“This is going to be the last house.” I decided as I pressed the bell.It was a pathetic summer.The blue and white hawaii chappals seemed to melt under my feet in the heat. There were foot steps approaching the door. I made a quick check of the pamphlets and brochures.I felt so thirsty, even the pan shops had pulled their shutters down.
A groggy eyed man, the owner of the house opened the door.Evidently he was sleeping the air-conditioned comfort of his room.
“the typical petite bourgeoisie swine” I swore, albeit,mentally.
“Yes?” he asked in a perfect polite voice,tempered with a polish of disdain.
I saw him quite a number of times, in various functions, in our locality,but close up,he looked more old.
–“I came to campaign for the MP candidate of your locality.If you could give me some time..”
–“oh! yes yes, I know him well..come in please”
I could see him get unusually interested! Why! I wondered.
The interior of the house was quite plush and tastefully decorated.There were book cases lining the wall.I could make out the outlines of quite a number of acclaimed books.Even if he doesn’t read , it’s a nice way to impress people, I caught myself thinking.What made me assume that he did not read?
“The weather is so bad and you must be thirsty”,he pushed me a glass of water as I sat gingerly at the edge of the sofa.It was too costly to be soiled with my sweat. These trimmed surroundings always made me ill-at-ease.
I drank it, still wondering why he was being so polite and generous.
“So, How much?”, he shot his first question.I was startled! Hardly there can be a man so forthright about giving donations to a party which is sure to lose,this time,particularly.Especially,as this man is not one of the sympathizers, as I have been told.I was shocked! I took out the donation book.I had only one with me.No, no, we had other means of getting funds, but mass collection somehow went well with the image we tried to portray.“I am not asking about the chandaa, I am rather asking how much are you going to get for going home to home trying to campaign?”
The question was right out of the blue!.I fumbled and fumbled.No, I wasn’t enraged..Of all the people in the world, this man, caught me unaware!I could feel an anger slowly growing within me, an urge to hit was gradually building up.
I stood up to go, shaping a retort that would accurately vent my hatred against him.I hated him,always.I hated him because he is rich, I hatred him because he is corrupt, I hated him because he could afford to be corrupt.I was honest under compulsion, or was I,as I wanted to believe?I hated him because it was for him, that I needed to walk in the tar-melting heat to canvass for the candidates,because I needed money and party would give me money only if I campaigned.Fallen from power,party has no money to spare, the District Secretary couldn’t have been clearer.
I wanted to go out of the house,to show him that I was engulfed by a righteous anger.But it was a sticky afternoon.The air conditioner had already dried my wet shirt.I hoped,desperately, that he provided me a graceful way to continue the conversation.
My hesitation in stepping out was perhaps too palpable for him to miss.”Oh! Don’t get offended!.Please sit and lets talk”. No, not that respectable a way out but I leaped at it. “I was trying to neutralize an opposition”, the explanation sounded almost good to my ears.”
–“Have you ever been to the other end of the town?”. he asked me.
-“Yes, a couple of times.But why do you ask?” I had already sat down.
“There is a hospital you might have seen.If you take right from there, you end up in a dark by-lane. Nah, not many middle-class families live in that lane now,most people have moved out. If you had been there,say, four or five years ago, you would have seen an old man sitting in a rickety tool outside a ramshackle house.Every time there was a wind, we would think that the house might be blown away,but strangely it managed to remain rooted.That man was an employee with the postal dept.An honest,hardworking man,as most self-taught people of that generation were.He grew up in the times when the entire country was being swept in red.Marx, Engels, Lenin, all that you people think to be a compulsory read to be a human, he read all those.Armchair theoretician?Nah, he wasn’t so.He joined the flag-bearers who,what did they call themselves,Ah! the vanguard of proletariat!Big and fancy words, quite catchy, aren’t they?So you know, what did he do, he left job and devoted his entire life to your party.No, not just his own,his entire family’s life was for your party.He did not ask his wife, he didn’t ask his children, but did what he felt to be right.They did not complain.What an honor to be devoted to revolutionary ideas,ideals.They lived for what you now are doing for money.”
He paused, drained the bottle of water kept on the table and continued.
Days went by and years, the ‘advanced tide of revolution’ was replaced by,what you people as ‘the receding tide’.Heartbreaks and deaths were being common, most of the old brigade had retired from active work.His daughter was growing up in those days.She had the same fiery passion as her Baba,she.Her mother used to chide her telling that such girls are difficult to be married off,the entire family used to laugh then, a hearty and loud laugh. She and her generation would be doing what they had left undone, the father used to say because all the hardships,pain and poverty couldn’t rob him of his dream.Perhaps the dream because dusty,rusty, but it was there, a hope of a future that perhaps they wouldn’t live to see.
What was the year? somewhere around 1970 perhaps.Police came to their house and took the daughter away.No, she wasn’t a Naxalite.Even in those days, the entire family had an unquestionable loyalty towards your party.She had those books, they were in her house for years and years.No one had expected that these could be the cause of catastrophe that happened.He went from door to door and asked for help.You people were in power then.He went to his old friends, his political mentors, he used to camp near your head-quarters and the secretariat for get his daughter released.
A few weeks later, her battered body was found in the hospital dump-yard.
He stopped.“So how did you like it?”
Like a cheap melodrama,I wanted to retort.His story did not affect me .These were common incidents in those days, so many people got killed.What was the use of raking these old issues up?We don’t think of these things any more. Infact now a days who bothers to read those fat and difficult books and theories.We knew nothing, but we weren’t doing bad.We were rewarded by the Party.Yes, there we difficult times like this, but in general, the red garb bought benefits,quite a few to be told the truth.I tried managing a not so sneering smile.I had a meeting to attend in half an hour.The week’s pay would be given there.I was getting late.He caught me glancing at my watch.“You must be getting late, I wont keep you anymore.”, he said as he pulled out a five hundred rupees note from his pocket.
“Keep the change”,I felt him say, even if his lips were immovable in that contemptuous smile.
I stepped out of the door, the sun had set by then.
But there was something not yet finished about the evening. A question lurked in the growing shadows which couldn’t be ignored anymore.
“Why did you tell me this story?”, I blurted out.He turned back, his face washed in that pale light cast by the ornate lampshade in the portico.His eyes wore a strange look.
“So that the next time you come to take my money to abuse me, you remember what you people did to us.”