The End of a Passion
Shivaji K. Moitra
Copyright 2008 by Shivaji K. Moitra
Nobody could really remember when Hanuman Prasad began his unique career in one corner of the old Post Office veranda.
Every morning he came there to occupy a rickety wooden chair and a discoloured wooden table from which the varnish had long vanished. He was a short plump man on the right side of fifty with light black and white hair that he combed with great expertise to cover the middle of his balding pate. But he possessed a light complexion and a jovial face and he wore black thick-rimmed spectacles with round glasses and a goatee on his short chin, which gave him a rather funny look. His clients affectionately called him ‘Kaka’ (uncle) because he was an affable father figure to them.
They came to him from the dusty lanes and by ways of the densely populated Jamirpur (abode of conscience) locality of the Film City. They had all come to the film city from different corners of the country riding on their dreams of making a fortune and a name for themselves. They had been beckoned by its famous film industry, its glitzy malls and hotels, its strobe lights, its riches and its garish celebrities who were often looked upon as demigods by the masses.
Some of them though were tricked into leaving their snug village homes by human traffickers with rags-to-riches stories of celebrities hogging the limelight whereas the others arrived to the city because they had nothing to lose. Grinding poverty and despair and the family discords that bred in such circumstances had egged them to try their luck in the city of promises.
But they were mostly young men and women who had left behind some of their own who still loved them despite their penury. For the vast majority of these young people though the tinsel city belied all their expectations. It turned out to be filthy, depraved, scornful and heartless. It pushed them to its squalid decaying corners for a hand-to-mouth existence where they had only their gloom for company. While the young men ended up doing menial jobs in hotels and markets or just got sucked into the city’s crime syndicates, the youthful women were compelled by hunger to shed their conscience to become either dance girls in seedy nightclubs or cheap call girls. The few lucky ones who somehow managed to make a living on the silver screen had to be content with such inconsequential roles as dummies, extras, number girls or just one in the crowd.
Their dreams shattered and their sweaty bodies dragged into the filth of a society that masqueraded as caring and honest, they struggled to hide their failures and miseries from their beloved ones with blatant lies and false promises. And Hanuman Prasad helped them do it in style. He wrote letters for those sad and forlorn young souls who had very little or no education at all.
He penned down their dictations on post cards or inland letters after editing them into neat and convincing sentences that told their intended readers exactly what they meant to say. He behaved just like a machine which put down in black and white the words of its clients gracefully and cogently for a small fee.
Frequently his clients sent money to their poor old parents or siblings back home, money which they had earned by not so honourable means or by thoroughly illegal means like prostitution, intimidation and drug-dealing but which they told their recipients were honestly earned. Again it was Hanuman Prasad’s duty to make it sound sweet and true. Sometimes they spun stories which seemed outlandish to his ears. But he understood that his clients certainly did not wish to burden their near and dear ones with the bitterness of their lives.
He was aware of the desperate private lives of many of his regular clients. Yet he neither asked them any questions nor gave them any unwanted advice or sermon. He knew it was their hope of better times that kept them going. But the secret of his success and his huge popularity was his total silence as far as the secrets of his clients were concerned. He never uttered a word of one to another. The trust they reposed in him was breached under no circumstances.
Hanuman Prasad earned just enough from his unique profession to keep his family hearth burning and the hopes of his wife and children alive. His noble ways and humble life style even enabled him to send his children to school. In the quarter of a century that he had been in the job he had written more than a hundred thousand letters for others in the three languages he could read and write.
But then, the unexpected happened.
He had never even dreamt that it could come so suddenly to shove him out of his job. The Mobile Phone with no wires trailing behind it arrived with a bang. Within months he saw more and more people holding the strange little gadget to their ears. For a year, like everybody else on the dusty streets of the city he frowned upon the small talking genie that brooked no barriers and sought out its master’s near and dear ones to convey messages to them. He thought that it was a thing only for the rich to flaunt. But he was greatly mistaken.
Soon his clients began to disappear and before long by the end of the day he could make only twenty or thirty rupees. His son and daughter would have finished college in another three years and he wished the cell phone had appeared three years late. As the cell phone became affordable and ubiquitous in the next two years Hanuman Prasad struggled to make do with his steeply dwindling income. Unfortunately for him people seemed to prefer their voice over pen and paper.
The demise of letter writing was hard for him to accept. It was a passion he had turned into his profession with hard work and sincerity. It had been his only means of livelihood for twenty five years. No wonder, he refused to budge from his seat at the old Post Office hoping that in the coming time at least some of his clients would find written words more convincing than their trembling voices.
But it was not to be. In the time that followed the Cell Phone’s onward march proved unstoppable. It dealt such a severe blow to the age-old art of letter writing that the very Post Office which gave Hanuman Prasad shelter for decades and had been a landmark teeming with people only a few years ago soon turned into a derelict building where only office boys and government peons came to despatch official mail.
One hot summer afternoon as Hanuman Prasad sat on his chair looking vacantly at the desolate cobweb-enveloped veranda, a young man appeared before him. He turned his gaze at him expectantly. But he was no client. This was the man he adored most. The smart young man was his own son.
“Papa, enough is enough; I have got a job. The job application you wrote for me clicked and I passed the interview with flying colours. Now you have to work no more. I have come to take you home.” He spoke softly but excitedly, the tears of affection and gratitude welling up in his eyes.
“Well done, my son! You have saved my honour,” Hanuman Prasad smiled with joy. He embraced his son and whispered into his ears, “OK, I shall call it a day. After all, I have no options.”
He watched sadly as his son lifted his chair and table and shoved them into the store room where old Post Office files were dumped. The Post Master stood nearby, witnessing the end of an era with moist eyes. Then he locked the room, grabbed Hanuman Prasad’s hand and said in a mournful voice, “Hanuman, I will despatch your furniture to your home. But I can’t bear to lose an old friend like you forever. Promise me that you will come to see me every day until I retire.”
Hanuman Prasad took off his spectacles and wiped the glasses with the corner of his shirt. Then he drew the Post Master to his bosom and nodded. He was too distraught to utter another word.
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