ODAYIL NINNU (FROM THE GUTTER)
Pappu’s mother suggested that he should be sent to school, so that at least during daytime there would be some relief from his harassment. The customary permission was obtained from the landlord, whose paddy fields Pappu’s parents had taken on lease.
Pappu liked going to school more because he was free to play there than to learn. He soon became the leader of the group of students including the landlord’s grandson. One day while punishing the entire class for a trivial mischief the teacher exempted the landlord’s grandson. Pappu could not tolerate this gross injustice and vehemently opposed the attitude of the teacher. He was expelled from school and soon from his house. Pappu spend most of his time on the hilltop with a few of his friends, creating all sorts of problems for the villagers. Slowly he became isolated. One day the landlord’s son pounced upon him and kicked upon his chest. By the time Pappu recovered from the shock, the man had gone. As a revenge Pappu let loose the cows to the paddy field of the landlord. The whole crop was lost. As Pappu was about to be caught, he made off from the village.
The life in the city offered a mixed experience to Pappu. Hunger was his main problem. He wanted some job. He worked as a coolie, then as a beedi-maker and finally as a weaver in a textile mill. Everywhere he met with oppression and that was what Pappu could not stand. On a salary day at the textile mill Pappu found his wages being reduced by two rupees. On questioning this, he was beaten-up by the manager. But when he regained himself police arrested him and was sentenced to jail.
After fourteen months when he was released Pappu had no place to go. The past or future was no concern for him. He thought only of his next meal. He took a rikshaw on hire and became a rikshaw-wallah, Pappu liked his job from the day one. His speed and courtous manners made him the most sought after rikshaw-wallah in town. Pappu made good money each day and he deposited the money with the owner of the teashop from where he had his food and where he spends the night. The shop owner would deduct whatever were Pappu’s expenses and would keep the balance safe with him. In due time Pappu bought his own rikshaw from out of his own savings.
One day there was an accident. Pappu’s rikshaw hit a girl down to a gutter along with the rice, salt and chilli she was carrying home to cook the supper. Pappu had a passenger on the rikshaw. Pappu recovered the girl from the gutter, consoled her and asked her to stay there. He then took his passenger to the destination and returned. The girl had not even had a meal the whole day and the rice for supper lay spilled over the gutter. Pappu felt sympathy for her, bought her some food and all the grocery. Before she went Pappu told her that he would like to meet her the next day. For the first time, Pappu thought of tomorrow. Till then he had only ‘today’ in his mind. Her name was Lakshmy daughter of Kalyani.
Accidentally, one day Pappu visited Lakshmy at her dilapidated hutment and he met Kalyani too. They were, by circumstances of unavoidable calamity, reduced to the lowest ebb of poverty. Pappu decided to stay with them at Lakshmy’s affectionate behest. Things slowly started to improve with Lakshmy and her widowed mother. The hutment was modified, they got new clothes and above all they were able to have at least one square meal a day. Pappu send Lakshmy to school. She was good at studies. He saw to it that her fees were paid regularly and that she was able to dress herself elegantly like girls from well-to-do families. Pappu worked hard and earned more. Kalyani supplemented the family income, growing vegetable and maintaining poultry.
Lakshmy was good looking and besides being a good student was also proficient in elocution and music, she was a favorite of her teachers and kept company of students from rich families. She felt belittled only by her own humble circumstances. She avoided Pappu at home as well as outside. There were hardly any conversations between them. Lakshmy confined herself to her room. Kalyani and Pappu noted the change in Lakshmy’s attitude. Pappu, however, was not disturbed, for, he never expected any respect or gratitude in return for what he did. As Lakshmy was promoted in each class the expenses also were mounting. Pappu had to work all the time. His health was on the decline. What little Kalyani had saved for her beloved’s treatment was also spend to meet Lakshmy’s demands.
Lakshmy and Gopi were in love with each other. Gopi was a rich man and Pappu had known him. He was a man of character, a respectable person. Lakshmy’s association with Gopi changed her attitude towards Pappu. She realized the true value of the man who had toiled the whole life for her sake. She now repented for her rash behaviour.
Uncontrollable cough bothered Pappu. His health deteriorated further. He did not have enough strength to pull the rikshaw and knowing that, the passengers avoided him. But money was needed. Pappu sold his rikshaw and realised the money, which came in handy to pay up the final examination fee for Lakshmy.
Pappu did not rest. He went about in search of a job. The many who knew him had pity for him but he shunned their help. He wouldn’t even accept a cup of tea offered by a sympathetic friend. He held his head high amidst adversities. He secured a job of spinning coir yarn.
The marriage between Gopi and Lakshmy was decided upon. Pappu was also happy of that alliance. But he had a feeling that he is loosing his hold on that for which his entire life was spent.
Persistent cough bothered him much. Lakshmy pleaded that he stayed home and took rest. Pappu has never obeyed anyone in his life and he had never tasted the bread of charity. He was like a ship, which had undertaken many voyages through turbulent seas. It had rescued two souls from the killer whale of abject poverty. But now the ship is not able to stay stable. It might sink any moment, but yet it was moving ahead.
The marriage between Gopi and Lakshmy went off well. Pappu did not participate in the festivities but he blessed the couple and went about his way to sell coir yarn, coughing and coughing.
Pappu could not rest that night. Coughing and shivering he walked through empty streets. He walked past the gutter from where years ago he picked up a girl in her rags. The ship that had taken her across stormy seas has run aground and lay shattered. The sound of coughing pierced the silence of the night. It was heard by the newly weds on their first night.
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