Praveenkumar came running to his father and sought refuge. His father guessed that his son had done something very drastic and punishable. Hence, he had come seeking asylum. Earlier also he had come once. That was some petty nuisance case. Those people went away after being compensated. Thank God! They spared him with mere cautioning. It appeared that this time it must be a much more serious one. His father just looked outside on the road if any gang was chasing him. Luckily, there was none. Then he closed the door and pacified Praveen and then dug out what grave mischief he had performed.
His father was really taken aback. He was shocked to know that Praveen could stoop down to such low level in seeking revenge. What a gruesome act! Praveen admitted having shown his anger on the girl who refused his courtship. According to him, mere argument or slapping the girl would be a child’s play. He wanted to teach her a lesson which she would remember for her life. Because she was extremely beautiful, he thought that was why she ignored him. So, in a fit of rage he threw acid on her face, such that the beautiful face could no longer ‘launch any ship’, forget about launching thousand ships. The irony of things was that instead of his chosen girl, Namita, it fell on another girl adjacent to her. He did not even know whom he had victimised, who she was and why she came in between. She screamed and howled in great agony and a big crowd gathered around her in no time.
Praveen realized his mistake. For a second, he thought he missed his target and Namita was untouched. He wanted to punish her. He had no intention of hurting anybody else. But on seeing the crowd he became panicky. In no time, he fled the scene and stopped only on reaching home. He was in tears and was shivering in fear. There could be a police case on him and soon he would be arrested. He repeatedly lamented that he had no intention of striking that innocent girl. He knelt at his father’s feet and pleaded.
”Appa, please save me. I shall be a good boy hereafter. I shall never do anything wrong to anyone. Not even in my dreams. Please save me before the police comes and handcuffs and drags me on the street.”
His father knew that his son was not worthy of any forgiveness. But he could not keep quite by allowing law to take its course and surrender him to the hounding police. His own son, his very blood! After all blood is thicker than water. He had to save him. He rang up his overseas friend and told him,
“You See Gopinath. I am sending my son there. Please take care of him. Help him in getting admission in the college he had applied for. In the meantime, I am arranging for funds.”
He turned to Praveen and asked him to hurry up.
“Pack up your belongings. I am sending you to Australia. Don’t think of coming here for the next four to five years. Behave yourself and be good there. One most important thing! Don’t breathe a word of what happened here to anyone. Be careful when you talk to anybody there. Even when you contact us, don’t ever mention about this criminal incident. Beware and be alert.”
Within the next hour, both father and son were at the airport. His father kept on advising him on good behaviour and good conduct and maintaining a good character. Surprisingly, Praveen lent a patient hearing without any interruptions. His obedience and silence were sending positive signals. His father came home half relieved. But the shadow of trauma was still there. While reaching home, he anticipated some police personnel waiting for him at his door steps. There was none. Thank God. Let them come when they need to. Now no need to worry about it. He got down to his business and daily chores.
Time and tide wait for none. Praveen and his father were no exceptions. Praveen sought admission for medical course and seriously drowned himself into his studies. As advised by his father, he simply focussed on his studies and nothing else. His dedicated hard work yielded him good results. Soon he rose to be a rank holder and was recognised as a meritorious student. Quite often he was thinking about himself … how he was earlier and how he was today. If only he showed the same level of hard work and dedication in his early days also, his parents would have been very proud of him and would be floating on cloud nine.
At the same time, he was often reminded of that innocent victim whom he mercilessly jeopardised into hell. Though she was not the intended target she must be undergoing all perils of life in one sudden stroke. Physical pain was one part but the major part were the mental agony and the deep depression which went with ugly appearance. He wondered how she was putting up with it and worst thing, for no fault of hers. Umpteen times he shed tears on her behalf. He repented a lot. In one such moments of remorse, he vowed to amend his sins as much as he could. He wondered how he was spared and not punished for hideous act. Many times, he thought of inquiring his father about the case. But he had advised against it.
Alongside his studies which itself took away greater share of the day, he took up some private tuitions and similar part time jobs to earn a few dollars. Whatever he earned through such means, he directed them towards funding victims of burn injuries. Unlike India, acid victims were not so common in Australia. Maybe because rascals like him were plenty in India than elsewhere. Whenever he visited those patients and comforted them, they thanked him heavily and blessed him profusely. He simply forwarded their words of gratitude and dedicated their blessings to that unknown victim he had jeopardised. His remedial action was akin to a dot in the ocean.
When he mentioned his father about his noble deeds, he cautioned him and advised him to concentrate on completing his course and come home with honours and a degree.
“Life is long and you have lot of time to go for noble deeds of charity. Keep it aside till you finish your studies. Now bother about completing your course and come out with flying colours.”
Praveen gave his best in curriculum and that showed in the results. Not contented with a mere degree, he went in for advance course on Plastic Surgeries. He was still carrying on with his private earnings to the extent it was permitted in that land. Notwithstanding the fact that his father advised him to stand focussed on the main purpose of his coming to Australia. He kept counting the number of patients served by him though it was not proper to do so. But he had a purpose behind it.
His target was one hundred and eight. He knew that the number one zero eight was not any ordinary number. In all holy matters, the minimum count to be observed was one zero eight, be it chanting holy names of Gods or holy offerings to Gods or doing holy rounds in temples called pradakshanams or parikramas. He had already vowed to himself that he would take up remedial measures to escape curses from that unknown acid victim.
One fine Sunday morning, Praveen was just alighting from Metro Rail. Upon alighting, he suddenly got a glimpse of a girl he knew. She was with her … must be her husband. He paused a while to recollect who that lady could be, that too in this this part of the world. Oh God! Namita. She was the one who drove him crazy and finally dumped him as a criminal. How on earth was she in Australia? The old Praveen would been shaken and would try to avoid her. But not the present refined and matured Praveen. He went to the couple.
Namita recognised him and introduced him as her friend. That paved way for easy conversations. They hopped into a cafetoria. When her husband was away in the smoking zone, he took the opportunity and begged for pardon for his silly and rude behaviour. He was very curious to know about the innocent girl who accompanied her and fell prey to his heinous crime. He was waiting for her to break the ice. Instead she teased him saying that her ‘better half’ might not be better in looks but was better in understanding and appreciating. She said he taught her that,
“Love begets love by understanding and adjusting with each other. Physical beauty is temporary and actual beauty of the person is in his / her inner strength. We lead a very happy comfortable life.” Then she asked, “How about you?”
He narrated that after that day of acid incident, his life took a U-turn. He was now a decent fellow with a medical degree. After completing his postgraduation he might return to India. Just then a family of four paused a while for his attention. When he turned to them, a small girl in that group with folded hands greeted him with Indian style Namaste. She was cheerful and charming. She was one of the victims of firecracker burn injury, whose medical expenses were paid by him.
Namita was very happy to know that he indulged in life saving activities. He was a spoiler once, now a saviour. When she complimented him for his noble gesture, he gently and gracefully dedicated them to the victim who was with her on that fateful day of acid incident.
“You are referring to Meena. She was my neighbour and we had come to the Mall to buy some fancy handbags. Unfortunately, she became the target. Life’s crude joke. Everyone in her family was so terribly annoyed at the rogue scoundrel whose one single stroke wiped out her future completely. Her father was almost calling the police when she stopped him. Instead she quoted from ‘Book of Tirukkural’ that if someone harms you, you better do something very-very nice to him which will make him feel ashamed of himself. Even Jesus Christ said it. If somebody thrashes you on one cheek, then show him the other one so he will shy away from his misdeeds. Moreover, it is my bad time. Why blame him? It is my karma. I am paying for it. If not this tragedy, something else worse than this would have befallen on me. So, leave it.”
Namita continued, “I never expected such a reaction from her. I was really stunned and silenced by her forgiveness. She is a rare specimen to see.”
“Did she know I was the one solely responsible?”
“No. I didn’t tell. Why should I? She was not going to lodge any complaint. But I was determined. If I ever meet you, I must show you the two different species on earth… one bent upon brutally attacking and there another one, gracefully forgiving even at the cost all pains upon oneself. Now on witnessing your present attitude, I changed my opinion.”
“Yes. True. I have changed for the better. Whatever I do is just nothing but making amends for that mistake. As part of remedial measures, I have vowed to amend and set right one hundred eight cases. After that I shall come and seek pardon from her. Will you please tell her?”
“Oh! You are equating her with God Ganesh who gets pleased with offering of one hundred and eight coconuts. By the by, how many cases you have crossed so far?”
“With God’s grace I have crossed one hundred. A few more left which I am sure I shall complete before my postgraduation course is completed. I am happy to tell you that in last the few cases I am the surgeon attending on them. One thing here in this country, the medical expenses are borne by the insurance companies thereby offering less scope for me to foot the bill. I happen to stand by for only those patients who do not have insurance facility or if it is partly covered by the company.”
Namita’s husband was nudging her. “Why don’t you meet again leisurely. Now we already missed two trains. Punctuality is a great virtue. Our travel guide will be waiting for us. We should not give room for him to complain about we Indians. Ok. Praveen see you soon in India.”
Namita also took leave. Praveen reminded her, “Please tell your friend that I want to meet her and pay my obeisance. I am waiting for the day. I will be happier still if she happens to be my hundred and eighth case. I am already a qualified surgeon. When I meet her, I will by then be a well experienced Surgeon. Please make it happen. Will you?”
Namita smiled. “Okay. Keep waiting.”
She did not tell him that Meena was long ago treated and with the plastic surgery done on her, she was beyond recognition. The entire cost was borne by none other than Namita herself. The very tragedy was supposed to have occurred on her. But accidentally Meena happen to come in between and bore the brunt. So Namita was morally responsible for it.
She smiled to herself and said in her mind voice, “Praveen, you want to wait your hundred and eighth case. So, keep waiting. Let it happen when it may happen. You must know that making amends on certain mistakes are not that easy.”
Praveenkumar had completed one hundred and seven cases. He was waiting for one more case. One Hundred Eighth’s case so that his vow would be over. The last one is still eluding. One Nought Eight has now become One Naughty Eight.
Praveenkumar is waiting for that eluding one nought eight.