The moral heir
The Sun was absent throughout the day and the wind was gathering speed by the minute. Weather stations had forecasted cyclone in a day or two. Shops were fast downing their shutters and vehicles were hurrying towards their homes. Rain drops, big and haphazard, had started falling down already. People were scurrying for cover when that man in a shiny raincoat was walking deliberately slowly, his eyes surveying the scene around him. Unmindful of the situation that was developing, he walked with determined steps towards the end of the main road and into a narrow gully abutting the huge shopping complex. His eyes flitted from one building to another until atlast his eyes narrowed on a lonely house sitting on the farthest corner. Feeble light from the house had sprayed onto the road since the window was half-closed. He turned his head, right and left, to ensure nobody was noticing him. By that time the rain had gathered strength and relentless drops from the heaven had started pounding the earth with vengeance. The street was empty except a poor, street dog searching for something to silence its howling stomach. That man whistled under his breath and threw a biscuit towards the dog which gulped it eagerly wagging its tail as fast as it could.
He peeped through the half-open window and strained to hear the conversation which was not audible because of the howling wind and the fierce rain. He waited. Patiently. Some heated conversation was going on between one elderly person, possibly father, and an young man, obviously his son. After a few minutes the electricity snapped and the young man came towards the window hoping for light to read the contents of the letter he was holding in his hands. He shouted above the sounds of the wind so that his father could hear him clearly.
“You are provisionally selected for the post of Cashier in our bank. You are directed to appear before our General Manager with all your certificates. You are required to deposit a sum of rupees five thousand as security deposit. This offer is valid for a period of seven days.”
The young man explained the meaning of the letter to his father, who could not understand English. The old man folded his trembling hands for a while and turned his glittering eyes up to thank God. “Vasu, all our problems will be solved in a matter of days. Once you accept this job, we will be in a position to have three meals a day.”Wiping out his tears with his dhoti he turned towards his son and asked in a chocked voice, “how to mobilise that amount now, is the question before us.” At that time an elderly woman entered in from , obviously kitchen and said something which the man in the outside could not hear clearly. He strained his ears but could not get to hear those words because of the heavy rain. Wiping out the rain drops off his eyes the outsider cast a casual look inside that house. The old lady was seen removing her gold bangles from her hands and offering them, obviously with tears, to the men.
The old man took the bangles with shaking hands. “Let me see. For the balance I will beg or borrow…..” His words were drowned by the sounds of the rain and the rolling thunder.
The rain intensified and prevented the outsider from hearing the conversation any further. He closed his eyes, waited near the window for a few more minutes and moved away swiftly unmindful of the pouring rain. He was obviously happy. The water drops on his face concealed his mischievous grin. He licked his lips and assured himself that he would return to that poor house to aim for the big catch.
Sun was slowly rising from the slumber and somebody had painted the eastern skies blood red. The breeze was slow, hesitant but soothing. Rooks had announced day break and the birds had started flitting from tree to tree in extreme joy sensing the dawn of yet another day. A small lamp, was doing duty beyond the head of Vikram’s father. The smell of death had started pervading the atmosphere and neighbours had started trickling in to enquire about the death and to share the grief of the young man.
The big palatial house was slowly waking up to the realities. It’s master had gone! Suddenly and unexpectedly. Vikram felt awkwardly lonely in the world. Despite his age he was carefully molded by his father step by step. Now in just two hours, his Guide had disappeared. He was totally new to his father’s business empire; it’s dark, intricate sides. He was not knowing which was East or West.
People around him knew and could very much feel the enormity of his loss. Many important persons visited him offering condolences. Vikram’s father was a very big business magnet and hence big shots of the city swarmed the house to mourn his death. When everything was over, when he was left alone to fend for himself, he felt the vacuum suffocating. He was aware of a heavy stone across his chest that whipped his heartbeats. He was feeling like falling into a bottomless pit from a height.
The old man felt as if a vicious, powerful thunder had landed on his head straight from the skies. He could not believe his eyes. By falling on the feet of his friends and relatives he had collected and kept a huge amount of cash in the only almirah that was available in that old house. But the same was missing in the evening. He went out for his temple duties at about six in the morning and his son had gone to the bank at about nine. His wife, an aged fragile woman, was alone in the house.
“Oh ! God. How can this happen to me, of all the persons, in this world?! I have never compromised on my duties to you so far in my life. I have never faltered to open the temple in the morning or to perform the religious rituals. But now….now….” he could not even imagine the tragedy that had struck him so suddenly, viciously and violently. The old woman was clueless.
“I was….was here only, in this hall. But how….that would have disappeared. Nobody came in to my ….knowledge. I have ….have not seen anybody intruding and nearing the almirah.”
The theft of money was beyond their comprehension. They could not bear the shock at all. The old man was earning a meagre money by performing puja in the near-by temple. Believing in his honesty and to help his son get the bank job some of his distant relatives and friends living in that street had given him the money as a loan. But now…!?
The creditors, who had gathered in that house by then, could not believe the money was stolen. They felt the old man would have pocketed the money for his family expenses and was simply enacting a drama. They were even prepared to lodge a police complaint that he had stolen their money. The old priest was deeply upset and trembling on seeing the response of those who were supposedly his friends and well wishers. He could not eat, could not perform puja in the temple and could not even talk. He felt silenced. His words froze inside his throat and tears rolled on his cheeks.
On the third day, the old man and the old woman hanged themselves in that house. The outsider, who was overhearing the conversation on that rainy day, was very much in the curious crowd of onlookers which was witnessing the tragic event unfolding before them.
As days rolled on Vikram slowly gathered himself. Business colleagues of his father came to his rescue. They came daily and urged him to attend to the company’s business. Though he had started learning the business of his father for sometime, yet he was not having the mental strength to occupy his father’s chair so soon. But that was fate. He had no other options before him. He was pushed into the well and he knew he had to swim. After about two months of mourning Vikram decided to attend the Office regularly to plunge into the business of his father. He felt he had to fulfil the ideas of his father by attending to the business actively. “Father wanted me to become a full time business man like himself. Let me live up to his dreams”
He started sitting in his father’s chair from an auspicious day. He worked hard every day and with the help of seniors started attending to the day-to-day problems of his father’s business. He went to the bank, changed the cheque-signing authority to himself. He learned the tricks slowly but steadily. He ensured that a photograph of his father was kept on his table with a fresh rose every morning. He prayed to his father on all occasions whenever he had to take important decisions.
The house remained as it was on the day of his father’s death. So Vikram egged on his servants to dust the walls, clean the toilets, sweep the floors and change the sofa covers. Not satisfied with their work he plunged himself deeply whenever his time permitted. Getting a sudden interest he went to his father’s room and started going through the files, papers and other items which were very neatly stacked up in the wooden cupboards. When he was casually going through the papers one photograph fell on the floor unexpectedly from a bunch. He felt a sudden wave of confusion run through him.
He became curious. When his father was alive he had never thought of even looking at those cupboards. Whose photo is this? He wondered. He was sure the man on the photograph was not his relative. He was neither an employee of his father
Eagerly and religiously he examined the bunch of papers for a clue, if any. Holding the photograph in his hands he stared at the old face repeatedly to find out the identity.
He removed it carefully and cast a glance on it. It was a photograph of an elderly person. There was a newspaper clipping with the same photograph. He went through the newspaper report under the photo.
“Shri Moorthi, the priest in the local Ganapathi temple, had committed suicide along with his wife. It is reliably learnt that he took this extreme step unable to repay loans he had borrowed for the employment of his son, Mr. Vasu.”
Vikram could not understand the significance of this news item which was so carefully preserved by his father for many years. He turned the photograph and saw a message behind it in his father’s handwriting. Surprised, he read the message, “Oh young man, I live because of you.”
Vikram could not make out anything from that photograph and the lines on the backside. He, however, took the photograph and the newspaper clipping to his office the next day. By sheer luck, his father’s trusted employee, Mr.Nathan was able to explain the story behind that photograph.
“On his younger days when he was penniless, your father had stolen an amount of five thousand rupees from an old man.” Nathan started the story with a balm. Vikram raised his eyes in bewilderment and heard it feverishly.
Nathan continued, “Yes young man. Your father jumped gate and did steal that money from a poor, unguarded house. The money was kept by the old man to help his son gain an employment in a bank at that time. Since the money was stolen by your father this old man was shattered beyond definition. He could not guarantee a decent job for his son on the one hand and he could not repay his debts on the other. He was dejected, smashed and felt like pulp. Unable to face the world any more the old man hanged himself along with his wife”
“Oh NO” shouted Vikram which rattled the window panes and blood rushed to his face which displayed his disapproval visibly.
“Unable to face the pressing creditors his son Vasu had run out of that town” continued Nathan after a heavy sigh. “Using that money intelligently your father had started building his empire brick by brick. The house in which the old couple hanged themselves remained locked for a long time. Nobody dared to live in there. After having made tons of money your father bought that house for a whistle.”
Vikram felt drained. He did not expect that his father would have an ugly past like this. “Your father got this photograph from that house when he was cleaning the house after purchasing it. He wanted very much to search for Vasu and handover the house along with a sizeable chunk of his properties. Your father very strongly understood that he had made a fortune out of two dead bodies. He was desperate to locate Vasu and bequeath his properties to him. But unfortunately he could not locate the young man till his death and,” paused Nathan for a few seconds and said, “this is the photograph of Mr.Vasu the unfortunate son of that old man.”
“Your father used to say every day,” continued Nathan in a low voice, “that his entire wealth belonged to that old man but for whom your father would have ended as a street beggar.”
The story behind that photograph made Vikram very disappointing. A blank remote expression came to his eyes. He clearly understood the importance of locating Vasu and handing over a sizeable chunk of properties to him. He grinned uneasily and said to himself, “Vasu is the moral heir of the properties if not the legal heir.” Vikram felt that he would keep the photograph of Mr.Vasu in his official table and would remember him every minute of his future life. He stared moodily at Mr. Nathan who was preparing to exit the room with uncomfortable steps.
Written by : Ananth Ravi
Original Name : A. Ravi
Mobile No : 91 9444018042
Full Address : A. Ravi,
Flat 4A, Malles Altius,
Opp: Bharathi Vidyalaya School,
Perumbakkam Main Road, Perumbakkam,
Chennai - 600100
Word count : 2350 (Excluding title)