The old man woke up with a start. He looked around groggily and squinted as his eyes settled on the cloudy sky above. A droplet of rain landed on his forehead. He brushed it off and sat up. The little puppy that had been sleeping beside him on the stone bench sat up too. The inclement weather had driven most of the people back home and apart from a few stray dogs, a couple of cab drivers and some pedestrians, the lane was largely empty. He ran a hand through his unkempt hair, rose, stumbled and then steadying himself, began to walk towards the little tea shop at the end of the lane. The puppy followed him. It knew that a treat was in store.
He sat on the little stool outside the tea stall while the puppy settled at his feet.
“Will pay tomorrow,” he grunted as the young boy, who worked at the stall handed him a cup of black tea and two biscuits.
The boy nodded and held out a biscuit to the puppy.
“Here, take these too,” the old man dropped the two biscuits on the ground, much to the delight of the puppy.
He sipped his tea noisily and stared into the distance. He wasn’t sure what had woken him up. It wasn’t the drizzle of rain. It was something else. Perhaps it was a dream. Hazy images of faces came flooding into his mind. Had he really seen those faces in his dream? He shook his head restlessly. Perhaps he needed to go back.
But go back where? The Old man closed his eyes and tried to concentrate hard while the puppy kept on staring at the three biscuits lying in front of him, wagging his tail, pulling onto the dhoti of his master. Something was bothering the little animal too.
“Common buddy, go for it.” said the old man and closed his eyes again. After a while, he opened his eyes, all calmed down and smiled at the puppy. The puppy barked back. He looked up at the cloudy sky and winked. Drops of rain fell on his forehead. He acknowledged.
The old man now stroked the little puppy and said “Dharma would not want to lick biscuits that were not paid for.” The puppy started doing circle dances gleefully on hearing his name from his master. The Old man had no money to pay out, so he decided to offer his services.
The young boy at the tea stall was amused by now. With no customers to serve, he has been watching the old man and his puppy for a while now. “Who calls a dog Dharma?” he chuckled as he prepared himself. He knew the old man was going to approach him.
“Listen boy, I do not have money to pay for the tea that I already drank or the biscuits. I am offering my services to you in return for the tea and biscuits. What can I do around here?”
The young boy adjusted himself on his stool, “Today is election day. After a couple of hours, people will gather around here and go on endless discussion. So if you could make around 50 cups of tea and then clean those dishes, your dues will be paid for”, he said pointing his index to the heap of soiled cups and plates lying from overnight. “And be careful with the glasses, if you break one , you will have to pay for two.”
As the Old man got himself busy with the services, Dharma relished the biscuits.
After paying for the biscuits and the tea with his service, the old man began walking towards the stone bench he has been sleeping on. There was only one cab parked there now. The cab driver was sleeping with his arm across his eyes, bare feet popping out of the window.
The old man knocked on the door and slightly poked the driver’s feet.
“Can you take me to my destination, please?”
“Sure I can. I have been waiting for you for some time now. And I must tell, you brothers have your way, popping yourself by my feet. Every time! Hop in Dharma raj, Yudhishthira”
The old man looked surprised. “How do you know my name? You can’t be who I think you are.”
“The driver smiled and replied “Yes it’s me. Driving your brother has made me an experienced driver. I was told by Indra that you would need my service down here, so here I am, doing what I do best.”
“I am so relieved to see you here. Indra woke me up this morning, in his usual way and it was not until he spoke to me again when I was at the tea stall, that I had any clue who was I and where I woke up.”
“Well, what does he want though? I am too tired driving you brothers’ around.” asked the driver, Krishna
“He replayed ‘the great game of dice’ scene to me today. And it bothered me to see myself being righteous and choosing dharma over my own blood and Draupadi. But back then I was wired to act that way. I could not think otherwise, I cannot go back and do anything about it. And I am sure you had your fair share of contribution to the whole drama that played out.”
“So today, Indra wants me to do one act of ‘adharma’ that will be for a greater good and then I will get my entry back in heaven. I am not sure how did I fall out though. I hear its election day. So polling booth, please. And yes meet my faithful friend here, Dharma”, Yudhishthira said as he slid in the backseat with Dharma following him.
With Krishna at the wheels, the drive could not be a silent one. A brief on the background of the electoral candidates, poor state of the constituency, manifesto updates, all possible things remotely related to election was now known to the Old man, Yudhishthira.
At the polling booth, the car came to a screeching halt under the shade of a tree. “There’s your destination. I will be waiting for you right here. Come by when done. Please take your friend with you. I don’t want any advice or company while I catch up on my nap.”
“I may need your help. Whenever you sense that, please come to my rescue, like you always do”, said Yudhishthira as he closed the door behind him.
Yudhishthira looked at the long queue of hopeful voters waiting in the scorching sun. He approached one of them and in an attempt to strike a conversation asked “So who are you voting for?”
“Votes are confidential, why should I reveal? And you join the end of the queue, way back there. Don’t just barge in”, the voter retorted back.
“Why are you so upset my friend? I am here for a purpose, let me first tell that and then I will gladly join the queue. In fact I would not have been here today if not for the miracle that happened last evening”, the old man said.
“Miracles don’t happen, so don’t waste my time. If you don’t move back and stop this conversation, I will shout out for help. You see the police around, don’t you?”
Yudhishthira could almost feel the anger of the tired voter and felt helpless. He was clueless on what to do next when he spotted some men with cameras at a distance covering the poll turnouts. They were interviewing some voters. “You and your little games. How could I have missed the cameras, the very important media!”
Yudhisthira approached the media persons. “Uncle , have you already cast your vote ? How have things been in your constituency in the past five years? Do you want to talk about it and point your index up for the click? You could be on print and television”, a media person came rushing and shoved a microphone while another held a camera steady ready to shoot the old man .
“I am Dharmaraj.”
“You are a senior, I would rather call you Uncle than refer you by your name. It will impress the audience. And once this video is out, if it has any impact, you could be a celebrity, then Dharmaraj will be all over. “the interviewer spit out his paan juice as he held up the microphone and signalled the camera to roll.
“So, what is your occupation? What are your thoughts on the government and what changes do you think the new government should bring about?”
“I am a humble farmer. I have a story to tell. I have been trying to talk to a voter here, but for some reason he did not want to talk. If you do not mind, may I ?”
“You will be heard by the whole state now. Have no fear Uncle, go on. “
“Like I said I am a humble farmer. I had a loan from the co-operative bank that I had been unable to pay. Yesterday was the last day after three reminders from the bank. I had my most favoured and only asset, my farm land pawned against the loan. I have already lost four of my farmer brothers who succumbed to the loan pressure and gave up their life before losing their land. I was no different. “
“Here, drink this coconut water. Local produce.” The media person intervened the emotional old man. He knew there was more.
Dharmaraj continued “I was on the bridge, ready to take the leap onto the serene lake below, when a jeep with a siren distracted me. I turned around to see , Balram Mishra step out of the jeep . He put his arms around my shoulder, had a word with me. And here I stand today all in one single piece with an assurance that my land will remain mine. ”
The little puppy barked and wagged his tail in full support of his master.
“And he has promised to provide major relief to all farmer loans across the state when he comes to power. A personal promise. ”
Words spread faster than fire.
After the interview, Yudhishthira was approached by few locals who got him to repeat the story to establish authenticity. It was not until a couple of hours later that he managed to sneak away and reach the spot where the cab would be waiting.
“What is this? Where is the four wheeler that you drove so skillfully in the morning?”
“I traded it with a hand rickshaw puller. He was an old man, looked very tired carrying loads of villagers to the booth.”
“But did he know driving?”
“Does not matter, he can sell it and enjoy. You can hop on to the rickshaw if your duties are fulfilled. Looks like it’s going to rain soon. We should get moving.”
“Help this old man board this three wheel Rath, my dear. I feel so heavy after that lie and having to repeat it so many times over. Common buddy, sit with me.” Said Yudhisthira as he pulled Dharma up and stroked him. He settled at his feet.
Independent candidate Balram Mishra won the seat from Kurukshetra constituency . An educated, well affluent business entrepreneur who showed promise of serving the nation more than serving his bank balance or political party. He has been frantically looking for a ‘Dharmaraj Uncle’ to thank .
Photo by Abir Roy