Lines and Laddoos

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Lines and Laddoos

It is 42 degrees Celsius,107 Fahrenheit. Mumbai must have broken itself off the face of the Earth and moved closer to the sun all by itself. An old fan in the corner, blades caked in dust, is blowing on me. It is trying to oscillate, but it makes a forty-five degree turn, a soft thud and returns to face me. It doesn’t provide any respite from the heat. Instead, the dust is making my throat itch.

A rotund clay pot sits at the far end of the office. There’s a steel tumbler standing upside down on its lid, glinting in the sunlight streaming through the dusty Venetian blinds. The thought of that refreshing, cool water makes me more thirsty, but I gulp down my cough and stay put. I don’t want to lose my place in the line. It has taken me two hours to get to the chairs. The chairs, ten gleaming white chairs at the very front of the line, are a prize for patience. My knees creak in relief as my legs collapse into one.

I wipe the sweat off my face and take off my slippers. Their soles have worn off, probably from standing in this line every day for the last three months. A peon comes by with an aluminium tray full of little glasses of chai.

“Back again, Patelji?” he laughs and walks away without waiting for an answer.

I glance back to the people standing behind me. Almost at the beginning of the line, Mrs. Kumar, a war widow, is struggling to stand on her arthritis-troubled feet. We’re line-acquaintances. I nod a hello to her. I get a weak smile in return.

Mr. Sharma, the pension officer I’m waiting to meet, is away from his desk. Nothing new there. On the table is a dusty mountain of files and a stacked lunch box, both vying for his attention. I say a little prayer for the person whose paperwork is in the file at the very bottom. The lunch box always gets precedence over the files.

Half an hour later, I’m sitting in front of Mr. Sharma, who is chomping on his rotis and aloo gobhi with gusto. I stare at his balding head and wait for our usual conversation. 

“Patelji, why do you waste your time coming here everyday?” He points two curry-covered fingers at me.“You should be enjoying your retirement! When your pension papers are approved, we’ll inform you.”

“It has been 6 months since I retired, Mr. Sharma. I really need the money. If you could check if my file has been passed, it will be a great favor!”

He replies with an irritated tsk.

“It has to go through many levels, Patelji, you don’t understand! If the Accounts department doesn’t clear your papers, what can I do? Now please, let me have my lunch in peace.” He nods vigorously.

My shoulders slump. I get up to go. But he will see me again tomorrow.

“Ahem, Sir, actually Patelji’s pension check is here. We got it this morning.” Mr. Sharma’s secretary brings my file to his desk. I wasn’t expecting this.

He wipes his hand in a hurry and snatches the file from her hand. “See, Patelji? Didn’t I tell you I’ll get your check for you? You should bring us some laddoos!” he grins.

I understand what “laddoos” means. I’ve distributed “laddoos” to officials in every department to get my file passed. I fish out a hundred rupee note from my pocket, crumple it in my palm and shake his hand. His eyes don’t flinch for even a second.

I stop to buy some laddoos covered in silver foil for Nina and me. She deserves some real ones for having stood by me for forty years, and I feel like an achiever today, almost like how I used to feel after a good day at work.

I don’t have to stand in line at the pension office anymore. What will I do tomorrow? A strange emptiness takes over and follows me all the way home. 

The following day, the dusty fan, the meek secretary and the line are in their usual places. The peon with his tray of chai glasses stops in his tracks and looks back at the chairs, his eyes wide with surprise.

“Patelji, you’re back? I thought you got your pension yesterday!”

“Oh, I’m here for a friend.” I smile and clutch Mrs. Kumar’s file tighter in my hand.

ThePhdMama

30 thoughts on “Lines and Laddoos

  1. lwhite49

    How many would of us do the same thing for friend. To stand in line all day just to hand in some paper work. There is one such person and he came to earth knowing what lie ahead for all his friends, family and those that he loved with all he heart and he gave his life for us on the cross that very day he hung on it. If we could live our life as he did right to end as he did how great shall our joy be. Just as the old lady did with her pention check day after day standing waiting wondering if it had gone through yet. Like we all are doing here going through life journey day after day dealing with challenges we face until he calls us home. How great shall be our day when that comes. I really like your story really pulled me into what you had to say about the old lady and standing in line. Thank you I needed this.

    Reply
  2. Laissez Faire

    Loved the setting. You put me there. You made me hungry and get cravings for all that delicious food. 🙂 I found myself sighing at the horrible red tap lol. Nice touch with the foreshadowing of the ending with Mrs. Kumar. The only place I got confused was the crumpled rupee note.

    Reply
    1. mixedbag Post author

      Thanks Tara! I was probably hungry when I wrote this, haha! Were you confused as to why he crumples the note?

      Reply
        1. mixedbag Post author

          He crumples the note to hide it in his palm and when he shakes the officer’s hand, the note goes into his. Laddoos or other sweets are usually a euphemism for bribes 🙂

          Reply
  3. cobwebsandconfetti

    This was genuinely heartwarming. You did a great job creating characterization with little details – the bribe, the lunch, etc. And you used a setting and plot that I’ve never really seen explored before. Great job!

    Reply
  4. innatejames

    You’ve made a hero of Patelji in just a few paragraphs! The setting was solid and you wrote life in before and after your story. I was confused by the dual meaning of “laddoos” until I read your comment. It seems to mean bribe at first and then he stops by and actually buys laddoos on his way home, which made me think my definition was wrong.

    Reply
    1. mixedbag Post author

      Thanks, Nate! Do you think it would be clearer if I had mentioned that the note changes hands after the handshake?

      Reply
  5. Katrina Begg

    I love the “I stare at his balding head” and “points two curry covered fingers” lines. I immediately pick up this feeling of contempt from Patelji, all without him directly saying anything. The term “laddoos” confused me; I understood the first meaning, but not the second one.

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  6. Uma Chellappa

    Really liked this piece, Hema. The setting was perfectly described. I could feel Patelji’s fatigue, both mental and physical. And, yes, aren’t we all acquainted with the babus, laddoos, and lines?!

    Reply
  7. nansfarm

    Not sure why the confusion over the term laddoos. Seemed pretty obvious to me. My late husband frequently used the word bread when referring to money. “Do you have any bread?”

    Reply
    1. mixedbag Post author

      Haha, love these euphemisms. Bread is such a clever one! Another one I’ve heard being frequently used in India for a bribe is “chai-pani”, literally meaning tea and water! The confusion is probably because I’ve used the euphemism and the literal meaning in quick succession. But I’m so glad you got it!

      Reply
  8. The Mum Reviews

    I really enjoyed reading this. You evoked the hot unpleasant scene of having to queue for such a long time. It’s a lovely twist that the narrator returns to help a friend. I couldn’t tell if the narrator was a man or a woman though! #Bloggerbeatz

    Reply
    1. mixedbag Post author

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read 🙂 well, I had intended for the narrator to be a man, but the story shaped up this way 🙂 I guess it can go either way depending on how the reader chooses to perceive it 🙂

      Reply
  9. Suchitra

    Oh Hema…what a lovely post. I could visualize every single detail of a government office like the kind you describe. The last line really tugged at my heartstrings. Love Patelji! Hats off to the many Pateljis out there who have to go through this struggle to get what is their due. Reminds me of the “common man” by R K Narayan. Thanks for linking up with #BloggerBeatz

    Reply
    1. mixedbag Post author

      Thanks, Suchi 🙂 so glad you enjoyed the story. This was such a fun linky party! Thanks for hosting 🙂

      Reply
    1. mixedbag Post author

      Thanks for reading, Upasna! Well, Mr. Patel was also a little selfish, in my opinion. Being retired scared him, the line kept him busy. but the nice thing is he used his fear for a good cause. Not sure how his wife would react to this, though 🙂

      Reply

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