Sundara Ramasamy is one of the greatest writers in Tamil. His Novels ‘Oru Puliyamarathi Kathai’ (Story of Tamarind Tree) and ‘J J Sila Kuripugal’ (J J Some Jottings) attained cult status. But what attracted me more, is his short stories. They draw immense power from a simple language and excellent narration. Some of his best short stories are, Stamp Album, Vikasam (A Broad View) and Engal Teacher (Our Teacher).
I have produced English Translation of Vikasam. The story was written during the period when Calculator was new to India and how it changes business and relationships in a small town.
Sundara Ramaswamy (1931–2005), fondly known as “Su.Ra” in literary circles, was one of the exponents of Tamil modern literature. He edited and published a literary magazine called Kalachuvadu. He wrote poetry under the penname “Pasuvayya”. His novels are Oru Puliya Marathin Kathai(Tamarind History), tr, Blake Wentworth, Penguin 2013, J.J Silakuripukal (J.J: Some Jottings, tr, A.R Venkatachalapathy, Katha, 2004) and Kuzhanthaigal, Pengal, Aangal (Children, Women, Men), tr, Lakshmi Holmstrom, Penguin 2013.
Ramaswamy was born on 30 May 1931, in Thazhuviya MahadevarKovil, (a village in Nagercoil). At 20, he began his literary career, translating Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai‘s Malayalam novel, Thottiyude Makan into Tamil and writing his first short story, “Muthalum Mudivum”, which he published in Pudimaipithan Ninaivu Malar. He died on 15 October 2005 (IST) aged 74. Wikipedia
A Broad View – விகாசம்
Mom was sleeping in the cot and I was sleeping on the floor just adjacent. Mom and I have made it a practice to wake up late. We got this privilege after some fight. For ages, it has been a practice in the family to wake up before sunrise. But we are patients. Mom was suffering from Asthma and I had pain in the joints. Both diseases caused severe pain.
We could hear the sound of the bell from horse shaking it’s nape vigorously. The horse cart is locked which means dad has taken the keys of the shop and ready to leave. Also the time is close to 8 AM; now we can listen to screeching of his sandals. He would also open and close the umbrella once to make sure it’s working properly. That’s an everyday test for the umbrella.
The door was open a little bit. In that gap sunrays was coming like a glass-tube and rose. In the pillar of light, dust was circling. Dad! Monocle, vibhuti and kumkum and sandalwood paste on his forehead.
‘Hey Ambi wake up’ said my father.
I closed my eyes pretending to be asleep and motionless.
‘Hey useless wake up! Dad is calling you’ said my mom.
I slowly saw my father’s face. It was lovely and soft. I opened my eyes as if waking from a deep sleep.
‘Hey take bath and go to Anaipalam’ said my dad. ‘and bring Ravuthar to shop with you. I will send the vehicle for you.’
I watched my mom and dad’s face alternatively. I have told my mom about the fight happened between Ravuthar and dad at the shop yesterday. ‘Can you not manage the shop without him? For how many years this drama is going on?’ she said. ‘Fighting and making peace.’
Dad’s face was reddening. A little more and it seemed blood would come out his nostrils.
‘Onam (festival) is coming. You come and make the bills’ shouted my dad. At the peak of anger his lips were curling and words were harsh.
‘Does only Ravuthar know how to make bills in this whole world?’ retorted mom.
‘You shut up’ shouted my father and suddenly turned towards me and shouted, ‘get up’. I stood up like an arrow. ‘Go and do as I said’ he said. As if someone had pulled up the wheels on my legs I came out of the room.
I could hear the horse cart leaving.
I got ready really fast unusual for me! Again unusually I wore a dhoti on top of my shorts and wore a full-sleeve shirt. I thought the dress would make me talk confidently. The anger, which I usually have on dad, was not there. Not even sadness. Actually, I was feeling little pity. Poor fellow he had got into trouble with Ravuthar. You could say he could have remained calm. If he is short-tempered he can become calm. But if short-tempered was the man himself how can he be calm? I was happy with my word play and went before my mom and asked, ‘if short-temper is the man how can he be calm? Mom smiled. Immediately she toughened her face, ‘oh very intelligent? If you are one go and take Ravuthar to the shop’ she said. She kept her right hand on her heart and said, ‘whatever harsh words he has spoken tell him I am sorry for that.’
I went and climbed on to the horse cart.
I also felt Onam (festival) sales, we can’t manage without Ravuthar. No one can calculate as fast as Ravuthar. He is lightening fast in doing sums in mind. He can match five people sitting on a bench and calculating with pen and paper. Is it man’s brain? Astonishing! Some people have wondered ‘Are you a human being?’ ‘Only by listening he is able to calculate so fast. Only if he could see, how much faster he could have been’ they have asked us. In fact his education is only up to third standard, which is two years of less education than Gomathi who is a maid in our shop.
That day the talks started smoothly. ‘How can you keep increasing your debt? The amount is very high already’ said my dad. My dad was angry because Ravuthar had collected all the cloths he wanted from the shop and then was asking dad for credit. ‘What can I do sir? The house is full of girls and women. Sons are useless and sons-in-law are useless. Four daughters, four daughters in law, sixteen grandchildren, eight boys and eight girls! So even if take one set for everyone it comes to huge amount? replied Ravuthar. Dad looked at Ravuthar face intensely as if cursing to himself, ‘you want to humiliate me? I will stop this now’. He told the shop assistant, ‘Kolappa make the bill for all the dresses and pack them.’ His face was reddening because Ravuthar has taken the dresses without his permission. He said, ‘I can’t give credit this time’. His voice was harsh. ‘Are you saying you don’t want our relationship to continue’ said Ravuthar standing up and told Gomathi, ‘baby! Take me to my home’. Gomathi put Ravuthar’s right hand over her left shoulder and both climbed down the stairs. Every day when the shop was being closed he would say ‘Good Night Sir’ in the direction of my father. That day he did not say ‘good night’ which actually meant he had said ‘Good Bye!’
I thought I would take Gomathi to Ravuthar’s house. I thought this would lessen the anger in Ravuthar’s mind. But Gomathi was not at home. ‘Ravuthar said he is not coming to shop. So Gomathi has just left’ informed her mother.
I crossed the orchard and walked through small lanes and stood in front of Ravuthar’s house. It was tiled house with a reclining ceiling. The well was on the right hand side in the front. The compound wall had no plastering and broken in many places. Around the well lot fugal growth was there. In the front side were steps and a curtain made of sackcloth.
‘Ambi has come’ I said aloud.
A small girl came out. One more appeared behind her. From inside Ravuthar asked ‘who is that?’
‘It’s me! Ambi’ I said.
‘Come in’ said Ravuthar. His voice was happy and encouraging.
I pushed the curtain aside and went inside. On the floor which was polished with cow dung Ravuthar was sitting looking like a wrestler. His hands were held high. He was continuously saying ‘Come in! Come in!’ I went and sat in front of him. His hands were searching for me and fell on my shoulders. Eyes were blinking as if to bring the life back in them. He pressed my shoulders and made me sit next to him.
‘You are wearing a dhoti today’ his voice had mellowed.
‘It just struck me’ I said.
‘You are like Iyer and people say you look like Iyer (my dad). Only I am unfortunate not able to see that’. Having said that he was measuring my nose, head, eyes and forehead and said, ‘God has made everything perfectly!’
I though this is the right time to start. But speech was not coming
‘Mom….’ I started.
Ravuthar interrupted and asked ‘How is her health now?’
‘Same as before’ I replied
‘We have a decoction made of herbs Thoothuvalai and Kandangi. There is no better medicine available for Asthma. But Iyer wants English on the outside of the bottle. We have medicine but no English’ he laughed.
This is the right opportunity I thought.
‘Amma asked me to take you to the shop. Even if dad has said anything wrong mom said she feels sorry for the same. You should not mistake and not refuse’ I said.
Ravuthar face brightened up in happiness. He raised his hands and said, ‘mom you are a great woman’ he cried. ‘Stand up. We will go to the shop now.’
That year Onam festival sales were very good. Ravuthar looked happy and bubbly. He was managing, very easily, all the sales boys who were swarming hm. It looked like Abhimanyu in managing solely in Mahabharata. The moment he heard the measure and price of the cloth, he gave the total. What was inside his brain and what spark only the God knew. How can we say it’s a human brain when it says ‘Sixteen Items, total Rupees 1414 and paise 25’ in a jiffy? If you do it on a blackboard it will take half an hour. There is some lightning happening in his brain. There was never a mistake till that day.
Mom used to tell me. In olden days, dad used to check the books in the night to catch Ravuthar. ‘He is jumping too much and should be taught a lesson’ he would say. Only he spoiled his sleep in the night. He could not find any mistakes.
One day a cart drawn by single bullock halted in front of the shop. On the backside, there was a white screen and the cart was hooded. There was hue and cry inside the cart. Women and children were crying and shouting.
‘Looks like women from my home have come’ said Ravuthar.
Ravuthar house had come on auction, as he could not pay the mortgage. The lender had thrown all his things out of the house.
‘God I don’t know what to do’ cried Ravuthar. He was crying like a child. Even while crying, when Kolappan came and told him, ’45 Meters 70 Centimetres @ 13 Rupees 45 Paise’ he replied ‘write down 614 Rupees and 66 Paise’. Then he turned towards my dad and said, ‘Sir with principal and interest it has come to more than 5000 Rupees and I need to pay this in court. Where would I go?’ he cried.
Dad and Ravuthar went in the horst cart to see the Lawyer.
Next day Ravuthar did not come to the shop. Kolappan told dad that he saw Ravuthar making bills at the Chettiar’s cloth shop.
‘How unfair? Just now I paid his dues in the court. He has pulled my legs that ungrateful man’ shouted my dad.
Kolappan got angry. ‘He can only do sums but he has no sense. I will go and drag him back’ he said and went off in his bicycle.
Dad sat down looking very tired. ‘The world is very bad. One can’t even trust his own mother’ he lamented.
In a short while Kolappan came back. Ravuthar was sitting on the carrier of the bicycle. He brought Ravuthar in front of dad.
‘I have gone mad’ cried Ravuthar folding his hands.
‘Your boisterous behaviour will come down one day’ said my dad.
‘Sir please don’t say that. Chettiar offered to pay the loan if I come to work in his shop. So I went. For a moment, I lost my balance. Please forgive me’. Ravuthar said.
‘A time will come when your boisterous behaviour will stop’ shouted dad again.
Surprisingly it happened. Dad went to Bombay for procurement and came back with a small machine and showed it to mom. ‘This machine will do the sums’ he said.
‘This machine?’ mom
Mom gave a sum. Dad pressed some buttons and the machine gave the answer.
I took a paper and pencil and did the math. ‘The answer is correct mom’ I shouted.
‘Has someone made Ravuthar’s brain into a machine?’ wondered my mom.
Throughout the night I was calculating on the machine. Even while sleeping I kept it beside me. I gave very tough some sums and the machine came back with correct answers. I remembered Gomathi asking Ravuthar, ‘how do you calculate in a second?’ ‘There are three more nerves in my brain’ replied Ravuthar. How these extra three nerves came into this machine? I could not stop wondering. I could not keep my surprise and showed the machine to Gomathi. She did many sums and said, ‘everything is correct. This is better than Ravuthar!’
One day in the evening when Ravuthar was giving answers to shop assistants Gomathi was checking the answers and suddenly shouted without realizing, ‘grand pa your answers are correct’. ‘How do you know?’ asked Ravuthar. ‘I did the sums then answered’ replied Gomathi. ‘OK I will a question now solve it’ said Ravuthar and gave her a sum. Gomathi answered and he asked one more and she replied correctly.
Ravuthar face went pale. ‘God I don’t understand this magic’ he said.
‘I did not do it grandpa this machine did it’ said Gomathi and shoved the calculator in Ravuthar’s hands.
Ravuthar’s hands started shaking once he got the calculator in his hands, his fingers trembled. He kept feeling the calculator and asked, ‘is this machine doing the sums?’ repeatedly. ‘Yes’-replied Gomathi. ‘OK you keep it with you’ he returned it back.
After that Ravuthar could not speak that day. He was still and shaken, leaning on the wall. That day only Gomathi and I made all the bills. Gomathi asked, ‘why are you not talking grandpa?’ He did not reply.
He was coming to the shop like an automaton. All his wit and laughter had deserted him. His voice was down. And he looked very weak.
Dad did not ask him to make any bill.
One day in the afternoon, shop was little busy. Murugan, a shop assistant was measuring the cloth and cutting them and I was making the bills. Suddenly Ravuthar said, ‘hey stop!’
Murugan stopped and looked at Ravuthar’s face.
‘How much did you say the price of Poplin cloth?’
‘Meter 15 Rs and 10 Paise!’
‘Wrong check the label on the cloth. It’s 16 Rs and 10 Paise!’
Dad came near Ravuthar
Murugan looked at the label and his face fell down, ‘What you said is correct!’ he said.
‘You have given 10 Meters. We would have lost 10 Rupees. Do you come to shop to throw Iyer’s money on the street?’ shouted Ravuthar.
‘Do you remember the price’ asked dad.
‘Yes sir just a remembrance’
‘Of all the cloths?’ asked my dad
‘God’s grace’ replied Ravuthar.
‘So what’s the price of the small towel? He asked
‘4 Rupees and 10 Paise’
‘The big one?’
’36 Rupees and 40 Paise’
Dad kept on asking and the answers were coming thick and fast.
Father’s face expanded in surprise. He could not believe this. He made a deep sigh. He could not stop his sighs either.
‘So do one thing. When bill amount is told you check the price’ said dad.
‘Definitely as far as possible’ replied Ravuthar. Then he raised his head and asked, ‘Sir have you paid the electricity bill? Today is the last day!’.
‘No I did not’ replied dad and called Kolappan.
‘Sir he has not come today’ commented Ravuthar.
‘How do you know?’ asked dad.
‘Everyone has a special voice and a smell. Today neither his voice nor his smell is there’ having said that he called “Murugan!’
‘Yesterday he told a customer there is no stock of double dhoti. Sir please scold him’ said Ravuthar.
‘I don’t understand what you say’ said dad.
‘Sir you bought ten double dhotis. We have sold only seven. So three should be there no’ said Ravuthar.
Dad asked to check the stock. Three double dhotis were there.
Ravuthar raised his voice and said, ‘Muruga! You are saying no to customers when we have stock. Are we sitting here for business or charity?’
Evening he went from billing section and sat next to my dad.
‘If I am next to you, I will be more useful sir!’ he said and asked him, ‘Sir if you increase the speed of the fan I can also get some cool air’
Dad asked to increase the speed of the electric fan.
‘Sir we have to pay advance Income tax. So should we not meet the auditor?’ he asked dad.
‘Yes we should see him’ replied dad.
When we were about to close the shop he asked dad, ‘Sir you said we need to get medicine for mother! Have you?’
Dad replied ‘Yes I will do now!’ Dad was checking all the locks.
‘Sir you said your mother’s death anniversary is approaching. If you tell Murugan, he will inform the priest on the way for the ceremony’
Dad said, ‘Yes I will inform him.’
Shop assistants were leaving one by one. Gomathi kept Ravuthar’s hand on her shoulder and started walking. She asked Ravuthar, ‘Grandpa you won’t come to billing section any more?’
‘Ibrahim Ravuthar is not a calculation machine anymore but the Manager! By God’s Grace!’ said Ravuthar