by Vaman Acharya
After retirement from the Central Government service, Ram Kumar had decided to stay in Bangalore. He cultivated a regular practice of sitting on the terrace early in the morning with a cup of coffee and the day's news paper. He was a proud owner of a small bungalow, located in the prime locality with a garden of coconut trees. He was happily leading a peaceful retired life with his beloved wife Seeta. He had deposited the entire amount of his retirement benefits in the bank and was managing the monthly expenditure from his pension. He had two grown up sons. The elder son was a practicing doctor in UK, and the younger one was a software engineer in USA. Both were married and settled there, respectively.
One day, as usual, in the morning he went to the terrace with the news paper in his hand and asked his wife to bring filtered coffee for him. She was back with the coffee within five minutes. Kumar was enjoying the aroma of the coffee taste and reading the news paper simultaneously. Seeta wanted to spend some time by chatting with him, but knowing his nature, she changed her mind and climbed down to the ground floor.
Ram Kumar had a peculiar habit to consume one sip of coffee and read few lines. By the time, he consumed the whole cup of coffee, the front page would be over and keep the other pages to read leisurely during the day time. He had consumed few sips; there was a calling bell sound.
Seeta attended to the door bell and informed her husband to come down as someone wanted to meet him. He consumed the remaining coffee and went to see the person. He was a young man of 30 years and known as a road side coconut water vendor. Kumar was in the habit of drinking tender coconut water from his shop daily. He had almost become a regular customer. It was a fascinating scene for Kumar to watch the guy to lop the top and drill a hole with the tip of his knife and handing it to the customer with a straw to drink. To promote his sales, he was in the habit of convincing the customers the benefits of drinking coconut water. Kumar used to stay there for some time to watch his sales.
"What do you want young man?" Without opening the door, Kumar asked from the window.
"Sir, your coconut trees have full of tender coconuts. It is proper time to pluck them. If you permit me, I want to pluck the coconuts and purchase for my business purpose."
"Do you know the art of plucking? Have you ever climbed the tall tree and toss the tender coconuts to the ground safely?" asked Kumar to know about his skill.
"Yes sir! I know the art perfectly. I have so far climbed a number of trees. If you want you may enquire other persons with whom, I have already dealt with plucking tender coconuts. The contact numbers with their names are in my diary." He handed the diary.
Ram Kumar believed him and decided to entrust the work without verification and discrete enquiry. Considering his poor economic condition, Ram Kumar agreed to take whatever reasonable price which was offered by him. Kumar was simple, honest and helping the poor.
During his 35 years of service in the Income Tax Department, he had never accepted bribe. He served in the department in different capacities. At the fag end of his service, he was officer in the refunds section. He used to settle the cases strictly as per the norms without expecting bribe. Because of this, he had enjoyed a very good respect among colleagues including top officials. Kumar, instead of going to terrace, sat in the drawing room and continued reading the news paper. His intention was to supervise the plucking of coconut. There were 20 trees in the garden. All the trees were bearing tender coconut fruits. It was not an easy job to pluck the coconut, because it involved full concentration. The guy commenced his work. The trees were given serial numbers 1 to 20. He was successful in tossing all the tender coconuts to the ground in the first tree. When he wanted to climb down, unfortunately he lost the balance and fell on the ground from the top of the tree.
Seeta heard the horrible sound of falling down. Out of fear, she came out and saw the pathetic condition of the man. She immediately ran to her husband and reported the matter. He rushed to the spot and witnessed the seriousness of the situation. He became dumb for some time not knowing how to proceed further. It was a shocking incident for him. He was recollecting his experiences with the guy for the last one year.
Realizing her husband's condition, Seeta encouraged him to be bold to face the situation. She was very much worried of her husband as he was a BP
Kumar however, got an inspiration and strength from his wife's supporting words. Without wasting time, Kumar telephoned the nearest doctor to visit his house. After five minutes, the doctor had arrived and examined the patient. Knowing the seriousness of the patient's condition he advised Kumar to admit him to a hospital immediately. Kumar managed to get an ambulance in a couple of minutes. By the time the patient reached the hospital, he was declared as dead.
This unexpected development had created problems to Kumar. He was terribly shaken by the ghastly incident. Seeta was with her husband every moment, consoling and giving him strength. The news of the guy's death spread like a wild fire in the city. The deceased person's wife came to the hospital. She was weeping and crying at the top of her voice on the death of her husband. Kumar was in deep trouble. He didn't know how to overcome this problem. By then, other family members of the deceased too arrived with a local advocate and leader of the weaker sections.
"Sir, the man to whom you have entrusted the job was unskilled. You would have come to know, when he gave his diary to you for verification. He was under the false impression that he would pluck all the coconut without any problem. Of course, what he said was a lie. But before entrusting such a risky job, you should have taken proper care and satisfy fully about the credibility of the man. Let the dead body be buried first and settle the matter thereafter," said the advocate to Kumar.
Kumar returned back to his house along with his wife. Both were undergoing psychological pressure due to the unexpected situation.
The dead body was buried in the burial ground. A big crowd was gathered in the burial ground to pay their last homage to the deceased. Everything was over within three hours. The self styled leader and advocate rushed to Kumar's house. The family members of the deceased accompanied him. Kumar and his wife were in deep trouble.
"Sir, I've worked out a solution in the interest of both the parties," said the advocate looking straight to his eyes.
"Let me know the details of solution." Kumar was eager to know his answer.
"It is a death case. If the family members lodged a complaint with the police, you will be subject to enquiry. Police will ask you a number of questions and you should be in a position to provide convincing replies to them. Why all this? I will convince the family of deceased not to lodge a complaint with the police. Deceased person had two wives and an old mother. You have to make arrangement for compensation to three members of the deceased family plus other expenses." said the advocate and waited for Kumar's reaction.
At this stage, Seeta intervened, "What is our crime to pay compensation to all these people?"
"Madam, if you want to fight legally to prove that you are innocent, I don't have any objection. But in legal battle, your chances of winning the case are remote. You have to spend a lot of money to engage a lawyer. Besides, you will lose your peace of mind and tension will remain until the judgment is pronounced in the court. My personal advice to you is to settle this issue out of court."
Ram Kumar was silent for some time, and then asked the advocate to prepare a list of payment required to be given to the concerned persons. Seeta was not expecting such a decision from her husband. She called her husband inside to discuss about the payment.
"Kumar, I don't understand your commitment to pay compensation to the the entire family!"
"Seeta, you know my nature very well. I don't want to drag this affair for a long time, at our old age. No purpose would be served if I go to court of law. It would be nothing but an invitation for the tension. Our health is more important than money. Please help me to come out of this situation."
"Your thinking is perfectly alright. We have no other option except to agree to their terms." Seeta reluctantly agreed.
After their brief discussion, they came out of the room and told the advocate to prepare the details for making payment. The advocate was not expecting the matter would be settled so quickly.
"I need a week's time to arrive at the payment figure," said the advocate.
"Okay, please don't take more time." Kumar reminded him.
After one week, the advocate came with the details of payment to be made to each person and a written agreement between the parties on a stamp paper. Accordingly, Ram Kumar paid the amount to the individuals by issuing separate cheques. When the cheques were honoured in the bank, he lost substantial amount from his retirement benefits.
His only consolation was Seetha, his loving wife who stood with him as a friend, philosopher and guide, even in his bad time.