It was an unusually chilly September night. Unrelenting rains had made weather a nightmare. Another unfair unnecessary struggle the poor had to endure. The poor suffer, not because they are the victims of fate. The poor suffer, not because nobody helped them- it’s because they just don’t know how to help themselves. Take for instance, me. I am poor. But I know how to help myself. I was going to start my own business. I was going to be a big businessman. The next Dheerubhai Ambani. The next Bill Gates.
I was going to start a small fast food business on the footpath next to the entrance of a prestigious man’s home. The man was a wildly sought after Math private tutor and he was fat. Huge. Giant Meatball. The Fat tutor taught Math in four different locations in a single day- and as a result, he was generally late for his classes- which meant that the kids had time to kill. Studying would’ve been a good way to kill time. Eating junk food was better- and I would be there, a mere five steps away from them, selling all their favorite poisons.
All the preparations had been made. My dream was slowly coming true- my family would finally give the respect I deserve; the whole city will recognize me. And not look down on me like I’m a thief.
I had promised the fat tutor his favorite snack and a few big currency Notes, every day and he, in turn, agreed to come late, regularly. I had got the push cart- most of the cooking vessels, bought ingredients for three days with all my saved money, with my wife’s blessings. All that remained was an approval from the local cop. He realized the brilliant money-making potential in my scheme- and needed a little moolah, to assure me that it would be me who’d be running the business near the fat tutor’s house and not some other guy who would be willing to pay the cop more money.
The only problem was that I did not have money for the cop.
Neither my employer- the local landlord nor my dad who worked for the landlord helped me. They had plenty of cash to spare- just that they didn’t have any cash to spare for me. No surprises there. I had always found a way to feed my mouth- this time I had to find a way to fuel my dreams. With Lord Ganesha’s help, I could do anything.
Not that I knew Lord Ganesha personally- I just knew where He stacked His cash- in a donation box near the Narrow Street. Every year the local kids would establish an idol of Lord Ganesha during September for a few days, conduct prayers, sacred rituals like Homas, organize entertainment for the God and the believers, and later collect money from the believers, as donation, like a sort of reimbursement for all the expenses incurred for conducting the Lord Ganesha festival.
And I knew where this donation box was hidden at this late hour in the night- the cop would be plenty pleased with me and my donation for him.
The boys usually make a temporary abode, from coconut branches & wooden poles, for the Lord Ganesha on the Narrow Street and sleep in this abode every night, till the festival I over. This they do to guard the abode from miscreants, vandals, dogs and thieves like me. But I knew these boys personally. And they were as lazy as anybody of this new generation.
I lighted my beedi (a cheap Indian Cigarette) as I walked towards the Narrow Street. The chilly wind made the beedi to burn erratically- like all my previous dreams. Not this one, I promised myself. I am not going to be who I am for long- tonight will be my last loot.
Except for a cricket from an unknown location, there was no sound. The chilly wind made no noise. My heart never raced anymore as it used to during my first robbery job. I was calm. Composed. I noticed the sleep movements of the boys from the distance. They were in deep sleep- probably tired after all the ghost stories they tell each other, during such camping occasions. I took cat-like steps towards the entrance of the abode. It was dark, so I had to be extra careful in my steps. Behind the Lord’s idol, on a chair, was hidden the donation box.
I wrapped my hands around the donation box like it was my long lost child and slowly walked away from the abode. Thank You, Ganesha! With every step taking me farther from the Lord, I felt happier. One more step. One more step. One more! Almost! Almost!
“YOU!!!” I heard a kid’s loud voice. It was a familiar voice. I was busted.
I turned around. And found the landlord’s twelve year old son. He had recognized me.
“That’s Ganesha’s money!” he said, “To buy him sweets and fruits!”
“Look son,” I said, “Everybody is feeding Ganesha nowadays, so don’t worry. He won’t go hungry. But do you know who’ll go hungry if I don’t take this box? My pregnant wife…”
“But my dad pays you… and your father. Your mother and your wife they also earn by making Beedis!”
“My father gambles a lot & he never wins- and he has a huge debt… Whatever money comes, it goes…”
“Why don’t you work somewhere else, where you’ll earn more then?”
“I’m an illiterate- like my parents and wife. They ask for a 10th Pass certificate, whereas I can’t even sign my name!”
“But that doesn’t mean you have to steal! That too from Ganesha! That’s not fair!” he said.
“Fair? Fair! Nothing in this world is fair! When you and your older siblings were kids, you had a toy room bigger than my house! See these scars? My father used to beat me up just for looking at you kids playing! For just watching you play and I was getting beaten up! I wanted to play too, instead of cleaning up after your cows and sheep and dogs! So one day, I took your brother’s bicycle… Took it far away from here and played with it for a while and I returned it- and nobody knew better. And I didn’t even get beaten up… This is what I am doing with this donation box… I am taking it for now… Nobody needs this straight away… And I’ll return it back soon…”
“Ganesha will need it….”