Agony of a Father
By Nirendra Dev
A Short Story
Note: Nirendra Narayan Dev (nirendev1 [at] gmail [dot] com), an
acclaimed political journalist, is a special correspondent of The
Statesman, New Delhi and author of the books Modi to Moditva, Ayodhya : Battle For Peace, The Talking Guns North East India and Godhra A Journey To Mayhem. Nirendra
was born and brought up in India's northeast and his father served with
paramilitary force Assam Rifles. His blog is at bestofindiarestofindia.blogspot.com.
We have previously had an opportunity of talking to the author and have posted the audio recording of the interview.
WBRi has the pleasure of publishing a series of short stories
by Nirendra. Search with keywords "Nirendra Dev" to read his prior
stories and articles on Washington Bangla Radio.
He wiped his nose as his tears subsided. The pain was still in his heart. John Samuel’s feet burned from the unaccustomed walking in the sun. Perhaps he was trying to run away.. run away from his house, his family and perhaps the large mirror in his room. It was framed well in Italian marble or so as his son Vijay had told him.
Samuel’s face was stern as he walked into the house, now almost looked like a bungalow in the well to do urban-village. He should have been a happy person, nothing seemed to have changed in last 12 hours or so. But much has changed. The news of his cricketer son Vijay’s arrest was flashed on television. It was a bolt from the blue. The thought of it almost chilled him. Vijay has been arrested on the charge of match-fixing. It was just matter of hours that life of a celebrity cricketer has been doomed. There was some chirping of the birds around. To Samuel, as if the voices of unfamiliar birds began to rise from the trees. He walked inside and sat underneath the shower and unknowingly wept for a while. Perhaps he won’t be able to recognize himself again. Father of a ‘match fixer’, a greedy cricketer’s parents – the thought appeared dreadful.
Why Vijay had to do all these? Why? The details of the gory episode were still not clear. Is that girl, Vijay’s fiancée to be blamed? That girl’s family did not have good reputation. Her father was a middle level politician – better known as ‘middleman’ or go between among netas!
At last, he thought his son has fallen victim to this greed. A scheming father’s daughter, who wanted to make big as a politician, was in hurry also. Perhaps Vijay has been forced by that girl. Vijay perhaps saw money not as a goal in itself, but definitely as a by-product of his cricket; and hence the tragedy.
Cricket was known as a gentleman’s game. Samuels too are gentlemen. But alas!
Coming out of the bathroom as he toweled himself dry, all of a sudden Samuel thought of pulling the old family album. He saw his wife blinking at him in moist eyes. He told her to bring the old wooden box. She looked puzzled but walked away and returned in no time. She made an attempt to dust the box.
Seeing their son’s name and photograph on television screen in action and in newspapers gave them immense pleasure once ….. a sense of proud; but today everything has been washed away.
The sun had completed its day’s journey. Samuel’s wife switched on the light. Samuel dressed himself in traditional Malayali attire, walked towards the study table and picked up his glasses. The wooden box lay on his bed.
He saw his wife going away slowly. Life has almost come to a standstill. By now, his usual coffee would have come, but probably not today. His wife must have forgotten about it wondering what her son was doing inside the jail. Samuel too did not have the appetite.
In the neighbourhood, one young boy played music loud:
Life is old there Older than the trees Younger than the mountains ……
Samuel pulled the box and sat on his cot, opened it and pulled out the album. The brown album has all photographs of Vijay since childhood.
True to that song coming from the neighbour’s house: ’All my memories gathered 'round … Samuel thought the same about his son. Tears welled up momentarily yet again after long time. Suddenly his attention focused on a snap of high school going Vijay. They were in far off northeastern state of Mizoram then. Samuel was a civil servant and was posted for a while in Mizoram.
Vijay had one day come to his office to find out what his papa was doing- a normal curiosity of any young boy or girl of his age.
Samuel was lost in his ‘office work’. He was pleasantly surprised to see his son but had a tight schedule. He promptly telephoned Vijay’s mother and told her about Vijay’s visit so that she did not worry. Mizoram was still reeling under insurgency and on odd occasions children were being kidnapped by groups to demand either release of their fellow militant-cadres or ransom. Samuel was in a ‘good government department’ and thus that chance was not altogether ruled out. Having assured his wife, Samuel ordered for some ‘jalebis’ for his son from the office canteen and got engrossed into his work. He started clearing files.
And as jalebis came in, Vijay had dished out a genial smile…almost sage like – who knew what’s stored in for him.
The state of Kerala hardly knows the winter chill. So Samuel room’s window too was not shut. The soft moonlight seeped through widow and fell on the floor and bed. His attention from Mizoram days was distracted. He found the moonlight outside lovely though the pangs of pain in him did the usual churning. A few night birds were crowing. He stared outside and wondered what his son could be doing now.
His wife came in asking when will he have dinner. The coffee has been given a slip. During the day both Samuel and his wife could not relish lunch too. He simply blinked towards his wife rather helplessly. “This is all my fate,” said Samuel’s wife cursing herself for the folly and the punishment meted to her son. Samuel sat calm and after a pause simply remarked, “call me when its ready; I won’t have much”. There was a long pause in the room. His wife did not ask him even what he was doing with the old album. Of course, she knew the obvious.
Suddenly she was walking out of the room briskly, stopped for a while and then told him rather in terse manner, “you remember the story from Mahabharata .. the poetic journey of the Pandava brothers towards heaven and a dog accompanying them. Everything is in this life” – and she walked away faster.
Samuel stood in silence for a while and again sank himself onto the bed staring helplessly towards the wooden box and the old album.
A sense of guilt was lurking in his mind. He remembered that on that fateful day when his son Vijay had come into his office room in Mizoram, something had happened. It was not unusual either in the life of a civil servant or in a government office. Files are cleared in probably all offices with some grease of bribe.
Similarly that day, a contractor had walked in and handed over Samuel a bulk size of currency notes. Samuel recalled Vijay had stared in utter astonishment towards his father and the contractor uncle as the businessman spoke crudely, “so Mr Samuel sir, here is what I promised… my files should not be delayed any longer”.
Vijay was not young enough not to know that it was a bribe and at the same time he was not grown up enough to tell his father, “papa please return the money”. Samuel recalled seeing a lot that day in the young eyes of Vijay. Truth is truly like a flowing stream. Samuel had thought about this incident time and again. He had even told his wife about it. But none had any clue how to resolve this puzzle or whether there was any puzzle in the entire episode or drama that unfolded in the office chamber that day, years back.
Samuel perhaps knew now, what he should have done years back. And as tears rolled by his aging cheeks, he lost the count of time as the unseen Time and the wall clock moved on.