Guruthatchinai – குருதட்சிணை – A fee or gift or present to the teacher (Guru).
குருதட்சிணை – இந்திரா பார்தசாரதி
It’s Pasupathi’s favourite ‘Pair of Trousers.’ What do you call Trousers/Pant in Tamil? Manimegalai, one of the five ancient classic literature says, ikantha vatudai (இகந்த வட்டுடை) roughly translates to loose fitting garment for legs. May be a pair of pajamas. Were Tamils wearing trousers those days, Pasupathy pondered for a moment. Anyways, even present day Tamils will not understand Vatudai. Pant is OK.
His challenge now is, his favourite maroon colour pant, lost couple of hooks which kept the pant firmly around the waist. They fell down as he was trying to buckle them and fell down. Pasupathy looked around but could not locate them.
He looked down. They must have gone under his bedstead. He could not bend his body in an acute angle to look under. If he were a politician, he would have learnt the skill of bending one’s body at will. At his age, he can’t learn the skill.
Holding the bed, Pasupathy sat down on the floor and looked underneath the bed. It was dark and he could not see those hooks. Only he ended up spraining his hips. With great effort, he stood up. Even if he had found them he would not know how to stitch them back on his pants. He did not learn even to put a cover for his books.
He did not want to sacrifice the trousers just because it had lost the hooks. It was a birthday present from his wife, before she died. The days he wore them were his lucky days. If he went to post office, there would not be a mile long queue. The food from the nearby mess arrived on time. His neighbour Padmanabhan would not carry the letters to editor he wrote to newspapers and read them aloud to him. Small instances of joy and he could even think few more of those pleasant surprises.
Pasupathy tried to wear the pant. It would not stay on his hips. It was gifted to him fifteen years back. In today’s world where would he get a tailor to mend his trouser hooks? Today one could see only mega sized branded stores who designed suits for Amitabh Bachchan and Pierce Brosnan. Would they mend his fifteen year old trousers?
The door bell rang. It was his neighbour Padmanabhan. He was not carrying his note book which gave him a slight relief. Padmanabhan asked him, “Are you going out?”
“I am thinking of going out. Just wanted to ask you something. Do you know anyone who would stitch couple of hooks on my pant?”
“In which world are you in? People who sharpened your blunt knives and repaired your kitchen utensils used to sit on these roads. Are you able to see them now? The world is changing. Either you stitch it yourself or give it to your building watchman. If we keep mending trousers how our country’s consumption will go up and when will our economy grow?”
Pasupathy did nor reply but kept looking at Padmanabhan who thought, perhaps, Pasupathy did not like what he said and asked him, “Is the trousers new?”
“No it is fifteen years old.”
“Fifteen years? My God! Any sentiment?”
“Yes. The one who presented this to me, died fifteen years back.”
“I am so sorry Pasupathy. I understand now. Do one thing. Go to George Town. May be you can find someone there. But you won’t take a bus. Auto rickshaw ride will cost you more than the trousers. But you can count it as the price you pay for your sentiment!”
Once Padmanabhan left, Pasupathy shoved the trousers in a cloth bag flagged down an Auto rickshaw. He told the driver, “I need to go to downtown and come back.”
“How much will you pay?”
“Two hundred and fifty.”
“Add fifty rupees more.”
Pasupathy got in and the driver started the auto. He felt that the rickshaw was going very slow. Pasupathy wondered if the driver was sleeping on the handle bar.
“Why are you going so slow?”
“When we are young we don a pair of wings and in a hurry to go somewhere all the time. Now we are old. We are going to be here for just few more days. Let us look at the world as we go slow. If we reduce speed, the time would increase no” The driver started laughing.
Pasupathy did not expect an auto driver would talk philosophy.
“It is ok for me. I am old. But if someone who is in a hurry to go office and get in your auto, what would you tell him/her?”
“As soon as they get in, I tell them that this vehicle will go slow. If you are in a hurry find some other auto.”
Pasupathy laughed now. “That’s alright then. But why are you driving an auto at this age? Don’t you have children?”
“At least I am driving an auto (rickshaw). People who are older than me, in this hot sun, pull carts with heavy loads sweating profusely. Have you seen them? Newspapers publish articles saying India has become a rich country. Only the rich are getting richer. Poor remain poor. They grab poor farmers’ lands and build computer parks. That’s why farmers are committing suicide. The reason is untold poverty. I don’t want to end up there. That’s why I am driving this as long as I can. What do you say?”
Pasupathy said, “What you are saying is correct.” The driver did not answer his question about children. Pasupathy did not want to ask him again and hurt his feelings. The auto driver did not speak afterwards. The auto was going as fast as the driver willed it.
“We have reached town. Where do you want to go?” When the driver asked this question Pasupathy realized he had slept for a while. He opened his eyes and looked around.
“Do you have the address?”
Pasupathy opened the bag, pulled out his trousers and showed it to the driver. “The trouser has lost hooks, I want to mend it. Will there be someone here to do this job?”
“Have you come all the way from Alwarper to stitch hooks on a trouser?” the driver looked at him with some skepticism.
“Where do you get people to do this kind of wok in suburbs? My friend told me I might find one in the town.”
“You tell me, in Alwarpet and Mylapore, you are not able to see people who do trivial tailoring jobs. Can everyone shop in City Center and Spencer Plaza? But then, how can you see an ant crawling on road if you are looking from eighth floor of your apartment block? You live in eight floor. So you are not able to see small vendors in your locality. That’s all!”
“No not like tat. I am not a eighth floor resident. I live on pension for the work I did years ago. I am a fellow who wants to stitch hook onto a fifteen year old trousers. OK then. If you know some tailor in Alwarpet who can do this job for me, let me know. We can go back to Alwarpet.”
“Anyway we have come this far. Let us see if we can locate a tailor here.”
They drove for a short distance and the driver told Pasupathy, “Look there! A tailoring shop.”
“Looks like a big tailoring shop. Will they do this job?”
“Ask him. What’s wrong with that?”
It was indeed a big shop. As soon as he entered, he could feel cool breeze blowing across from an air-conditioner. Most of the customers were youngsters and the rest middle aged. It looked they were there for tailoring a suit or a sherwani. A young man in a smart dress and a smile on his face welcomed him. Pasupathy felt shy going and asking him if they would stitch hooks on his trousers. He decided to go back when a middle aged employee spotted him. He welcomed him.
With lot of hesitation, Pasupathy approached him and said, “Mine is not a big job. A small one.” He removed the trouser from the bag and showed him. “This is a very old pant. But I have a sentiment value. The buckles are lost. Can you stitch them?”
The middle aged man looked at him and let out a wry smile. Pasupathy is not a fool to not get the meaning of it. He just sad, “OK that’s alright.” and left the shop.
When he reached the auto, the driver was washing his after after finishing his lunch. He asked Pasupathy, “Sir you left home after your lunch no?”
“What happened in the tailor shop?”
“As soon as I removed the pant from the bag, the shop assistant laughed. So I just came out.”
“In your old age, in this hot weather, you are roaming around to mend a trouser. And on top of it, you will pay three hundred rupees to me as well. Does this not look strange to you?”
“I explained this to you. Fifteen years back, my wife presented this to me on my birthday. And it is fifteen years since she died. Do you get it now?”
The auto driver thought for few minutes and said, “When you go from this earth, will you be able to carry this with you? I have also seen relationships and love. I have decided I can’t afford that luxury. The life I have chosen now is simple and uncomplicated. And I like it.” He started the rickshaw.
“What are you advising me? Should I throw this on the street?”
“No don’t throw. Even if the garment is old, it is not torn. It’s in good condition. Give that to someone who deserves it. He will stitch the hooks and use it. And your wife will be happy looking from her abode.”
After few moments, Pasupathy said, “If you don’t mistake me, can I say something?”
“Please tell me.”
“You please take this from me.”
The auto driver turned back and looked at Pasupathy without any expression. Pasupathy thought he should not have offered it to the driver. He drove the auto in total silence till they reached his house. When Pasupathy got down, he told the driver, “I should not have said that. Please forgive me for talking like that.”
“Please give the trouser to me. I will take it on one condition! You don’t give me that fare three hundred rupees. That’s the price for the trouser. I don’t take any freebies from anyone. Please don’t think I am putting price to your sentiment. If I take it free, I won’t be able to sleep in the night.”
Pasupathy said, “This is not charity. This is Guru Thatchinai. The fee I am paying you as I have learnt so many things from you today.”
The driver took the trouser from Pasupathy and started his auto rickshaw as if he did not hear anything Pasupathy said.
The auto picked up speed. Pasupathy felt the auto was going faster than it ever ran since the afternoon.
Indira Parthasarathy (commonly known as Ee. Paa.) is the pen name of R. Parthasarathy, a noted Tamil writer and playwright. He was born in July 7 1930. He has published 16 novels, 10 plays, anthologies of short stories, and essays. He is best known for his plays, “Aurangzeb”, “Nandan Kathai” and “Ramanujar”.
He has been awarded the Saraswati Samman (1999), and is the only Tamil writer to receive both the Sahitya Akademi Award (1999) and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (2004). He received Padma Shri in the year 2010, given by Government of India.