Real Life Is Strange
By Soumya Mukherjee
Originally appeared on Idyll dreams of an Idle Fellow
I was born in a small village near the mouth of a river and a beach known as a breeding ground for turtles. Nowadays, it is a protected place where tourists come but the turtles no longer do. A few do, when the tourists are fast asleep.
We used to steal turtle eggs I confess, but rarely visited the beach except on religious festivals for the ritual bath, and the turtles owned the beach.
My father was a cobbler. We belonged to the leather workers caste. In our village, people went barefoot and rarely bought new shoes. Shoes were worn by the well to do families.
My father bought leather from the tanners who lived outside the village. It took several days to complete one pair, so money was scarce. My mother worked as a housemaid at the nicer homes.
Our house was a shack with a tiled roof. On the way back from school, I would eagerly look for smoke rising. That would mean mother was cooking and a hot meal of rice and fish was for lunch. Often there was no smoke; which meant that we would make do with stale pao – if we were lucky. Shellfish and other small fish and shrimp were plenty so we never starved. But the warm, full feeling of a hot rice meal was often a luxury.
My father passed away when I was quite young. My brother in law was married to a much older sister by my father’s earlier marriage. He was a carpenter and better off. He helped out so that I did not have to quit school.
My mother got castoff clothes from the houses where she worked. They had only daughters so she got mostly girls clothes. Not to be thwarted, she fashioned shorts for me from their discarded housecoats. I was mortified going to school in flimsy pink flowered shorts and faced a lot of ridicule and bullying. It taught me self-defense and dirty fighting. Soon the others let me alone.
I sought solace in schoolwork, reading and even started writing secretly. My brother in law saw my passion and funded my higher education. I applied for and won a scholarship meant for unprivileged kids. I graduated high school and went to college on this national scholarship. I started working part time as a waiter. Being a polite, good looking boy who spoke English and a smattering of other European languages, I earned good tips.
In college, my classmates were the children of my mother’s employers. They were the village students of a posh school while I went to the local one. Now we were equals. I wore smart clothes bought with the money I earned from tips. Moreover, I was academically among the toppers and had the additional glamour quotient of being a budding poet and writer.
But no, the master’s daughter did not fall in love with me. My story is not a cliché. Another girl did fall in love with me, but she was from a higher caste. Her family reluctantly accepted me as I was educated, but they hated my economic background.
I worked at keeping the books at the café where I was also the waiter, and took on some more jobs doing clerical or accounting work. I moved to a major hotel chain as storekeeper, and finally took on a sales job, where hard work would translate to higher income.
But it was all to no avail. Constantly goaded by my in-laws about my poor prospects, my wife left me.
I killed my loneliness by frequent treks in the Himalayas. It was difficult to find replacements in Goa so I continued here. In time, I was promoted and became a Branch Head in a nearby town. I bought a flat near my village and was the proud possessor of a company car.
My mother continued to live in the village in a pukka house I built for her. She was upset at my lonely life.
This is when the weird proposal came to me.
“Son, I know you suffer so much being alone” my mother started off, ignoring my protests that I was perfectly fine. “I feel bad not being there to take care of you. But I can’t leave my village home that your father built and where your ancestors lived” she continued her long preamble.
I knew she was leading up to something
“I have a solution to your problems son. You know that family I worked for? Nice people. They helped us so much. The clothes they gave us. You remember their little girl? You used to play with her all the time. What a sweet girl. But what bad luck. She dropped out of college and married that good for nothing sailor. Such a tragedy. The scoundrel left her and ran off to Mumbai. She is back at home nowadays. Her family is very poor these days you know. Their father drank and gambled away all the money and the brothers have left home. The mother is too old to work. They sold off their coconut plantations to buy a barge, and it is idle since the mining has stopped. Anyway, that girl is looking for work. You need help. Would you please take her on as your housekeeper?”
I was stunned. The world turned a full circle. The master’s daughter now wants to be the servants’ maid. I couldn’t accept this. It would be too uncomfortable.
“It would be a great help to them, and she’s a nice girl, you know her, and she will take good care of you. I can rest easy in the village knowing that you are in good hands” my mother continued to advocate her cause.
I was helpless. I promised my mother to help them out. My heart bled for the girl. I even thought, what might have been. But this is real life, not a story, so I left her to struggle on and continue my lonely existence, thinking, what might have been.
Photo/Art credits: Tribune Newsline and Education by Cindy Grundsten (Sweden) at deviantart.com
Soumya is an alumnus of St Stephens College and Delhi School of Economics where he was supposed to have studied Economics. He, however, did not let studies interfere with his education. He earns his daily bhat maach by working for a PSU Insurance company, and lectures for peanuts. He is addicted to the printed word and has been devouring it since learning to read. In whatever time this leaves him he pursues his other passions: family, friends, films, travel, food, trekking, wildlife, music, theater, and occasionally, writing. He has been published earlier in TOI, HT, Express, and other friendly neighborhood papers and magazines. He is currently living in Mumbai, with his wife. He has two daughters who have flown the nest. He has published his first novel, Memories, a novella. His blog can be found at: soumyamukherjee8.wordpress.com or google Idyll Dreams of an Idle Fellow. His nom de plume is Wise Guy of the East.