"Lata can you come here for a minute?" Mr.V.K.Satyan called from his room.
"Wait 'Appa'. I can't come now. I am preparing Nitya's breakfast," Lata replied.
Nitya looked at her mother. She looked irritated. After Nitya finished her breakfast she went to her room to change into her school dress. Five minutes later as she was wearing her shoes she heard voices coming from her grandfather's room."
"Lata, I need 250 rupees."
"But 'Appa' you had taken 500 last week."
"Yes, I know, but what can I do? You know how costly my medicines are. Moreover the Doctor has asked me to take fruits regularly. The oil I use for massage is over and I also have to pay Ranga the fellow who gives the massage."
"I really don't know how we are going to manage. At this rate I'll have to dismiss the maidservant and do all the housework on my own."
Just then Nitya heard the tinkle of the rickshaw's bell and rushed outside. Later on the way to school she kept thinking about the conversation which she had overheard. She hadn't liked the way her mother had talked to her 'Thaatha'.
* * *
Mr. Satyan looked at the calendar. It was 4th of August. His son Vaasu would be coming back from tour on 6th. Vaasu was a Medical Representative in a pharmaceutical company. He was usually away on tour for most part of the month.
Nine months ago Mr.Satyan had been a contented man. He had retired as a Lecturer from a private Degree college three years ago. He had spent the money he had received from his gratuity and provident fund on his two children. More than half the amount had gone for his daughter Chitra's marriage. With the rest of the money Mr. Satyan had brought a scooter for Vaasu and a colour TV for the house. He still remembered how thrilled Nitya had been when the colour TV had arrived.
Three months after his retirement Lata had suggested,"'Appa' you were such a good mathematics teacher, why don't you start taking tuitions? Poor kids, they have to suffer a lot because of the lack of quality education - specially in maths and science. In the schools and colleges most teachers either don't have any interest in teaching or they lack the capability to teach. As a result coaching classes have sprung all over. These private tutorials have been reduced to money making ventures and the students are being exploited. If you take up teaching you will be doing a service to society."
"But where do I take the classes?"
"In this house. We can convert the verandah to a classroom. We'll buy some stools and a blackboard."
"How do we contact the students?"
"I'll take care of all that. I'll spread the word around. When they hear that you are taking classes they will come in droves. Enrolling the students, collecting the fees and other such arrangements you leave to me. You just get ready to start teaching. Appa', this will also do you a lot of good. I had read somewhere that if a person who has led a busy life stops all activity after retirement, than he ages very fast. Teaching will help you keep mentally and to a certain extent even physically fit."
"I think what you are saying is quite true Lata. But there is one thing I want to tell you. Teaching is a noble profession. I can never treat it as a business. Whatever knowledge I have is for sharing not for selling. Make sure that the tuition fee is reasonable."
"Ofcourse 'Appa'. I will find out the market rate and keep the our fee much below that rate."
A week later the classes began. A small board was hung on the wall beside the door which proclaimed -'Satyan Coaching Classes.'In the beginning only ten students enrolled but as Mr.Satyan's fame spread, soon, the number increased to twenty and after a few weeks to thirty.
Six months later Lata managed to get a hall in a nearby club on rent. She persuaded Mr.Satyan to take classes in the hall. Soon he was teaching two batches of forty students each in the morning and one batch of sixty student in the evening. While Mr.Satyan concentrated on teaching, Lata sorted out all other details like collection of fees, arrangements of stationery etc.
Mr.Satyan was quite happy with his new assignment. He had always been very fond of teaching and he was enjoying interacting with the inquisitive and bright young minds.
Vaasu used to be away from home most of the time but Lata was very attentive. She would cater to all his needs. She was a great cook and would make the choicest dishes for him. She had engaged a maidservant and she now had enough time to attend to both the grandfather and granddaughter.
Things were going very smoothly when suddenly one day tragedy struck. Mr.Satyan had got up in the middle of the night to drink water when he felt a searing pain rock his body. He took a couple of steps and then fell down unconscious.
Vaasu was luckily home and rushed him to the hospital. He was shifted immediately to the ICU. Three hours later the Doctor spoke to Vaasu.
"Mr.Satyan has suffered a paralytic stroke. The left side of his body is paralysed.
"Will he able to move around?" asked Lata.
"No, Madam. His left hand and leg are paralysed. Even his ability to speak will be affected."
"Doctor is there no cure?" asked Vaasu.
"His condition can improve. What he needs is lots of exercise, regular massage, proper diet and above all will power. I can recommend a very good Orthopedic doctor who can examine him and suggest a suitable treatment. "
Mr.Satyan was discharged ten days later. Vaasu took him to Dr. R.S. Rajan, the Orthopedic Doctor, the next day. The Doctor asked Mr.Satyan to come to him for atleast a week to learn the exercises. After which he could do them at home.
Vaasu had to go on tour and the responsibility was on Lata to take her father in law to the clinic. Since he could not travel by bus they had to take an auto. For the first couple of days Lata didn't utter a word. Then she asked Dr.Rajan,"Is there any chance of him becoming normal?"
"What do you mean by normal?"
"I mean prior to his stroke he used to be very active. He was conducting coaching classes twice every day. He used to be on his feet for almost four hours a day. "
"That is quite impossible. It will need a miracle. With proper exercise, diet and massage he will be able to walk with a limp and almost regain his power of normal speech and the use of his left hand. But he will never be able to take that kind of strain ever again. In fact you should not allow him to exert. In his condition any exertion can prove fatal."
After that day Lata's behavior started changing. She began grumbling about the Doctor's fees, the auto charges, the cost of the medicine etc.
After ten trips to the Orthopedic Clinic Dr.Rajan told Mr.Satyan,"I think you can now try the exercises at home. To help you out I'll send my assistant Pillai till you are able to do the exercises on your own."
Mr.Satyan found that even with the help of Pillai he was finding it very difficult to do the exercises. As a result he had no choice but to ask Pillai to continue helping him much longer than he had earlier thought. Pillai's visits added to the expenditure. Whatever little savings Mr.Satyan had were already exhausted. Now for even a rupee he had to depend on Lata. And she invariable grumbled. Mr.Satyan could have told Vaasu but he didn't want to create any problems between the husband and wife. He kept quiet and suffered in silence.
* * *
Nitya was very fond of her 'Thaatha'. Before his illness he would take her to the park everyday. While she played he would sit on the nearby bench and chat with his friend - Mr.Chalam who lived close by. He would keep buying chocolates, new dresses and lots of gifts for her. The first time when she won the first prize in the fancy dress competition he had brought her a brand new cycle, just like the one they showed on TV. He also used to tell her funny stories and make her laugh. But after his illness he had changed. Now he would lie down on his bed and keep staring at the ceiling.
She remembered when he had come home from the hospital she had been shocked to see him. He could not walk. 'Appa' and his friend had carried him. One side of his face was also twisted and he could hardly speak. Now ofcourse he was better. He was able to walk slowly with the help of a walking stick. His speech however wasn't very clear. She sometimes had to strain herself to understand what he was saying.
Nitya was upset over her mother's behaviour. Earlier, she used to take such good care of 'Thaatha'. When 'Thaatha' used to sleep in the afternoon her mother used to make sure there was no disturbance. Nitya was prohibited from even entering the room. When 'Thaatha' used to complain of even a minor headache 'Amma' would rush to the doctor and get the medicine. When Nitya wanted to eat anything special she would tell 'Thaatha' to ask, She knew if she asked 'Amma' would never agree. 'Thaatha' would call her and tell, "Lata can you make 'Upma' today? It is quite some time since I've tasted 'Upma'."
And within an hour hot steamy 'Upma' would be served. Nitya would share from 'Thaatha' plate and lick her fingers clean.
But now 'Amma' never bothered about 'Thaatha'. Whenever he asked for something she would only grumble. Nitya was puzzled by this change in behavior. One day she asked 'Thaatha'. He didn't say a word. He gently pulled her close and hugged her. When she looked up there were tears in his eyes.
* * *
"'Amma', Rocky is vomiting in the garden. Nitya told her mother. Rocky was their pet dog. Ever since she could remember Rocky had lived with them. He was a street dog but was very good looking and ferocious. Nitya was very fond of Rocky. He slept under her bed every day. And in the afternoon when she came home from school he would run to the Rickshaw barking wildly and waving his tail in greeting. He was also very protective. Once when one of her friends, Sridhar had given her a friendly whack on the back Rocky had immediately jumped up and caught hold of his hand. Poor Sridhar had almost fainted with fright.
"Amma what are you waiting for? Please go and see. I think Rocky is sick."
"I'll go and have a look when I have the time child. Don't bother me now."
That evening Nitya heard Amma telling the Rickshaw puller, "Mohan take Rocky and leave him somewhere. Make sure that he doesn't come back." She handed him a twenty rupee note.
"I'll take Rocky in my rickshaw after dropping Nitya home from school tomorrow."
Nitya was shocked. After Mohan left Nitya confronted her mother.
"Amma what is this? Why are you driving Rocky away? You know I love him so much."
"He is sick child."
"Then take him to a doctor."
"Don't be silly. For an old and useless dog you want me to spend 100-200 rupees. If you want we'll get another dog. I'll ask Mohan to look for a small pup."
* * *
The whole night Nitya couldn't sleep. She kept having nightmares. Mohan was taking her grandfather in his rickshaw. His hands and legs were tied and she was running after the rickshaw crying....
Next morning she woke early and went to her mother's room. The maidservant Radha hadn't yet come and Amma was sweeping the floor.
"'Amma', I want to ask you something."
"Yes? 'Amma' looked up slightly surprised at the seriousness in Nitya's tone."
"'Amma', yesterday you were telling Mohan to take Rocky away because he has become old and useless. Are you also planning to send 'Thaatha' away because he has become sick and useless? And like you were planning to get a new dog for me are you also planning to get me a new grandfather?" Nitya turned back and ran to her room tears streaming down her face.
* * *
That afternoon when Nitya returned from school she found an auto waiting in front of her gate. Her Thaatha and Rocky were inside and Amma was just getting in. Seeing Nitya Amma walked towards her.
"Nitya, 'Thaatha' was complaining of chest pain I am taking him to Doctor Rajan and Rocky to the Vet. Your tiffin is on the table. Tell Radha to warm it and serve. She then bend down and whispered in her ear," Nitya your little speech this morning jolted me. I have apologised to 'Thaatha' I hope he will forgive me." She got into the auto and as it started 'Thaatha' poked his head out and waved to Nitya.
She ran forward and put her arms around him.
"Thanks Nitya," he said and as she kissed him she found his cheeks wet with tears.
(A father pays a very high price for his corrupt ways)
"Baba, why did you hit Raju so hard? He is still crying. He has not even touched his food." Baba had been reading his favorite book - Bapu's 'My Experiments with Truth'. He looked much older than his age. He was 52, but his white hair, the wrinkled, slightly wizened face made him look closer to seventy.
Baba placed the book on the table and looked up, a hint of a frown creasing his heavily lined forehead. Seven year old Pinky was standing with her hands on her hips and a pout on her chubby, pretty face. Behind her were Vijay and Saira. Baba smiled and pulling Pinky close he lifted her and placed her on his lap.
"My, my! My Choti Ma is angry with me." Baba always called Pinky his Choti Ma or Little Mother. Among all his children she was his favorite.
"Yes, I am very angry with you. You shouldn't have hit him so hard. His face is still red."
"I know Pinky. I never should have hit him. But I really couldn't help it. I caught him stealing money from my almirah. If he wanted anything he could have asked me. Why did he have to steal? All of you know how much I hate any sort of dishonesty."
"But, Baba, we have never seen you so angry.....," Vijay said.
"There is a reason behind this, son. Come sit down and let me tell you a story."
Saira and Vijay sat beside him and Baba began his story in his soft gentle voice.
Mini came to the balcony and looked all around. There was still no sign of Papa. It was nine and he had promised he would be home by seven. Today was her seventh birthday and she had invited all her friends. She was to have cut the cake at seven thirty. Half an hour back her mother had asked her not to wait any longer.
"But mummy how can I cut the cake without Papa? I will wait for him. He promised he will come."
Mini went in and sat down in a corner glumly. She decided that she would never ever talk to Papa. He had no business being late on her birthday. Her entire party had been spoilt because of him. She would never forgive him.
"Mini, Mini darling! Where are you?"
She jumped up. It was her Papa's voice. She looked around. He was standing at the door, holding his ears in a gesture of apology. Inspite of herself she couldn't help laughing. She ran to him. He picked her up and hurled her in the air.
"I know my little princess is angry with Papa. But what could poor Papa do? He had to get his da’ling daughter a gift which would suit her royal taste."
"What have you brought for me Papa? Show me," Mini said looking all around trying to spot her present.
"First you give me a pappi and then close your eyes."
Mini kissed her father and he put her down.
"Now open your lovely eyes, sweetheart."
Mini opened her eyes and shrieked with delight. Right in front of her was a beautiful bicycle - bright pink with yellow and green bands.
"Ooh Papa! It’s lovely." Mini exclaimed hugging her Papa.
Mini's father Ajit Ray was an Electrical Inspector in the State Government. That night when Mini had gone to bed his wife Urmila asked him. "How much did the cycle cost?"
"Why? Didn't you like it?"
"I liked it. But that doesn't answer my question. I want to know what it cost."
"1600! Ajit, why do you have to get such a costly gift for her?"
"What do you mean why? She is my only daughter and I love her. That's why. I don't know what's your problem?"
"My problem is that I am still unable to understand how an Electrical Inspector working in the State Government can afford such costly gifts for his daughter even if she is the only one. Just last week you brought three dresses for her each costing more than Rs 500."
"What are you getting at?"
"Ajit are you sure what you are doing is right?"
"What do you mean?" Ajit demanded.
"I suspect...rather I know that you are accepting favors you shouldn't be. Even in your department this kind of talk is going on."
"How do you know?"
"In the last picnic I overheard Mrs. Pushpa Sinha and Mrs. Susan Abraham talking. And moreover Ajit can I not make out? Just see our lifestyle. No one with your kind of income can afford to live like us."
"But Urmila I don't go asking people for favors. If they on their own want to give something why should I refuse. You know the Hindi proverb: 'When Goddess Lakhsmi knocks on your door you should never refuse her entry'."
"Come on Ajit, do you think these people who are bestowing favors are doing so because they are fond of you. They are doing it either because they expect something in return or because you have gone out of the way to oblige them."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Do you want me to spell it out? You are an Electrical Inspector. It is your duty to check the electrical safety aspects as well as the potential fire hazards like transformers and generators located in the cinema halls. You grant the theatres electrical and fire safety certificates. If the theatre owners are doing everything as per the norms why should they pay you? They are giving you money so that you quietly give them the necessary certificate without asking too many questions or creating any problems."
Ajit slowly clapped his hands in mock applause.
"Terrific Urmila. I must say you have a great imagination. Even if all this is true so what? In today's world if one has to get ahead one has to be practical. Or else he will suffer like my father did. As you know he was in the Income Tax Department. He could have made a lot of money. Instead he chose to be honest. And look what this honesty gave him? Nothing. He died almost a pauper. My mother was suffering from an heart ailment. By the time he could scrounge together enough money for her to go in for a heart transplant she suffered a stroke and expired. I don't want to suffer like my father. Nor can I subject you and Mini to the kind of torture we suffered because of lack of money. I want all of us to lead a comfortable life. And for this if I have to compromise a little bit, what's wrong? Everyone does it. So why shouldn't I?"
Urmila remained silent. She knew there was no point in arguing with Ajit. He was very stubborn. He would do exactly as he pleased.
Ajit was sitting in his office sipping coffee when his peon burst in.
"Saab, did you hear. There was a fire in 'Upkaar' theatre. More than fifty people are dead. The number may go up since many are still trapped inside."
Ajit's heart missed a beat. Just a month ago he had renewed the theatre's safety certificate. There had been a few irregularities which he had overlooked. After all Sanjay Mittal, the owner of Upkaar, was a good friend. The day after the certificate was given Mittal had taken him out to dinner in a five star hotel and had also given him a gift wrapped box. On reaching home and opening it Ajit was pleasantly surprised to find 20,000 rupees stacked in neat bundles in the box.
He now realized, his heart sinking, that if the cause of the fire turned out to be lack of electrical or fire safety then he would be in trouble.
Just then the phone rang.
"Hello, Ajit... I ...you know...fire.." It was Urmila. She was blabbering something which he couldn't understand.
"What's it Urmila?"
"Upkaar...Upkaar theatre has caught fire and .."
"I know, don't worry. Let me first find out the cause. It may be a short circuit or something. I may not be involved at all and -"
"Listen Ajit," she screamed interrupting him. "Mini... she...she has gone with Amita and Jolly to see a movie in Upkaar. I...I...am rushing there. Please come quickly." She banged down the phone.
Ajit suddenly felt numb. He made an attempt to get up but couldn't. He tried to shout - to call his peon - but no words came out. 'Mini... his sweet little Mini... trapped in the inferno. Oh! God, please let her be safe....'
He managed to get up and staggered out. He didn't want to risk driving his car. He hailed a passing taxi and jumped in.
"Upkaar," he croaked.
As the taxi neared the theatre Ajit's heart sank. The fire was still raging. Thick clouds of smoke were billowing up. People screaming, crying, firemen trying to rescue those trapped inside, the policemen making desperate attempts to control the crowds - there was chaos everywhere.
Ajit jumped out and ran towards the entrance. Making his way through the crowds he tried to get as close to the entrance as possible.
Bodies were still being carried out. But there was no sign whatsoever of either Mini or the neighbors who had accompanied her. He turned back and made his way to the exit. Just then he noticed Urmila, her hair completely disheveled, running here and there, begging people to help her locate her daughter. He took Urmila's hand and dragged her towards the exit. Burnt, charred and scarred bodies were lying on the ground - most of them damaged beyond recognition.
Suddenly he felt Urmila's grip tighten. She let out a wail and collapsed on the floor. He looked once again at the row of bodies and saw what Urmila had seen and fainted. Mini was lying in the middle, her body completely burnt. But her sweet and innocent face had been untouched by the flames. He sprang forward to pick her up. The moment he touched her he knew she was dead.
The next two weeks were an unending nightmare. The cause of the fire was made public. The transformer which was located on the ground floor of the theatre had caught fire and caused the conflagration. The transformer should have been located outside the theatre. And its unauthorized location should never have been cleared by the Electrical Inspectorate.
Ajit's world was totally shattered. His only daughter who was everything to him had died because of his greed. His lust for money had caused her death.
After Mini was cremated Ajit went to his department and gave a written statement. In it he accepted that he was responsible for the tragedy and ready to face whatever punishment meted out to him.
He was suspended for three months. However, because of his personal tragedy the Department decided to take a lenient view and hushed up the matter. The suspension was revoked but before that he resigned.
Ajit and Urmila packed their belongings and left the city forever. They couldn't bear to stay in the place where each and everything reminded them of their Mini.
They came and settled down in this small town on the banks of the river Ganga.
Ajit decided to open an orphanage for children. Just as he had lost his only child there were many children who had lost their parents. He and Urmila would play parents to them and try to fill the void left behind by Mini.
They started an orphanage on a rather modest scale with whatever savings they had. Ajit, who was an Electrical Engineer, got a job in a private company. Urmila stitched clothes, took tuitions and looked after the few children they had. They saved every pie and gradually nurtured their little haven of love and care.
Soon Ajit resigned and devoted all his time and energy to the orphanage. A few years later Urmila died. Now Ajit lives in the orphanage with his 43 children for company. His children are his life. Ajit gives them all his love and care but he cannot tolerate anyone showing even a hint of the habit which destroyed him. He will never allow them to make the mistakes he did. The minute he catches anyone being dishonest he ......"
Baba stopped speaking. Tears were flowing down Pinky's cheeks. She put her arms around him and clung to him.
"Baba, I think I know who Ajit is?" she said softly.
Image (c) gettyimages.com
Steve would never forget the day he first met Tina. It was June 15. Their school had reopened a week back. It had been a lousy week – damp, soggy and terribly dull.
That day was no different. It was drizzling since morning. Steve had been drenched the previous evening and had caught cold. To add to the gloom was the fact that it was Monday and the first period was Maths. Steve hated Maths and he hated the Maths teacher – Rama Rao even more. Rama Rao was an insufferable bore and his classes were a real torture.
Steve was feeling drowsy. He looked out of the window at the cricket ground. How he wished the rain would stop and he could go out and try the new bowling action which his cousin Pete had taught him in the holidays.
"Can I come in Sir," Steve heard a sweet voice.
A young girl of Steve’s age was standing at the door. She was slim and fair, with a small sharp nose and bright sparkling eyes.
"Why?" Rama Rao snapped.
"I... ", she stepped back startled and then gathering up her courage said, "Sir I have just taken admission today and the Principal asked me to sit in class 8 A."
Rama Rao stared at her for two full minutes obviously irritated at her for disturbing his class.
"Come in," he grunted and went back to the black board.
Tina mumbled thanks and walked in. She found the seat next to Steve empty and sat down.
"Hi! I’m Steve," he smiled.
"My name is Tina," she said. She had a beautiful smile. It reached right up to her eyes, lighting up her entire face.
During lunch break Tina and Steve got talking. Tina’s father was an officer in the State Bank of India. He was transferred from Nagpur to Hyderabad three months back. His family had shifted last month. They lived in Tarnaka quite close to Steve’s house.
"Steve can I borrow your books for a day? That will help me catch up with whatever was taught last week," Tina asked Steve during the last period.
"Sure, but actually nothing much was taught, hardly a few pages."
Three days later Tina and Steve were busy chatting. It was the first period and the English teacher Mrs. Mamta Dey hadn’t come.
"Hey Tina! How are you? When did you join?" Steve turned around. It was Andy.
"Hi Andy," Tina said jumping up and rushing to meet him. "I joined on Monday. It’s great to see you," she said shaking his hand. "How are you feeling now? Dad told me that you were down with fever."
"Yes it was quite bad. I was stuck in bed the entire day. Mum wouldn’t allow me to move out of the room."
Andy – Andrew Smith – was in Steve’s class. He was tall, burly and red-faced with a loud voice and great sense of humor. He was fourteen – a year older to Steve. Andy was terrific in sports – cricket, football, athletics and almost everything else – but was poor in studies.
Later Steve asked Tina, "How do you know Andy?"
"Oh! He’s a great friend. Our dads work in the same bank. In fact it was Smith Uncle who told dad about this school."
A few days later one evening Steve was wheeling his cycle out when he saw Tina standing waiting at the gate.
"I think the rickshaw puller has got stuck somewhere."
"Why don’t you come with me. I’ll drop you home," Steve offered.
"Are you scared I’ll kidnap you," he laughed.
"Don’t be silly," Tina said, coming forward.
Just then Andy, who was racing by on his moped, saw them, swerved back and screeched to a halt.
"Hey Tina! What’s up?"
My rickshaw hasn’t come and I..."
"Come with me. I am going towards Tarnaka. I’ll drop you home and have some pastries in your house. The one’s aunt gave me last time were really yummy."
Tina waved to Steve and climbed on to the moped.
"See ya, Steve," Andy yelled and sped away.
Steve kept staring after them feeling strangely angry at Andy. He had very much wanted to give a lift to Tina -- to go to her house and meet her family. He liked Tina very much and wanted to be her best friend. But Andy .... he had spoilt everything.
Gradually Steve found himself disliking Andy more and more. Whenever he wanted Tina to pay attention to him Andy would appear, play some silly prank or crack a joke or imitate some teacher and make Tina laugh. He would invariably end up hogging all of Tina attention.
Tina, Steve could see, was really fond of Andy. He was jovial, fun loving and a real extrovert while Steve was shy and reserved. Andy was tall and well built, great in sports and very popular in the class. Steve on the other hand was not all that good-looking. Moreover, he was just about average in sports and was no match to Andy in popularity. Of course Steve was better in studies but did that really matter?
If only Andy shifted to some other class or better some other school then Steve would become Tina’s best friend.
Three days before Christmas Steve told Tina," I am having a party on Christmas Eve. It is my birthday. You should come."
"Sure I will. Andy will of course be there no?" she asked.
Steve had no intention of inviting Andy but now he had little choice.
"Y..yes, I was planning to tell him today."
Steve caught Andy in the football ground and invited him.
"Oh! Sure, maan, I’ll come...," he began and then slapped his forehead. "Hey maan, I just remembered, there is a dance competition in our club. I have to go for that. Tina will be there too -- she is my partner. I have already given her name, but the ass that I am, I forgot to tell her. But never mind she won’t say no."
"But Tina has already promised to come to my party," Steve said barely managing to control his anger.
"Wait, wait. There is a way out. The dance competition will be over by 7.30. It is in Habshiguda Club quite close to your house. By 7.45 we’ll be at your bash, okay?" Andy said slapping Steve on his back.
Steve was wild. Even on his birthday Tina couldn’t spare time for him. Andy had to interfere and spoil his plans. There was however nothing Steve could do except curse Andy.
It was Christmas eve and Steve was sitting in the drawing room of his house. The party was in full swing. All of Steve’s friends were there except Tina and ....and naturally Andy. He had promised they would be there by 7.45 -- it was now nine and still no sign of them.
"Damn him," Steve cursed under his breadth. Andy must have totally forgotten or more likely he was doing it on purpose to spoil Steve’s party. Andy was probably getting possessive about Tina. He didn’t want Steve to be friends with her. Poor Tina, without realizing what was happening, was allowing herself to be manipulated by Andy.
He looked up. It was Tina. She was wearing an emerald green frock and her hair was tied in a pony tail. She looked really innocent and cute. Andy was standing beside her.
Tina spotted him and came rushing.
"Many happy returns," she said shaking his hand.
"Thanks," he mumbled not quite forgiving her for coming more than an hour late.
Andy joined them shaking Steve’s hand and thumping his back.
"Where’s the birthday cake, maan," he bellowed.
Steve mumbled something and went in. He told his mum to serve Tina and Andy and came out to the verandah. He was boiling inside. He wanted to get back at Andy for spoiling his party. Andy’s moped was in the driveway. On an impulse Steve went into the garage, took a screwdriver from the tool kit and walked to the spot where the moped was parked.
Steve’s uncle was a two-wheeler mechanic. His garage was Steve’s favorite hang out and he had learnt quite a bit about the mechanism of scooters and mopeds.
Andy’s moped was parked between a scooter and another moped. Steve bent down and quickly worked on the brakes. Within a few minutes he had fixed the brakes. Now when Andy would apply them they wouldn’t work and he would go crashing. It would serve Andy right for messing up his party.
He went in washed his hands and then entered the drawing room.
Tina came up to him. "Steve, I think you are angry with us for coming late.
"Why should I be angry? You and Andy must have been too busy dancing with each other to even think about me. That rascal Andy promised me that he would get you here by 7.45. Like a fool I believed him and look what happened?"
"Steve don’t just jump to idiotic conclusions. We were not busy dancing. In fact we have come here straight from the Gandhi hospital."
"Yes. Andy’s mother has been admitted. She was suffering from mild fever for the last couple of days. Yesterday afternoon the temperature suddenly shot up and she started getting convulsions. She was taken to the hospital immediately. I had gone with mummy to see her this evening. Poor Andy, he had been running around the whole day. On seeing me he remembered the promise he had made to you. Even though I wasn’t keen to come to your party he persuaded me.
"Tina, if you don’t go Steve will really be disappointed. It’s his birthday maan, we guys shouldn’t let him down. And we won’t tell him about mum. Poor fellow will feel bad. Why should we spoil his special day. I’ll drop you, wish him, have a piece of cake and then rush back," he told me.
"Where is Andy?" Steve asked looking around desperately.
"He has gone back to the hospital. He asked me to make some excuse on his behalf and left."
"Gone back! Oh! My God. What have I done," Steve wailed.
"Why? What happened," Tina asked.
Steve rushed out followed by Tina.
"I...I.... have to catch him...the brakes. I tampered with his moped’s brakes..." Steve blabbered.
"You idiot. How could you be so vicious- "
Steve didn’t wait for her to complete the sentence. He just picked up his cycle and took off. Steve drove like crazy, praying to God Andy was safe. He took a short cut and within five minutes was on the main road leading to Gandhi hospital. He kept searching the road for any sign of accident. Just as he reached the hospital Steve saw Andy coming out of the scooter parking area.
"Andy are you okay?"
Steve told Andy what he had done and stood their hanging his head in shame. He didn’t know how Andy would react. But even if Andy hit him he would have to tolerate. After all there was little doubt that he had behaved like a miserable wretch.
"Hey come on Steve. Don’t stand there acting as if you have committed a murder. These things happen. It was only a misunderstanding. Probably in your place I would have done the same thing."
"You...you are not wild with me Andy. Will you still remain friends with me?"
"Of course maan. Now push off. Tina must be chewing up her nails in tension."
As Steve was about to leave Andy asked him, "Hey Steve, there is one thing that is puzzling me. You are great with bikes. If you had fingered my bike’s brakes they would have stayed fingered. Then how come...." he paused and then added, "I got it. In all this confusion I forgot one thing. Come with me."
Andy let him inside the parking lot and pointed to a Luna.
"Was this the bike you tampered with?"
"Of course not. This is a Luna. Your bike is a TVS."
"I was right then. Actually my TVS had a puncture so I borrowed the neighbor’s Luna."
"Oh! God that means I messed up someone else’s bike. Let me rush back," Steve said and sped away.
When he reached home he found the TVS still parked in the drive way.
"Thank God," he muttered under his breath. The screw driver was still in his pocket. He bent down and within a few minutes the brakes were back to normal.
"Is he okay?"
Steve looked up. Tina was standing, her face tense.
"Yes. By mistake I had tampered with this TVS that belongs to someone else. I have set it right now."
Tina turned around and waked away.
"Tina, I’ll drop you home."
"Leave me alone Mr. Steve Chapman. I never ever want to talk to you. You make me sick," she said and strode out leaving behind an utterly miserable Steve.
"Hey Tina, let’s go and wish Steve a merry Christmas," Andy said.
Tina had gone to the hospital with a bouquet of flowers for Andy’s mother who was now feeling much better.
"Andy, for God’s sake don’t take that fellow’s name in my presence. I don’t want to see his face. And I don’t understand one thing Andy -- Steve was so mean and nasty yesterday and yet you want to go sniggering to him and wish him merry Christmas."
"Tina, you should realize that Steve is extremely fond of you. I have known him since we were in class three. He has never thrown a birthday party. He is a very shy sort of fellow who has very few friends. This year’s party was only for you. When you didn’t turn up he naturally blamed me and decided to pay me back. I am not defending his action but for one mistake you can’t damn him forever. I know what Steve did was really mean. But at least he had the courage to admit his mistake. He could have kept quiet. But the minute he realised he was blaming me wrongly he felt guilty and owned up. Believe me Tina it is not easy to admit one’s fault. It requires a lot of courage."
Tina didn’t utter a word. She just kept staring sullenly at Andy. Apparently she still wasn’t convinced.
"My uncle is a priest. He sometimes invites me to attend his sermons in church. Tina, I am not a religious person but I go because he is a terrific speaker and tells great stories. One day he was relating the story of the crucifixion. Do you know what were Jesus Christ’s last words on the cross? ‘Forgive them o’ Lord they know not what they do’. Imagine Tina, Jesus forgave even those unkind, inhuman scoundrels who had nailed him to the cross in such a savage manner. Don’t you think there is a lesson in it for us? Moreover, today is Christmas. This is the day to spread the message of love and friendship, not an occasion to nurture grudges.
Steve woke up. It was Christmas morning and yet he was feeling miserable. Tina’s words had kept echoing in his mind the entire night. He had kept tossing and turning and hadn’t slept a wink.
He somehow managed to drag himself from the bed and sat in the drawing room. The whole house was agog with excitement. His kid sister and brother were jumping up and down opening their Christmas gifts and squealing with delight. His mum was busy in the kitchen while his dad was ringing up his friends and wishing them merry Christmas.
The bell rang. Steve got up and opened the door. Andy was standing outside. Steve turned around and started walking back to the sofa.
"How is your mum, Andy?"
"She is much better, Andy said.
"Look who’s come," he added.
Steve turned back. It was Tina. Dressed in bright pink, she looked adorable.
"Merry Christmas," she said smiling at him and sending his spirits soaring.