Anupam Rajak



Anupam Rajak




14 mins

Kunal got an offer of employment from the prestigious Steel Authority of India, Limited even before he had appeared in the eighth-semester examination and was genuinely celebrating with his friends, hardly aware that he would get a back paper in the seventh semester. After appearing for the final semester he was disappointed on learning that he had gotten aback in the previous semester. He had to wait for the supplementary exams to be conducted before being able to obtain his final Engineering degree. He appeared for the exam in due time and awaited the results. Meanwhile, the date of joining the SAIL site was drawing near. He approached the SAIL authorities for an extension of time and they allowed it only when the principal wrote a letter to the SAIL authorities on his letter pad stating that Kunal had cleared all his papers in his final semester, but the result of one back paper was being awaited. It would be declared soon and the authorities may kindly allow him that much time for joining. Had the college authorities declared only his results a few days before declaring the entire result, he could have joined his job, but, the college followed its protocol and by the time Kunal went with his results to join SAIL, the authorities declined to allow him that time. If only he could have come a day earlier, they could have accommodated him. Fate wasn’t on his side. He lost the opportunity of getting employed in a Public Sector Unit even after clearing the written exam, the Group Discussion and the interview. He was crestfallen. But, he had more in store for him, about which he was completely unaware.

He knew, missed opportunities meant missed connections, and he couldn’t afford that in his budding career. He had come from a lower middle-class family where his elder sister had taken up cudgels to ensure that the members of the family did not go unfed after their father lost his private-sector job when he was diagnosed with the dreaded disease of leprosy in its advanced stages. Kunal heavily depended upon the information provided by his friends in College to overcome the hurdles of poverty that left him high and dry in a world that was moving by leaps and bounds towards the highly advanced era of Artificial Intelligence, while he stayed in a single room with his parents and a sister. Cooking, studying, eating food and sleeping, everything had to be carried on in that room. Nobody had any sort of privacy. Had it not been for his affluent friends, Kunal would never have known that one had to fill up a form for the JEE Entrance and clear it in order to gain entry into an Engineering College. From that day on, he paid a lot of importance to his sources of information.

Hence, when he lost the chance of entry into the Industrial sector, he knew, his chances of revival were really slim. He would again have to go back to the single-roomed house and sleep on the bed prepared on the floor after it was wiped clean post-dinner. He felt really disheartened.

After all the struggles that he faced early in life, Kunal went to a Government-aided Engineering College to study Metallurgical Engineering in an unreserved seat, but, his title made it amply clear that he belonged to the lower caste of the society, a stigma he would have to carry along throughout his life. His proficiency in his subjects and his fluency in speaking English were ostensibly struck down by the people from the superior castes. His merits became his liabilities. He could not get good marks in the semester exams because of his identity. He was surprised to see students resorting to malpractice in the exams and getting very good marks, whereas his honest efforts were ill-paid for. At first, he thought that his level of writing may not be up to the mark, but, when he failed in a subject in the second semester, the truth finally dawned upon him. He knew he was being targeted for his lower caste lineage. He felt so upset that he wanted to discontinue. But, the hopes of his parents and that of his only sister who was financing his studies with a lot of difficulties appeared before him. However, the humiliation had had its effect on his mind and spirit. He had to join the other students from the lower caste and engaged in smoking and boozing to waive off the depression arising from reality. Despite all these setbacks, he completed his studies and was about to join a life of comfort and earning, when this happened. He shunned his caste now.

After coming back from his unsuccessful attempt of joining SAIL, he had to take up the responsibility of running the family, which now rested squarely upon his shoulders. He took up tuition classes to earn his living as that was the only form of decent earning he could comfortably do with the talent he had been infused by his long-standing efforts. After nine long years of struggle, he got an opportunity in a Ferro Alloys industry situated close to his house. That was his first opportunity to work as an Engineer. There too he faced the same type of ostracization for his caste. However, since he received a pay package at the end of each month, he had to compromise with the conditions. The junk inherent in a society doesn’t die down only because the people have learnt to read or write. It is embedded solidly in their veins. They want to grow by stamping on the heads of others. They employ all sorts of methods to suppress a budding executive, that too from a lower caste. He could not mix freely with his colleagues, who only wanted to extract money from him in the form of parties and booze. In the beginning, he tried to gain their support by acceding to their demands, but, very soon he found out how they spoke of him thereafter. He used to be labeled as a drunkard. He stopped attending parties and gradually started folding himself inwards. The bitter experience during his Engineering College set the path for his dogmatic introverts. Slowly but very steadily he started entering into a small shell of his own, where nobody could dent his feelings. He had his own world in it. There, he danced to his own enjoyment, cried out at his disappointment, shouted at his frustrations, no holds barred. His whole world was entrapped in that shell of his making, where he gave birth to his own being, nurtured his own growth, ordered himself his desires and served them to himself without any hindrance from the outside world. He was encapsulated in his own world and he never thought about what the world beyond was doing. He lost connection with the world outside his arena of control. He became a misanthrope. He did not belong to the world outside it. He never did.

Kunal never felt at ease as long as he worked in that organization near home. In the meanwhile, he lost his sister to an incurable disease. The poor girl could not taste minimum affluence all her life. She struggled against her poverty with an indomitable enthusiasm in the face of uncompromising odds but could afford nothing more than a regular meal for the entire family. Kunal’s father passed away when he was in the fifth year of his service as an Engineer. He and his old mother were the only persons left of the family that had known only struggle and hardship since the day the principal earning member had been detected with the skin disease that people often associate with the sins committed by the sufferer. They spare him no scorn wherever he goes. Even his family discards him. That way, Kunal’s father was lucky that his mother guarded him against all, even his relatives. She knew very well what could happen if they returned to their ancestral home after losing the job. He would have had to face such an ugly nature of society that it would have driven him to the brink of suicide. The whole family would have faced extinction in that case.

Once Kunal had an argument with his mother over a trifling issue. Unable to restrain himself, he hurriedly left the house and went to a desolate place covered in a canopy of mango trees on the banks of the nearby river. He sat on the concrete structure encircling a huge mango tree and started relieving himself from the woes that accosted him. There, for the first time in his life, he felt the need for someone close to him, with whom he could confide his inner feelings, his emotions, his sorrows, his happiness, everything. Tears rolled down his eyes. He wiped them off, but they welled up in his eyes again and again. He thought of his school friends. They were all engaged in Multi-National companies and were enjoying fat salaries with their wives and children. They were buying cars and other luxury items. And he was still living with his mother. The poor old lady was still managing to cook food for him and wash the utensils. She was also washing his clothes. He felt sorry for his mother. His self made cocoon of reprieve from the world of envy and selfishness had alienated his mother from the entire world. She had shunned associating with her relatives to save his father from becoming a piece of hatred. But, Kunal’s efforts to misalign with the world had cost her dearly at this age. She had nowhere to go, nobody to talk to, and no connections in the entire world. Living in this material world does not mean living aloof from the people who make it. You have to interact with them, enjoy with them, cry with them, celebrate with them and suffer with them. That’s what is called life. Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains. He cannot run away from it regardless of the consequences. Kunal really felt bad for his mother. He immediately ran home. His mother was sitting in a chair near the front door, staring blankly at the sky outside. So blank had been her vision that Kunal’s entry had simply escaped her eyes. Kunal wrapped his arms around her neck and started crying inconsolably. He couldn’t even utter the word “Sorry,” but his old mother forgave him for his incoherent behaviour. She passed her hands over his head and caressed his hair.

That day, Kunal agreed to select candidates for his marriage, an appendage he had been avoiding all this time. In fact, they were trying to avoid the inevitable stigma associated with Kunal’s father’s disease. They knew, nobody would agree to give their daughter in marriage with such a family. Now, that his father was no more, they could think of it. Their father’s death had relieved them of a very heavy burden off their chest in their quest for a reasonably dignified social life. 

Kunal got married to Sulochana and entertained a very small group of people in the reception, as he did not wish to jump into an extravaganza. There were only a few invited guests. All the invitees did not even show up. Kunal did not seem to mind this much, but Sulochana wasn’t pleased. She wanted a house filled with guests roaring and laughing all through the middle of the night. At one point she told Kunal about her disappointment, but he simply shrugged it off saying, “I have only invited my closest friends and relatives.” However, he was not satisfied with that explanation himself. When he saw his mother’s dull face he realized that he had committed a huge mistake of alienating himself from his own people.

That night, he made love to his wife. She was beautiful, smart and demanding. They had a really enjoyable time in bed. As they lay spent on the bed, cuddled in each other’s arms, Sulochana did not speak much. She drifted off to sleep very soon, but, Kunal could not get to sleep immediately. There was not much to be done the next day and he also had taken leave to be able to spend some quality time with his wife. So, he lay awake delving into his past. All his past memories came flooding down the memory lane, tormenting and agitating him all through the night.

He recalled his school friends and felt so unnerved by their absence. During those days, poverty had grossly limited his socializing skills. The stigma of his father’s disease had also compelled him to stay away from them. But, how he missed them now! Even if he chanced to meet somebody, he, very cleverly avoided them, so that, he didn’t have to feel embarrassed by their prodding fingers. When he went to the Engineering College, the stigma of casteism kept him away from making friends. When he was providing tuition classes, he did not socialize with his surroundings because he felt deprived of the respect and position that he rightfully deserved. He refrained from going to parties and social gatherings because of his own inferiority complex. When he got into the field of service, the selfish motives of his colleagues kept him off them. Everywhere he felt downsized. Was it a fault of his? How could he live up to the standard of being called a social animal, when, all through his life he has faced extreme situations? There was a time in his life when he valued his connections, but, as he started facing the realities, he saw how fake they were. They always gave him a sting that he could never recover from.

Thirty years later, Kunal is seated on the broken concrete podium encircling the mango tree, where he used to find solace during his youth. Bogged down by his old age and retired life, he feels lonely once again, when he still misses his connections. Most of his connections are now lost to the eternal world, and the few that still remain, are overcome with old age, disease and negligence of their children. Sulochana has left him for her eternal abode. He misses her a lot. She used to love him despite his indifference in the latter part of his life. He still remembers how she chided him when he tried to sneak up to a nearby shop for a smoke. “Poor creature,” he thought, “couldn’t manage to live as long as he did without any addiction.”

He remembered his mother. He missed her the most. She was his unquestionable supporter as long as she lived. A few tears trickled down his cheeks as he remembered how he had argued with her that day and run off to the shade of this tree, all the while when she sat staring blankly at the sky. He recalled some of his college mates who shunned him because of his caste. He didn’t like the memory at all. He waved it off with a gesture of his hand. He had succeeded in life despite belonging to a lower caste and he was proud that he never availed any advantage of a caste certificate. In fact, he never had one, because he did not belong to the state he resided and never could have got it. He remembered his school friends. They were all either on the other side of the world or were preparing for it. He remembered a small incident in school. About four years after his father lost service, he did not want to participate in the annual sports. When asked for the reason, he had simply cried. He could not say that his father could not afford to pay ten rupees for the participation. He was studying with the help of full free studentship because of his father’s unfortunate dismissal from service. The school authority had allowed that. When his classmates came to know of that, they paid the money from their pockets to allow him to participate. He still remembered the incident that had moved him to tears because of acute poverty. Now he is well off, but those friends are missing. He remembered his ailing father, who used to curse himself for the misfortune that fell upon the family because of him. He had never seen his father shed tears until that day.

A dry leaf fell upon his head. He looked up to see if there was anything above. To his utter amazement, he found a small boy climbing up the branches of the tree to retrieve a kite entangled in the topmost branch of the tree. The boy had climbed very high and could fall down and injure himself if he slipped.

“Come down son!” a voice shouted from below. The voice appeared familiar to Kunal’s ears. He looked around him and saw the stout figure of his own father, without any deformities. How young and jovial his father appeared, clad in his signature white dhoti and a white banyan. “How did he come here?” he wondered, “and who is he shouting at among the branches of the tree?” With his fading eyesight, Kunal tried to take a closer look at the boy above. Lo! That was his own self when he was a boy flying kites. He smiled to himself. He was overjoyed to see his father cured of all his diseases.

A small boy came up to the tree after sometime and spoke to him loudly, “Grandpa! Mummy is calling you for lunch.” Kunal did not reply. He was looking blankly at the blue sky above, a hearty smile spread wide across his lips. He had probably found and connected all the missing connections in his life. When he did not reply to the repeated calls, the boy came near him and shook him. Kunal’s frail body tilted to one side and he fell down. The small boy was horrified at this and he rushed back to his house, calling, “Mummy! Mummy! See, grandpa has fallen down.”

The end.

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