The God Behind The Mask

“I really don’t know what to do with your son. Such a useless fellow.”

This monolog acted as an alarm for Somnath. It was his mother yelling at sleepy Somnath, right from their small kitchen at 6 o’ clock in the morning. His father, a retired schoolmaster sat in an arm-chair in their small veranda and a newspaper. Like any ordinary young man in mid-twenties, Somnath too did not want to leave his bed early in the morning. He was just another guy who was unemployed even last month. Deep inside, his long unemployment had given an invitation to silent depression while outside he tried for jobs without judging them. But everyone in his home seemed to overlook his repeated failures in job hunting. And to a mother of a person who seemed to bear a lazy and procrastinating nature of Somnath, he was a good-for-nothing fellow. Even his father bore several doubts as to how his son would survive in this world which measured a person’s value by his money only. “Somnath, try harder. How will you live after I pass away? You need money for your own living, forget about making a family.”

It was not until this month that Somnath could finally secure a job that was just a meager income that just had the power to remove the tag of unemployed: a simple job of a security guard in front of an ATM kiosk from 9 am to 9 pm. Living in a country where literacy rate and unemployment were directly proportional, this job was a savior for Somnath. Whether he would be a fish out of the water was simply out of question in the present unfavorable circumstances he was going through. Being an ordinary Bachelor of Science graduate, he knew he was worthless in the present job crunch scenario. So, without giving much thought, Somnath accepted the sole opportunity available to him.

As a security guard, Somnath had an enormous amount of free time. Throughout his working hours, Somnath watched people, young and old, teenagers and middle-aged, men and women, coming inside the small, air-cooled ATM booth, swiping their cards, the grrr… sound of the notes coming out, and the dustbin getting filled up with the thrown-away receipts. Somnath silently laughed at the irony of his fate – his family could never afford an air-conditioner yet he was now enjoying the same for quite some time of the day. He needed money for having a comfortable lifestyle yet his duty was to guard that of the others’.

Day by day Somnath got frustrated with his job. Especially on the days when the ATM ran out of cash or became defunct, he had a terrible time, being alone in the small air-conditioned room. And slowly this state of being alone gave rise to loneliness. He craved for someone’s company in those lonesome hours. Yet he feared to be in a relationship with a girl. Just like a cow who was once caught in a storm always feared seeing clouds turning red, Somnath too avoided having an affair after his relationship of three long years crumbled down like a house of cards due to parental pressures of his girlfriend. Now, he simply wanted to do something fruitful in life but now he was trapped within an air-conditioned room – the luxury he once craved for had now become his chains.

On one fine day when the commoners were stepping inside the ATM kiosk just to know from Somnath that the ATM was defunct, he decided to pull his plastic chair outside the room leaving the comfort of the cold temperature inside. A completely different experience was waiting for him. Somnath sat silently, watching the rest of the world’s mobility. One shopkeeper whose tiny shop was just beside the ATM kiosk, came forward to give him an air of amity and a hand of friendship. Another person who had a roadside tea stall offered him a cup of tea for free. Somnath was happy that leaving luxuries brought in new friends in his life of solitude. And this little event introduced him to another facet of life that he was yet to see.

On the other side of the road, opposite of the ATM kiosk where Somnath served as a security guard, there was a slum area. It was hard to imagine how the concrete road acted as a division between two classes of people: on the side of the ATM kiosk, lived the upper-middle-class strata of the society while the slums were on the other side. While the children of the economically richer side of the road had access to all the pleasures of life – wonderful childhood full of fun, books, and latest electronic gadgets, while the children of the slum inhabitants had their own ways of fun – the stray dogs and cats were their playmates, a small cricket ball can easily gather them to play street cricket and most importantly, the happiness of simple lives filled their hearts. In between these two sets of people stood Somnath, the security guard, observing both equally and unbiased.

A thing that was heart-rending to Somnath was the lack of good education of the slum children. True, they enjoyed their lives but there was nothing that had the potential to substitute the light of education. Who knew what talents were hidden in those little kids who could not reach the pinnacle of success in their lives! These thoughts culminated in Somnath’s mind and finally one day, he asked a local woman who stayed in that slum area.

“Didi, why don’t you send your little daughter to school?”

“Our money gets exhausted after sending the two boys to the local school. Sending another one would become a burden. Their father is a drunkard, all knows that. ”

“Oo.” Somnath’s head hung down as he gave the brief response. He could feel the pain but could do nothing. What could a security guard do for some slum children when he himself was struggling to have a better life? Thinking to help the destitute was nothing but a vanity to him. Yet this small incident coupled with his daily observations on the slum children remained etched in his heart.

                                                                    ********

On getting the mobile notification of the payment of the first salary, Somnath’s heart leaped. After a full day of work, his lips widened in a big smile as he withdrew some notes of big denominations from the same ATM which he guarded every day. While he walked slowly towards the market, his mind chalked out a rough plan as to how he was going to use his very first income: something for his parents surely, a packet of sweets, some medicines, pre-ordering for a gold ring for his cousin’s marriage and the rest would be his pocket-money. He was even thinking about making a recurring deposit in a local bank that would help him for having a secured future. But as usual, Fate laughed when it saw people making plans and it tried to ruin them in the worst possible way it could!

While Somnath was on his way to the sweet shop, he saw that slum dweller woman with whom he had conversed some days before, was harshly rebuking her daughter on the other side of the road. And the little kid was pleading her for something and crying her heart out. He immediately bought some sweets and went up to the woman.

“Didi, what has happened? Why is my little niece crying? Here, take some sweets.”

Seeing Somnath offering her some sweets, the girl stepped back and hid in her mother’s anchal.

“Nothing much, Bhaiya Ji. This girl is too irritating. Every evening she sees her elder brothers coming back from school with their friends and starts crying because she too wants to go to school. Now how can I make her understand my situation! Today I wanted to buy her a doll from the market but she is reluctant to take even that.” The mother seemed to be helpless in front of her child and her helplessness turned into hard scoldings when the child did not want to listen to her.

Somnath found himself sorry for both of them. He felt that one day during his childhood, he cried to his mother not to force him to go to school but here was a girl who wanted the opposite. He recalled how his mother scolded him for not studying the lessons while this mother was rebuking the little girl for wanting to study. Many times he used to lie to his mother that he went to college instead he went to the movie theaters with his girlfriend. For a moment, Somnath felt ashamed of himself and asked forgiveness to his inner soul. Then without much thinking, he drew out his wallet and gave the woman five thousand rupees in cash. That was nearly his whole salary.

“Keep this money, Didi. Please get my little niece admitted to a school immediately. It’s enough to buy her a new school uniform and books too.”

“Bhaiya Ji, why are you giving your money? Sorry I can’t take it.” The woman was dumbstruck at Somnath’s unpredictable action.

“I gave it to my niece as a gift. Why are you worried? I want her to smile.”

“But I can’t take it without giving you anything in return.”

“Okay. Promise to me, Didi that every year you’ll tie a rakhi on my wrist on the day of the Rakhi Purnima. See, I don’t have a sister who will pray for me.”

The woman could not control her tears.

“Sure, Bhaiya. I too lost my younger brother when he was just a child. Maybe God has sent you as my long lost brother.” She mumbled the words while wiping off her tears with her saree’s anchal.

Somnath took her hand and pressed the money within the grip of her fingers. Then he kept his hand on his niece’s head and said, “I don’t want to see you cry anymore. Go and have fun in your school.”

The little one beamed in joy. Her cheeks were wet with tears but the beautiful smile lit her face. It was a smile that made her eyes twinkle with joy – a joy for a future, devoid of uncertainties. That itself was a big prize for Somnath. His mother once told him, “There’s more joy in giving to others than in taking something from them.” And that day Somnath was experiencing that divine pleasure to the fullest. Who said that money could not make a man happy?

For the woman who suddenly got a brother and some money to fulfill her daughter’s dreams, Somnath became a reincarnation of the Almighty. Being a God-loving person, she began to believe that he had ultimately listened to her prayers and her unconditional love.

************

Somnath returned to his home, swinging a box of sweets in his right hand. Ting Tong sang the door bell. His mother opened the door and embraced him.

“What’s in your hand? ”

“Sweets. I got my salary today. ” Somnath’s eyes spoke how happy he was.

“That’s really good news. I’ll cook some of your favorites tomorrow. ”

“Not now, Ma. After some days, we’ll have them. ”

“Why? ”

“I misplaced the money. Don’t ask me how. ”

Somnath’s mother was taken aback. She fixed her eyes on his. All she could understand from her son’s face that the money was gone for a good cause. You see, mothers’ possess a powerful sixth sense. In the end, all she could utter was: “You’re a useless fellow, Somnath. I really don’t know when you’ll become a grown-up human being!”

 

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