The Debt10 mins 115 10 mins 115
Siddesh had come to visit his cousins at Pune. He stays in Nagpur with his family and works with a local newspaper. His maternal cousins stayed in Pune, though none of the previous generation roams in the mortal world anymore, but the bonding between the current generation was something to be envied about. He had two brothers and one sister, but he was closest with the second brother – Nirupam.
Every year, on Ganesh Chaturthi he had to visit them because he always associated Ganesh puja with Pune. This time was also no different. Couple of days were quite fun with them. Siddesh and Nirupam would engage themselves in slight drinking and weeding as their escapade from family. On third day of his stay, they were quite late taking a stroll on the road near chowk, close to their house after the immersion procession had returned and settled. There were not many on the road at that time. All the shops were also shut down. The temporary wheeled shops those sold tea and snacks, also stood empty but chained with the nearby iron posts. There were a few wooden benches also near by and they were also secured by chains and locks.
Both sat down on one such bench as Nirupam pulled out two riffers from the pocket of his kurta. Siddesh exclaimed, "When did you secure these?"
"During immersion I went missing for a moment, right? That's what it was for.", Nirupam replied with a wicked smile.
Then both, lit those and took a long and gratifying puff. Hardly they had two or three puffs when somebody who was unnoticed until then moaned in disturbed tone. Their eyes strolled in the direction of the source of the moaning.
There was a man, maybe in his early forties. Dirty and torn rags were his only clothes. Long hair and beard entangled and messy. Dirt was all over his body, as if they had been not disturbed for a long period and they became an inseparable part of his epidermal extension.
Siddesh exclaimed, "Is he new here? Because I remember very precisely that when I visited the last time and for my article spoke to all beggars in this area, he wasn't there."
Nirupam replied, "You are absolutely right! He wasn't there until two months back."
Just then the beggar moaned something incoherently, "I…have a….debt. Can you please help me repay it?"
Siddesh asked Nirupam, "What..what is that he telling?"
Nirupam calmed him down and replied, "For that you need to listen about him, from me."
Siddesh turned at him and his look suggested that he was eager to know all. So Nirupam also took no more time in, jumping into the past and took Siddesh with himself.
In Ahire village, a very poor family stayed. The Chaatres, had Vishnu as head of the family, Purnima his wife, his old widowed mother Janki bai and a five-year-old daughter, Tara. When Purnima was delivering, Vishnu didn't have enough money to bear the expenses and he had to mortgage his land to a moneylender. The moneylender's debt follows some weird calculation like duck-worth Lewis method. There's a calculation with which you reach a figure, but how, is not known. The interest gallops over even compounding formula and it creates that vicious whirlpool that sucks the debtor deeper with every passing day. Same happened with him. Whatsoever amount he paid every year, he found himself under a bigger sum at the end of it.
Then one friend of his, a marriage broker of the village, Bhale Rao suggested him something. There was young boy in their Village, Srikanth Mahale. He had no one in his family alive and himself worked as an accountant at the local oil mill. He had a piece of land which he never used for farming. So Bhale Rao suggested Vishnu to get his daughter married to Srikanth against some cash and that piece of land. Vishnu told that his daughter was just five years old and how could he marry her away. He also enquired about Srikanth's age and why would he even give away cash and a piece of land to get married. To that Bhale Rao told him, people rumored about him that there is some curse running in his family and he is not gifted with any good features from temple to toe. Vishnu immediately wanted to know about the curse, but Bhale Rao shrugged it off, terming it as fake propaganda of the villagers.
Bhale Rao, approached Srikanth too and he was more than ready to marry. But on the day of marriage Srikanth came for the shock of his life, when he saw that his would be wife was no taller than three feet and innocence on her face and in mannerism hinted that she was barely five years old. Himself, being twenty-six he knew that it was no match. He immediately refuted the ceremony and reprimanded Bhale Rao for that mismatch. But, Bhale Rao explained him that this used to be absolutely normal thing till thirty or forty years back and by marrying her he was helping a destitute family. Also, girls grow faster than blink of an eye. Soon she will be in her teenage and in next ten years the match won't look so bad.
Vishnu also begged to him with folded hands as it is regarded as an omen for the girl if her marriage is broken right at the day of the ceremony. So, he should consider marrying her to save their family from getting bad name in their caste and the village and pull them out of the murk of poverty.
Srikanth saw no other way as his considerate and emotional heart already gave him very few options to cause harm or hurt someone. He quietly sat down to let the ceremony resume and continue. At the end of it, he was married to a kid, twenty-one years younger to himself.
As he took her away as his married wife, he could never see at her with the same feeling that the society or the ceremonies authorized him with. He grew more protective and affectionate towards her with each passing day. He would take her to bed, sing lullaby to make her snuggle in the world of dreams. In the morning wake her up, brush her teeth, bathe her, dress her up, fed her not as his wife but more as his child. Days went on like that, she grew up and the society slowly made her realize with chit chats and passing comments that what was her relationship with him. At first, she used to feel embarrassed and then disgusted with the kind of feeling that her adolescence made her feel. The hormones kicking in made her slowly feel repulsive towards him and she gradually started behaving little withdrawn.
Srikanth understood her behavior but never tried to coerce or force her. He too understood the confusion and conflicts that went on within her mind. So, he let her have the time to come to terms with her new understanding and meaning of the acquaintance with him. She was also wary of the fact that how her beauty would justify having a husband with such age difference and such ugly looks. Her mind went into a turmoil which she couldn't discuss with anyone. So slowly she let her mind be surrendered at the hands of her fate. She compromised with the life that she knew had to live.
Things slowly got normal again. She started speaking normally with him again. Now she used cook for him, mend the house and take care of his other things. Her caring nature that suddenly evolved out of the small, snobbish, and carefree small girl made him little uneasy. Because he wasn't also accustomed to such behavior from her, but he also knew things had to change.
She completed her twelfth and wanted to study further, but their village had no offering to suffice her dreams. So, Srikanth decided to move to Pune. He found some accountant job in some small office in the city and moved there with her.
New place brought new challenges for the odd couple. It was still very clear that she felt embarrassed about him. So, when they rented a house, he introduced themselves as Uncle and niece. She never started applying and sindoor and he also never forced her. So, their staged lie needed no other adjustment.
Then their hunt for a good college started. Despite securing good scores, almost every good college demanded donations. They used to start the day with their hope hunting and used get back to their nook empty handed. Constant failures due to lack of money and wilted face of her after every day's unsuccessful treads forced him to take a decision. A bold decision. He would take a debt.
He did the same. He loaned from a private financial institute at exorbitant rates. It was going to weigh heavy on his pocket, but still he was happy. She toiled hard in her college and he toiled hard at his workplace to meet ends.
After about three years, she started appearing for competitive exams and cracked multiple. She finally chose to join as probationary officer with one of the leading nationalized banks. Srikanth said to her happily that with her good salary, she could help him clear his debt quickly and then they could live happily.
She said nothing and just nodded her head without any expression. Almost a year passed like that. Then one day, when Srikanth was back in the evening from his work little late as usual, he found Tara wasn't at home till then. He thought that she might have been caught up with some extra work. But when it was as late as 9 PM, his composure started revealing chinks. He walked out till the main door and back to the room and sat down impatiently on the bed. He repeated that almost nine or ten times and then decided that he had to go and check at the bank, himself.
He quickly reached the branch where she was posted and saw the collapsible gate was closed and locked, and a guard sat next to it.
He went and enquired about Tara and when was the bank closed. To that the guard told him that the bank was closed at around 4:30 PM and everybody left at the same time. He was lost and knew not what to do, where to search for her. He immediately went to a police station and lodged a missing FIR for Tara.
Days passed and then couple of months, but there was no trace of her. As if she vanished in the thin air. All this while he couldn't concentrate at his work and then he defaulted the EMI of his loan. Life took a bad turn for him. Then one day, he was terminated from his work because of his undeclared leaves, mistakes that had crept in his account keeping resulting in losses for the company. He had no work and no income. Few days later he received a letter. Unwarranted about its content, he opened to read it. It was from Tara. She wrote that she left the city for some other place and with job in a new bank. So, no one at her previous workplace knew about it apart from one, Nikesh. Her colleague at her first work. She wrote how she fell in love with him and then how it was getting difficult for her to lead a life that appeared like that sinkhole which had no end and she treaded in a dark path with no hope to answer for herself, her youth that was going down the same gutter. She couldn't think of wasting her youth, the ecstasies of it, the love and joy that was promised by Nikesh. So, she silently appeared for another competitive exam, cleared it and opted for a joining at far off place. She also clarified that the address from which the letter was posted was a temporary one as she would have left for her permanent address by the time, he would have received the letter.
Broken, he was, in pieces far beyond recollecting his own shattered bits. Next day the recovery agents came to his house and demanded the EMI. But he had nothing left with him. They beat him up and threw him out. One day, Tara's parents came to meet them and got to know all that had happened.
And it was then the whole locality came to know about it. They tried to convince him to go with them, but he had already traversed beyond any reasoning of mind and fathoming of understanding.
Nirupam finished the whole account of Srikanth and Siddesh was left with only profound grief and little wetness in his eyes.
Siddesh said, "So that is the debt which he cleared for Tara and again let himself be grasped by its claws."