Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Hundred Rupee Note

The only luxury that he had ever had in his short life was a pair of sneakers that he had found abandoned near a garbage dump.  And even that didn’t come by so easily. Of all the people who were passing by from there at that time, street dogs barked at him and chased him. Even they had a sense of whom to pick. His indigence and vulnerability were equally apparent to animals as to human beings.

Mind at birth is a blank slate. What becomes of a man is the outcome of what is written on that slate in the formative years by people known and unknown and what is etched on the slate by the incidents to which voluntarily or involuntarily he becomes a party. Fortunately for the boy, the writings on his slate were honourable. He had remained unknown to deceit and deception.  He wanted to make an honest living. But earning a livelihood in that small town was not all that easy. Many of the men like his father were forced to go to the city leaving their family behind. Sometimes months passed by without family hearing any news from their boys and men.

From the center of the town passed a highway. Some shops had sprung up along it. Most of them catered to the travellers which passed by in buses, jeeps and trucks. This had actually become an economy in itself. Not far from these shops was the village Mandi. The vegetables and fruits which were brought from nearby villages or towns were sold there.

Few months ago, the boy got a job in one of the shops. His task was to sell water bottles to the passengers in the buses which stopped there. The more bottles he sold, the more commission he would get. Other shopkeepers had also employed boys of his age. Whenever a bus would stop, all the boys would start hovering around it, shouting at the top of their voices, looking into the eyes of the people sitting inside.

There were all kinds of people to deal with. Some of them would just ask for the price. Some other would even try to negotiate it. Some did it out of habit while others did it for fun. Some people would return the bottle saying it wasn’t cold while some other would still purchase it while cursing him. Sometimes the driver would start the bus before he received a payment and then he would run along with the bus to get it. Once a man acted like paying him but ditched him at the end seeing that he would not be able to catch the bus. One other time, the person just dropped the money out of the window.

But in all these months he never entered a bus. On his first day he had seen a boy being shouted at by the driver. That event had set uneasiness in him which he was not able to overcome. All other boys would enter the bus but he would not.

One evening when a bus stopped and while he was busy shouting, he saw something dropped from the bag of a man who was entering the bus. He picked it up and found that it was a purse. Immediately, as though driven by an impulse, he entered the bus for the first time looking for the man. He reached out to him and returned him his purse. He was given a hundred rupee note by the person as a reward for his honesty. But what the boy remembered most was the reaction of the people inside the bus as he returned the purse. That made him happy. That evening another incident was scribbled on his slate.

The boy had never possessed that much money in his life and that is why he was very careful to guard his newfound treasure. He kept that note with him all the time. In his free time, he made plans on how to spend that money. He once thought to give it to his mother but was soon overcome by his own desires. For once in his life, he wanted to pamper himself.

He had always thought about watching the movie in the only theatre that their town had. But he didn’t like the idea of paying all that money for a movie. After all he could watch them sometimes on the TV in the shop. He had always had a desire to taste a chocolate. He felt that it would give him a new taste, something different from any other taste that he had had or would possibly have. He thought of deciding what to do with the rest of the money after eating a chocolate.

So he went to the shop and asked his master for a chocolate. Before his master could say anything he put forward his note eagerly. The master knew that there was no way the boy could have got that much money. He thought that the boy had stolen that money from his shop. So he snatched the note from the boy and slapped him. Indifferent to the wailings and explanations, he scolded him, hurled abuses at him and told him never to come back.

The boy stood there for some time crying silently all the while. He found other boys looking at him. So he went back to his home to his mother. Another incident was scribbled on his slate.