When I was growing up in a large traditional household in Chennai city, my father employed a man to drive us to school. The driver was short, stocky and had a prominent moustache which he was in the habit of curling upwards at the ends.
He was Raja Gopal. But we children called him Raja Kobam in private.
Kobam in Tamil means anger. That is what he was, the King of Anger.
He demanded respect and was an honest but a strict man. Quick to anger, he scared us kids with just these words, “Shall I tell your father?”
We could never do anything out of context, as he was quick to tattle to my father or uncle which earned us a terrible reprimand and sometimes a hard whack for the boys.
Then I joined college. My friends and I would beg him to drive us to a newly opened shopping complex near by, after assuring him that we had our parents’ permission to go there. When a whole bunch of us had loaded ourselves into the car, the next problem was how much we could talk while he was within earshot.
When we were up to mischief, we talked in a language made up of very little words and lots of spellings which we thought he would not understand. My friends were scared of him too.
Like I said, he exacted respect and fear from everyone with just his demeanor.
After my graduation I got married and moved to my husband’s house. Raja Gopal left our services and settled in his hometown in South India.
Life moved on and we completely forgot all about him.
Some twenty years later, one fine day he landed up at my house. He was an old man, decrepit and weak. I could hardly make out who he was.
Where was the King of Anger? Who was this man with shuffling feet and soiled clothes?
He told me this sorry tale, of how his only son had died of drug abuse and his daughter in law had committed suicide leaving a grand-daughter behind.
Raja Gopal and his wife had brought up of that child and she was ready for marriage. He was trying to collect money for her wedding expenses.
I felt sorry for him. I gave him money and a few silk sarees which had been relegated to the back of my cupboard, for the bride.
A week later, when we cousins met, we discussed Raja Gopal. My cousins scolded me for being such a fool. They were sure he was going to spend the money on alcohol. They warned me that he would keep coming repeatedly if he was going to get easy money from a softy like me.
Sure enough, a month later he was at my gate again. This time, sadder than ever before.
He said that he had conducted his grand daughter’s wedding and a week after that his wife had died suddenly.
Now he wanted money to do her last rites.
I felt so sorry for him that I gave him money AGAIN!
My family members were shocked when they heard this. They scolded and teased me in turns, for being such a fool. So I hardened my heart and was ready to send him away empty-handed if he came again.
He never came back. Never in this last few years.
Was his story true? Or did he spin a sad tale just to make me cough up some money? I will never know.
I thought about life and how old age and poverty had made a King (albeit of anger) to lose his dignity
I try to hold on to the image of Raja Gopal of my childhood, an honest man and a strict disciplinarian.
But all that comes to my mind is the infirm old man who cheated me of a few thousand rupees.
Or did he??
Story by GB . Written by Gulsum Basheer @ Talkalittledo – For Life is Funny.
Image courtesy of vectorolie@http://www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net