Short Story: Baku’s Vendor
Baku was studying when he heard the sound of water gushing forth outside his hut. Water was a scarcity and necessity for him and his family as his fourteen years of struggle had taught him not to waste anything. It was coming from a posh apartment that stood a furlong away from his thatched hut. His hut was open to the wiles of nature and the rich men who were repulsed by the sight of the lone hut at the end of their lane, frequently dumping their garbage in the vicinity. Affliction was an uncommon sight among them and they chose to look away, fearing they would be plagued too if they so much as looked at the hut.
Baku’s father, Kadu was a chain-smoker and a habitual drinker. He would beat his wife up every day as Baku protested in vain and wailed, crying out loud as his mother winced in pain. Her name was Sakamma and went to the apartment for housekeeping, serving as a maid at one of the flats. His mother always told him to become someone powerful and support his family.”The rich are powerful, but our values are more powerful, so we are strong at heart and mind. Use this power, Baku otherwise they will ‘assassinate’ our humble thoughts” she would tell him as she put him to sleep, tenderly stroking his head.
His father refused to work when he was fired from a car-driver’s job when Baku was ten. The reason was that his father was drunk and verbally abused his employer at the time. Whenever Baku’s mother would persuade him to get a job, he’d start harassing and torturing her. Baku felt traumatized and was forced to take up menial jobs in order to get by.
Baku was a good student and tried not to let his family issues get in the way of his studies. His teachers were rude to him because he would come disheveled, in torn uniforms. He realized the importance of studying well and earning for his family, more so for his mother. He began to dislike Kadu with each passing day.
In class 8, he was called to the Principal’s chamber. “Baku, take a seat and stop twiddling your thumbs!” Mr. Kumar roared. “Sorry sir”, he uttered and timidly sat down. “What would you like to become, Baku?” asked the Principal. “A civil servant, sir” retorted Baku as the Principal asked him again dismissing his earlier answer with disdain. Baku shot back, echoing his earlier reply without any hesitation as the Principal considered his answer.
“You should know that in your class you have done well but government servant? Why Baku? Do you want the system to be in tatters? You’d rather be a servant in a government school”, Kumar guffawed along with his Deputy who followed everything that the Principal did, adding to the decibel level. ”Sir, I want to change the system. I want the guilty punished tantamount to their crime!” Baku said agitatedly. “Then you should first punish yourself!” Kumar remarked, giving out one of his derisive snorts, as another one echoed from the Deputy. Kumar came across as a ruthless person who couldn’t care about injustice in society as long as his school was prospering.
“The reason I called you was because this would be your last day at school. You haven’t paid your fees in the last term and this is unacceptable by our standards. “, Kumar said solemnly. “But sir, I promise to pay you in installments! My mother is not well and I am earning very little to keep my father and mother happy. My father takes most of my money and wastes it on drinks and cigarettes. I try to hide it, but he starts beating me if I don’t give him what he asks for. Please sir, I promise to do more jobs and earn mo—“. Kumar cut him short, “Stop talking nonsense, such behavior will not be tolerated, Baku. You can bark for all I care but how can I be certain I will get the money from a ragamuffin like you? You are an utter nuisance here!”
“Please sir, just a week, I will earn morrrre..” sobbed Baku, as he was dragged out by the heartless Deputy and he felt the gates of Education close on him.
Baku washed cars and wiped floors by day and did the household chores at night. Every night he looked at the moon as his mother’s health deteriorated. He wished he could hop on to the moon with his mother when his father would come in, scowl at them and ask Baku money for his cigarettes. Baku would hesitatingly part with it and prepare the food while his father complained about it each time; eating a little and casting the rest away dissatisfied.
Baku remembered his childhood dreams of becoming a pilot. He went outside and sat, drawing pictures of him and his mother on a sheet of paper, converting it into a paper airplane. He threw it as fast as he could and watched it glide in the breeze, away from his hut, away from his father as he’d feel freedom enveloping the air, taking him to a far-away place..
Thud! It was another beating session and this time Baku felt stronger, uplifted by his air-travels to combat any hurdle in his journey. He barged into the house, tucking a sharp-tool that he picked up from the garden and was about to hurl it when he saw his mother crying on the floor over Kadu. Sakamma had retaliated this time, pushing Kadu with all her force against the wall as he was unconscious on the floor, in a pool of blood. Baku stood stock-still as she yelled for help. She asked Baku to run up to the apartment to call for an ambulance. Baku’s heart pumped as he didn’t know what to feel. Was he happy or sad? Tense or excited? He didn’t know.. If his mother hadn’t done it, he would have lived with the guilt, he thought..His mind was racing and all he knew was that he had to follow his mother’s order.
He ran to the security guard whom he detested all along for constantly shooing him away. Baku spoke in Kannada while the guard stood unperturbed, muttering in Hindi what Baku could never understand. Another guard who spoke Kannada followed Baku hurriedly. Kadu was bleeding profusely as the guard saw the pointed weapon on the floor beside Kadu. They related the incident to him. “Call the ambulance quickly!” screamed Sakamma. He made a call at once. “Yes sir, I understand”, he said after two minutes on the phone as both Baku and his mother were lost in the discussion.” I’ve called the police and if he thinks it fit, the ambulance will arrive”. The tension on their faces was palpable. The policeman came after a while and questioned Sakamma and Baku. “What is the tool doing on the floor?” he inquired. Baku narrated the whole incident. Sakamma was taken into custody for further interrogation as Kadu lay on the floor dead, before the ambulance could arrive.
“I’m so sorry”, wept Sakamma. “Hee was beating mee very badly… and my body could not take it”, she was sobbing through her words. Sakamma was kept in custody for a while and she refused to eat anything, thinking about Baku. Baku also hadn’t eaten for six days. When Sakamma was released, she was pallid and knew that she would die. She told Baku to be a good boy and remember not to let his thoughts be assassinated by some of the rich good-for-nothings who have only their materialistic gains to flaunt. “You will be a powerful man and will show them how to live..Help the poor and needy, Bakuuu.. “, were her parting words to him as she went into her last unconscious slumber, never to be awakened again while Baku was inconsolable. Baku felt like dying and began to sleep, hoping never to wake up like his mother and share better moments with her in a place called Heaven..
To his disappointment, he woke up the next morning as usual. Baku left the place and walked. He walked for miles, tears in his eyes..He didn’t care where he was going. His body couldn’t take it, the agony of living adding an extra kilo with each step..Until his last breath he would walk and..Bang! He fell to the ground unconscious.
“Boy, wake up!” bellowed a tea-vendor, his voice rising over the sound of a train just leaving the station. Baku looked through his weary eyes at a small frame of a man wearing shorts, exposing his wiry legs, adorned by distinct sinews. “A gentleman sacrificed his life to bring you here! He was killed by a speeding truck when he endeavoured to push you away just in time. May God bless his Soul. I brought you here, when you were still unconscious. What is your name?” Baku was still in shock from his mother’s death and the latest bit of news. “I..my..name..is ….Ba..ku..”, he stuttered. “Tell me more about yourself, what happened? Come now, you look so weak, have some biscuits! I will bring you some vadas too.” Baku relished the vadas and biscuits and didn’t hesitate to ask for more which the kind tea-vendor obliged. Baku recounted the turn of events, about his poor mother and horrible father. Harish was touched by his sad story and told him to stay with him at his tent near the station.
Harish began to nurse Baku and told him to stay confident. Success comes to the confident, Baku. You will achieve peace of mind only when you are willing to let go of your worries and focus on the small things in life that bring happiness. “I sell tea and as each customer buys my tea, he buys a share of my happiness. If he doesn’t, he goes to another person to get his happiness. Life’s like that. If you want to be happy you need to choose your Vendor- Hope, Misery, Happiness- they’re all free of cost provided you know how to train your mind to buy them into your life”.
Harish told him about his own life. His parents had abandoned him as a child at this railway station as they were too poor to look after him. “I haven’t seen them in 33 years and don’t remember what they look like. Yet I feel free, happy and content at what I do”.
Baku would help Harish serve tea every morning, greeting the customers with a smile on his face. Baku took to Harish and soon both of them would play chess in their free hours as Baku was coming into his own. Harish had learnt the game observing passengers and on one particular evening a foreigner had gifted him a chess set for his excellent tea.”Practise well and beat me the next time we meet!” he challenged Harish. Harish played in his free time with the odd passenger and waited patiently for the foreigner who never showed up.
He taught Baku how to play. “One wrong move can cost you your Kingdom. Never sacrifice your Queen unless it’s for another Queen or your King(dom). Similarly, Life is a chessboard. Your higher values and ideals should only be overridden by better ones and you must know when to play it safe and when to attack, Baku.”
Baku was determined to finish his schooling and graduation. Harish sponsored his education (a nominal amount in a government school and college), nurtured and encouraged Baku as he came out with flying colours. His mother’s words rang in his ears, “You will be a powerful man..”. Baku remembered his dreams of becoming a civil servant and asked Harish to buy him some books for the exams. Both of them went to the market and Harish bargained buying a book a week during the next month with his little savings.
Baku worked at day and studied during the night. He appeared for the exam and on the day of the results, Harish was consoling him as he didn’t qualify. “It is a very competitive exam Baku. Never mind, success will greet you next time”. Baku did not lose hope. He studied harder and Harish was supportive, reducing Baku’s burden of carrying tea. Baku studied during night and slept at day and would rarely see Harish. The exam day approached and Baku was all set. He was about to leave when Harish stopped him to give him his morning cup of tea. “I’m sure you’ll do well, Baku! Be confident young man, you are the future of India!” Baku felt the warmth descending upon him as he entered the exam hall, feeling confident.
Baku had done well and waited eagerly for the results. In the meantime, Harish had fallen sick and Baku had to take his place at his tea-stall, delighting customers as always. As the result day approached, Baku was nervous, spilling a cup or two on an irritant customer who spewed abuses and walked away. This was it, he said. If he didn’t make it, he would have to quit trying.. He went anxiously to check his results. He had not qualified. He checked again, scanning the sheet carefully, in disbelief, furious at himself!
Harish was lying on the bed, weak from his illness. Baku went in to tell him but before he spoke, Harish could feel his sorrow and asked him to sit down. “What do you want from life Baku?” he asked and immediately his mother’s image came to his mind. “I lost my mother because our voice wasn’t heard. I want to become powerful”, Baku lamented. “If you study with that thought disturbing you, you will not grow Baku. Rich thoughts should accumulate your mind. Power will come automatically and you will learn how to use it responsibly. You must enjoy it because you will transform lives for the better. Enjoy your studies and expand your knowledge.”
Baku weighed Harish’s words. His study habits took on a whole new dimension as he explored new horizons and had fun while learning. He felt he had learnt things so easily without the burden of anything weighing down on him. His thoughts were flowing freely and he felt much lighter and confident. He cracked the exams, interviews and waited again for the results. This time on the day of the results, he served tea in his usual carefree manner.
He checked the result sheet, glancing through the names one by one. Not certain where to start, he went from the last page to the first. His hope was melting as his name did not figure in the last few columns. He turned to the third, second, first and then he saw it, staring up at him..Baku-Rank-34.He rubbed his eyes and looked again to be certain. He had read it right! He thought of his mother. Tears filled his eyes, and it dropped gently on his mother’s photo that he took out from his pocket. He saw her smiling at him..How she might have felt at his accomplishment, he thought to himself. He went into the tent to break the news to Harish, but did not find him around.
He went outside and was greeted by a pleasant surprise. He was congratulated by one and all. “Bakuuuu, you have done it! I saw your name in the paper and we are serving free tea in our new stall to celebrate! Your happiness will be shared by everyone for free! “shouted Harish who got out of bed early, his illness deserting him.
Baku took Harish with him as he served as an officer in different districts. He denounced corruption and injustice of any kind and treated people in his office with respect and dignity, ensuring they abided by the rules and regulations at all times. Harish guided him through difficult times, cheering him up and supporting him. Baku introduced new schemes to help the needy, cut down on unnecessary expenditures, resolved to have rain-water harvesting programs in all the villages apart from the numerous other programs he had initiated.
He rose to popularity and his name was recommended for the Prime Minister’s Excellence Award. It was no surprise that Baku won the award and attended many a felicitation function. At one of them this is what he had to say: ‘I have come this far because I didn’t let anyone ‘assassinate’ my thoughts. I have a responsibility to serve my nation-which I will sincerely do. I have been through tribulation and sorrow for the most part of my life but I have already chosen my Vendor-Happiness and will continue to shower my happiness on people who are willing to buy it into their lives…’, he concluded to the applause of one and all. At the far end of the hall he noticed his primary school Principal Kumar standing with the Deputy. He went up to him and shook his meek hand as the Principal was ashamed and speechless, tears welling up..He didn’t fail to notice the tears in his Deputy’s eyes too.