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Once Under a Streetlight

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By Savitri Narayanan
“Missed my yoga class again!” thought Mr Jaiswal as he got into the car and stepped on the accelerator, “Now to get home and have a cup of tea!”

An executive in his late fifties, Mr Jaiswal was known for his discipline and punctuality. By the time the staff came to sign the muster, Jaiswal Sir would be in his seat to greet them, his attention on the computer screen. At the end of the day, he drove home to pursue his yoga and music. The trainers came only on the weekend but he diligently practised every evening. He also played badminton regularly.

Life as the General Manager of Unique Projects was surely demanding especially these days when there was a change in leadership. The Chairman, Bhatia Sir, was in the process of loosening his hold to let in and train the young leadership under his son. So, it fell on Mr Jaiswal to tactfully take along the father and the son. The evening’s lengthy meeting had left him rather exhausted.

Soon his wife came on line. “On my way, Radhika. Will be there by the time you bring the tea to the verandah!” he answered the phone. “What’s the matter? Why do you sound so worried?”

He listened for a while and laughed aloud, “True, it’s dinner time!” he said, “But I’ll have your magical tea anyway! With elaichi, ok?”

As he negotiated the roads, Mr Jaiswal realised how late it was. The sun had set long ago and there was a chill in the air. The sky was vast and clear, lined with umpteen stars. ‘Like in my village back home,’ he thought, as the mind went back to his childhood days in a village near Bulandshahar. There was no electricity in Talligaon. The Panchayat Bhavan and Primary Health Centre were electrified some months ago but not the villages. As a rule all were home by sundown. Kerosene lamps or oil lamps came to their rescue. After an early dinner usually the families went to bed. In summer, they often sat out in the courtyard and chatted for a while or Dadiji would tell some stories. ‘The sky looked like this,’ Mr Jaiswal thought nostalgically.

It was then that he noticed the young boy. There he was, all alone on a deserted bench on the roadside! He looked engrossed in reading something. Instinctively, Mr Jaiswal reversed the car and pulled up beside the boy.

“Why are you here all alone? What’s the matter, son?”
“Namaste sir,” the boy got up in respect, “I’m revising; tomorrow is my Maths exam! I want to get 100%, Sir!”
“Why here? Where’s your home?”

“There!” he said pointing vaguely towards the darkness.

The General Manager’s heart went out to the little boy. From somewhere there in the darkness he walks down here to study for his exam!

“Here it’s so much brighter than the kerosene lamp!” his voice was cheerful when he pointed at the streetlight, “Also we can save money!”

“Ask your father to meet me,” he said, pulling out a visiting card. “Now go home, it’s getting late!”

That moment was a turning point. The office staff tracked the boy to the neighbourhood where many labourers of the nearby brick kiln lived.

The boy’s parents too worked at the brick kiln. Mr Jaiswal made arrangements to support the family. Soon, the diligent student found himself in a boarding school in town from where he moved on to an engineering college to pursue electrical engineering.

***
After another decade of service, Mr Jaiswal took retirement. By then, much had changed in the neighbourhood. In the name of development, the builders came in with bulldozers and trucks. The city expanded, swallowing up the small lanes and houses. Buildings and shopping malls sprang up but the Jaiswals continued to live in their small bungalow. Morning walks, evening walks, TV, reading, grandchildren – it was the proverbial retired life.

One morning, when he returned from his walk, Mr Jaiswal was surprised to see a Maruti car parked outside his gate. A smartly dressed young man stood leaning on its bonnet.

“Namaste Sir!” the young man came forward, bowed down respectfully. “I am here to invite you for a function tomorrow morning. You are the guest of honour!” he said.

There was a note of anticipation and suppressed excitement in his tone.

Mr Jaiswal leaned on his walking stick and took a good look at the young man, trying to recollect who the stranger was. Over the years many colleagues’ and neighbours’ children had grown up to be young professionals in different places. Who was this! And where was he to be the chief guest?

“Sir, I am the Divisional Engineer of this sector and our current project is electrification of this district’s villages. Chinnoorgaon is electrified now and tomorrow morning is the switching-on ceremony. The car will be here by half past eight!”

This was getting nowhere. “Come, step in for a cup of tea,” said Mr Jaiswal. The gentleman followed cheerfully and soon the mystery was solved.

“Sir, wonder if you remember that boy under the streetlight whom you helped!” he said, “That’s me! I owe my education to your kindness. We can never thank you enough!”

Years rolled back as the young engineer recounted his journey. His voice broke when he remembered the days of struggle. With sheer determination and hard work, a diligent student mastering his Maths under the streetlight thad turned into a qualified electrical engineer!

“We often talked about you, Sir. Pitaji said how God comes in different forms. You are the reason for my success, Sir. I reached here thanks to your help. It will be an honour to have you do tomorrow’s ceremonial ‘switching on’ – the way you brightened my life!”

Mr Jaiswal thought for a minute and then laughed aloud, “Thank you for coming, Engineer Sir! It’s you who’ve brightened up an old man’s morning!”
“The car will be here tomorrow by half past eight, Sir.” The young man touched Mr Jaiswal’s feet respectfully and took leave.