No formal introduction is required. This is a story I wrote a while back but never really let it out. Matter of fact I’m quite embarrassed about it, because, let’s face it, it doesn’t have many car accidents or dead Prime Ministers. Despite that, it’s the sort of story we can all learn a bit from, and those are the worst-best kind of stories. Let it begin.
Venkatesh was an okay person.
He wasn’t too smart, but he considered himself ‘not too smart’, and that’s what made him smart. He was more or less the median of every curve. He was the beige of colours, the Toyota Camry of cars, the macaroni and cheese of foods; the Billy Ray Cyrus of pop music. Wonderfully average, and that’s what made him unique.
So the opposite of this man.
One day he was thinking about clouds and what colour clouds would be if they were made of cyanide. He wasn’t very bad at multitasking, and so he was able to walk a comfortable pace while thinking about such things while just about to walk around a corner. He took some time to notice his surroundings. The trees swayed from side to side in the modest summer wind. People around him minded their own business as they walked in different directions; they all had a family, a life, ambitions, prejudices, favourites, decisions to make; the whole lot. And yet they were all so similar. Each was a person he didn’t know or didn’t care about, and yet each was a person Venkatesh could learn so much from. They each had skills that they took advantage of, or didn’t know about altogether. They each worried, they each had cried, both of laughter and sadness. Old and short, young and tall, they all were different, yet basically the same. The two way footpath traffic diminished while he made his way towards the suburban streets leading to his house
A street ahead, he caught sight of his classmate Gopinath. They waved to each other and shared pleasantries. In other words, they asked each other what was up and both said “nothing much” without failing to end their sentence with “man”. They were heading in the same direction, and they talked a bit about a video game they both were playing. Gopinath and Venkatesh shared similar interests. They weren’t the best of friends, but being young boys, they weren’t very interested in forming enmity with anyone and so they talked a bit here and there. A minute or two later, Venkatesh stopped.
It was his phone. He checked it. It was just a message from his service provider of some offer he wasn’t interested in. He put the phone back into its habitat, his trouser pockets. He walked a few feet before someone interrupted his pace.
The boy was slightly younger than Venkatesh. They had never seen him before. He was panting as he asked Venkatesh, “Sir, could I please use your phone? I left my phone and wallet on the bus and I need to inform my father.”
Venkatesh was perplexed. He’d weighed in the pros and cons within a second. The chain of consequences starting from this situation branched on like an aged tree; some landed on normalcy, some on happiness, a few on thievery and a few on death. But then again, every chain of events has a branch that lands on death. The boy looked up at him eagerly awaiting a response, his eyes gleaming with desperation. Venkatesh grew up in a family where everyone helped each other, and his religion coupled with his upbringing brought him to give the needy boy his phone.
The boy gave him a look of thankfulness and thanked him. He held the phone in his hand and pressed a button. Then he ran off, faster than Venkatesh could register what had happened. By the time he realised, the boy had turned into the street on the right, probably never to be seen again. Venkatesh and Gopinath did not run after him. They were defeated, and he knew it.
He walked forward, still trying to let the feeling sink in. His phone was gone. He heard the noise of sandals running behind him and looked. A man slightly older than him introduced himself to Venkatesh as the boy’s older brother.
“I’m really sorry Raju did this to you. We come from a poor background, and being young he doesn’t fully realise his mistakes.” he explained. There was an air of understanding about this man, like he was tired of dealing with situations like these and had handled them for a while. “He’s probably going home. He’s very scared of his father, so if I call him and tell him, he’ll run and give back of your phone right away.” He asked for Gopinath’s phone. Gopinath gave it to him, and the man started pressing a few buttons. Then he ran off with the phone.
The two boys looked at each other without saying a word. Within two minutes, both their phones had gone from being in their pocket to being stolen. A masterful crime, perfectly executed.
A Story by the writer Upamanyu Acharya. He is an okay person too.