His black complexion, unwashed curly hair, a pair of dirty trousers, greasy looking shirt, an old suitcase as luggage and a fresh pair of trowels in hand, was enough to make sure that he was a Bengali or Bihari labourer when he knocked my at my door and in a typical Bihari accent asked ” Sir, do you have a room to rent out?”.(Shahabjee, Kya Mujhay Aik kamra Milshakta Hai). He was looking very desperate for a room. I asked him to come in. He came in and greeted me with folded hands. I asked him to sit down but he hesitantly stood still and was looking little nervous. I stood up from my chair in the balcony of my house and walked up to him and offered him a cup of tea which he refused. Most probably, his smelly socks were recognizable from a good distance as the odor had spread through my room. I understood his urge to leave my room as early as possible but he wanted a room at any cost.
His impatience and embarrassment to get a room was quite genuine as his wife and two children were waiting in the lawn of my two storied house.
His joy knew no bounds when I told him that I had a flat to rent out. His self-esteem was something to be noteworthy. He didn’t ask for a favor as most of the Bihari labourers do ask . We discussed and bargained the rent, and without signing a rent deed on paper, we made a verbal agreement. I could have exploited him but didn’t because my late father had advised me to be compassionate and generous.
He , at once, paid me a sum of rupees three thousand in advance. And I handed him over the keys of the room and said in a boastful tone, “Don’t forget to clean the toilets properly. Most of the Bihari paying guests don’t know how to make use of a commode ” . He assured me the proper safeguard of my property. He just received the keys and asked his wife and two children to get into the room.
After some forty or forty five days, I visited my paying guest’s room in order to see if he was living happily or not. I had inherited this trait from my father who was a noted philanthropist of his times. ” Nizam, where are you, come here”. I called him out. He came out at once and offered me a cup of tea which I refused very humbly. I noticed a typical embarrassment on his face which spreads over a debtor’s face when the owner makes a visit or makes a call to him.
” Do you have enough to feed your family, Nizaam?. You can ask me for anything, I can lend you money if you need ” , I said. My words relieved him a lot. His apprehensions proved him wrong. ” Thank you Shahabjee “. He replied in the typical Bihari style. Nizaam, his wife and his two children were very happy and were full of praises for the neighbors including the shopkeeper, milkman, the baker and others for their moral uprightness and honesty.
Days kept passing, and some four or five months later, a proclamation was being made from high decibel loudspeaker of our Masjid which said, ” Ramadan moon has been sighted and tomorrow will be the first day of Ramadan.” I asked my servant if he had purchased all the edible items for Ramadan or not. And I consider it more than my religious obligation to take care of the poor and the destitute during Ramadan.
My Bihari paying guest had become my priority for any philanthropic gesture. I, as usual, prepared a list and distributed some edible items among these families but I didn’t expect my paying guest to fast during the holy month , given his tough job and deplorable economic condition. To my utter surprise, Nizaam and his wife didn’t miss a single day of fasting, as the noise of their kerosene stove at predawn times was vivid proof of it.
One night when I was returning from Taraaweeh , Nizaam was grumbling and trying to console his wife by saying, ” Wake up both the children, they haven’t taken anything for last two days, the soaring prices of edible items have broken my back. I am not able to buy anything from the market. I don’t understand if Muslims want to become millionaires during this month alone. Why do they make such a sharp steep in prices ? How can poor afford two meals in such exorbitant circumstances? The message of Ramadan is altogether different from it. Where has the compassion and sympathy of Muslims gone ? Anyways, Don’t worry, Ramadan is about to culminate, the prices will dismount after Eid and we can afford two meals for our starved children as before”. The conversation between the couple woke their children up, and they shouted at once: ” Papa , give us two morsels of Rice “.
(PS:All the characters in the story are fictitious and any resemblance of events or characters is a mere coincidence)
—The writer is a teacher and a columnist. He can be reached at: email@example.com