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Short Stories

Companion

Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani

I got a job in a school after great difficulties. There was a melody in the air. Perhaps the melody was always there but my mind was worried about a job and had for sometime distanced itself from the sweetness of life. The streams flowing down from the mountains had overcome the obstacles and they got an opportunity to flow down singing and dancing.

I locked my door and with my sari pallu flowing in the wind, climbing the staircase of the big school building, I reached the prayer session. All the male and female school teachers were standing respectfully before the rows of students. Today my mind was busy watching each and every face like a museum piece. While glancing around my gaze fell on a tall male teacher. I pictured him in my mind as ‘a tree with a large trunk’. During the prayers, at first he stood with his eyes closed, but later he opened his eyes and started staring. I don’t know what caught his attention. There was nothing new in front of him. I was new but surely he wasn’t looking at me. The prayer session was over. The rows of children began moving but this man was lost in watching something. I too moved with other teachers and passed by him and as I neared him I noticed that a female teacher was passing by, flying her perfumed handkerchief in the air, spreading the fragrance. I asked myself, “Why did she do that?” My mind answered, “Didn’t Menka feel like disturbing the concentration of Vishwamitra?” But this sage here stood unshaken.

I was busy settling into my new job at the school and I almost forgot about this person. But just as I had settled in, my eyes kept watching this ‘tree with a large trunk’ from its roots to its leaves and branches, right up to its shadow. The strange thing about him was that all the other teachers referred to him as ‘Baba’ and one teacher referred to him as ‘Bhau.’ On inquiring I came to know that she was his daughter. During the recess I went to congratulate her and told her, “You are fortunate that such a man is your father.” Almost doubling in laughter, she said, “He must be your father, the whole world’s father, I refer to him as ‘Bhau’.”
I became pale, but did not accept defeat, “Forget about father, I wouldn’t even mind calling such a man my companion.”

On the mention of the word ‘companion’ all teachers began laughing again but suddenly they grew silent. Baba was standing next to me. He said, “True my lad, from today, the both of us will act as companions.” He pulled out a chair and sat down.

The tea also arrived. I took a cup from the tray and offering it to my companion said, “Hello, Comrade.” I felt that the discomfort created by the word ‘companion’ was erased with the use of the word ‘comrade’ as was visible on the faces of the rest of the teachers. Next day, during the same recess time a female teacher was arguing with me that there are so many words in the English language that one can express one’s thoughts with ease and sophistication.

“And one cannot express their thoughts with ease and sophistication in Sindhi?” My companion calmly said from behind me. I don’t know how long he was there, I freaked out. I got up and offered him my chair and he sat down without any formality. Addressing all the teachers he started presenting his case, “Shah Abdul Lathif has referred to women with at least twenty different words in his Risalo, and many words for a camel. If you have enough knowledge of the Sindhi language, you will realize that you can be articulate while using Sindhi as well. But to say that there are not enough words in the Sindhi language is being arrogant.”

I would have not believed any of this had it come from somebody else. But I understood that my companion was a good judge of pearls and diamonds when I saw him for the first time itself. My understanding was not wrong. After a few days I came to know that he is a senior writer. I am from a small town of Sindh so how was I to know that this gentleman is a distinguished personality from Karachi.

One day, upon returning from a Sindhi Sahitya Sammelan Committee meeting, my companion put his hand on my shoulder and said, “My lad, where have you hidden yourself so far?” I did not understand what he meant since I was sitting right opposite to him at the meeting! After a while he said, “You write novels too?” I grew anxious; wondering what would this strange fellow comment on my writings. But when he said, “I admire you for your multi-faceted descriptions in your novel” I bowed down in devotion to this large hearted human being. My companion laughed and asked, “Are you a progressive writer?” I nodded. He said, “Hats off to you progressive writers who have made a great contribution to the Sindhi literature.”

Once in a while I would go to companion’s house. On day I saw him lying down on his bed. The strong body had grown weak overnight. His daughter, with tears in her eyes, took me to another room and said, “Sister, the doctor has advised him to take rest but I don’t know what gibberish he has been speaking since last night.”

I asked, “What is he saying?” The daughter hesitatingly said, “I think this time I will not recover, but I really don’t want to die.”
“All his life he was honest in his earnings,so where do I get money to treat him?”

I was shocked. Baba… companion…death! There was a strange silence as the heart had stopped beating. I slowly went towards companion’s room and sat down. He woke up. Looking at me, he said, “My little branch, you’ve come?”

I said, “Do you know what I thought in my mind when I first saw you?”
“What was it?”
I thought, “A tree with a large trunk.”

He said, “But what is the use of a large trunk if the roots of the tree are rotting?” My companion’s sad gaze went around the entire room and stopped at the door as if he meant to say “Farewell little branch, farewell.”
I shuddered thinking of the word ‘farewell’.

Companion said “This illness has been with me from years, but I was always short of money. Now it has spread to every part of my body…”
I was aware of my companion’s intellectual richness and I said, “So what if you did not have money? You are the property of society. Why should you remain sick?”
“Property of this society?” companion started laughing. A weak, hopeless laughter, that revealed all the helplessness and desires of human life.
“Lad, money is considered as property in this society. To consider a human being as property must be a custom of a different society, surely not ours.”

That night I could not sleep. I could see my companion’s hopeless look on my walls, doors and windows. In the morning as I fell asleep I saw that there was a storm and in that a tree with a large trunk had been uprooted and getting itself forcibly disentangled from the earth fell with a thud on the ground. I woke up screaming.

On the next morning I did not feel like teaching in the school. I could hear a voice from the bottom of my heart, “companion! companion…Oh companion.”
Even before school ended, I found myself going towards Baba’s house. As I approached the house my feet felt heavy…Baba’s large body lay on the ground. There was an oil lamp near his head. The groom of literature was all wrapped up.

I sat down in a corner. An old woman was wailing, “Oh my dear one, how he survived with a handful of food but he never compromised on his dignity. Oh hunger destroyed all the nerves of my dear one…”

My eyes let out a rainfall. So many people came, so many went. There were heaps of flowers by evening. What flowers could I offer? I felt that my fingers were bleeding and the drops of blood were writing - “Companion, if society doesn’t consider you it’s property then I believe that the blood in its veins has dried up. My companion, I shall throw out the dirt in their blood vessels through my pen…I shall become a writer. I shall write all my life…”

This story was inspired by the death of Shri Lalchand Jagtiani and written for him. Even though I hadn’t met him many times but his personality greatly influenced me.

 

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