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….”

“Kid… the funny thing is my dad never taught me how to ride the bicycle but he taught you guys. It was his job. He wouldn’t get anything for teaching me how to ride a bicycle. Life is like this. Some things you have to learn for yourselves… Like you now. You have to learn that Ganesha doesn’t need money… he doesn’t need this donation box… He’s God! He can do anything, get anything! But I am just a man- that too poor. I cannot get anything I want. I may not look like a good guy, but I am! I am! I love my wife… and I am doing this for her… why don’t you go back and sleep…”

I tried to look into his eyes- trying to understand what was going on in his brain. Did he understand that I needed this donation box desperately? Does he know that I always carry a Knife in my pocket? And I wouldn’t think twice about using it, if need be?

After a while, the kid nodded his head. It was so funny that this small kid made me sweat in this chilly night. Life is hard work. Dreams are harder. And tonight I think I’ll celebrate- with a few rounds at the gambling house.

********************************************************************************
Three days later I ran into the kid during broad daylight near his house.

“YOU!!!” he shouted, this time with considerable increase in contempt in his voice for me.

“You little rat!” I snapped. “You told your parents that I threatened you with a knife and looted the donation box!”

“You lied first! You said your wife was pregnant and hungry! But she’s not! My mom said so herself! Give back the donation box!”

“So what if she’s not pregnant now? She’ll be! Everything else I told was the truth. I need the money to start a business!”

“Liar! It’s you who lose money to gambling, not your dad! You Dog! Give back Ganesha’s money!”

This little rat! Looking down on me! Calling me names! I was exploding with rage. I wanted to kill him. I wrapped my hands around his neck. He began to shrivel & shout for help.

I heard the landlord from the distance. I let go of the kid. I was in a lot of trouble- the landlord must have seen me choking his son. The kid was coughing severely and my heart coughed even louder, more desperately.

********************************************************************************

I was banished from the town- ordered to never return again. After all that I had done, I was to get out of this pathetic town as a lowlife- a thief. I am no thief. It’s not my fault. None of it is! My dad was very lucky- my grandfather also worked at the landlord’s house. And he died when he was 30, and so my dad, at the age of 10 inherited my grandfather’s job. He did everything for the landlord. He was trusted. He was respected. Me? I’m unlucky! I’m 22, and still my dad is alive, holding onto his job. I am given menial jobs. I am not trusted. I am not respected. And now, I am thrown out of the landlord’s house. From this wretched town. Even my wife wouldn’t accompany me. Gone are the days when Sita used to follow her Ram into the forest. I loved her so much! But she wouldn’t come with me- and she told me that she’s pregnant.

********************************************************************************

It’s been nine years since I was thrown out of my village. And I have never been as close to my dream as I was nine years ago, when the landlord’s son sabotaged it. I have been living like a thief, in new towns and cities. Sometimes I succeeded in stealing. I enjoyed the loot and sometimes I was caught, and beaten up mercilessly. A cheap dirty motel, or hospital or a jail were my usual places of hang out. I had no place to call as my home.

I called my beloved wife over the mobile phone sometimes. But she never answered my calls. As soon as she heard my voice, she’d disconnect. But I did not give up hope, I kept calling. Until one day, she answered back with a sweet hello! She said that I had a son now. He’s smart and he goes to the government school in her hometown. She had left my father’s home. She couldn’t bear the daily humiliation from the town’s men, just because she was my wife. She suffered because of me, even if I was not around to cause the suffering. My son had no father. He needed one, now. And she said that she needed money, now.

Soon I called my mom to enquire about her health. She said she was well, but there was some communal violence in the town and that the landlord’s son, the one who pissed on my dream in the name of Ganesha, was getting married. Apparently I was invited to the wedding; the landlord’s son wanted me to share his joy. I took the next train to my town.

*******************************************************************************

The landlord’s house was filled with joy and celebrations. There were many people in the house and my mom would eagerly show me all the decorations, the magnificent clothes, food, flowers and gifts. All her maternal love, restrained for 9 years was erupting on me now. I was happy, for her. She didn’t know that I was still a thief- her maternal love was no match for a necklace- a beautiful necklace which had caught a thief’s eye. The necklace, meant as a gift for the bride, was a family heirloom and soon I plotted to make it mine.

By the end of night, I was on a train going to my wife’s hometown, with the beautiful necklace in my pocket. I was going to raise my son well. In good private schools. I will buy him lots of toys. I will give him a bicycle and I will teach him how to ride it. I’ll give him a father I never had. I’ll get my wife all the money she desperately needed and earn her love, back. This necklace will turn my life around. I will get back my wife. And I’ll finally be able to meet my son.

After being separated from my wife for 9 years, I was expecting a real cozy welcome from my wife. It was not to be.

“What have you done?” she shouted, “You stole a family heirloom of the landlord?”

“No! I didn’t do any such thing! I just came here to help you out and meet my son!” I replied, getting offended.

“You never change! Even now, you steal and you lie! The landlord knows it was you who stole the necklace and he knows where to find me and my son! Do you understand?”

“I’m sorry! After 9 years you finally decide to talk to me and all you talk about is how much in need of money you are! What was I supposed to do? Where was I supposed to get the money?”

“But to steal from the landlord where your parents work… You really have no soul left, have you?”

I controlled my urge to slap her. For her, for her I risked getting caught by the cruel landlord and stole the necklace- for her. And this is how I am being repaid!

“What should I do now?” I asked her.

“Go back, now! Take back the necklace and give it back! They said they’ll put our son in a good school in the town, if we return back the necklace. Nobody in the town knows that the necklace is gone, so it’s OK to return back…”

“And you believe them? That they won’t do anything to me?”

“Yes, I believe them. The landlord is a good man. He’ll keep his word. And if we return back the necklace, they’ll put our son in a good school. Don’t you want that? Can’t you do this much for our son?”

*******************************************************************************

Soon I found myself going back to my hometown, with the necklace, and with my wife and son. She didn’t trust me enough to take my son to my own town to my own home! She was going to be a great mother- or she already is. By the time we reach our home town, it’d be late in the night. But still she insisted to take the last train to my hometown.

When we reached my hometown, she insisted on taking the auto-rickshaw (A cheap Indian Taxi). I didn’t want to waste money unnecessarily- we could walk to home and we were not rich, or has she forgotten that? Sure it was dark. But this was my hometown! Sure there had been communal violence- but I had been here a day ago, and it wasn’t dangerous. Not as much as shown in the news channels.

As we walked back to my home, a feeling of nostalgia had hit me. I had so many dreams growing up here in this town- even though none of them came true, I was glad that I had these dreams. I took risks for the sake of my dreams and my family- risks that nobody understood. But now, here was my son. Maybe he could understand me. Maybe he could trust me. Maybe he could respect and love me. Maybe…

As we neared the Narrow Street, I could smell blood- human blood. There must have been some fighting over here, earlier in the day. Now it was calm. Except for the distant barks, I could hear nothing else, not even a cricket.

My wife was getting scared by this dark calm and she took my son and started walking briskly through the Narrow Street. That’s when I really noticed them. A gang of dogs, running after my wife- like predators, like Hyenas. There was a shrill cry from my wife, as she started running, holding my son.

She couldn’t possibly outrun the dogs. Not with my son. And these dogs looked menacing. With their sharp teeth and claws, their strong jaws and leg muscles- they pulled down my running wife and started to maul her.

I took out my umbrella as I ran towards the dogs attacking my wife and hit the dog which was very nearly biting my wife’s neck. The dog backed away with a loud yelp. But the rest of the dogs surrounded us. They had totally encircled us- like a chakravyuha.

I was sweating profusely and my heart seemed to burn. I checked on my wife, she seemed ok, but she was bleeding near her neck- I couldn’t tell if the injury was serious. And my son was crying loudly- there was fear in his eyes. I looked around the chakravyuha of dogs- there seemed to be no escape. I knew I couldn’t fight them off. But I had to do something- my family was at stake here. What was up with these crazy dogs? Why were they attacking us?

I tried to calm down. I had to think. Think! I had been in much worse situations. When I had finally calmed down, I noticed a distant bullock cart- if we managed to climb that, the dogs couldn’t follow us and climb on top of that… Could they? The cart looked 3 feet high- the dogs couldn’t jump that high, could they? I wasn’t sure, but I had to do take this risk.

“It’s OK. Get up, dear, hold our boy, while I try to scare these dogs and slowly take our steps backwards towards that bullock cart, over there, can you see it? Ready?” I told her.

I had figured out how to scare these dogs. So far, I was using the umbrella as a stick, but now I was going to use the umbrella, as an umbrella. I positioned the umbrella between me and the dogs, and I opened it, with sweeping motion towards the dogs. The dogs were taken by surprise, instinctively took a step back.

We took this time for our advantage and briskly stepped back towards the bullock cart. Occasionally some dog would jump at me, but I thwarted the attack with the umbrella and soon the dogs began to understand this new weapon- a simple umbrella. They bit the fabric of the umbrella without getting scared, and soon the umbrella was losing out.

Meanwhile my wife and son managed to climb up the cart and dogs didn’t seem to notice them. They were busy taking down their new adversary- the umbrella. Once it was shred to pieces, I had to resort to a fist fight. I was good at it after all- all my previous practices on humans should work well with the dogs as well. I punched the dogs straight in their faces, and the dog would back down for a long time. But there were too many of these dogs- I couldn’t fight them for long. I had to take these dogs quite away from the bullock cart- away from my family.

“The necklace is in our boy’s pocket! I love you!” I shouted as I ran punching and kicking as many dogs I could.

I knew I couldn’t outrun. As I was finally pulled down and being bitten at the nose- I could see through my good eye- that my wife and son had taken this opportunity to run towards our home. They were going to be safe. They were going be alive. They, are my real life. They are my real dreams…

The mobile phone rang in my pocket… I wondered who it could’ve been. The landlord? His son? Dad? Then I realized- I could’ve used the phone!

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Comments
  1. home tutors says:

    hi i like the bog very much.

  2. Ravi Dev says:

    Good one buddy.. wrok a bit more on climax though. For some reason, it sort of lost the punch at the end. 🙂

    • surysingh says:

      Hi Ravi,
      Thanks 🙂 Ya, was just experimenting with using an anticlimax.. Some people like it and some don’t 🙂 Glad that u liked atleast most of it…

  3. Like the other stories of yours, this also focuses on rural poverty and feudalism. The narration is good. Why do you always resort to first person narration? Keep writing.

    • surysingh says:

      Hi Sanjay 🙂
      I also write a little of Romance, like When gabbar met Basanthi, The Love Letter, Home Work etc.

      It’s hard to explain why only First Person Narration is my choice: generally i tend to prefer First person for Short Stories.

      In this case i was experimenting with many ideas: The narrator of the Story is arguably unlovable for the most of the story- And when we use first person, and the audience doesn’t love the Narrator, then the story becomes tense- sometimes people may even stop reading. But if you provide the reader reasons, for why the Narrator does what he does, and give the reader enough straws to grip in the narrating, they may hang on and read– maybe even empathize with the narrator. This was a very risky story- an unlovable narrator, with nothing going right, no ray of hope, misery and angst, and even self loathing wrapped in ego- this stuff a reader doesn’t want to read, for say general entertainment and timepass- so i did a little fan service at the end with an anticlimax.

      Overall, i wanted to make the reader think, that not all crimes are same. Sometimes the motives behind a crime, even as blasphemous as Stealing from God, can really be excused, or at least empathized with. What the landlord’s son did, may seem righteous- has ended up destroying a man’s life. A very tough moral to reach, i guess… I had so many thoughts behind this story 🙂 And i hope it shows, without me having to tell explicitly 😀

  4. kranjini says:

    Hey, nice blog and real nice stories right from your heart.
    Keep writing 😉

    • surysingh says:

      Hi Ranjini,
      Thanks 🙂 There are more stories on the way… Can’t decide which ones to pen down first!

      Hope to keep seeing you here 🙂

  5. Trisha says:

    very well written and touching story. would have loved a happy ending but…

    • surysingh says:

      Hi Trisha,
      I love happy endings too. But sometimes, it’s not meant to be, and sometimes the end is totally unexpected, totally surprising…

  6. Sourav says:

    Loved the narration and the overall idea, was little shaken off by the end! Actually I am more of a ‘happy ending’ sort of person, when it comes to stories! Yeah, I am fed with Hindi movies, and that is the culprit! 😛

    First time on your blog, and I loved it! 🙂

    All the best for the contest Surendra, I managed to write something too for the contest, hope you like it 🙂

    Regards.

    • surysingh says:

      @Sourav,
      Thanks Sourav! Hope you like the other stories here (Most of them are happy endings, me too a Bollywood fan 😉 )
      And i’ll be visiting ur blog too… All the best 🙂

  7. vivek says:

    the whole idea behind ur story was commendable i agree, not all crime is heinous and more so in a country like ours, were ppl are driven by needs..
    i am amazed seeing the police beat the shit out of local n petty criminals while the ones who loot on the name of launder in broad-daylight roam free n run the nation..
    the narration was very fine, i liked it, but if u can convince me on the ending then surely its a stand-out post..
    best wishes for blogeshwar 3.0

    • surysingh says:

      @Vivek,
      Thanks! Well the ending seems to be the dampener for most readers commenting here, so let me just say that a lot of thought process actually went behind it, and many factors play, not only in man’s life, but in society as well, towards the end of a man. This story could’ve been easily made into a happy ending- the thief comes back after 9 years, rich and famous, and the whole town loves him. But in reality such scenarios are nothing short of miracles. Most of these people end up dying on the streets, like dogs, with nobody even bothering for them, nobody even standing up for them, (like the wife in the story).

      More often in life, there are no good or bad decisions- just decisions. The landlord’s son for example. What seemed like a righteous decision to expose the thief, in the beginning, proved to be the downfall of a man’s entire life. With the ending, gruesome and horrific as it is, it leaves a distinct putrid hatred against the story- which as i explained in my previous comment- is intended. Making the reader hate the story, not agree with the ending, is the motive- so that the reader reflect on it, later. Or apply this knowledge, on what he sees in real life…

      Let’s just say, if you don’t agree with the ending of the story, then you don’t agree with what’s happening out here in society. The most simple thing that we can do: the menace of stray dogs. This should be one of the universally agreeable problems- not everyone can afford vehicles in the night to reach their homes- and these dogs are dangerous. We keep reading how kids are mauled in the news. Now i am not telling that these dogs must be killed- but more humane approaches are there, and we are not doing them… And add to that a complex web of emotions, struggles and ambitions, a man can do without the dogs in the night… It becomes funny, and anticlimactic, if i put it this way…

      There are more thoughts behind the ending, but i just don’t think it’s good idea to explain 🙂 Let a mystery be a mystery… It’s unfortunate that this is the first story by me that u r reading 🙂 I usually write happy stories 😉 Try reading the stories like “When Gabbar Met Basanthi” or “How to Decide who to marry”… I’ve written a lot of stories with different hooks and plots.. I’m sure you’ll like them if u liked the narration in this one 🙂

      All the best!

  8. Math Tutor says:

    Wow! What a story. I cant wait to read more.

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