Magan Bhai

Before he committed suicide

Magan Bhai met me one night

my parents were out at a movie.

Ringing the doorbell at an unusual hour,

he stood in the doorway

and started a conversation.

A small, dapper fellow in his twenties,

he had married young,

and had a daughter in the first standard.

Today he was misty-eyed

and smelled of whiskey.

The talk turned to films

which were his passion.

Before he joined the Company,

he had been an usher

at the Bombay Talkies.

"You must have seen your favourite films

several times," I remarked.

"Ah yes," he said, “but it was so boring

to see the same films again and again.

There were a very few,” he mused,

“which were good enough for that--

Kagaz ke Phool--Paper Flowers

have you seen it?--

was certainly one of them.”

 

Like its protagonist, he claimed,

he was a man much abused

and misunderstood by the world:

"Here I am, no more really

than the caretaker of the Guest House:

paid a pittance per month,

but from my lifestyle

can you tell my income?

Look at my clothes:

aren't they as smart as yours?

Have you ever seen me

wearing a wrinkled shirt?

You may wonder how I manage

Well, that's the whole secret

of my existence.

By the grace of God

I have been favoured

with luck on the race course.

I have laid up money

to start a small-scale industry.

If my daughter wants to study abroad,

I have enough in the bank for her.

Can you believe that right now

I am actually a partner

in a small store on Brigade Road?

Yes, I have done my duty,

paid my dues.

Today I am a free man.

No one can fault me if I'm gone...."

His voice tremulous,

his loosened tongue wagged on

until one a.m.

 

Actually, he died

leaving a pile of unpaid debts.

So well-behaved, so respectful

to his employers and superiors,

no one suspected that

he ran up the company account

with grocers in the city

for thousands of rupees.

He had lost at the track,

lost at the card table;

and, when the Directors were out,

he sat at the bar of the Guest House

drinking the choicest liquors

at Company expense.

And one day, when he could

no longer sustain the act,

they found him dead,

sprawled on the expensive carpet,

his face the colour of sandpaper,

and a can of "Tik-20"

(specially purchased for the rose garden)

half-empty by his side.

 

His death was reported

as "Accident on Duty,"

which allowed his wife to collect

the maximum coverage on the insurance.

She was spared the debts,

but not the humiliation,

and left with his child

for a faceless widowhood

in some backward village.

 

After the event,

the inevitable verbal post-mortem:

what had spoiled Magan Bhai?

What had turned his head?

"He ought to have belonged

to some wealthy family

where his princely instincts

might have come to aught,"

commiserated a fellow-worker.

In public, however, everyone

roundly condemned the vices

that led to his end,

pointing out his case,

as a moral unto the others.

A few of his cronies

(their wives thanked heaven)

suddenly turned pious;

but most, after a brief suspense,

relapsed to their former ways.

The company Physician

(who had certified the death as accidental)

relaxing over a scotch with my father

confidentially observed:

"Born penniless, hardly educated,

could Magan ever have attained

the good life he so badly craved?

No!  Not in this lifetime!

Attempting short-cuts

to wealth and power

in a society structured

for little upward movement

he was bound to fail."

I overheard their sober reflections in silence.

 

Magan Bhai,

always the first volunteer

in any community event,

who took us when we were young

to movies and cricket matches,

is forgotten today.

The Directors, of course,

deigned no comments

on his untimely death,

but ordered that

the new valet in his place

be watched closely each day.

 


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  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape