Everyday disturbances on account of losing and finding twenty rupees

Blue is Like Blue
Book Excerpt 

Twenty Rupees

He had lost twenty rupees. When he’d looked everywhere and couldn’t find them, he ate and went to sleep. It was afternoon.

When he woke it was evening. It felt like morning to him. It was only later he realized that it was evening. Immediately afterwards he remembered that he’d lost twenty rupees. He found it odd that it wasn’t the first thing that came to him when he woke. He lay there with his eyes shut and did not open them for some time. It had grown dark. For no particular reason it seemed to him that this time of day could be mistaken for five in the morning, and that inside the room there was little difference between morning and evening light.

He’d covered himself with a sheet and was drenched in sweat. However hot it may be, he could not sleep unless the door had been bolted and he had pulled up the sheet. It was an old habit of his. As he lay there, he could feel the perspiration trickling down his brow. He did not want it to get into his ear. He quickly released his hand from under the sheet and passed it over his forehead. The tips of his fingers, when he looked at them, were wet. He raised himself on his elbow and saw that the depression on the pillow made by his head was damp. Out of curiosity, he leaned forward and checked the sheet at the foot of the bed. There were sweat marks there too. He still did not want to get up. He pulled up the sheet and lay down again. He looked at the door that was bolted. The paint was peeling off. When he kept looking at the door, he felt that instead of the door there was a ten rupee note stretched on it, covering it from top to bottom. If he tried to go out the door the note would get torn. He knew the sound that paper makes when it tears. But what is the sound of paper money tearing? He’d never had the occasion to hear it. If currency notes got torn, he thought, they could still be used, so long as the serial numbers were intact.

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He gave his head a jerk and got up. He always felt restless if he slept during the day. It was different on holidays, for then he wanted to sleep after a meal. He felt like a bath and quickly came out of the room with his soap and towel. The bathroom was filthy. There were many tenants living in the area with their families and some of them used the bathroom. Nothing stayed clean for very long. Then he remembered that he’d left his room open. He usually left it open even if he went out for half an hour, but today he went back and locked it.

The overhead storage tanks had received the sun all day and the water in the tap was almost boiling. He opened the tap to maximum, allowing the water to run. There were small pieces of blue detergent soap lying on the floor, and in a corner a little girl’s dirty printed panties. He pinched the fingers of his left hand and lifted the panties, then flung them out the door. They landed on the stairs with a squelch. He was filled with revulsion. He washed his hands thoroughly with soap.

His rent for the room was eight rupees a month, which was all he could afford. Had he been able to afford more he’d have left the room long ago and gone somewhere else. His salary was only ninety rupees. His neighbour worked in the municipality and had white patches on his hands and feet. When this neighbour went past him, he’d hold his breath so that he wouldn’t inhale the germs. He’d been working as a clerk for only two months, having taken up the job immediately after matriculation. His home town was forty-five miles away.

The tap was still running. He scrubbed the bathroom floor with his feet. By then the water from the tap had cooled a little. While he bathed, he thought he should spend a little more time searching for the twenty rupees. If you do things in a hurry it is easy to make a mistake and overlook something.

He bathed and came back to the room. As soon as he entered the room, he bolted the door. He bolted it at the top, then at the bottom, which was unnecessary. The door was secure, even if he hadn’t bolted it at the bottom.

The room was in a mess. While searching for the twenty rupees in the morning, he had turned it upside down. There were clothes and books strewn all over. The khaki trousers that he was going to wear again that day were lying in a corner. He washed his own clothes, rather than give them to the dhobi. He believed that they lasted longer if you washed them yourself. Picking up the trousers, he thought that he should be ironing his clothes too. This way he could save the money he paid for the ironing. The shirt he’d hung out on the line was dry now. He folded it carefully and put it under the pillow. Then he took out an old leather pouch from the suitcase and sat down on the bed. His mother had given him the pouch. He sent his father fifty rupees every month. He had three brothers, all younger than him. One was in class nine and another in class one in an English medium school. The youngest, in a Hindi medium school, was in class two. His father was headmaster in an elementary school. He thought he’d study for a BA and take the exam as an external student. He wanted his younger brothers to get a good education.

His mother would say only fools feel sad if they lose something. What was lost was lost. He decided not to think about it anymore. His father though would be angry if he heard that he’d lost so much money. Once he got a beating just because he’d lost two annas. This month he wouldn’t be able to send home fifty rupees; he’d send only forty. He began to calculate how to make up the twenty rupees he’d lost. He went to the cinema once a week. He’d sacrifice going to the cinema. He paid twenty rupees a month to the eatery where he had his meals. He wouldn’t eat there on Sundays and save some money. He’d give up his evening tea. He’d live like a miser and wouldn’t spend any money unless absolutely necessary.

He changed his clothes and thought he should go for a walk. He felt like eating a kulfi when he passed the kulfi seller’s stall, but he resisted the temptation. He noticed a couple of crumpled pieces of paper lying on the road that he would normally have kicked aside. He remembered that once while returning from office he’d seen a silver rupee coin. He had stopped and tried to pick up the coin but it remained stuck to the road, to the merriment of some boys sitting at the roadside paan shop. Later, he found that when the tar on the roads melted in the heat, boys out for some fun would press a coin into it. The coin would be stuck fast by evening.

On the way back, he found the kulfi seller still sitting there and again he felt like eating a kulfi. It was only a question of two annas. But isn’t that how he ended up spending a lot of money? He did not eat the kulfi.

The next day he sent a money order to his father along with a note:

‘Respected Father, I touch your feet. It pains me to tell you that I have lost twenty rupees. I am sending only forty rupees this month. I hope you will forgive me. I touch respected Amma’s feet. Your devoted son, Mannan.’

There were tears in his eyes when he wrote this.

Three days later, while sending a money order of ten rupees to his father, he wrote in his tiny handwriting:

‘Respected Father, I touch your feet. You will be pleased to know that I have found the twenty rupees. I’d kept them in a pocket of the suitcase where I usually keep letters, and they were meant to pay the eatery where I take my meals. I am sending you the ten rupees that were short. I touch respected Amma’s feet. Your devoted son, Mannan.’

He found there was a crowd outside the cinema hall that night. The tickets for ten annas were being sold in the black market for a rupee. He thought he may as well watch the show, now that he’d come all the way. He bought the ten anna ticket for a rupee and entered the hall.

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