Its 8.30 of a Sunday morning. Though in these times of nationwide lockdown a Sunday is no different than a Monday, our protagonist Raju bhaiya, the security guard of ‘Omkar Co-operative Housing Society’ in suburban Mumbai opens the lock of the gate early on for any visitors to come in or insiders to go out and takes the liberty of sleeping a bit more, deriving some leisure in the cozy silence that Mumbai city adorns in the Sunday mornings.
But today is a double shift for him, and after grabbing some sleep in the wee hours, he took a long stroll around the building (his daily task), saw the green plants that are have grown so much, quietly, in these few months on the sideways, without anyone tending to them and then, stepped into his small 10/10 ft. security guard’s restroom, beside the front gate of the building and sat on his wooden chair. For a good 30 minutes, he kept staring at his left foot and his right arm, that have been particularly bitten by the mosquitoes last night. After staring aimlessly here and there for a few more minutes, he looked at his watch again. It was 9 o ‘clock now.
Raju was feeling sad and a bit restless today. His eyes were gloomy, his face hung low, his eyes set deep inside the sockets of his cheek bone, his long and thin hands drooping below, bereft of any energy. Sadness engulfed him.
Today is the 16th of May, 2020 and Raju has still not received his salary for the month of April. He was tossing and turning his mobile phone and then suddenly saw Mr. Pawar coming out of his ground floor flat towards the gate.
When Pawar came downstairs for getting his daily stock of vegetables this morning, Raju got up from his chair and after waiting patiently for all these days, Raju finally garnered the courage to ask the chairman of the society Mr. Pawar about his April’s salary. After the regular morning greetings, Raju asked for his salary with a lot of hesitation in his voice and a strange trepidation in his heart.
Mr. Pawar bore an extremely irritable look and as soon as Raju broached the topic of his salary, he veered ahead pushing Raju a few inches behind. A sudden air of fright gripped Raju.
“You think things in the building compound would keep getting stolen every now and then and we will keep paying you your salary on time?” hollered Mr. Pawar.
“Kaahe sir? hum to thik se apna kaam kiyen hain”, replied Raju in his usual timid voice. (Why would you not give me my salary sir? I did my work perfectly well).
“Thik se kaam kiya hai? Mr. Pawar screamed at him and began hurling expletives. He was visibly angry. Almost the entire building heard him shouting at Raju. Raju’s mind whirled 360 degrees, unable to make a sense of anything.
“Sir, hum samjhe nahi. Koi bhul chuk ho gaya hai to bataiye sir”, said Raju. (I didn’t understand sir, please let me know if there has been any misses from my end).
“Ab ye natak band kar. Kaamchor kahika! (stop pretending you careless moron)
“How did Srikar’s bicycle go missing from the compound?” asked Pawar raising his voice a few notches higher.
Raju immediately looked at the cycle stand. Yes, the blue cycle wasn’t around.
He looked at Pawar with a blank face, scared and guilt ridden. “Cycle chori ho gaya sir?” asked Raju.
“What else? When we have such responsible guards like you, this is bound to happen.”
By now, many in the building started peeking out of their windows to make out of the raging hullaballoo outside.
It has been 3 months already that the lockdown kept everyone huddled in their rooms, without a moment of respite, in the often jam-packed 1 bedroom or 2 bedroom flats of Mumbai. Together with all the pent up frustration of the ongoing lockdown and the theft that was discovered in the morning, Pawar became a force to reckon with!
“Dekh Raju, last time when Mrs. Desai’s scootie went missing, I had gone against everyone in the society and pleaded to them saying that you are new at your job and only Rs. 1000 was deducted from your salary, but this time, I will not help you anymore. No salary for you this time. That is your only punishment.” Pawar said in one breath, decidedly.
Raju was aghast! The suddenness of everything was too overwhelming. He couldn’t speak much, nor could he think much.
He kept staring at the spot where Mr. Srikar’s cycle used to be stranded.
“We give employment to people like you, give you money on time and you cannot even do your work properly. Watching YouTube and doing Facebook all the time. Koi paisa nahi milega”. Saying this, Mr. Pawar slung his small black bag by his side and walked away.
Raju stood there like a stone, tears welled up in his eyes.
For the past 2 months he has been planning to leave the city for his village in Allahabad, but has been unable to. First, there was no provision to do so, conveyance wasn’t in place, later on he was asked to stay for a week more by Mr. Pawar so that they can arrange for another guard, and this one week rolled into weeks together. And now when he is about to give the money to that driver Rakesh to reserve a seat for his travel back home, he was told that he would have no money. His savings have been minimum this time due to additional expenses back home, how will he manage without his salary?
As fresh tears flowed out of his eyes, Raju quickly wiped them with his shirt’s wrist collar as they threatened to roll down his cheeks.
He walked a few steps and stood infront of the place where the bicycle used to be stranded and gazed at the emptiness of spot.
“If Srikar sir forgives me, Pawar sir might give me some money this month so that I can travel back home. Let him cut the rest of the money, may be that is the rightful the punishment for my carelessness.” Thought Raju and slowly started walking towards Block B, flat No. 304 – Mr. Srikar’s house, to seek apology.
Though his heart and mind were too occupied to focus on anything, he mentally tried hard to rehearse the words and sentences that he wished to say to Mr. Srikar.
On reaching the door of the flat, Raju gingerly pressed on the calling bell. The door opened. Mrs. Srikar stood on the other end.
To be continued….
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