SEE YOU NEVER!
Shipping (per book) : 40
Genre : Fiction
TARGET AUDIENCE: Age group: 15-75
Pages : 190
SEE YOU NEVER!
Dear Son and daughter-in-law,
We are going to a planet away from you. It's really a tough call for us at this old phase of life. But we are beggars without bowls. You may forget us, but our minds will always orchestrate heart-warming memories of you.
Lastly, just consider us as dead. See You Never.
After reading the above letter, ANUPAM,17 years old, flees from his home in search of his beloved grandparents (who were being treated badly by his insensitive parents). He is homeless, clueless & penniless, yet, he is hell-bent to make impossible ‘possible’…
So, let’s walk together with Anupam and witness his unbelievable journey that connects three generations.
“From where will I arrange my fare?,” I muttered inside.
With faint hope, I delved into my pockets again. As expected, I didn’t find a single penny. So, I felt that I had no right to occupy a seat. Hence, I reluctantly vacated my seat. Other passengers competed to grab my seat as if it were as significant as a PM’s chair.
I was getting nervous as the local bus conductor - a plump turbaned fellow – was inching towards me. The bus was so packed that the passengers were vacillating just like monkeys in tune with the jerks!
Seeing conductor’s fingers filled with several notes of rupees ten, twenty, fifty and hundred, I fancied… ‘If I had even one-fourth of those notes, my life could have become much easier at the moment’… a futile thought, though.
“Could you please give me change?” asked a person, showing a hundred-rupee note to me.
‘I don’t own even ten rupees at the moment, and he is asking for a hundred.’ I laughed inwardly at my supposedly changed economic condition. I smiled and said, “Nope…sorry.”
“At least check once,” he re-requested. He must have been afraid of conductor’s repeated announcements for rendering the exact fare or only change.
“I have repeatedly been checking ever since I got onto this bus,” I replied. On my denial, his face turned uglier.
The temperature of that day was almost similar to my age, i.e. 17 degree Celsius. The cold February morning shivered me. I played foolishly as I wore jeans and just a T-shirt whereas others sported woollen clothes.
As the distance between the conductor and me was thinning, my heart beat bumped, without the bus even running over speed breakers.
I placed my right hand on my left side of the chest. It felt as if my heart was about to leap out of my body. It was my maiden ride without money. A sudden thought of jumping out from the running bus struck my mind - but that could prove fatal, I reasoned.
Life is precious, but, sometimes, our self-respect is more expensive than our experience. To embrace death is better than being slapped publicly.
Now, hardly four passengers were pending for ticketing process. He could encounter me any moment soon.
“Fare” – a dense and firm sound reverberated in my ears. I knew it was my turn to give fare, but I didn’t pay heed to it. I even tried to ignore the conductor’s presence.
“Sundanitenu?,” (Are you deaf?) he said while shaking my shoulder. I nervously turned my head towards that devil.
“Karayaa…kitthe?” he repeated. I dug deep into my pockets and posed as if I had money but lost somewhere. I was befooling just myself.
“Gosh! Where is my wallet?,” I acted dramatically in a saddened tone, looking around. However, my worst acting could entertain only three to four people out of that crowded bus. They too looked at me from their seats and immediately turned their heads outside. All of them seemed kind of ‘unkind’ people!
“I have nothing to do with your wallet, I need fare,” the conductor roared harshly. Therefore, this time the number of people who raised their eyebrows towards me was roughly three times more.
“I…I don’t know where I lost my money,” I stammered as I pretended to be rechecking my jeans pockets.
“Tere ale-pale kuchhaini, kithebuthichakifirdahaitu,” he commented somewhat like that. It sounded gibberish to me.
Now, the short trailer had turned into the whole movie. Everybody came to know that either I had no money or I had no intention to pay it.
I was in hot water, praying to God to bail me out of that mess. My hands stopped searching for money. “I don’t have the money right now and shall pay you later. Please trust me,” I pleaded helplessly.
“It’s not a grocery shop where you can pay later,” the conductor said with a gruff exterior. Nobody uttered a word in my support. As if everybody had turned deaf and dumb. I felt utterly vulnerable as nobody was coming forward to rescue me.
“Take his fare, he’s with me,” said a stranger girl extending a ten-rupee note to that callous conductor. I turned back to see that girl who seemed like an ‘Archangel’ in that tricky situation. She looked to be in her mid-twenties. The conductor grabbed the note, giving a disgusting look to me, and handed over a ticket with another repulsive look. I thanked the girl for her good offer. She made an “It’s-OK” gesture.
After a while, the bus stopped for a halt. Along with some passengers, the girl also got down. I followed her.
“Thanks!” I said with a beaming voice.
“Why did you lie?” she asked.
“That you had lost your wallet.”
I smiled and replied, “You also lied that I was with you.”
“I lied to save you.”
“And I lied to save myself.”
“What happened with you?” she explored.
“A long story.”
“Is your name also very long?” she asked ironically.
“No, it’s Anupam.”
“Where do you live?”
“I don’t have a place to live in. I am homeless,” I told her gloomily, keeping my head down. There was a lull in our conversation. Maybe, she got startled at my ill-starred condition.
“Which place is this, exactly?,” I asked her. I knew I was in Chandigarh but I didn’t know the exact location.
“Are you kidding, drunk or something else?” she questioned with a complete surprise on her face.
“I am new in YOUR city,” I told.
“Oh! So where is YOUR city?” she asked inquisitively.
“Earlier it was Mumbai.”
“So, your family lives there. Right?”
She didn’t even let me answer and raised another question.
“And why did you say you were homeless?”
“One becomes homeless when home becomes a hell.”
“What…?” she was perplexed.
“I said ‘one becomes homeless when home becomes a hell,” I repeated at a slower pace.
“Your story sounds so weird.”
“Very weird, actually!” I admitted.
“You can share with me if you like.”
Her eyes seemed kind of urging me to disclose everything, but I restrained myself.
“Thanks for helping me!” I put an end to our conversation. I didn’t want her to jump into my life. “Okay, take care of yourself,” she said and left.
She crossed the road, entered a street and disappeared.
‘I should have told her that I was looking for my missing grandparents. She helped me when nobody came forward to save me from that monster-looking conductor.’
I was regretting having hidden the truth from her.
Shall I ever meet her again was a large question in my conscience?
I was starving to death as I had not eaten anything since last night. I strolled about in search of food. Although, I had no money to pay for my meal yet I could not convince this to my hungry stomach.
I noticed a busy worker making a parantha, and some customers having their breakfast.
Hesitantly, I stood outside his shop, unsure if how to ask for food. He looked at me and enquired, “Yes?”
“I want to have some food. Anything will do,” I said placing my hand onto my stomach and making the guise of being very hungry.
“Sit inside,” he commanded.
“But, I want to pay you by working here,” I said. He rolled his eyes. I clarified swiftly, “Whatever you ask me to do, I shall oblige.”
“But I don’t have any such requirement,” said he while putting a pile of paranthas into a basket.
“Please sir, I shall do the dishes or mop your floor,” I pleaded.
“Get money and have breakfast. If you don’t have money, then you may go,” He answered disparagingly. And it was apparent though. If a horse befriends grass, then what will it eat?
I saw the people who were munching their food. I found them the happiest people to have money to pay for their food whereas I was merely a hapless person who could not even arrange money for one time breakfast.
Disappointedly, I left the place with a hungry stomach. I instantly started missing my homemade food. At home, I was so fussy about food. But here, I was devoid of even a single option. Time tests everyone! And this was the first test I had to pass,come hell or high water.
I found an open cart of “CholleyBhatoore” on the street. I rested my feet in desperate hope of appeasing my stomach. The cart was circumambulated by some eight to nine people, carrying a plate each in their hands. I checked out the helper boy who was kind of just frolicking with the dirty dishes by dipping them into the already muddy water and taking them out without cleaning them decorously.
But nothing matters when one is hungry – not even unhygienic food! In such scenarios, one can hog even a frog! And this epiphany came to me for the very first time in my life. Because at my home, I used to be fed forcefully, a memory which I now vaguely recalled.
I again tried to convince another cart owner as I had pleaded with the previous one.
“One plate cholleybhatoorey,” I said in a diffident voice.
“Okay, Chaai?” He asked while barring his action of pouring water into a black big cattle.
After that, I summoned every ounce of courage to reveal that I was daring to eat his cholleybhatoore without cash.
“Can I pay you later? If you don’t mind,” I somehow asked him. I could guess his answer as ‘NO’.
“Of course, you can pay once you are done with your breakfast,” he said smilingly. But, his smile didn’t bring my worry a single notch down. He served me a plate.
“I meant to say sometime in the future, not now,” I made it clear to him knowing fully well that he could make my hand clear by taking back his plate!
“What? Don’t you have the money right now?” he almost snatched the plate from my hand. I didn’t find my honesty work for me. Being honest meant being hungry at that time.
Sometimes it’s dumb to be wise, and at other times, it’s wise to be dumb. The path of the truth is not accessible to tread. Truthfulness tests one time and again under different situations. Why are humans so obsessed with money, I wondered.
“Honestly speaking, I don’t have money. But yes...yes, I shall pay you later for sure,” I tried my best to convince him.
“I have seen many beggars claiming that stuff, and it’s a routine occurrence for us. I am not offering langar. I might get debt-ridden very soon if I start offering food free to imposters like you,” he retorted matter-of-factly. He counted me among beggars. And I felt deeply humiliated as a result. People around me sped past as if a dog had bitten them. Really, adversity flatters no man.
“I beg of you, I am really starving,” I pleaded to him with folded hands. I found my body and sound becoming meek.
“I also beg of you, please, go away,” he commented while sieving the tea into glasses. I felt utterly insulted. I highly cursed God for having given stomach to each without arranging free food stalls for the every hungry person. I also wondered aloud that why did God create people with no heart and mercy. I had this opinion that people do feed the hungry and the needy, but my experience disproved it.
After two bitter setbacks, I couldn’t gather the courage for offering to pay later. Almost another half-an-hour passed with food as my dominant thought process. A kind person offered me less than a half-plate noodle, but that was like a drop in the ocean. It actually poked my hunger to a much higher degree. The yearning soars at a young age. My stomach was demanding food while my feet were pleading to give them some rest.
I rested at the bus stop. I looked for a person from whom I could borrow some money.
I observed a passing-by luxury car in which the whole rear seat was occupied by a ‘German Shepherd’ dog. I felt that the dog was luckier than many poor Indians. He evidently was served good nutritious food and well taken care of. More importantly, he was sitting in the car which poor people usually dream about.
‘Dogs are being cared about more than humans nowadays. Some affluent people spend around a thousand rupees daily to feed a dog, but shall not spend merely ten bucks in order to offer a meal to a hungry fellow. While commuting, they prefer to close car windows to escape listening to the pleas of the poor and the needy.’ I pondered over this irony.
I resumed walking down the street weakly. My energy seemed to be fading even at an adolescent age. But one meal could revive my power for sure.
I checked in a Dhaba and placed an order for a thali. I wanted food to be served as soon as possible.
For some moments, I rejoiced in the victory of grabbing a “Special Thaali”.
Indeed, nothing is mighty than that of circumstances. It can make you do anything – ethical or unethical.
I began gobbling the food without bothering about my economic state. Neglecting all probable penalties, I just concentrated on my diet.
I felt better with every single bite I swallowed. I finished my meal and washed hands.
I stood in front of the counter and inserted my right hand into the front pocket of T-shirt. The owner waited for me to foot the bill. I went back to the place where I was sitting while having the food. I looked around and under the table, pretending to search for something.
I came back to the counter with plastered horrified emotions on my face as if I had actually lost something.
“Sir, I guess, I have lost my wallet somewhere,” I said anxiously.
“Where?,” He asked unaffectedly.
“I don’t know. Otherwise, I would have picked it myself,” I answered while looking around gloomily.
“Where do you live here?” He asked.
“I am new in this city. In fact, it’s my first day,” I replied. He had a blank expression on his face. He didn’t respond. And there I got another chance to convince him.
“I don’t know what I will do without my wallet. I had all my money in it,” I belched drastically as I had overeaten. He covered his nose with his hand.
“Firstly, it’s not our concern. Secondly, you should have checked your wallet before getting inside. Lastly, if you can’t pay then leave your cell phone or other accessories here,” the owner suggested.
“I don’t have a cell phone either. If you, please allow me, I can work for you to repay my debt,” I said.
“Work? What kind of work?”
“I have sufficient workers,” he said while dealing with other customers. I took the risk of having food as I had watched in movies that the hero does dishes when he runs out of money. However, it was not coming in handy anywhere.
While pondering over the situation, I put my left hand on his counter. And soon his eyes caught a glance of my wristwatch.
“Take off this watch, and get it back once you have money,” he said casually.
“No, I can’t give you this watch in any case. This is the only token of the love of my Grandpa, I have. I am sorry! I can’t give you this,” I said rather rudely to him. I took my hand off the counter.
“See, we are not asking you to give it to us. You can take it back,” He tried to convince me.
“No, not at all,” I replied harshly.
“If not by decency, we know other methods too,” The owner threatened me. “You take my life, but I won’t let you take my watch, come what may,” I resisted.
“Get his watch, let’s see what he does!” The owner commanded his employees. I shouldn’t have challenged him. I would better sort out the matter peacefully. My mistake! Now, I didn’t want to hand over my watch to them. My naive mind couldn’t think of anything better rather than just suggesting me to run away. I observed that my wiseness was also not favouring me well ever since I had left my home.
I scurried from the dhaba.
The chase began.
I was running like a cheetah. I looked behind and found that I was being chased by another cheetah from the dhaba staff. I thought he would not come this far. But I could be caught and thrashed by him soon the way he was running after me.
My fully bloated stomach started aching badly. Consequently, my speed got hampered after just two minutes, and the competition got over. He caught me!
I was gasping badly. I bent and put my hands onto my knees.
“Dear, I am requesting you…give your watch,” he pleaded again.
Breathing heavily, I couldn’t reply.
“You hand it over to me. Or else, it won’t be good for you,” He warned.
“No, I am not giving it,” I finally said.
He jumped over my watch to snatch it forcefully. When I defended, he punched me on my nose. I felt giddy for about ten seconds. The scuffle commenced.
“Leave me for God’s sake, please,” I implored. Yet, he kept on trying to snatch my watch.
Fortunately, a Sikh Samaritan intervened. He hid me behind and extended his hand forward to stop him.
“Hang on, gentleman, why are you fighting?,” He enquired.
“He has had his lunch at our restaurant, and instead of paying the bill, he tried to run away. Now, we want his watch against our dues towards him,” He said furiously. Sikh Uncle turned his face towards me and asked me, “Is it true?”
“Yes, but I really don’t have money. I offered to pay by rendering my services in lieu. But they refused and now demand my watch which I can’t give at any cost,” I explained in a single breath.
“How much does he owe you?” Uncle asked while taking out his wallet.
“Sixty bucks!” He accentuated ‘sixty’ as if it was ‘sixty thousand’.
Uncle paid him sixty rupees. He went away.
“Where do you live?,” Uncle asked me.
“I am from Mumbai, and I came here this morning,” I replied politely. I took off my watch and brushed it against my shirt.
“And what about your parents?”
“They are in Mumbai.”
“So what are you here for?”
“Actually, I don’t want to live with them since they are not worthy of living with,” I said in an abrupt manner. He took some time to react on what I had said.
“Why is it so? After all, they are your parents. You must not have such thoughts for them.” Uncle tried to pacify me.
“I wish they weren’t my parents!” I continued in a sulking voice. Uncle, like a perfect gentleman, preferred not to sneak into my personal life any more.
“See, you don’t need to run like this. I work in a Gurudwara. You can come with me. There you can live and have food too.” The proposal seemed like a sudden stroke of luck to me which I instantly grabbed. I got on Uncle’s Activa, and we left the place.
The Sikh Uncle parked his Activa in the parking lot. I followed him inside a grand Sikh temple (Gurudwara.)
A holy tank with exotic fish inside the Gurudwara was the centre of attraction for anyone.
A holy dip is required before entering the shrine. Everyone had their heads covered as it is customary for every visitor inside any Sikh temple.
Uncle handed me a yellow cloth and insisted that I cover my head with that. We passed by a community kitchen, where many volunteers were making chapattis and preparing lentil curry to be served to all the visitors.
I entered a gigantic hall and saw a large number of long queues. So many people were sitting there in a number of rows for the ‘LANGAR’(free community meal).
Every Gurudwara has langar where everyone is welcome. All sit and eat together.
The whole hall echoed with many chitchats. Seeing so many people together for langar was not less than a wonder to me.
“Have you ever eaten in langar?,” asked Uncle.
“No, never. Do people have to pay for this?,” I asked. My innocent or maybe a foolish question made Uncle laugh. “No, it’s all free.”
“Yes. We believe in serving human beings. People donate money and lend their supportive hand on their sweet will.” We conversed while walking down the floor barefoot. I immediately thought about the dhaba owner who even didn’t hesitate to have me beaten for just sixty bucks. This is probably the balance we human beings are maintaining between evil and good.
The night was descending. By then I had become acquainted with other members of the Gurudwara as well.
At night, I also took part in every single activity inside the Gurudwara. Uncle asked me to fetch sacks of flour with one of the other volunteers from the storeroom. We also sieved flour in a big container.
In doing so, my clothes, eyelashes, eyebrows and hair were covered with a thick white layer of flour – it looked as if I had suddenly turned old.
While feeding the langar, I distributed chapattis while chanting, “ParsadaWaheguru.”
The whole atmosphere sounded full of positive energy, liveliness, harmony and more importantly –THERE WAS NO DISCRIMINATION BASED ON SEX, CASTE OR CREED. People from any religions could have food under one roof. Too good! ‘I wish the whole world could live in such harmony!’I had this wishful thinking.
The next day, I was in a dreamless sleep. Yet, early morning’s soulful Gurbani lulled my ears. I wanted to hear that uninterrupted while lying in the same bed.
I woke up and had breakfast there. I also told Uncle about my grandparents and their possible location in any of the villages near Chandigarh. Although, he couldn’t make any guess with the little information I had. Yet, he assured me every possible help from his side.
While I was leaving the place, Uncle gave me a hundred bucks. I took his blessings and left the area with some good memories.
My actual goal in the city was to find the village which my grandpa often used to talk about. But, to have money with me for the purpose, I needed to find out a job. Otherwise, I could neither find them nor live anymore without food and shelter. But the big question was - who would give the job to a degreeless applicant?
I started finding out a job for myself. I made my full efforts to hunt all kinds of situations. However, it was not a bed of roses. Finding a job seemed like begging on the streets. My sad story reached their ears, but it didn’t melt their hearts. The standard reply I got to hear was – we have no vacancy, or you are not worth much or you are inexperienced etc. I had believed that I was not going to fit into their scheme of things.
I wondered, ‘how come everyone looks for an experienced person. But how will one gain experience unless someone employs them?
I was left with just seventy bucks – barely enough to get me two meals. As the day progressed, the mercury started falling down. And I felt cold, more because of the foggy kind of weather.
I was done with my meal but didn’t have a place to pass the night. The insufficient money in my pocket could not help me get a room in any local hotel too. I could give one more night in Gurudwara, but I didn’t want to take any undue advantage of a sacred place.
I was dragging myself from street to street, in search of a shelter, but there seemed no hope to it.
‘Where shall I sleep?’ This question troubled me incessantly.
While searching for my ‘den’ at dusk, I noticed some people sitting in a circle around a bonfire along the road. Some rickshaws were also parked there on the pavement. Although it was not very cold, yet,they all had covered themselves fully with rough-textured blankets. Only their hands and eyes were visible. They had stretched their hands forward in order to keep themselves warm.
As I walked up to them, they stopped their conversation.
“May I join you?,” was my first statement as I inched closer to the group.
They all looked at me as if I was disapproving their sitting there.
Although, all of them were strangers to me, yet they seemed harmless, as generally, the poor people are.
“Come and sit here,” A person commanded with a ‘no-objection’ tone.
Everybody adjusted themselves to make space for me to sit. While I was sitting, the smoke rising from the fireplace stung my eyes.
I couldn’t understand what fascinated me to accompany them. I had never been with such people in such close proximity. I never got an opportunity to witness their lifestyle closely. My every new experience was enriching me.
“….so, the inflation will not come down,” One of them summed up their ongoing discussion. Maybe, I had missed a vital part of their conversation.
“Son, where were you headed?” asked an uncle, seated next to me.
“I am heading nowhere since I don’t have a place to live,” I said without caring much.
“So, how and where are you going to pass this cold night?.” he enquired again.
“Here only, it’s awesome!” I put my warm hands on my face.
“But it’s rather cold today, and you even don’t have a blanket,” he said with concern.
“I am okay!” I said. “Where do you guys live?”
A person who was quiet since we commenced the talk, pointed at the footpath, “We always live and sleep there.” The large white burr on his sweater hid the actual black colour of his sweater, but he couldn’t hide his agony of being poor.
I could see some blankets already occupying the space at some distance.
“Okay there,” I pointed. “That’s awesome too,” I pretended as if there was nothing wrong in being not capable of possessing a house.
“We only know how awesome it is, and how much comfort we feel when we sleep there,” he laughed mockingly with others joining him.
“No headache to close or bolt the door, so our home is open for all intruders,” the person sitting next to me said ironically.
“Fully air-conditioned, no need to invest on an A.C or fan,” someone took his turn to add more fun to it.
“We can see stars straightway, while the rich people can’t. They miss even the joys of staring at the stars at night,” he chuckled. My smile curve increased this time, and I couldn’t resist myself from joining them in their joy… and we all burst into heavy laughter.
“And more importantly, unlike rich people, we are not afraid of the thieves,” a person showing his yellowish teeth contended.
It was a proof that to be happy, one doesn’t need to have any good reasons. A child can be satisfied without any reason, and a grown-up can be gloomy when there is a lot to feel satisfied about. One can find happiness in trivial, illogical matters…after all, the life it’s all about being happy and celebrating whatever is the case.
Our ribs-tickling fun continued for some time.
“What are you here for anyway?” was his first serious question after that light conversation.
“My grandparents have been missing from our home. I am here to search after them since I love them the most,” I replied gloomily. I wondered at the human behaviour as to how quickly it could change. Just a few moments earlier, I was feeling elated at silly jokes, and now I was getting sad on an issue of grave concern for me.
“Does it mean that serious issues make us feel sad whereas silly and crazy moments make us laugh, all within a few moments?,” I thought.
“So, are they in Chandigarh?” he probed further.
“I don’t know where they are and how they will be. All I know is that I have to find them at any cost,” I said on a serious note.
Just as I had joined them in their glimmer of happiness, they too responded by becoming sad in my gloom.
“You take this blanket,”the uncle said to me, when he, along with his other mates headed for retiring.
“No, no. Thanks, uncle. Let me feel like you do. I want to enjoy this ‘air-conditioned open space’.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am.”
“As you wish,” he said while getting up. “We have kept wood pieces out there. You can use them,” he said pointing at a distance. All of them left the place. I prayed for them.
What’s their future? What about their children?...they go through all these sacrifices for their family? And what does their family give them eventually? Nothing….
‘First of all, I need money, and to have money, I need some job,’ I told myself.
How will I find my grandparents? In which condition will they be? Will they have some shelter? Who shall be looking after them?
The whole night, I contemplated hundreds of questions but could find no answers. I didn’t realise how I fell asleep that night. And the next morning, when I woke up, I realised that I was covered up with a blanket. When I looked around, none of the rickshaw pullers was there. The ‘early birds’ had left to ‘catch the worms’.
In a real sense, they taught me what humanity is. Just one blanket offered to a needy person during the winter season can help him a lot. You may not have riches to help others, but a straw could prove helpful to a drowning man, I felt.
The next day, thehunt was ON for a job, again. I asked for it at every single possible place: be it a shop, an office, a dhaba, a roadside eatery or any other unit. In such a dire state, anything would do.
I had got tired and become disappointed owing to the recurring failures. My confidence level had dipped to such a low level that I decided to call my dad. Yes. I indeed had become so helpless, that now only he could get me out of this mess. I could not survive like that, I thought.
I was looking for someone who could lend me a cell phone to make a phone call. But I was unlucky here too. I found myself in the middle of nowhere.
Luckily, I chanced upon to see the generous girl, who had met me on the very first day and had helped me with ten bucks.
I thought, ‘I could borrow her phone. But first, I will have to refund her ten rupees…’
Her ten rupees made me feel like I owed her ten thousand rupees.
She was alighting from a bus. She was wearing a Patiala-salwar suit. Typically a Punjabi girl. Her head was wrapped up with a still.
I quickly reached her.
“Excuse me!” I called her. I extended my right hand towards her.
She turned back with a surprised expression on her face, “Oh! You are here!”
I inserted my right hand into my pocket. I took out a ten rupee note and offered her, “thanks for helping me that day!” I said.
She crossed her both hands and smiled, “Ooh, come on! I helped you with just ten rupees and not with some thousand rupees. I don’t need it back. You keep this and help somebody sometime,” she suggested.
“You seem to be inspired by the movie Jai ho,” I chuckled.
“The same kind of help Salman Khan exhorts people to do in that film.”
“Ah, that is. But, I don’t watch too many films either.”
“Neither do I,” I replied, “but, I never say no to money.”
“Good. I am giving it to you, don’t say NO.” she said putting the note back onto my palm.
“No, you please take this. Otherwise, I may feel under debt from you,” I said. Although, I had just ten rupees, but my self-esteem did not allow me to take a debt of even such a small amount. After all, an obligation is a debt, be it of one rupee or a hundred thousand.
“Oh! You are in debt up to neck!” She said jokingly, “Do you remember, you owe me ten lac rupees?” She continued sarcastically.
(I must say about her that with such grace, she could be a threat to many actresses if she ever joined Bollywood.)
“It’s not a matter of small amount. Rather, it’s a matter of keeping one’s words. You know, except you, nobody came forward to help me. For them, perhaps ten rupees monetary help was equal to ten thousand rupees. So, please accept this,” I reiterated.
“Okay.” She took money in her ‘fair’ hand. “Stickler boy,” she commented. Surprisingly, I felt ‘debt-free’ after returning it.
I also learned that debt is the only thing that is easy to create, but very difficult to repay. When it comes to compensating, one almost forgets the circumstances, under which one had asked for it as well as the way one was helped. We ought not to keep debt for a long time… the more time one takes to return it, the more unwilling they feel like answering it.
“Happy now?,” she said as if I had got all the valid reasons to feel happy about. Maybe, she did not have a clue that I was left penniless after being so honest. I inserted both of my hands in my empty pockets.
“Super happy!” I replied enthusiastically.
“That’s nice. Shall I go now?” she said checking time in her black wristwatch.
“I need one more favour from you… if you could do, please,” I urged. By just talking to her, I found a whisker of hope. Hence, I dropped the idea of calling dad. I firmly believed that she would be able to solve my problem.
“Do I have to return the money?”
“No, no! Actually, I needed some eight to ten thousand rupees…” She instantly rolled her eyes.
I clarified, “….by doing some work. But, I don’t know what sort of work I can do here in this city.”
“How can you make money so fast?”
“I know it’s difficult to earn instantly. So, I am looking for a job here. But unable to find any. Besides, I don’t have any shelter here. I passed last night on the pavement,” I said.
“What? Pavement?” she exclaimed.
“Yes, along with the rickshaw pullers.”
“Yes, I had no choice,” I spoke helplessly. So many human expressions traversed her face. “Although, they were accommodating,” I said indifferently.
“You are sick, I tell you. You come with me. I will try to find a job for you,” she said as if she were my elder sister.
“And what about my shelter? I mean is there any dirt cheap place to live in?” I asked hesitantly.
“I don’t know that. But by the stroke of your luck, we are looking for a PG girl.”
“So, you can live with us.”
“‘Live with us’ means? Do I look like a girl? ”
She laughed and then said, “No, I mean you look like a decent boy. I will ask my parents if they agree to allow you to live as a paying guest. ”
“No. I can’t live like this.”
“Why can’t you?” She asked.
“It will look odd. We hardly know each other.”
“That’s why I am saying we are looking for a paying guest. Paying guests are not pre-known. Additionally, it is not fixed yet. It depends on my parents agreeing to it. If they do, only then can you live with us,” explained she. “And after all, you will pay for it.”
“How much do I have to pay for it…monthly?”
“Four thousand for everything.”
“Hmmm…four thousand … do I have to pay in advance?”
“Honestly speaking, I am broke. That’s why I couldn’t pay for my fare,” I declared.
“Oh, this is the matter…OK, if my parents allow to accommodate you, then maybe you can pay it after completing one month.”
“Thanks a lot, sister! I am bugging you time and again, no?,” I said innocently.
“Chapaidkhani?” She said in Punjabi. However, being a non-Punjabi, I couldn’t get what she said.
“Means?” I asked making some peculiar expressions on my face.
“Means, let’s go now.” She said and laughed. “Yeah, let’s go!” I exclaimed.
I am the only child of my parents. That day, I realised the importance of having siblings. In her, I witnessed a sister's love. She was so helpful - that too, without knowing much about me.
We were taking a stroll on the footpath. She bought a ‘Lays’ packet at the right time - I strongly needed to fill my stomach with something. I am a big glutton, and I was very hungry at that moment.
“What’s your name, sister?”
“Stop kidding, Di. I know Gurmeet is a boy’s name and not girl’s,” I countered inserting my left hand into the half-torn-up packet of lays.
“Who told you this?”
“The name of one of my classmates in Mumbai is also Gurmeet. And mind you, the fellow is a boy and not a girl,” I answered naively.
“So, what is his full name?”
“His full name is Gurmeet Singh,” I told confidently. While walking, she put her right hand around my shoulder.
I noticed a school. Its board read ‘Delhi Public School’. Children were seen in every nook and corner of the ground. It was perhaps the interval time.
“Hmmm, and my name is GurmeetKaur,” she replied. “In Punjabi names, Kaur represents a girl, whereas Singh represents a boy. However, some names are common for both. Got it?” she made me understand like a small kid. Moreover, that was the day, when the Punjabi names mystery was unveiled to me. But then suddenly I was reminded of Shakespeare’s words ‘what’s in a name?’
‘Even first three letters in google don’t sound decent. But people don’t hesitate to google why Katappa killed Bahubali,’ I thought in my mind and smiled.
Well, Gurmeet’s house, my first destination arrived. She opened an approximately 5 ft. (a little shorter than her height), the black gate of her home.
She got inside to let me be in, but I was stuck outside in hesitation. The courtyard was just about ten square feet. I read 2069, 40-C, on the board out. Gurmeet signalled me to come inside the house.
I followed her diffidently. She retraced her steps to help me when I couldn’t bolt the gate correctly.
Gurmeet opened the front door. I again hung on, all due to uncertainty. Though Gurmeet’s behaviour was very amicable, yet I worried as to how would her Dad react while seeing me with his daughter.
In Mumbai, I used to avoid visiting my own relatives. Here, if her parents approved of it, I was going to live with people total strangers. I was unfamiliar with the place and Gurmeet’s family. Residing with altogether strangers instead seemed a more comfortable option than just imagining me living with a girl’s family.
“What happened? Come inside,” said she in a whisper. The door was wide open, and it was dark inside.
“Nothing,” I said timidly and stepped inside. It was all my grandparents’ love, which strengthened me get over my initial shyness.
As we entered the first small-sized guest room, she tossed her bag on the old sofa and went inside. I looked hither and thither with complete nervousness and awkwardness. I glanced at a showcase. Some miscellaneous knick-knack lay there.
Soon, Gurmeet turned up with an old woman. I stood up from the sofa as fast as a servant would seeing his master. Her shoulders were bent down a bit. She was wearing creamy white colour salwar- kameez covered with a shawl around her neck and head.
“Eekaunhai, puttar,” she asked wondering who I was. I touched her feet in order to create the first good impression (since I had heard that you get only one chance to make a first good impression).
“He is going to be our paying guest.”
She blessed me saying. “Jyondarehputtar (May you live long!)”
I recombed my hair, as Aunty had stroked her hand nastily five seconds back.
“But, he is a boy,” she said to Gurmeet.
“Yes, I know. But, he is a ‘DECENT’ boy.”
This praise was much needed!
They started conversing in Punjabi further. And it became Latin and Greek to me to comprehend anything they talked since they spoke too fast to pick up. I could just figure out that Aunt was not happy about it. And Gurmeet was trying her best to persuade Aunt.
“What are you here for by the way?” she inquired me.
“Aunty, I am from apoor family, and that is why I am here to find a job,” I mumbled.
“Why do you feel downcast if you belong to a poor family? We are not an affluent family either, but we are affluent at heart,” she said patiently. Her words were justified. Their heart seemed ‘bigger’ than their ‘rooms’.
She further said, “Look, we keep paying guests to meet our expenses. But, since crimes keep on taking place, we rather prefer a girl over a boy. So, we are terrified. Even you must have watched what they show in Crime Petrol and Savdhaan India.”
‘Oh Gosh! These shows have definitely made people alert about crimes, but simultaneously, they have filled the viewers’ mind with extreme fear.’ I reckoned. I wondered if she would suggest me …‘However, we can allow you, if you could turn into a girl after a surgery.’ (Though, she didn’t.) “I can understand,” I agreed with her.
“What’s your name?”
“Umm, my name is Anupam.”
“Yes, Anupamputtar. It’s true for the very first time that we are granting a male as a paying guest. We trust you. Bear in mind, we don’t want any mess. We have a daughter in our home.”
“Not at all, Aunty. You can rest assured about that. She is like my elder sister. And I won’t do anything which will hurt you in any way. I shall live with you just like a family member,” I asserted as I stepped closer to her since she seemed to be hard of hearing. More than my words, my posture was proving more helpful.
“Fine, we hope you will live up to your words. Well, where is your luggage?” she asked. I looked back as if my luggage had been following me, or hiding behind me.
“Mom, he will arrange it soon,” Gurmeet answered on my behalf. And I just nodded in agreement with a polite smile.
“Arrange means?” asked she surprisingly. Gurmeet and I looked at each other. “Has he got nothing? Means clothes, means you don’t have even toiletries? Where have you come from?”
I had hardly managed to win her confidence. But she started looking at me as if I were a terrorist. Although she asked genuine questions, but I also could not project my genuineness before her.
“I have come from Mumbai. I shall buy things once I get a job here.”
“Means people from Mumbai don’t carry their luggage with them? Are they from another planet?”
I had no answer for Aunty’s weird questions!
“Mom, he has some problems. I will tell you later.”
She shrugged her shoulders half-heartedly. It was clear that she was not at all content with my cook-n-bull story. “Don’t know Gurmeet, you do assess properly and satisfy yourself.”
After the first interrogation round with Aunt, Gurmeet took me to the area of living – for the second and the series of interview! She showed me one living room along with a small guest room, kitchen and washroom. I was allotted a small room. And it had to be shared with any of their guest dropping in. I agreed to all the terms and conditions since beggars can’t be choosers and choosers can’t be beggars! Besides, any place inside a home was better than a pavement!
Gurmeet entered the last living room. It was pitch black inside the cramped room. She turned on the light.
“Meet my father,” Gurmeet said.
He was lying in bed showing his back to us (in defeat, I thought!). His right leg was bandaged with an ‘oven-fresh’ plaster. He turned towards us when he heard Gurmeet speak. He looked at me as if I were a news reporter and was going to ask how the accident took place. I gave him a gentle smile.
“A bike knocked him down and broke his leg a week back while he was fetching milk from the shop,” explained Gurmeet. He seemed to be above seventy-five. I wondered how come Gurmeet had such old parents since she appeared to be hard in her mid-twenties.
I went to him and touched his left feet. I was all set to answer Uncle’s queries.
“For how long do you want to stay here?” was his first question. I must say, Uncle was better at bombarding questions than Aunt. Although, it made me feel happy inside that he had indirectly shown a green signal to me by granting his approval with respect to my stay with them as a paying guest.
“Uncle, I have no fixed plan yet. But, I am happy to see your family.So, can stay for a long period of time,” I manipulated my statement, though it was not a lie either.
Gurmeet helped uncle get up from the bed when he grappled with it. He whispered something in her right ear. I turned my head from left to right, pretending not to pay heed to their conversation but actually trying to enhance my hearing to follow their mutterings.
I looked straight at them when I found myself unable to be that genius. I saw Gurmeet just nodding her head in response. God knows what could be the subject of that confidential conversation!
“Won’t you pay in advance?”
“Right now, I don’t have. But, I will join a job soon and will pay you then. You can count on me, uncle.”
“At least, we need some security. A thousand or so will do.”
Uncle could never guess that their non-paying guest had to run away when he didn’t have money to pay for his meal and even spent one night on the pavement. Who could believe this?
“I would definitely give it to you at my earliest. Please Uncle, just believe me. I will pay you for sure.”
He braced himself before saying anything, perhaps, he was analysing me with his expert eyes.
“Okay then, change your clothes and make yourself comfortable,”the uncle said gently.
‘What to change?’… I thought and smiled within.
The clothes I wore represented all my assets. After Uncle’s piece of advice, a famous proverb crossed my mind which is, “Nanga nahayegakyaaurnichodegakya.” This proverb, all of a sudden, seemed to be designed only for me.
Gurmeet gave me an empathetic smile.
“Feel like your home only. We will make sure that you won’t have any problem staying with us. Our all paying guests are still in touch with us. They miss us more than their own family,” Said Uncle. “Do you remember Sarika?” he asked Gurmeet. Gurmeet completed the sentence, “…yes, she cried a lot while moving back to her own city. She lived with us for three years.”
“We treated her just like Gurmeet. So, all I can say is, be loyal to our family. That’s it,” he uncluttered his final words.
“I will be, Uncle. I am so glad to meet you all.” I felt grateful.
Life was putting me through a different experience. So many changes were taking place in my life. My city had been changed from Mumbai to Chandigarh. My luxurious house into a paying guest room, and my family members into strangers. I had to fit into the bill somehow. A real challenge!
I thanked God since he was helping me in many ways. Or else, how on earth could I find a shelter? He must have had a plan for me.
Gurmeet sorted out my accommodation and food issues. Now, the certain piece of work was to hit upon a job for me.
Shall I ever find one…?
About the Author:
Vipin Thapliyal abodes in Dehradun, a magnificent city on a legion of counts. He has got a licensed course (AME) in aviation under his belt, approved by the DGCA, India. At present, he runs his institute of foreign languages & soft skills courses with elen and verve. He established this institute with a lofty thought to intrigue the flagging enthusiasm among the masses. He embarked on the actual writing journey by composing feature-length Bollywood movie scripts. In 2012, he became a member of the film writers association, Mumbai. By now, he has written, directed & edited more than twenty-five short films, documentaries & travel vlogs. As an Author, he has penned down a critically acclaimed fiction novel, â€œStrange Destinyâ€. Two editions of this novel were published in 2013 and 2015, and a large number of readers loved both the versions. He has explored almost all genres of writingâ€¦be it songs, poems, articles, blogs, short stories, scripts, documentaries, slogans, contents in a trifecta of English, Hindi and a regional language â€œGarhwaliâ€. His other hobbyhorses include travelling, photographing and delving into new things.