Shine On You Crazy Diamond…

 A summer afternoon long ago. Hot, humid,  winds chase idle leaves through the silent streets. In the distance, approaching thunder. A flash of a dust storm. And then a furtive but determined knock on the rusty steel gate. “Didi, do you have a job for me? Anything I can do for you?”. The dust storm reappears and picks up pace, the thunder in the distance is more meancing. “You need a gardner Didi?”. A quick look towards the swollen skies to ascertain the arrival of the impending monsoons.  “It will rain Didi. And the plants (a wave towards a profusion of seedlings awaiting their fate by the window sill) will grow all at once and growing plants always need to be looked after”.

In the next 30 minutes, Samuel Kandul, betting firmly on a strong monsoon that would create havoc in our garden, procured himself a job. He also managed to add grocery shopping (“The garden will look after itself  after the first round of the monsoons, Aunty, I will shop for you when it is too rainy, haan?”), and the occasional bicycle maintenance to his list of duties.  My mother gave him a cup of strong tea which he turned down emphatically. When she pointed to the storm outside, he agreed to drink the tea in the portico only because it was too windy and wet for him to venture back home. In the midsts of an impromptu electricity failure that prompted my mother to light up a large kerosene lamp, Sam with the westerlies lashing his tiny frame and the rain throwing the occasional damper his way slurped his tea from the mismatched cup and saucer that had been given to him. He lived in the tenements behind the old muncipality school, we heard and he had four young sisters. At 10, Sam contributed to the family’s income by doing odd jobs but he had figured out that he needed a permanent job and had presented himself outside our bungalow.

The monsoons raged that year but they could not alter Sam’s obsession with cleaning the gutters to remove the wet leaves and moving the potted plants from the portico around, so that they all recieved the rain’s bounty in equal measure. For someone who had largely seen the meagre and unfair side of life, Sam pursued fairness with a vengeance bordering on obsession. After my father threatened to hide the rickety and moldy bamboo ladder that was Sam’s latest tool in gutter cleaning, Sam offered to climb up the neighbouring mango tree and slide down the parapet into the gutters. “Perhaps you could also tell me what to say to your parents after they discover that I let you break your neck”, my father chided him. Sam looked at him aghast, “And what would they say if they realized that I stayed indoors while the leaves piled up?”, he demanded as indignantly as he could muster. Committment was a feverish thing in the Kandul family, as we were soon to realize.

Sam learnt to water the gardens, weed the side walks and polish the old bicycle as a treat on Sundays. He learnt to pick and store the never ending supply of fruit from the garden and when asked to leave some fruit on the trees for the birds as was the rule in our garden, Sam who had never shown much of a skill for any kind of maths, suddenly became adept at ratios and proportions. When he was given his share of the fruit, he accepted it with a solemn thanks and offered to exchange his share for the less plump and rather sickly pile behind. “It is all fruit Didi and someone needs to eat it”, he pointed out when I asked him to banish the thought.

When Sam did not turn up on a Saturday, he caused more of a worry than a stir. Monsoons and heat waves and darkened streets hadn’t stopped the boy from turning up for work and this was unlike him. He turned up the next day and refused to come in and stood near the gate. When I opened the gate to let him in, he thrust a telegram in my hands and asked me to pass it on to the Aunty and the Sahab. “My grandparents arrived yesterday and my parents had to go to work, so I stayed with them”, he explained. “That telegram arrived after they did, otherwise I would have told you earlier”, the normally cheerful voice sounded upset. “You didnt need to show us the telegram”, my mother gently admonished him, “We believe you”. “I needed to let you know that you were believing the truth”, Sam said simply before disappearing up the garden path.

The domestic help took to calling him Shyam because she couldn’t say Sam properly. The old lady next door for whom he cleaned windows once a month took to calling him Shrinivas because “the boy deserved a grand and possibly a religious name”. Sam took on the new names with delight. When I asked him if I could teach him once a week, he grinned with joy. “I would have to finish my work first, Didi”, he told me in serious tones. It became a pattern – Sam and I sat in the freshly tended garden every Sunday and I helped him with his math and his grammar and his science. What he lacked in understanding, he made up by effort. He sat on his haunches over the plain, single-lined hardbound books and rewrote his words till they made sense to him. He apologized when I had to explain the same thing twice. He came home with the question papers after every exam and waited while I cross checked his answers. “Didi, help me write about my favourite animal” , he implored one day. We spent a merry half an hour writing about elephants and Sam went away delighted. The grandeur of the animal seemed to replenish any shortcomings the education system had rewarded him.

“Didi”, the tone was urgent and full of confidence as I got home from that evening. “I had my english exams today and we were asked to write about our pets”. Before I could ask him, the answer came loud and clear “Didi, I remembered everything we had said about elephants”. Resisting an urge to laugh, I maintained the facade, “Elephants don’t make very good pets, Sam”, I gently told him.  The grin disappeared but only for a minute, “If I ever get a pet Didi, it will be an elephant – nothing else would do”.

A few months after the elephant episode, the old tenements were razed to the ground to make way for a newer muncipality school. The old inhabitants were offered accomodation on the outskirts of the city. Sam and his family moved overnight and except for short trip to tell us that he wouldnt be working for us any longer, Sam bowed out as dramatically as he had arrived. “I will send someone over Sahab, those gutters will need to be cleaned” were his parting words even as he walked away looking at the foreboding clouds.

I met Sam Shyam Shrinivas Kandul after many years, he said he was earning a living working in a candle factory. The same smile, the same earnestness, the same beliefs (“Kandul, didi, like Candle, we are a family of candle makers, did you not guess that?”).

No Sam, I did not guess that all these years but I think I knew it all along. I hope the candle making works for you ; some people deserve the light much,much more than others.


13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. bilbo
    Oct 29, 2007 @ 12:43:11

    that was an awesome read


  2. ano
    Oct 29, 2007 @ 12:48:26

    lovely. vintage scarlett.


  3. Maria
    Oct 29, 2007 @ 19:13:35

    It is always great to read what you write…and this is no exception!

    It is like a word painting in progress!



  4. Nithya
    Oct 30, 2007 @ 07:33:24

    Fantastic read. Agree with Maria, a word painting is precisely what it is, such smooth flow 🙂



  5. asuph
    Oct 30, 2007 @ 10:55:32

    Like all those who commented before me, I’m lost for words. Good to see you back in action, and at your fluent best.


  6. Aria
    Oct 30, 2007 @ 14:00:49

    Lovely.. lovely lovely ..


  7. Scarlett
    Oct 31, 2007 @ 01:13:20

    Thanks all. Mucho appreciated.


  8. parikrama
    Oct 31, 2007 @ 01:26:50

    Ditto.. Ditto.. Ditto.. Ditto.. Ditto.. Ditto..

    I am not doing any imposition by writing the word Ditto 100 times. I was just dittoing the views of the 6 commentators who commented before me.. 🙂

    I found this piece more rooted in realism than romantism.. Not that it was any less poignant than your other writings, but, I felt consciously or unconsicously you tried to break away from your usual style. Lekin everybody else is saying this is “vintage” Scary stuff.. so I am now confused.. Will read this again during weekend at leisure and then see if i missed out on something 🙂


  9. scarlettletters
    Nov 01, 2007 @ 02:37:40


    You are spot on. I tried to consciously break away from the old style and left my rose tinted glasses behind. Some realism was called for because this is a true tale of a real person. I decide to leave out the optimism and the hallmark effect 😛

    Thanks for your comment IW, read it again and tell me what you feel.

    Scarlett The Realist


  10. asuph
    Nov 01, 2007 @ 06:13:06

    Ah, maybe us, the reader, didn’t live our rose-tinted glasses behind (only iw, did). but while the subject is a deviation, I don’t think this is very much in your realm. Okay, not hallmarkish, but I seriously don’t think you write hallmarkish stuff. And lately, I’ve started to realize, that predictability is not such a bad thing after all, for an aspiring author.

    Enough ramble. You are doing well. Write more!


  11. enig
    Nov 12, 2007 @ 01:43:15

    beautiful writing, Scarlett…I’m lost for words too 🙂



  12. Scarlett
    Nov 12, 2007 @ 06:26:48

    Thanks Enig. Am always glad when you stop by.

    Now, now Asuph you are not to pick on my dear brother just because he wears tinted glasses. Predictability is not always a bad thing though is it – unpredictability make take you far but how do you make sure that the journey is worth it? Hmmm, questions and more questions.


  13. priyamvada
    Dec 13, 2007 @ 20:10:51

    What a genuinely good soul! Some deserve the light more, no doubt – and also provide light for others.



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