Shreyas was very happy and also sad at the same time. He was very happy because he was informed that he got selected in the interview he attended earlier and should join duty at their Delhi office. He was sad for the reason that, at that point of time there was no body at home with whom he could share the sweet news. His friends were not in town and his parents, particularly his mother had gone to temple. Only his grandfather was there. Grandfather was actually not his original grandfather, but that original grandfather’s youngest brother—his father’s paternal uncle. The uncle was very fond of his nephew and he would visit him occasionally and be with him for few days and then go back to his village. That grandfather was quite excited to know about the good news. He said,
Why! I am there. You can share your good and bad news with me. Even with strangers you can easily share good news and I am no stranger to this family. Only for confidential matters, you need to have your own people. Go ahead. What is the matter?”
Shreyas replied politely “Two months ago, I applied for a job. Then I wrote a written test. I got through. Last month there was an interview. Then itself they told me ‘if selected, you may have to join at the earliest at the place you are told.’ Just now I got the telephone call about my selection and my place of work. I am very happy, Thaatha.”
“Very nice to know that! Going to Delhi very soon! That also for taking up a job there! Oh! Good-good! I am reminded of an old anecdote. You will be happy to hear that. Some decades ago, two young men were going to Delhi on job. For our reference, call them Subbu and Kuppu. Both were from almost identical backgrounds, lower middle class, widowed mother, siblings to be taken care of… full of family responsibilities. The job on their hands meant a lot and a lot for them. Their very future and destiny were tightly linked to it. “
Thaatha paused, then continued. Because of their similar backgrounds, they became close friends. Actually, they met for the first time in that train journey. It was a long journey and in their course of conversation, they picked up many things. That was how they became friends which later bound them in a close friendship. They both got appointed in Secretariat but in different wings of Government. They took an apartment with some more bachelors and they both shared their other common expenses. It was a thrilling experience for them to draw their first salary. While other room-mates wanted these two guys to celebrate their pay day, they refused, saying ‘our first salary belongs to our parents.’ They straight away went to post office for remitting money through money order and also booked a trunk call to talk to their mothers.
This became part of their monthly routines. While Subbu sent home only a small part of his salary, Kuppu did the other way. He retained a small portion for himself and sent home a major portion. Subbu wrote a long letter whereas, Kuppu confined to what he wrote on the money order form. For rest of the family matters he depended on the trunk call. Somehow, they saddled on their horses and kept their family in a comfortable position. Kuppu always wondered when Subbu was writing long letters to his home. ‘Was there so much to write?’ But he never intervened in his privacy.
In this manner roughly a year had gone by and they never realized that time flew off. Suddenly, Subbu felt that he must pay a visit to his hometown and meet his family. Kuppu was not so keen. He believed the money he sent was more than sufficient to take care of their comforts. In fact, he was running short, for his own needs. A rail ticket to home town would mean a lot of expenses. So, he refused to come. Subbu was full of anxiety and his eagerness made him to wish for wings to meet his family members then and then.
Subbu’s mother and sisters were over joyous in receiving him. It was about a year they saw each other. But it seemed as though they went through ages of separation. In between they spoke on trunk calls and exchanged things on inland letters. The choked emotions spoke volumes of their close bonding. He was happy to see the changes in the family.
His sister Ratna had completed the tailoring course and bought a tailoring machine. His youngest sister Ragini also shared her happiness in having completed her typing course and doing well in stenography. She laughingly added,
“Be ready Anna. I shall soon be competing with you for a job in Delhi.”
He too happily replied. “If my junior overtakes me, I will be thrilled. For a Guru, it is an awesome moment.” He looked at his mother. She took him to the kitchen and showed him the wet grinder which she had purchased on Hire-Purchase system and told him that half the EMIs were already cleared. Subbu was very-very happy that things he intended to happen were moving in the same direction as he wanted. This was exactly what he wanted from the beginning. In every letter he reminded them about Ratna’s tailoring class, purchase of cloth for every new dress designing, cutting tools, estimates for new purchases and accordingly he would increase the monthly remittance. Same thing for Ragini’s tuition fees and his mother -- cost of wet grinding machine, initial payment and future instalments. Everything was meticulously planned and budgeted by him and accordingly he was sending their share from out of his salary.
He did not stop with that. He even told Ratna to keep separate accounts for the money she received on stitching clothes for her clients. Similarly, he advised his mother also to keep track of cash she received on orders she got for grinding. Every single income they received, was meant for meeting Ratna’s wedding whenever it would happen. In a middle-class family, a girl’s marriage always meant a huge level of spending. Subbu’s mother had spent many a sleepless night on merely worrying about the two girls and their weddings. First Ratna, then Ragini. She openly admitted to Subbu that she had no worries now about their weddings. One she had entrusted everything on to hm and he took it on his shoulders, problem became lighter. Of late, both mother and daughter were seeing cash flowing through their hands. That was a good omen. Of course, when Ragini’s turn would come up, quite likely that she would be earning and saving for her marriage.
That is why she said, “What more do I want?” There was nothing more pleasing for him to see his mother in a happy contented mood. Adding to it, as an additional dose of happiness, he told his mother that he had already opened a recurring deposit in the bank. It was exclusively for meeting the marriage expenses. Therefore, he requested her to look for proper alliance and fix her marriage. He also assured her that with all their earnest efforts and all savings pooled together, there was bound to be some shortage. For that also he had a solution. He assured that shortages could easily be managed by availing loan from his office. His mother was so overwhelmed with joy and felt as though the marriage was already happening in the house. She placed her hand on his head and said,
“With you as my son, all my worries had melted away. May you stay blessed and be blessed for ever. Let no evil eyes be cast on you. God willing, you must get a spouse matching your good nature.”
Then she remembered Subbu’s friend Kuppu about whom Subbu had mentioned good number of times. He told her, “I took the address from him and surely I shall meet his people before I leave.”
Both Subbu and his mother went to their astrologer to get suitable alliance for Ratna. From there, they went to Kuppu’s place, as it was close by. An easy flow of conversation kept them binding for hours. Kuppu’s mother was full of praises for her son. She kept on saying how they were struggling earlier to make their ends meet and now after Kuppu’s monthly remittances, they ate well, dressed well, lived well, why so much! They could even afford a cinema a month. A very comfortable living indeed. She kept on saying on such lines… They even thought of paying a visit to Delhi and enjoy sight-seeing.
Both Subbu and his mother felt ill at ease. Subbu could not bear. It pained him. At what cost he was putting up there and how cosily these people enjoying life here. For a second, he thought he should tell them that their son at Delhi was not all that comfortable there. He tried hard to control himself.
Subbu’s mother did not keep quiet. She too was comparing her life on same lines, as before and after Subbu’s job and his monthly money orders. The only difference was --- not in their lifestyle but it was all in their productive savings. She stressed again and again that on their savings and if any spending from his pay it was on building up of skills. She explained how Ratna became a skilled tailor now and Ragini an upcoming typist cum clerk. Even she herself who was a simple meek and mild household lady, now a dignified entrepreneur! She proudly proclaimed, “All because of my son Subbu. Once the girls are married off, none of us need to dig a hole on his purse. This poor boy! I pity him, though he is my son. How much he has to sacrifice I do not know. He is facing the rough sea there and we are sailing smoothly here. He made our present bright and our future brighter. ”
Kuppu’s mother felt as though she slapped left and right. Really somebody thrashed her hard. Two young men with same problem! But different attitude. What a contrast! One very positive and another very passive! She felt ashamed of herself. She could not admit openly to Subbu’s mother. Her ego stopped her. Kuppu’s sister Ranjita who was all the while listening to their success story thought, ‘what an amazing man! How he transformed three ordinary women to three independent women, full of self-esteem! His greatness was totally in his forward thinking.’
Subbu broke the silence. “Aunty, I will be going back to Delhi in two days. If you want to give anything or convey anything, please feel free. I shall take them.” Kuppu’s mother said, “Yes’ He is very fond of Mysorepaak. I shall make and send it through you.”
Subbu’s mother said, “Don’t worry. I shall prepare that sweet for these two sons. But you please write a letter and give which he will certainly appreciate.” Kuppu’s mother and daughter both wrote letters and gave to Subbu.
As scheduled, Subbu left for Delhi and handed over to Kuppu all he brought from his place. Kuppu’s mother instead of praising him, had showered those praises on Subbu and asked him to accept his Guru and follow his tips. Ranjita on other openly admitted that she was highly impressed by his friend Subbu and expressed her innate feelings to be a woman of substance and was willing to undergo any levels of training under him and thereby would be assured a bright future. Kuppu smiled to himself and handed over her letter to Subbu and waited for his reply.
Both Thaatha who had narrated the story and Shreyas who simply got absorbed into depth of the story did not realise that Shreyas’ parents had already come back. Shreyas asked Thaatha about the outcome of the letter. He wanted to know how Subbu reacted to it. Just then Shreyas’s mother came with a cup of coffee and smile mischievously at them and left. Thaatha too smiled back and he continued with his story.
He said, “Subbu was not a romantic fellow. All he knew was how to save every single paisa. He simply returned the letter to his friend Kuppu and said that there was no place for any lady in his life right now. Even later in life also, he would accept only such a lady who would be willing to shoulder his burden in get his younger sister married off and render support to his mother in her old age. Kuppu did not know how to proceed further. They both started on same footing. He did not realise then that he had rigged and twisted his future, --- rather compensated his future for the comfort of present. He now relied on him for a helping hand in bringing his family above certain parameters. He hailed Subbu as a grand master good at uplifting a family and keep it afloat.”
Thaatha ended the story saying that nobody could beat Subbu as a saviour only by means of his savings. Shreyas was forced to say, “Whatever you said about Subbu, somehow I thought it fitted with Appa. That was one reason why I don’t like to listen to Appa. All the time he emphasizes on giving sermons and oracles on Reduce spending, Watch your penny.’ If you stop spending, when are we to enjoy life? He keeps grilling and we lose our thrilling.”
Thaatha patted him and replied “One’s own experience is the best teacher. Spending or saving -- it comes from what you had gone through in the past. Your father had a tough living and he had to swim hard to withstand all whirlpools. I had seen him standing tall with grits under all challenging circumstances. He was and is a living example for taking things on his stride. That was his forward thinking. He never sank under the pressure of any problem. I tell my sons and grandchildren to take him as a role model and emulate his practices. He is a real gem. Go. Go and tell them the good news you had to share. And one more thing! Don’t be surprised if there is a letter or message from your mother. When you get it, don’t ignore it.”
Shreyas got puzzled in understanding what Thaatha meant. He ignored Thaatha’s puzzling remarks and broke open the good news of his getting the job offer and posting at Delhi. Both expressed their joy on his victory and showered their blessings. His father as expected advised, “Beware of too many attractions and titillating avenues of spending and not to be swept away. In big metro cities it is very common. Stay firm. Don’t be carried away.”
His mother too advised. She pinged. She sent a text message, “Swim or Sink! It is your choice. Learn swimming. It is safer.” He looked at his mother. She smiled at him. The same mischievous smile. Now he got the answer to Thaatha’s puzzle.
Thaatha had deliberately changed his parents’ names and all along he kept telling their life history. Shreyas understood. Only he was a fool in not understanding it earlier. His mother stood by his father and understood the nuances of leading a happy life. He read her message once again. It carried a deeper meaning. A positive thinking for a bright future.
He was fully convinced. He knew what to choose. Swim or sink?
Certainly. Learn to swim. It is safer. No doubts on that.