Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Drunkard's Daughter

The years spent in Middle School (5th to 7th year of education) were indeed wonderful days. General economic conditions in the early 1960s were difficult.  Aftereffects of Indo-China war of 1962 and Indo-Pakistan  war of 1965 had added to the misery.  As students, in the age group of  11 years to 14 years for most of us, we were hardly in a position to understand that.  We lived in our own world and school days were merry days and playful as usual.  Lunch break at 1.30 PM was eagerly looked forward to by all my classmates and I was no exception.  Students coming from nearby houses would run home to have a quick lunch and return to school for post-lunch classes.  Those staying away from the school had to perforce stay in the school compound and eat lunch from the boxes brought with them in the morning while coming to school.  Of course, there were many who did not have the luxury and practice of having lunch.  They were used to food only twice a day; before coming to the school in the morning and in the evening after returning from the school.  This had its own advantage; they never suffered from indigestion and related ailments.

For the children staying back in the school compound during lunch time, there were other activities.  Playing cricket or football was one of them.  There was no practice of giving pocket money to children in those days mainly because the pockets of the parents themselves did not have any money in them.  There were a few kids from relatively affluent families who carried small change in their pockets.  They had  attractions just outside the school gate abutting the main road of the town.  Two carts carrying items for sale beckoned them.  One of them carried groundnuts and uppukadale (salted chana) and the other laden with cut fruits available in the season.  Uppukadale and Groundnuts were acceptable, but we had strict instructions not to touch the cut fruits.  The threat of cholera was always lurking round the corner.  My mother's advice was soft and firm.  If any child in the family is tempted to eat any fruit sold on the cart, she should be informed.  She would arrange for getting the item and serve it at home in hygienic conditions.  If the instructions were violated and someone fell sick, she would not take care of them.  The threat was enough and there was no need to test her resolve.  We understood her perfectly and she ensured that the instructions were always complied with.

The cart with cut fruits was tended by one Hanuma.  He would procure the seasonal fruits like Guava, Mango, Jack fruit, Papaya and Watermelon.  Pineapple and Apple were also seen but rarely.  Mother's instructions were not to touch them; there was no ban on watching him clean and cut the fruits.  He was an expert in his trade and probably worth an award these days when everything is measured and awards given away.  He had his tools - knives of different sizes and shapes to handle the variety of fruits ranging from the hard and thorny jack fruit to the softer fully ripe papaya.  Processing activity of cutting and arranging the fruit pieces went on simultaneously with the sales activity of handing over the cut pieces to children, collect coins, count them and store them below the gunny bag table cloth.  He did brisk business during the lunch break and moved away to the nearby bus stand once the children got into their classes.

Hanuma was a hard working man and was always involved in some work or the other.  He had a small plot of land by the river side and grew vegetables there round the year.  After harvesting them for the day's sale he would proceed with other errands like sale of cut fruits.  His wife Ramakka carried the vegetables basket on her head selling them from house to house in the morning.  The quality and freshness of the vegetables ensured that there was no carry over of inventory for the next day.  Between them they earned a decent wage.  But the one weakness of Hanuma ensured that the family always lived in abject poverty.  Drunkard and inebriate are terms for a person who drinks hard liquors habitually. Drunkard connotes willful indulgence to excess. Inebriate is a slightly more formal term than drunkard.  Dipsomaniac is the term for a person who, because of some psychological or physiological illness, has an irresistible craving for liquor. The dipsomaniac is popularly called an alcoholic.  Hanuma was probably all of them.  He loved his family but it appeared he loved his evening drink even more.

Ramakka suffered silently and somehow managed the family affairs.  All her efforts to bring round Hanuma failed.  One evening she appeared before our house and wanted to see my father.  He had just returned from school and took his usual place in the front yard.  Their conversation went on like this:

"Swami, Hanuma's drinking is killing us.  Why don't you help me?"
"How can I help you, Ramakka?"
"Hanuma respects you a lot. Please advise him to give up drinking."
"I have advised him many times.  Every time I talk to him, he promises not to drink again.  But he does not stick to his promise.  His friends are not good.  He also cannot resist the evening drink."
"Then what is the way out for me?"
"We have to keep trying and hope for the best.  By the way, who is that girl hiding behind you?"
"This is our daughter Saraswati, Swami."
"How old is she?" 
"She is six years old, Swami."
"Have you admitted her to school? All children at this age should attend school."
"What will she do with school, Swami?  She helps me with household work and selling vegetables.  That is fine with me.  Hanuma also wants the same."
"Do not talk nonsense.  Do not spoil her life.  Bring her to school tomorrow.  I am the headmaster.  I will admit her to the school.  Ask Hanuma to meet me in the morning."

Hanuma duly arrived in the morning.  The discussion went on like this:

"Swami, It seems you wanted to see me."
"Yes, Why have you not put Saraswati in school?"
"What is the use of school for us poor people, Swami.  Moreover I cannot pay school fee."
"No need to pay any fee.  I will get her fee waived by the Government.  I will get her free uniform from Headmaster's quota.  I will also arrange for books from some other students who are promoted to the next class.  You have no excuse.  She should be in school by the time I reach there."
"Swami, should I really do it?"
"Yes, otherwise I will get you arrested by the police for violating government order."

Hanuma was afraid of government and police.  He did not even think of checking with someone.  He complied with father's orders.  Saraswati was admitted to first standard at school.  She was better than average in studies.  She passed her examinations every year.  By the time she came to High School, I had left the town and was working in a far away city.  On one of my home visits I learnt that father had arranged for her learning typewriting and shorthand in the local "Institute of Commerce". The Institute head was persuaded to give her a slot in the early morning class when the attendance at the institute was thin.  No need to mention that the fee was waived by him.

The last I heard of Saraswati was that she had secured a job as a Stenographer in the State Government and working in a building near Vidhana Soudha (State Secretariat). That was thirty years ago.


  1. Hats off to your father for his perseverance and vision. As usual, it is a beautifully narrated article. Thanks You.

  2. A teacher can have such a big impact !

  3. Great, I am sure he would have helped many more to be successful in life and achieve their goal.

  4. Touching article . We often talk about Financial inclusion in seminars and conferences. But your father was one who did his effort for improving the society without seeking any reward.He brought about a true change which many institutions are not able to make despite so many years . Kudos !!!


  5. The story even inspires us to help people who are in sheer need of it and make a little change in there lives........
    Very well narrated!!! :-)

  6. Sir, I like the way you give a point to point illustration of the simplest of the events. You make them important. Such stories have been spoken and have been heard, but the way you carry me as a reader to the conclusion of the story makes it all interesting. I learn about the culture , the school, the education system and many other things. May you keep on writing for years and years. Thanx.

  7. give a man a fish,he ll remember u for a day,teach a man to fish,he ll remember u for life...ur father taught her to fish n we all r proud of him for doing so.

  8. Hats off to your father sir. I was recollecting my own childhood days when I was reading this article.
    I was also facing the same type of incidents in my village when I was going to school. But now the villages are changing. And one more hats off to "SARVA SIKSHA ABHIYAN' The central govt.scheme.
    Only Education can change our country and the whole world.

    1. BE GOOD and DO GOOD,Lastly Everything GOOD.

    2. It is really great! Ur father was instrumental in educating a child, that too a girl child. Above all the way in which it has been narrated is very nice!!


  9. Hats off to your father. This is exactly what Govt should do instead of giving loan excemtion, intt waiving etc. These are all temporary help. But educating uneducated is a permanent solution. Wonderful narration.

  10. Such a kind person he was.I salute him for his kindness.It should be followed by all intellectuals who have become selfish these days.Then our society will develope.

  11. If every one of us can do a little for a transformation as your father brought in a child's life, our country can have a spectacular
    development.Oh,What better service we can render!
    Thanks for bringing out such a touching article.It is an eye opener to all of us.

  12. Indians are talkative by nature. We have the habit of talking to our servants, drivers, vegetable vendors, etc. casually and wish to know that they are doing well too. But in the course of conversations, at some point, we stop, when we perceive that the conversation is leading to a spot, where he/she may ask for help, and we may not be in a position to do/give. That holding back is what has robbed several of us of the opportunity to perform what your father could accomplish. We have to understand that help is not always giving money; there may be several other ways we can be of help to them.
    Every reader of the blog should look for such small opportunities and do his/her best in the circumstances.