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Lalita Vasu

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At Twenty Three
By Lalita Vasu
Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rated "G" by the Author.

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The story is inspired by a true life incident. It portrays the ‘never say die’ spirit of Indians.

He came running to open the door of  Sameer’s car. “Good Morning, Sir!” he said.  “Good Morning” Sameer replied with a smile.  Sameer found something different in this person. He noticed that he had a sparkle in his eyes which he had not found in any Security staff he had seen in his entire life.

The routine of opening the door and greeting continued for a few days. “What is your name?” Sameer could not resist asking him. “Ram, Sir!” he said with a salute. “Good morning , Ram!” was now the routine everyday.
Sameer was busy at his desk signing some papers when there was a knock on his door. “May I come in, Sir?” It was Ram. “Come in please”, Sameer was surprised to see Ram come to his office. “Sir I wanted to tell you something.” He said with a smile. “Sir, I write poems, and I came to know that you too are a poet. So I wanted to show you my poems.” It took some time for Sameer to digest what he had just heard. A Security Guard in an office building writing poems! But Sameer also knew that writing poetry was a gift and he was really happy to know that Ram wrote poems. “Sure, I would be delighted to read them, please give them to me.” Immediately Ram handed over an envelope.   “These are for your Sir,  please let me know how to improve myself. Thank you Sir,” Ram left the room. Just then his colleague entered and said, “Sameer, did you know that our Security Guard writes poems!” “Yes, he just told me,” Sameer was still stunned by what he had heard.
The debate about the movie Slumdog Millionaire was being aired on TV. Sameer was relaxing after a long day with his wife Sanjana. “You know Sanju, I came across a real great true life story today. Believe me, I think Slumdog Millionaire is true India and the spirit of winning against all odds runs in most Indians, especially the down trodden.” He then went on to tell his wife about his encounter with Ram.
“Ram, I read your poems, barring a few grammatical errors, they are fantastic.” “Shukriya Saab! (Thank you in Hindi). “Come sit down, and tell me more about yourself. Where are you from, what have you studied, how and why did you come to Pune.”
“Sir, undergraduate in English Literature from Sohanpur, a village two kilometers from Kharagpur where the famous IIT is Sir,” Ram looked excited.   “Then why don’t you speak to me in English?” Sameer asked him. “Sir practice nahin hai. (no practice).” “You will speak only in English with me from now onwards, even if you make mistakes. That is how you learn!” Sameer was almost tutoring him. “OK Sir, I will try”, he said with a shy smile.
Ram’s mother was cleaning the floor with a half broken broom. “Beta (Son), today also there is no wheat flour to make rotis (Indian Bread). Will you be able to bring some from the store?” Ram checked his pocket, there were only five rupees. “Yes Ma!” he said. The tuition fees for the children he was tutoring were due for over three months now. His father had spent all the savings on his sister’s wedding and his elder brother had moved out of the house with his wife.
Lying on the cot in the aangan (courtyard), Ram was mindlessly watching the stars. He had read the message many times over ‘We are sorry, your admission is cancelled, we really can’t keep one seat vacant for so long’. To be a graduate in Literature, something no one in his village had ever achieved, was his only dream, which was shattered today because he could not pay the fees. Ram felt very frustrated. 
“Then, how did you come to Pune?” Sameer was keen to know more.  “I ran away from home sir! I took a train to Mumbai. I had five hundred rupees with me. I travelled thirty six hours without eating anything. I had heard about Mumbai, the city where all dreams come true .   I ate and lived on the footpaths. I knew no one around.  But then, I found that every time I was being questioned by the police. It was just post the 26/11 attack on Mumbai and every person on the streets, if he could not prove who he was, was questioned as if he was a terrorist. There was no work, and the police was spying on me.” Ram’s voice choked with emotion.   “Then how did you come to Pune?” Sameer was curious to know. “Sir in the train to Mumbai, I had met an Assamese person. He gave me his phone number, in case I needed help. After a week of no work and harassment by the police in Mumbai, I called the Assamese person. He asked me to come to Pune, and he got me a job. That is how I am in Pune Sir.”
“Where do you live in Pune?” Sameer asked. “Nowhere,  Sir!” Sameer could not understand. What do you mean “Nowhere”  Sameer asked.  “Sir, I work as a Security Guard in your office premises for twelve hours, and the next twelve hours, I work as a Security Guard for a hotel nearby. Sameer could not believe this. He had heard of people working for eighteen hours, but twenty four hours was unheard of. “Sir, I can’t afford to take a house at the moment, I have to manage like this.” Sameer could not believe it.  In spite of what Ram was going through, he could still smile. True picture of a “Great attitude!”
“So tell me Ram, what is your goal in life. Why don’t you become a writer? You write well.” Sameer felt warmth towards this person. “No Sir, that is not possible,” Ram was firm on his answer. “So then what is your goal in life?” Sameer was a bit unsure. He knew many well educated and well settled people who did not know what their goals in life were. But he still asked the question to this Security Guard. “I want to open a Cyber café in my village, Sir.” Ram was very clear on his goal. “And how do you go about it?” Sameer was taken aback with the answer. “Sir, in my village, in fact, five villages near my village have never seen a computer. Recently one of the big mobile companies has come to my village for internet services. All youngsters in these villages will be my customers.” Sameer was listening carefully. “And what about computers, for a Cyber café, you will need place and computers.” “Sir, I have a small room in my house, which I will use. I know of a place in Kolkata where I can get second hand computers. I know a bank which will give me a loan. But I need some capital amount, which I will save in my work here.” Sameer was impressed with the statistics and business plan Ram was rattling to him. How he wished his Sales people were so clear with their targets in business, or his employees were clear as to what was their goal in life. Still not satisfied, Sameer asked him, “What about maintenance of computers? How will you take care of that?”  He smiled and said,  “Sir, I have a friend who is working in Bangalore and learning computer hardware. He will be my hardware person”. “But what if your friend finds Bangalore better and does not want to return to your village. What is your plan B.?” Sameer was speaking like a typical business executive. “Sorry Sir, I did not think of it. But thanks for pointing it out, I will think about it.”
“And if I am not too inquisitive, how much do we pay you?” Sameer asked. “Sir four thousand, and I earn three and half thousand at the hotel”, he said. “And how long have you been in Pune and have you been able to save anything.” Sameer knew Pune was an expensive city. “Sir, I completed one month, I managed to save six thousand Rupees,” said Ram. Sameer made a quick mental calculation; he lived on one and a half thousand rupees for a month! The amount Sameer would spend on an evening dinner with his family. “Sir I need to save almost Rupees thirty thousand, after which I can get a loan from the bank and work on my cyber café.”  
“Ram, I want you to promise me that after you go back to your village and start your cyber café, you will complete your graduation. I have seen many people in life who regret later and just wish they had completed their graduation” said Sameer. “I will Sir,” said Ram. “Also promise me that you will continue to write always!” “It’s a promise Sir!” Ram seemed confident about it.
Sameer was truly amazed by Ram’s story. After a few days Ram handed over another bunch of poems to Sameer. One of the poems had a slightly romantic angle. “Ram, whom have you written this for?”  Sameer could not resist asking him. Ram smiled and said, “Sir, this is my neighbor girl Ninavati.  I know I will never be able to marry her because by the time I can realize my dream she will already be married to someone. But, Sir Love does not mean that I have to marry her. I can still love her without any relationship!” Sameer did not know what to say. He never thought of love in this way. “She must be a lucky girl Ram. By the way Ram, how old are you?” Sameer asked.  “Twenty Three Sir, Have a great day Sir.”
Sameer drove off.  Just four years elder to his son, this boy had seen life in all its colours and yet had dreams in his eyes. This is true India, thought Sameer.  The Oscar winning song  ‘Jai Ho’ from the movie Slumdog Millionaire was playing on his car stereo and Sameer was humming along.


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Reviewed by Laurel Lamperd 12/10/2010
It's nice to read work by other nationalities, Lalita. Laurel
Reviewed by Michael Charles Messineo 7/12/2009
I enjoyed this a lot. I wish you would continue this as ongoing (short story) chapters. I am interested in what happens next..
Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 7/12/2009
Quite enjoyed this story, Lalita; well penned! BRAVA!

(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in America, Karen Lynn in Texas. :D

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