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The Shattered Vanity

Short Story by Prarthana Gogoi

It was a lazy Sunday evening. A smell of spicy, freshly made cooked potatoes came from the kitchen adjacent to the shop and it reached Jodu's flat snub nose. Wearing a shawl to drive away the shivering cold of the chilly winter, Jodu prepared things for the next day in his little shop that sells utensils and other kitchen and home accessories. Jodu expected more customers the next day as  the wedding season knocked at the door. He placed the newly brought things  in an artistic way to catch the attention of the customers.  There was a pond behind his shop and then a paddy field stretching out to a long distance. The cold wind blown from the paddy field crashing through the dry leaves of the coconut trees passed through the tiny holes of the window and shattered him badly. Yet the bitter cold could not stop Jodu working more.

Joduram runs a utensil shop of bell and brass metal in the small town. This time Jodu visited the industry of bell metal, Sarthebari himself and collected a wide variety of utensils and decorative items. He knows the parents of the bride will come for purchasing utensils of bell and brass metal. It is customary for the brides to take utensils of bell metal to her in-laws house. Jodu wonders observing that the Assamese do have a crazy fascination for bell and brass metal products, mainly the utensils and sarai  and batta.

Joduram did not move instead of his wife, Renuka's  several calls. His wife rushed to him, "Dinner is ready. I cannot wait more. Come, take bath and have dinner."

"It will take half an hour more. Tomorrow is the market day. I have to manage the things today itself." Joduram said without having a look on her.

She mutters, "Work, work and work. You'll forget yourself one day. I kept the hot water ready for your bath. I'll  be busy with my TV serials. "

Renuka left scornfully, after taking a hot bath she sat lazily to watch her favourite serial, a melodrama that deals with ups and downs of a joint family. Her  daughter was beside her, she too joined her mother covering herself from head to toe with a small quilt that serves as a shawl.

Jodu runs a small paan shop in front of his shop. He works till midnight in preparing the dry betel nuts for each next day. His paan shop drives a lot of healthy and rich customers. He sells the cigarette too, the most branded ones.

Some past memories flashed through his mind like a movie. Working hard since his childhood in the paddy fields through out the seasons, in summer raising rice and in winter raising the master seeds and other pulses and lentils, Jodu learns the art of farming. For the first time he peeped outside from his village taking admission to the 8th standard in the new school of the town carrying the dream of a life filled with glory and pride. The school was about 10 kms away from his village. Paddling hard while going to school in his hero bicycle, Jodu joined an army of young boys and they used to have fun on the streets and enjoy all the entertainments going on the town throughout the seasons.

Jody's hero bicycle does not come from ready income. By selling poultries and vegetables, his father bought this bicycle for him nurturing in him an image of an gentleman. His village reminds him all of his childhood joys and sorrows, the memories of the happy and mischievous days, his rambling through the woods and frolics in the pregnant water of the Disang river with his barefooted friends, and their hard struggle to face the scary wind of premonsoon, the Bordoicilla in each year before the advent of spring.

Jodu joined the school of the town carrying  the image of gentleman, either a teacher or a clerk in an office. In their extended family only one of their cousins works in Indian army who fascinated Jodu and their brothers and sisters with his flamboyant outfits wearing with a round cap when he was coming on long leave. The first TV to their village was brought by his cousin Bhagwan Kakai and all the villagers ran to his house to watch the serials like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. During festivals, mostly in Durga Pujja or Deepawali they enjoyed some Hindi movies in the black and white TV.  Jodu's eyes caught the telecom powder, soaps and perfumes that their Bhagwan Kakai comes with each time, saying him he would bring a perfume for him. This next time never comes. Yet Jodu was happy when Bhagwan Kakai promised him a wrist watch when he passed the 10th board exams with flying colours. Jodu harbours a dream of a job since then when his cousin made several false promises.

During recreation or after school Jodu used to have a paratha at the  Dey Tea Shop, a famous one in the busy locality. The owner is Abani Dey, a migrant from Bengal, who with a flowing beard used to sit lazily in his tall wooden chair, he peeped into the customers through his heavy frame spectacles, he was a round little man with a heavy stomach. A hub of a market and some shops, this small town seemed like a jovial city for Jodu and his friends where all the happenings of life seen rather than their small village.

There were only a few dishes served in his tea shop, like Samosha, paratha and a few sweet dishes. The customers were mostly the school goers and villagers who came for weekly shopping or for selling their vegetables and other home made products.  Usually on the market day the tea shop is full of hustle and bustle, the boys engaged in  the tea shop worked there like the tongs of a machine flowing their gamosha on the neck in a heroic style.

 Jodu and the army of young lads are the regular visitor, one day the hotel owner asked his name,

 " What is your name, boy?"

Joduram was excited thinking that  the owner gave him an eye. The owner asked him to search a boy for him who could work like his assistant. After a few days  the owner of the tea shop asked Jodu again, " Do you find someone? He replied, "If you want, I can work for you." Thereafter Joduram stayed with him first working at his tea stall as a part time waiter after coming from school, sometimes he would manage the accounts sitting on the chair of his master. A fortune wraps Jodu. Gradually he became a trusted person for the owner for his hard work and faithful service.

After passing his class XII board exam with second division, Jodu's education life literally ended. His master suffered from an old age ailment and one night died suddenly without suffering a single minute.

 After the death of Abani Dey, Jodu became the owner of all his properties legally. Owning the chair of the tea shop as well as the properties, Jodu, a rag became rich in a day. What a destiny it is! When Jodu became the owner of his master's properties, his relatives and friends felt jealous of him yet hovering around him.

 Building some rent houses from bamboos and thatched roof near his shop, Jodu utilised the empty land to throw on rent. The empty dusty house became a busy hotspot with several vendors_a tea shop, a paan shop, and a sweet shop. Joduram discontinued his tea shop and replaced it with a bell and brass metal utensil one along with various things used in a kitchen.  When his business rose to a high level, Jodui got married to a girl of his choice but hardly he welcomed a visitor. Avoiding his parents, relatives and now after marriage his in-laws family, Jodu became a miser literally. Without having leisure time for himself and his family, he slogged during daylight as well as night.

Recalling his memories, Jodu thinks he can spare his hard-earned money for his daughters and wife only not even for his parents. When he was ready to work on the teashop, his parents didn't hesitate to offer their son as a waiter, none of the relatives came to offer him any support. When someone comes to ask for money, Jodu thinks, "oh, the wretched relatives!

At first Renuka opposed, "You avoid people! You never visit your friends and relatives. No one will come for your funeral."

Jodu refuted her, " When I was poor, no one gave me a penny. "

The wall clock struck 10. Some noises came from the nearby kitchen of the tea shop. The boys were baking sweets in the fireplace singing and gossiping.

 Putting the things in each and every vacant place, Jodu worked till 11 pm.

The Short story continues here....