Fiction: Thank You, Dinu

Subhash Chandra

- Subhash Chandra

“What’s wrong with you?” Suhasini asked him at the dining table.
“Why?”
“You have been to the loo twenty or more times during the day.”
“Is there a moratorium on it?”
Tushar was a man of figures, but he had a quirky sense of humour. He had retired from the office of Comptroller and Auditor General as a Supervisory Officer (Accounts) and was respected by his seniors and peers for his competence and dedication. 
“Don’t be facetious. I mean it seriously.”
He proffered a benign smile.
“I’m waiting.”
“You won’t understand,” said Tushar.
“Are you talking to a village bumpkin?”
Suhasini’s tone got edgy.   She was a Professor of English Literature at the university and was a specialist in African Studies. She had three years to her retirement.
“I’m trying to keep myself healthy.”
She gave him a probing look.
“Have you turned your washroom into a Gym?”

Knowing she was too smart, he thought it better to tell her. “You see, I have no intention to follow the two blokes – my colleagues -- who popped off within a year of strutting home with their farewell shawls.
I want to savour life; I have been a workaholic and never got a chance to fully soak in your extraordinary beauty; I never noticed the saris you drape yourself in. Now I want to …”
She cut him short, “Your compliments continue to be as pathetic as they were before we married. By the way, do you know why I married you?
“Yes. You were mighty impressed with my praise of your gorgeousness.”
“Wrong. I felt mighty sorry for you. You literally sweated to pay me what you thought were compliments, but which were actually jejune clichés. So cut out the fluff and give me the real reason.

“Okay,” Tushar got serious, “I was too taken up by office work which I considered my dharma. Remember, you often lost temper over my bringing home files and working on them late into the night.
Don’t bring home your office, for God’s sake, were your exact words.
I never got to spend time with you. I could not even play enough with our grandchildren when they visited us once a year. They loved the mathematical riddles I devised for them and asked for more, but I was too busy. So now I want to make up the deficit and rectify the balance sheet.”
She became reflective.

He continued, “You know who our greatest enemy are -- bacteria and viruses? 
Her gaze on him remained unflagging.
“The bacteria get into our system and we fall prey to infections. Then it is a vicious cycle: infection, antibiotics, reduced immunity and infection again ... and our final journey is advanced.  I want to keep the enemies at bay. Hands are the common source of ingesting them.”

Suhasini knew those were the early symptoms of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and hoped it would not aggravate.
But it did and soon.
One day Tushar insisted Suhasini chuck the maid who cooked for them. “She will kill both of us,” he said. “She does not wash her hands. I’ve checked it out for myself.”
“But we’re hale and hearty after eating the food she has been cooking for more than five years.”
“That’s a chance. And don’t forget we are five years older now.”
“You know I have osteoarthritis and can’t stand for long.”
That silenced him.

But he started cooking his own food -- boiling veggies and rice and having them for lunch and dinner day after day.
“Simple food is healthy,” he would repeat laughing.
However, he was losing weight and energy. He’d feel exhausted after his morning walk and sleep off for about an hour when he came back.

Something had to be done and urgently, because Tushar’s condition was worsening fast. He’d get up in the dead of the night to check if he had bolted the doors from inside, though she had seen him do it three to four times before.
In the day, he sat still staring at the sofa or the table or other objects in the drawing room.
When questioned he said, “There are bacteria moving all over the sofa, and on everything.”
In a couple of days, he bought a dozen masks and started wearing one when he went out, but soon he was putting it on, even at home.
“The Jain monks do the right thing by keeping their mouths covered, because the air is laden with bacteria and viruses,” he said to Suhasini.

One day when she was at the university Tushar got into a terrible mess at the bank where he had gone to bring out a necklace from the locker for an upcoming wedding of Suhasini’s cousin.

He spent close to an hour inside the locker-room repeatedly pulling the knob of the locker to ensure it was locked, peering under the cabinet again and again, and scanning the space between the two cabinets to check nothing had been left outside. As he had taken a couple of steps towards the door, he went back and started the whole process all over again. Those waiting for their turn got restive and complained to the Manager. He looked at the monitor of the CCTV, got suspicious of Tushar’s movements and called the police.

Suhasini received a call from the Station House Officer of Prashant Vihar police station. Tushar had argued with the SHO and shouted he would lodge a complaint with the Police Commissioner and would make him regret his action.
“I would get you dismissed. Tell me under what charge have you brought me here?”
The SHO had put Tushar in a lock up.   

Suhasini explained things to the SHO and brought Tushar home.
“Why did you have to go to operate the locker alone in the first place?”
“I tell you the Manager is crazy. I will complain against him to the Banking Ombudsman and cut him to size.”


#
One day Suhasini said, “Tushar we need to consult a psychiatrist for your condition.”
“Why? Do you think I have gone mad? I am perfectly fine. Left to you, you will push me into a Mental Asylum.”
She despaired and was at her wit’s end. After a couple of days, she visited the General Physician who was their family doctor and friend.
The doctor smiled. “No psychiatrist or medicine can help him. He is too rational and logical. Therefore, only credible proof that he is safe from bacteria will bring him out of his condition.”


#
And then Dinu came on to the scene. Their house needed minor repairs and white washing.  Dinu had worked for them earlier too. He was a one-member team who combined in himself a mason, painter and labourer -- he could move cupboards and the other heavy stuff all by himself, though he looked thin. He worked at a leisurely pace, but did an excellent job.

They were both fond of Dinu and Suhasini served him lunch every day, as she got back from the university by about 1:00 PM. He would sit on a stool in a corner and eat. Dinu never washed his hands. He just patted his butt, swirling dust and making his hands dirtier.  She noticed Tushar would intently watch Dinu.
One day an idea flashed in Suhasini’s mind. She served two gulab jamuns to Dinu as dessert.
Tushar was aghast and became frantic. “What’re you doing, Suhasini... don’t … they are terribly stale; have been in the fridge for more than a month. Electricity shut downs have been frequent and for long hours. They smell foul, in fact stink. I smelt them the other day.”
But she went ahead and Tushar saw Dinu relish them. Suhasini knew she was taking a huge risk.    
“Both of you are exceptionally kind,” said Dinu. “Nobody treats the poor with such generosity. Sometimes, I have worked at houses where in the scorching summer they did not offer me fridge water.” 

After Dinu left in the evening, Tushar who had been quiet and looked worried all day said in a wailing tone, “What if he gets food poisoning? He’s poor and would avoid going to a doctor as most of them do for want of money. If he dies, you will have a murder on your hands.”
Suhasini had been no less tense and worried. She even felt terribly guilty. What she had done was morally wrong. She had no right to turn the poor man into a guinea pig!
“Hope, he comes to work tomorrow?” she spoke softly.
“Pray for him,” Tushar suggested in a scraping voice.
Suhasini really did.


#
To their horror, the next day, Dinu did not turn up. Unfortunately, unlike many others, Dinu did not have a mobile. Fear petrified both of them. Neither spoke a word for a long time. Then Suhasini suggested, “We should visit his house.”
“His address?”
She thought a while. “At the gate the guards get all the visitors to make entries in the register.” 

It was a Sunday and Suhasini was at home. So, they left for Gautam Budh Nagar around 11:00 AM.  Tushar parked the car at the edge of the basti, and they walked into it. Each could hear the thumping heart of the other. Suhasini asked a little boy -- who was running an old cycle tyre with a stick -- about Dinu.
He nodded his head vigorously, led them to the house and ran into the hovel to inform of the sahib log. Dinu came out of the hovel and was surprised and delighted. Folding his hands, he said, “You Madam, and Sir?”
“Yes, we wanted to find out if all was well with you as you have never taken an off all these days.” 
“Oh, I am so sorry I forgot to tell you yesterday about my sister’s daughter’s wedding. I would come tomorrow, certainly.”
“No problem,” Suhasini said and both made as if to leave.
“No, no. How can that be? My niece is very lucky that she would get your blessings. And you are big people, but treat me as a family member. Please just a minute” he said and rushed into the house. He came out holding a tray with tea in two chipped cups, and a plateful of multi-coloured sweets.
“But Dinu, we have had breakfast.”
Dinu folded his hands. “Sir, Madam, please … it will give us lots of joy,” he said and lifted the plate of sweets towards Tushar.
He hesitated for an unnoticeable second, picked up one, and started eating; Suhasini did the same. They gave some money to Dinu as a blessing to the girl.

As they were walking towards the car, Suhasini observed Tushar had not put on the mask.

4 comments :

  1. A pithy tale in the humanist tradition, combining social realism and esoteric quirks, in the best of Steinbeck mould.
    The pretentious, yet dangerously self-destructive predilections of an innately arrogant man is ironically cured of his post-modern malady of no-disease, expectorated into his rather intimate world of home, through anxiety and hysteria, by the survivor Dinu.
    The alleviating presence that the wife, Suhasini provides throughout the story, more anxious for Dinu’s health, than for her husband’s, is educative in correcting the reader’s prejudicial reaction.
    The story has the classical norm of brevity with an added charm of unaffected narration of an R. K Narayan.
    It is a story that bridges the world of the pretentious and the common.

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  2. Bro Subhash Chandra's short story, "Thank You, Dinu" reads here like an invigorating amplifier of realism in everyday life, with a splurge of humanism ( and it's just a snippet tease).Suhasini's response to the absence of Dinu was remarkable in the story.A flirt of Hemmingway, indeed. Imaging the characters does not reflect social consciousness in India per se; but a general perspective. And it resonates of a virtuoso Master story teller.
    CONGRATS, to writer and SETU.

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  3. A remarkable short story dealing with elderly couple.
    OCD is a problem/ailment we see people suffering from irrespective of age but elderly people are the common victims & obsession with heigene is the most common. But the solution offered here is typical Indian-in India the close-knit family (nuclear or joint) plays a vital role in dealing with the situation as the family members play counsellor(s) and even family servants are e involved. We Indians, unlike the western, are entirely dependent on psychiatrics & counsellors to deal with the problem. Individual/ collective wisdom of the family is of great help.Suhasini displays this wisdom in the story.
    The other significant aspect of the story and that too typically Indian, is the treatment of servants as an important member of the family & that is also reflected in the way the servants address the old and young members of the family & vice-versa. How Suhasini treats Dinu,how Tushar expresses his concern for Dinu's health, how the couple get worried for him when he doesn't turn up for work the next day and how the make a visit to enquire about Dinu are reflective of this phenomenon.
    The story highlights how in Indian family system warmth and intimacy are preferred to extreme personal heigene.
    A lovely story with a lasting impression & useful lesson.

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  4. It is a tale of a working man whose life is so easy and carefree. Dinu is a contrast to the sophisticated and elegant master and mistress whose fastidiousness and exclusivity paint another pallor of monotony to their daily routine life.

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