(A Story)



(Rendered from Tamil by V. N Sadasiva Rao)


It was the first Deepavali after the marriage of my neighbour’s daughter. Need there be any mention of the din and bustle on the occasion? Even four days prior to the event the place resounded with the bursting of crackers, and the sweet fragrance of delicious sweets came swimming across the air. In the midst of my tiresome work I had no leisure to pay heed to it all. But my son Raju could not keep quiet. I had noticed on one or two occasions that he was keenly observing everything that took place in the next house and detailing it to his sister Jaya. As I was un-familiar with the nature of children, I condemned them and said that they were wrong in prying into a neighbor’s doings. I considered it but just to administer such a rebuke.


Raju was always fighting with Mani, the boy next door. As Soon as Mani’s mother bought him new shirts and other clothes, there would ensue a misunderstanding between him and Raju. If any noise of such quarrel reached my ears, I would shout at them. It was Jaya who would bring about a compromise between Raju and Mani, and restore peace in the house. As I had my work in arrears and in confusion, I was unable to pay attention to the children and even considered children’s affairs a total nuisance. Moreover, if they talked in glee of other people, or exercised their limited intelligence in discussing happenings in other houses, I was read them a short lecture and tell them that their behaviour was not proper. As a result of all this, they were absolutely frightened of me.


It is now ten years since my wife died, leaving me only these two children. Jaya is fifteen years old. She was married only last year. My son-in-law is employed at Poona. He wrote to me that he was unable come, as he could not get leave. As I am not particularly interested in such matters, I was not sorry for my son-in-law’s absence. I even felt it a good riddance. But I never imagined what Jaya’s feelings might be. I had celebrated her marriage with the minimum of expense. Even such things as are dire necessities in middle-class families, I determinedly stopped, and felt as happy and proud as if I had conferred a great benefit on the community at large. If any of my friends questioned me on this point, I would say, “All these result from our actions alone. Do the children clamour for this or for that? It is the elders who draw upon themselves all unnecessary worries and in the end say they did it for the chidrens sake.” This became my habit. Not once did I stop to think whether the children held opinions similar to my own. If any of Jaya’s friends was talking to her about the pomp and splendor of other weddings, she would not take a prominent part in such talks. She never let it appear that she had grievances of her own. Perhaps she thought that such an expression might be misunderstood by me. This was a comfort to me! I felt I had made a great sacrifice by not marrying again after my wife’s death. How could I understand that the lack of a mother meant an empty life to my children?


Raju could not be as well-behaved as Jaya. As he was five years younger and did not know the ways of the world, he made no attempt to hide his thoughts and feelings from me.


It was raining in torrents the day before Deepavali. I could not go to the club as usual and had to remain at home. I took up the previous day’s newspaper and idly turned over the pages. As I had never let my thoughts run in other channels than in what my vocation induced, I was at a loss to know how I should spend my leisure hours. Just then the fact came to my remembrance that I usually talked very little to my children. I looked round to see where they were. They were nowhere to be seen. Jaya was sitting alone in her room deeply immersed in some fanciful thought, her head supported on her left arm. Seeing her, I called out loudly, “Jaya!”


Quite startled, she said, “Yes, father?” and hastened to my side.


“Where is Raju?” I asked.


“Raju! He was here just now,” she said and looked towards the verandah.


With Jaya following me, I crossed the verandra and went towards the kitchen.


Hearing my loud and threatening voice, my cook who was bending over something on the hearth, said with a meaningful smile, “Raju? Look into the puja room. He will be there,” and looked at Jaya. When I approached the puja room. I heard Raju’s voice. Before I could know what was doing there, I heard him say, “Oh God! Is it not because he has a mother that Mani behaves so! I pray you, make him like me.”


With tears running down his cheeks, with closed eyes and folded hands, he was uttering these words before the picture of the deity.


I was thunderstruck. Surprise and anger rose at once in my mind as I wondered why he should do such a foolish thing. Silently I retraced steps to my room and, calling Jaya to my side, asked her, “Jaya, why does Raju utter such a prayer?”


“Nothing, father. Isn’t he just a child? Perhaps just out of ignorance! Maybe he has quarreled with Mani. The things which Mani gets from his father, on his mother’s recommendation, he shows to Raju and taunts him to ask you for the same things. But has Raju the courage to ask you? That is why he acts so.” Thus she spoke in a manner calculated to pacify me and at the same time taking the side of Raju.


“Whatever it may be, could children do such a thing? Shameful! I must look into it!” I said and roared out, “Hey, Raju! Come here!”


No reply. I got vexed. Again I shouted out in anger, “Aren’t you coming? I will thrash you. What are you doing there?” Not stopping at this, I pushed back my chair noisily, as if I was getting up in hurry and in anger.


Raju came slowly and stood by the door. I noticed him looking at Jaya with sorrow in his eyes.


“What were you doing? Come here. You were praying, were you?” I thundered.


“Nothing, father,” he said, trembling all over. Before he could utter more, I said, “What!” and stared at him Raju became frightened. But I would not leave him at that.


“Nothing? Rascal? What did you want should happen to Mani! Speak,” said I, as I rose.


Raju stepped back and burst into tears. I stood unmoved. A fit of rage seized me and I gave a blow on his back. He reeled and screamed, “Why do you beat him, father?” said Jaya, trying to stop me.


“What else is to be done? He–my son! Such bad thoughts even as a child!” I gave expression to my disgust.


“What does he know? Does Mani keep quiet? He approaches Raju and always says that his mother got him this thing or that through his father. Raju cannot endure it. If he asks you, you unceasingly scold him; as he finds no way out, he has said so. Did he wantonly pray like that?” said Jaya. Continuing, she said, “He did not go into the puja room of his own will. He came to me and asked me to speak to you and get for him the ‘Hitler cracker’. I said, ‘I won’t do it; Has Mani nothing else to do? Why does he start some new trouble or other? Go into puja room and pray to God to give sound sense to Mani.’ That is why seems to have thus foolishly blurted out. If only we are like him we understand.” By her skill in speech, she left me no room to say anything further.


Jaya is endowed with sound commonsense. She is intelligent; and having lived all along motherless, she loves children younger to her. She has the capacity to understand clearly the working of other people’s hearts.


This scene ended thus,–with Raju weeping, Jaya comforting him as she embraced him, and the cook looking on puzzled as if some catastrophe had occurred in the house. I returned to my room and sank into the easy chair.



“If only we were like him, we can understand.” These last words uttered by Jaya plunged me into the depths of thought. As Soon as Sri Rama went to the forest, Dasaratha, seized with boundless grief, recollected a grievous crime he had committed in his early years, and died saying to his wives that it was as a result of that crime that he had to part with Rama. This incident from the Ramayana I now remembered vividly.


Yes. My mind told me that I had once been a boy. Like every child, I too had a great yearning for play and a good feed. How I would create chaos as Deepavali approached! One incident, particularly, did not fail to come to my recollection. As a child, I was even more prone to get into a temper than Raju. My parents passed away when I was very young. At home, we children were subjected to strict discipline, my brother and sister would never consent to condone any fault I committed. If anyone made fun of me, I would not tolerate it, but would fret and fume. It took many days for that wound to heal.


Rangu, the son of a rich advocate living opposite to our house, was my friend. During those days, his father mother and all others in the house treated him kindly, gave him whatever he asked for, and did not object to his going out to play. The contrary was the rule in our house. None would willingly allow me to go out to play. They would condemn me on some pretext or other. Sometimes this would result in my getting jealous of Rangu.


One evening after school, we boys went as usual to the large maidan to play football. That day Rangu chanced to come late. The reason was that his father had been ailing for some time; and I knew that day his condition had worsened. Doctors were hurrying to and from his house since the early hours of the morning. Some even doubted if there would be any play if Rangu failed to turn up. But Rangu came a little later. Both sides took their places on the field. We were ready for the ‘kick off’. I had the honour of giving the first kick. If I scored a goal, I was sure of my side’s victory. Rangu stood ready, opposite to me. Quite unexpectedly my kick sent the ball flying above the heads of all the players and landed it into the net. It was the signal; the players on my side shouted ‘goal! goal!’ But Rangu protested, “No, it is not. I was not ready,” and shouted louder than the rest. He did not stop at that. Looking at me Rangu taunted me, “Could the ball fly like this, kicked by him! ‘Never!’ I could not endure it “no doubt; Rangu was a good player. In fact I could not play as well as he could. Still, I felt as if my heart would break in two as I thought, “When on one solitary occasion I play well, this Rangu does not tolerate it! How often have I praised him!” As those round me were inclined to yield, I continued to argue, “No, it is a clear goal. No doubt about it.”


The quarrel grew in intensity. The boys tried to pacify me and said that we might end the quarrel somehow that day and continue the game next day. But I was stubborn and said that the game could be continued only if our success was accepted. Rangu flew into a temper. “Come along, let us go. Who is going to play with him hereafter?” So saying he called away his own players and those on my side. No one would support me. “This fellow is always like this never stopping a, quarrel! Rangu is right. Never shall we play with him,” they said in disgust and walked away.


In the middle of the maidan I sat, alone. At a distance lay the ball unheeded. At the thought that I was a solitary soul in the whole world, my heart overflowed with boundless grief. “Is it not because Rangu has a father that everyone accepts his word,” thought I, and my shame turned into jealousy. “Would these people shun me and leave me alone if I had a father as Rangu has? Would Rangu himself have treated me with such contempt? Never! Wouldn’t his condition be the same as mine if his father were to die tomorrow!” This evil thought began to take root in my mind.


I came home. I did not talk to a single soul. Nor was I able to sleep. Conflicting thoughts disturbed my repose for several hours. Then, gradually I fell into a deep slumber. As I remained awake till late in the night, I could not get up early. As I opened my eyes, the sound that roused me was that of weeping in the opposite house. Getting up from my bed, I went and looked through the window. There was a large crowd gathered at the entrance to the house.


Rangu’s father had ceased to be among the living! At once, the events of the previous evening came to my recollection. “Alas! What grievous sin have I committed! Could my evil thoughts have been the cause of Rangu’s father’s death?” A struggle took place in my mind. A sort of nausea came over me. My first feeling was to run to Rangu, confess my sin and beg his forgiveness. But later, being but a little boy, I was afraid to go alone to a house of death. All my people had gone there for condolences. Like a condemned criminal, I struggled alone in my house.


Two or three days later, I made up my mind to go and see Rangu, and started with that intention. My mind trembled at the thought that Rangu might cry out on seeing me. But what in fact happened was different. He and his friends were playing on the road. The reason why he did not cry was that he was a boy, and to boyhood all grief is evanescent. Little by little I began to forget the worry that had overtaken me. I did not find time even to tell him all that I thought. We pursued different paths in life, and I did not get the chance to tell him about the suffering that I underwent that day.



I forgot myself in such recollection of the past. The rain had stopped. The dripping of the raindrops from the roof was the only sound heard. I remembered once more the events of the evening. I got up, and taking some money, went out. After I had gone a short distance, I remembered, “Was it not because Mani showed Raju a new type of cracker that this calamity overtook him? What was its name?” In the troubled state I was in, I forgot all about it. I went back home knowing that Jaya could tell me. In her room Jaya was sitting on her, bed, and Raju lay with his head on her lap.


“Sister! Is father very angry?” asked Raju, his eyes half-shut. As she patted him, I heard her saying, “No, you go to sleep! Dawn will bring on Deepavali day. Wearing the new dhoti that father bought for you, you bow to him and he will forget everything.” I hated myself. How many cares and anxieties had I bequeathed to Jaya since my wife died! Could there be one so patient as she was! At this thought my eyes grew moist. “Let me buy something or other. I will not tell even Jaya about my going to buy crackers.” I went silently out of the house.


As the white streaks of dawn heralded the new day, the sound of nagaswaram and the noise of crackers came from the next house. Raju got up hastily. Seeing a big bundle of crackers and the ‘Hitler cracker’ he called Jaya to his side and asked, “Sister, sister, where did these come from?” Jaya came inside and, seeing the bundle of crackers, looked at me puzzled. “Raju, look! There is the ‘Hitler cracker’ too!” she said, in wonder. Raju looked at me. I smiled as if I knew all. “All these are for you alone, Raju! Run off and show them to Mani,” I said.


The next minute he vanished like an arrow shot; he had sped into Mani’s house.