” To do or not to”

The bright rays of the sun fell directly on his oblong face more than half of which was concealed by a dense growth of hair and the rest half was a pale skeletal structure with skin drawn tightly over it leaving room only for a meagre quantity of flesh to fit in between.

For a minute his face presented the most annoying expression –a kind of when somebody is interrupted while he is deeply absorbed in his own pleasant thoughts. He irritatingly shifted his entire body to the other side of his rusted folding bed where the sun rays can’t foray and disturb his peaceful trance. Hardly five minutes of absolute silence would have passed when suddenly the digital clock ,which was gifted to him by one of his clients on his flawless service renderings , beeped on top of its voice and was successful in its objective to wake him up at last ,he, who was in the midst of another pleasant dream. Irritatingly he snatched the clock from the table rack where it was proudly standing and pressed the button on the top to shut it up. Gangu cursed it while placing it back at its usual place.

Ganganath or Gangu., as he was popularly known,  passed a casual glance sideways to catch a glimpse of his most treasured possession – Sunehri his four  year old daughter who was fast asleep ,totally oblivious of what was happening around her . Ganganath smiled as he looked into her innocent face which was busy in her own fairy dreamworld .After gently massaging her tender forehead he kissed her there.

He took a long breath reminding himself once again that it was that time of the year when school admissions etc. would start anytime from now and given his present  financial savings he would be in urgent need of something like Rs Four hundred more to get her into the finest convent school  of the locality where the children of the rich study or otherwise if he is not able to get the requisite amount then  he would have to  get her into the community school located down the street funded by the government authorities to take care of  the education needs of the less privileged. By any means Gangu never wanted Sunehri to study there and hence started saving a long time before so as to ensure that Sunehri  gets into the choicest convent school but now , it seemed to him , given that  his present amount of fundings  were falling  really short of what was needed and if nothing is done to level it then his most dreadful anticipations might come true and he would be forced to send her to community school against his wishes.

Amidst all these random thoughts he simultaneously performed his morning chores which took him less than ten minutes of his time and afterwards he prepared a cup of ginger tea for himself which he savoured with couple of rusks and boiled the milk for Sunehri. He took  a quick look in the mirror, grinned only to reveal his swollen gums and inspected his attire which barely changed in alternate six months. He always thought he looked handsome .In the meantime Sunehri has woken up and after washing her face came back and sat at the same place again. Gangu handed her a bowl of milk with rusks dipped in and while she was carefully sipping the warm milk, he gave her a long set of instructions regarding the activities she needs to perform the whole day and as soon as they finished he takes a quick look at the digital clock which blinked 8:40 am, picks up his large pile of clothes carefully wrapped in a large bedsheet and in a jiffy, was on his bicycle making his way out of the new town colony where he lived in a one room flat alongwith Sunehri.

After a twenty minute ride through the sinuous streets of his city, Kolkatta, he reached the campus of IIM Calcutta. After signing the daily attendance register he went to his regular working place. A huge table comfortably located in a dark corner covered with a tattered white sheet on which rested his instrument –a bit old but as magnificent as the stainless steel out of which it was made of. Gangu called himself a proud owner of the seven year old coal iron imported from China. This was his second iron after he replaced the first one which worked for nine years before getting damaged.

It has been like sixteen years that he has been into this business of washing clothes and ironing them. This profession being a family profession is passed down from generations to generations. Before him it was his father and grandfather who were into this profession.But now he no more wanted this legacy to continue.

Earlier he had his own space in the New Town colony where he lives now before he applied for a government post in IIM Calcutta which he luckily got. He is the only “dhobiwaala “ of the whole campus and is fondly called as Gangu da by all the students. The salary has been better than what he used to get where he worked before , even the mid day meal and evening tea is free here in addition to the active life and lively environment of the college life  which Gangu has started loving over the years , hence making him quite reluctant to leave this place and search for job somewhere else.

He opened up a large pile of washed, sundried clothes which he has brought alongwith him from his home. He neatly arranged them in different lots according to their types .In the meantime the coals which has been put on fire were getting hot. After a few minutes he filled his iron with these burning coals on top of which he placed some unlit coals, all set to start his day’s work. With “Jai Mata Di” on his lips, he started ironing the clothes. He was all absorbed in his work when a green shirt interrupted his flow. As he was ironing that shirt he felt an uneven level across the area of the front pocket. His sun-burnt hands quickly went inside the pocket to check what was there inside. After a trivial investigation he couldn’t believe what his eyes just saw- four hundred rupee note which have gone a bit moist due to the washing and the drying process it encountered before. His heart beat went faster as his trembling hands brought those notes closer to him, tears of joy flowed out of his eyes and his lips rapidly murmuring  “ Jai  Mata Di ! “. God has finally listened to his prayers , now Sunehri would not have to  study in the community school. She would be studying in the Convent School alongwith the children of the rich. His joys knew no bound.

But the very next moment  all the gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. He said to himself “ What if the owner of this shirt suddenly  realises that he had misplaced his four hundred rupees in this shirt and puts all the blame upon me for stealing it ! Oh my God nothing could be more frightening than that…”

Tears of joy were replaced with tears of immense pain. He cursed God “ Why did you give me this four hundred rupees only to take it back one day.. Hey bhagwan what is this dilemma that you have placed me in !“

He started crying bitterly in deep anguish. The words  “To do or not to ! “ rattled in his empty head constantly and he was clueless as to what he should do next. Take the money or leave the money.

After thinking a lot over the issue, he finally made up his mind to go for the money. He quickly passed the four hundred rupee notes to the most secured corner of his off-white half pants and getting back to normal started his work once again. After finishing his day’s work and  handing over the deliverables to their respective owners he  packed his pile of clothes and rode on his bicycle way back home. Never had he felt so long as he felt today to reach back home.

Days rolled by., Gangu’s  dreams came true. He was very happy – Sunehri  got admission into the finest Convent School of the locality. She was happy and was doing well in her studies. But all this happened at a cost.

The past few months were a nightmare for Gangu. Apart from the work he had on the campus he also started working overtime in his own locality. He now worked day and night so as to return back that amount of four hundred rupees as soon as possible to its owner .It had taken a toil on his health. He went terribly weak, his eyes went inside surrounded by huge dark circles , his skin became more paler than what it was before and now his body was nothing but a huge skeletal structure with long arms and legs dangling out.

Finally, after a month or so, that day came when all his hard work paid off and with great joy and a sense of big relief he went to knock on Rakesh’s door which had a silver plate numbered  217 neatly embossed on it.

Rakesh opened the door  and hurriedly said “ Yes Gangu Da ! “

Gangu replied back “ Rakesh Sahib – Your four hundred rupees. You left it in the shirt while giving me for washing it “

Rakesh in a nonchalant manner “ Hmmm..ohh I see !  I don’t even remember that I misplaced my four hundred rupees somewhere sometime back . how careless of me ! Anyways thanks Gangu Da..

I appreciate your sincerity ! “

And with a smile he closes the door back. Gangu joys knew no bound. He once again thanked God “Jai Mata Di “ and heads to do his regular work.

Tring Tring the phone rings . Rakesh picks it up and says  “Dude lets have a party man at Mc. Donalds .. God is kind enough to shower money on me ! “

Huge uproar of laughter follows ………………………….

Padmavathy Dhillon