Fiction: Pheroman

Rana Preet Gill

Rana Preet Gill

Pheroman was their man Friday, any day, not only on Fridays, they laughed. I don’t know who told them about a man Friday but they used the term in half jest not knowing why they have to call him their man Friday while he was with them, for them, every day, every week, every year and every passing second of their lives. Such was the comfort, Pheroman propitiated in that house that no one could imagine a life without him. His name was on their lips when they woke up every morning, before they went for their afternoon siesta, after they woke up and before they went to bed as their cots propped with a penchant under the gleam of full moon. It is strange to think that Pheroman ever caught a wink of sleep amidst all this because to be active and agile and to be on his feet he had to be well rested and well fed. But no one had ever seen him eating nor sleeping. They say he was a living dead and his needs were few, eating and sleeping were the last of his concerns.

I always found him overworked, tired, exhausted by all the ministrations for them. I wondered why he did not quit when they never ever gave him respite from long hours of standing at their bedside waiting for orders. They never told him to sit or take a breather while whispering among themselves if mutton gosht or chicken biryani would be best bet for that dinner when they did not want to indulge themselves in anything outlandish and want to keep it simple.

But the truth is that nothing was simple in that house. Everything was so grand and fancy and over exaggerated and overhyped that somedays I wondered that the walls of the big mansion were most likely to crumble under the weight of the desires and the magnificence so blinding. But was not that a reason for me to pay them frequent visits because they always had a spare chair for me to sit next to them. They always had a spare cot for me to even sleep on days I had no desire to retire to my home. The food was abundant, and it did not matter to them that I was coming for all the biryanis and keemas and the delectable spread of food preparing which was nothing but a sleight of hand for Pheroman.

And yet I envied them because the presence of wealth when it belonged to someone else is always associated with jealousy. I felt a twinge of regret for the lack of the same kind of affluence in my household. I despised them and yet I wanted to partake a slice of their grand style of living which was a necessity for them and although an impropriety, a neediness for me.

My association with them started when one of their young grandkid was sent to the village school where I studied. Though the patriarch had scoffed at the suggestion of sending the young lad to school yet the mother of the boy who they said was an educated lady ( studied till fifth) ruled her will with an iron hand and my long association with them got a head start. I used to tag along with the little boy on the pretext of dropping him home while I only wanted a taste of the lavish spread laid by Pheroman. And soon this habit, this taste grew into gigantic proportions and I came uninvited and tended to stay for longer hours this time on the pretext of helping the boy with the home work.

The first time I laid my eyes on Pheroman, I mistook him for his elder brother as I bent to touch his feet and the burly man was astonished with this gesture of mine. A giant at six feet and nine inches he was suited to be durban of a king, a protector of a sufi shrine or even the henchman of a mullah but least fitted to the part of a domestic servant.
He was so tall that every time he had to pass through the gates he had to swivel his head, bending it and soon his neck could not hold it straight anymore and the head remained perpetually bent as if in a gesture of reverence and his hands folded around his lap always signaled his demureness.

I often wondered that with a physique as tall as his he must be consuming gallons of milk and mammoth proportions of food but I was amazed to see that he did not even consume a grain of food from the household. It felt strange because since the house was burgeoning with food it would not pinch them to sustain the gigantic appetite of the helper who was always at their command, who was the most respectful and honest and was likely to stick to them in hour of need as compared to other helpers who were needy and demanding and who on all occasions tried to steal from them… food, household items and even crockery! I wondered why they never saw this transgression but I never pointed it out to them. I was, at the end of the day, an outsider who was equally responsible for siphoning of their wealth in negligible amounts in the garb of food.

I was intrigued by this information that Pheroman was averse to the idea of wolfing down quantities of food while the other servants did not even give a second thought to enjoy at the expenses of their masters. I once followed him after everyone in the house had retired for the siesta. He led me to a vegetable patch neatly curated by him in the backyard. He pulled out some fresh carrots, radish and beetroots and cut them in perfect rounds after washing them properly of the accompanied dirt. He was even gracious enough to share his simple food with me. No doubt Pheroman was so clear hearted with not even a streak of malice in his heart. I wondered if food had the power to influence our thoughts but if it had then this man was a saint not only in the matter of living but also in the manner of thoughts and speech.

On those hot afternoons when the house snoozed after a languid lunch of Zaffarabadi pulao and korma I would often slip into the little heaven at the backyard of the house. Those days he would recount to me tales of the yore. Tales of youthful exuberance, bashfulness, of a home in the hills, of mothers and fathers who had children but no means to feed and clothe them, of lives where the families often sent their children to work and earn money. I once asked him how much he earned. He was a little reticent but when he divulged the figure I was aghast to know it because even though I did not want to incite him against his employers what they were paying was a pittance!

But Pheroman, as he was the silent one, the benevolent man did not take up the matter with the patriarch of the house. He was contented with what he was getting and it did not matter to him that the others were stealing and living a life of royalty at the expense of their masters while he had deprived himself of every joy and even the right to touch their food. Such was the uprightness of the man and his integrity that no one could question it. I was in awe of him and silently worshipped him but despite that I could not emulate him. I was still a freeloader in that house, a hanger on and while I did not steal I was guilty of being there fooling them on many pretexts.

Firstly, I was not particularly concerned with the welfare of the son of the family and it was only a guise to accompany a young boy who was easily deceived by me. I made him believe that he might be kidnapped anytime soon and he needed a senior student like me to guide and protect him. And since I was familiar with all the students in the school no one would harm him if I were to accompany him. Secondly, I made him buy textbooks which were not even in his syllabus. I made him lend them to me because they were part of my curriculum. This is how I did lot of hard work poring over books bought with their money. I ended up topping the school and the district. I gained admission in a city school and came to bid them farewell and convey gratitude for their generosity.

They had no inkling what they had done and they had no idea why I was leaving the village. I ended up crying while I was leaving which they mistook as an emotional gesture but in reality, I was going to miss the delectable spread of dishes and the help with the books. I would have to find a suitable rich boy in the city to fund my needs but till then I was rudderless. I was not going to miss them in any other sense. Even someone as practical as me could not stall my tears when Pheroman hugged me and wailed. My heart wrenched because I knew this was a display of raw emotions and coming from someone as real as this giant of a man.

I did not come back to village for many summers and when I came after giving my semester exams my first impulse was to run off to their house and have a hearty meal. And before I met my family I was at the gates of their big mansion which was looking run down and hollow even from the outside. I sighed because this meant that hollowness that perpetuated in their souls has made its presence evident by engulfing the façade of the house. I was welcomed by them with a negligible enthusiasm and when I sat for lunch I was dismayed to see the presence of a simple dal and two chapattis placed in front of me. I realized everyone got the same limited quantity. After they retired for the customary siesta I decided to find my man, my Pheroman who was nowhere to be seen.

No one spoke about him and on promise of anonymity a little servant boy told me a little about the unfoldings of the house after my departure. One day a big theft was committed in the house. A big chunk of jewellery was lost and when they searched the servant quarter it was found in his room. They accused him but he kept on feigning innocence, as he put it, and this infuriated them. They beat him black and blue but still he did not confess his crime but left in the stealth of the night. After he left the family saw a downfall in their fortunes. The lands were annexed by the government on charges of forgery and money laundering. The servants left and took the antiques and valuable as a token of their long years of services rendered to the house. And now there was nothing but a mansion, the people with little money and two servants who had not been paid for the past many months and planned to leave.

I came home dejected and lost. My own family was unable to guess the reason of my sadness and I blamed it on the long bus travel. That night as I closed my eyes I saw myself sitting along the vegetable patch with Pheroman as he sliced the carrots and beetroots in the perfect rounds. I could not see his face because the moon did not shine in my dreams but I know he was smiling and his eyes glimmering in the darks of the night as we held hands and ate in silence.

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