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Back to Comparison And Warning Bells - Read This Story!

Discussion in 'Wednesdays with Varalotti' started by varalotti, Dec 5, 2006.

  1. varalotti

    varalotti IL Hall of Fame

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    Most Gracious ILites,
    After having had a refreshing walk along the banks of Vaigai, it's now time for some action. Now back to the comparison game. This story of mine is built on the theme of comparison - especially as it is practised amongst women.
    Regards,
    Varalotti

    Plumber
    - A Short Story By Varalotti Rengasamy

    Malu, we have chosen some really good fancy fittings for our bathroom. Why don’t you have a look? It may help you to choose for yours.”

    Malathi and her husband Suren were visiting Malathi’s sister Roopa. When the couples were chatting in the drawing room Roopa casually threw the bombshell - by inviting Malathi to look at the fancy fittings she had bought.

    A shiver went through Suren. He knew what was going to happen. Malathi would see the fittings and then insist on buying the same type of fittings for their house also. But could Suren afford that?

    Suren had been regretting his decision to go for an own house. It could have been comfortably handled five years later. The greater folly was to have started their house-construction at the same time Malathi’s sister Roopa, and her husband Mahesh, were doing theirs.

    In the provincial town they all lived, land was relatively cheap. So both the sisters purchased adjacent plots and started construction almost at the same time. In fact Roopa instigated the whole thing. First Suren thought that was a blessing in disguise as the families could share the million chores and worries relating to construction and had greater bargaining power as twosome.

    Little did he know at that time that there would be an endless comparison of even the minutest details between the sisters. The house sat on a strong foundation, no doubt; but Suren feared that the house-building process might even shake the very foundation of their marriage of five years.

    Suren never flinched from spending money. Yes, he wanted a decent home for them in which they were going to spend the rest of their lives. What he detested was the pointless luxuries that Roopa indulged in.

    The problem was when Roopa did something she unconsciously set the standard for Malathi which the latter followed at any cost. When Suren questioned about the need for such a luxury, Malathi would burst out saying,’Roopa has gone for it. And if we opt for anything inferior she will never hesitate to point out the difference for years to come.’

    For instance Suren had decided for ordinary mosaic flooring for their house. He studied the costs and advantages of various types of floorings and had come to that decision. He particularly avoided marble flooring which, though gave a good look, was prohibitively expensive, which someone in his station could not afford.
    He had just released order for the mosaic stones when Malathi came with the news that Roopa was going for marble flooring.

    “Look Suren. Roopa’s husband Mahesh is an ordinary clerk, whereas you are an officer. If Roopa opts for marble, we should go one step higher and go for granite. We should at least sail along with them. Otherwise Roopa will mock at me whenever she visits us. Understand?”

    Suren understood. He was sad that Malathi did not understand one basic fact. It was true he was an officer and his brother-in-law Mahesh was only a clerk. But he was an officer in a large private sector company. Though the salary was good there was absolutely no scope for other earnings. On the other hand Mahesh was a clerk in the Regional Transport Office. That place was the very fountainhead of corruption. So though Mahesh’s salary was very modest, his disposable income was substantially larger than that of Suren.

    Malathi could never come to appreciate this difference. She would complain, ‘After all he is just a clerk; you are an officer. If an officer cannot afford what a clerk can, what is the meaning of life?’

    Suren would take pains to explain the ways of the world. But Malathi would feign ignorance and insist on her way. Suren deeply loved Malathi. Malathi was a wonderful wife and an excellent companion. If this failing were to be removed, she would almost be the picture-perfect wife. So Suren went along with her as far as he could. Not minding the extra cost he switched over to marble flooring just to please Malathi.

    Malathi insisted that each item should be at least as good as the one chosen by Roopa. Hence Suren had to borrow more and extend the repayment period farther and farther into the future. At the same time he was not in any way angry with Malathi. To him, her attitude and her approach appeared very childish and he just indulged her, as a fond parent would do.
     
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  2. varalotti

    varalotti IL Hall of Fame

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    Plumber II

    Malathi-Suren’s house was almost over. It was only the day before the plumber had stayed late to install the fittings like taps and showers in their bathroom. There could not have been a more inopportune moment for Roopa to open the topic of bathroom fittings. Simply because it was a closed matter as far as Suren was concerned.

    Even if Roopa were to show something better or something cheaper (which was very unlikely) they could not change because their bathroom fittings had been installed already.

    If Malathi were to see her sister’s fittings and insist on having the same type in their house? That very thought gave shivers to Suren. There was simply no scope to borrow any further. Housing banks, PF Loans, office loans, friends and relatives – all possible sources have been exhausted. Suren did the only thing that was possible under the circumstances – he prayed. But at times even a fervent prayer could not prevent the inevitable.

    Suren and Malathi were returning to their home in their bike. Suren was afraid to start conversation as he was sure that it would turn ultimately to Roopa’s bathroom fittings. He had not seen them. Only Malathi went upstairs with Roopa to inspect the fittings. The expression in her face when she returned clearly betrayed her feelings. He waited for Malathi to begin the discussion.
    No sooner they reached their home than Malathi blurted out.

    “We should have taken a little more time in finalising our bathroom fittings. I saw Roopa’s selection. Wow! It was too good. She says they are powder-metal parts. Oh, what a finish, what a colour, what a grace! And what rich looks!

    “Considering the quality, not very expensive, I would say. Now, please, my dear, please don’t mind the little extra expense. We shall also go for the same type. Here I have the names of the items bought by Roopa. So please..”

    “That’s too much, Malu. All the fittings have already been installed. Don’t you remember, our plumber stayed till Eleven last night to complete the installation. The shop would not take back the installed items. So whatever we bought would go waste.

    “Please think it over dear; our fittings are also quite good. They may not be as luxurious as your sister’s. But they look quite good and are very rugged. Be contented with what we have.”

    “No, Suren. You didn’t see Roopa’s fittings. Had you seen them you won’t talk like this. There is a world of difference between the two. I don’t mind the difference.

    “But every time Roopa visits our home she would make it a point to use our bathroom just to comment on the inferiority of our fittings. I can not bear that. You want me to cry every time my sister comes… “
    Malathi’s tears did not wait for her sister now. She started crying and amidst sobs she pleaded, “This is the last time, for my sake, please change. I’ll do whatever you ask me to do. You want me to cut my food by half I’ll do it. But please don’t say no to this request.”

    Suren did not want to start a fresh fight with his wife particularly when their house was nearing completion.
    “OK Malu, I can’t commit any thing. Let me just talk to the fittings shop. Give me the list of items your sister gave you."

    Suren talked to the shop-owner. He explained his predicament in such a way to arouse the trader’s sympathy. Suren returned to Malathi after half an hour’s pleading with the shop-owner.

    “Malu, he has agreed to take back the fittings we bought at a ten percent discount. He says if we return those items and give Rupees ten thousand in cash he will supply the new items. Are you happy?”

    “Thanks a lot my dear.” Suren was not in a mood to enjoy his wife’s kiss.

    “Listen Malu, I have to go to work very early tomorrow morning. So you have to go to our plumber’s house and tell him about the change. Then he will take out the fittings and get it exchanged. He would have the new luxury-fittings installed latest by tomorrow night.

    “But remember. You will have to get hold of the plumber early in the morning. If he goes elsewhere for work then it will be very difficult to contact him. Okay? And if we delay it beyond tomorrow then the shopwallah might change his mind. Got it?

    “And here is ten thousand Rupees. This is about the last dose of money I have. I had reserved it for a simple house-warming ceremony with our friends and family. But now…”

    Suren handed over the money with a sigh to his wife.

    Malathi was in an auto-rickshaw looking for the plumber’s address very early next morning. Their plumber lived in a slum. Malathi had to cover her nose the moment the auto-rickshaw entered the slum.

    Children were everywhere. Some had dressed up to their waists. But most of them did not have any dress on. They had running noses; they were unkempt and their hair dishevelled.

    Malathi had to enquire at least at six places before she located the house. The house was very small. Malathi had to bend to enter through that small door. A woman who was probably the plumber’s wife received her. The woman’s saree was torn in many places and she could not help staring at the shining <st1:country-region><st1:place>China</st1:place></st1:country-region> silk saree worn by Malathi.

    “Plumber Raj…”
    “Please come. Have your seat, Memsaab. He has gone out. Will be back in a few minutes.”

    Malathi was reluctant to sit in the dirty, torn mat spread before her. But seeing the pathetic expression in the other woman’s face Malathi sat down.
    She wanted to be nice to that poor woman.
     
  3. varalotti

    varalotti IL Hall of Fame

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    Plumber III

    “Raj is in charge of the plumbing works in the house we are constructing near the Race Course. There is some urgent work for him. Can you just ask him to come to the site?”

    “He will be back in a few seconds. Having come so far, why don’t you tell the matter to him directly?”

    Every second she stayed there was a torture for Malathi. She could not strike a conversation with the plumber’s wife. The difference in their status was too big to permit any friendly conversation. Apparently they did not have any thing in common. Added to that, two small children who were nude were standing and just staring at Malathi. They should be the plumber’s children, Malathi thought.

    Malathi could not bear the torture for more than five minutes. Then she stood up. Her impatience showed clearly in her voice.

    “How long can I wait? Where did he go so early in the morning? “

    The irritation in Malathi’s voice had a clear impact on the plumber’s wife.

    “To hell with the man, he never listens to what I say. He builds toilets and bathrooms for the whole town. But we don’t have one. Every time we have to go to the nearby public toilet to ease ourselves. Even now he has gone only for that purpose. It is a great torture not to have a toilet inside the house. Last month he had diarrhea. What a suffering! He kept on running between the house and the public toilet. Nauseating.”
    The plumber’s wife did not shout; nor was her tone in any way emotional. She was simply narrating a fact – a fact so plain like the sun raising in the east. But the words hurt Malathi. She did not know what to say.

    The plumber’s wife should have thought that she had talked a little too much.

    “Memsaab, please write your address in this note book. I’ll ask him to come there the moment he shows up.”
    A stunned Malathi silently wrote the address and left the place without a word.

    Malathi went to their construction site and waited for the plumber there. She was deeply troubled by what she saw and heard. Soon the plumber arrived.

    “Memsaab please excuse me. Sorry for having kept you waiting at that wretched place. Now, tell me what I have to do?”

    “I came there to call you to change the bathroom fittings. I saw something better yesterday and I wanted to have those things fitted in.”

    “No problem, Memsaab. I’ll have them changed today.”

    “Now I have changed my mind. I got a new idea. I want to add one more toilet to the right of the service room. Just a small one. Let’s say five feet by five feet. Indian style closet. A tap with running water. Ordinary cement flooring and cement plastered walls. Asbestos roof. How much will it cost?”

    “About six thousand at the maximum. I will do the fittings and the mason will do the construction and roofing. But, memsaab, we already have two toilets in the house. One in the master bed room and another common for guests and others. Why do you want one more and that too a cheap, low-cost one? You want to provide for your servants, memsaab?”

    “Take this six thousand and construct such a toilet for yourself in your house.”

    At first the plumber did not understand a word of it. It took a full minute for the meaning to sink in.
    Malathi continued.

    “To tell you the truth I wanted even more luxurious fittings for my bathroom. That’s why I cried and fought with my husband and got this money which is about the last bit of money we have. But today when I came to your place I learnt that you don’t even have a bathroom.

    “Your wife told me about the hardship in not having a toilet inside the house. You have been setting up bathrooms and toilets for every one in the town; but you don’t have one for yourself. So take this money and build one at your house. I shall come and see as soon as it is completed.

    “Don’t think we are rich enough to give away the money just like that. We are just middle class people having our own problems and limitations. So you have this as a loan. You need not pay interest. But try to repay it as and when you can, either in one lump sum or in easy instalments. And as far as my bathroom fittings are concerned let them stay.”

    The plumber folded his hands towards Malathi. With tears overflowing his tired eyes he could not bring himself to even utter a word of thanks. But Malathi understood and waved him off with a gentle smile.

    For the first time since they started the construction of the house, Malathi felt deeply peaceful inside. She knew for certain that this peace could not be perturbed by her sister Roopa or for that matter anybody.
     
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  4. Pallavi

    Pallavi New IL'ite

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    wise wednesday!

    Hello Sridhar,

    You seem to be teaching life’s lessons to all the women on every Wednesday! The bell that rang in my mind after reading should ring every time I tend to overindulge myself! Only then your effort in writing the piece to convey the message will be worthwhile!!! Shall surely give you the feedback!
    <!--[if !supportEmptyParas]--> <!--[endif]-->
    It was a touching story Sridhar. It conveyed to us that after all we are all human. Cosseting so much in the exotics of the material world, we tend to forget the basics of humanity; these basic traits called kindness and compassion of a human are rekindled by such events as malathy experienced. Malathy headed to add luxury accessories for her bathroom; got them for her soul instead! Isn’t that a great bargain!
    <!--[if !supportEmptyParas]--> <!--[endif]-->
    Thanks for a good story!
     
  5. varalotti

    varalotti IL Hall of Fame

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    A Wise Reply, Pallavi!

    Hello Pallavi,

    A writer has a moral duty to teach life's lessons. Sometimes he does it directly as I have done it here; many times he does it subtly by showing the sufferings of people who ignore the basic values of compassion and love.

    You have a poetical way of conveying your thoughts. I have a strong suspicion that either you are a writer yourself or you have excellent writer-material which is waiting to come out. It will happen soon.

    Pallavi, if you can read Tamil, you may read another story of mine which got published in Dinamalar-Varamalar and got me a consolation prize in a shortstory competition. A reader from Madurai had written a letter to Dinamalar praising my story and she got awarded a prize of Rs.1000. I had never been happier in life.

    Dont feel compelled to do so; but if you have the time and inclination please follow this link:
    http://www.indusladies.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3380

    As you rightly summed up it is a great bargain. She now has peace that cannot be disturbed by anybody. She has got the real stuff now.
    Thanks for being the first to comment and congratulations on your good powers of expression.
    regards,
    sridhar
     
  6. Pallavi

    Pallavi New IL'ite

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    Thanks for ur kind words!

    Hi sridhar,

    I am not a writer by profession, but whenever i am inspired i try to scribble something. I have posted a snippet named "Desires" in the snippets of life section.

    Its sad that i cant read tamil!! But i see a very responsible writer(good looking at that!!) in you! Good job!

    Thanks for the reply!
     
  7. Vandhana

    Vandhana Silver IL'ite

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    Sibling Rivalry?

    Dear Sridhar,

    You have brought the Sibling rivalry between Malathi and her sis very well. And i loved the way you twised the story in the end and gave it a beautful ending. in the begining i was thinking that Malathi had no conscience and that this one upping her sister is bound to hurt her marriage, but that she does have compassion and a conscience came out beautifully. She need not have given the plumber the 5k to build his own bathroom, but that she did shows her gently nature. Wonder what roopa woul dhave done if she were in the same situation?

    Vandhana
     
  8. Kamla

    Kamla IL Hall of Fame

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    Try and try till you succeed

    Dear Sridhar,

    The above line seems to be your motto when writing these soul filled stories....You seem to be bent upon touching that chord in every reader and wake up his sleeping or lazy conscience:)
    Enjoyed reading this story. It showcases one of the biggest weakness in a person, to envy and want what the other has. Besides that, it also throws light upon sibling rivalry, which is very common, unfortunately. Then there is the social injustice...the rich and the poor of the world.
    We go about our lives getting disappointed with little inconveniences we might face in life and forget that many do not even have the basic necessities of life. Malathi's visit to the plumber brought back some memories . Whenever we visit India, it is always an added load of work for either my mom or sister with whom we reside during our vacation. They engage a cook to ease the work on the woman of the household. One such cook suddenly did not show up one day and my mom was flustered and worried as to how she would manage. I reassured her about finding a cook and after enquiring, went over to those tiny gullys in search for a cook. Like you describe, the whole area was stinking and it was one of the most unpleasant experiences for me, what with both sides of these narrow streets being used as public toilets. The doors of these little houses open up directly on to the streets and the children played around this mess. It did make me very sad and depressed and to this day I keep wondering why such basic necessities cannot be provided by our governments. These are public nuiscances and more than that, a health hazard. Many cooks reside in that area and even prepare snacks and sweets in their houses and sell them to the affluent. When an illenss sets in, it will not be confined only to those streets, it is bound to spread to the whole city and beyond. Lack of civic sense appalls me. Even while travelling, one can guess that the town is approaching by the smells that reach you ahead...Yaanai varum pinne, mani osai varum munne!!( credit for p'mozhi to Chitra!).
    Sorry for deviating a bit from the concerned topic.
    In this case, one plumber got help from a moved Malathi. But what can one Malathi do to change the scenario...I know, every drop maketh an ocean, all the same. Also, getting to the nitty grittys...I wonder if the plumber has the permission to build a toilet on the premises??!!

    Your ever skeptical...Kamla:)
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2006
  9. varalotti

    varalotti IL Hall of Fame

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    Well said, Vandhana!

    Dear Vandhana,

    It is the evil of comparison that lies at the root of many problems. It manifests in cases like this as sibling rivalry, in many cases as "Keep up with the Joneses" syndrome, jealousy at workplace, at house, and this evil leads to plain rivlary and at times brutal crimes.

    Another theory which I found very useful to practise and which makes me peaceful at the end of the day is that every one is very loving and caring at the very core of their being. Having wrong attitudes, evil comparisons results in sediments accumlating over the core. Gradually the core becomes invisible what we see is just the ugly sediments. Like the moss in a watery area.

    God does not allow us to live like that. He sends persons, incidents our way that we are suddenly jolted out of our unreal living and shed the accumlated sediments. A visit to Plumber Raj's house was a similar even to Malathi. If Malathi had not learnt her lesson while visiting her Plumber's house, then God and Nature would have sent some more powerful incidents her way and make her realise. We call that suffering. But it is we who invite suffering with our attitudes and our insensitivity.

    What Roopa would have done? I would rather leave that to the fertile imagination of my creative readers like you. Just think it over and then post what would have been Roopa's reaction had she undergone a similar experience. Or better still imagine what would have been Roopas reaction when she hears about her sisters act of loving charity. I would be thankful if you could post that in this thread itself.
    Thanks, Vandhana, for the participation.
    regards,
    sridhar
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2006
  10. varalotti

    varalotti IL Hall of Fame

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    You made me think, as usual!

    Dear Kamla,

    When there are several fertile areas to ponder, to think over and to introspect, I love to reply point by point. I can then use the numbers as well. (கணக்குப் பிள்ளையில்லையா?)
    01) Before touching that chord in every reader and waking up her conscience, I very badly need to touch that chord in myself and wake up my conscience.

    02) Most of my stories are my experiences sufficiently embellished. My creativity lies in embellishment and Gods creativity is there in providing such incidents. The plumber Raj in this story is modelled after the plumber who did our house work when we reconstructed it in 1991. His name was Kanakaraj. I was on a shoe-string budget at that time and could not do so many things which I very much wanted to do. (The irony is that now I have the money but don't have the desire fo those things which I wanted at that time.) The Infinitely Graceful God heard my silent prayer, read my thoughts and wanted to teach me a lesson. (How blessed I am!) The plumber did not turn up for work for two days. And I had to go to his house to find out the reason. Whatever Malathi saw in that slum is stark reality. I had to tone down a bit considering the sensibilities of the readers. That relieved me of a lot of excess mental baggage I had been carrying till then.

    03) Now, Madam, I beg to differ on the issue of social injustice. I would rather say if all of us had equal wealth, then, that would be the greatest social injustice. We are so different in our skillsets and more important than that our attitudes. And The Most Just God gives us a station in life that befits our attitude. I have seen people who are really rich. Even in difficult circumstances the class would show. As we say in Tamil,
    கெட்டாலும் மேல் மக்கள் மேல் மக்களே, சங்கு சுட்டாலும் வெண்மை தரும்.
    And in my quarter century of professional practice I have also seen rich people becoming poor. Invariably poverty first comes to their mind and soon their circumstances reflect it. I may sound philosophical; but what I state is a plain fact.
    04) Another point where I would like to supplement (and also to supplant) what you have stated is about one Malathy. As a writer, as a person I am always concerned with one person. If one person changes the world changes. JK summed up the entire wisdom in his famous aphorism "You are the world." I hope you are still reading my book Vetriyin Vidhaikal. There will be an incident about a person throwing back the fish into the sea to save their lives. And please remember the answer given by that person when some one questions him, "There are millions and millions of fish dying like this in millions and millions of beaches the world over. What's the point in saving a handful of them?"
    05) Finally coming to the nitty gritty. Well in this yours truly has no choice but to admit defeat. I was so carried away by Malathi's gesture that I did not think about the nitty gritties. Let us hope that they were worked out amicably and Malathi's gesture conferred the intended benefit on the donee.

    Thanks for the post, Kamla, (Continue to be skeptical, please. I in my enthusiasm might go overboard. Only skeptical persons can save me then.)
    sridhar
     

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