“Life is like a novel. You don’t know what will happen
till you turn the page.”
Well here is one of my attempts at telling stories.
It was raining profusely. The intoxicating aroma of the first showers after a long scorching summer filled the air entwined with the mouth-watering smell of Nathu halwai’s jalebis. The neighborhood drain, if it can be called so, overflowed as usual and it also played its part in impregnating the air. Balwant’s mother was shouting at the top of her voice cursing him as if Balwant himself was directly responsible for the untimely rains just when she had kept the grains to bask in the sun. It was under these circumstances that in an already over populous slum of South Delhi, Damyanti Devi, the daughter of not a big industrialist but a mere scavenger gave birth to her youngest child. The Thirteenth. After that my mother decided it was time to pay heed to population department’s appeal. My father, till day holds a grudge that he just fell short of Sridhar’s local record of fourteen.
Our house was a small jhuggi with a small ‘chulha’ and a handful of utensils that given our family size, we were able to have our meals (once in a day) only in three shifts. The house had no electricity. And the grim weather made it even worse. It was only after half an hour that my grandmother eventually ‘discovered’ that it‘s a boy. I was christened “chhotu” which was family tradition with all my eight elder brothers having honored the same name when they were born. My parents were modernists. They advocated the ideology of complete freedom. That’s why I never had to wear any Huggies diapers or anything. I had full freedom to be on my own anywhere.
Delhi is the city of the mighty, the rich who lead their lives in pompous style and grandeur. Big parties are thrown to mark almost every occasion, right from birth to death, from employment to retirement, and from marriage to divorce. But all this was far-fetched for Dinanath Shankar, my father who was an executive director in Reliance alias “bharosa”, the local pullers association. He distributed a few jalebis among his fellow rickshaw pullers to celebrate his child’s birth, which by now had become an annual affair just like the monsoons, sometimes late, sometimes early but always there.
Family income was meager. My mother washed utensils and clothes in the nearby bungalows and augmented the money earned by my father and eldest brother, who by now was fifteen, a teenager. Whew!!! Not on his bikes chasing girls but pulling a rickshaw carrying heavy aunties. My father was a man with big dreams. He always contemplated having half a score of rickshaws, one for each of us, my father and his near cricket team of nine sons. My mother had, as my father would often say, rather limited vision, both literally and figuratively. She only wanted each of us to at least study up to tenth. Well, none of us did. Each one of us failed several times in each class and finally she conceded that perhaps, Dinanath was more visionary than her.
By the time I turned thirteen, all my brothers were indulged in the family business. I till date remember the ceremonies preceding the entry of my brothers in the family business. My mother would break a coconut and put a big tilak on my brother’s forehead as if he was going on the warfront. And as my brother would push his first pedals, there would be a huge uproar as if India had just won the World Cup. I had made up my mind to break the family legend and start my own business. I asked for my father’s permission to open a grocery.
He slapped me hard across my face and squatted down crying. I had probably asked something outcaste. The next day saw another coconut breaking and my father’s face beaming with pride as I pushed my first pedals.
The years flew by quickly and I found myself eligible for voting though I had already caste a bogus vote twice. All my siblings were married by now and my father was trying hard to clinch a deal for me as well. At that time, there was a big hue and cry about some TV show called KBC hosted by a tall man whom I had often seen fighting bald-headed villains on Nathu halwai’s TV set. The show promised a prize-money of one crore if you manage to get fifteen answers right. I decide to try my luck and with the help of one of my eighth grade friend, Bhondu the most educated in the vicinity, even more than the local schoolmaster, reached the Fastest-Finger-First Stage. The round required arranging four things in order and whosoever got it first would get a chance to try his luck. The question was about politics. I didn’t even have the slightest hint about it. The meaning of politics to me was simply putting a thumbprint in front of a symbol and getting a new shirt from the man who had spent two hours making me learn that symbol. I strained hard to remember the alphabetical order taught in class fifth, the last I studied in, and then pressed ACBD. Whew!!! As luck would have it, that was the right answer and I found myself face to face with Amitabh Bachchan sitting on the hot seat. He mumbled something in English to which I could only say “Paani” and the audience clapped.
Here is your first question.
Which of these places is not in Delhi?
a) India Gate b) Red Fort
c) Taj Mahal d) Nehru Place
For the first time in my life my eyes were filled with gratitude for my father. Had it not been for him, I would’ve become a grocer and would never have been able to answer that question.
You want to break family tradition. I’ve seen so many dreams for you. And this is what you give us back for nurturing your life for thirteen years.
Now I was a rickshaw puller well versed with the streets of Delhi. I answered with a broad smile, ”Taj Mahal”. And the audience clapped. The next two questions were easy enough pertaining to religious anecdotes, which my god-fearing pious mother had given me a fair idea about and that held me in good stead. The fifth question was a googly.
Which among these is not a movie?
a) Hum b) Hum Tum
c) Hum Aath Saath Hain d) Hum Sab Chor Hain
I was pretty confident that the correct answer is d) as I thought that the police would have caught all the self-confessed thieves before such a movie ever hitting the silver screen. But to my utter disbelief, I was wrong.
A double bedroom flatA big carA big swimming pool
A big zero was all that I got.
“Whenever in doubt use a lifeline”. These words brought me out of my reverie. I have often pondered upon the possibility of my being a divine incarnation ever since I escaped a run-out chance while playing cricket. And at the time of such realizations my faith in myself being an embodiment of truth, peace and love sent to this earth to spread the message of brotherhood, reached new heights.
Was I in doubt? Would I like to use a lifeline? Yes. Like hell. 99% of the audience voted for c) and I cursed the other 1% who had pressed the other options out of jealousy rather than ignorance.
Never mind, I got it right.
Cricket in India is more than a religion. It is one bond that ties the entire nation together. A youngster in India may not be able to write his own name but he can spell out the entire Indian team with quintessential ease. And in such a scenario questions like when India won the World Cup were like pudding on a platter. I slowly moved up the chart and answered 13 questions right with a spicy yet healthy mix of luck, easy questions, lifelines and sudden realizations. I still had phone-a-friend lifeline save.
Again the fourteenth question gyrated around politics and I decided to quit with a cool cheque of Twenty-Five Lakhs rather than calling up Bhondu. Life was never going to be same as before.
Money is a wonderful thing. Sure, it isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.
I was given a huge welcome back home and why not. The rickshaw puller chhotu was now a millionaire. A millionaire. I indeed was giving myself a million airs. Friends and foes flocked me alike. Even Geetanjali, whom I secretly loved but who didn’t care a dime for me, came with her father. Her father was finalizing a deal with mine. It was all a dream come true.
But now was the time to realize the reality. I bought a new house in the nearby apartments. An Esteem car and a bulldog were next on the cards. My parents and siblings decided to continue living in the jhuggi and wait for their lucky break. I kept a Secretary to familiarize me with the customs of the riches. He took me to a posh garment store and when we came out my pockets were lighter by a few thousands. I then had a hair coloring. Next was a pair of goggles, a watch and a bracelet. When I returned home at night, even my bulldog, Bhondu failed to recognize me and refused to let me in. I had to sleep in the park for the night. Welcome to the chauvinistic world.
My secretary asked me to change my name. He suggested a few and finally we agreed on ROXY. Yesterday’s rickshaw puller Chhotu was now Roxy.
To be continued……