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Excellent thought provoking short stories for all ages, read and enjoy

Short Story, last, bias, arrest, lesson, God, prejudice, signal, charity

THE LAST BIAS

My friend Vidyut had a packed schedule for the next day, before his departure for Europe and America on a month long tour. His fame and glory as an eminent artist had grown immensely in the last few years. He had won great accolades and laurels as well as popularity from both within and outside the country.

"From tomorrow, I would be busy as a whirlwind, so let's enjoy a little rest and gossip tonight," he said.

So it was that he and I were seated in a luxurious VIP hotel suite that evening. We planned to spend the night together, and the next day I was to accompany him to the art gallery, an exhibition of his paintings, the inauguration of an old-age home, and finally to a drawing competition for the physically handicapped. There were two more invitations for him, but those had to be politely declined on account of dearth of time.

It was nearly midnight. Vidyut was at his pet subject - a strong, stubborn anti-woman bias. According to him, women were good for nothing, inferior to men in intelligence and efficiency, slow witted, and generally stupid.

"They're extremely sentimental, irrational and superstitious. Even if my wife dreams something inauspicious she would telephone me in the dead of night to check if I'm all right," he chuckled.

We then drifted to other topics. He began to tell me of his most famous painting - the one depicting two helpless lonely kids orphaned after the communal flare up that had shaken the entire city for over a month. Thanks to an inefficient, puppet administration, the persecuted community had to flee their homes and take refuge in relief camps. But even there it was no relief, for a fundamentalist group called S-Brigade had attacked and killed the couple, leaving two innocent toddlers alone in this wide, selfish, cruel world.

"When I told my wife, she shed a few tears, sobbed a little, and then forgot all about it. That's how the female sex behaves. But I'm a man, and an artist at that. I couldn't shirk my social responsibility. I captured their hollow, pitiful eyes -- their fearful, pathetic face -- their weak famished bodies-all in my sketch, so that the whole world may see their plight. Only men can do something, not women," said my friend grandiloquently.

We bade each other good night and went to sleep.

Next day, both of us were rushing through the day's engagements. The exhibition of Vidyut's work was a tremendous success. After the formal close of the exhibition, there was a steady, unending stream of his fans, just wishing to felicitate him or get his autograph. Most of them praised him for the superb painting of the two orphans, for it was really an eye-opener for the rest of the society besides being a masterpiece of art.

At last came a poor, middle aged woman with two children. Vidyut said in astonishment, "It's you, Basanti !" Then he explained to me, "She was our domestic -- when I was newly married. Later, we'd to leave her when we left the city."

Shortly she prepared to withdraw, when my friend said, "You were a widow, without issues. Have you remarried? Who are these children?"

"The children," I said, half in jest and half in earnest, "have a good resemblance to those in your sketch, except that they look confident and well fed."

Basanti seemed hesitant and uncomfortable. She sent the children away and, when they were gone, she said, "Vidyut Sahib, these are the very children who were left orphaned in the citywide carnage and whom you've captured so lively in your paintings."

Both of us were dumbfounded.


"Yes, Sahib," she continued. "Your wife told me to go to the relief camp and take charge of them. She sent me a few thousand rupees, and also a letter of recommendation that enabled me to enter as a domestic in her friend's house. They not only allow me to keep the children, but also pay for their schooling. Your wife, so kind she is, has told me to inform her if I needed anything. We are all quite happy. The kids have won the school drawing competition, and that's why I brought them to this exhibition - a small treat."

My friend was speechless. After she departed, he said, "I'm sorry, I underestimated my wife and all women. My wife and even the illiterate Basanti, both have shown far greater courage, responsibility and humanity than I could ever dream of. The least I can do is to put all the sales proceeds and all the awards I win into a trust to look after such orphans. And only one person in the world deserves to be its chief - my wife."

I nodded in appreciation. Many men are superstitious too - about the other sex - but Vidyut would no more be one of them.

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Short Story THE LAST OBEDIENCE

Anne jerked herself to a standstill as she felt a firm hand on her shoulder and heard a familiar voice, "What's the hurry, Anne? Or are you practising for the Olympiad?"

"Oh, Liz, it's you," said Anne. "From cyber cafe, I presume?"

"Right," said Liz. "Come, dear, let's have some coffee."

"No, thanks. I'm sorry, Liz. I'm in a bit of hurry, you see. We're to have a sort of meeting at home, and it's awfully important for me to be there well in advance."

"Oh, is it about Helen's wedding? You're always the leader in any such exercise," said Liz, partly in jest and partly in genuine admiration.

"Not exactly, though Helen's wedding is also indirectly involved. No, we're jointly going to confront Uncle Alfred," replied Anne.

"What do you mean by confront? Is it some sort of revolt or protest or something?" asked Liz in astonishment.

"You can say that. Uncle has become really impossible. We're extremely humiliated and offended by his replies to our notes today. We could never even guess that this placid, amiable man would prove to be such a turncoat overnight. His answers are simply detestable," said Anne.

"What notes and what answers?" asked Liz even more puzzled. "Surely you're not trying to make him change his will."

"It's a long story," explained Anne. "We have a tradition in our house -- an old one, -- that every matter should be referred to the head of the family. But now that Uncle is old, he prefers not to be directly disturbed. So we send him our notes and he writes his replies at his convenience."

"Very peculiar," returned Liz, "if not ludicrous. But does every one obey his decision."

"We always draft our wordings in such a way as to leave no doubt what answer we expect. Leading questions, as lawyers would say. Uncle knows what we want and writes the obvious."

"Even if he thinks . . .," Liz began doubtfully.

"He never thinks," Anne interrupted her hastily. "He knows his role is passive and his consent a mere formality. He writes what we want him to write."

"A rubberstamp figurehead, you mean."

"Perhaps. But today's replies were all revolting, and that's what the meeting is about. Well, I'm in a huff. Meet you tomorrow, Liz, bye till then!" said Anne preparing to depart.

"Bye, dear. But I think that sooner you discard the custom, the better it would be for every one," said Liz, expressing her opinion frankly.

"Perhaps it would," replied Anne carelessly. "May be today itself. Bye, I'm off."

"Oh, I almost forgot," Liz called after her. "Mother said she is coming to your place tonight for Uncle's routine check up."

Senescence spares none, and old Alfred, as he was popularly known, was no exception. At the age of eighty-two, all he wanted was peace, and all he got was anything but peace. In spite of his senile memory and failing eyesight, he was perfectly hale and hearty. Liz's mother, Dr Ellen, visited the house for a routine monthly medical examination, but to this day she has never advised him any medicines.

"All you need is peace of mind and an easy going life," she would always say. "Just practise deep breathing, yoga and meditation. I've cured even the most intractable cases with these simple, powerful techniques."

On that ominous day, when angry discontent was simmering in his house, old Alfred was totally innocent of his guilt. He was at his best, enjoying his solitude, after having duly completed the irksome note-writing ritual. He was unaware of the fact that his replies had stirred a hornet's nest.

For him it was a day like any other day. Yet a time bomb was ticking the countdown to an imminent explosion. Furtive glances, hush-hush talks, an uneasy calm, and the frequent scurrying of the members around the house - all these heralded an approaching storm, but Alfred, a retired meteorological scientist, just failed to read these barometric signs.

He casually opened the door and leisurely sauntered out of his room. He sensed something like the humming of some machinery, and as he walked along, he heard louder altercations. Surely, he wondered, the parliament has not changed its venue and decided to hold a day's session in his house. It was not even Fen Shui or Vaastu compatible; he had built the house only keeping in mind the directions of wind and sunshine. Astrology never affected his meteorologically scientific mind.

It was Anne who approached him, as she had been deputed for this 'who will bell the cat' affair. Partly confused and partly nervous, she managed to take him to the hall and to get him seated on the sedan armchair.

Reluctantly taking the center-stage, Anne said, "I think we should dispose of our complaints one by one. It won't take very long, uncle."

Knowing fully well the belligerent nature of his household, the retired meteorologist shuddered at the prospect of being amidst any controversy.

"Why can't you settle your internal quarrels amongst yourselves? Must I need intervene?"

"Oh, Uncle, this time you're the bone of contention. Our complaints are against you, not any one else," said Anne jokingly.

"You're the respondent as well as the adjudicator," chimed in Charles, his eldest son, and a lawyer by profession.

"I can't make head or tail of anything, if at all it has any head and tail," said the old man impatiently.

Anne said, "Well, Uncle, we have been warranted to conclude that the regrettable replies to our notes today indicate that you don't care a dime for us or our well being. This has upset us."

Old Alfred was more perplexed than ever. Anne began the proceedings.

"Well, I propose that we all have our say in the alphabetical sequence of our names. So I begin first …"

"No," the monosyllabic interruption was from Charles.

"But surely, since my name begins with A …," began Anne.

"Although Anne is spelt with a capital A, which I'm perfectly aware of, may I point out that you've overlooked Alexander, for l comes before n."

Anne conceded the rightful priority of Alexander and made way for him.

Alexander, his second son, came forward, but eloquence was not one of his strong points. He did not seem to know where to begin, and stood plain dumb.

Presently, Alfred, who had got more confused than before in the commotion of alphabetical orders, urged:

"Pray, tell me, what it's all about."

Thus adjured, Alexander began to speak.

"Father, I regret to say so, but say I must. My wife has always held you in very high esteem, but the reply you sent to her this morning has just upset her. Jane can't even think you could be so ruthless."

"My grasp of the entire situation is far from clear. Would you be more explicit and say what I wrote about what."

"The note was about Jane's going to the job which you asked her to apply for." Alexander paused and the opportunity was utilized by Alfred clarify a point.

"I don't recollect of ever telling her to apply for any job."

Alexander, knowing fully well how poor his father's memory was, spoke with frozen patience.

"You did, Father, about two months ago. He's your friend or something, opening a new branch office here," he reminded his father.

There was a glimmer in Alfred's eyes as he faintly remembered the occasion in question, though which of his friends was under reference was more than he could say. He asked his son what was wrong with the job.

"The salary is a paltry six thousand, and the working hours are from ten to eight, an impossible ten hours," said Alexander visibly annoyed. "Jane doesn't want to be so inhumanly exploited."

"I might have had no knowledge of the details of pay or duty hours. Yet I fail to see what's the trouble. If she's not satisfied, there's nothing to prevent her from just quitting. If she'd told me, I would've even helped her draft the resignation letter," said the old man.

Alexander pointed out the redundancy of any letter of resignation from a job, which the candidate has not joined. His father, in return, pointed out the futility of any hue and cry over pay or hours of an office where one is not employed. Alexander was not impressed and embarked wearily on an explanation, saying that the real object of the complaint was his father's attitude towards his wife as reflected in his note, which he read out.

"You've written - quote - Should be sent, money is no matter - unquote. I'd like to know whether you really mean what these cold, cruel words imply as to your feelings for her."


"Did I write these words?" asked Alfred flabbergast. "I couldn't have, or it's due to some mix-up. Old age, you know."

"All right, father, one error can be explained, but all of us have suffered a jolt, as you'll hear," Alexander concluded angrily.

Next, Anne stepped forward. She hesitated whether to be aggressive or somewhat considerate, and chose the former option in spite of her great fondness for her uncle. Alfred, notwithstanding his passion for his niece, always feared her vocal delivery.

"Uncle, although it's not for me to presume to advise the brother of my late father," she began with a distinct tinge of Pearl Buck, "you've done a grave injustice to Helen's feelings. She's a tender hearted, sweet natured girl and your reply has brought nothing but tears for the poor soul."

"Excuse me, Anne, but I don't remember of Helen having applied for any job, at least not on my recommendation."

"No, no, Uncle, it's not job. It was all in my note. The subject concerns Helen's marriage, and that's why she has refused to speak for herself. Mr. Daniel, her lover and fiancé, has informed in a recent communication that he has to go out on some urgent business and so has no option but to postpone the wedding by a fortnight. And to this communication, here's what you write - quote - I see no point in waiting; find another person immediately, even if not so good, and settle the matter - unquote. Is Helen such a burden as to be got rid of in such haste?"

Old Alfred was totally dismayed, but more shocks were in store for him.

The next speaker was Charles, his eldest son, and he plunged straight into his subject.

"Father," he began acidly, "only last week you promised me your permission to convene here an urgent meeting of my club. Even then, as a courtesy, I sent a note, adding that I could arrange for an alternative venue if you'd no objection. Your reply is a monosyllabic No. I'd never received such a raw treatment at your hands."

This time Alfred was almost delirious. He distinctly remembered granting his approval to a proposed club meeting to be hosted in the house, and it was beyond his comprehension how the words could have changed by themselves. However, he put off his attempts to unravel the mystery, for Daisy, his second daughter, had started her complaint.

Daisy's point was about George's schooling, but Alfred, who was determined to clear each point, interposed to ask who George was. It only infuriated Daisy, and she coldly replied that George was her four-year-old son.

Anne, who had initially been very enthusiastic, now began to dislike the whole thing. She was sorry for her beloved uncle and the stress he was going through. She would have preferred the allegations to be made in a more jovial and less hostile manner, but the acerbity only seemed to be growing every minute.

Now she seized the chance to inject some amusement into the uneasy seriousness of the situation. She spotted the toddler who, bored by the meaningless furore of the lengthy proceedings, had unobtrusively slid down from a high chair on which his mother had made him sit so long. He wanted to leave the room stealthily, when he was physically held by Anne who abruptly escalated him to a three feet height. Anne generally exhibited him, saying mischievously, "Look, everyone, this is George, Uncle's grandson. The child kicks the air and the old man kicks his children."

There was laughter from everyone, except the young victim, and that somewhat released the tension that had built up in the room. But the child, already frustrated at the lengthy discipline imposed on him by his mother, was angry and cried in rage. His unexpected escalation into emptiness in the most undignified fashion was most annoying, and he indignantly stamped into the air. He struggled to free himself from the clutches of Anne, but his violent tantrums could not slacken her tenacious grip. His irritation intensified and he maniacally kicked into space, but his howls and shrieks only drew roars of mocking laughter from the room.

This commotion drew a strong upbraiding from his mother, who said severely, "Stop kicking, George." Presently, Anne lowered him and released him, and he sprinted out of the room.

Daisy's strident rebuke had sobered two persons. Alfred, who was being scratched by a cat under his chair, was about to gently kick away the animal, when the order to stop kicking made him withdraw his leg.

Anne's wit had entertained even the somber Daisy, and she now spoke in a more amiable tone. She said that it was time to send George to school. The best school in the town was the one in which she herself worked as a teacher, but the school management having recently hiked the fees abnormally, the matter was referred to Alfred. His callous reply, as she read out, was: Money is too important a factor to be discounted; there is no hurry and the matter can wait.

She was hurt that financial considerations should stand in the way of giving her child the best schooling.

The next entrant was Rosy, the maid servant. She was more gentle, having worked in the house for over two decades. But before she could begin her submissions, she noticed something in his manner, which prompted her to ask politely, "In case you've lost something, Sir, may I please help you to find it?"

Old Alfred, with his searching gaze sweeping across the room, said: "I wonder where the beast has gone. It was here, the funny, mischievous thing."

Daisy was shocked at her father's language, and said somewhat hotly, "I suppose he's gone for his milk, though it's a bit late."

After a thoughtful silence, Alfred said, "I'm afraid these extravagant expenses must stop. We can't afford to be too lavish in these hard days. We need to be more cautious and less sentimental."

Daisy was furious and felt she had to speak up, but no sooner had she begun than Alfred interrupted her.

"Daisy, I don't intend to hurt you. That may be your pet, but I was speaking generally. These are hard days, and there must be a limit to frivolous indulgence. Milk is too costly to be fed daily to this useless creature."

Daisy struggled with her feelings for a space, and said coldly, "That's not at all a nice thing to say, Father. George may be mischievous at times but …."

She broke off as Alfred butted in. "It's expense I'm talking about, but now that you speak of mischief, I think the beast is really trying sometimes. Just now it was scratching my legs."

Daisy stared in anger and astonishment.

"But," she asserted vehemently, "George has never been even near you."

Just then the cat reappeared to corroborate the claims of Alfred and he pointed it out to Daisy, looking rather pleased with the proof.

But Daisy, as also the others, stared stupefied.

"But - but - that's a cat," Daisy managed to stammer out.

"Of course it's a cat. I never said it was man," returned Alfred triumphantly.

"I thought you were talking of my son, George," clarified Daisy.

"Your son? No, of course, not him. You said George, and I presumed that is your pet's name."

This cleared the doubts that Alfred disliked the feline specimen, not his grandson. The atmosphere relaxed appreciably.

With confusions disentangled, Rosy proceeded with her problem. Speaking softly and briefly, she said that the cook had suddenly disappeared a week ago and she was hard put to manage everything alone. To lessen her load of work, she had requested for the temporary hiring of a cook. Alfred's reply was: Let us wait. She once again underlined the enormity of burden she had to bear single handedly, and withdrew respectfully.

Just then Dr. Ellen, the family physician and cardiologist, walked in. She was perturbed by what her daughter Liz had been told by Anne a few hours ago.

Every one greeted her with warmth and respect. She requested the others for privacy so that she could check up the eighty-two year old patient, for he really looked tired and under strain.

After half-an-hour, Dr. Ellen called everyone back to assemble in the room. Anne was apprehensive, but Dr. Ellen assured her that her uncle was all right.

"Just needless tension. I've asked Rosy to bring him a glassful of fresh fruit juice. That's the only thing that could control the damages of being grilled by half-a-dozen persons jointly."

Anne was apologetic. Dr. Ellen continued, "But I've also solved the whole knotty problem. It's a comic end to an unfortunate mix-up. If you'd taken care to sort it out with a more humane approach, you'd have spared him all the trouble."

They all listened with rapt attention.

"Let me take the replies. The first one says - Should be sent, money is no matter. That was meant for Daisy in regard to her child's schooling, and not about Jane's job. The second one says, 'I see no point in waiting; find another person immediately, even if not so good, and settle the matter'. That was for Rosy, the maid, asking her to find a cook to help her."

"Oh, how blind have we been," exclaimed someone.

"Now comes the reply saying, "Let us wait." That was for Helen in regard to her marriage. And finally, the one saying that there was no hurry was, as you may have guessed, referred to Jane's going to the job she doesn't wish to. Is it all clear?"

"And about my request to hold the club meeting?" asked Charles.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Charles," reprimanded the doctor. "The word 'No' didn't mean refusal, it meant that you don't need to bother about alternative arrangement."

"I'm sorry," said Charles sincerely.

"We're all sorry, really we are!" said the others.

Alfred said:

"Now I wish to make one thing very clear. You're all grown-up and there's no need to consult me on every pretty thing. No more notes from tomorrow. Come directly to me only if you really need my opinion, and not as a ritual."

"Well said," said Dr. Ellen in agreement. "Let's give him a bit of peace in his age."

At that moment, Rosy entered to announce that dinner was ready. They all proceeded to the dining hall, led by Anne - and not by Alfred - breaking yet another custom of the ancient house.


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Short Story THE LAST ARREST


The Police Chief found it difficult to understand the Lady Inspector's adamant stand. He tried to impress upon her that discretion is the better part of valour. Though Brinda did not appear amenable to reason, Mr. Goswami tried his best to convince her against going alone on the mission.

"Miss Brinda, today is your last day - tomorrow you're leaving the job, getting married, and starting a new, beautiful life. Must you take such unnecessary risk at this juncture? He's a dangerous criminal, probably armed. If anything happens it'd be too bad for all of us."

Brinda, brave and confident, insisted that she would go alone and capture the man, dead or alive.

"Why, Miss Brinda, why? If you want to arrest him, it's all right by me - you're one of our best officers - but why not take a full force? Why this craze to do it alone?"

Brinda debated for a moment, and then decided to be frank. She told him the truth.

"This criminal - Subendu - is the twin brother of my prospective husband, Dibyendu. I've heard a lot about him, even things that are not in police records. Dibyendu rightly dislikes this villain and has a score to settle against him. He burgled into his house, tried to kill him; he killed my sister; he swindled Dibyendu of his due share of their paternal property - and there are many other acts of notoriety. I wish to capture him, dead or alive, for a personal satisfaction that I've avenged for my husband's sufferings at his hands. It would be the best wedding gift to Dibyendu before I resign from the police force."

More arguments followed; at last Mr. Goswami gave up further attempts to dissuade her from her set determination.

"However, do not hesitate to shoot him dead, if necessary," warned Mr. Goswami. "I'll be equally satisfied with his body."


Brinda successfully arrested Subendu - this was her last arrest. From tomorrow, it would be a different life, with her beloved Dibyendu. No more in the world of crime-only love and happiness, and thereafter, joys of motherhood.

Brinda and Subendu were alone, and as they prepared to mount on the jeep someone said, "Congrats!" She looked back and saw Dibyendu on his moped.

"You shouldn't be here," reproved Brinda. "I'm here on duty. But since you've come here anyway - however illegal - you'll follow us at quite a distance, so that no one may see us together."

As they headed towards the police station, Brinda said to her captive, "Subendu, my work is finished when I put you in the lock up. But will you please answer my questions, just to satisfy my personal curiosity?"

Subendu said, "My brother, your friend and future husband, will be able to tell you all wish to know. Why to me; even if I say it won't be convincing - whereas you'll fully believe him.

"Because there're areas about which he's silent or vague. I've tried many times, but he's not freely forthcoming in regard to certain matters."

After much persuasion, Subendu finally agreed to come clean, promising that what he said was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

From our childhood (said Subendu) he always got the better of me, although I was stronger and more intelligent and surpassed him in both studies and sports. At first I couldn't believe that he nursed any serious grudge against or jealousy against me. He would stealthily remove my homework copies, so that I would be punished by the teacher. He would put stolen money in my pocket and then complain to Mother, who used to beat me. But I thought of these pranks as practical jokes. Little did I realize that a more sinister motive existed.

My parents were almost illiterate. When I went abroad on scholarship for higher studies, he made a very cruel and cunning plan. Somehow by deceit he got my parents to sign all the property to his name, though my parents were under the impression that they were transferring it to my name. Thus although I was penniless - and that's why I couldn't complete my studies - all our relatives and neighbours knew me to be wealthy and Dibyendu to bee a dependent on me. I was blamed for leaving my studies halfway. I was also blamed for being stingy and not giving my brother sufficient money for further studies - although the truth was that he'd been actually expelled from college. But the worst was yet to come.

You'll remember that we all, including your sister Lakshmi, planned to go on a picnic, which proved to be the last day of her life. You fell ill, and we three went. Dibyendu had asked me to buy and bring all the eatables. At the lonely spot, Lakshmi died of poisoning, and I was suspected. I myself couldn't make head or tail of the episode at the time. Later I learnt that he had smeared the plate with prussic acid; people would always suspect poison in the food, not on the plate. You'd yourself agree that Lakshmi was more beautiful than you, and he couldn't digest the reality that she loved me, and spurned his advances. Moreover, after she was killed, you became the sole heir to all the wealth, which he gets after marrying you tomorrow.

As the police were after me, I went into hiding. Our parents were very ill, but Dibyendu didn't look after them. He spread the rumour that I was holding back all the money, and that he had no money to take care of their treatment.

When I heard about my parents' pathetic state, I decided to burgle the house, steal some cash or jewellery and, by some devious method, admit them in a nursing home. I was unlucky, for I was nearly caught, though I managed to escape and shake off a dozen pursuers. This only confirmed that I was really a criminal and set the police after me.

After a brief pause, he said:

"Even the fact that I've been caught today is due to his treachery. The scoundrel - er, sorry, I forgot that you're marrying him."

Brinda held up her hand. "Now I know everything. I also know that you speak the truth. Lakshmi had told me that he had proposed to her many times, telling her that he was a rich man and you were a pauper. However, we never took him seriously, as we knew exactly the opposite. My uncle, who was Dibyendu's college principal, hinted something the other day about his incomplete studies, only now I get its meaning crystal clear. And now I know why he doesn't talk to me about certain aspects of his life."

"Forget it - marry him and be happy," advised Subendu. "My life was anyway finished the day my Lakshmi died. Keep the secret to yourself."

"I've pledged to my superior, Mr. Goswami, that I'll bring the criminal, dead or alive. I've also promised my parents that I'll marry a good husband. I've to fulfil my obligations," said Brinda solemnly.

"Do so, by all means. I wish you a happy married life," said Subendu, without understanding the deeper meaning of what she said.

Brinda suddenly turned the jeep into a small by-lane, covered with thick bushes on either side.

Subendu, who had no idea of what Brinda was up to, watched her in silent stupefaction.

She waited for sometime, and then called out: "Dibyendu, come here. I need you at once."

Dibyendu who was passing immediately stopped.

"Is the rascal giving you trouble, Brinda? I'll be there in a moment and fix him. Keep your revolver ready, though - he can't be trusted."


As Dibyendu proceeded towards them, Brinda fired on him point blank. He instantly fell down lifeless.

Subendu cried out, "What've you done? Are you mad?"

Brinda said, "I told you, I'm going to capture a criminal, dead or alive, and I'm going to marry a worthy husband. Only the roles of the dramatis personae have been interchanged. Quick, exchange your dress with his,; you two look alike and no one could tell you apart."

She took off her gold chain and put it around Subendu's neck.

When they arrived at the police station, Brinda told Mr. Goswami, "I'm sorry, Sir, I had to shoot the captive, for he made trouble in the jeep mid-way. Here's your criminal's dead body. And meet my future husband - we're marrying tomorrow."

Mr. Goswami blessed them, and they came out. Brinda took out a small silver idol of Lord Krishna. She told Subendu, "It's Bhagwat Gita which guided me on the right path today. A lie for a good and noble cause is better than the truth."
-----

Short Story THE LAST CHARITY

Mrs. Agarwal gave away the blanket to the last beggar. The entire crowd of beggars bowed low in reverence. They praised her, they blessed her, they prostrated before her, as they slowly went out one by one. Tomorrow would be another day, when Goddess in the form of Mrs. Agarwal shall hold out another round of alms giving.

She walked back into the house. She wrinkled her nose in disgust in reply to her husband's smile.

"It's really the limit. I can't bear with these beggars and rascals any more. How long do we've put up this show?"

Her husband implored, "Only one more week. You've done it for a month now, and Kishen says the results are most encouraging. And you too aren't doing badly, you're really a serious contender for this year's award of the WOMAN OF THE YEAR."

She shrugged. "Not that I care for the award. But it improves the prospects of your election."

"Chairman of the most prestigious VIP club - how does it sound?" he said pompously. "There's also a lot of money to be pocketed, if you've the wits. And, you know, I'm quite clever in tricky money matters."

"Everyone does it. Last year, the idiot Viswa made some hasty last-minute changes to the Club rules and tried to cling to the Chair like a limpet. Only it backfired."

"A traitor, who made a dishonest entry and a shameful exit - even before he completed his full term. And a murderer too - directly responsible for several deaths and suicides. Nobody tolerated the criminal, even if he thinks himself no less than a king," said Mr. Agarwal with intense contempt, justly deserved by the ex-chairman.

"Well, he's got his punishment - languishing in a hospital with cancer as the most unwanted and neglected man. But don't commit such mistakes if you win. Keep to money making, that's enough. We can't have too much on our conscience, not with one of our sons away from us - God knows where," warned his wife.

They had only one sorrow - their first son had run away from home lured by someone with a rosy prospect of entry into the Bollywood film world. It was his fantasy to be a great actor, so much so that his schoolmates called him villain instead of Milan. All their efforts to trace him had proved in vain, and now they cherished their two-year old son as the apple of their eyes and the sole console for their agony.

Just then the child woke up from sleep. A volcano might have erupted, judging from the alarm and the commotion in the house. Mrs. Agarwal screamed, "Rekha! Ganga! Quick, pick him up and take him away. He can't touch me, not until I've taken a second bath. I'm all dirt and filth, coming from the slum dwellers and the street beggars. Keep him from coming to me."

The maid servants left everything and rushed, reminding one of the scene when David Copperfield's aunt cried out, 'Janet, donkeys!'

The child was adamant to touch his mother, Rekha was firm to prevent a catastrophe that could cost her job, Ganga pinched and kissed his cheeks and cajoled him in a futile effort to pacify the furious toddler and divert his attention. The young master, just out of sleep, was angry at being held back, and frantically howled, kicked and struggled as he was forcibly carried out of the room.

Mr. Agarwal, a silent spectator of the drama till then, took two five-hundred-rupee notes and gave it to Ganga, saying, "Call the driver. Take him out for a ride, and buy him some toys or whatever he wants."

After Mrs. Agarwal had finished her bath, they lighted incense sticks and devoutly prayed in front of the idol of Lord Ganapati.

A week passed.

Today was the D-day. Kishen, the Club secretary, had told them that they were really doing great, and were likely to bag the awards. They were dressed at their best, ready to receive the honours, confident that no one had seen through their game of elaborate hypocrisy.

Just as they were ready to leave, their servant reported that a poor boy was at the door, nearly starved to death. They both flared up.

"Drive him away. We've given our LAST charity. All are closed now. The repulsive spectacle of a loathsome beggar would only make a bad omen. We're going for an important meeting. In the meantime, tell the gatekeeper - he's new - tell him no one seeking alms or food or money or any assistance is to be let in. Nor are they to wait for us - just shoo them away, we'll be late."

They prayed before Lord Ganapati and drove off.

The next morning, they were in the best mood. They had emerged victorious. Mr. Agarwal had won the Chairman's election, and his wife bore away the prestigious WOMAN OF THE YEAR award. The grand ceremony, the press conference, the sumptuous dinner, and crowds of people eager for a glimpse of the celebrities to take a snapshot - it had been fitting finale to their month-long exercise of compassion.

They were just seated for their breakfast, when the gatekeeper came in and handed over a folded piece of paper. It was, he said, from a dirty and filthy boy in rags who seemed to have tasted no food for the past two days.

"He'd the audacity to call you Mother and Father - this is what these ungrateful people of low-degree do if you just feed them for a day. He insisted upon coming into the house - how daring! I sternly showed him his place, citing your strict orders not to admit anyone in."

He also told them that the boy had died of severe cold outside at night, and had been taken away and cremated by the municipality just before daybreak.

"Felt pity, Sir, I put a wreath and an incense stick at his funeral."

"That's all right. Many people call us mother and father. And it's not our fault if he'd the temerity to freeze himself outside our gate."

They chuckled at his feeling of pity for the beggar and his placing a wreath over the body.

As they flicked the piece of paper into the bin, a passport-sized photo fell out. They were electrified.

"Milan - our son! Oh, God - he came to us, and we showed him the grave."

The agonizing sign was too heart rending to be described. They could not blame the gatekeeper, who was new and had never seen their elder son. At last, they sat petrified, tears dried; their faces blanched white as if they had seen a ghost. How cruelly had Lord Ganapati punished them! They sat lost in the world, their empty gaze transfixed upon their son's photo. Some beggar called outside.

"Ask the beggar to wait," Mrs. Agarwal told the gateman, suddenly coming out of her reverie. She pulled out the stiff cardboard that was her certificate of honour as the Woman Of The Year, emptied the breakfast before them upon the 'paper plate', and asked Ganga to take the food to the beggar.

"Take the child with you; he should hold the paper when you give it to the poor man."

Her husband was at first stupefied, and then he realized.

"Yes, it's of no worth any more. And I promise that throughout my tenure as the Chairman, I won't touch a penny. I'll honestly work for the Club's prosperity, not mine."

They held each other's hand and bowed before the idol of Lord Ganapati on the opposite wall, and then turned and sat down on the chairs. They gazed at the shiny, polished plates lying empty before them, and saw reflections of the smiling Lord Ganapati
--------------------------------------------------------------------

Short Story THE LAST PARTY

Mrs. Palit was both confused and disgusted. She suffered from migraine and insomnia, and nothing seemed to work. The specialist had prescribed sleeping pills, but her family doctor had advised her against their use. The propanolol tablets for migraine aggravated respiratory distress; the tablets of pain-killers tried to kill her health rather than her pain.

It was her wedding anniversary. Since the doctors had advised her to be happy and enjoy the pleasures of life, she had thrown a party. There would be food, music, dance, revelry, jokes, laughter, and gossip. Not that these celebrations relieved her agony, but they were regular rituals, insisted upon by her husband. He elaborately arranged the merriments at great expense every now and then, sincerely abiding by the doctors' advice

She spoke to her father over the telephone, who inquired of her health.

"No use," she said exasperated, "the strain only makes me worse. Yet my husband says it's good for me, as all the doctors express similar opinion."

Her father sighed. "Have faith and patience. God will help you."

"Where's that elusive God, Father? I've read Gita, Koran, Bible and Gurugranth. I've visited every shrine, chanted every prayer, worshipped every God and Goddess. It's of no use - there's no cure, no relief."

Her father only repeated, "God will help you. Be good and kind, and you'll soon find God."

She said bitterly, "Doctors and psychologists say I must be happy and contented. Why should I be unhappy or discontented, when I've both wealth and a good family? And you repeat that God will come, wherever He might be. It's all rubbish."

Only two hours were left for the guests to arrive. The phone rang. Mrs. Palit was weary. It would be one of the guests pleading inability to attend on some excuse. She picked it up without interest.

The next moment she was electrified; the call was from the hospital. Her husband's scooter had skidded off the road, probably because he was riding too fast to reach home in time for the party, and he was in the hospital with severe head injuries.

Mrs. Palit was a bold woman who could handle any situation. No need to trouble her aged father at the moment. She rang up the guests, cancelled the party, and proceeded to the hospital with sufficient cash. Just as she entered the hospital, her migraine worsened and she nearly collapsed of the sharp excruciating pain.

A pleasant, middle-aged lady instantly came to her aid. She guided her to a sofa, gently lay her down, and placed upon her forehead a hanky soaked in ice-cold water mixed with camphor. It felt wonderful. Mrs. Palit could no longer keep her eyes open.

When she regained herself, her headache had vanished, only she felt tired. She was surprised to find out that she had slept for nearly four hours - but then she had not slept well for the past few days. It was refreshing. Her Samaritan was with her.

I'm Mrs. Palit," she said hesitantly and apologetically.

"I know. I'm Mrs. Meldon. Your husband is out of danger."

Mrs. Palit was astonished and stared at her. Mrs. Meldon smiled.

"It's all right. You were just exhausted, and perhaps a bit too excited. We've taken care of everything."

Mrs. Palit thanked her and asked her why she had come to the hospital.

"My neighbour's child had to be rushed here after he accidentally consumed some insecticide."

When Mrs. Palit learned that the boy was well and had been taken home, and that Mrs. Meldon had stayed back beside her, she was profuse with gratitude. A peon came and escorted them to the doctor's chamber.

"Your husband is perfectly safe, and we owe it to the talents of Dr. Zeen here," said the hospital super, pointing to a young lady. "She was in the city for a seminar, and we're lucky to get hold of her."

Dr. Zeen deprecated. "We owe it to Mrs. Meldon for her ready donation of her blood. We didn't disturb you, Mrs. Palit, not only because you're not well but also because your ID-card gave your blood group as AB negative, which wouldn't match."

Mrs. Meldon said, "We all owe it to God, that my blood matched and that I happened to be at the right place at the right time. Also for Dr. Zeen, a surgeon of international repute, to be available here at the critical juncture - she has nearly snatched life from the jaws of death, after all other doctors had given it up as hopeless."

Mrs Palit bowed and took leave, and they came out. Mrs. Palit asked Mrs. Meldon how she could ever repay the debt.

"There's no debt to me, but only to God. I'm myself indebted."

Mrs. Meldon explained that she once had a neighbour called Razzia. When Mrs. Meldon was knocked down by a lorry, she had neither any ready cash nor any contacts or resources to arrange for blood, for she was new to the city and her husband was away. It was Razzia who had saved her life.

"I asked her the same question - how to return her kindness. She told me that when she was six months old, their neighbour Sunita and her husband, an Army jawan, had bravely rescued her from a gang of kidnappers, sacrificing their lives as the price for their good deed."

Mrs. Meldon put her hand on Mrs. Palit's shoulder.

"That's the way God has designed this world. If I help you, your return need not be to me, reach out and help anybody in need, and you'd repay your debt. Paradise is the term given to the world where every person loves and helps every other. Peace and contentment can only come from goodness and kindness."

Mrs. Palit said, with tears in her eyes, "I think you must be getting late, though I could talk to you for hours. I hope I didn't keep you from anything important."

"None. It's my wedding anniversary. We usually have a short prayer, and then we enjoy a simple and quiet meal together - my husband, my children and my parents. But today's prayer was the best; I served God in saving a life.

Mrs. Palit said, "Today is my anniversary too. Only we didn't know how to celebrate. In our enthusiasm to seek happiness, we moved away from happiness." She explained what the doctors, psychologists and her religious father had advised her.

Mrs. Meldon shook her head. "All of them were correct. Medical science, psychology and religion have established one thing, one point in common. Only goodness and purity of thought can bring true joy and happiness, and ensure mental health as well as physical well-being."

They parted, and Mrs. Palit returned home. That night she had a perfectly normal sleep. She was suddenly woken at around two at night by some noisy commotion from the floor above. She went out to inquire and learnt that Mrs. Singh's son, who had just been taken to hospital after an iron beam fell on his head, required an urgent transfusion of AB negative blood.

"It's my group, come on," said Mrs. Palit immediately and accompanied Mrs. Singh to the hospital. She remained with her till the boy was declared out of danger.

With no trace of migraine, she felt for the first time in several years a wonderful lightness of head and heart. She threw away the strips of sleeping pills and analgesics, saying: "I have found amrita, I do not need these poisons."

Then she rang up her father and told him:

"Father, I've found God. It was in my blood."
-----------------------------------------------------

Short Story THE LAST LESSON

It was a bright sunny afternoon when Raja, a clerk, walked into Anita's chamber and earnestly begged for leave to go home as his wife was seriously ill.

"I had to come to Office because I've exhausted all my leave due for the year. But I must go home, with your kind consent," he pleaded.

Anita had entered upon her new job as a Junior Officer (Personal & Administration) under Mr. Beverly less than a fortnight ago. She was yet to understand the varied intricacies of human nature and behaviour. Being not quite sure of what she really ought to do, she promised to refer the matter to Mr. Beverly as soon as he returned from lunch. It would not be more than five or ten minutes, she assured him, for Mr. Beverly was always very methodical and punctual in everything.

The clerk had hardly expected such a turn of events. Unwilling to heed Anita's advice, he went to Pradip, another junior administrative officer under Mr. Beverly. However, he was senior to Anita in service, if not in rank.

Pradip was such a conceited, vain, arrogant man that his subordinates detested him but they also knew that he could be easily deceived and mellowed by praise and flattery.

Raja easily ingratiated Pradip exploiting this weakness, gained the permission and left. Raja was happy to get a half-holiday, but Pradip was happier to have someone humbly submit to his ego of superiority, and his heart nearly burst with pride at his grand gesture of mercy and consideration to one under his power.

When Mr. Beverly returned a few minutes later, Anita (who did not know that Raja had already left) promptly spoke to him of the poor man's urgency.

"Did you ask him to go?" asked Mr. Beverly.

"No, Sir," said Anita, "I asked him to wait for you."

"Well, he's not at his desk now. Let's find out."

He immediately sent for the clerk, whereupon it transpired that he had just left with Pradip's permission.

The matter might have ended there, but Mr. Beverly, who had of late been receiving complaints about Pradip's high handedness and even indecent behaviour towards clerks and peons, decided to teach him a lesson in administration. Mr. Beverly summoned both Pradip and Anita to his room.

"Mr. Pradip, what did Mr. Raja exactly tell you?" asked Mr. Beverly, very calm and polite.

Pradip went on an elaborate explanation, saying he had permitted Raja to go on a genuine humanitarian cause.

"I'm sure you did the right thing, Mr. Pradip. The cause must be genuinely urgent if he couldn't wait for five minutes. Nevertheless, if you don't mind, what did he exactly tell you?"

With much reluctance, Pradip came out with the necessary piece of information, as if he was sharing a top secret of his personal life. Judging by his accounts, Raja's wife was not expected to survive till the evening.

"Now," said Mr. Beverly, "we shift to another - perhaps related - matter, if you please. The subject of discussion, the main reason why I disturbed two busy, senior officers like you and Miss Anita, is this: How is our administration - and I wish a frank assessment - and how could we improve in areas where we are lacking?"

Both Anita and Pradip were taken aback at the unexpected digress. After a brief pause, Anita spoke first.

"Sir, I'm quite new and am hardly competent to make any critical evaluation."

Pradip needed to be urged to speak. Although he was puzzled, he guessed that it was really he who was being targeted. Nevertheless, keeping with his nature, he said pompously, "Sir, I think our administration is one of the best. Our office, under you, is perfect and efficient, for we make every one do his duty with utmost care."

"Perhaps it's so," said Mr. Beverly, "though I beg to differ on one point, if you allow me to do so. You don't make others work, you inspire and motivate them to work of their own will, and create an atmosphere where they get restless if asked to sit idle. Maybe we've faulted there."

As neither of them spoke, Mr. Beverly continued, "In administration, there's only one thing we've to do, and that's to build a small bridge of confidence. The method is simple and straight - make others worthy of your trust and make yourself worthy of their trust. Just as if you're worthy to trust in God, then you're also worthy to be trusted by God. Then you've the strongest team, the perfect work-efficiency, and the best administration."

After a while, still confused as to what Mr. Beverly was driving at, Pradip said, "Sir, I think you - er, we - enjoy every employee's full faith."

"Then," returned Mr. Beverly, "the man would not have resorted to such ingenious ways for so simple a purpose as getting a day off."

Pradip would have spoken at length, but Mr. Beverly decisively indicated the end of the discussion, and asked Pradip and Anita to think over and suggest measures for improvement of the office administration.

After Pradip left, he said to Anita, "Miss Anita, you may be new, but just using your commonsense, do you find anything strange in Mr. Raja's behaviour?"

Anita replied, "Well, Sir, I indeed feel it a bit strange that he came to office in the first place; if his wife was so critically ill, he shouldn't have come at all, even if it meant leave without pay. Secondly, he didn't say a word until you went out, for he could have obtained his half-holiday in the morning itself. And finally, he didn't wait for even five minutes."

Mr. Beverly beamed in appreciation. "Well done, Miss Anita, you're really the right person for this post. I feel exactly the same. A man whose wife is dying comes to office, works till lunchtime, and then suddenly discovers that he can't wait for even a few minutes. With all this rigmarole, there's only one conclusion - he wanted at all costs to avoid me, for whatever reason. Next, given the choice between you and Mr. Pradip, he preferred to come to you, although you're new. But when you decided to refer him to me, he went to Mr. Pradip, overcoming his initial unwillingness or hesitation or whatever you call it."

Anita nodded in agreement, and he continued, "Now, a half holiday isn't important. As far as we're concerned, what's important is that there's something wrong in our inter-personal relationship. The rot, once it sets, would hollow out everything right from the foundation, so it's this aspect which needs to be set right without delay."

The meeting ended there, but less than an hour later, he again called them saying that he had to go out on some urgent business and that he wanted them to accompany him. The three got into Mr. Beverly's car and set out.

Apparently he had instructed the driver beforehand; neither Anita nor Pradip had the least idea of their journey's purpose or destination. At last, the car stopped and Mr. Beverly sent Pradip ahead to knock on a particular door, while he gave brief instructions to Anita.

How great was their astonishment therefore when they discovered that it was Raja's house!

However confused and nervous, Raja had to welcome them. Mr. Beverly was very genial and amiable. "Sorry to disturb you. We were just passing, and thought we might help ourselves to a refreshing glass of cold water, for the day is unbearably hot," he said explaining their uninvited intrusion.

His wife, innocent of the morning's drama, was overwhelmed with joy and extended a very sincere and warm hospitality.

Anita chatted away; she had an inborn knack of readily befriending anyone. With her soothing manner, Anita soon drew Raja's wife out of her initial shyness and she became communicative enough. It became clear that no one was ill. It also came to light that Raja was requested to come home early that day to see off their only son back to his boarding school after the vacation.

Although Pradip was fuming in rage within himself, Mr. Beverly and Anita were very cordial and shortly took leave of their host.

Mr. Beverly said, "See what I meant. The fault lies in us. We've failed to win their confidence."

Pradip, who was feeling furious as well as insulted, spoke of stern action against the impostor, but his boss would have none of it. He forbade Pradip from even any mentioning of the day's incident to Raja or any other staff member at any time.

"It's the administrator's binding duty to secure his subordinates' faith and respect so that they may not be compelled to be anything less than hundred percent frank," he explained. Anita later discovered that Mr. Beverly had been right, and the total fault lay with Pradip.

This took place way back in the summer of 1958. After several years Anita was elevated to succeed Mr. Beverly, who left for England. She served the post with rare efficiency and distinction, till her retirement in 1993. During the period, she successfully resolved all problems and challenges, for she had learnt her last lesson in administration -- Make others worthy of your trust and make yourself worthy of their trust. Just as if you're worthy to trust in God, then you're also worthy to be trusted by God.
Published: 2007-04-24
Author: S. Kumar

About the author or the publisher
A teacher by profession and a writer by passion. Already written educational book and short stories published in national dailies and reputed magazines. Currently engaged in language skill development.

With a very good command of English, my hobby is to highlight matters of importance through common incidents that take place everyday. Often there is a moral involved requiring deep thought in spite of the simple incidents narrated. These stories are not vulgar/sexual can be read by all ages.

www.langdevelop.com

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