Newspaper

Ajay muttered a curse when the doorbell rang. He hated being disturbed in his study, especially in the mornings. But this was the first time someone had come calling on them since the lockdown came into effect. Curious, he dropped his newspaper and pen, and went to answer it.

Namaste, sir!” A young-looking boy greeted him at the door.

“Yes?”

“Sir.” He slid down the hanky he was wearing for a mask. “I’m Rakesh’s brother.”

“Who?”

“Rakesh. He brings your paper.”

Ajay’s hand tightened around the handle, and he stood staring at the boy for a moment or two. “So, you are back from your vacation, huh?”

“No sir. It was not vacation.”

“No? Then what? A quarantine camp?”

His eyes went wide. “No, sir! God forbid.”

“Then,” Ajay said, “is it hide-and-seek your brother’s been playing with me.”

“It was an ­­­­accident, sir. Bhai fractured a leg.”

Ajay paused. “An accident. And you are telling me about this today – after seven days!” He shook his head. “I have been going mad here, waiting for the paper every damned morning, and–”

“Sir, the phone got crushed and…”

“And you were too busy watching news to come yourself. Right? Scared of corona? Or you broke a bone there as well?”

“Sir, I… there was no one to attend to bhai. He was in the hosp–”

“All right. Whatever.” He waved a hand. His paper was waiting. “Go take care of him, then. What are you doing here?”

“Yes sir. He’s better now. Back home,” he said, taking out a strip of paper, and handing it over. “I came for last month’s bill.”  

“Of course,” Ajay said, running his eyes over it. “That’s something worth stepping out for. Isn’t it?” He smiled at the boy and went inside. He came back counting money.

“Sir.” The boy cleared his throat. “Could you… give some advance this time? We lost a lot of money in the treatment.” He halted, as Ajay looked up at him. “Your paper you will have regularly from tomorrow, I promise.”

Ajay felt like giving him a slap instead. He deducted a week’s worth of papers from the bill, and thrust the remaining amount into his hand. “No thanks.”

“Sir?”

“Don’t need your paper,” he said, “found another vendor.”

“Sir, please,” the boy stepped forward, “so many are cancelling out of fear, and we are sma–”

Ajay slammed the door shut before the idiot could waste any more of his time and went back to the balcony, rubbing his hands with a sanitizer.

His wife was waiting there for him with a hot cup of tea. “Was it the old vendor?” she asked.

“Yes. His brother,” he said, sitting beside her. “Bloody unprofessionals.” He took a quick sip, and opened the paper again. “Anyway, did you see this?” He angled it towards her, showing her the picture in which hundreds of daily wagers were making a foot journey back to their faraway hometowns, their luggage on their heads. “This is brutal. Inhuman,” he said. “Never think about the poor, do they? Bastards.”

“They don’t. They’re politicians,” she said, her eyes moving to the society gate two floors down. The boy with his hanky back in place was unlocking his cycle. “But we should. Shouldn’t we?” She turned back to him, her hand on his arm. “Don’t you think it’s our duty too as fellow citizens? To come forward for anyone in need in these times. There are so many ways we can help them. Big and small.”

He considered her for a moment, leaning back, wondering how she always managed to read his thoughts. Then, he drained his tea and got up.

“Where are you going?”

He picked up the newspaper. “You’re right,” he said. “It’ll take an hour but I owe that much to the society.”

“An hour? What do you mean to do?”

“To write a letter to the editor. Condemning it,” he said, and went in.

Sundaram Chauhan

77 comments

  1. Yes, it was horrible. Watching workers and labours going back to their home because their owner did not support them and kicked out of the job.

    Covid-19 has a big negative impact on our health, wealth, education, business, social programs & everything.

    We should help needy people. If we have more we can share it with others. We have to work on a minimum and regular wage of unorganised sector.

    Thank you for the story Sundaram. It says a lot in few words. I can relate with other 1000 stories similar to it. Your vision is clear.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. As you are doing here Sundaram, by writing this nice story 👏
    You are right, we all have avenues to help the ones less fortunate, be it by being a bit extra considerate towards the maid, bit more thankful towards the ones who did l not have the luxury of staying safe and had to forward the emergency services. We all can chip in. And it is always good to have someone nearby who wakes our conscience.
    And I realised I haven’t been able to reply to your earlier messages as I myself have been almost absent in WP recently, but I soon would. However I wanted to mention the reference to Bengali sweets in Gol Market that you mentioned. It brought back many pleasant (and sweet memories) 🙂 that and some eateries around Shivaji stadium were big favorites of mine when i was there.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh you’re back. Good to see you my friend. Just an attempt to wake my own conscience Deb 🙂 We’re all prone to being inconsiderate at times.
      And Gol Market was Gol Market. The feel of the place itself was worth it. I’ve lived in Delhi all my life, and never got bored of C.P. Sweet memories, yes, I agree. Thanks for stopping by, Deb. Enjoy your Sunday. :))

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Another excellent piece, Sundaram. Drew me in immediately. You captured the tension brought about by the current pandemic. I particularly liked the cognitive dissonance displayed by your curmudgeonly protagonist. Sharp commentary.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Tom. Appreciate you taking out time to go through this. The idea of writing from such a character’s POV is always fascinating to me. It does the job without having to say things out clear. :))

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Lovely piece, Sundaram. I always love reading these short stories of yours. It is sad that we talk so much about making a difference to the world and society, but it never really happens. We are great at talking, and small in doing. It’s sad, what the world has come to, especially after Covid.
    Take care and have a lovely day ♥♥🌹

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello dear Diana. Thanks for this lovely comment. These stories are my attempt to give expressions to my own weaknesses. I catch myself doing the very things I condemn in others, and the only way I can forgive myself is by writing about it. Appreciate you reading them, and sharing your views. :))

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Firstly, I have to refrain myself from using the “wow”word as my first word in the comment…I think I do that too much with you, Sundaram…but it’s just because your short stories are so vivid, extremely well written, and so much more than sketches..they are finished paintings at the end, that leave us much to ponder in our own-selves! The hypocrisy theme, done so well, it hurts,,It hurts to see someone so caught up in his own self righteousness, that he doesn’t see the damage he is doing. I found his exchange with the brother, so hard to read; it was so well done, so “cut from real life” I saw your comment to Diana, and just that awareness, pulls you from the category of this kind of man..and if you might have failed before, I feel, you won’t fail much more. You are so conscious of yourself and have your thumb on the pulse of the rest of humanity too..its very good and very bad qualities. Your gift, is that you know how to entertain us in few lines, while making us consider the deeper lesson..asking ourselves at the end…have we been guilty of something similar? Wonderful reading you, Sundaram; you are always fresh, surprising, and we learn something at the end,.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello dear Karima… 🙂 Many many thanks :)) It’s high praise. Whenever I’m all set to write down a fun story, something like this catches my attention and somehow takes a precedence. I guess hypocrisy infuriates me more than I know. And since it mostly happens around us, within family and friends, expressing it out has only created problems for me. So I choose this way now. And my main motive is generally to entertain. It’s satisfying that they turn out to be teaching in the end. Can’t ask for more, can I? And while this didn’t exactly happen with me, I did cancel my subscription during lockdown. The question kept hitting me, what if everyone around does the same. What if the guy had a problem back home. And a year later, I wrote it, when I had the characters vividly in my mind repeatedly having this conversation. They needed this outlet, though I wasn’t sure what it’d come out to be in the end. Glad you liked it. Always a pleasure reading your thoughts about my writings. God bless you. Take care. :))

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I could see this story played in front of my eyes like a live story – your writing skills are such! This was heartbreaking to read, such presumptuous and unkind behavior which is so common. Values are so often practiced just in thought and word, without trickling into any action or intention. Hurts the spirit of all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Pragalbha… I loved the phrase “without trickling into action”… absolutely. It’s difficult. To walk the right path. To figure out what really is right is in itself a difficult thing. But dangerous are the people who are sure they are already walking it. Who believe that’s the way to do things. And they even want credit for it. Accolades. It was from one such character I tried to show the story. Glad you like it. Take care…:))

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Ouch! That felt like a tight slap across my face I could feel the sting and the reddish welt forming across my right cheek. Instinctively, I even touched it …only to see I am in a reverie!!!

    Gosh! I’m not even guilty of the said crime! I remember the newspapers not making it to my doors last year and I went ballistic. I’m old school. I love my news served only in newspapers. Online doesn’t do it. Plus you never know what’s fake and what’s not! I remember calling the paper vendor and asking him if all was well. Apparently people were scared and cancelled their subscriptions and so he took a break from work! The day I got my paper after months, unconsciously the first thing I did was to smell it, clearly forgetting about the raging virus!

    Moving on to serious matters, the theme of Human Hypocrisy seems to be the undercurrent of many of your works. Just like mine. But you have a knack of spinning a tale and camouflaging the raging questions of the day in plain sight unlike reaching straight for the gun like I do. That’s what I love so much about your writing.

    Im not one to read a lot of comments in WP, except if it’s my blog and I have to reply to the ones who actually take time to read my long posts. But I have kinda slowly found myself to read your comment section because you write about what’s actually happening out there in the form of stories and I wanna see if it’s making an impact. Until I reached a comment which mentioned hypocrisy, I was wondering if no one got around to figure it out…

    I loved this also because you chose to tame down the language to the level that native speakers use in their everyday life. Reflecting the mother tongue influence. It reminded me of Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, which used the same trick. And it worked very well indeed!

    Am I done? Did I get it all?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Lalitha… human hypocrisy has always troubled me. Since childhood, I’ve seen it all around me, but could never much do or say about it. When I confronted my own family, I became a rebel and was disliked for it. Out in society they turned into bitter altercations. Hypocrisy, corruption, smugness, condescension, abuse of authority, there is so much I couldn’t stomach for so long, even today I struggle with them. I still don’t understand many things. There are so many things I want to say. You do it right… pulling your gun out and just saying it. I derive a pleasure when people figure it out through my stories. Again that bug of becoming a fiction writer some day.
      Aravind Adiga did it so well. I remember wondering how could he make english read like hindi. And I might revisit him soon, for I tend to bring a lot of native speakers in my stories. Thanks for reminding.
      And your ‘Armchair Activism’ comment… in a way I’m doing the same here, isn’t it? :)) Not writing a letter to the editor, writing a story instead… and I accept that. Activism on roads is not my cup of tea.
      Thanks so much for all your observations, and all your time… always a beautiful sight seeing your name here. Take care…:)

      Liked by 2 people

      • Oh there is no place for a rebel in Indian families…I totally SEE you Sandy. Calling out people for being hypocritical has been a streak of mine too. Infact I used to call myself Bhagat Singh! But like you, it only made people hate me. Even family. Especially being a Brahmin woman, I was supposed to be someone else and do something else. And I was NEVER that. I couldn’t care less about what they thought I should and shouldn’t be doing. For me Truth matters. Nothing else. But if you have noticed, which I’m sure you have, the fight for Truth is lonely. No one stands with you. Hard truth about life. But I know no other way to live and that’s fine by me.

        Activism on the street is a joke now. People seem to be doing it for that photo to post on Insta…a rare good activist is thrown in jail for speaking up…so…it’s a good thing that we are still writing about it…atleast we are still trying, armchair or gunslinger… and that’s what matters!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I knew I forgot something 😂 “Armchair activism”…that was the phrase hiding behind my throat…a catch phrase we are guilty of milking to the maximum. Not just the phrase but the act behind it too.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ouch! All us readers of course are ready to shout out the window to the vendor. And yet… A wonderful peek into the darkness of some hearts. The more we have relationships with people (including our vendors!) the more tender our hearts become.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Alan. Thanks so much for giving it a read, and leaving a comment. Glad you like it. And you are so right about relationships with people, especially in current circumstances. :))

      Like

  10. Good story showing the irony of someone seeing injustice out there but being cruel himself. Happens so much nowadays so it’s good that stories like this are posted to keep people more aware of their actions and the need for empathy.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. A well-written story with a good and honest message! The world needs more of this. And, hopefully we can all start working toward helping one another. We never need more hate in the world, but we always need more love and compassion.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. The way you ended it showed the real hypocritic face of society. I loved how well you showed the irony. Everyone is a critic, everyone is a activist but when there a time and need for action we chose to stay blind and ignore it and blame others.
    We live in a hypocritic world. Thanks for reminding that Sundaram. I will remember this story for a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Yeshu. Delighted to see you. You’ve been gone long time. Hope all’s well.
      I’m glad you liked how the story concluded. People aren’t even aware they are doing it, saying something, and doing exactly the opposite. Its amusing and baffling. As if they can’t hear themselves.
      Just an attempt to clear my own head, Yeshu. Take care…:))

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Really well done Sundaram. Down with hypocrisy, up with awareness and compassion. The real pandemic is one of ignorance, virtue-signalling and selfishness. Hugs xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Ignorance is bliss, or maybe once a hypocrite always a hypocrite. Seemed like there would be an enlightening moment…great ending. Well written!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. You manage to incorporate an amusing but poignant twist in all your stories, highlighting something of importance we all need to be aware of. I feel like I should do more when faced with people in need, but I’m not sure what the most useful thing to do is. Sometimes I stop and have a conversation, a real conversation, because we are all human and deserve that kindness. But sometimes I feel like that’s not enough.

    Thank you for your ponderous, well written words my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. Acknowledging that which needs changing, including our own hearts and actions, and doing what we can where we can. Moving on to doing more where and when we are able, and even seeking out ways to help when we have a better grasp of how.

        Liked by 1 person

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