We identify ourselves some of the struggles especially the middle class ones when we read about them in a story or a novel. We recall similar sacrifices made by our parents/brothers/sisters and the story strikes a chord. ‘Prize’ by Sujatha (Eldorado – Sujatha and Nagaram – City – Sujatha) is one such short story. You desperately wish the ending could somehow be changed. Only if wishes were horses….
Prize – பரிசு
There was just enough space for one car to go in that narrow street. Cyclists leaned towards the gutter to give space to the car. It was odd for a car to get into that street. And there was the driver in starch-white uniform and a cap! The young man at the back seat was well dressed and a tie adorned his neck. He wiped the sweat on his forehead, rolled down the window and asked a passerby, “where is 36 bar 48 house?”
“See the half gate there with a postbox hanging outside? The next house is 36/48. There are eight portions in the house. Whom do you want to see?”
“Mr. Krishnaswamy, employed in State Warehousing Corporation…”
“Yes, he is there. You can go!”
At the entrance an oldman guided him, “that’s the last portion. After that there is only bathroom!”
As he passed the passage, from both sides, Srinivasans and Ramasamys looked up. The wives were cleaning the children near the hand-pump. Sound from a sewing machine from one side and music from transistor from other side reached his ears. Young girls were looking at their handheld mirrors to apply Bindi and they were humming last night’s Ilayaraja song. Children were playing cricket with cardboard boxes.
Krishnaswamy was sitting on a stool at the entrance, checking lottery results in a Newspaper.
“Yes. That’s me and You?”
“My name is Anil Kumar and I am coming from Wintas Company.”
“What’s the matter?” he shrunk his forehead, assuming the guy is a salesman out to sell something.
“Do you remember you participated in Winnie Soap Slogan Contest?”
“Oh Yeah… I remember!”
“Bathe in Heaven with Winnie! Is this the slogan you sent?”
“Yeah… just some foolish attempt” he replied sounding apologetic.
“Congratulations and greetings! The judges have awarded you First Prize.”
“First Prize means?”
“For you and your wife; hope you are married? Five days of travel and sightseeing to Delhi and Agra. You will stay in a Five Star hotel and all expenses will be paid by Wintas.”
“Oh wow. Purnima! Purnima, where has she gone? Hey Paachu (short for Parthasarathy)?”
“Only for you two!”
Swami’s face brightened. He sat down. “Yes sir what would you drink? Paachu! Call Purnima. She would be watching TV in Mudaliar uncle’s house.”
Anil Kumar spread the kerchief on the stool and sat down, “Sir this is the letter from our Marketing Director. Just sign at the bottom. On Friday, this will be published in all Newspapers. I want your passport size photo. Ashoka Hotel voucher and air-tickets will be given to you by that time.”
“And who is this?”
“Paacha- Parthasarathy – my brother.”
The ‘tie’ young man gave his visiting card to him. Paacha said, “I am working in Co-operative Bank as temporary clerk –selection grade.”
“I am Marketing Executive – Wintas”
“What do you mean by Air tickets? Aeroplane?”
“Aye Paachu! Call Purnima. Where has she gone?”
“We will take you on Friday evening. A taxi will take you to the airport. In Delhi, my colleague Venumadhavan will receive you.”
Just then Purnima rushed towards them and asked with a worried face, “what happened?”
“We will also give you lunch and dinner coupons.”
“Purnima, the slogan I wrote and sent no? It’s won us prize!”
“What prize? What did you write?”
“Your husband is very lucky Mrs. Krishnaswamy. He has won the first prize in a contest where ten thousand people participated. Just four words…”
“Heavenly feeling with Winnie! Simple!”
“For a week we can go sightseeing to Delhi and Agra. Aeroplane and five-star hotel stay. What else sir?”
“Is it?” Purnima exclaimed as she held her chest.
“We bought a Winnie soap recently no? There was a contest on the label. You need to identify some movie stars and write a slogan about the soap. I just wrote something and sent. Now we got the prize.”
“I can’t believe this? Should we pay some money?”
“Nothing Madam. From the time, you leave the house, till you come back all expenses will be borne by Winnie.”
“Hi Sister in Law. In today’s paper, I saw zodiac sign for brother. It said ‘income from north’. How true?”
“Sir our company is headquartered in Bombay. It’s in the West?”
“Ok, but Bombay is little north as well.”
“I had an intuition that I may get the prize. Please give a cup of coffee to Mr. Anil Kumar.”
“No sir – thanks. I need to go and meet the Second Prize winner as well.”
After the young man left, everyone gathered around Swami. “How did you think of this?”
“This is the first time our society has got a prize.”
“Nana won once in Bhutan Lottery.”
Opposite portion Pattammal, “What Purnima? You won a prize? Are you going to Delhi?”
“Not sure aunty!”
“Hello Purnima aunty! When are you going to give treat?”
“Purnima, get me two Delhi Bamboo stools and chappathi stone. I will give money.”
“Is apple cheap in Delhi?”
“It’s not season uncle!” replied Paacha.
“I can’t believe this Purnima”
“There may be some trick? All flights?”
“Yes” replied Paacha as he opened the envelop.
“It is all clear in this letter”
‘Dear MR. Krishnaswamy,
Greetings from Wintas. We are glad to inform that you have won the first prize in the contest we held in November. Congratulations! The first prize will entitle you and your wife or friend – for two people, flight tickets, – Chennai – Delhi – Agra – Jaipur – Delhi – Chennai.
The company will also bear all the expenses for your stay in any of the ITC Hotels, tourist bus expenses, breakfast, lunch and dinner expenses.
We will also pay 300 Rupees per day for incidental expenses.
We wish you a pleasant journey.
After reading the letter Paacha looked up and said “Hey bro! you are really lucky. Such a big prize for just four words. Sis in law, do you want to go or can I go?”
Purnima said, “ah you are greedy. First time I am getting a chance to step out of this mouse trap and go so somewhere with your brother.”
“Just kidding. You go and enjoy yourselves.”
“Paacha, look at the map first. I don’t know where Agra is? I have not been north of ICF Perambur” commented Swami. (ICF Perambur is a suburb of Chennai Metropolitan City).
“I have not gone north of this road” said Purnima.
“Lie. You have been to Hyderabad.”
“That was in during my childhood.”
“Will it be cold?”
“In Delhi? Look at the attachment. They have given all the information. It will be mild weather. A sweater or a shawl will do. Sis in law do you have a shawl?”
“That is small clothing worn over the shoulders like a blanket.”
“Are you kidding? I am using a torn bedsheet at night.”
“That’s not torn” said Swami.
“Purnima, what happened to the hold-all?”
“That was torn long ago and we are using it as a mop.”
“My green sweater?”
“That’s eaten by moth.”
“Bro, for the Delhi trip, you need to buy a sweater, good pair of shoes and a silk saree for sis in law.”
“Let’s make a small list.”
By Wednesday, the list has become large. Torch light, woolen socks and pickles got added. Purnima was packing for the last three days. Other portion people came and gave their shopping lists. Wool for knitting, Taj Mahal in glass cage, stone dolls, photo albums and the list was just getting bigger.
“Sis in law. Just don’t nod your head for everything. You go and enjoy the trip.” By Thursday night, Purnima and Paacha finished the packing.
“I did not go for honeymoon as well. Just came here straight from the marriage hall. Just Vividhabharathi and TV in Mudaliar uncle house. No other entertainment. Your brother is keen on working overtime and extra money.”
“What to do manni (sister in law)? Rangu has to finish college. Revathi’s marriage is pending. Amma’s cataract surgery is due. My job has to become permanent.”
“I am not blaming anyone. I can’t even imagine going to Delhi or seeing Taj Mahal. This is a gift from God. Otherwise unfortunates like me can’t wish for all these.”
“Why manni? Just for two more years, you have to grin and bear it. Just my job needs to become permanent and other responsibilities should get over. After that, you will be a free birds and bro will take you to all the places.”
“Who knows? After two years, one of the sisters will come for delivering a baby. I should not expect more and I should not wish for anything.”
On Friday, before the Wintas representative could come with the tickets, Purnima has made all the arrangements. She made arrangement for Paacha’s lunch and dinner with next portion Nithya. She arranged with the maid to come only in the morning for mopping. She gave Paacha pocket money for his expenses. She arranged milk and coffee and took care of hundred other minor details.
When Krishnaswamy returned in the evening from office, he was visibly tired. Purnima gave him coffee and looked around. The room was filled with hold-all, suitcase, plastic bag, flask and water bottle.
“So you have kept everything ready?”
“Yeah. I have been packing for the past one week. I have even kept oil for Paacha’s bath in the bathroom.
“All in vain!” said Krishnaswamy in dejected voice.
“What happened? He did not come? All this is bluff?” Purnima was shocked.
“No. I told them I don’t want this trip. I called them and asked them if they would give us cash instead of all expenses paid holiday. They have accepted to pay 10,000 Rupees. I have taken it.”
“Then, no Delhi trip?” Purnima was almost in tears.
“Why do we need money now?”
“Paacha’s job may get permanent as a cashier. We need to pay caution deposit for that. Doctor has asked to us fix the date for mother’s operation.”
Purnima let looking at him for a while.
“All the arrangements went down the drain no?” she was trying hard to prevent her tears from falling down her cheeks.
Swami came near her, rubbed her chin softly and said, “you are definitely disappointed. Is it not?”
“It’s OK. If we win a prize again, we can see Agra” replied Purnima.
Sujatha (3 May 1935 – 27 February 2008) was the pseudonym of the Tamil author S. Rangarajan, author of over 100 novels, 250 short stories, ten books on science, ten stage plays, and a slim volume of poems. He was one of the most popular authors in Tamil literature, and a regular contributor to topical columns in Tamil periodicals such as Ananda Vikatan, Kumudam and Kalki. He had a wide readership, and served for a brief period as the editor of Kumudam, and has also composed screenplays and dialogues for several Tamil movies.
Penning with his wife’s name, Sujatha’s Tamil literary career spanned more than four decades. An engineer by profession, he was proficient in the language of technology. Widely read and knowledgeable, he presented his knowledge in simple Tamil.
His works stood out during a time when Tamil composing was dominated by social/family dramas and historical novels. His identification with the masses, and his uncanny adoption of their way of talking, behavior, mindset and slang, helped make him popular across multiple demographic segments.
His popularization of technology was one of his greatest contributions – starting with his Silicon Chip composing in Dinamani Kadhir and Yen, Yedharku, Eppadi in Junior Vikatan. At one point, his composing was appearing in numerous Tamil weeklies and journals simultaneously, including Ananda Vikatan, Kumudam, Kungumam, Kalki and Dhinamani Kadhir. Later he contributed as script/screenplay author for several Tamil movies. His notable movies included Vikram,Thiruda Thiruda, Boys and Sivaji. Most of his early novels/stories were made as movies, including Priya, Gaytri, Karaiyellam Senbagapoo and Anandha Thandavam, among others.
In his later days he restricted his composing to essays such as Katradhum-Petradhum. He began to spend more time reading, especially old rare Tamil composings and composings on the latest developments in information technology and computing.
As an engineer, he supervised the design and production of the electronic voting machine (EVM) during his tenure at Bharat Electronics Limited, a machine which is currently used in elections throughout India. As an author he inspired many authors, including Balakumaran, Madhan, Charu Nivedita. – Wikipedia