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--Continued Section C.|
Ram first paid the store-owner's son to settle his accounts up-to-date and then suddenly remembered to pick up coconuts for home. There were a few people in line behind him - a couple of them were known to Ram too. One of them, Sampath, had a parent suddenly fall seriously ill and unexpected expenses came along. He was there to plead for more time. Ram greeted him and inquired about his ill parent. That man seemed a bit ashamed for Ram to see him in this situation.
Ram went over and they spoke softly. Ram figured that the amount owed by that man could not be much more than what Ram himself had paid. He decided to do something and tried to come up with a way to do it without appearing patronising or putting that man in a spot. Ram gently called him over to one side as he picked up a couple of coconuts at the isolated end of an aisle. He grabbed a handful of currency from his find and held it rolled up in his fist behind his back.
"How is your mother doing? I heard she was seriously ill. I have been meaning to come over and visit. She has been wonderful to us ever since we were young. I remember her fondly, the dishes and treats she made for us. I have always wanted to do something for her. Please, do let me. It will be an honour and privilege. I will not have you refuse me," Ram pleaded and thrust a small bundle of notes into his hands and pressed it firmly shut. Ram looked him in the eye and held his resisting hand.
Sampath was moved to tears. He had known Ram since they were young teenagers. He was surprised and dazed at Ram's gesture. He started to protest and blabber, but Ram said to him, firmly '"Go now! I will visit your home tomorrow" and pushed him away. That man looked up briefly to the heavens and mouthed a thank you to God, went towards the store-owner's son. Ram felt a sudden high and a rush of feeling of having some power to change people's situation. It was an unfamiliar, strange feeling.
Ram quickly paid for the coconuts with his 'own money' to a shop assistant, picked up a couple of extra empty brown paper bags that were used to give loose or measured quantities of groceries at the store and walked out. He wandered slowly, taking his time towards his friend Kathik's house. A strange and different feeling came over Ram as he pondered what he had done. He had never splurged in his life. He had never been in a position to give away money generously without it affecting his welfare. Now he felt like fate had given a chance to experience just that. He had not used his 'lucky money' on himself so far and felt good about having given it to two persons he felt were deserving and in need. He had a strong resistance to the thought of using it on himself or his own family. Before he realised it, he found himself at the doorstep of his friend Karthik's house - a small two bedroom flat with a kitchen and living area, much like Ram's own home.
Karthik was a few years older than Ram and a long time friend since his childhood. He had, since recently, needed a walking stick to get around. He had some untreatable problem with his legs and balance. He worked as an accountant - now mostly from home. He was always a cheerful person. His wife and grown-up children were all infected with his spirit of smiling through life - through all ups and downs. It seemed they were always confronted with some major challenge or the other, even more than most that Ram knew, but they had a characteristic stoic and happy nature. It made Ram always feel happy to know them and also often feel more fortunate by comparison. Ram and Karthik often had long chats and talks, sometime late into the night on both personal and neutral topic from sports or philosophy. They could talk about anything with each other. Their wives and family always knew and understood. Karthik's youngest son was in the last year of high school and working hard to get into a professional course at university. He had a daughter, his oldest child who was in her late twenties, still single, a sweet affectionate girl who was developmentally challenged in some psychological way. He had another son who was away in another city, just starting his first job as an accountant.
Karthik stood for a moment, taking in the sights, sounds and the smell of freshly made food being served as they were having dinner. Since before the days the telephone became common and affordable, Karthik and Ram were traditional friends who never needed to call ahead or even knock on the door. They could just wander in any time into each other's house. They were both thoughtful, considerate and it worked out well between them.
"Hey Kathikeya!" shouted Ram and entered the house as he found the front door shut not locked. It was typical those days when people locked their doors only for the night before going to bed. Ram shut the door behind him.
"Hey Ram!" yelled back Karthik.
"Come in Ram-Anna, come join us for dinner," Karthik's wife called out.
"I already ate dinner," Ram said, setting down his bag next to his footwear which he took off near the door. He then walked into the dining area where the family sat at the dining table. It was unusual in those days - they had got a dining table since Karthik's problem with his legs had gotten worse and he could not easily squat down and get up.
"Come on, at least taste a little bit. Give us company. Rekha made egg-plant roast today," Karthik's wife insisted and motioned her youngest son to move over with his plate to make space for Ram.
"Only a little bit, just to taste," Ram relented - he knew it was futile to resist.
Karthik's wife quickly got up, washed the hand she was eating with at the sink near by, wiped her hands clean, grabbed a rag, quickly swiped clean the area the son had vacated, set a new plate, pushed a spare chair up to it.
Ram washed his hands at the sink and sat down next to Karthik and looked around. All cheerful faces, smiling and happy to see him.
"How are things? What are you up to, Chinna?" Ram addressed the youngest son.
"Fine, Uncle! I am preparing hard for my exams," he said trying to finish chewing his bite before talking.
"And what about you, Rekha?" Ram looked towards Karthik's girl who sat across the table.
"All fine. I made the roast curry today!"
The girl smiled proudly, nodded and smiled. Everyone resumed their eating.
Ram ate slowly and complimented Rekha on the excellent taste of the egg-plant roast. Conversation flowed and Ram caught up on the happenings in Karthik's family' life. He noted that Kathik was scheduling a trip for some medical tests and some professional therapy a coiuple of months ahead. Obviously, Karthik could not afford to pay for it right away and was saving up. It was never said explicitly, but Ram could figure these things out. It was that way between the two. Both never complained about their finances to each other or expected anything. If they felt it was possible for them to help they did so quietly on their own initiative.
Ram was in some ways relieved to hear about Karthik's situation. He felt a bit guilty about that feeling too - it meant his friend be in some misery or difficulty so that he could help out.
Dinner was soon over. Karthik's family waited after Ram and Karthik had stood up and washed up at the sink, so that there was no crowding or rush or line. As the two men wandered over to the living room to sit down, the daughter and son of Karthik tried to beat each other to the sink and got an admonition from the mother for behaving like wild beasts in front of the house guest.
"I'll make coffee," Karthik's wife called out.
"Karthik, I have come to give you something. Please do not refuse it. I know if you were in my situation, you would have done the same for me," said Ram seeing they were both alone for a while.
"What are you talking about?" Karthik asked.
Ram went to his bag near the front door, pulled out a sizeable bundle, put it one of the brown paper bags he had picked up at the store. He did not count or have any idea how much it was. He did not want to know. He folded the paper bag close, walked over to Karthik and handed it to him.
"What is this?" Karthik asked without opening it.
"Look, I want you to arrange that therapy earlier, as soon as you can. I am in a position to do this for you now. Don't ask what or why. Just take it and go to the therapy," said Ram.
Karthik had opened the bag and took a peak inside. His eyes opened wide. He quickly recovered his composure.
"What? Have you won the lottery? or found a treasure? or did your rich uncle pass away and left you a bit of money?" he asked in a joking tone.
"Well, consider it something like that," said Ram, starting to feel a little uncomfortable and not wanting to answer in detail then. He was hoping Karthik would stop, considering the many years of implicit trust between them. It worked. Karthik just looked a bit surprised, for a moment his eyes glistened with a little moisture.
"Thanks da, Ram," he said with his voice quavering just a little. He blinked hard and in a couple of seconds he was back to his old calm self. He set the bag aside under a side table nearby.
They spoke a little about the news and coffee arrived with some seasonal sweets served by Karthik's kids. Ram and Karthik drank and ate up.
"Its getting late. I should be going back. I shall see you again later. Tell me how things go. Rekha, the egg-plant roast was delicious. You should make it again someday at my place," Ram said.
Karthik waved goodbye sitting. His wife and the kids came to see Ram off at the door and finally lock up after Ram was out of sight. It was considered rude to shut the door while the guest was still within sight.
-Continued Section D.
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