented like unmanned American drones! The ‘Nutty professor’ had kept it as a special clause in our rental deed!

Rajan Pillai and I, we used to go for long walks whenever I was free. He never missed an opportunity to tell great stories of yester-years with minutest details and great passion till that fateful day, when he was about to faint after a short walk.

 ✌

“Coronary arteries diseases occurs when fatty substances are deposited along the wall of the arteries causing them narrow. Two of the coronary arteries of Mr. Pillai are having blocks….” Dr. Rajesh, a noted cardiac surgeon and owner of ‘Chandra Heart-care’ told us.

“What could be the possible remedy?” asked one of the veterans from our residents association.

“Either he can live with it as long as time permits… or he can opt for a Bypass surgery,” doctor replied without any emotions. 

“Let’s discuss with him first,” said one of his relatives.

“Let him get out of ICU first,” I told them.  

 ✌

To be very frank, modern hospitals are nothing but high-end butcher shops with supreme neatness and their modern diagnostic equipment have extensive attachments like that of heavy duty excavators which could dig money even from the corpse of a slum-dog who hadn’t seen food or water for months. Rajan Pillai became their instantaneous celebrity as his son had full coverage insurance for his parents offered by the German Company where he was working.

After a series of painstaking tests, the poor man was admitted into the intensive care unit. His wife and relatives had to wait outside for a couple of days. He was released after six or seven days of the so-called ‘intensive care.’ Every small vein of the poor man’s forearms was punctured with huge needles to add glucose and medicines though he was perfectly alright to eat three meals a day! But, he was not allowed.

Savithri Amma sold his motor bike off, the all-time companion of the old man, to a scrap dealer and stopped cooking every local food item that needed even the slightest amount of coconut oil for sautéing or frying. He was allowed to eat fried Tuna fish pieces covered with pepper masala only in long day-dreams!

Rajan Pillai’s ‘new morns’ began with thin porridge made of crushed wheat, followed by dry chapattis in the afternoon and ended with a ‘morn’ in the night why because the oatmeal porridge or the tasteless dry wheat bread pieces were insufficient enough to feed the starving worms inside his shrunken bowels. Poor man had to drink a golden yellow liquid, made of broken coconut shells boiled in water, at least twice a day as Savithri Amma was waging Mahabharata war against bad Cholesterol. Unfortunately, it supplemented his hunger at least twice! He had to relieve himself from the prestigious post of Residential Association Secretary to avoid the verbal pestering of his devoted wife.

When he is sick, she becomes the prick… God! What a Universal truth it is! The only family whom he was free enough to mingle anytime was that of ours!

 ✌

Ramu, his German wife named Emma and their seven year old daughter Mia reached his home without any prior intimation. Unfortunately, his wife and kid didn’t know any language other than German. But, my little sons, started communicating with the little girl in German with the help of a mobile app that could translate any language to the desired one. Within a week, they had enormous improvement in German.

“Guten Morgan,” my wife told me while handing over a cup of steaming coffee.

“Who taught you all these rubbish?”

“Very poor in German,” she was about to away with a naughty smile.

“Dad… It means Good morning…” my younger giggled.

“Ich liebe dich…” I told my wife.

“What does it mean?” she asked.

“I love you…” my elder son translated coolly. 

“Bloody fellows, tried even that!” she couldn’t control the laughter.

Soon, I started walking towards Rajan Pillai’s house.

Emma found infinite happiness in pruning the untamed Bougainvillea’s and nurturing plants in their home garden. And their little girl chased the dragonflies. Ramu joined me during the morning jogging sessions. Poor man was in deep confusion, what to do with his parents. His sister was not in good terms with any of them.

 ✌

It was a fine evening and I was sporting through the design of an electric car – one of my dream projects. Someone knocked at the door. Mr. Rajan Pillai kept a small bag full of Passion fruits on my table.

“Thank you Sir…”

“Shall we move on to the terrace and sit for some time? I have something very important to discuss with you.”

Soon, my little boys placed two plastic chairs there on the terrace and we settled in for a long discussion. My wife appeared with two steaming cups of coffee…

“Unfortunately, I forgot… not to add sugar,” she told the old man.

“It’s a pleasure, for I haven’t tasted some sugar for many days,” he replied smiling.

“Ok then,” she walked away.

“Premji, I am going to Cochin by tomorrow morning…” he began to speak seriously.

“Any medical check-up?”

“No… I am going to get admitted for Bypass surgery…”

“But… nobody told about it…”

“Nobody knows about it! It is not a personal decision… I had to submit myself before the collective decision of my family. Actually, there is no point in undergoing any operation like this… But, my wife and son are not ready to leave me…”

“What to do? They too have to make themselves secured, otherwise friends and relatives will abuse them with harsh words…”

“Are you supporting their stand?”

“No way… I strongly advocate for your personal freedom… It’s your life… It’s your decision…”

“Personally, I am afraid of all hospitals, especially the intensive care units… Do you know what’s happening inside there? When, you people were waiting outside, I was lying on an elevated bed with as many sensors fixed upon my body… Nurses inside were busy either with smartphone games or on social media… The duty doctor was busy preparing for some entrance examinations. Even-though we call it intensive care unit, you won’t get any care at all. And the relatives sitting outside believe that we are getting cared every moment!”

“Is it?”

“Yes… Premji… I witnessed many peaceful deaths in my family… especially, very aged people like my grandfather… We used to sit beside their bed chanting mantras or reciting holy books… They left peacefully by showering blessings on all of us… But, what’s happening today? You die alone like a dog among those who crack silly jokes on you… You may feel like blessing your grandchild, but, you can’t … See, your hands are tied with some heartless machines… You die in absolute dismay! ”

“Very sad!”

“One day, I was woken up from deep sleep by the horrible gasping of a man lying on the next bed. He dropped dead in two minutes. Sad, his eyes were searching for the dear and near…”

“Then why did you decide to undergo a bypass surgery?”

“Premji… You might be knowing that I was with the Indian Railways working as a ticket examiner… Always, I was in need of a lot of money for providing better education to our children, and those urgencies ended up in my dismissal, almost fifteen years prior to the normal course of retirement… I used to arrange seats and berths for many passengers without proper reservations in exchange of money… But, I was caught ready-handed by the Chief Manager of Southern Railways who happened to be a casual passenger. Never even once he used the special facilities allotted to him and not even once he had forgiven anyone cheating his mother organization… He was such a principled man and not even once I have cursed him till today… My family was humiliated everywhere… Luckily, one of our closest relatives sponsored both of our children just because of their merit… Whatever we own today, belongs to his kindness… Both of my kids always wished to stay away from us.”

“Very sad…”

“I have transferred all the documents of our house to Ramu today… And our little savings to my daughter... At least, they should not curse their Dad!”

“That sounds really great… But, why did you decide to undergo bypass operation?”

“Ramu is capable of spending for at least fifty bypass operations on my feeble heart… But, he is very much worried about the criticism from friends and relatives that if I die without it. Unfortunately, I had to overhear him discussing the same with his mother. Premji… Already, I had brought them a enough disgrace… Why should I do it again?” the old man wiped his tears. “It’s a duel between fear of criticism v/s fear of loss of life!”

“Sir… Please calm down… They know you in and out…”

“If I had an elder son, he might be of your age… and I felt the same, always, in your company… I am here to say good-bye…”

“Our family’s prayers are always with you…”

“Thank you…son…” he said while hugging me tightly.

Soon, the fresh smell of Tuna fish fried with pepper masala started moving around us like the last temptation.

“Would you like to have some?”

“Why not!” replied the old man.

 ✌

The bypass surgery was quite successful, and they charges even for the hand-rub used by the nurses! But, the pace-making cells failed to generate a current that causes contraction of the heart with the rhythm of life.

 ✌

“At last, I have located a good house, in a good location with ample space and compound, perfect fitting in our pocket,” I told my little idiot.

“Where is it located?” she asked.

“You know the house very well…”

“Me?”

“Yes… Ramu is selling his house… Rajan Pillai’s son…”

“We are not going to buy it… A house that is made of memories, cannot be high--spirited… Anyway, let’s not stop the hunt, dear…” she hugged me tightly.

Premji

21/06/2019

  • Author: PrEmJi PrEmJi (Pseudonym) (Offline Offline)
  • Published: January 31st, 2021 05:01
  • Category: Unclassified
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