Sharmaji was never known for his munificence. About a decade back, he had retired from the electricity department, but was still as powerful as ever in his dealings. In fact, he had earned himself a bad name for haggling with almost everyone he dealt with. The neighbours were now used to hearing him bargain boisterously with vegetable vendors, and even shoemakers he caught hold of every now and then to get his wornout brown suede shoes repaired.
So when Sharmaji came to my house one fine morning with a cheque book in hand, I was taken by surprise. I was struggling hard to wash my scratched and battered vintage-looking car before the water supply went off. The sponge was still soaked in soap, when the tap-tap-tap of Sharmaji’s rickety walking stick announced his unceremonious arrival, even before I could see his frail frame resting against the newly painted wall of my house.
His weather-beaten, sun-baked face was looking older than usual, with anxiety apparently escalating the depth of furrows on his darkened forehead. His silvery hair needed a cut and the harsh stubs on the face gave him an unkempt appearance. I could make out from the constant shifting of his eyes that he had something on his mind.
Pulling the cheque book out of his off-white kurta with his wobbly right hand, Sharmaji forced a smile before saying, ‘Here’s something for the Kerala flood victims. But before I hand over the cheque to you, I have a condition.’Of course, he would not do anything without a proviso. He even purchased vegetables on the condition of getting coriander free. Rumours suggest he even married on the stipulation of getting a scooter. Those were the days when the waiting period could drive you to despair. Come on Sharmaji, spill the beans!
‘Well, I do not want my name to appear anywhere. The Tribune has always been active in helping out sufferers, be it the J&K flood victims, or the people of Uttarakhand. Only your aunty knows I have never hesitated. But I do not want any credit for it.’
His assertion took me by surprise. Of all the people, Sharmaji parting with money, and that too for nothing! Pocketing the cheque, I made some vague promise about doing the needful.
I pondered what made a saver part with his money. Was it the universality of the tragedy that gives us the jitters of its recurrence with us as victims, or was it a deep sense of empathy for those suffering, thousands of miles away?
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