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I cursed my fate for the zillionth time as I looked at the 10 by 10 room that my family called home. At every nook and corner of the small room was scattered the meagre belongings of our household. I had learnt to control my bowel and bladder movements to sync with the length of the queue outside the rows of public toilets adjoining the slum.


My parents worked hard to educate me. They tried everything possible within their means to keep me in school. They couldn't afford the fees of even a modest private school and I therefore went to the local Municipal school.


Amma spent her days steaming idlis, stewing a cauldron of sambhar and grinding two varieties of chutneys; the mild coconut chutney and the hot tomato-chilly chutney which set every tongue that dared to taste it on fire.


Appa had a modified bicycle on which he carried his large tins filled with steamed idlis and sambhar. The smaller tins were filled with chutneys. He parked his cycle at different places by the roadside during different times of the day and sold his idlis on paper plates. 


You could find him parked on the street leading to Mahim railway station in the mornings. The station would be teeming with people on their way to work. Appa's idlis sold in no time. He even had his regular and familiar customers.


During the afternoons, he sold his idlis at the busy Dadar market. Again, being lunch time, the shopkeepers and roadside vendors polished off his idlis in no time. In the evenings, he sold tea and coffee. He carried hot milk in a huge drum along with sugar, sugar-free, tea bags and instant coffee powder. He sold coffee and tea in disposable cups to tired people returning home from work.


My parents expected me to continue my education despite the hardships and take up a better profession; preferably a white-collar job. However, the Municipal school I attended had very few teachers as well as students. I cited this as a reason for not faring well in the exams whereas the fact was, I never studied. My parents weren’t educated enough and couldn’t provide the necessary guidance and support to keep me in school. It became increasingly easier for me to play truant from school and lie to my gullible parents that I was regularly attending school.


Appa expected me to fill his shoes and take over his business when I failed to clear my exams and fell out of school. However, that was not my dream. I had seen enough poverty and all I dreamed of was becoming rich; by any means possible.


I had befriended some boys from the school and we moved in groups - - stealing. We entered crowded local trains that were jam-packed during morning and evening rush hours. We pulled gold chains and necklaces off people’s necks, picked their pockets and when the trains slowed down as they neared a station, we snatched cell phones and jumped out mingling with the crowd on the station - - escaping. We did this with a level of professionalism that it took our victims quite a while to realise that their valuables had been stolen. We were never caught.


We had our network of jewellers and shopkeepers who gave us good money in return for the stolen goods. Appa and Amma had their doubts and most nights I came home to face their questions. Over a period of time, the questions escalated to fights. They had grown out of suspicion and being confident in their judgment about my work, they directly accused me of stealing with no further questions asked.


“We are poor, but we are honest. We aren’t earning much, but we survive through hard work. We feed hungry stomachs and earn the blessings of satisfied souls” they said.


“Don’t fall into bad company. Leave them. If you join our business, we can earn more money” - - their advice fell on my deaf ears.


Amma worried about me and decided to get me married in the hope that responsibility would force me to deviate away from my bad ways. And so, walked in my wife to occupy the little space left in an already cluttered room that gave us no privacy for intimacy. We then moved to a double decker room that was a 10 by 10 downstairs and a 6 by 6 upstairs which was nothing more than a loft that provided us with bare minimum privacy during the nights.


But I never changed my ways. Money flowed in constantly. I had even migrated to internet and credit card frauds that brought in much larger booty. I had the money now to afford a small apartment away from the slums. My parents however refused to budge. My wife, being a righteous lady took their side. I fought battles where I was outnumbered 1:3. 


“You filthy scoundrel! Do you carry even an ounce of your parents' genes? Aren't you ashamed of your work? Where will I wash the sins you collect? How will I save myself from the angry curses you accumulate?" My wife shouted every night. I silenced her each time with a tight slap across her face.


My parents staunchly took her side by joining her in cursing me every night.


“You wretched soul! Which sin made me birth you as punishment? I wish I was childless and not the mother of a ruthless sinner” Amma would rue.


“Look at me properly. Tomorrow, you may not see me. You may never see me again” I would threaten.


“You want to abandon us? Go! Get lost!” My wife would shout.


I would simply laugh and walk off. I took to drinking after failing to get my family’s support. It helped. They thought it futile to fight a sloshed man knocked out of his senses.


“You come home purportedly drunk so that we don’t even talk to you, leave alone fight!” my wife often seethed in anger.


“Keep quiet! You may not see me ever again” I'd still threaten in my drunken stupor.


One day, I came home to find that my wife had aborted our unborn child. My parents supported her in the belief that the shock of having lost a child would make me change my ways. Instead, I fumed in rage.


“I am a thief's wife. I don’t want to be the mother of a thief's child” my wife spewed the words at me.


“Yes, she's right! I know how it feels to be a thief's mother” my mother chimed in support of my wife.


Appa sat forlorn, dejected and in utter despair in one corner of the house.


“Where did we go wrong in our upbringing that you had to become a thief?” he blamed himself.


“Look at me properly. You may not see me again” I threatened once more.


“Go! Die! I prefer the life of a widow over continuing to live a hellish life with you” my wife cursed.


“Yes, go die! We too prefer not having a son over being addressed a thief’s parent” my mother added to my wife's curse.


The rage that was fuming within me over the loss of my child, kindled by my family's curses grew into a burning fury.


“Look at me now!” I stood facing each one of them.


“Don’t you all need me? Look at me one last time. You will never see me again” I threatened replacing the 'may' with a 'will' to make it sound real.


"No! Don't show us your face ever again. Go take your wretched self wherever you fancy. We'll cremate your photographs along with you. Good riddance it will be! We will be better off without you and your empty threats!" My mother challenged.


I went to the local bar. I decided that it was time to put an end to my empty threats. ‘Tomorrow, they won't see me’ - - I told myself as I walked out of the bar almost drunk.


I walked on the railway tracks adjoining the slums. I brought some take-away biryani from the nearby hotel and picked a bottle of coke as well.


I then proceeded towards the hideous corner under a railway bridge which was the local hideout for drug peddlers and addicts alike.


I reckoned that getting high on drugs and lying on the railway tracks would be the easiest way out. ‘Last wishes need to be fulfilled. Biryani and coke would do' - - I decided. 


I smiled and walked on the railway tracks adjoining my home with biryani, coke and drugs in hand. Closer to home will make discovery of the tragedy easier - - I thought.


I was determined. I had weathered enough. It was time to put my plan into action. It would be a genuine lesson taught. 'Empty threats is what I am made of - - Isn't that what you people think? I'm above all that. I'll show you what I'm made of' - - thoughts that made the fury within me burn with renewed vigour.


With the biryani polished off, I threw the empty coke bottle carefully into the garbage mound next to the tracks. I watched the headlights of the train approach closer. The pilot honked hard in continuous blares, the shrill noise piercing the quietness of the night. I closed my eyes a few seconds later.


It was only sometime early next morning that the police learned of the tragedy on the tracks.


“We’re sorry! Your family committed mass suicide” they said, as I put on the most sorrowful act of my life while smiling inside.


***********


Amma – Mother in Tamil language


Idli – A fluffy and soft rice dumpling that’s steamed. A delicacy of South India.


Sambhar – A savoury, tangy and spicy stewed dish made with vegetables and lentils; also a delicacy of South India.


Chutney – A savoury dip that is of many varieties eaten with Idlis. Chutneys are common across various cuisines of India.


Appa – Father in Tamil language


Mahim – A western suburb in Mumbai City, India.


Dadar – Another western suburb in Mumbai City, India.


Biryani - an Indian dish made with highly seasoned rice and meat, fish, or vegetables




July 15, 2020 16:41

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4 comments

Natalie Rarick
16:15 Jul 23, 2020

Wow Pavarthy! You really tackled an incredibly intense, high-stakes story, with a despicable narrator, all with brutal honesty. Your story has a wonderful style, and almost reads like a fable, particularly when it comes to repetition. The repetition and escalation of each fight as well as the line "you may never see me again" build narrative tension wonderfully. The delivery of your final twist was also amazing -- we as the audience always assume he'll never see his family again because HE'LL be gone. We don't realize the duality of the phra...

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16:33 Jul 23, 2020

Thank you so much Natalie for such a detailed comment. Means so much to me. Most of my stories contain quite a few words native to my Mother-tongue and I was always Skeptical about using them. None-the-less, I'm glad that you still found it interesting.

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Bibisha Shakya
06:21 Jul 21, 2020

First off, thanks for creating the footnotes for those of us who are unfamiliar with the words you have used. As for the story, it is very well-written. Great job! :)

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07:25 Jul 21, 2020

Thank you so much Bibisha. :)

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