All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am. This day is when many embark on new journeys. Some start small time resolutions, some quit unhealthy habits and practices. I have to start being a man. I had always thought that I would live alone happily without your intervention. But being a loner that I am now, I do realize how insanely magnanimous you must have been to have lived through all those years selflessly, bringing about cheers in several lives. It’s more than impossible for me to fill in your boots. But as your son, I now promise from my heart that I will here on live as you did so. This is a pact between you and me and no one else should know this.“
It is the 31st of December 2016 and as the clock struck six, Selby woke up to the vintage Arihant’s onomatopoeic cling-clang. As the surprising chill climate continues its reign in Tamil Nadu, Chennai is gearing up for the New Year’s horizon. Selby sat up and began her day with the routine ‘glory of waking up’ tradition, banking on the gods of wealth, knowledge and creation. With the Fajr prayers said out loud from the Hafiz Ahmad Khan Mosque, the Canonical hours hymns chanted in the CSI All Saints Church and Vishnu Sahasranama played in the Parthasarathy Temple, not many places in India would have a more secular and spiritual start to any day as would the residents of Triplicane do on this day.
The trifecta of holy vibes infested Selby with all positivity that she had been yearning for, as she is on the cusp of attaining superannuation from her services to the Department of Social Welfare, State Government of Tamil Nadu. 39 years of selfless service, starting as a stenographer trainee, and albeit she couldn’t climb up high on the ladder of wealth, she was on par with the stratosphere if the stairs of respect would be taken into consideration. Her’s is a proud tenure of a dedicated lady staff in government services; one that has the credentials to bring down the shutters for misogynist words like workmanship. Yes, she does prefer workwomanship. One last working day and gone would be the glorious days of her career, as retirement beckons.
Selby lost both her parents when she was very young. She worked part time in various odd jobs to support her studies and got the job in State government services due to her will and determination. Working at unfavorable and unsuitable environments affected her health as she was diagnosed with asthma at the age of 34 in 1990. But she didn’t hold back and continued with her life. Selby has lived her whole life for juvenile kids. Though her work was that of a steno, she would spend her leisure time in educating the juvenile kids, paraphrasing difficult subjects in their basic education curriculum.
Back in 2000, she adopted a boy from the home of Chennai headquarters who was then just 12. The kid, Vijay, was put behind the bars for petty theft cases. Though the boy was nourished by Selby just like her own child, it is true that sometimes evil within cannot be uprooted by noble upbringing. May be through over his life, he never accepted Selby as her mother. Giving birth only makes a lady, a mother? There was a silence between Vijay and Selby which never broke between them. Selby did all her best to get Vijay enrolled in good quality schools but in vain. He did what he does best, small-scale robberies, and thrived on that as he felt his adoptive mother’s earnings were meagre to suit his lavish spending and hence didn’t bother to work in the honest ways for his bread and butter.
This year, Selby hoped and hoped strongly, that things will change. She is preparing herself for her swansong duty. She played her favourite Ilayaraja playlist on the CD player as she dresses up in her special yellow-white neatly pressed chiffon saree. She packed up her lunch and medicines and left for the bus stop. This is it. The feeling of parting from what has been her soul in the last four decades was getting to her.
As she boarded the bus, she started reminiscing her journey. The looking-simple and uncelebrated service journey, just like of several other working women all across the nation, was minute wise reaching its destination. She was recollecting how things have changed over the years in the same bus route she has been traveling all through these years. The bus conductors, drivers, the school kids, the college guys who would ogle at her when she was in her primes, the eye candy love proposals in the bus, etc.; the montage of all these was flashing in front of her eyes as she kept note of the bus stops that were in the route, just like she would do in her initial years. She takes intermittent pump-ins from her inhaler as other curious passengers in the bus watch on. She shared smiles with the familiar faces who were still strangers, the people she has seen for several years in the same bus route. A notable mental pain was creeping into her mind as she has never imagined her life beyond the boundaries, physical and mental, of her work domain.
As she reached her office, she first offered her prayers to the Lord Ganesh shrine at the entrance and lit an oil lamp as she does on every Saturdays. She mediated for a couple of minutes. She fed Robin, the dog whose 4 generations have been befriended by Selby, with biscuits as she always does and rushed towards the attendance cabin, the area where she has never been punctual to, though her efforts to avoid the same were genuine.
“Sorry sir, got little late today. There was traffic near Tank Bus Stop as telephone lines job was in progress“, she said to the attendance officer with the same worried tone that pops out every time she’s late. But as expected, the officer politely nodded and gave back a pleasant smile. None would scrutinize her for her late coming any day, leave alone this special day, as people saw lucid noble tributes in this lady and she had much more to offer to this organization than just her steno duty.
Minutes passed by and she could observe that time flew this day. There was a farewell party during tea-time and pleasantries were exchanged between her and all officers. She was this special lady whom others treated like a child and was unanimously the darling of the masses. All came towards her desk to personally wish her a healthy and prosperous retired life. Junior stenos took selfies with her. Even the Director of the office came forward and took blessings from her to the surprise of Selby herself. The day was proceeding in a strange fashion for Selby as she felt that all this was new and she was getting uncomfortable as time sped.
Come lunch, Selby took her food in her cabin alone, to the surprise of others, and left for the Medical Department. Mr. Mutthuraman, the chief medical officer, was one of the brightest in the area. He had huge regards for Selby and always said to her that she reminded him of her deceased mother. As she entered his cabin knocking, Mr. Mutthuraman at once stood up, hugged Selby and touched her feet and embraced her. Selby had written a letter for him.
“Please read this after 5PM today. Hopefully, will see you soon“, as she signed off and returned back to her seat.
It was 3 PM. Two hours to go for the D-time. Selby had completed her day’s task and she went on rounds to meet the kids in the ground. She embraced each one of them on route and gave them the home-made sweets and savories. A few minutes passed by and suddenly, she sat on the bench in the ground holding on to her chest. She was panting heavily and quickly clutched the inhaler from her bag and started taking in deep breaths.
It was 3.07PM and Selby fell on the floor. The kids nearby rushed and tried to wake her up. The office froze in shock. One of the most humane persons that this office has known has passed away on the day of her retirement. Some informed Mr. Mutthuraman about the incident. He came to the scene and tried his level best but the bitter truth had transpired by then. The crowd around wept hard. Everyone had stories about her to share. Some were reminded of Dr. Kalam and saw an analogy.
Mr. Mutthuraman went back to his cabin and wept hard. He tried to be unfazed but couldn’t. He took out Selby’s envelope.
“I’ve never imagined a life beyond this day. Ever since Vijay came into my life, I have tried to be a good mother and tried my level best to ensure that he doesn’t feel that I behaved like his adoptive mother. It’s been harsh on his part that he has been living life the wrong way and I’ve been backing him though it’s morally incorrect. I’ve tried all I could to get him various jobs but he wouldn’t join them citing insecurity as the reason. This soul has hitherto lived only to put smiles on the faces wherever possible. Asthma is deteriorating my health and I am feeling it. Going by this, I will manage to hang around for a few more years but for what purpose. I have made up my mind. I want to end all this. Today, I have mixed pepper powder in my inhaler and I’m breaking apart from this world. I want you to certify my death as natural. Kindly do this and this would enable my son to get a job in this noble service on compassionate grounds.
-The mother that never was“.
Mr. Mutthuraman broke into dead silence. He couldn’t believe what he just read. This was against his Hippocratic Oath. But he convinced himself that Selby’s request was something he shouldn’t refuse. He went to do as she had asked for and handed over the letter to Vijay in the evening. Jobs on compassionate grounds in government services are after all being overlooked by the government and are conned in several cases, he felt. If so many sly packs of wolves could get such jobs, a lie that would get one such job for this noble being’s son is the least that he could do for her.
As crackers creaked through the sky, songs played aloud, bikes rumbled along, the New Year was here and the city was upbeat. To have been so indifferent towards his mother hurt Vijay. He pondered on why such a decision was made by her. Things ahead seemed so gloomy for him. There was no way he could give her back for all she has done to him till now. He decided that the only penance will be taking up her job and trying to do at least a fractional margin of what his mother could do in her lifetime. They say it correct. No matter how old you get, sometimes you just need a hug from to make everything better. With tears in his eyes and a guilty heart, he turned towards his diary and started inking the page of 1st January 2017 and Starts with,
” Dear Diary!
plot reference from google.com