Sunday 24 June 2012

The sweat of his brow

Vardam’s father Sauran was a peasant, one who tilled others’ land for a living. His mother had often offered to go without food so they could save some money, but Sauran would have none of it. Instead, he volunteered to drop one coin every day into a till they had, whether it was one paisa or ten. They also decided not to have another child so that could devote their meagre resources to Vardam.
By the time he was five years old, Vardam’s parents had managed to collect a few hundred rupees. Back in the 1950s, this was enough to give them the confidence that they could pay for his schooling for some years.
Sauran had to set up a new hut every season near a different field, wherever he managed to get work. It was not possible for Vardam to go to school regularly if they kept shifting home. So when he was eight years old, they put him into boarding school.
Vardam was the son of a peasant.
Digital sketch: Harjeet
Each month they scraped the bottom of the till to pay Vardam’s school fees. As he grew up, he came to appreciate their hard work as well as their strong wish to see their son achieve something big in life.
He also observed that his father always sat on the floor in the presence of his landlord or any other person in authority.
Vardam took every opportunity that came his way to educate himself, sitting in the library after school hours and beseeching any teacher who could spare time to coach him some more. Yet he was always submissive and unobtrusive. His manners won him friends in his hostel, classroom as also the playground. He became an all-rounder, and all three principals during his years at school held him up as a shining example for others.
His humility did not desert him even when he made it to college. He found a superb mentor in his English lecturer, a middle-aged widower who took him under his wing and volunteered to pay for his studies as well. That saved Vardam’s parents a lot of worry – and not inconsiderable money.
His mentor also referred him to a plantation that offered round-the-year accommodation to its workers. When Vardam went to visit his parents next, he took them there. The plantation owner was impressed by both Sauran and Vardam, and gave Sauran a supervisory role. Vardam was truly relieved that his parents were somewhat better settled now. He also coaxed them into spending on themselves a little of the cash they could now spare. They were still in saving mode, though, so a cooperative set up newly that was doing good work on the plantation came in handy for the purpose.
The English lecturer was a worldly wise man. He sensed that Vardam’s innate goodness and tenacity could take him places. He pushed him to sit for the civil services exam, which Vardam passed with a high rank.
As soon as he was allotted his very first official residence, Vardam brought his parents home. He went to great lengths to help them get used to the new life. He did not believe in flaunting his success, but he remained acutely aware of his parents’ nervousness in the new milieu.
He bought a divan to be put in the living room, where he entertained an occasional guest. There was no other chair or stool in the room, only two plain mattresses on the floor with cushions on them.
When people called at Vardam’s home with requests for help or just for a courtesy call, a few even carrying gifts, he would politely draw the curtain and ask them to wait for a minute.
The divan was meant only for his father, who still dressed as simply as he did as a labourer. Once Sauran took his seat there, Vardam would draw back the curtain and show the guests in. He would sit at his father’s feet and request the visitors to make themselves comfortable on the mattresses.
Then he would open the conversation thus: “I hope you do not mind sitting on the floor. Let me introduce you to my father. He was a peasant who worked to the bone so that I could be of some help to you. Please honour him, if you must.”
Many of Vardam’s visitors would leave in a huff. How could a mere peasant be seated above them? And why bestow gifts on him? Others might blanch, but would gulp down their pride and stay on. Some others would touch Sauran’s feet and sit on the mattress, patiently waiting to be heard by Vardam. Soon, however, whispers that Vardam’s father was the real power centre grew louder and eventually reached his senior’s ears.
Vardam was summoned.
“Sir, those who have a genuine case are most welcome in office. However, if they want to curry favour by visiting me at home, they must first pay obeisance to the man who made me what I am today.”
He folded his hands as his boss gave him a perplexed look. “Please do not misunderstand me, sir. I deal with everyone with equal responsibility in office. But at home, only those who come in genuine need show respect to my father, and to my origins. Those I will even go out of my way to help, for my father was once in their position.”
“My father is actually quite reluctant to accept this so-called honour, but he deserves his place in society. I can never return all that I owe him. My very being, my career, all are symbols of his success, not mine. I am the sweat of his brow,” Vardam added proudly.
His senior came around his desk to clasp his hand. “I have been brought up to believe we come to occupy high positions fully trained and equipped to take just any decision. But I can say without any shame that I have learnt a new lesson today.”