What A Relief!
What A Relief!13 mins 36.2K 13 mins 36.2K
What a Relief!
Gyan Chand Dubey was a meek and peace loving person. Peace for him was a paramount priority, which overrode every other concern and interest in his life and became the determining factor of his actions. All his life, he had assiduously kept away from contentious issues and controversies at the workplace and in the neighbourhood. At Sarvodaya Government School where he taught, he had earned the sobriquet of bhagoda, because he did not attend any Staff Association meetings for fear of being seen as anti-Principal who was a vicious and vindictive autocrat, with a glad eye for the women teachers.
Once, Dubey ji was trapped in a suddenly convened emergent meeting to condemn the Principal for suspending the President of the Non-teaching Staff Union on a flimsy ground. He had steered clear of the predicament by abstaining from voting. On another occasion, he had remained on leave for a week in order to dodge sitting on dharna in front of the Principal’s office, because he had made sexual advances to a new lady teacher.
Besides, Dubey ji would sign the circulars branding the Principal’s opponents as shirkers and praising him (the Principal) for his competence and commitment to the school, because of which the results were good. These circulars were manipulated by the Principal’s coterie -- a parallel Staff Union with miniscule number -- and sent to the Inspector of Schools. The staff had got so miffed with Dubey ji that in one of the meetings they had passed a resolution condemning him for betraying the Association and for being a lackey of the Principal.
In his solitary moments, Dubey ji would feel that he had made moral compromises, violated his conscience, and lost his dignity. He would suffer from bouts of low self-esteem because he had not only been silent on issues involving injustice, but also had colluded, albeit reluctantly, with the coterie in strengthening the hands of the Principal. But then he would justify his actions on the ground that he was made like that, that is, he was a coward.
In the Housing Society where he lived, he had refused to join a protest against the cell phone company which had erected on their multi-storey building a tower. He did not want to get on the wrong side of the President and the Secretary of the Society who had colluded with the company and received a huge sum for granting permission. More than that he was scared getting embroiled in a fight with the powerful cell phone mafia.
“Why don’t you sign the representation to the Lt. Governor of Delhi against the tower? Everybody says it is a health hazard and causes several diseases, even cancer?” asked his wife.
“You don’t know, Kanti. These cell phone guys are very dangerous. They have goons who will bash up those who have signed. The police are complicit with them and will not take any action. ”
“You’re being paranoid. They can’t harm so many. There’s security in unity. Besides, we’re living in the capital, not in our native city of Bulandshahar in U.P.”
“You think like the five year old you used to teach in school. The problem is you watch only the stupid serials all day and never look at the newspaper. Or else you would know, every day there are reports of innocent people being shot or run over by a speeding vehicle. All kinds of mafias are on the loose, maiming and killing people for opposing their vested interests.”
“What I know is,” said Kanti with a grimace, “that the sixty odd people who have signed can’t be fools nor are they dare devils. Thank god everyone is not like you. If there is no protest, there will be no remedy for any problem, ever.”
“Don’t try to teach me wisdom.” Dubey ji got irritated.
During his years of teaching, Dubey ji used to write stories for children some of which were anthologised and prescribed for study in school syllabi. His domain was the world of teaching and creativity and he wanted to keep away from the nettles of everyday living, as far as possible. After retirement, too, he continued with his passion and shrank from confronting the unpleasant aspects of reality. He was worried all the time something untoward might happen to disrupt his writing.
But a tornado shattered Dubey ji’s hard-earned peace. The second floor flat below theirs was sold and the new family that moved in built a small enclosure near the railing of the staircase into which they deposited their garbage till it was picked up by the sweeper the next day. All the three members of the family – husband, wife and their son -- were gluttons to boot and regularly consumed massive quantities of season’s fruits like melons, mangoes, pomegranates besides a variety of fried stuff. The seeds and the peels festered and emanated foul smell.
One day Kanti exploded, “The whole day we’ve to live on this stink.”
“You’re right. Our food has begun to reek of foul smell,” agreed Dubey ji.
“Why don’t you speak to them?”
He began to hem and haw. “Do you think they seem to be the type who’d listen to our request?”
“Still, no harm talking to them.”
“Can’t you see, they’re uncouth and the low type,” said Dubey ji. “I think we should not nettle them.”
“If you speak to them nicely, they might see reason.”
Dubey ji procrastinated as long as he could, but when Kanti persisted in pestering him, one day he mustered courage, lumbered down to the second floor with leaden steps and rang the bell. For some time there was no response during which his heart thumped against his rib cage. Then the boy with his swollen biceps opened the door and glowered at him.
“What?” he growled, while munching something. He looked a regular ruffian.
“Can I speak to your father?”
“I want to discuss a small issue,” Dubey ji simpered.
“Tell me. He’s sleeping.”
“Oh, it is only 8.00 p.m. Is he feeling unwell?”
“He is fit as a horse. What do you want?” the boy continued in his gruff voice.
“Beta, I mean, can you keep ... if you don’t mind, I mean... this garbage inside your kitchen. All of us in this block do that.”
The boy’s face became taut. “You’re all idiots. Garbage should be kept outside. You also do that,” he bawled and banged the door shut.
Dubey ji cursed himself for having listened to Kanti. She looked at his glum face and did not need to ask him what had transpired.
And then a thunderbolt struck at the very existence of Dubey ji and his wife. The rogue neighbours installed an electric chimney in their kitchen, broke the staircase wall and fixed the exhaust right under the door of Dubey ji’s flat. It seemed they had nothing to do all day but fry paranthas, bread pakoras or some other savoury. The mother-son duo polished off the stuff hot from the gas stove, and the man gorged on it as part of the dinner. The Punjabi style cooking involved lots of frying and the fumes rose and slithered into Dubey ji’s flat through chinks and crevices of the closed door. Dubey ji felt burning in his chest and Kanti felt choked.
Now started the struggle for survival for the old couple whose immunity at seventy plus and sixty eight respectively was not exactly robust. Thrice a day the chimney belched out acrid pollution-fumes and made their lives miserable. Dubey ji felt intensely grieved to see his wife gasping for breath, though his own lungs were on fire.
Dubey ji racked his brains how he could deal with the situation. If a pipe could be fixed on the exhaust, the rancid smoke would be released out of the staircase and diffuse in the open air. But how could that be done? There was no hope of a request yielding result. He thought of writing to the President of the Society, urging upon him and other members of the Executive to help him and his wife – senior citizens whose health was endangered.
A meeting of the Executive took place three months after Dubey ji’s complaint. The reputation of the rogue family had travelled faster than their actual arrival in the Society and the Executive members were shit scared to confront them. So, a general resolution was passed, suggesting that all exhausts should be covered by pipes, though this family was the only one who had done it. A copy was sent to all the residents. Dubey ji stared at the piece of paper a long time before crumpling and consigning it where it belonged.
Now what? One option had been exhausted. He drafted a piteous letter to the Commissioner of Municipal Corporation of Delhi, and went to hand it over personally.
“No, you can’t meet him. He’s busy in an important meeting. What’s it about?” said the young man at the Reception.
Dubey ji explained.
“It’s O.K. you leave it with me. I’ll officially receive it and put it up before the Commissioner Sahib for necessary action.”
“Sir,” said Dubey ji to the young man who was one third his age, “My wife and I are in deep trouble. Can you help us, Sir?”
“Yes, yes, I’ll certainly put up your case.”
“No, I mean can you put in a word for us? We’re helpless senior citizens. I’ll bless you and remember your kindness all my life.”
Just then the young man’s cell phone trilled a popular romantic song, “Bheege honth tere, Pyasa dil mera ... Kabhi mere saath, koyi raat guzaar,” (Your lips are moist; my heart is thirsty …. Sometime spend a night with me,” and as he started whispering into it, a delicious smile sprouted on his face. Girlfriend, for sure, thought Dubey ji. The young guy raised his hand impatiently, gestured that he was through with the old man and that he should leave. Dubey ji did.
Despair and affliction reigned in their house. Both kept to themselves. Occasionally, Kanti came up with a tentative suggestion. “I think, you should meet the local area Corporator. When he had come canvassing six months back, he had folded his hands, touched my feet and sought my blessings. He seemed to be a nice man and will certainly do something for us.”
Dubey ji smiled ruefully and pitied his wife for her naiveté. “Why don’t you go and meet him? He’ll recognise you as your blessing ensured his victory.”
“Yes. What’s wrong with that?”
“I don’t even ... I mean ... know his residence.”
“I’ll find that out for you. Dubey ji in his helplessness and frustration was becoming cussed, even sadistic, towards the woman he had loved all his life.”
Kanti seemed doubtful and hesitant. “I don’t know….”
“You will know, once you meet him,” Dubey ji pressed on perversely.
She could not make out whether Dubey ji really meant it. But in any case it was a daunting task. Meeting a Corporator and explaining to him in as few sentences as possible – because they are busy people, short of time – their problem and request for help was way beyond teaching class II students.
“Beta, your old mother has come to you for help.”
The Corporator bestowed on her a political smile. She felt encouraged and had a gut feeling he would come to their rescue.
The Corporator was surrounded by his cronies who were feeding him on the randy information they had gathered about the sexual escapades of two opposition Corporators. He had planned to expose them in the media, heap ignominy on them and discredit them for all times to come.
“Yes, Amma what’s it?”
“You remember, you touched my feet and I blessed you.”
“Yes, yes. What do you want from me?”
“Well, can’t a mother come to see how her son is doing?” Kanti thought she should first strike a personal bond with him.
“But tell me what work you have with me.”
“It is a small work. For you it is nothing, though it has made our lives hell. All you need to do is ... ...”
The Corporator lost patience and said irritated, “Cut out the crap Amma and come to the point, for god’s sake.”
Before she could resume, a crony thrust a mobile towards the Corporator, “Sir, CM (Chief Minister) sahib on the line.”
“Yes Sir,” said the Corporator.
The moment the call ended, he got into his SUV in a huff with his retinue and the security guards and drove away.
When Dubey ji opened the door, he stood frozen for a few seconds. The whole family – the man, the woman and their son – stood there. The husband and the wife folded hands and bestowed a smile on Dubey ji. “Won’t you ask us in?”
“Oh, sure, sure. You’re most welcome. Please come in. Kanti, where are you? See who have come to visit us?”
But there was no response from Kanti.
“We’re sorry we caused you inconvenience. We did not know you were a guru ji. You should have told us,” said the man.
“Please don’t embarrass me,” said Dubey ji. “Actually, it’s our fault. We did not understand you properly. You’re actually nice people.”
“Particularly this guy was rude to you one day,” added the mother. “Come on, say sorry to guru ji.”
The lout sat with an impassive face, unconcerned and disinterested, as if he had been dragged along by his parents against his will.
“And you won’t have had to give in writing to the Society about the electric chimney exhaust. Anyway, we’ve got the pipe fixed on the exhaust. It’ll not bother you now.”
Dubey ji was gripped by the urge to go out and check, but did not. The guests would feel offended.
“What would you have? Something cold or tea?”
“No, no. Please don’t bother.”
“What are you saying?” said Dubey ji and called out.
“Kanti, where are you?”
Again no response.
“Where has she gone? She was here a little while ago. Anyway, I think we’ve Real apple juice at home. Hope, you won’t mind that.”
“Please don’t bother.”
Dubey ji opened the fridge and searched every nook and corner. But there was no trace of the carton. “I’m sure we had it in the fridge.”
“Kanti, where are you?”
Dubey ji went on searching for the fruit juice and mumbling, “Where has it disappeared? I’m sure our maid has gulped it. Once in a while, she does such things.”
“Please don’t bother.”
“No, no. I’ll make tea. I make good tea. You’ll see that,” Dubey ji smiled and entered the kitchen. Mercifully, he found the ingredients and soon was out with five cups – one for Kanti who was still absent.
“What for are the neighbours there? You are old, both of you. Please tell us if you need any help,” said the man. This fellow is strong as a bull,” said the father and hit the boy hard on his back. “He will do anything for you,” he said proudly.
“Thank you, Sir; thank you,” said Dubey ji and looked towards the boy. Strangely enough, his face had turned into a bull’s. He wondered if this was a hallucination, possibly caused by the excitement at the sudden favourable turn of events. But then he had never suffered from hallucinations. How come it had happened now? Anyway, the next second the boy got back his human face.
Dubey ji had covered Kanti’s tea to keep it warm. “I don’t know where she has gone,” said Dubey ji to the guests apologetically.
“Please don’t bother.”
Dubey ji felt burning in his chest and woke up from his siesta. Kanti was already sitting up on her side of the bed and gasping. Dubey ji went into the staircase to check. A hot, rancid blast slapped his face.