The simple writing style of Ashokamitran (one of the best known authors in Tamil), is simply breathtaking. Readers would have seen that in What Should I Tell Father – Asokamitran. One more example is this story.
His Favourite Star
அவனுக்க்கு பிடித்த நட்சத்திரம்.
Sriram was twenty one years old. He had just written his B.A final exams. The results would be out in June and it was April then.
Ramasamy Iyer was his neighbour. He was working in a Pharmaceutical Company as a clerk. He had five children; the eldest three were daughters, the fourth a son, the last one, a girl was just nine months old.
Sriram subscribed to an English daily. The paper used get delivered at six in the morning at his house. That day the guy who delivered the newspaper had some work in the court and he asked his son to deliver the paper.
When Ramasamy woke up he saw a newspaper inserted in the window frame of his house. He did not know who the paper belonged to. He retrieved it and started reading it as he was drinking his morning coffee.
Ramasamy saw someone selling fresh Tamarind on the street which was very cheap. He came out and bought three veesai (veesai – a measure about 2 kgs) of it. He needed something to carry the tamarind he just bought and saw the newspaper in his hand. It could not hold all the quantity on the paper; so he made couple of trips to take it inside. As was making the third trip he heard Sriram enquiring about the non-delivery of the daily. He cleaned the paper as much as he could, came out and asked Sriram if it was his. Sriram snathed it from him and looked at the front page. There was an advertisement about the recently realised movie and a big picture of the actress who was known to be the most beautiful heroine in the south. She was Sriram’s favourite actress and her face was totally smudged by the strains of tamarind. He asked Ramasamy how could he take someone else’s paper. Ramasamy said he did not know anything. The paper was in his window and he just started reading it.
Sriram started reading the paper. His favourite’s actress face was in total ruins due the stains. He murmured ‘idiot.’ Ramasamy asked him what did he say. Sriram replied ‘nothing to you.’ He again said ‘idiot.’ Ramasamy also called him idiot, rogue and mad many times in the next fifteen minutes. Sriram said he also had the same opinion about Ramasamy Iyer. Ramasamy was late by an hour when we left for office that day.
After a couple of days, Sriram saw Ramasamy Iyer carrying a bunch of neem leaves to his house. His mother informed him that Ramasamy’s son is ill with small-pox. Sriram had to go to Employment Exchange, Library and to a cinema. Before starting his work, he went to the nearby post office and dropped a letter to the local health authorities. He did not sign the letter.
He returned home before dark. He was dead tired. But he felt something inside. His mind was not at peace.
As he was sipping his coffee kept in the thermos, his mother told him what happened. Someone had informed the health authorities about the neighbour. They came in a motor car and took away Ramasamy’s son when his father was not there. The child’s mother cried and protested. But they informed that was the law and he would be taken to the hospital outside the city which would treat infectious diseases. She ran after the van, crying like a mad woman but no one listened to her.
Sriram felt really bad and was sad. He did not expect things would turn like this.
Ramasamy returned from office. He did not even change his cloths but started running towards the suburban electric railway station. The infectious disease hospital was ten miles outside the city.
Sriram could not keep still. He could not enjoy his dinner. He stood next to the compound wall of his house and looked at the people walking on the street. It was past ten in the night now. The city was getting quiet. The railway station was about half a mile from his place. The rumbling noise of the trains entering and leaving the station, the ringing of the bell at the level crossing, the noise of the wheels of the trains moving on the tracks, he could listen to all the sounds now. He had never observed the city becoming silent around him. Even the medical college student who used to be awake to study till late in the night has switched off the lights. Dark shadows of houses from both sides were filling up the street. Sriram’s eyes were becoming heavy. He slid on to the bed but he could not sleep. He came back to the street; he was just wearing his dhoti. Everything was dark at that time and everyone was sleeping. He was waiting alone. At last, what he was fearing all this time, what he would give everything in the world to avoid seeing happen, appeared on the street. That was Ramasamy Iyer. He was walking, holding his wife whose throat had completely dried up with all the crying. Though he had been a neighbour to them was last two years, Sriram had not seen Ramasamy’s wife more than ten times. She was always inside the house. Sriram used to wonder if she was deaf or physically challenged. But, today, she had kept all her calm demeanour aside, crying out loud on the street, begging everyone not to take her child away from her. She cried as if a demon possessed her.
Ramasamy and his wife went inside their house. The children woke up and started crying at a high pitch. The mother started crying again. It was her son and only son. Just four years old. He was never away from her even for an hour. Now, when the child is not well, they have removed him and taken him to far off place. She could not take care of the child when he was ill. She could not give him a glass of milk when he cried of thirst. They would put him amidst all the cholera patients and lepers. No one would utter a word of comfort. He would shiver with fear. No one would take him to attend a nature’s call. Only a moustached ruffian would be there who would shout at the child. She was cursing The God now. What did she do wrong. Why are you not showing any mercy? Why are you torturing my child?
Sriram did not sleep a wink that night. The child died after a couple of days. Because it was down with smallpox, it was taken directly to the cremation ground from the hospital.
A month passed by. One day Sriram picked up all the courage he could muster and slowly entered Ramasamy’s house. He was sitting on an ease-chair. Sriram said quietly, “I want to say something about Raju.” Raju was the name of the child.
Ramasamy lifted his head and said, “What?”
“Do you know who informed about the illness?”
“How does it matter who informed the authorities?”
“It was me.”
Ramasamy looked at him for a minute and called, “Kamu.”
His wife came out of the kitchen. She had completely changed in the past month.
Ramasamy pointed her to Sriram. “Tell her.”
Sriram immdeditely wanted to fall at her feet and cry a lot. He just swallowed the sorrow in his throat and said, “It was I who informed about Raju.”
He waited for her to curse him with all the anger and sorrow. He even wished she would. But it seemed she had regained her calmness.
She did not utter a word.
Ashokamitran (September 22, 1931 – March 23, 2017) was the pen name of Jagadisa Thyagarajan, an Indian writer regarded one of the most influential figures in post-independent Tamil literature. He began his prolific literary career with the prize winning play “Anbin Parisu” and went on to author more than two hundred short stories, and a dozen novellas and novels. A distinguished essayist and critic, he was the editor of the literary journal “Kanaiyaazhi”. He has written over 200 short stories, eight novels, some 15 novellas besides other prose writings. Most of his works have also been translated into English and other Indian languages, including Hindi, Malayalam, and Telugu.