“Muthu, Muthu your father” screamed the bus load of children, on the way to school. At that moment Muthu wished he was anywhere else but on that school bus. Muthu had spotted his father long before any of his class mates had. He was hoping that his friends and classmates would miss the scene unfolding on the road.
However with the school bus having stopped for picking up about ten children it was an extended stop. The scene on the road was hard to miss. Mani, Muthu’s father was pushing a car, along with two of his mechanics.. The bored children in the bus were looking for some entertainment on the way to school, teasing one of their own was par for the course.
The stocky figure of Mani, with his lungi at half mast, excited the school children. His stout hairy legs, ending in a worn out chappals, a grease stained T-shirt camouflaging its original colour one hand on the steering wheel and the other hand on the door edge, pushing the car to his work shop was just the entertainment the children were looking for.
Now, as if on cue Mani’s lungi decided to unfurl itself off his waist and landed on the road. Mani quickly let go his hands of the car and pulled up the garment and tied it back at his waist, however not before he stood on the road in his striped underpants.
This was greeted with a collective roar by the children in the bus. A nonchalant Mani, hearing the roar, gave a bright smile and waved out to the children.
Muthu’s cup of woe was now overflowing; tears welled up in his eyes. The shame he felt in his burning ears was only matched by the blush on his face and tears flowing down his cheeks. The children in the bus turned around on Muthu, as a hungry pack of hyenas, and screamed “Muthu your father wears striped underwear.”
Soon a very helpful chorus started in the bus. One kid would shout “Striped” the rest would chorus “Underwear”.
Muthu turned to his best friend sitting next to him, in between sobs, said “I hate my father. I wish I had a different father, anyone but him”.
Muthu decided that he would grow up and be a different man than his father. Why could father not be like Raju uncle who came to get his scooter repaired? Raju, a medical representative, was always immaculately dressed with a shining leather bag, well ironed shirt and pant, shining shoes, with a bright tie around his neck.
Muthu wished to grow up and be in a job which would allow him to be well dressed and be admired. He had talked to Raju uncle to find out what he needed to study to become a medical representative. Once he learnt that he needed to study, chemistry, botany, zoology, he set his goals to be the best in his school in those subjects.
As the glow of dawn bathed Allur town with darkness gracefully surrendering its grip on the landscape, Mani stepped out of his home on to the veranda. He pulled out a beedi from behind his ear and lit it. He alternated between lung full of smoke and mouth full of tea. This was his only “me time” daily. Mani had been up for the last hour. He had been busy in the kitchen cooking the daily meal for his family. His wife, Gowri, of many years would wake up an hour later and pack their two children to school. Mani was the first educated person in his family of farmers. Mani’s father had tried his best to provide the family from the meagre land holdings that the family had. The rain gods had not been very kind, and the family had somehow eked out a living. Mani’s father had tried his hand at many other professions – mason, carpenter, cycle mechanic. None of them had been able to take the family above subsistence level. The family had slept hungry many a day. Mani, the only son had always been their only hope.
Mani had completed his diploma in automobile repair. Over the years he had expanded his father’s cycle repair workshop into a successful automobile workshop. In a small town like Allur one could not be choosy about what one repaired. So Mani repaired, cars, scooters, motorcycles, mopeds, irrigation pump sets. His workshop was a museum of mechanical equipment of various types. Some would call it a graveyard of mechanical things. However from time to time Mani would resurrect these and sell it to his desperate customers.
Not for nothing was he called “Motor Mani”, “Magic Mani” by his ever grateful customers.
None of this impressed Gowri, his wife. She had named him “Mad Mani”. Gowri was from a slightly better off family meaning they had never slept a day hungry. They could afford new clothes once a year on Diwali. To many, it was a mystery that this marriage alliance had happened at all. Given her pretty looks she could have landed a far better family than Mani’s.
Gowri’s joy at being married was short lived. She found that Mani’s finances and commitments made it impossible to fulfil her dreams. She had dreamt that with marriage she could convince her husband to migrate out of the town. She yearned for a comfortable life, away from her in-laws. Her dreams were shattered by Mani, who wanted to give comfort to his parents in their old age. Gowri soon found herself in the kitchen cooking or at the well side washing clothes.
Hell hath no fury like a woman whose dreams are scorned
When trying to lift a heavy bucket of water from the well Gowri slipped and fell. She probably suffered from a pulled muscle in her back. She was down with an excruciating back pain. The doctor at Allur had suggested that Gowri needed to rest for a couple of weeks. After that she would need to do exercise and put on some muscle. To that end he suggested that her diet include eggs and some chicken.
As Gowri lay in bed for two weeks recovering from her back pain, a plan began to take shape. During these two weeks it was Mani who attended to all the chores in the kitchen and a new maid was employed to take care of washing the clothes.
As soon as she recovered from the back pain Gowri went to the market and got a dozen eggs. Along with her exercise she started cooking the eggs and consuming them. This act did not go down well with Mani’s mother a pure vegetarian. However the old lady kept quiet to maintain peace at home. Gowri now upped the ante. She brought home chicken and started to cook it.
Mani was caught between his mother and his wife. Gowri pointed to the doctor’s advice, which Mani too had heard. Mani’s mother refused to eat from food from a kitchen where chicken was cooked.
A man, just married, caught in the ecstasy of conjugal bliss can hardly be asked to make a rational choice between mother and wife. Wife won, mother and father were left with a relative. What was supposed purely temporary, became permanent over time.
Mani was still left with the chores of cooking as Gowri now had frequent recurrence of back pain. Over time all systems, allopathy, homeopathy, naturopathy and even “Venkatachalapathy” (god by another name) could bring no succour to Gowri’s frequent back pain. The maid’s duties were expanded over time to include, washing clothes, vessels and mopping the floor.
Gowri always found temporary relief when her dear friends visited her, which was attributed to the happy memories they revived in her.
Thus limped the home on Mani’s income and effort with Gowri’s presence and grace.
Gowri meticulously brought up her children. This was one activity where everyone admired her. Gowri’s elder daughter Lakshmi and younger son Muthu went to the only convent school in Allur. Gowri was proud of her children’s English speaking ability. Gowri ensured that her children always did well at school. She made sure that her daughter Lakshmi was trained in singing and dancing. In fact Lakshmi her daughter was learning the piano, the only one in Allur, at the church attached to the school. She ensured that Muthu her son took part in sports and any other competitions that the school organised.
Mani was proud of the way that Gowri was bringing up the children. Mani’s greatest pleasure in life was to see a bright smile that shone on his customer’s face when their mechanical contraption leaped alive. He prided himself on his trouble shooting and ability to improvise and solve a problem. Now his children growing up well added another dimension to his satisfaction.
Mani wanted his children to get educated and lead a luxurious life. He himself had experienced the magic that education had brought in his life. It was education that helped him repair any mechanical artefact that was brought to him. All he wanted from his children was they grow up to be educated and conscientious in a profession of their choice.
Mani was worried that his son Muthu did not have any clear ambitions. He had noted that Muthu admired Raju, the medical representative, who came to his shop. Mani did not think much of a medical representative as life goal when his son declared that he would become a medical representative. He had hoped his son would do a post-graduation.
However Mani was wise enough to know that any discussion on this would be pointless. He was well aware that his son thought poorly of him and any discussion he initiated might strengthen his son’s resolve to be a medical representative.
Mani was hard pressed to find a better role model for Muthu. A small town like Allur did not offer much in terms of people who could be role models. Mani wished for a miracle.
Miracles usually take the form of serendipity. It was a late Sunday afternoon, the mechanic shop was closed. Suddenly there was a loud sound of a musical horn the type of which they had never heard before. On Mani’s drive way stood a shining car, of German origin. By the time Mani got down to the drive way the car blared its horn once more. Muthu was woken up from his slumber. On looking out he saw this shining car. His curiosity piqued, he raced down to see the glamourous car.
As Mani reached the car, Raju, the medical representative stepped out of the passenger seat.
“It is my CEO’s car, and it makes a horrible noise when we move it into first or second gear, can you fix it?” he queried.
By now Muthu had also run up to the car and touching it lovingly. Suddenly the driver’s side door opened and the driver dressed in an immaculate white uniform stepped out. Muthu standing close to the driver’s door felt a whiff of cold air. Muthu had never seen an air-conditioned (AC) car before. He was very impressed that a car could be air conditioned.
A discussion ensued between the driver, Raju and Mani as to what the problem could be. Mani felt that the gear box had to be opened and investigated. Now the driver had to consult the god who was seated in the back of the car. A small discussion ensued inside the car, which was still running and had its AC going.
Suddenly the back door opened and God himself stepped out of the car. God wanted to check “Motor Mani’s” workshop before he agreed to a gearbox job on his car.
As God walked through the workshop and kept directing a barrage of questions at Mani, Muthu was following the whole thing in rapt attention. He had never before seen a man in a full suit with a tie and patent leather shoes. Muthu could not tear away his eyes from God. God was suitably impressed by the range of torque spanners, drilling jigs, vernier callipers, dial gauges etc which adorned Muthu’s work shop. Finally God gave his consent for Muthu to carry out his repairs.
As God settled down on the veranda on Mani’s chair, Gowri cooked up hot refreshments and a coffee to appease God. These acts of Gowri did not go unnoticed by Muthu. He had never seen his mother make any refreshments for anyone before. Muthu plonked himself near God’s feet and in his best English started a conversation with God. God was very happy to talk to Muthu.
Over the next couple of hours as the car got repaired Muthu learnt that one needed to study a course called MBA to have any aspiration of becoming a CEO. As God and his entourage left after a successful repair Muthu declared loudly to Mani he wanted to become an MBA.
Mani went to the temple that evening and said a heartfelt prayer. He thanked the gods for sending someone who could inspire his son Muthu to set higher goals in life.