Moneyless in Madras: Millionaires in Manhattan
Warm droplets of rainwater bombarded the tin roof of the extremely modest dwelling that had a greater resemblance to a dog’s kennel than the home of two men. The house was empty as the rain chattered loudly and naggingly on the roof. The sides of the house consisted of wood which had - by the look of it -been incompetently put together. On one of the four sides of the hut there was a gap in the wood, it had been covered by an old scruffy looking cloth, this gap was man-made and signified the threshold of the dwelling. There was no flooring in the shoddy dwelling which was reluctantly called home by two impoverished men. Instead there was natural ground that was parched suggesting that the dwelling had been set up before the rainy season had hit. Looking into the box shaped shelter through one of the many splinters of wood, one could see a few logs, which must have been used for fires. In a corner there were two Hessian mats which were no doubt used by the two men to imitate beds. There was little apart from that.
This rather unattractive hut was a great contrast to its picturesque surroundings. The landscape was full of flora and fauna which were clearly blossoming thanks to the much needed and overdue rains. The woodland was a lush green colour as were the surrounding hills intercepted by deep valleys. The hut was in the middle of this attractive- looking backdrop and seemed oblivious to its surroundings. This area of beauty, rather spoilt by the man-made invention of a poor man’s home, was about fifteen miles south of Madras, a city of extreme wealth and poverty in the south of India. There was a vast meandering river about five minutes on foot from the two men’s place of abode. It was the Karala River which had been lying idle up until a few weeks previously owing to the drought, which is a common occurrence during the nine hot summer months which grace southern India every year. But now there was rain and plenty of it which meant that the river was no longer a ditch in the cracked ground, but rather a place where water could be found to mortify thirst which is painfully common in extremely warm climates.
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Along the river, now like water splashing into a glass, there were two men of a diminutive stature. One man wore a short sleeved shirt made from a thin cloth which had many slits in; probably the cause of an unwanted run-in with brutal machinery or simply because of the stealthy passing of years. The shirt once white in colour was now of brownish hue, no doubt a cause of muddy stains and sweaty toil. On his thin and feeble legs he wore brown shorts that seemed to be a few inches too small for him. The other man was dressed in similar attire, except his shirt was three quarters length at the sleeves, the difference in the length of each sleeve on each arm suggested that the man had amended a long sleeve shirt to fit his preference. He also wore shorts which were too long and seemed too baggy for the man’s meek legs which had travelled far, although achieved little. The men seemed to be brothers owing to their similar features. Both were very dark in colour, in no small way due to the sun drenched neck of the woods they lived in. The men were both thin but by no choice of their own. The second man seemed to be the older and more senior of the two brothers, for he walked ahead of the other man who pursued him hotly. He was also the man who carried some cardboard above his own head and that of his brother as a shield from the incessant rain which was falling. This sharing of the cardboard revealed a sense of poverty but also a sense of care for each other. The second man who could be gauged to be the elder of the two had a thick gold necklace around his neck. For a man of such great poverty the necklace looked out of place. Neither of the brothers had a greater wisdom than of about thirty years.
As the men walked they embodied their footprints on the muddy banks of the river. The second man could be heard moaning, “For ten years we slaved away at that tea plantation place and for what, to be given the boot because we are of a lower caste then the new workers”. As the man completed his sentence he kissed his teeth and shook his head as a sign of his disgust for the way in which they had been treated.
The younger brother bent down to take a much desired sip of water. The other brother grumbled, “look at this filthy water, Dhiru”.
“Beggars cannot be choosers, Balu Bai”, replied the dejected brother.
“We are not beggars Dhiru, we have more than what beggars have, we have eachother and in terms of wealth I have this necklace which was given to us by our dear mother before she put us into the orphanage”.
“Dear mother, did you say, what sort of a living woman puts her children into an orphanage where they get beaten and bruised. If she had cared for us would we by the time we are easily old enough to get married still be drinking out of lakes and be unemployed”.
“She had her reasons, she couldn’t cope, Dhiru you need to understand. We can still do something with our lives”.
“As usual you are right Balu Bai”, said Dhiru. Even though he may not have believed this he was obliged to say so, just as a mark of his admiration and respect for his elder brother, which is not unusual in India.
As Dhiru continued along the river, a sudden desire came to light in his mind. It was one which was not unheard of amongst orphans, it was to locate the whereabouts of his mother. Dhiru, reluctantly posed this question as it could result in one of two feelings and responses from his older brother, whom he admired; hope or disgust. Luckily for Dhiru, as a cause of the distant love and affection Balu had for his mother, the elder brother greeted Dhiru’s proposal with optimism but yet anxiety.
Thoughts began to fill the minds of the two inseparable siblings, was their mother: dead or alive, rich (though this was unlikely) or poor and finally was she in the case of them finding her, willing or unwilling to meet them.
The Gods, to whom Balu and Dhiru often gave praise, were shining on the two brothers, though they could be forgiven for not knowing it. For, the desire that had been injected into Dhiru’s mind was a foreseeable one, and if it were to become reality, Balu and Dhiru would be able to close the chapter of hardships in their life and open a totally new one. This was because on the other side of the world, in Manhattan a woman of South Indian extraction, only eighteen years older than Dhiru, was craving to come into contact with two children who had been absent from her for almost thirty years. Those children were products of a child marriage many years ago in the green hills along the Karala river, in which the husband died tragically before the birth of the second child. Social pressures and remarriage were the joint causes of the woman giving up her children, a choice which haunted that woman always, even while she experienced the luxurious comfort she was afforded by her rise to wealth, thanks largely to her second marriage to a business tycoon.
From here it was to be a long journey for the two brothers. They would encounter many different emotions and face more struggles, which they were now used to, if they wished to be successful in their quest. They had little to lose, apart from the shanty shack they called home. Whatsmore, as they both reminded themselves, they had eachother.