“Mom,did you see this?”,Anu held out a postcard and asked Sharadha,“Third postcard of the month.”
Sharadha read the postcard and gave it back to Anu.
“Why is Dad doing this?Can’t he just say no this?”,Anu was furious and threw the postcard in the dustbin.
Anu can’t remember precisely when she started noticing postcards in the mail box.It is during the X-Mas – New Year weeks that she opens the mail box daily.Seeing a bunch of greeting cards in the mailbox is a great joy.Though all of them are addressed to her Dad,she had the freedom to open the greeting cards.Most of the cards will be from his old/current students ,old/current colleagues and old patients.Every card will have a thanking note with a lot of emotion.
Dr.Balan — Everybody in Calicut knows him.Her teachers;friends;friends’ parents;everybody in Calicut knew him.She was ignorant of her Dad’s popularity until two years back.She was in Class Five and her class teacher talked high about her Dad in the class.She blinked through out the talk and wondered why Teacher was talking about him.Towards the end she understood that an article about her Dad has come in The Hindu newspaper.That day,after reaching home she examined the newspaper and found the article.It read …”though hailed from a very poor family…”poverty was his”…”the struggles which “…She stopped reading it and went her room.She thought,“Sheesh!How will I look at my friends?Now everybody knows that my Father is from a poor family”.That day though she heard that the telephone rang with wishes throughout the day,she didn’t feel happy. “I hate his family.”,She said to herself while going to the bed.
She pondered and found out some interesting facts.The contrast between Dad’s family and Mom’s family is very obvious.Mom’s house is big,her parents are fair and good-looking,her parents wear good clothes,her house is clean,her parents talk English and her Dad has a car.Dad’s house is small,his house is not painted,his parents are dark and wrinkled, his Mom wears a veshti,his house is always dusty,his Mom talks Malayalam and his house doesn’t have a car.
Summer vacations are boring. Anu changed the TV channel one by one and then went downstairs to look out of Mom.During lunch,she asked Mom,“Can’t you tell Dad to stop responding to these postcards?People are taking advantage of him.My wife is not well;my daughter is getting married;my son wants to go to Dubai;my niece wants to go to college;What the hell!Can’t people stop doing things if they don’t have money?And Dad is like a World Bank,sending money orders to every bloody beggar.”
“He will not listen to me.”
“Can’t we tell Appoopa* to tell Dad?”
“That’s not going to work.”
“Somebody has come at the gate.”
By seeing the attire,Anu guessed that the person is from Dad’s Family.His dhothi is not washed properly,his feet are dirty,his nails are dirty,his shirt is soaked in sweat and his bag looked like a sack.Her face showed the dislikeness.She opened the gate for him.He smiled at her and extended his right arm to touch her face.She avoided the touch and walked into the house.
“Sharadha,recognized me?”,he smiled warmly.
Sharadha hid the confusion behind her face and greeted him.Anu glared at Mom for being very polite to him.
“We had met during Smitha’s wedding”,the old man sat on the plush couch and continued,”I am Sekharan — Smitha’s Uncle’s Brother-in-law.”
Sharadha faintly smiled and said,“Please sit.I will take the lunch.”
Anu trailed Sharadha to the kicthen and whispered,“For money and free lunch.Morons.”
“Sshh! be quiet.Otherwise Dad’s name will be spoiled.”
“He is not even a direct relative.Then why are you treating him nicely?”
“Sshh,he is Dad’s relative.Now go and give this tumbler of water to him.”
Anu faked her smile and gave him the water.
“Please come for lunch”,Mom’s voice echoed from the kitchen.
All three of them sat across the table and while eating he told them,“My son wants an admission in Calicut Medical College.”
“He doesn’t recommend anybody.Hope you know it.”,Anu told bluntly.
“Oh no!not for recommendation.In fact,my son is a very brilliant student.He has got admission too.But we don’t have enough money to make the first payment.So if you could tell Doctor about this,it would be a big help.”
“If you don’t have money,then don’t send him to college.”
“Anu!”,Sharadha yelled.Anu stopped eating and stormed into her room.
“Sorry,she is a kid.She hasn’t seen or heard any of these.Please don’t misunderstand.”,Sharadha was embarrassed.
“No problem.”,he smiled sheepishly.
That night Balan talked a lot with the Sekharan and came late to the bed.
“Don’t you think you are overdoing this?”,Sharadha asked
“When Anu tells me this,I understand because she doesn’t know poverty.Don’t you know everything?”
“But now things have changed.My Dad agreed to the wedding because he had that talent to forecast things.He knew that you will become a rich doctor down the lane.”
“Let’s not talk about this.”,Balan covered himself with the quilt.
Sunlight hit his face through the holes of the bed sheet.Smoke and Amma’s cough ceaselessly came from the kitchen. Balan removed the bed sheet and sat on the mat.He looked at the calendar and sighed.A day more for 31st May.He went to the kitchen and sat on the stool and yawned.He drank the black tea without brushing the teeth.
“Amma,did you ask him?”
She simply looked at Balan and said nothing.He understood the answer,so went outside.He sat on the steps to the kitchen and chewed the neem leaves.
Before leaving to the mill,Amma told Balan,“Don’t be sad.There will be a way.How much money do you need?”
“One rupee and 50 paisa.”
“Ouch! From where will I get this much money?Did you check well in the application how much the fee is?’
“Phew!Let me ask Marar’s wife.But already we owe her some money.”
“Don’t worry Amma.You don’t ask.I am not sad.Also,like Uncle told me I should not dream high.”
“But,you have the marks to study to become doctor right?”
Balan said nothing.
He walked to Ali’s house and whistled.Ali’s sister looked out of the kitchen and called out for Ali.Though Ali is elder to Balan and has stopped school in class five,Ali has a big respect towards Balan’s ability to study well.
“Ali,will you be having One rupee?”,Balan asked with lots of hope,“I will return once Amma gets money from Marar.”
“Ayyo,sister’s nikah is finalized.I can’t spend anything now.By the way,what for?”
“I want it for the college application.”
“Allah! Let me also check with someone.I don’t think anybody will have it.All the money would have gone for the treatment of cholera.Don’t worry,I will see.”
Balan understood that Ali is helpless.Until six in the evening,Balan went to the houses of Vasu,Rajan and Koya. Vasu has gone to his Uncle’s house,Rajan has gone with his Father in the lorry and Koya has gone to Malappuram.When he came back home,Amma was already back from the mill. Amma asked nothing and Balan said nothing.Both Mother and son have been very understanding after his Father’s death.Balan regretted for not going to Ravi’s house;his uncle has come from Dubai.
Next day Balan woke up early and went to Ravi’s house.Ravi came outside his house and both walked up to the well.
“It will be very difficult”,Ravi said apologetically,“already he is in a very bad mood as there was an argument with my Mother over the partition of house.”
“I simply asked”,Balan tried his best not to show the tension and disappointment.
“Don’t tell lies.Your face tells everything.”
Balan walked back to home.He decided to join the local college.While walking back,he checked at the mill where his Amma is working.He felt that she is happy about his decision.He crossed the brick-kiln and there was a huge man in white shirt and white dhothi standing in the middle of the road holding an umbrella.He was slightly bald and his eyes were red.His thick mustache shivered when he talked.The man looked at Balan and asked,“Is this the brick-kiln of Beeran?”.Balan said yes.Balan explained about Beeran’s untimely demise and the orphaned brick-kiln.
“Why are you looking sad?Any problem?”
Balan stood in confusion whether to tell the man the reason.Out of desperation and disappointment,Balan burst into tears.
“How much do you need?”,the man asked in his arrogant voice.
“One rupee and fifty paisa”
“Here is Two Rupees.Go,give the application.”
Balan was reluctant and happy at the same time.
“Don’t worry.I will be here around for some days.You can help me with the accounts.”
Balan took the money and ran to the application office.While coming back,he searched for the man near and around the brick-kiln,but couldn’t find him.
“Amma,I will do anything for that man.Che!I didn’t even ask his name or where he is staying?”
“Don’t worry,tomorrow morning go to the kiln early.Work as hard and sincere as you can.May God bless him.”
Next day Balan went to the kiln and there was nobody.He went to the nearby house and enquired about the man but nobody knew about him.He went to Beeran’s house and asked about the man but Beeran’s wife didn’t even had the clue that somebody was interested in their deserted brick kiln.Balan went to the tea shop and asked everybody there.Nobody has seen him.Nobody knows about him.Nobody has heard about him.
Balan woke up in the middle of the night and went to the kitchen.He opened the fridge and took a bottle of beer.When he opened the balcony door,warm wind blew on to his face.
“Why is my wife not understanding my conscience?”,He asked himself,“That day,that too on the last day of the application how did I get the money?How come,in that entire village,only I met that man?”
In the morning,Balan gave the money to Sekharan and told him,“Tell your son to meet me when he joins the college.” Sekharan smiled and blessed and walked out of the house.
“Dad,these people will smile now because they are getting free money.”,Anu’s voice echoed her anger.
Balan looked at Anu and smiled and said nothing.
*Appoopa - Maternal Grand Father