How Fate Was Outwitted!
February 14, 2010 2 Comments
Part 4 – Meeting Fate in the face
Vidyadhar took Sunandan’s hands in his and looked at him with tears clouding his eyes. He imagined the Guru and the Gurupatni pleading with him to help their son. Recovering his poise quickly, he introduced himself to the young man who was dazed at this sudden intrusion. Not just that. This stranger also advised him presumptuously to shut down the shop for the day and take him home, though it was not dark yet and a couple of more trips could be made!
Sunandan had difficulty picking on Vidyadhar from the scores of other boys in his memories of the gurukul. But something about the latter’s appearance said he did not mean any harm. Putting aside his apprehensions, he capitulated and headed homeward with the stranger and the bullock in tow. On the way, he bought some grain with his meager earnings.
His home was an abandoned hut that came with some pots and pans and sundries. The bullock was tethered to a pole. A tattered mat was laid out for the stranger to sit. Fire was lit in a brick stove in front of the hut and the grain was cooked in water to a gruel. Poured out into two glasses with a sprinkling of salt, their evening meal – it was half a meal for him today – was ready.
The meal over, the stranger asked him to accompany him back to the market!
‘We just came back from there. Why would you want to go back?’
‘Yes, there’s work to do. Come, let us go.’
Sunandan felt there was no harm in humoring the stranger who claims to hold his parents in great respect. As they were ready to leave for the market,
‘Not you alone, get the bullock also along.’
Without a demur, he untethered the bullock and the procession of three made it back to the market.
‘Hey, come here, where did you disappear? Was looking for you. There’s a load of salt to take to the Blue House. We don’t have all day long, let’s hurry,’ shouted a voice
‘Don’t go. Take us to the livestock section in the market where the buy and sell these animals.’
For the first time, a spark of hope flashed. May be the stranger would buy him another bullock in gratitude for his parents. Then, why did he ask him to bring the bullock along? To make a matching pair?
When they reached the livestock section,
‘Now, sell this bullock for the best price.’
This was too much to take even for a resigned Sunandan.
‘Sir, this is my only source of livelihood. What would I do for tomorrow if I sell it off?’
‘Do what I’m telling you. I mean well for you. If things don’t work out, I’ve some money on me. Tomorrow, we’ll buy one for you again as soon as the market opens. Perhaps a younger and a sturdier animal? So don’t worry, go ahead and sell it.’
The money part was somewhat reassuring. The stranger didn’t look like one who has gone out of his mind. With mixed feelings, he sold off the bullock.
‘Now, buy grains with all that money. Don’t hold back a pie (old coinage).’
He didn’t have a clue where this was going. But he decided to go all the way with the stranger. In any case, he had promised to buy back a bullock for him should it be necessary.
‘Let us go to where the poor live.’
‘You mean, where I live?’
The stranger’s lips parted in a smile at the wry humor.
‘Now, give away all the grains to the needy. That doesn’t include you! Don’t keep back a single grain.’
The word got around. And in a jiffy there was a crowd around them. The grains were given away. The imaginative in the crowd attributed the inexplicable generosity to Sunandan striking a pudhayal (buried treasure).
They came back silently to the hut, empty handed.
‘Now sleep peacefully, you must be very tired after a day’s hard work.’
In any case, there was little else to do. He got the mats laid out in the open. With a wistful eye on the bullock-less pole, he slipped away into deep sleep. And so did Vidyadhar.