“Ma, look what I brought today. A Rs 500 note. We can buy rice and dal with this. I think this will give us good food for many days.” Puchi came running to his mother and handed her the note. He was panting due to all the running and excitement.
“Didi, give me water. I am so thirsty. And now, don’t tell this to your friends, about this treasure I found. You can never keep any secrets, can you? Your friends might get jealous and report me to the police.”
“Police! What did you do my son? Where did you get so much money from? Did you pickpocket or snatch it from someone? Promise me, you did not indulge in any wrong ways.” Jamuna had lots of questions. They hadn’t seen so much money for a long time now.
Puchi was a ragpicker who lived with his mother and sister in the slums of Dharavi. Their father had succumbed to the alcoholic liver disease a year ago. His mother was suffering from tuberculosis and was too frail to go out and earn. His sister helped him at times, but more often she had to stay back with their mother. The money they made was not enough for them to buy two square meals a day.
“No, no, I haven’t done anything terrible. I found this just near the railway track. I think God heard my prayer. I had prayed the whole night to Him to give us food. I cannot see you hungry and crying.”
“God is so merciful. You must always pray. Now go to the market and buy some groceries. We will also have something sweet today.” Jamuna said.
“It’s too hot. We will eat ice cream today. I’ll have two. My reward for finding this.” He said, waving the note in the air and doing a little happy dance.
Puchi then went to the small grocery shop in the neighbourhood and asked the shopkeeper to pack dal and rice for him.
“1 kg each. Good quality rice, not the broken ones you give us always. Give me like what they give in temple feast, that quality.”
“No credit. If you have cash, then only I’ll give you the ration.” The shopkeeper said.
“Yes, I have money. Lots of it. Kindly give me the stuff fast.” He showed him the money.
“You must be joking. This note doesn’t hold any value now. This became invalid a month ago. Didn’t you hear of demonetisation? Whoever gave you this note, pulled a prank on you. Here, take this back.”
Puchi cursed his luck and spread his hand to take the note back from the shopkeeper.
“You should be smart. Who gave you this?” The shopkeeper asked, feeling bad for him now.
Tears stung Puchi’s eyes. He turned away, trying to hide his face from the shopkeeper and started walking towards home. Streams of tears flowed down his face. The faces of his mother and sister floated in front of his eyes. His hopes shattered and he felt a crushing pain in his chest.
He was about to tear the note into pieces when he noticed something scribbled on it’s back. It looked like some phone number. He had this strong urge to call the person and abuse him.
“It must his/ her number only. I am going to call and give him/ her a piece of my mind. He/ she must repent for playing this dirty trick on me” He thought.
He safely deposited the note in his pocket, his head hung in despair. On his way, he met Ramu.
“Ramu, will you let me make a call from your father’s phone. This is the number.”
Ramu was Puchi’s best friend. His father was a tailor. He stitched shirts for big companies for Rs 100 a shirt. These companies later put their tags and sold those off at exorbitant prices. The slums of Dharavi were famous for this.
Ramu dialled the number written behind that note.
“Hello,” The voice from the other end appeared frail.
“Hello,” Puchi said. “You think you played a very good joke by throwing that invalid note near the railway track. Playing with poor people’s emotions. May God rot you in hell. After long I saw happiness in my mother’s eyes. Now I hate to go back home. What will I tell her? I didn’t get any ration because the money I found was invalid.”
“Calm down, my son. I’ve no idea of what you are talking about. But if I have hurt you in any way, I assure you it is unintentional and I am sorry for that matter, why don’t you visit me? I will give you money for food.”
Puchi stopped crying. He cleared his eyes and running nose with the corner of his shirt’s collar and said: “I don’t know where to come”.
“Note my address.” Puchi had never been to the posh locality where the old man lived.
“I can walk this much. I’ll come. May I come just now. My mother and sister are hungry. I need to buy some food.”
“Yes, Come now.” The man said.
“Are you mad? Don’t go there. What if he is a leader of a gang of criminals? What if they cut your limbs and make you beg for them at traffic signals? How can you just go meet someone without knowing him? Think about your mom and sister.” Ramu wanted to put some sense in him.
Puchi’s rumbling belly didn’t allow him to think about the above facts. He decided to go and meet the man.
Though he was used to walking a lot, still this was a huge distance. His legs and feet were sore when he reached the address given on the phone.
Puchi was stunned to see the huge mansion. The main gate was ajar. He walked in. His eyeballs were moving fast in all directions, taking in the grandeur of the building.
There was an eerie silence inside. He wondered if it was a trap. Maybe a group of kidnappers were hiding, waiting to pounce at him. Maybe Ramu was right. He shouldn’t have come.
“Come, son, this side.” He heard a voice from his left. He turned to find an old man sitting on a chair. He summoned Puchi towards him with his hand movement.
‘This oldie locks fooled me? One foot in the grave and he wanted to mess around with a young boy like me. I can easily overpower him if any need arises.’ Puchi’s fears were now alleviated.
“Look, Uncle, because you insisted I came. I don’t take alms. I am a hard-working rag picker. But the past few days have been very tough. On top of that, that cruel joke of yours. So, I decided to come and listen to what you wanted to say.” Puchi deliberately tried to speak with great confidence, like a grown-up man.
“Of course, you are a hard-working boy. I won’t give you any alms.”
“What? Puchis eyes were ready to pop out of the sockets. Why the heck did you call me here then?”
“First, show me that note with that phone number.”
Puchi fumbled into his pockets and produced the note. He handed it over to the old man.
‘This doddering oldie is acting Mr Smart pants. He must have been a shrewd person when he was younger. He does not trust me. Why would I make such a story?’ Puchi was having a conversation with himself, in his head.
The old man’s eyes were filled with tears.
With trembling hands, he brought the note in front of his eyes and keep staring at it for long. He then kept the note on his chest, close to his heart and shut his eyes. Tears started rolling down his wrinkled face and soon he was crying like a small child.
Puchi was completely puzzled. He didn’t know how to react but he just went near him and put his arms around him.
“Don’t cry, Uncle. What happened? Did this bring some bad memories? Was it stolen?” Puchi tried his best to console uncle.
After what seemed like an eternity to Puchi, Uncle finally wiped his eyes and face. His eyes were very sad. He then took out Rs 2000 from his pocket and gave it to Puchi.
“Here, go home and buy food for your family. Buy good food for them from a restaurant. It’s late and they must be waiting for you.”
Puchi’s eyes were wide open. He touched the money to his forehead with reverence. This meant food for many days. This meant being able to get medicines for his mom. At that moment he felt he had indeed seen God. He touched the old man’s feet. He had a lump in his throat. He was too choked with emotions to say anything.
“What happened? Did a cat find your tongue? You seem to be a garrulous young boy.” Uncle asked him.
“Uncle, you have no idea what this charity of yours means to me. I am indebted to you. I have been cursing you ever since that shopkeeper told him about that note being of no value. I have not seen this note before but this definitely seems to be of the bigger denomination. I am not much educated but I know there is an extra zero here making it four digits so I think this is bigger denomination than the previous one. You know, I had to drop out of school in class 4th because my father expired.” Puchi spoke nonstop while uncle kept looking at him lovingly.
“Ok, now go. Will you come tomorrow? If you do, I will give you more money.”
“More money? Why not? I will take a bus and come. But why do you want to give me so much money?”
“I will tell you tomorrow. Run or your mom will get worried.”
Puchi was really excited when he reached home with ready-made food. He was going to treat his family today. His mom and sister were relieved on seeing him. Roshni, his sister came running and hugged him.
“We were so worried. What took you so long?”
He narrated the whole story to them.
“He is a kind man. God bless him.” Puchi’s mother said.
“But I still don’t know why he cried. I think someone one must have stolen his money. I’ll ask him tomorrow.”
They all relished the food. It seemed like ages they had some good food to eat. Next day, Puchi took a bath and wore his best clothes, the ones which were the least tattered.
When he reached Uncle’s place, he found him waiting for him.
“Hello, uncle. How are you? Did you sleep well.”
“Hello. I am good. No, I didn’t sleep a wink yesterday. I kept thinking about you.”
“Haha, about me? What about me? That I talk a lot. Everyone says that. Even my mom says that. But I love talking. It makes me happy.”
“What if I give you a job? The remuneration will be good. It will keep the wolf from your door. You and your sister can get back to school and get proper treatment for your mother.”
“Oh yes, I’ll do anything. However menial work, I’ll do it. You just order.”
“Nothing menial, son. You have to give me company every evening for at least two hours. That’s all I ask of you.”
“Oh!” His face was suddenly sullen. “You don’t have to pay me for that. For how long will you pay me for that? That is no job.”
“Well, it’s really kind of you if you think that way but I insist,” Uncle said.
“Kind and me? You are so kind, uncle. You want the company of a dirty ragpicker like me and that too paid. But I will agree with you. Not only because I need money but also because I like you. You are really nice. Grandpa kinds. You are fun to talk to.”
Uncle was suddenly sad again. He put his hand in his pocket and fetching Rs 2000 he gave it to Puchi.
“Go now, come back again tomorrow. Promise me you will. Time passes quickly when you are around.” He said.
“I am not going anywhere. You have to tell me the reason why you are so sad, all alone. Where is the rest of your family?” Puchi’s innocence and warmth made him want to cry again. But he maintained his composure.
“I had an adorable family. My son, daughter in law and a very loving grandson. The note that you found, I had given this to my grandson when he went to a picnic last year. I had written my phone number on that note because that was the only paper we had. The bus was leaving and he wanted my number. His parents were out of the city and were to come back late that evening and pick him up from school premises after the picnic. They all met with an accident after they took him from school. All three of them died on the spot. My world came crashing down that fateful evening. I didn’t think about the note then but he must have spent it. I wonder how much it travelled around before you found it. The day you called I recalled this because that was the only time I ever wrote on a note. It must be destiny. You and I were destined to meet, so you called. You sounded just like my grandson and I wanted to see you badly.”
Both of them were crying and Puchi got up and hugged uncle. They stayed like that for a long time.
‘”I’ll come every day. No holidays, not even Sundays. I love you, Grandpa.”
Their affection grew with passing time. Puchi and his family later shifted with uncle. They do not stay in the servant quarter but as a family with uncle. Puchi and his sister are now going to college. His mother is now completely free of the disease. Her treatment is over. Grandpa is very happy. He loves his family and they take good care of him.
Puchi thanks God for having found such a loving grandpa. He remembers what his mother taught him.
“Time is very powerful. It can turn a king to a pauper and change rags to riches.”
It was time, their good luck and that invalid note with the phone number that changed his life.
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