It was the beginning of June 1955. The colleges had not reopened yet. I was at home.
In the morning at around ten, I opened the chest drawer and picked up an issue of LIFE magazine and got into the easy chair. On the front page there was a picture of a new luxury liner from America. It was beautiful, but the stamp of the issuing library spoiled the grace of the great ship. Meanwhile, Ramesh from the neighborhood came to the front yard to dry his clothes in the intense sunshine. He looked at me reading a magazine.
“Reading some French magazine?” he asked.
“No, yaar. Just because I have completed course in French, does it mean I will be reading only French?. I am reading LIFE. The issue of this month is very good.”
“Ok. Forget it. Are you coming for a movie with me? A good picture is on for matinee show. BRIDGES AT TOKORI. William Holden is the hero. At Central cinema. Are you coming?”
I closed the magazine. Thought over it. William Holden was my favorite hero. Had heard about the picture being good. I was also free. But then I realized, my wallet was completely empty. At the most, one rupee may be there. There are still 8 days for father to get his salary. Till then no movie. I told Ramesh ”I have seen a movie just yesterday. I don’t want to see any more immediately. Will see sometime later.”
Ramesh fixed the clips on the clothes he put to dry and got back to his house. I opened the magazine and started reading. My mother called me. “Satish, bring peanuts worth 8 annas from the shop urgently.”
“Ok. I am bringing. Should I take money from your purse?”
“My purse! It is already empty. Nobody will give you even 8 annas if you sell it. Take money from your wallet only.”
I was shocked. Anyway, without any further argument I went to the shop and got the peanuts. I was wondering why did we have to eat peanuts in bhaji if we do not have enough money? I opened the magazine and tried to read the article. But my mind was wandering somewhere else. “If today itself all the money in the house is finished, how are we going to pull on for the rest of the month?
But why am I worried about such a situation? This month will go as all previous months have gone. Coming months will also go the same way. No relief. One month my college fees will take a good share of father’s salary and some other month the expenses for clothing. Something or other spending. Never any month goes smoothly without tension. But how can I put all the load on father’s shoulders? Two more years to complete my graduation. Till then the situation is not going to change. I must hunt for some source of money. I tried for a job during vacation. But I am not that lucky enough to get a summer placement. I must start taking tuitions for French. I must use my extra quality to earn some money.
While thinking about money matters with the magazine in front of my eyes, I dozed off. I woke up only at my mother’s calling for lunch. After lunch, I decided to take a walk instead of worrying about house condition. I pulled out my clothes from the hanger, put them on and went out. They were not even ironed. But that being a regular affair, it did not bother me.
That was hot afternoon. Not much movement on the road. I was walking on the footpath. Suddenly one luxurious Mercedes car passed by me without making any sound. I recognized,it was Seth Lilachand’s car. Seth Lilachand was a big name in our area. He was the richest man in our district. I remembered he had started some chemical factory few years back. He was an ordinary person then. But in 5-6 years he became a millionaire. No. By calling him millionaire would be insulting him. He was a BILLIONAIRE. All the luxuries he was enjoying. His life must be without any worries. Can I become as rich as him? Will I own such a luxury car? Suddenly I tumbled over some stone on the road and I got pushed back into the real world from the imaginary. I saw the Mercedes returning. But this time it did not pass by me but stopped close to me. Some person got down from the car. He came straight to me. “Sethji is calling you.” He said. I was confused. I went near the car. Sethji was relaxing in that air-conditioned car. A nice scent fragrance greeted me. Sethji moved his hand and told me to get into his car. I was perplexed. “Why? What is the matter?” I asked.
Again he told me to sit next to him. “I have some work. “
“What?” I said.
“First come inside the car.” Saying this Sethji pulled me inside the car. I sat next to him. Not scared but surprised and felt uneasy.
The car started. I noticed the car was well decorated from within. Sethji took out some medicinal tablets and threw them in his mouth. Then he had a sip of water from his nice bottle. I was getting impatient. I again asked. ”Tell me what I can do for you.” Sethji waved his hand and said “What is the hurry? Let us first go to my house. We will relax, have some tea and biscuits. Then I will tell you how important you are for our business.”
The car stopped in front of one mansion. We got off. Somebody from the house rushed towards us. He opened an umbrella and held over Sethji’s head to protect Sethji from the hot sun. We entered the house.
My God! How lovely the living room was! Excellent furniture, nice artifacts, well positioned lamps over few great paintings. Every thing was chosen with a sense of beauty. Fully carpeted floor. A well chosen tapestry was used on the windows and walls. I was awed by the display of wealth.
I moved in carefully. The carpet itself was so soft. We came close to a sofa. Sethji indicated me to take a seat. I sat on the sofa and was almost sunk inside the cushion. I managed to sit upright carefully. Soon some plates of good snacks were arranged. Sethji now came close to me and offered the delicious snacks. I controlled my temptation. Had just a little and said, “Tell me what work I can do in your factory. What do you manufacture?”
“We manufacture gold.” Smiling, Sethji murmured. “Have you understood manufacturing of GOLD? Young man, see. This wealth, this bungalow, this car I am having because of Gold. Don’t you think that you also should own such luxuries? Such a big house, a wonderful car? Naturally, you will want to have such things. Even if you do some job for ten generations, you will not get such a comfortable living style. You can fulfill your dreams in this life in just 5-6 years. You can own such a bungalow, such a car if you join us. If you help us, all your worries will be taken care of. You are a young man. If you step into this business, you will have many such bungalows, many cars and all the things of your dream. Otherwise, your dreams will remain only dreams. They will never be fulfilled. “
My huge mansion, a caravan of luxury cars started appearing in front of my eyes.
“But what kind of job I will have to do?” I asked.
“I understand you have learnt French. “ Sethji said.
“Yes. I recently have acquired diploma in French” I said.
“See young man, what is your name?”
“Yes, Satish, for so long our partners were from countries who spoke English. We did not have any problem with them. But our new partners are from France. They do not understand English. They speak only French. So we have problems communicating with them. Here comes your role. You act as our interpreter. Whatever we want to tell them, you translate in FRENCH and convey it to them. Whatever they speak, you translate for us. This is an important job. No mistake is tolerated. A very crucial task! But then you will be paid also accordingly. When the ship fully loaded with gold biscuits comes within our vicinity, they will contact us. Immediately we will have to make further arrangements. So translating the French message is extremely important. For every successful unloading of ship, you will get” and Sethji stopped. After a pause, he continued “Can you guess how much money you will get?”
I kept silent.
“Come on. Guess what amount you will get.”
I could not guess anything.
“Not 5,000, not even 10,000 but solid 25,000.”
Can you imagine what all you can do with Rs.25,000?”
I was totally floored by hearing the figure.
Extremely delighted, I said,” I am not a fool to reject such an offer.”
Then I got up. Sethji told the driver to drop me at my house. While I was leaving the bungalow, Sethji got up. Took out the costly wristwatch from his own wrist and put it on my hand. I looked inquisitively at Sethji.
“A small gift from me.”
“Okay then. You have to be present here tomorrow at 4 in the evening.”
“Okay, Sir,” I said happily.
The driver opened the door of the car for me. I sat in the car. Noiselessly the car departed from the bungalow. After we reached my home, I told him to stop. I got off. Without making any noise the car started to return.
I looked around. Nobody noticed me. Walking briskly, I came to my house.
When I entered, mother immediately asked me, “Whose wristwatch have you put on?”
“Think it is mine. “
Mother said, “Do not joke.“
“My friend bought this recently. So he has given it to me for two days. I will have to return it day after tomorrow.”
“Son, You should not borrow such costly things. If they get lost, we will spend your entire life repaying.” Mother expressed her worries.
“But if I buy this?”
“To buy these costly things, one needs lot of money. We don’t have money to buy even peanuts. How can we afford this?”
Now to divert attention, I was looking for the issue of LIFE.
But mother said, “Ramesh was going to library. So I returned LIFE to get some Marathi book. Ramesh got this.” She handed me a small book. I looked at the title. “SHAHID BHAGAT SINGH”.
My hand writhed. I felt uneasy. I threw the book away. Picked up the news paper. Tried to read it. But could not. Again and again Bhagat Singh’s face came in front of my eyes. Tried to think of my cars, my bungalow . But Bhagat Singh’s face did not move away from my eyes. The three young men embraced death to free our country. And here I am, ready to help smugglers harming our country to get out of poverty. I was ashamed of myself. I took out the wristwatch and hid it in the drawer deciding not to join the group of anti-patriotic smugglers team.
(Written in Marathi sometime in 1961. Translated in December 2020)