“When man is in trouble, he goes to God-Man; but when God-Man is in trouble, where does he go?” asked the elderly man (Mr.Joseph, as I learned later), addressing his companion.
I was seated opposite them in a train, journeying back to Bangalore after a week in Kerala. The two old men were engaged in a loud debate over the Kanchi seer’s arrest and I found it difficult to concentrate on my book. Mr.Joseph probably got a hint of my discomfort; he looked at me and asked: “Are we disturbing you, sir?”
“No, no.” I lied. “Please continue. I do not understand Malayalam anyway.”
“Oh, I see. Where are you from?” he asked, and added immediately: “Bangalore?”
“And what do you do?”
“I’m a software engineer.”
“I see, I see.” He continued to look in my direction. His companion, a frail old man wrapped in a shawl, seemed keen to continue their debate, but Mr. Joseph showed no inclination.
“I actually retired as Marketing manager of a multinational tyre company,” he went on, “and now-a-days I help my son in his business.”
“What kind of business is it?” I asked, trying to appear curious.
The other old man understood that their debate had ended: he got up to prepare his berth for the night. Mr.Joseph needed no further encouragement, and lost no time in narrating the story of his son’s business.
“As a teenager Anup – my son – was a wayward character. I was probably also to blame – you see, I was busy with my work and did not spend enough time with him. So when he didn’t do well in 12th, I had to use my highest influence to get him a B.Com seat through sports quota. After B.Com Anup took up CA, but after some years he dropped out and started a business with his friend. After all, there are limits to what you can earn as a Chartered Accountant, isn’t it? Today their business has a turnover of a few Crores. Of course, there are risks in business, any business. Recently we lost 33 lakh rupees because the manager of a restaurant in Mumbai – it is owned by Sachin Tendulkar, this restaurant – refused to make the final payment. We could do nothing, because the manager has links with the underworld. What to do, such things happen. My son asked me not to follow it up further and focus on new clients instead. He said, ‘Don’t worry Papa, if we lose 33 lakhs here, we will make 66 lakhs somewhere else.’ Such a mature fellow, my son. He lives in Mumbai, and has three cars now. I look after the Bangalore office. Life is good, God is great. You must be feeling sleepy isn’t it? Good night then. Very nice talking to you.”
Earlier, during our onward train journey from Bangalore to Cochin, we met the lady from Botswana and her three sons.
When I first saw them together, I thought they were siblings – three young boys with their sister. She was a small woman, with sparkling, child-like eyes that made her look like a schoolgirl. Only when she smiled you noticed the wrinkles beside her lips and the folds beneath her eyes – a smile that revealed more than it promised. She spoke softly to the boys – aged 11, 16 and 18; each with a book in hand – and they silently obeyed. Watching them, it was difficult to imagine that those tall, well-built boys were sons of this petite woman who seemed untouched by middle-age.
They moved to Botswana many years ago, she said. She came now and then to India – for her deliveries, and periodical visits to their ancestral home in Trichur – but her husband had been in Botswana throughout. The oldest boy was studying engineering in Johannesburg; the other two lived in Botswana, with her. There were many Indians in Botswana, and their numbers were increasing each year. There were plenty of Malayalis too. Opportunities for travel were good: the Kalahari and Chobe Game reserves offered plenty of wildlife, and there was South Africa just across the border. On the whole, life was good.
Before they slept the lady held each boy’s hand and offered, with closed eyes, a silent prayer. To my surprise, the boys did not show even a hint of embarrassment taking part in this private ritual in our presence.
A little later, as we were preparing to sleep, my wife whispered into my ears: I want three boys just like them.
I slept very little that night.