Real life is weirder than clichés
This is a story I heard from a colleague in Goa, and is his own life story. It sounds as clichéd as a teleserial, but knowing this person and having visited his village home, where I stayed with him, I could totally believe it. He is a shy person, and speaks very little. Our mutual love for the Himalayas and trekking made him open out to me. I coaxed the story out of him over the period of a few days when I stayed with him. I will narrate the story in first person. Here is the story.
I was born in a small village, near the mouth of a river, and a beach which you know as a breeding ground for turtles. Nowadays, it is a protected place, where tourists like you come in large numbers but the turtles no longer do. A few do, usually when you tourists are fast asleep.
We did steal turtle eggs I confess, but rarely visited the beach except on religious festivals for the ritual bath, and the turtles owned the beach.
My father was cobbler, which was our profession through generations, as we belonged to the leather workers caste. In our village people mostly went barefoot, and rarely bought new shoes, preferring to repair the only pair of sandals they owned if at all they did, and shoes were worn by the few well to do families. Therefore there was very little work.
My father bought leather from the tanners, who lived outside the village, and handcrafted sandals, which were sold in the city. It took several days to complete one pair, so money was scarce. My mother worked as a housemaid at the better off homes, and somehow we survived.
Our house was a shack, with tiled roof, and on the way back from school I would eagerly look out for any smoke rising, for that would mean that mother was cooking, and a hot meal of rice and some kind of fish, shellfish or shrimps is there for lunch. Unfortunately, quite often there was no smoke, which meant that we would make do with stale pao, our local bread, if we were lucky. Shellfish and other small fish and shrimps were in plenty, and we did not need to buy them, so we never really starved, but warm full feeling of a hot rice meal was often a luxury.
My father passed away when I was quite young and my mother became the main provider, taking on more domestic work. My brother in law, married to a much older sister by my father’s earlier marriage, who was a carpenter and a little better off, helped out so that I did not have to quit school. But it was a struggle.
My mother got castoff clothes from the houses where she worked, but as the most generous and well to do house had only daughters, she got mostly girls clothes. Not to be thwarted, she fashioned shorts for me from their discarded housecoats. I was mortified going to school in flimsy pink flowered shorts and faced a lot of ridicule and bullying. It taught me self-defense and dirty fighting though and soon the others let me alone.
I sought solace in schoolwork, reading and even started writing secretly. My step brother in law saw my passion and funded my higher education. I applied for and won a scholarship meant for unprivileged sections, graduated high school and went to college on this national scholarship. I had also started working part time as a waiter in one of the numerous shacks that dot our beaches, and helped supplement the family income. Being a polite good looking boy who spoke English and a smattering of other European languages, I earned good tips.
In college I had as my classmates the children of my mother’s employers. I had played with these kids as a child, but my status was that of the servant’s son, wearing their discarded clothes. They were students of a posh school while I went to the village one. Now we were as equals, and I wore smart clothes bought with the money I earned from tips from my part time job of waiting at a restaurant. Moreover I was academically among the toppers and had the additional glamour quotient of being a budding poet and writer.
But no, the masters daughter did not fall in love with me, my story is not as clichéd as that. Another girl did, but I, stupidly enough, did not respond as she was from a higher caste. I programmed myself to fall in love with a girl from my own caste, but from a very rich household, perhaps looking for security in my life, which was a mistake.
Her family reluctantly accepted me as our castes matched and I was educated, but hated my economic background.
I worked at keeping the books at the café where I was also the waiter, and took on some more jobs on hourly basis doing clerical or accounting jobs. I moved to a major hotel chain as storekeeper, and finally took on a sales job, where hard work would translate to higher income.
But it was all to no avail, and constantly goaded by my in-laws about my poor prospects, my wife, who by now was a college lecturer, left me.
I killed my loneliness by frequent treks in the Himalayas, and even sought a transfer there. But it was difficult to find replacements in Goa, and I continued here. In time I was promoted and became a Branch Head in a nearby town. I bought a flat near my village, and was the proud possessor of a company car.
My mother continued to live in the village, but in a pukka house I built for her. She was very upset at my lonely life, and by the fact that I had to cook for myself.
This is when the weird proposal came to me.
“Son, I know you suffer so much being alone” my mother started off ignoring my protests that I was perfectly fine “And I feel so bad not being there to take care of you. But I can’t leave my village home that your father built, and where your ancestors lived, and I am used to the neighbours however mean they are” she continued her long preamble.
I knew she was leading up to something
“I have a solution to your problems son. You know that Catholic family I worked for? Very nice people, they helped us so much. All your clothes they gave us. You remember their girl; you used to play with her all the time. What a sweet girl. But what bad luck, you know she dropped out of college and married that good for nothing sailor. It is such a tragedy; the scoundrel has left her and run off to Mumbai. She is back at home nowadays. Her family too is very poor these days you know. Their father drank and gambled away all the money and the brothers have left home. The poor mother is too old to work. They had sold off their coconut plantations to buy a barge, and it is idle now that mining has stopped. Its rusting away on the river; so sad to see. Anyway, that girl is looking for work, and you need help, would you please take her on as your housekeeper?”
I was stunned. The world turned a full circle. The master’s daughter now wants to be the servants’ maid. But I couldn’t accept this. It would be too uncomfortable.
“It would be a great help to them, and she’s a nice girl, you know her, and she will take good care of you. I can rest easy in the village knowing that you are in good hands “my mother continued to advocate her cause.
But I was helpless. I promised to help them out, but they were too proud to take charity but not too proud to work for me. My heart bled for her. I even thought, what might have been. But this is real life, not a story, so I left her to her fate to struggle on and continue my lonely existence, thinking, what might have been.
Real life is weirder than clichés