If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

An obituary to a selfless drunkard

Drunkards occasionally beat up their wives, sell family silver, don’t take care of their children and so on. But despite the bad press, they are usually the most genial of men. And perhaps wise too. A news story that I read this morning reminded me of one of them.

He was the husband of a nurse who looked after my mother while she was terminally ill. The nurse’s name was Suchitra, but we never got to know her husband’s name because she always referred him as “the Drunkard”. Whenever she found a pair of receptive ears, she would pour down her angst. The Drunkard, she said, contributed nothing to the family, while she slogged seven days a week and saved for her daughter’s wedding. She had already bought some gold, a few silk saris and even some teak wood at an auction, to be converted into furniture, an essential part of dowry in a Bengali middle class wedding.

But to be fair to her husband, he was hardly a violent person – he wouldn’t even quarrel with his wife or two offspring, who were young adults. On the contrary, his wife would often give him an earful, as all wives do. Generally, he was exceedingly nice, and everyone except Suchitra seemed to like him.

The Drunkard – we were told – was a skilled hand, who worked in a plywood factory. He would go for work only if he needed money. Fortunately, he needed money often and hence, would report for duty quite frequently. He would be away for days, and at times, weeks and return home for rest and recuperation only when he was exhausted by his binges. While he was at home, Suchitra used to be tense; she never knew what he might do.

Their home was in a cluster of cottages that had a common electricity connection. Every month, the residents of the cluster would pool together and pay the electricity bill. For a few months, the Drunkard, during one of his extended sober phases, volunteered to pay the bill. One day, the residents of the cluster received a disconnection notice from CESC, the Calcutta Electricity Supply Company. By then, Suchitra’s husband had vanished. She borrowed money to pay three months’ electricity charges for all, together with the penalty.

On another occasion, a day after he returned home, Suchitra came to our house beaming with joy. She was somehow convinced there had been a profound change in her husband. Said she, ‘The astrologer has done the trick. He’s promised not to touch a bottle in the future: not even a milk bottle.’

A few days later, her husband vanished again when no one else was at home. ‘And do you know’, she told us the next day, ‘the Drunkard took away all the teakwood from under my cot on a rickshaw van. When a neighbour enquired, he said he had fixed Rani’s marriage and was taking the wood to a factory to make furniture.’

When Rani’s marriage did happen, we were invited and I got a chance to meet him. To be honest, I found in him a charming man with a fine sense of humour. He was well informed, read the newspaper meticulously and could talk on many subjects. We kind of became friends. Later, he met me a couple of times to “borrow” money to tide over some dire necessities.

I always thought men like him who keep away from the rat race and live life on their own terms deserve our admiration. These are the people who laugh at the meaningless toil that the rest of the humanity goes through, and knows that in the end, everyone ends up in the same place.

Going back to where I began, this is the news that I read this morning in the Deccan Herald.

Nagaraj, a shop owner and neighbour of Muthyalappa at Krishnanandanagar spotted a cobra in his shop on Sunday evening. He and Muthyalappa [55 years] caught it and decided to release it in a forest. They put the Cobra in a bag and rode towards a forest on Nagaraj’s bike. On the way, the snake bit Muthyalappa. Nagaraj stopped and hurriedly released the cobra. 

He gave Muthyalappa Rs 500 and advised him to go to a hospital. But instead, Muthyalappa went to a liquor shop, got drunk, went home and slept. He died in his sleep.

Both these gentlemen are heroes in my eyes, particularly Muthyalappa. (Nagaraj perhaps had an obligation to justify his name.) How many men will take the trouble to carry a cobra on a motorbike to release it in a forest, instead of just killing it cruelly? Secondly, how many, like Muthyalappa, will go on a pilgrimage to the temple of Bacchus instead of visiting a hospital?

May his soul rest in peace.

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