It was hot and sultry outside, the Sun nonchalantly beaming down its scorching rays even though it was way past afternoon. The black barrister’s robe swayed around in repeated rhythmic dance from the clothes stand placed at a handy distance from the door.
Swaminathan looked at it as it went on with its hypnotic sway. He had never understood who had made this and why this outfit became the symbol of his profession worldwide. It looked to him more like an executioner’s robe, deep weird and draconian. But aren’t they the first step to that? He reminded himself that he is not to bother about such trivialities as he is only doing his karma as per his dharma. Maybe these thoughts could have made him seek solace in God. As the days into his profession went by, he became more and more pious. He also tried his outmost in helping out the old and needy and often his out of way approach invited both sharp criticism and accolades also.
He closed his eyes. Time for a short nap before the clients start pouring in.
The hot court rooms and heated debates had exhausted him unlike his young days when he was known to be the firebrand among the apprentices and admired by his peers. Not that he has lost space professionally but the hectic schedules had taken its toll on the aging body which couldn’t keep pace with time.
Saar ..saar .
Swaminathan squirmed in his plush leather seat trying to pretend he didn’t hear anything. He felt annoyed at being disturbed of his precious nap.
Saar ..saar .
The hoarse sound continued on. Its that lunatic Raghu again. He is one person who is taking his good deeds for granted. He got up, dusted his sparkling white shirt and pants with his hands and opened the door.
There stood Raghu in his usual self. A skinny fragile figure with the widest possible grin he can make out of his ugly plaque engulfed teeth & scratching the dirty stubble which stubbornly refused to grow out into a full beard. His mundu (dhoti) was soiled badly giving it a dark reddish tinge, a far cry from the off-white when bought (or gifted?). A dark maroon over sized tee-shirt dangled from his drooping shoulders which anchored a worn out and soggy cotton bag hung carelessly.
He had been like this since the first day he had turned up at his doorstep some couple of years back. At first he had taken him for a beggar and provided him with some food (he was against in giving money to beggars). After having the food he had still stood there with the same grin. When asked for what he is waiting, he had asked Rs.2 for beedi. Swaminathan had shooed him away feeling annoyed at Raghu’s blunt request which he felt as arrogance.
The next day he was again at his doorstep demanding the same. Before Swaminathan could vent out his anger his driver was quick to chip in with a comment that this guy is a harmless lunatic who has been doing the rounds in the neighbourhood for the past one week. Swaminathan took a deep glance at Raghu and said “I will give you Rs.2 but you will have to do some job for me.”
Anything you say, I will do sir.
Swaminathan smiled and said “Good, now take my office bag & keep it in my car and open the gates.”
Raghu was quick in his job and had stood expectantly in front of Swaminathan. He had fished out Rs.2 coin and said “I will give you money only if you do some work for me, do we have a deal?”
Raghu was quick to take that coin and obliged. But every time he used to come for money for beedi, he would ask in the same old way as if he is asking for the first time.
He had that same look today also.
Hmmm .Raghu, what do you want? Swaminathan asked in his ostentatious way commanding authority.
Saar I need Rs.2, for beedi.
Swaminathan had lost count of how many times he had given him Rs.2 for the beedi he so lovingly demanded. He never demanded anything more or less. Once he had given him Rs.20 telling him that he better eat something rather than smoking beedies. Raghu had solemnly accepted the money and returned back in an hour with Rs.18.
What about the one I gave you today morning? Demanded Swaminathan.
I gave that to Amma. Said Raghu with a sheepish grin.
Then why did you say that its for your beedi?
I lied to you thought you will not give me if I said its for Amma. Raghu’s voice trailed as he looked down trying to avoid Swaminathan’s eyes.
Swaminathan couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle on hearing this. He had never understood who & how Raghu perceives his Amma. He knew that the verity of purported Amma existed as a delusion only. Sometimes he will consider Amma as his own mother and at times he will elevate her to a Goddess. Many a time people around the neighbourhood had provided him with clothing & money which he will gladly offer to Amma. Amma in the heavenly form existed to him in any clear water bodies. He has been spotted offering flowers & food into the private wells around the neighbourhood or in the local temple pond or the nearby river. Swaminathan remembers how during the last festive season he had provided him with brand new shirt & dhoti. Raghu had taken those to the river and let it flow in the furious currents with a couple of hibiscus flowers which he had plucked from Swaminathan’s garden.
Swaminathan looked at him and said “OK Raghu, I will give you Rs.2 but this time you will have to do two jobs because you lied.”
Most of Swaminathan’s job for Raghu used to be running for errands to nearby clients or to the local bazaar. Raghu looked up excitedly, jobs mattered to him the least as long as he was able to have his Rs.2.
For now I need you to deliver a packet to my client who stays at Valiaveedans, opposite to the local health centre. Come back then I will tell you what to do next.
He went inside and handed over a packet to Raghu. “Come back soon & don’t put that in your ugly bag!” Raghu was already past the gates set in a robotic motion.
Two hours is too long for a single stretch of sitting and Swaminathan was wearing out. He still had one more client waiting for him. He looked at his watch, half past six. That’s when he realized something, Raghu; where is he? He usually finishes these kinds of jobs in a jiffy. Swaminathan felt bad, he might be feeling hurt that’s why he has not come to collect his Rs.2. After all he had said he had given it to Amma. He thought of giving off Rs.4 if he turns up today.
Meanwhile he called up the client at Valiaveedans and got confirmation about the receipt of the packet. “Stupid, must have borrowed Rs.2 from someone else and might be smoking beedies now.”
Anyway, I will catch up on him tonight or tomorrow morning. He knew that Raghu always slept on the portico of his house.
Next day morning, he expected to see Raghu at his doorstep but he wasn’t there. He enquired with his driver but in vain. He looked at his watch, almost half past nine; “Can’t wait for this guy, potten (lunatic), he will turn up soon, where else will he go!!” he murmured. The court was in the centre of the town and alongside one of the most busiest & congested narrow lanes. If not for this narrow lanes, I would have got an extra fifteen minutes at home. Thought Swaminathan. He was still thinking about Raghu. He had often felt an envious empathy for Raghu. Wish he also could have such detached manner. For all the hideous nature & the pittance that he earned Raghu still seemed to be the happiest man around. Where did he go?
The car slowed down as it neared the market place. The air was already fresh with the raised dust mingled with the fragrance of jasmine from the flower vendors and with the usual hubbub of morning activities. There was a street urchin being shooed away by the police; the unloading of fresh vegetables by the noisy workers; a commotion near the govt. transport bus depot with the police shooing away curious onlookers. He could make out the silhouette of Inspector Wilson with a weary face already, poor chap. Swaminathan wondered, its all same everyday only different people, different outfit & different places but the bustling same. He closed his eyes, another long day ahead .
Inspector Wilson watched the white Toyota Corolla pass by as he gathered a crushed rusty container full of neatly folded Rs.2 and a soiled soggy bag which he put in to a transparent plastic bag ..”another one of those “unclaimed” headaches” .