This story from Thi Janakiraman is from collection of Thi Jaa’s Short Stories. Thi Janakiraman had this unique ability. In few short sentences, he would bring a character to life and some of these characters stay in memory forever. He is undoubtedly the master of Modern Tamil Short Stories. Read on…..
ஆயா – தி ஜானகிராமன்
“Iswaradas” the peon came out and called. Iswaradas stood up. He did not expect he would be called so quickly. Eight interviewees have already gone inside and came out. He asked everyone, as they came out, about the questions they were asked. They just told him something in a hurry and departed from the hall. They must have had a fear, if they let the questions out, the people who attended the interview after them, would be better prepared and gain an unfair advantage. If you know the questions beforehand, it is something akin to ‘copying’ is it not?
His hands and legs were shaking as went inside. There was a long table and five people were sitting behind. In the center, some senior person was sitting wearing a gown.
Others were wearing ordinary shirts and pair of trousers. A lady was sitting in the corner. She was the headmistress. He knew that.
The man sitting in the center showed him a chair without armrests. Iswaradas sat politely.
“What’s your name?”
“Say it boldly. Why are you afraid? How old are you?”
“Only last week I had appeared for school final exams.”
“Till last week you were a student. Now teacher? Don’t you have to pass the exam?”
“I will definitely pass sir. I have always scored good marks and used to come in top five ranks. I will clear this exam also with good marks.”
“But to become a teacher, teachers’ training is mandatory.”
“So you did not know that?”
“I know sir. But three of my friends are already working as teachers without training. So I came with hope. You can send me for training after two or three years.”
“You are talking as if you already got the job.”
“What should one know to become a teacher in a small elementary school like this?”
“One should be good in sports. Should know how to laugh. And should talk to students with humour. And one should be clean and hygienic “
“Only then, the students will practice hygiene.”
“What do you mean by talking humorously?”
“One should know how to tell stories.”
“OK. Then tell us a story. Assume we five are fourth standard students. Tell us a story.”
Iswaradas got confused. He let out a smile.
“Yes. We are fourth standard students. Tell us a story.”
“Can I tell a story about animals?”
“Or an old story from an epic like Ramayana or from The Bible?”
“OK. No issues.”
He tried to remember a story but drew a blank. He could not recall even one story. It seemed all the birds and animals have vanished suddenly.
He stared at the ceiling.
“Can the story be about anything?”
“Any story is OK. You should remember we are fourth standard students.”
He stared at the ceiling again, let out a smile and started slowly.
“There lived a father and a mother in a village. They had two children, a boy and a girl. Father was a truck driver in the army. He was working in a far away place. He would visit the mother and children only once in two years when he got leave. But, every time he came, he would start shouting after two days. He would complain about the food saying, there is no meat, no fish. Even pigs can’t eat this food. Only if you have money you can buy fish and meat. But he would not bring any money. He used to drink a lot. And all his salary would go in buying alcohol. He would shout at mother, asking her if she did not have hands and legs. Why could she not go for a job and bring some money. He would shout for four or five days. Then he would ask her money for alcohol. She would sell her small jewelry or utensils at home and cook meat and fish. Once the money got exhausted, he would start shouting again. He would get angry, fight with her and ask her money for alcohol. If she did not give, he would beat her. After three or four days, he would leave for his army posting. The children had to go to school and they all had to eat. So the mother started working as a nanny. She would go to rich people’s houses and do all the jobs for them like cooking, washing, cleaning and taking care of their children. She would leave in the morning after cooking and getting the children ready for school, and come back only late in the night, totally tired. She would get a saree for Christmas or Deepavali.”
“At last that mother got a regular nanny job at couple’s place who were rich. Husband and wife and a child. Both were working. So that mother’s job was to take care of the house and the child when the couple left for work. They were very nice people. They provided food for the mother. Bought her sarees. The child was very fond of the nanny. And the nanny treated the child with all the love and affection. Once when the nanny left in the evening, the child would stop playing and keep quiet. So the couple started loving the nanny even more and increased her salary. But whatever she earned, was not enough for the nanny. The nanny’s daughter attained puberty. So the nanny gave all her sarees to her daughter. The boy also went to higher classes. The school would always demand money for books and notebooks. They insisted that the students should wear good uniforms. The nanny always dreamt that the boy would study well and achieve success. The boy, every now and then, ask for twenty or thirty rupees as the school demanded and nanny would get her salary in advance from the couple and give him.”
“Then the nanny’s relatives and neighbours started advising her that she should get her daughter married off. So she wanted to make a ring and a chain for her. But she did not have enough money. She managed it somehow and brought money for the ring and chain. Then her son asked her money for final exam fees. He told her that the fees had to be paid in one week. She told him she would get three months salary in advance from the couple and pay the fees. She got the money in just three days. But when she went for work next day, she returned within an hour. Her son asked her why and she replied the couple had dismissed her from her job.”
“”Sister, since last four or five months we are seeing money we kept in the house, in tens and twenties have started disappearing. So far we have lost more than four hundred rupees. We are not saying you took the money. We think you might not have taken it. But no one else is coming into this house. So we are forced to doubt you. If something more valuable disappears tomorrow, that would land on you. So you please don’t come for work. You need not pay back the three months salary advance you took from us.” The nanny cried all the way while she walked back home.”
“This is outrageous mom.” her son commented.
“No son. Their doubts were correct.”
“Did you take the money mother?”
“Yes. You know the family’s position. Your education, your sister’s marriage arrangements, a ring and chain for that and ear rings…”
“So why did you not accept it to the couple. You say they are good people.”
“If I accept, the tag of thief would stick permanently. ‘We have a doubt in you, but we are convinced that you are a good woman. We will get a good job for you. But don’t get the same name there.’ They have advised me.”
“The nanny started crying again as she was explaining her son what happened at the couple’s house.”
“The son got very emotional and told her that he would work very hard and repay the money to the couple. Immediately her mother asked him if he wanted her to be tagged as a thief. She told him she took money as they were struggling. It was a mistake.”
“So the son asked her if she meant to say it was not stealing?”
“The nanny could not answer. She kept looking at the floor.”
Iswaradas stopped narrating the story.
“So the story is over?”
“You are telling us that we can tell this story to fourth standard students.”
“Yes sir, we can tell this story.”
“Will they understand?”
“Yes sir. They certainly will.”
“But there is a lot of confusion at the end. The couple terminated her when they had a doubt. The nanny stole the money but she would not accept it. She is preventing her son from repaying saying that would earn her a tag of thief. Do you really think fourth standard students would understand all these.”
“Yes sir. After five years children would know what is good and what is bad.”
All the five laughed.
“So where is this mother now?”
“She is still at home.”
“The couple said they would get her a job. Have they not got her one yet?”
“Not yet sir.”
The headmistress said, “OK. Your teacher job can wait. You go and bring your mother. We are in urgent need of a nanny.”
******************* November 1979.
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