The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

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I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Two Visitors

The story is rather big. In a blog we are advised to post only those stories that are small and crisp so that people can finish reading them before they can even finish the contents in their coffee mugs. Still I chose this story from my book "The Remix of Orchid" just to afford some chance to my readers to browse what I wrote in that book. The story was written some 15 years ago, say on 20-06-1997 to be precise. It was a sweltering evening of Delhi summer and I was staying for the night at Dak Bhavan. I had then come there from Port Blair in some connection. Suddenly I had a feeling that there was something crying inside me to be expressed. There was nothing around, not even an exercise book. And somehow I arranged a bunch of thin typing papers. Oh yes, people used to type then and computers were not so familiar a scene then. And then....
 Two Visitors 
                        The morning dawned to announce the arrival of yet another ordinary day at Mallicks’. There was absolutely no reason why Mr Mallick should have treated the moment special. Not even a new toothbrush was there, crying out for its inaugural use. Personally, he would not remember if any fresh activities had been added to his routine in the recallable past. His unvarying timetable these days consisted of everything he could mechanically repeat—getting up late, mumbling his morning prayers in a jiffy, rushing to the bathroom, squeezing his morning exercises to make up for the late-rising, and so on. At this juncture, he had only one thing to bother. It was his business. Despite his fondness for lingering in bed, he had made a point of opening his shop at eight o’ clock sharp come what may. His home was too quiet a place to tarry at beyond that. Unless his bookkeeping workload necessitated occasional early morning homework, opening his shop thus constituted his first serious activity of the day. 
                        He was a clothier, a thriving small-timer in the retail line, and he dealt in various types of ready-made garments and fabrics. It was a business he understood like nobody could. For him, regularity was both the price and premium of his business and he was only too willing to pay that to remain in it. What it meant to become lax in business—Mr Mallick had learnt it the hard way. He would not like to give, once again, an impression to his trading circle and customers that he had lost interest in business. He did not want to relive the trauma of bankruptcy and slowdown.  
                        Mr Mallick had long since made up for the neglects that his venture suffered during its formative phase fifteen years ago. That was the time when misfortune struck him; his only son wandered off and got lost somewhere while he was travelling. The search that followed was intensive but fruitless. It could not have been any better, since the child was hardly two years old then and he could not have come back on his own from where he had gone adrift. The police did their best to keep their file open for years together, but had no good news to convey to the grieving parents. Offering handsome rewards in the press and on television to anybody who would trace the missing child did not work. But in the process Mr Mallick was himself lost in utter disorientation, and his business went from bad to worse each passing day. Stocks remained unsold and became obsolete; huge loss accrued month after month; credit schedule got defaulted. Like those proverbial rats deserting a sinking ship, all his employees abandoned him to his fate. It appeared as if his business had reached the dead end. But Mr Mallick showed great fortitude and slowly began to forget the mishap. He returned to his business to start it again with a sense of stoical resolve. And strange are the rules of business; it proved all the prognosis of the prophets of doom wrong one by one. Before late, Mr Mallick was back in the race once again. 
                        In the meantime, his wife Dina gave birth to another son. Hurrah! It was a godsend. The welcome twist in fortune of the family assuaged the feeling of loss that everybody carried so painfully for two long years. Mr Mallick settled down to his business with a purpose and since then he had not looked back. By now, time had almost blotted out the memory of his agonizing past. 
                        But today the arrival of two visitors at his door brought him an unexpected interruption. As he was rushing to his shop, he bumped into the strangers interested in something important. One of them was a middle-aged man, the same age as Mr Mallick’s, and the other a boy in his teens. They were unimpressive in their look, but eager in their pursuit. 
                        The meticulous trader was in two minds—whether to ignore them and advance or to probe whys and the wherefores from the strangers. Inexplicable curiosity got the better of him. He decided to halt, enquire, and then proceed. With an animated inquisitiveness, he called them and enquired.

‘Yes, may I help you? Seems you’re looking for somebody, aren’t you?’

‘Mallick Babu’s residence…. Er, that’s what we’re searching for,’ said the middle-aged man.

‘Well, you’re talking to Mallick. Tell me then what can I do for you?’

‘Nothing in particular for me, sir. Rather, I’ve come here to return something precious,’ said the man looking straight into the eyes of Mr Mallick. 
                        Now Mr Mallick started to feel the pangs of curiosity more intensely. What could be that precious thing in the possession of the stranger? A dirty looking stranger who did not even have a proper shave? Had he really lost something? In managing thingies he had already got proof of slips in his own memory. He went on checking those prone-to-loss items one by one. Was it his key ring? He searched his pocket. No, it was right there. What about his driving license? No, it should be inside his car. He looked at his index finger. His loose ruby ring that was found missing twice during the week and salvaged from unusual places like washbasin and bookshelf was also in its place. What else could it be? 
                        Finding him puzzled the stranger said, ‘Mallick Babu, it’s not one of those you’re guessing. Your most precious thing could only be your son. That’s what I want to give you back.’ 
                        Mr Mallick looked rather perplexed. The stranger had just said about some ‘thing’ in his possession; now he said about his son. His son Balu had already gone to school. He had been an early bird by habit because he needed to wake up in time to catch the school bus. Dina would not allow her son to skip his school even for a day. Then what could have happened to his son? Was it that he skipped his school for the day? Or was it that his son had started playing truant? No, a deviation like this could not have escaped Dina’s notice so easily. Was it by any stroke of bad luck again that his son had been kidnapped? 
                        ‘Son? My son? Why? He has gone to his school,’ exclaimed Mr Mallick. 
                        ‘No, Mallick Babu, here’s your son. Can’t you recognise him? Quite natural, quite natural. Anybody in your place would have the same difficulty. I know it’s a matter of fifteen years now, really ages have gone in the meantime since the day you lost him,’ said the middle-aged man enthusiastically. 
                        Finding the stranger confident and condescending, Mr Mallick could not help feeling a bit piqued. He even could not place his son just by one look at the face of the boy standing nearby since he could not summon anything striking about his face and features. It was a distant event that took away his son from him some fifteen long years ago while he and his family were travelling from Calcutta to Lucknow. The kid was only two then. The critical mind of the successful trader got the better of him. He looked at the boy standing beside the man—shabbily dressed, as if without a bath for several fortnights, his dishevelled hair grown tousled and sticky. He looked grossly anemic and hopelessly rustic. 
                        ‘Who are you? And where from have you brought this boy?’ asked Mr Mallick in one breath. 
                        ‘Please let me sit for a while, Mallick Babu, and then I’ll tell everything in detail,’ pleaded the middle-aged man. 
                        Mr Mallick had to comply with the small impertinence of the man and he had, as it were, no other go at that moment. Getting squeezed between his disbelief and inquisitiveness, he called the duo, led them to his drawing room, and offered them the chairs. On entering the room, the boy preferred to stand in one corner whereas the man did not accept the seat but sat on his haunches beside the centre table. Then he requested a glass of water. Quite reluctantly, Mr Mallick called out his servant and asked for a glass of water for the man. While the servant went inside, Mr Mallick again looked at the boy who was overwhelmingly gawping at the pictures on the wall. He felt like asking him some questions but then he just waited till the stranger finished his report. 
                        The servant came back with two glasses of water. While the boy did not even look at the tray, the middle-aged man took hold of both the glasses of water one by one and quickly drained their contents. Then he started to narrate. 
                        ‘I’m Ram Parvesh. I hail from Rangat in the Andamans. This is the boy we got from Howrah Railway Station many years back. Then we’re coming from our native village in Gaya and shifting our luggage from the railway platform to Khiddirpore dock. Our ship was to sail in the afternoon and the embarkation had already started. When we were so rushing against time, we ran into the boy, helpless and unattended. He was in tears and he came to my wife to take her sari-end in his tiny grip. She stood there, only to give comfort to the boy and watch if anybody was coming to take him. Our luggage was substantial and the whole process of its movement took a little over half an hour. But none came there in search of the child. So we thought it was our duty as humans to protect the kid; we felt pity and carried him along. We call him “Station” since he was picked up from a station. We’re poor people, Mallick Babu. Hence we couldn’t give him education beyond class five.’ 
                        Mr Mallick was listening to Ram Parvesh attentively. Each additional word the visitor uttered had its effect in creating more doubts than it could resolve. Seated in his front was a man, quite a strange man at that, who could not even remember the exact year in which he picked up the boy. Even if he got the boy in the manner he had just described, why did he not wait at the platform for a while to hand him over to his parents? At least one of them could have. In a matter of a few hours only, Mr Mallick had gone to the platform on realising that the boy was left somewhere in the railway platform. Why did the man not hand over the boy to the police when he himself was not in a position to take care of him? On the other hand he chose to take him along to such a distant place called Rangat in the Andamans? Having taken the boy along, what were the immediate circumstances that compelled him to return him after the lapse of fifteen long years? The man did not even explain as to how he came to know that Mr Mallick was his father. It appeared to him as if he was being led into another shrewd trick. Once in the past, a trickster had nearly succeeded in forcing a boy on him. It was his presence of mind that saved him then from being taken for a ride. Now he should perhaps do something drastic like that.  
                        He was just about to reach for the telephone to call the police when a twitch of hesitation crossed his mind. He thought he should consult his wife Dina before he took any step to drive the strangers away. 
                        Dina was a simple housewife nearing her forties. She had literally rebuilt the family from a state of ruin by her love and perseverance. Being simple was not her weakness and nobody could ever take her lightly. She was not sufficiently educated, but she knew them all that were expected of her. It was her understanding of the needs of everybody in the family that made her the queen of the household. The medicines for the old parents-in-law on time, a patient ear to all her husband had to say at the end of the tiring business day, the neat homework and spotless uniform of her school-going son, the need to assuage a servant in sulk—the lady had the responsibility towards all. She was always on the run, always sought after, and the whole household had no time to realise that. Old people in the neighbourhood used to contrast their own plight with the generous consideration shown to the elderly at Mallicks’, fellow businessmen envied Mr Mallick for a wife who never nagged, and the children of the neighbourhood demanded their parents to give them shoes that looked as shining as Balu’s. For the last eighteen years, Mr Mallick had seen his business stumble but not his wife Dina; she had not taken a short day’s off for a fever even.  
                        That her husband was lingering for almost half an hour in the drawing room without proceeding to his shop appeared something unusual to Dina. She came to know that Mallick was dealing with a stranger and decided to see that for herself. As she entered the drawing room, she was quick to guess the kind of problem her husband was beset with. He was clearly in a quandary. Under these circumstances she used to offer her judgment without waiting for explicit invitation to contribute. She had given plenty of intelligent solutions to the problems that bothered her husband in the past and her grateful husband had rewarded her every occasion she authored a beautiful decision. They were only token rewards—a pair of earrings sometimes or a necklace at some other, depending on the gravity of the problem she had tackled—yet she had proved her indispensability in the process. Now, having appreciated the state of mind of her husband, she went ahead joining the loose ends of the narration produced by the man called Ram Parvesh. This gave her a fair grasp of the issue. And she decided to take over.  
                        ‘How did you come to know our address?’ Dina asked in a firm but assuring voice. 
                        I came to know that all by chance. As if written onto the boy’s destiny, I happened to meet a man recently who gave me the clue I was looking for. Just listen to me how it all happened,’ Ram Parvesh made himself further comfortable on his seating place by a slight twist of his body, clicked his knuckles one by one, and started to narrate his version. All through, his narratives manifested an easy flow that had nothing pre-preparedness about it. 
                        All that he told was complicated but thanks to his natural style of delivery it was not finally difficult to follow the contents. A fellow from Purulia district had very recently come to Rangat to work in a timber factory there. Ram Parvesh used to run a tea stall near it. The other day while talking to his fellow worker, the new customer at his shop revealed that he hailed from a place called Jaypur in Purulia district. Ram Parvesh was quick to capture the lead, as the name ‘Jaypur’ was such a nebulous one that had eluded him for years. By this name alone one could not have made a guess about the location of the place, as India is replete with ‘Jaypurs’ like ‘Rampurs’ or ‘Mahatma Gandhi Roads’ or ‘Srikrishna Nagars’. However, he asked his customer if there was a tailor shop called Tuhin Tailors at his place. The gentleman affirmed it promptly and wanted to know if by any chance Ram Parvesh also hailed from Jaypur. The latter replied him in negative but revealed to him that a few years ago they got a boy-child, aged about two years, from Howrah Station. He could not trace his parents and brought him along. The boy, while he was so picked up from the station, was wearing a red and black striped shirt tailored by one Tuhin Tailors, Jaypur. Then Ram Parvesh asked him if he had any knowledge about the loss of a child of the age group. His new customer and the inhabitant of Jaypur tried and tried, and it was only after a lot of efforts he could recollect. Then he handed down this address to Ram Parvesh to try. 
                        ‘That is how,’ Ram Parvesh went on to conclude his long account, ‘I’m finally lucky to meet you, Mallick Babu.’ 
                        There was an uncomfortable calm. The confused couple wanted to listen to more from the stranger, but they had reached a juncture where more they heard more they disbelieved. And more they disbelieved more they wanted to listen to from the stranger. But Ram Parvesh, on the other hand, was eager to know if his entire effort coming all this way to Jaypur were well channelled. He desperately wanted to be assured that he had reached the right spot. 
                        “Isn’t the name of your shop Mohan Textiles, Maaji?’ Ram Parvesh’s question echoed an eagerness that apparently had no effort to hide anything behind. 
                        Dina was quite lost how to react to a counter-question like this. She perforce agreed with Ram Parvesh. Her curiosity surfaced in the shape of another probing question. 
                        ‘Right then, Ram Parveshji, tell me why didn’t you immediately hand over the boy to the police for finding out his parents?’ 
                        By this time Ram Parvesh had managed to tide over whatever inhibition he was left with, thanks to the perceived warmth in the tone of the lady of the house. He explained, ‘As I told Maaji, we were in a hurry. We had to embark our ship. We weren’t interested in running into the hassles of police scrutiny. On the other hand, we couldn’t manage to be so cruel as to leave a helpless child to the mercy of the apathetic crowd of the platform. Before we were able to take a decision, the boy had already started accompanying us. There was hardly any choice before us.’ 
                        The dialogue was progressing under a highly charged atmosphere. The couple were looking at each other’s face in utter astonishment while Ram Parvesh was answering all the queries effortlessly.  
                        Dina looked at the boy, Station. She was in two minds whether to go across to the boy and make her motherly overtures. But then she was a mother, after all; and like all mothers she knew the difference between her own son and a son of someone else’s. How would she embrace a child presented by a stranger just like that? For her, a son is a son if and only if groomed well, like Balu for instance. And about Station? No, her son could not be of this look and with this get-up.  
                        At that crucial juncture, Mohit and Mohan, the two brothers of Dina arrived on the scene. In a matter of minutes, they were able to familiarise themselves with the topic-under-deliberation. It was a case of an imposter trying to force a child into a quiet household for some long-term trickery—as simple as that! The brothers were also reminded of the drama that took place at their sister’s a couple of years ago when an astrologer nearly succeeded in thrusting a teenager criminal on the family. 
                        Mohit and Mohan took it upon themselves to help the couple in trouble unearthing the truth. Presently, they joined them in the session of interrogation that was under way. Their mind prejudiced, the context filled them with anger. They visualised the extent of agony an imposter was capable of bringing to the family. The brothers unhesitatingly made public their impression of the stranger as well as their quick prescription to solve the problem—they just advised rejecting the version of the imposter as a cock and bull story. Himself a policeman by profession, Mohit went a step ahead. He was readying himself to deliver a few hard slaps on Ram Parvesh’s face to extract the truth. But Mohan, a person of relatively cooler temperament, would not like to hurt an old man in the stranger. Between them the brothers went on arguing if such a harsh treatment was really warranted. 
                        Station, the boy who accompanied Ram Parvesh was extremely fatigued and hungry after a long sea voyage. He was not properly fed during the journey as they fell short of money. After getting down at Calcutta port they managed to reach this place taking the first available train. In the process they had hardly had their lunch or dinner the previous day. The boy started wondering as to what kind of family he was going to be introduced into where minimum courtesy of offering a cup of tea to a guest was so casually forgotten! The tea stall he was working in with his Papa Ram Parvesh was more respectable a place to earn a living and spend time. Had the police not wanted him for his mischief, he would not have come all this way to the mainland as a fugitive. He was merely in bad company and filched a shop in the town to pay for their cricketing equipment. While his friends managed to escape, Station was caught red-handed by the private guard on beat. Before the police could reach the venue, Station managed to escape. 
                        Station thought he should not have feared the police so much. He should not have agreed to his foster-father’s suggestion for a trip to the mainland in the first place. He had nothing to do with his original parents. He knew his father as he knew himself; even so, he could not explain why the old man was so terribly afraid of retaining him. What was the big sin in it and what big difference would it have made to him just to allow a teenager to continue living with him? Ever since the old man collected some information about his original parent’s whereabouts, he had been making suggestions that Station should go over to the mainland and search his original family. But Station had spurned them like he would have rejected a suggestion for wearing the woollens in a hot summer day. But soon the fear of police was to convince him that he should run away. Run away—where? He did not know it could be so difficult! So harrowing! 
                        Suddenly Mohit raised the pitch of his voice and disclosed his identity as the police officer of the area. He summoned both of them to the police station to give statements. Hearing this Ram Parvesh lost his calm and fumbled. Temporary incontinence seized him and he had a tinkle on his cloth. More than Ram Parvesh, Station, the little fugitive from the mid-sea country, felt panicky. He had come all this way from the Andamans more to escape the police torture than to get back his lost parents. It appeared he was pushed into an asylum of the lunatics to hide himself from the world of unsympathetic sane. 
                        Observing Ram Parvesh helplessly fumbling for words, Mohit slapped him and stood up in no moments to whisk him away to the police station. For once, Dina, the lady in command, could not decide about the best way to react; she could not stop her brother discharging his duty as a policeman. Mr Mallick could not decide as to which side he should support. In the other corner Station could sense the impending trouble. He could no longer wait for the inevitable to happen. He just fled away from the scene quickly and very surreptitiously. 
                        And then he reached at the jetty at Khidirpore dock after a day’s train dash. There he happened to meet a known face at the gate at the time of embarkation and managed an entry into the ship without a valid entry ticket. After completing a journey spanning over four days and three nights and in semi-starved condition, Station reached Port Blair and heaved a sigh of relief. Next day he took a bus straight to Rangat requesting a free trip and, without any loss of time, went to the police station to surrender himself to the police. He was taken to custody and lodged in jail as none came forward to apply for a bail on his behalf. At Jaypur poor Ram Parvesh failed to satisfy the hair-splitting interrogation of the police. Mohit, now very happy to see that his intelligent suspicion saved his sister from a sure robbery, saw to it that the imposter was put behind bars pending his trials in the court of law. The newspapers of the locality reported religiously what the police told them. 
                        Mr Mallick and his perplexed wife went on believing and discarding the episode alternatively. When Mohit was around, he used to convince them that they were saved from a serious fraud owing to his timely intervention. When Mohit was gone, the couple used to relapse into their usual mental hide-and-seek between believing the whole story and rejecting it. At one point of time they would reach a point that compelled them to believe retrospectively all the narrations of the stranger, as he was forthright, convincing and simply a kind old soul. Next moment they would see the credibility of the version evaporating before their eyes owing to the remoteness of the incident. They had neither the patience nor the clue to further investigate the matter on their own. True, they knew there was a method called DNA testing which people in doubt apply, but the most awkward question was: who did want that in reality? More than anything else, they were probably unable to accept the boy that stood in contrast to Balu, the well-groomed son of theirs. 
                        Station and Ram Pravesh languished behind bars one thousand and five hundred kilometers apart on either side of the Bay of Bengal.
A N Nanda



Blogger A_N_Nanda said...

Thanks Amit.

5:39 AM  
Blogger NS said...

Dear Sir,
The story “ Two Visitors ” tells a fact that “ Truth alone Triumphs ” is not true. Truth become a fact when evidences are there. Otherwise nobody will care about the truth even it relates to him. I think it is the morale of this story. The fate of STATION is so pity and his role is tear creating one. Thanks for the nice story sir
----- N.Subramanian Tirupur

9:11 PM  
Blogger A_N_Nanda said...

Thanks NS. After I wrote it some readers gave me the feedback that the pathos of R. N. Tagore's "Little Master Returns" is also felt in this story. And before I published my book I'd given this particular story to my professor to read. The old man was happy to find some "spark" in this. The professor did not expand his comment but I knew he had liked it. In any case this one happens to be the first-ever short story I wrote in English way back in June 1997.

11:10 AM  
Blogger A_N_Nanda said...

As for the browser compatibility, may I advise you to try firefox?

12:15 PM  

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