-A short story -
It was a fine Friday evening; the bare earth cooked in july rain spread its fragrance fresh into the humid air and diffuse itself with the aroma of fried ‘pakoda’ in almost all the snack stalls overlooking the gutter of the narrow street. Sun had already set when Gopal crossed the street, took a right turn and hurried to reach his apartment. All the way home from office, he was unusually swift, unmindful of the mud splashing over his trousers punishing his old, torn and mended shoes. Chennai is not the right city for rain, it just gives away; the conglomeration of rotten vegetables, mud, gutter, overflowing drainage, mosquitoes, filth, flooded slums, epidemics, quite a nightmare month for the corporation officials. Few suffer, and many enjoy the rain. Gopal almost slipped near the market stamping upon the rotten tomatoes and plantain leaves. Unmindful of the difficulties, he rushed home. As he ascended the stairs, his heart beat rose, he noticed the pathetic condition of his shoes when he removed it, thought that he should buy a new set, but immediately postponed the idea ‘it can go for two more months, I shall buy after rainy season’. Before he dwelled further on the thoughts, he was joined by his parents and sister beckoning him inside. The joy of the cute small family was ineffable, for it was the first salary day of Gopal and it definitely deserved the joy and celebration joined by the heavy rain outside. The celebration included a special sweet from Kaveri (Gopal’s mother) and an additional hour of prayer in front of the deities for his long life and health. Gopal washed his hands, changed to ‘dhoti’, prostrated before the gods caged in wooden frames and then before his late grandparents adoring the weathering plaster of the wall in a black and white portrait and finally before his parents. All the while, he was feverishly holding his salary slip, a mark of achievement, an entry to take the baton later from his father in a never ending relay race. Kaveri looked at her son with delight, a series of past events since his birth ran before her eyes and she prayed god again with closed eyes for the everlasting happiness. Subramoniam, quite accustomed to his accountant profession for the past three decades, adjusted his rims and carefully went through the numbers of his salary slip “they haven’t mentioned the P.F account no. in the slip”, Gayathri interrupted with two bowls of sweet prepared by Kaveri, “Appa, you carry out your research with the salary slip later. I can’t stand the sight of kesari (sweet) anymore, common Gopal, this is for you”. The room filled with laughter and the china clay bowls reserved for VIP guests and special occasions went into the sink after repeated fillings. Gayathri took a spoon and started scratching the edges of the vessel for the left over kesari.
When all of them assembled in the hall, with joy choking their words, Subramoniam said, “I still remember my first salary, Rs.400 in an envelope. I never took my hands out of the envelope fearing pick pockets till I reached home. It was quite a ceremony then. Ah! I forgot something” , he took a parcel with a cheap polythene wrapper excavating his office bag, which is a safe deposit of almost everything from stationeries to medicine, few marriage invitation cards etc . “This book on investments is a must read for anyone before his first salary; no one gave me such advices. I learnt it myself. But the author..”
“Oh! Common, why do you want to bother my son on the very first day? You are anyway there to guide him in these matters and cant you spare him to enjoy now?”, Kaveri intervened Subramoni. Gopal received the book with great respect, like he respected his father, whom he believed knows everything about life, culture, savings and investments. When Subramoniam started his career thirty years back, all he had was a single salary, aged parents, two unmarried sisters and a huge debt due to his five married sisters. From those humble beginnings, he had fought his way out and now proudly owns a single bedroom apartment, one of his life time dream and achievement. However meager his economic achievements may be, to Gopal, his father is better than Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. He would like to continue his father’s legacy of planned living with frugality and contentment.
“We should not touch his salary except for the repayment of his education loan, we should save everything. Bhgavathy mami has taken a gold chit in G.R.T Jewelers. I went through the brochure; it’s a monthly chit of two thousand rupees and lot of benefits. Similarly, opposite house Sridhar family regularly invests in ‘Shriram chits’. They say that we will get 2 lakhs in two years for a payment of approximately 1.6 lakhs. Both will be useful for Gayathri’s marriage. What about a plot near Guduvanchery? Can you ask our friends for suggestions? Your salary is hardly sufficient for home loan and other expenses. Ah ! I forgot, I have to send Rs.101/- money order to ‘namakkal anjaneyar’ temple tomorrow”, Kaveri spoke uninterruptedly with excitement. During dinner, she submitted another proposal of finishing the home loan supplementing Gopal’s salary and then start savings after a year. She had her fifth revision of financial plan for Gopal’s salary when they went to bed.
Sunday morning it was Krishnamurthy at the bell. “Namaskaram, I was expecting you, Kaveri, two coffees“, Subramoniam welcomed him in. Krishnamurthy, an LIC (insurance) agent lived in the same apartment and is known to Subramoniam’s family for quite some time. “You may know Krishna; Gopal has started earning, so I thought its time to take an insurance policy for him. We need to guide him for savings, for till last year he only knew about school and studies”.
“Yes, yes , the right decision, I would say. How many children are blessed with a father like you ?? !”, Krishnamurthy continued after a small pause, “These days, youngsters get lot of salary, their parents don’t care what they do with that and they spend every penny in movies, bikes and other unnecessary luxuries. They realize their mistakes often late in their life. Subramoni, you are doing a wise thing and I should congratulate you for an astute son like Gopal who listens to his parents. Obedient kids are rare these days, you know”, Krisnamurthy smiled and pleased Gopal, his client and Subramoni, his client’s controller both simultaneously. He knows his ways of business and his skills are anything but talking, but he survived and met his ends in this insurance agent commission. Kaveri’s filter coffee diverted Krishnamurthy’s conversation to her “Kaveri amma, its as if yesterday Gopal was playing cricket in his shorts and today he’s a big man and I’m only his humble servant”. Kaveri was definitely flabbergasted at this dialogue, which he might have recited 1000 times to his new young clients, with the same emotion and not once did it fail to make an impact. A visibly pleased Kaveri, proud of her son, offered an additional plate of snacks and told “Please, advise him properly, he’s but just a boy”.
“Do you need to tell this to me amma? You know me very well. I don’t do this as a business. I do this as a service. To me, the welfare of my clients is the first priority. I would say its only god’s mercy that whoever took a policy with me prosper very soon in front of my own eyes; you know the Saravanan of Canara bank isn’t? He took a policy and within three years he bought a new house. I’m a staunch devotee of goddess Lakshmi and I pray everyday for my clients in front of the deity. Don’t worry Gopal has a bright future. His face says that he is a blessed one”.
This is Krishnamurthy’s trademark dialogue and everyone including Kaveri at the present moment bought his spiritual sincerity for his clients. Never once anyone bothered to think why the goddess who has granted everything to krishnamurthy’s clients hasn’t given him anything but to own an old bicycle. Sure, he has an explanation, but no one has asked him and he never had an opportunity to unveil the mystery.
Subramoni, a man of details justified his accountant profession by scrupulously going through all the policy details, their benefits, bonus, minimum guaranteed returns, risk analysis and other details. By the end of coffee, he filtered three policies and discussed the technical nuances with Krishnamoorthy to choose one. Gopal was in wonder watching his father effortlessly analyzing the financial aspects of a policy and made a mental note that he too will learn those soon and keep up his father’s hard work. Its true that some of his father’s friends call subramoni an idiot hard worker, who with but professional smartness could’ve gained much more than his cocoon single bedroom apartment. However dumb a man is, he is always the first hero of his son and any son’s first ambition is to grow up like his father.
Gopal was asked to sign the papers by sitting cross- legged in front of the deities; of course Kaveri, an adept in hindu customs, believes in ‘holy time’ for any activity had already checked the calendar and ensured that the time is marked suitable for such positive endeavours. With every signature, Gopal felt important and after a few signatures on the aged yellowed policy form, Gopal became the owner of an insurance policy, like the infinite paranoids swarming around. The weekend passed gleefully with more varieties of plans on savings, deposits and Gayathri’s marriage.
The only purchase Gopal made with his first month salary was a new lunch bag, which is now hanging along with Gopal in the morning electric train. As the train crossed ‘St.Thomas Mount’, he hardly had a space to stand, yet he noticed an advertisement outside about some gold chit between the cracks of human crowd and made a mental note to tell his mother that night, which would only complicate her calculations. After the usual morning struggle, tactfully escaping the mud splash from dashing auto rickshaws, filth flying from the brooms of corporation workers, smoke vomited by the city buses, he finally settled down in his cubicle allowing the air-condition to adsorb his sweat into the humid air when a senior colleague Kumar stopped by. Kumar has been nice to Gopal since his joining. Kumar, having begun his life from humble background like Gopal, felt a responsibility to take care of the new kid and Gopal too has a great respect for him. There is nothing like having a partner with mutual respect and trust in a corporate environment, filled with ugly politics and opportunities to pull each other down out of impetus to camouflage their insecurity. Such gentle relations make the beautiful looking decorated corporate hell a family and this is one such small family who caught up on a Monday morning empathizing the raindrop tears trickling down the weeping windows *.
“So, Gopal, did you had a party over first salary? Is everyone happy at home?”.
“Oh yes sir, we had loads of fun”, Gopal was referring his extra cup of sweet and his insurance policy.
“Hmm good to hear that, Money is always good, but that always comes with a responsibility, spend wisely kid”, despite being conscious that advices are detested, people never stop advising even on trivial things.
Gopal smiled understandingly and with lot of vanity explained his financial debut of insurance policy.
“Whatt ?? You took an insurance policy ?? “
“Yes sir, Krishnamurthy mama told that in 10 years we will get double the money and my father is not a novice to be convinced on financial terms, he chose the right policy and I am glad that I’ve taken the best investment option in my first salary.”
“You could‘ve discussed with me. Which century are you living in? Insurance policies are not investment tools and young men like you shall not depend on conventional instruments like policies and fixed deposits. Your growth will be much faster than your money ever does. There are stock market and mutual funds to take advantage of the growing economy. ‘You should not work for money, your money should work for you’”, Kumar ended his sagely advise with a quote from ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’, which a beginner believes a technical bible for financial investments.
“But shares and all are too much for me, I’m not into such gambling…”, before he finished Kumar snapped him shut, “What a fool are you Gopal !! “ and the next one hour Gopal got a free lesson from Kumar on the investments and equity market. Gopal was mesmerized by Kumar’s eloquence in equity market, thrilled by his home page of ICICI Direct, trading shares on a daily basis, and Gopal didn’t fail to acknowledge uncomfortably that there are many things in personal finance which are beyond the reach of his father. That evening was a difficult evening for Gopal at home.
At dinner Gopal opened, “Appa, Kumar sir was talking to me today, he advised me to invest in equity shares and mutual funds”
“What?? Lets not get into gambling of hard earned money, its not for us”
Well, even Gopal responded the same to Kumar that day morning and Gopal was then confident to convince his father, fresh from the tons of advice and case studies from Kumar.
“No appa, its not gambling, it’s only a calculated risk, Kumar sir taught me how to read economic times, understand indicators, of course it’s difficult, but he guides well.. you know, I was stunned when he showed how to transact shares and.. “, as Gopal continued, Subramoni’s face shadowed gloomily, Kaveri recognized it in time to interrupt, “Gopal, we will discuss later, now eat before the curry gets cold”.
When did a son took his mother’s cue !!!
Gopal continued, “No amma, even a pessimistic estimate of mutual funds is approximately 15% returns, which he says double than most fixed deposits”.
Subramoni this time got really irritated, “Gopal, you have just started earning, trust the experience of the elders, the money gambling is not good for our family”.
“No appa, am not talking about day trading, which may be called as gambling, we shall invest in the top 30 companies and in long term will pay lot of returns”, Subramoni completely uncomfortable stopped him “Gopal, we should try to create something ourselves, on our own, from the very money we earned hard, however tiny the value of the penny is!. There lies a satisfaction of building it our own, free from the curse of numerous people who lost their money in that stupid game. However humble the achievement of mine may be, it’s self made and not riding on the success of few business men. Equity shares are like cheap game, paying money for someone whom you don’t even know and relies on his business acumen; celebrate when the market booms believing that you have made the right choice and lament when the market collapses, I don’t want you to get into that nonsense”.
This time it was Gopal’s turn, especially then he had a reply for the same from Kumar, “Appa, even our fixed deposit is actually similar to that of shares. In fixed deposits, we give the money to government, who in turn loan it to other business men and agriculturists and the interest accumulated in nothing but the profits earned from those business ventures which we have invested with government banks as mediator. In this case, we analyze and invest directly into the right companies. It’s more like fixed deposit in particular companies with dynamic interest.”
Gopal lurched out exact words Kumar shared with him that day. Even Kaveri was astonished with Gopal’s instantaneous financial intelligence.
Gopal continued “Appa, there is a fidelity mutual fund NFO closing this Friday. Kumar sir recommends…”
“Rascal, its one day since you touched money and you have started advicing me, do you know the hardships I had gone through? Do you ever respect your father’s experience and wisdom? Go get lost, you want to believe in some idiot Kumar, who may be as novice as you”.
Even Subramoni was bit shocked later at his sudden outburst. It was not the subject or the content of conversation, but a feeling that the young lad, whom he had carefully adorned within his protective wings so far, have started to act smart under the advice of someone who is outside the family. He felt betrayed that his son decided to chose Kumar’s words over his one. Often and mostly always, a father’s anger has no rationale on the subject, but only such soft emotions troubles them. They feel out of place, odd, small, dejected at the thought of negligence, realization that their sons have grown up suddenly ahead of them and guilty in their failure to recognize their son’s ability. But the sons, too young to acknowledge these sentiments, on the other hand feel disdained by their own father even for their true, good intended requests. It’s the poor mother of the family who gets caught in such trauma sharing both her shoulders to these two grown up kids, for both the father and son needs her to truly open up and yet she cannot divulge the truth to either, for it affects the balance of the relation. No one except a woman in the family can handle such trauma and all the male chauvinists of the world should think about the shoulders they relied on before they contemptuously bark at the faintest appeals of feminists.
Kaveri was surprised at the unanticipated tumult which arose out of noble intentions from two responsible pillars of the family; she didn’t speak much till night,
“Kaveri, I know how upset you might be, even I was, but think about this, within one day where did he get the guts to speak against the elders. I was sad whether I failed to teach him discipline, have I missed to teach him manners? Today I felt disastrous and an utter failure, failed to mould a son’s character, believed his innocence ruthlessly…”
“No, please don’t hold such deep sentiments, I don’t think he criticized you or opposed you. He was just attracted to the new information he got and even when he told you, he wanted to consult your opinion. But your outburst just wounded him. Who knows what thoughts the poor boy was having? You could have patiently explained. Even I was sad the way you treated him. I know him more than anyone and I swear his innocence. I’m worried how he feels now. Do you know that you haven’t scolded him for the past two years”, no one can beat a woman in chronological memory and cross referencing at the right moment. Even at this moment of despair, Kaveri did not fail to mention when and where Subramoni had shouted at Gopal and how she felt insulted when he had shouted at him in front of her cousin. Subramoni, like all the short tempered men, yielded quicker than wax “kaveri, go and have a word with him, give him some milk, let him sleep properly”, no father ever had the guts to apologize to his son and it’s in a way, good, for every son respects his father even for their mistakes and the equilibrium of relation gets affected with such transparency in attitude.
Kaveri went to her next job, to attend Gopal, who was silently weeping then. He had been rehearsing the evening dialogue several times and failed to reconcile his father’s outburst. Kaveri went to him and her maternal fragrance was just what he needed to wipe his tears, “Gopal, shame on adults to cry.”
“You know amma, I came with lot of anticipation that appa will appreciate my efforts. I really respect Kumar sir. He wants me to succeed and gives me good advice. I didn’t want to let go of an opportunity due to our ignorance. Was I disrespectful to him? Why does he feel insulted? Didn’t I come to him for his approval, after all, am anxious of Gayathri’s marriage expenses and our home loan”, Gopals words melted with his sorrow, expression unclear from the jutting tears and all Kaveri had to do was patiently comb his hairs and the miraculous strokes soothed Gopal, a satisfaction that all is not lost and the assurance that here she is for me, the one who lives for me, the one who is more desperate than me for my success. She offered him a glass of milk, “Gopal, who shouted at you? its your father only isn’t. Believe me, he is the noble soul who cares for you than anyone in the world, he’s afraid that his son shouldn’t take even a single wrong step. Do you think he had doubts in your intention? I know him more than anyone do and I can promise that he trusts you. You have to respect his experience and he may not be able to explain several things as you are too young to comprehend, but he is always worried about you. Kumar may be a nice man, I doubt not, and even your father doesn’t disapprove of his friendship, he might only be worried that personal finances should be not be influenced by others”,
“Listen Gopal, am not questioning you, you may be right, I think father will understand that soon. Now be a good boy, the noble soul of your father is troubled at your rash behavior of talking against him. Go and apologize.”
Gopal was not reluctant to get up and apologize, for he is more troubled and guilty that he had disturbed the peace and felt sorry that he had spoken against his loving father. He went to him, stopped near the bedroom, “appa, sorry, I didn’t intend to upset you”.
“No, don’t weep now, be a good boy and sleep well, we will talk all these later. Go to the deity and smear the sacred ash on your fore head to get a good sleep”, actually Subramoni needed a good sleep.
The next day, Gopal got up and everything was normal, kitchen spread noise and flavor of kaveri’s daily fight with vegetables and spices, Subramoni finishing his newspaper and Gayathri getting ready for her college, running around looking for lost hair pins, missing assignment notebook and cursing that student life is the worst only to realize later that it was the heaven unrecognized. That’s the beauty of the family, the hatred, discomfort or any negative feelings just get wiped away in the first tide. Everything was normal, no sign of previous day’s sentiments except that both Gopal and Subramoni vowed internally to correct them. And that’s why friends are there, to tell you what exactly to do then.
Subramoni reached his office and read “IF” poem of Kipling, a habit he imbibed under difficult situations, much helpful at the time of annual appraisals. His friend came in “What Subramoni, looks tensed?”. Subramoni was waiting for this, and he just vomited the previous days incident.
“Ha, you are a stupid Subramoni, I think you should have appreciated your son’s responsibility. How quick are kids these days. I promise you know nothing of share markets. Encourage him to do some mutual funds, its harmless. If you are anxious, advise him to invest less and understand the economics. The fundamental thing in equity is you need to invest both money and time for it. You cannot sit in office and wait for an external enlightenment. Just stop behaving like an old brat and go get him that fidelity mutual fund. Gopal seems wise, I wish we too were like him when we were young, we could have made more”.
The response was crisp and short, but it pained Subramoni’s self-ego. He once again went through the ‘IF’ poem. He was still not satisfied. He then went through some websites, read dummies for mutual funds, though not convinced, decided to trust his son’s wisdom and was simultaneously afraid in doing so. Finally, he gave up and downloaded the NFO form of fidelity mutual fund and filled his son’s details. He came home early and placed the filled form within an envelope in front of the puja shelf, hoping to give Gopal a pleasant surprise.
That evening, when Gopal went to Puja shelf to place an envelope he brought, he was surprised to see another envelope. He opened the envelope and saw the NFO form filled on his name by his father except the signature. He smiled and kept another envelope which had a form filled on his father’s name for a fixed deposit in Indian bank.
*- “raindrop tears trickling down the weeping windows “ based on the inspiration from Mrs.UshaSoman’s poem, “weeping buildings”, http://ushasoman.blogspot.kr/2008/11/weeping-buildings.html