Every religion emphasises the need to ‘give.’ This story, one of my favourites from Thi Jaa, provides an insight into ‘joy of giving.’
Pathu Chetti – பத்து செட்டி
Pathu Chetti was just walking past our house. His dhoti has seen good days. The towel on his shoulder was dirty. He was sporting a pony tail and walking barefoot. His head was shaven in a ‘ப’ shape and he had thick black hair on the unshaved head. He has stopped applying naaman on his forehead; neither in the morning nor in the evening. His heart was not into taking bath or has he forgotten to take bath? He already had a colour of light mud and after he stopped taking bath his skin appeared in mud brown shade. He walked outside his house hundred times a day and on one had an idea why was he walking like a cat which has delivered a litter?
I used to study sitting on the pial; when I looked at him, he let out a smile.
“Which class now?”
He would ask the same question next week.
“Which class now?”
“You should study well.”
Every week the same question, the same answer and the same advice.
“I pity the poor man.” Mom said standing at the door step.
“Should he end up like this? His father Balu chetti was a successful businessman. After his death, the children inherited a lot of debts. Now this man has three children. Balu chetti celebrated each of his three daughter’s marriages extravagantly with band, four horse chariot procession, music concerts and gala dinners. I don’t know what was the curse. One after another, all his three sons in law died; one died of small pox, the second of tuberculosis and the last one slipped in pond and drowned. All the three sisters are with pathu chetti and he himself has three children. I don’t know how they can afford to eat.”
The shop is not there this year. It was a provision store. Relatives who visited our house used to give me quarter ana of half ana (1.5 and 3 paise) and immediately I used to run to Pathu Chetti’s shop.
“Oh valaiyyar? come. come. You want raisins?”
One of the servants used to bring a small pack of raisins.
“Stupid fellow. Go get some good quality raisins.” Pathu chetti used to shout at the store assistant.
The guy would go inside, put some raisins in a newspaper, bundle it and bring it back. When I opened it, all I would find was raisins sticking to each other in moisture. I knew this was no better than the ones he brought at the first instance. I then washed the raisins in water from the tap in the street, ate all of them and went home. Those days, Pathu chetti used to wear a silk shirt and dry cleaned dhoti in brilliant white, wore a proper naaman and good footwear. I did not know why he called me valaiyyar. Once I fell in a ditch and started crying as I could not get out. Pathu Chetti rescued me and from that day I became valaiyyar. (Naughty fellow).
The shop is closed now. Pathu chetti has become insolvent. Dirty dhoti and barefoot.
Till I completed my school, he used to ask me “which class?” every week as if our system allowed schools to promote students every month. First he used to ask me every week which then changed to every month and later every two months. When I was in final year in school I hardly saw him. Their house was just 20 houses away from our house. I saw him sitting in the pial, in front of a small desk and writing continuously on ledgers.
I moved to a city near by for my intermediate and college education; whenever I came home for holiday I did not see much of Pathu Chetti.
I think it was during my final year, I saw Pathu chetti, writing as usual, sitting in front of his small desk.
One day his elder sister came home to requested something from my mom.
“Anuty, ask your husband to get some ash from temple for my brother. His condition has worsened and he is not even eating properly.”
Since last seven or eight years, Pathu chetti has been writing books of accounts; debit and credit. Lentils for 6000 Rs. Tamarind 300 kilos at seven hundred rupees. Thirty carts of rice for nine thousand five hundred Rupees. Donation for Rama Temple consecration – three thousand rupees. Aid for students at St Joseph school – thousand five hundred. Donation for leprosy hospital, twelve thousand …. Pathu Chetti was writing accounts like this.
What started as thousand of rupees has now become hundreds of thousands (lacs). Donation for Independence day – two lacs; renovating Krishna temple – three lacs and the income was noted in millions of rupees in selling capsicum, ginger, rice, silk sarees, pump sets and radios. Pathu Chetti in his imagination, has become owner of many businesses in his books.
“He spends the entire day writing like this. Even when I call him for a meal, his standard reply is, I would just finish this and come. We can take him to a hospital in Madras, but where is the money for that?” Tears were swelling in Pathu’s sister’s eyes. She prayed to The God and said, “We can consider taking him to Gunaseelam temple; but that is near Trichy city and far off from here.”
His sister showed one of Pathu’s note books. We glance through it. Two hundred pages note book and every page was filled. Provision store, Cement Agency – twenty different businesses like this. When I totalled accounts of one business, it showed an income of more than 250 million rupees.
My father smiled. Went to temple and got the holy ash after the prayers. Asked Pathu’s sister to go to Gunaseelam if possible and gave her fifty rupees.
This happened about thirty years back.
One fine day I got a cheque for five hundred rupees and a letter.
The letter was signed, “Pathu Chetti aka Padmanaba Chettiar.”
Padmaba Chettiar High School and it was an invitation to attend the annual function of the school. “Please attend the function. We do not want to trouble you with expenses for making this trip. So I have enclosed a cheque for a small amount. I also want to talk to you about few things.”
What is this?
My father and mother have died many years ago and I don’t have any relatives in the town. How did he get my address?
I took a train and reached my native place.
I went to Pathu’s house. Same house but it has changed a lot; it took me a minute to recognise the house. He has bought the houses on the left and right hand side, demolished them and built a huge two stories bungalow. His accountant took me to meet Pathu Chetti.
Same old Pathu. Same ‘ப’ shaving on head. He was grey haired. He was wearing proper naamam and a silk shirt. He has gained a lot of weight and seated in a settee. He must have been seventy years old but looked fifty five. How strange!
“Come come!” he greeted me in a loud voice. Asked me to brush the teeth and ordered coffee. Over the coffee he asked about my work and family. Thirty minutes passed. He asked the accountant to go to the shop and started talking to me.
“You would thought I am mad after seeing the letter and the cheque.” Pathu laughed.
I still had my doubts. Some people behave strangely only in few occasions. We had a relative who was a reputed doctor. But every now and then he would imagine that the King of Mysore had promised him to give his daughter in marriage to him. He would say the marriage is getting postponed for some reason or other. Some time to suit priests availability, on other occasion to get the best band and some time even for the people who put the shamiana to become available. Many people would talk to him about his proposed marriage and get their medical treatment free of cost.
“You know why did I call you. The people in the town had started calling me mad and my sister was taking me to Gunaseelam. Your father gave us the holy ash and fifty rupees for expenses. We took a train to Trichy city. In the bus stand near the station I saw a notice board. ‘Come get your empire. An empire where you will not have disease. An empire where you will have lot of wealth and Zero Gilbert will show you the way.’ I wanted to know how could I get this empire and forced my sister to come with me to the meeting. A white man was raising his hands repeatedly and was giving a lecture to a large crowd. After his address, as the crowd was getting dispersed, the translator told us we can meet the speaker if we are interested. The white man had put up a tent in the ground and the translator was allowing people one by one into the tent. When our turn came, we went inside.”
The white man asked me, “What is your name?”
“Pathu means Ten, the translator told him in English.”
“Oh Ten?” he gave me a strange look. “Pahu, Pathu, Ten, Ten. There is a secret in your name. Christ has kept a secret in your name.” The White man said in excitement.
“I blinked at him.” said Pathu Chetti.
“If you have ten anas, give one tenth of it to The God or the poor. If you have ten rupees, give one rupee. If you have ten shirts, one shirt. Ten houses then one house. If you ten mangoes give one mango; if ten apples, one apple. Give one in ten and you will get back in thousands. Give me quick. The Christ is asking. He held out his hand.”
“I tugged at my sister. She had tied the money in a bundle in a corner of her saree. I untied it and counted. There was Forty two rupees. I calculated and gave 4 rupees and few anas to the white guy. The white guy laughed as I was calculating the money so carefully. He took it from me, lifted his hands and looked at the sky. Murmured something, touched my head and slowly moved his hands over. He then asked me to go. The translator said the white man was saying I would get 43 Lacs (4.3 Million). But I should always give away one in ten to the poor or the people who don’t have anything. Will I do? I said yes and came out.”
“We went to Gunaseelam and prayed to The God. On our way back we got down at Trichy city again. One of my father’s distant relative Sintra Gopala Chetti was staying there. My sister told me we should visit him. I hesitated since he was rich and wondered what if shooed us away. Sister told me if he did not receive us properly we could always stay in the railway station for the night. But he served us good food and asked how were we doing. When he got to know about our situation he scolded us. He asked us how could we assume that he would be so heartless. He gave us five thousand rupees and sent a person with us. We reopened our shop. Once the escort left us, I remembered the one in ten. I gave five hundred rupees to the school. From the next day, we could not control the crowd in our shop. Every day, I gave a tenth of the profit to someone or some institution. Today I have agencies for cement, fertilisers and polyester. Just like the white man said, today, I my net worth would be about forty three lacs. When I used to write in those note books, my sister would watch me sitting in the pial. I always thought I would become rich and after I completed every note book, I used to keep it next to The God and prayed. That pryer took me to the white man.”
“He told me so clearly that my name had a secret. That’s why I started singing my name as Pathu Chetti. Since you may not remember me, I singed Pathu Chetti aka Padamanaba Chetti. I gave back the fifty rupees to your father. But he refused to take it. That is why I sent ten times of the value to you. If he had not given that money, I could never have met the white man. If I give four lac thirty thousand now, I would get forty million three hundred thousand. But how would I manage that? Tell me?”
He pressed the bell. An assistant came in.
“Get two cups of coffee.”
“Do you think I still look mad?” Pathu chetti asked me.
“Yes a big one.” I laughed.
“I know you would say this. Tell me which class your children are studying now?”
He was born in a Tamil Brahmin (Iyer) family of Madras Presidency in 1921. He worked as a civil servant. His writing included accounts of his travels in Japan and the Crimea.The writing style of Thi Jaa is simple and narrative. His best-known novels are Mogamul, Sembaruthi, and Amma Vandhaal. All these novels have feminine feelings embedded in their subject. Though the story is spun around delicate feelings, the author’s narration is flawless and spontaneous. His short stories such as Langdadevi (a lame horse) and Mulmudi (Crown of Thorns) also follow the same style of writing. – Wikipedia