Mahesh rang the bell and waited. A lady opened the door and peeped out. Seeing Mahesh and nobody else, she promptly told him t amounto come later, as her husband was not at home and immediately closed the half-opened door, almost slapping on him. Mahesh was used to such cold responses. He knew very well that her husband was very much at home, but not willing to see him. He went to the next person in his list, Dr. Girish. On ringing the bell, door got opened. After formal greetings, Mahesh told him about the purpose of his visit. Dr. Girish put on a sad face and narrated a long story…. That he had to face too much of expenses, all his savings got drained out and that he had to borrow for his own needs. With all such mounting expenses upon his head, he certainly might not be able to meet this particular additional demand. He at the end said, ‘this month sorry, Next month sure.’ Mahesh knowing fully well that such tactics were a common practice with this man, he kept calling every now and then, to keep his point alive. He moved on to the next door. Mrs. Sarala opened the door with her broad heart-warming smile. When he asked for her son, Suresh, she had to cut a sorry figure. He told that he had come to collect their share of monthly maintenance expenditure of their apartment, commonly known as ‘Common Expenses’. She instantly reacted, ‘Oh! How nice it would be if he included a small portion for her maintenance also and start paying to her every month.’ Each and every time she had to stand before him and make a request for meeting her personal needs like, laundry, fruits medicines, autorickshaw hire, temple-visits, etc. He always frowned before giving and she always felt humiliated, as though she was a beggar. Though she did not say it all to Mahesh, he could read her mind and understand. One great virtue of this lady was, she never spoke ill of her son. As for Mahesh, here too, he met with failure, unable to extract a single rupee. It was a routine affair for him. He then moved on to see Naresh, another peculiar houseowner. He simply dismissed Mahesh, saying ‘how much did you collect from Ganesh? First let him pay, then come to me.’ Without a word, he came out and knocked on Ganesh’s door. Both Naresh and Ganesh, it appeared, had spoken to each other before hand, about how to wash off their hands from making payments. Ganesh also said same thing as Naresh said. ‘First you get as much as you can from Naresh and I too will give the same. He is first and I am next. Ok!’
What more can he say to such people? Mahesh had to retreat empty handed. In his apartment of good many house-owners, many were in the upper middle-class category. Not a single houseowner would hesitate to spend lavishly on luxuries and vagaries. Many of them were fond of splashing handsome amount on vanities, but when it came to meeting the ‘Common Expenses’, their hands shrunk, purses sewed, pockets empty, faces turned. All they offered were, not a penny, but excuses aplenty. Actually speaking, these very common expenses ensured their comfortable day to day living. If water supply was not regularised. Elevators were not in working condition, common area not kept tidily, diesel for generator not procured in time, what would happen? The motor pump sets to be kept in order, sumps to be cleaned often, salaries for security guards, helpers, and cleaners, electricity charges, municipal corporation charges, etc. etc., all put together worked out to a sizeable amount which was necessarily to be shared by all and cleared by all. The House-owners’ Association, made him in charge of calculating and collecting the amount from all co-owners. While many gave their share instantly, some gave it after a bit of persuasion, some after checking the calculations and a few more upon repetitive visits. But still a good number of members were very reluctant to part with their booties. Such hardcore defaulters only posed a big problem to him. On one side, his level of frustration increased, and on the other side, his level of motivation was sinking. He was now further worried as, the defaulters were seen as great personalities capable of avoiding, debating, dodging and even denying payments. ’If he can, why should I not be?’ Such an attitude was quite likely to put off other regular payers. The radar could swing in favour of wilful defaulters. An urgent solution was necessary. In order to arrest the worsening situation, he had to be resilient even if things went wrong.
Mahesh was discussing the issue with his wife, Maanyata. Just then he had a call from Secretary of Association. An urgent meeting was convened. Few members had already assembled there. The agenda was how to celebrate Ganapathi Bappa festival in befitting manner. Ganapathy Pooja was approaching and just a month away. Unless it was well planned and well organised, only then, it could be well executed. A special committee was needed, comprising of volunteers, event planners, designers and so on. It was anybody’s guess that a grand event could be carried out on a grand scale, only and only with the support of huge collection. That meant heavy subscription from all members. ‘Subscription! Then call Mahesh.’ That was the instant reaction. Mahesh remained a subservient volunteer throughout. But of late, he was getting awfully disheartened to go for collection. Secretary lent a patient hearing to Mahesh’s experiences in tackling a tough issue. Then he assured that a general body meeting would be convened, exclusively for addressing the issue and some suitable measures including some penal action on such defiant members would be taken. He further reiterated that Ganapathy Pooja was a different issue and he expressed that many would voluntarily offer their share and partake in all events, be it cultural, spiritual or sports. The children were the first one to muster in full strength and indulge in all events. At least for their sake, the parents would willingly, why even gladly give away the amount demanded. The Secretary was sure that collection would not be an issue to grumble upon. Mahesh told him point blank, if the targeted amount was not received. some of the events might have to be dropped or cancelled.
Mahesh once again set out on his collection drive. Many greeted him and were enthusiastic about how grand the function was going to be. As usual, some asked for details, some about the expenditure, some about eatables that would be available, some wanted to know any performance by any celebrities and so on and so forth. All questions from all corners were answered to fullest details. But the collection drive was not catching up. If not all, some of the hardcore defaulters were up on their sleeves with excuses. He almost completed his round with all members. When he came to Ganesh, this time, he did not say ’I am next.’ In stead he said, ‘I am atheist. Why should I pay for Ganesh Pooja? My name may be Ganesh. But I do not believe in God or worshipping God. So, don’t come here asking for donations in the name of Gods, temples, religious rituals, etc. I am not interested.’ Mahesh smiled and stood there. He said ‘Ganesh festival is not confined to mere Hindus and neither it is a mere Pooja or worship. Have you not learnt about it in our freedom struggled? In pre-independent era, every part of India, selected one festival, unique to their area—not for worshipping the Gods or Goddesses, a congregation only, but not in the name or religious meeting. It was an effort in assembling the people in the garb of religion. In this part of India, it is Ganesh Pooja, elsewhere, it is Garba, somewhere else, it is Baisaakhi, and elsewhere, it is Pongal and at some other part of India, it is Ramleela. Name of God or religion was only an excuse to them. Thanks to our freedom fighters who devised such a system. Now in our independent India, it is better known as State Festival, filled with cultural activities, folklores and mainly for preservation of our ag- old heritage. Actually, in our present-day context, it is more of Talent Hunt game. This festival invites and includes all, atheists and non-atheists. You may think again. If you still persist on desisting from Ganesh festival activities, I have nothing to say.’ Mahesh left the place.
The collection was sufficient enough to cover many programmes of what they wanted to perform. Children were told to prepare themes on eco-friendly features and climate-change topics, be it music, dance, skits, drawing, doll making, sports, etc. Kids, youth and women drew in large numbers and set their minds on themes suggested. A puppet show covering above subjects, was also meant to be staged. The festival would start on the auspicious Pooja day and would be carried on for 10 days at a stretch. It was just a week away to start. Arrangements and preparations were afoot in full swing. A grand shamiyana – a ceremonial tent for a large gathering, with all sorts interior decorations, was coming up. Stage settings, mike arrangements, catering only in eco-friendly plated and spoons, were all yet to take off. One day suddenly, there was a big hue and cry and screams of ‘help-help’ from Ganesh’s apartment. Mahesh who was on his rounds nearby there, rushed immediately and barged into his house. He was shocked and taken aback. An intruder, may be a thief was tying Ganesh into a chair and lump of cloth stuffed into his mouth. The thief was wielding a knife to ward off others. Mahesh paused for a while, then he sprang into swift action. He told the thief, ‘Take this moneybag. It contains twenty-five thousand rupees. But leave him.’ Saying so, he threw his wallet containing the collection. When thief bent over the wallet, Mahesh lost no time in bumping on him and also kicking the wallet to a corner. Ganesh’s wife, came running to free her husband. Meanwhile some more neighbours gathered and soon the situation was brought under control. The thief was caught and handed over to the securities. Ganesh was still in his jitters of shock. He could not speak. By then, Mahesh saw someone manhandling a security for not remaining alert, or else how an intruder could straight walk into the apartment and carry out his nefarious thefts! Today Ganesh and tomorrow? Who next? Mahesh rushed to the spot and freed the security guard. He said that the thief could be one of the workmen engaged for erecting the shamiyana tent, on whom he had no control. On the spot it was decided to issue identity cards for all workmen coming into the arena of Pandal – so called shamiyana.
Ganesh gathered his senses and came running to Mahesh to offer his thanks profusely. ‘Why thank me? Thank God, for His kindness, including, making me available to you in time. If you want you can thank your neighbour Naresh. I was just there. I came there to collect subscription from him. As usual he promised to give after yours was received. He too says ‘I am next.’ But the thief does not believe in who should be first or next.’ Mahesh kept saying some more points on power of unity--- On sharing problems, it got reduced, and on sharing joy, it only got multiplied. Ganesh, readily gave away his share of subscriptions and also the overdue maintenance expenses. There was no need to show this as proof to Naresh as he was very much standing there. He too handed over his portion. But he taunted, ‘had it not been for my dodging, Mahesh would not be there readily available for rescue operations. Ganesh also responded saying that the change of mind in giving his share immediately was mainly due to Mahesh’s offering his wallet containing the entire amount of his hard-earned collections to the thief--- just to save a person who was dodging and delaying. That one impromptu action was more than enough to bring out his inner consciousness.
The best part was that Ganesh said, ‘hereafter, I shall accompany you whenever you go for collections. Other non-payers can take a lead from me. Together we go as collectors.’ Mahesh was thrilled. His resilient efforts ‘are paying now.’ He also gave a new nomenclature, COLLECTOR, considered to be a dignified post as a district head. Naresh standing aside there, said ‘I am next. Whenever Ganesh does not turn up, I shall be there, joining you as a collector.’
Mahesh wanted to say ‘Why should there be any need for collectors? If all members pay their dues voluntarily, where is the need for any collection? But the fact is that not all are so pious, neither they have such a civic sense. As long as hardcore defaulters remain, collectors too have to be running after them.’ Mahesh felt happy that two members from his ‘hit-list’ got dropped and with their assistance some more, would also likely to be dropped, sooner or later. Above all, he was not alone in the chase.