Monday, 15 September 2014

ShortStory 2014 Longlist, Sanjay Chitranshi

The Unknown Benefactor

Someone’s apparent goodness of heart, craving to comprehend the deeper meanings of life and the ability to see in a bigger frame cannot guarantee the absence of meanness in that person. Everyone is born with a mask and the only difference is few are able to cast it off while most die with it. Mask such an insignificant connotation and yet such a powerful appearance, powerful in the sense that it has decided the course of human evolution without evolving human beings in a real term.

A boy christened Mohan, born in an impoverished family has his dreams like any other boy. He loves sports and wants to become a football player but compelled by the circumstances he appears in engineering entrance examination which he somehow manages to clear. He doesn’t mind and he joins a prestigious college. Being the only son it is his duty to see his parents happy and his family financially secure; such are his feelings. Nothing succeeds like success and the success which rests in the hearts of majority becomes a crowning glory. He becomes the darling in the lower middle class locality where he lives. Parents around who didn’t take the career of their loafing sons seriously suddenly turn worried about them to the extent of scolding and even manhandling them. He has become an example, a summit where every parent in locality now wishes their son to reach. But the sons have their own inclinations, their own capacity and their own rainbows to chase which the parents refuse to accept. The boy of the locality, Mohan, has become the role model, the yardstick to measure the success of the various sons and thereby the parents themselves.

There are few idiosyncratic who would not like the fame and heroism bestowed upon them even when they know that they have not achieved to their heart’s desire and certainly Mohan is not one of them. He relishes every minute of his success but he knows that he has not been able to grab that branch of engineering, computers, which is the toast of modern times. Yet he doesn’t show his dejection because that would lead to less self-congratulation and self-congratulation is what mortals sustain on. He can still reach to that summit he consoles himself if he performs extremely well in his first year though he knows that will be a very difficult task nearly unachievable given to the severe competition. But such consolations are necessary to enjoy the victory among the ignorant even though botched up in his own eyes.

After a month of celebrations when Mohan leaves for the college people behave as if the ghosts would roll about in the locality in his absence. It is as if he is the super-parent of all the loafing or upcoming boys. A crowd goes to see him off on the railway station.
“Always consider Ramu as your younger brother,” One of the neighbours pleads while his son stares at Mohan as he is a God, “I wish him to walk on your footsteps and it’s your responsibility to see he does it.”
“Chachaji, you please don’t worry about Ramu. I will help him in all my capacity.” Mohan assures basking in glory.
“Karma, my good for nothing son loafs around and never studies,” Another neighbour looks at Mohan with longing as he was remembering his own past and now bent on reforming it through his son who is standing defiantly with head down, “Take this stick and thrash him right into a pulp so that he can mend his atrocious ways.”

“Karma, you should care for your parent’s sentiments. They don’t want anything from you they just want you to be successful in your life.” Mohan enjoys for to be given an opportunity to dictate someone while the people who should have done that have invested the authority in him.
The signal becomes green, the guard waves the flag and the train chugs off finally and Mohan can watch numerous hands frantically waiting at him. And as the people become invisible to him he is filled with the apprehensions for the new life to come. He adjusts nicely with the new environment. He studies hard to get into computer engineering but it is a very difficult take and he fails in his endeavours but still he has something to feel proud about which for millions and millions is a big dream. His old interest that is sports which he had abandoned for to win in the race comes back to him as he is going through a quietude which descends when one accepts his defeat with magnanimity. And now he scores nice grades, plays in the spare time and enjoys life. As he is relatively better at sports, in the college he makes up for the lack in academics by the energy he sprouts on the field. So in a way he is winning laurels both at home and at college and he feels himself a winner forgetting that home belongs to academic mediocre and college belongs to sport’s mediocre and he is himself nothing but a mediocre but who cares when one is receiving loads of what every human desires, glorification.

But as a proverb goes nothing comes without a price and the joyous Mohan obviously in his ignorance too is in the process of paying the penalty. He is living in the world of dual personalities no one strong enough to bloom in its own wholesomeness and he doesn’t know about this. Either he can be the part of a race or he can be creative. He has to see which personality he truly belongs to but being trapped in false notions he is blind to see it. At college he doesn’t want to get out of the race and yet he behaves as if he is not the part of it.  And when he is at home he behaves as if he is very much part of the race. But as he has to spend maximum time at college he poses as a true sportsman barely affected by the greed, competition and jealousy scattered around him. He is imploding within and he is collaborating with the slow but steady process.

Once he is on the train with few of his college-mates, going to his home because compulsory vacations have left no other route for him. Unfortunately for him his mates are in other compartment and he is alone. It’s a long journey and after a few hours of having chats and fun with his mates he has to go back to his aloneness. There are people around, a mix of random appearances and ordinary intellects and he is not interested in them. He doesn’t wish to spoil the taste of his mental state he has been refurbished in the company he has to abandon under compulsion. But a guy in his early thirties occupying the seat in front of him shows interest.
“Are you a student?” The question is tossed to him with a friendly smile.
“Yep” He replies not much enthused.

Then a child of about eight years throws tantrums to a woman who is trying to feed him before he goes to sleep. Mohan finds the thirtyish guy distracted diverting his attention from him to the child. He guesses the woman to be the mother of the child and the thirtyish guy the father. He feels relieved to be left alone and brings out a book with a funny intellectual looking title. And his current act is an effort to attract the attention of the people around, to show them he belongs to a different plane so that if they wish to interact with him which he wishes them to then in a different light. The thirtyish guy returns back his attention at him after reprimanding his son to listen to his mother.
“Children must be taught to obey their parents.” He says again with a friendly smile. A young pretty but non-intellectual looking girl squirms in admiration after scanning the title of the book.
“True” Mohan replies while casting an eye on the girl.

“Interesting title, big for your age” The thirtyish guy also smiles in admiration. Mohan doesn’t reply. He just returns back a friendly smile.
“So you are studying engineering?” The thirtyish guy prods.
“Yes at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose engineering college” Mohan replies proudly. The girl now totally in awe of him began to bite her nail in nervousness.
“One of the prestigious engineering colleges in the country,” The thirtyish guy admits with glee, “And I was aware of you being a student there when I saw you. The students of that college can be recognized amongst millions. By the way what’s your branch?”
“Computers” Mohan lies. The attention he is getting he cannot compromise for the stupid want of truth and moreover what this guy knows about engineering. He can lie have more adulation and can get away with this. The girl looks at him with a gaze suggesting that she can sleep with him there and then.
“Computers!” The thirtyish guy repeats and whatever is left of his admiration for the young man completes.

In the meanwhile Mohan casts another eye on the girl and find her secretly staring at him. She lowers her eyes as soon as their gaze meets and Mohan has another feather on his sleeves. Success brings girls too. He smiles surreptitiously and looks at her again directly in her eyes and she blushes copiously. Such scenes, such possibilities of a romance building up he has seen only in the movies and he has laughed over these trivialities but now he has the reason to believe the oft-repeated claims made by much criticized film fraternity that films are the mirror of the society. But he felt good and a man as well because now he is not chasing the girls but girls are falling for him. He wished to whistle but checked himself lest his act be construed as intemperate in the company of his admirers.
“So Dr. Rangarajan might be teaching you. He has absolute command over computers.” The thirtyish guy resumes the talk and his knowledge about the faculty members greatly unnerves Mohan but he has no option but to respond.

“Dr. Rangarajan, yes, we call him a supercomputer.”
“And what about Dr. Banerjee, has he retired? And what about Dr. Javdekar and what’s his name I don’t remember now but he used to keep a French beard and was very friendly with students, yes, Dr. Mahadevan how are all these guys?”

So this thirtyish guy is an alumnus of the same college and is a computer engineer. The inference is loud and clear to Mohan and he wishes to run away at the very moment under some pretext but he cannot. His face has reddened, his ears are on fire, his throat has dried up and he is trying unsuccessfully to stop the shivering of his hands. The thirtyish guy has stopped smiling and now looking at him with aversion. The girl who has been indulging in stealing a look of him is now directly gazing at him with curiosity without any bashfulness in her countenance.
“Dr. Banerjee has retired a year back and all other profs are okay.” Mohan gathers all his wits but he cannot hide the nervousness dropping from his words and showing in his body language.

It becomes evident to everyone present there that Mohan is lying and suddenly the atmosphere laden with admiration comes to an end and turns into open but mute hostility. The thirtyish guy after having a gaze of scorn and disapproval at Mohan begins to see out of window. His wife begins to warn her son to avoid telling lies in future. And the girl makes herself busy in a cheap romantic novel she has just unearthed from her bag. Mohan is at the end of his wits. He can neither see straight or his left or right. But he is unrepentant. He had uttered only a half-lie and it was his misfortune that he was caught red-handed. He was not interested in talking with anyone and it was this thirtyish guy who started conversation with him. And what is the big deal if he is not the student of computer engineering; he is after all the student of one of the most prestigious engineering colleges in the country. Only if this bloody oaf had told him about his academic background he would not have committed such a blunder. But it's okay. When his company will last only till he reaches his destination. Go to hell you all including you snobbish, stinking young cunt.

The train comes to halt from where Mohan has to board another train, a local one to reach his place. He goes to ticket counter and finds a long cue there. He ticks off the idea of buying a ticket from his mind and gets back to the platform. The agony he had suffered the whole day despite his numerous arguments with himself to write off the people who had accompanied him still tortured him. And to defeat the pain, to get over the echo of morbid perturbations he decides to delve into a sort of heroism and to travel without ticket is the way for him to subdue those apparitions which still roam into his mind. However he has taken a calculated risk as most of the passengers in such trains travel without ticket and it’s seldom few are caught. Now he is imbued with a new kind of energy, a young strong man revolting against the system that be.

As soon as the train lugs forward Mohan adjusts him on a birth. In the compartment occupied to the last inch many eyes take notice of his pedantic looks and the different light he emits. He is aware and feels enormously boosted up just at the nick of forgetting the old wound and ejecting into a new orbit. But the poor boy is really going through a bad time. A ticket-checking squad is there on the train and he can hear them approaching fast towards him. His heart begins to beat violently and his throat goes dry but there is nothing he can do. Bemoaning for his foolishness to not to buy ticket he curses his bad luck. Desperate for his absolve and taking oath to not to act such a fool in future he brings his book from his bag. Perhaps the signature of his intellect can counter the mistake he has committed. Soon he is asked for the ticket and he pretends to find it in every pocket hung on his body.
“Perhaps I have lost my ticket, sir.” He says with difficulty, his face pale and his breathing heavy.
“Then you will have to pay penalty.” The ticket-checker says sternly, “and if you don’t you will be arrested forthwith.”

He has little money and he tells this to ticket-checker and still smarting under his scholarly pretensions he doesn’t forget to tell the prestigious college he is the student of. But this is not going to salvage him. He has committed a crime and he has no money to atone for it. A police constable tries to catch him by the arm menacingly. The co-passengers around watch him scornfully as if their linen has always been clean. He trembles violently and is at the verge of collapsing down.
“Please someone buy whatever I have so that I can pay the penalty.” He pleads with tears in his eyes but no one is interested in the articles he wishes to sell off.

“He seems to belong to a good family. His whole career will get ruined if he is arrested. I am going to pay penalty.” The ticket-checker incredulously for Mohan softens beyond his wildest expectations. His eyes for the first time set on the black coat of his benefactor and he comes to know about his name. Mohammed Sartaj, so he is a Muslim. I misjudged. But now I know that.
“Thank you, sir,” Mohan cries, clear about the disaster the ticket-checker has saved him from, “I will never forget the beneficence you have done to me. And I commit I will send you money as soon as I reach home.”

But the money never reached Mohammed Sartaj. Back home Mohan was again in his elements. He justifies his breach of commitment by thinking that he had done no wrong. It is the system which is responsible for what happened. He is poor but bright and it’s the responsibility of system to take care of a person like him. Travelling without ticket was a minor incident and it’s the system which lacks the intelligence to deal with a chosen person. Mohammed Sartaj did act in his favour despite being a part of that system and he appreciates that but it doesn’t mean that he owes him anything. The man has acted certainly to mollify his battered soul and sending money to him would snatch from him the happiness he has had.

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