Nobility is not everyone’s cup of coffee

Submitted into Contest #102 in response to: Start your story with a metaphor about human nature.... view prompt

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Desi Drama Fiction

Those days, exactly at 10:00 pm, the electricity used to be cut for a minute and at 10:01 it would be back. The elders used to say, “They change the line”. Even today, I don’t understand what it means. I never experienced this phenomenon after I grew up. 

One of those nights, the elders were playing Thayam, a South Indian board game, in our thinnai, a raised platform in front of the house, which every house used to have those days and I don’t see in the houses being built these days anywhere. Ram uncle, Lakshmi aunty, Abdul uncle and Meeran uncle were the players. There were five other people, three adults and two kids, watching the game. Vadi and I were the kids.

It was 10:00 pm. The game was in a critical stage. The power went off as usual. Everyone was so engrossed in the game that no one was prepared for that minute. Within the first few seconds, almost everyone in the group cursed the ‘line man’ who would just be doing his job. 

I was so well prepared for that minute. While nobody else cared about the time, I kept looking at the clock when the game was going on. Around 9:50, I realized the disappointment on the way, went inside and grabbed a match box from the kitchen. Nobody was noticing. At 9:55, I was ready with a matchstick. Within seconds of powercut, I quickly struck the head of the match on the side of the matchbox and lit up the place. 

The same mouths that cursed the line man started praising me for my spontaneity and smartness. Those days, I was living all my life to grab this kind of attention whenever possible.

“Wow, that’s my lovely nephew!” Ram uncle started.

“In my 35 years of existence on this planet, I have never seen such a responsible kid!” said Meeran uncle.

“There are so many of us here. What made this kid alone be prepared for this crucial minute! He will go places,” said Lakshmi aunty.

All these for saving a minute of thayam game! As the praises were pouring, within the next few seconds, there was brighter light from a different direction. Everyone looked there.

“Wow, that’s my nephew! He is smarter than yours, buddy!” said Abdul uncle to Ram uncle.

That was Vadi, with a torchlight in his hand. He stole the limelight from me that night.

This is the first instance of Vadi doing that to me. Once he tasted the elders’ praise, he started doing it more often. The tug of war that started between us that day never stopped till date.

***

Vadi proved he is smarter than me by scoring more than me in the tenth grade. He ranked first and I came fourth. He continued in the same school in our small town. That’s all his parents could afford. I went to a boarding school in Madurai. My parents spent ten or hundred times (I don’t know how much) more money for my education and ensured I got better scores than Vadi in the twelfth grade. With all that investment my parents made, I easily got into a government engineering college, which is the only government thing that rich people in my country value more than the private. 

While everything else is better when provided by the private, engineering education alone is better provided by the government. The private colleges spend millions of rupees every year to defeat the government colleges. But they have never been successful unlike I was with Vadi. They provide better infrastructure and facilities but at the end of the day it is the government college alumni who make it big in the job market.

Vadi got much lower than me. So he couldn’t make it to any government college. His parents couldn’t afford a private engineering seat. So he ended up in the local arts and science college. While I was doing Bachelor of Engineering (BE) in one of the best government engineering colleges in Madurai, he was doing Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in the local college. Though I had lost to Vadi more times than I won, this win put an end to our endless competition. That’s what I thought until our paths crossed again many years later.

He finished his degree in three years and went to work when I was in my final year. He started earning on his own and supporting his family while I was still depending on my parents’ money. Some of my family friends told me how much he struggled without a job for six months in Bangalore and also to get a job. With all his smartness, he finally made it. He must have thought he won there. I didn’t care. I had bigger plans in my life. 

I took a year break, prepared well for the CAT exam, cracked it and got into IIM Bangalore. I got hired on campus by one of the most valued multinational technology companies. Then there was no looking back. I started in Hyderabad and ended up in Seattle. My next move was even bigger. I moved from Seattle to the Bay Area. Now I was working for the richest technology company on the planet, making double the money per month than I was with the Seattle multinational, which was the richest at some point in time. 

Amma (mom) once told me on my Saturday night call, “Hey, Vadi’s mom told me he is coming to the same place where you are.” 

I just said, “OK” and didn’t show any more interest in the subject.

“Go and meet him once, or I will give him your number. Speak to him if he calls.”

No interest from me again.

Amma changed the topic. 

Three years later, sometime in the late 2010s, on another Saturday night call, “Vadi’s mom told me he and his family were asked to leave within a month. His H1B extension got rejected it seems. Would you be able to help him in any way?”

“Amma! What do you think I am doing here? I am not working in immigration.”

That’s it. She didn’t talk about him with me anymore.

I made some smart investments every now and then, which made me much richer than I could imagine. I ensured a constant inflow of money regardless of whether I went to work or not. To be frank, I can buy the entire town back home with the money I have. But I am not interested in that. I want to give back to society. 

A friend of mine is feeding the homeless people in the entire Bay Area. He and his wife started small with a few meals a day to serve the homeless people in their neighborhood a decade back. They have a team of volunteers now and cook hundreds of meals to serve a larger population. I was inspired by this work. I wanted to do something like this. But someone is already doing this. So I decided to get back to my small town. 

It’s not an easy decision. Mind you, I made this decision at the peak of my career. I had more than a decade of my career left. Had I focused on my career, I could have even made it to some of the big lists that get published in local newspapers back home. No, there was something else that was pulling me. I am a man with a vision. 

Here I am, back in my hometown, after two decades of dream run in the corporate world, to change something that nobody even dared to dream of. I dreamed of a ‘Hunger-free India’. I started with my hometown. Once I achieved ‘Hunger-free Nagalapuram’, I wanted to do ‘Hunger-free Tamil Nadu’ and then finally ‘Hunger-free India’. Who knows with God’s grace I might end up becoming the man who made ‘Hunger-free world’ possible in the history books.

I started with my hometown first. I first made an announcement about my plans through some community groups within the town and then made some newspaper announcements. I wanted to attract two groups of people. One, I wanted to know about the beggars in the area. Two, I wanted some volunteer support. I was ready to pay an attractive amount to all the volunteers. Some people ridiculed that. They said I was demeaning volunteering itself. I didn’t care. All I cared about was what I wanted to achieve. I would do that by hook or crook. That’s what I am admired for in my circles back home—yeah, the Bay Area is the home now.

It was just a single digit number of beggars in my hometown at first. It was nothing for us. I ensured the photo with me and my wife pretending to be cooking got posted on all our social media accounts. It got widely shared in our circles. WhatsApp messages went around praising the new role model that the town has found. Believe me, I didn’t pay anyone to create those messages.

One full week, we served the beggars in my hometown. I had more volunteers to serve  than the beggars to be served. So, at the end of the first week, we decided to expand to a few other small towns around my place. This grew very quickly. 

I started getting calls to speak in schools and community meetings around the place. I was the chief guest at many unimaginable events in the next few weeks. On one hand I was too shy to attend these events and on the other I could see that I was enjoying the attention.

On a Saturday morning, my wife woke me up. 

“Hey, wake up. Your friend Vadi has come!”

‘What? My friend Vadi eh? When were we friends?’

I woke up.

“Hey, Vadi! How come, man? What brings you here?”

“Hey, man!” 

He spoke with the same tone with which he used to speak with me 20 years ago. Almost everyone in the town addresses me differently and speaks in a different tone when they speak to me. This guy, after all a software developer or tester or maybe a project manager in a godforsaken IT company, dares to speak with me, a man who is on his mission to change the humanity’s fate, in such a friendly tone! No, it’s not appreciated. 

He went on. “I am truly inspired by the work you do. It’s not a joke. What you have swallowed is much more than what anyone could chew. You need a lot of support from people, people like me, who are proud of what you are doing. I would like to join hands with you. I would even like to take this initiative to the next level. I have some interesting ideas about how we can permanently change people’s lives so that we can dream of a ‘Beggar-free India’ rather than a ‘Hunger-free India’.”

He must have noticed that I am not pleased with his ideas or the tone.

“Thank you, man. I appreciate your thoughts. So, how much homework did you do before coming to meet me and present this?”

“No, nothing much. I always used to think a lot about all these. But it’s only after hearing about what you are doing did I start to think about this more seriously. Does it make sense?”

“Listen. I have been thinking about this since my childhood. Every small thing that is being done today has taken its shape after many years of careful thinking and prototyping and what not. So I would suggest you get back to the drawing board, do your research, and once you have a clear plan then build your own empire. Thank you for your ideas. But they are nothing new.”

“OK.” He stood up like a wounded tiger and left the place.

Let this be the final defeat. Let him not dare to cross my path again. People don’t realize, nobility is not everyone’s cup of coffee.

July 17, 2021 02:51

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