On the Anvil


Monday, March 31, 2008


“Ayya, who are you and who let you in?”
It was the boy at the counter confronting a coal-skinned man. The man wore just about enough to cover his lower limbs but otherwise had no cloth to cover his bare chest. He wore a weathered cotton dhoti tied in the style called the cycle style. One end of the cloth swirled to a lump and stretched from the front to be tucked at the rear. Crowning this simple get up was a brick-red cotton towel, tied serpentine around his head much as snakes adorning Lord Shiva’s head. Hard toil and sheer ennui had added far more years to his wind-beaten physical frame than time. You may be forgiven to place him in the early 50’s when he was actually in the late 30’s. His name keeping with his color,Karruppu.And here was he, in Murugan Ready-mades, the largest textile show room in this small town, trying to find the price of that prized item he had seen in the display window – a kurta\pyjama set just about the right size for his 6 year old son.

But the counter boy would have none of it. Promptly summoning the shop security, he was now confronting Karruppu – “Ayya, but I am afraid you have to leave.” “But why?” pleaded Karruppu. The counter boy could only muster a sigh for an answer. Suddenly Karruppu stopped in his tracks. Pointing to his object of desire, he asked, “Thambi, how much?” The counter boy provided the price quote which elicited a sigh, but this time from Karruppu.

“How much?” It was a kid enquiring about the cost of the sturdy raven black cycle displayed at the same town’s Hari cycle mart. And when he heard the price, he drew in his lips into a closed position signaling cemented resolve and determined intent. A New Year had commenced on a very enquiring note.

Three months past these two ostensibly insignificant incidents of enquiry, Karruppu was by the river side taking his bath. Each ripple of the river serving a reminder of the pleats he weaved of the hair of his wife, now in the custody of the skies. His kid, Muthu was by his side. He was picking up flat pebbles from the bank and hurling them along the surface of the river. The effect was instantaneous – little fountains on the water surface, turning on & off sequentially along the trajectory of the pebble’s path. Muthu’s antics served yet another purpose too. It shook Karruppu out of his sad reverie. Karruppu had noted with paternal concern Muthu turning up late in the night at their hut ever since New Year day had dawned. “Muthu, so how many more days of coming late at night from school?” “As long as you come late too” was the witty reply from Muthu. Karruppu too had been coming late to the hut in the nights, ever since………..New Year dawn.

Karruppu, a complete illiterate and being a daily wage laborer earned his income out of being a loadsman. The town had godowns stocking cement, rice and a host of other essentials. Karruppu’s work was loading, unloading and shifting bags of these items from vehicles to the godowns, from the fields to the vehicles and the like. Everyday he would hike a ride paying the fare on the local minivans to the spot of work. It was an existence that emphasized the importance of the instant. Every day was a new battle for existence; a new quest for survival. No work meant no money and hence no food for that day and no school for Muthu. Hence, each godown came to be a temple; each vehicle a temple chariot and each sack a venerated item of worship. Given Karruppu, every tomorrow’s work was a God that needed to be invoked via fervent prayers and Muthu’s sight was enough to sustain the spring of devotion, day after day of heavy work.

And three months, past that fateful New Year dawn, the conversation by the river side continued. “Appa”, Muthu continued, albeit hesitantly, “Will you be going for work today?”
“No. Luckily, yesterday I completed all my work and was paid double for working through the night. But why do you ask this question?” Karruppu enquired.
“Nothing Appa, I am going to a place. So will you please join me?” Muthu pleaded.
“Ok, let’s go as I understand you don’t have school today.”

Karruppu ruffled the hair of Muthu. An hour or so past this conversation the two found themselves at the entrance of Hari Cycle Mart. Karruppu was taken aback. Even as his mind was examining the “why here?” question the owner Hari walked out to greet them. Immediately Karruppu dragooned by rustic simplicity, removed the brick-red cotton towel from his head, folded it and held it under his right arm. “Karruppu, you must be very very proud of your son.” began Hari. Pointing to the sturdy black cycle he had always wanted, he continued –“Here, take the keys. Your boy is a king, a lion.” Karruppu stood still stuck to the spot. In a flash he recounted that one time on New Year’s Eve when he had passed by the cycle mart with Muthu besides him, but not before stopping to gaze at it. Continued Hari, “It’s all yours. Paid for by your son’s diligence. Ever since New Year Day, he has been coming here after school hours working to earn enough to pay for that cycle. At first, Muthu being a child, I did not want to employ him. But when he spoke to me about working to gift you the cycle, I couldn’t resist. Even then, I asked him to not work but he wanted to learn about the cycles and the art of repairing them. So here….” Saying this Hari held Muthu’s palm open and Karruppu’s tears became rivulets easing along the bruises and cracks.
“Muthu, my prince. I am going to a place. So will you please join me on this cycle?” Smiled Karruppu through his tears.

“Ayya, who are you and who let you in?”
It was the same counter-boy, asking the same question to the same person in the same avatar after a lull of three months. The only difference being Muthu joining his father. Karruppu’s cycle ride from Hari’s cycle mart had led them here to Murugan Ready-mades. As the boy prepared to show Karruppu, the door, Karruppu removed a tiny bundle of cloth tucked into his dhoti. He handed the bundle to the counter boy – “Here, please take this. Can you give me that dress?” said he, pointing to the Kurta\Pyjama set. The boy opened the bundle, counted the currency and being satisfied, promptly handed over the dress to Muthu. Muthu could only smile recollecting that New Year Eve’s walk by the Ready made shop with his dad and being enamored by the same dress on display. “Here, go to that room and change into this dress”, said Karruppu pointing to the dressing room. A minute later, Muthu the prince was there dressed for the occasion and the two began leaving the showroom. “But how did Appa manage the money?” Muthu kept thinking. As Karruppu prepared to begin the ride back home, Muthu noticed the calloused bare feet of his father and then the realization hit him. His father had foregone the rides in the local vans, trudging every mile to work everyday on his bare foot and thus saved valuable money.

And so it was, on that bright April morning, as Karruppu seated on his dream bicycle ferried his little prince, Muthu dressed in his dream attire, the heavens decided to celebrate. Touched by their sacrifices, the heavens managed to stroke a wonder rainbow on a cloudless canvas erasing bruises on those tender palms and calluses from those selfless feet. And thus when mortals on the earth below were fooling around April Fool, the Gods in the heavens above were acknowledging - April Full.

No comments: