Skip to main content

The Guilt

Guilt, a noun, is defined as a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined. I carry a few of them all the while. Some within my head, some embedded in the heart. Some come back to haunt me from time to time and I think that they are the worst kinds. Like this one. The thing about these- the ones that return often- is that you can't now do anything about them. I am fond of plants. This love egged me on to buy a few pots and put them in the balcony of the rented house in Sector 19, Chandigarh.

To begin with I had only a couple- a money plant and a cactus. My landlady appreciated my green thumb and gifted me with another one with variegated leaves. Oh! how I loved to see the colours change on that one. When the sun shone bright, the otherwise light-green big leaves would start becoming white. There was another one with just leaves on its stem. I loved this one as well. This I bought home when a friend's neighbour was shifting base to Bombay and her husband would not allow them to pack the 20 odd plants that she had in her balcony. I could understand her grief but could not do much to help because of cramped space at my end. Also I could not take my eyes from this particular one, which had new leaves sprouting at the time I saw it. It was love at first sight. Their tenderness called out to me and I had to adopt it, if nothing else.

I happily bought it home and introduced it to the rest of the family, which had also come to house a beautiful and flourishing Tulsi, complete with a red chunni and bangles- the symbols of suhaag. The balcony was thriving. I was happy but the husband was a little miserable because of the overflowing greenery on the little balcony. In my enthusiasm I had not noticed that the flourishing, thriving greens had started to look shabby and were calling out for a trim. With the complex problem of finding out a maali, I approached my land lady.

A couple of days down the line, a handicapped man showed up. He did not have a hand. I wondered how he would manage but I was reassured about his prowess in the desired arena. I did not worry my head too much as I had about 8 grown-up plants that only needed weeding and trimming. He would come once in a week and was gone in next 10 minutes. A weekly remuneration had been fixed for him, which he took quietly and went away as quietly as he had come in. We fell into a pattern. He never asked for anything or said anything. If he came in at tea-time and I would offer him a cup and couple of biscuits he would take them, acknowledge me with a sideways tilt of his head, finish his job, drink the tea and leave his utensils washed. If I asked him whether he would like to add some more sugar or re-heat his drink, he would smile a bit but never answer me.

Then he stopped coming. I did not really notice it till a couple of weeks had gone by. The husband remarked on his absence, he had been taking such good care of the plants and had even added a couple of pots more to the balcony in an unobtrusive fashion. I asked the landlady who inquired in the neighbourhood but nothing could be found. Then in the same way he had stopped, he resumed his visits. This time I noticed he looked a bit off-colour. He looked weaker somehow. It was not a physical thing. He had a lean built but it was in his eyes. They looked weighed down. Had his forehead creased so much in the past few weeks that he had been absent or had it always been so? In the hum-drum of my own life I forgot these questions as soon as they had formed in my head. That afternoon had typical Chandigarh flavours- extremely hot, dusty and dry.

The maali rang the bell. He had become erratic in his appearances which I did not really mind but this one on a late afternoon when a nap was higher on my priority list, got me irritated. Anyhow, I let him in and went to the kitchen to make tea for both of us. After he had finished his work, I called out to him to sit inside and have his tea. I was leaving the room having switched on the fan and put the tea and biscuits on the table when I heard his sob. I turned to see him dissolving in tears. What happened uncle, I asked him. He cried some more. I asked him to sit down. Are you hurt, I asked. He gestured a no with his head. He struggled to regain his composure. I asked him again, "Uncle are you okay? What happened?" "I lost my daughter," he said. "She died of snake bite back in our village. I had been gone all this while to the village. After she had been gone, her grieving mother also left me," he answered, the question that my face must have posed because I had suddenly lost my ability to speak or think. "I had to sell off my land to make arrangements for their funeral. My landlord is threatening to throw me out of the room I share with other three fellows from my village for I have no money to pay the rent. Everywhere I look there is despair. I don't know what to do and where to go," he went on. The news of death has a paralysing effect on me. I become incapable of anything else and just weep. That was what was happening when my land lady came in.

She saw the door open and walked in to see us both crying unabashedly. She had a terrified look on her face and asked me what had happened. I recounted to her the misery that had visited the poor chap. I got up and went inside with the intent of helping the maali. She came in swiftly behind me. "What do you want to do with this much money?", she asked pointing at the five notes of hundred rupees clutched in my hand. "Why, give him, aunty, what else," I said a little exasperated. Hadn't I just now told her the whole story. She took away four notes of the currency from my hand. She told me, this is sufficient. Before I could say anything else, the maali called out to me to say that he was leaving. I tried to offer him the money. He did not take it. I insisted. He sobbed. Aunty intervened. Take it and be gone, she told him. He looked at me. For the first time. In the eye. He took the money from me and left the house.

I looked accusingly at the aunty. "If he was telling the truth why had he not shaved off his head? Isn't that required of a Hindu when death takes place in the family," she answered me back with a stare. "You are young emotional fool," she reprimanded me, "How could you have parted with such a big sum on account of a sentimental story?" She also left. I was left facing a tumult. A part of me said that I had been saved by aunty's intervention. But that was and till date is a very small part. A bigger part says that I should not have let aunty intervene. Even if he wasn't telling the truth all I would have lost is a mere Rs 500 but having given him just Rs 100 I had saved some bucks but bargained a dark spot on my conscience. I never saw him again around the neighbourhood. I did not try to find out if he had taken money from someone else or check his story.

But till date I see the entire episode take place in front of my eyes like it happened that hot afternoon. I see the cupboard from which I took out the money, I see aunty standing in her blue suit with a faded dupatta and I see myself standing in a red kaftaan. I hear him telling me about his loss. I wish I had given him the whole amount. It would not have been a high price to be free from the guilt of not having done enough.


Popular posts from this blog

Book Review: Eeny Meeny, MJ Arlidge

A spine chilling novel where Detective Inspector Helen Grace makes her first appearance. Read it for a prose that doesn't meander or wastes time in getting to the point.


I have bee postponing writing about Eeny Meeny because I wanted to be in a certain mood to write this review. There has only been one other book besides this one that has given me a sleepless night. That book was Agatha Christie's 'And Then There Were None'.

There is nothing graphic or gory in either of these books over which I might have lost sleep but the sheer reason for which people were being murdered, shook me up. Of course And Then There Were None is very atmospheric, that whole abandoned island, the morose weather, crashing sea waves- is enough to spook you. It is the woman herself- Agatha Christies- who is a master storyteller, you might just say.

Getting back to Eeny Meeny, credit should be given to Arlidge for creating a spell binding narrative doled out in small,…

Book Review: The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith #1

Precious Ramotswe- Botswana's only and finest female private detective makes her debut with this book which is divided into short stories like chapters, full of warmth, wit and intuitive charm, taking our detective to solve a case in strange locations amongst still stranger people.
The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith is everything that you might expect from a thriller novel and then some more. The book perhaps might seem like the life story of Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's only and finest female private detective, from her birth till the time she sets up her agency and you might be tempted to give up, (if you are in search of blood and gore) but I would suggest against it.
The book not only gives you the entire history of the now thirty-five years old and large (but the traditional way) Precious Ramotswe and some of Botswana as to what this place and its people are like, but I believe that the very skilled Mr Smith is just setting the …

Seeking thrillers- Why I am reading mystery books this year

If you have been following me for sometime, you might know that I am on a personal mission to read as many first thrillers where a Detective or a Detective Inspector makes an appearance, from world over. So far, I have read some awesome Detectives etched by writers from the Nordic countries (Jo Nesbo, Helen Tursten, Kristina Ohlsson),  the US (JK Rowling aka Robert Galbraith) and this one that I am going to review next, from England (MJ Arlidge, this though is his fifth on the link). I have also read some remarkable stand alone thrillers like No time for Goodbye and the Japanese masterpiece Devotion Suspect X (which I think kicked my obsession with finding the first ones of the series and which was so mind-blowing that its review isn't even comprehensible slink to another one of his works that is also so so good. Must rectify that one someday though when I can get over the awesomeness).

You might wonder why am I doing it. Even I think what is this going to achieve and I don't…

Book Review: No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay

If you would want to give your system a shock or a jolt then this book is for you. If you are facing a reader's block and thrillers are your thing then read this book. Pick this book if you want to have a good time page after page.

The Plot

No Time for Goodbye by the Canadian author Linwood Barclay is a nail biting thriller that is as simple and humane as it is complex. As a 14 year old Cynthia Bigge is dragged from her boyfriend's arms by her father who finds her sloshed in his car one night. Next morning Cynthia wakes up to find that her parents and brother have disappeared without leaving a single trace or note for her. The house is spic and span as her mother likes to keep it, nothing is out of place or amiss to suggest any kind of foul play and still no one can seem find anything about her family. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of this event, Cynthia agrees to feature in a documentary about this. A few days later strange things begin t…

Book review: Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson #1

Someone is abducting small children and leaving their dead bodies with UNWANTED scribbled on their foreheads. Fredrika Bergman is an academician and a civilian, and a new entrant on the investigation team whose instincts and insights are being ignored by her senior male colleagues at the Police department. Will the culprit keep getting away or will the team come together past its differences and nab him?

Whoever said a book will take you to places that you might not otherwise get a chance to visit. While I would say that reading any author is like going inside his head and at times there you will find how a psycho thinks and works and there you might also find the wonder and inquisitiveness of a small child.

Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson is a thriller that will take you through many Swedish towns and cities in search of the perpetrator of a crime that takes place in Stockholm. A young child of six, Lillian, is abducted from a crowded train. No one notices that t…