(Story Of A Mother)
“Was that a love marriage or an arranged one?”
The old lady was taken aback by the question Iman asked.
She, apparently, was not expecting a lad of his grandchild’s age to ask such a private question at such a public place as a bank. That too, when she didn’t know him except before a couple of minutes when she approached his desk as a customer.
The other officer sitting right to him smiled at Iman’s jovial gesture. All knew Iman and his lighthearted behaviour. He was quite a fun to watch in the office. His style of interacting with a visitor customer was unusual though pleasing. Creating a space in visitors’ heart was his forte.
Seemingly not ready for this probe, she remained silent until Iman repeated the same question. She smiled back at Iman and said chattily: Our’s was a love marriage. But why are you asking this? That too, to such an old lady as me?
Iman: Are you so old? Naah! I don’t believe. Moreover I knew the answer that you got married to none other than your love.
Lady: Now, you are turning out to be an investing officer Mr. banker. By the way, how could you know the answer?
Iman (smilingly): Your lip-color says it all. The colour of love is still shining, isn’t it? You haven’t stopped pinking your lips even in your sixties.
Lady (Now exclaimed): Jesus….! How do you know I am in sixties. I mean, why not in fifties or seventies?
Iman kids: .That’s what your application says.
Lady sighs a relief: You are too much…!
Iman could know her age from her date of birth in the A2 form (A declaration cum application form for outward remittances) filled by her .He could also read the name there.
“Pamela D’Souza ”
The smile on her face encouraged Iman to behave more garrulous.
He further asked : Where is your husband, Mam? Has he come with you?
The streak of that vintage smile faded away from Pamela’s face. The Juvenile Iman left her silent. The old lady bit her lips, bowed down the face as if recalling something serious.
Pamela: Its 11 years since he died.
Allah! Iman felt extremely sorry for his question. It was an absolute disaster.
His flamboyance proved too loud this time. He cursed himself for his nonsense. Repenting, he could only utter a word of excuse: Sorry!
Silence engulfed the surroundings for a while until Pamela spoke.
Pamela: “No no, don’t feel sorry. Everybody has to leave this world on a day. He was a brave man though. He died a martyr’s death.” Do you remember Kargil? Most of you people don’t remember the pain our soldiers have taken for we can sleep in peace.
She took out a passport size photograph of his beloved colonel. Lush green uniform and medals made of gold, if not; golden in colour.Taking the photograph gently from the lady’s hands, Iman gazed it over as if paying homage to him.
Iman: May his soul rest in peace!
The neighbour officer took the photograph from Iman, saw for a while and passed on to the lady co-worker who was impatient to have a glimpse of the man of the moment. Iman was becoming restless to stop the photograph going hands as he knew the office and its ladies. He took the photograph from the lady’s hands who would about to pass it on to other ladies who appeared equally agitated to rejoice such “off-beat” & “unofficial moments” in the office.
Iman: I’m very sorry for this, particularly for my question. I didn’t know he was no more in the world. But I respect his cause and salute his martyrdom.
He stood up, went over to the cooler and filled a glass with water. Offering it to Pamela he said: Relax and tel me What brings you here?
Pamela : Yeah! You took me so deep in past that I forgot what I was here for. Will you please let me know the dollar rate today? I need some dollars to transfer.
Iman: US or Canadian or Singaporean? I mean which dollar?
Iman’s wittiness brought back the smile on Pamela’s wrinkled face. She glowed again.
She explained: “My son is in Canada. I want to send money to him”
Iman: Its Canadian dollar then. Its (seeing the rate card for the day on his computer) 46.50.
Glancing her application, Iman could see the “purpose” column filled with the most common word he saw in almost all the individual funds transfers.
Working in a financial institution he had seen this word getting abused most.
Everytime he read this word, he turned suspicious and sometimes angry also. He has seen some visitors who would try to transfer black money abroad declaring it as a gift. Under existing rules he doesn’t need to verify anything beyond the signed declaration, even then citing some reason or other, he had rejected many applications in the past. Pamela didn’t seem faking the purpose though.
“Is it really a gift mam? ” Iman quipped.
Mistaking his fake apprehension for serious, Pamela became slightly nervous and said: “No son, mine is a genuine gift. I have another son who is here in India. I have given him some money. As a mother, I must see both of them equally. Even a penny would be divided.”
Pamela’s case definitely bore merit, socially for her and technically for Iman. Seeing the face of the applicant, he could easily make out the purpose.
Iman was a different soul altogether. Pamlea’s honest explanation caught him midway between emotion and profession. His thoughts as well as professional attributes were charred with emotions. Had he been a millionaire, he himself would have funded her gift. At times he would sound unrealistically emotional. In his induction training, he made a presentation on something called “Banking with emotions”.The presentation was termed totally unprofessional by the faculties and another guy who made a presentation on “Balance Sheet” took away the prize. His colleagues and friends would poke fun at him.
Pamela’s motherly gesture propelled his mind back in the past. He became nostalgic for a minute.
His Ammi would say the same thing: “You and Shakeel both are equal for me.Whatever I have, I will give it to both of you.”
Iman would say: Ammi! I don’t need anything except your blessings and love. I don’t want anything from you. I owe you my life.Instead; I want to comfort you with all the riches on my own. You give everything to bhaijaan.
But Ammi wouldn’t listen to a word. With eyes full of tears, she would say: “May Allah make all your dreams true. Shakeel is self-sufficient. May Allah give us so much as to feed this family and fakeers (beggars). But I am a mother. For me, both of you are equal.”
In his not so short stint at forex desk , Iman had seen thousands of customers who would guzzle his valuable time requesting concessions and all sorts of nonsense queries. Some of them would question his fidelity too. But she was the most honest visitor Iman had ever come across. He was really impressed this time as he never learnt such a nice meaning of gift.
This was the best gift he was about to send.
Will it reach in time? She asked.
An average senior citizen of a country like India, She was unaware of the technological advancement in banking. Wife of a colonel, she must have been exposed to the luxuries of life but may not have been left so stranded where she alone had to go out for such things. Iman inquired whether she had done it earlier. As expected She affirmed his opinion. He assured her that the funds would reach her son in less than a day. Thanks to the SWIFT technology.
Suddenly Iman thought of doing a small favour for her.
What if she makes a draft of these funds?Will it not save her a few bucks…? he thought.
Iman: Mam, instead of direct transfer, if you take a foreign cheque you wont be charged from the responding bankers at the beneficiary’s end.You son will get exactly the amount you send.
He enlightened her further with the latest in forex and convinced her to get a foreign cheque issued in place.
She thanked Iman for his wise and honest approach.
“That was really professional!” Said the officer sitting beside Iman.
Within a few minutes a neatly printed cheque for CAD 4595.00 was ready. Iman singed the cheque in dark black ink, glossed over the details for a while, wore it an envelop and handed over to Pamela.
He also asked her genuinely if he could drop her by the roadside to help her find an auto-rickshaw. Already impressed with the professional grace of Iman, She politely declined the offer and walked out slowly. Parting the curtain of the window Iman kept on watching from his desk until she sat in an autorikshaw and disappeared from his sight in the oddly crowded traffic of the city.
Iman went in the lounge of his office, filled a cup of coffee for him and comforted himself. Closing his eyes in meditation, he could see Pamela step in the premises a few minutes ago. He just couldn’t take his eyes and attention off the dress she wore.
A beige skirt and a yellow top.
Beige and yellow… he mulled over this colour-combination for a while and said to himself : “Beige would go with green and perhaps with brown also .But with yellow, its too futuristic ”
Iman was fighting vigorously within to come to a conclusion.
He fought further: “Fashion knows no limits. She might be fashionable. She might have had a distinct fashion sense.”
He was finally out of his mind!
Despite a lengthy wrestle of thoughts he was not reaching a truce.
That ugly combination of colours and patches of dirt on her skirt could not, at all, be described as a sense of fashion.
But why was he so disturbed by her sight? Why would he be thinking so much about an old lady whom he knew just an hour ago?
He was clueless.
He held his breathe for a while, gasped bountiful of air in a hush. He did it four-five times closing his eyes. He felt fresh air making way through his nostrils to knock almost all corners of his body inside . Then followed the silence. He could not see a single thought intruding his mind then.It was dark there.
He had this habit since childhood. Whenever his mind was in a tussle, he always emptied it and waited for the first thought to hit. He had a strange belief that whatever thought came first in the empty mind would guide him home.
He was home indeed. He saw the face of his mother appearing from the background.
Ammi ! Perhaps he saw Ammi in Pamela. He saw his mother in her. He saw a lady in her later days when she deserved nothing but solace. He became restless.
Without wasting a second he called his Ammi . He made it customary..quite usual one. Or else Ammi would start crying. Without mentioning that he missed her a lot and wanted to see her now, he simply asked whether she was doing well.
While he spoke to his mother a Daai (a lady domestic-help in villages) was massaging her legs. She was happy and in pink of her health.Promising her to call up again at night, Iman concluded in short.
Walking out of the lounge, he looked at the clock on the gallery wall.
“God! Its 06.00 o clock.”
He came out in the premises. Accountant, after shutting down the computer was writing something on a piece of paper, perhaps day’s list of purchases to be made. His brown bag, which contained his empty tiffin box and office keys, was kept on the table.That was his style of signaling the end of the day’s work. He was about to go.
Iman locked his office drawer, took his bag and keys of the car.
While in traffic, he usually kept his music system on and sometimes smoked too. Today he checked the co-driver’s seat where he habitually kept his cigarette box alongwith his cellphone. The cigarette box was missing. Perhaps it was in his bag and he forgot to take it out. He didn’t feel like smoking . Tracks in the list also seemed too repetitive. He turned off the music.
He tried forgetting something but couldn’t. His long trusted trick of ‘emptying the mind’ also was not of any help. He was not able to forget Pamela.
He kept driving….!
Suddenly he felt a shudder on the dashboard. His cell phone was ringing and causing the quiver.
“It must be his wife, Nazma” he thought and didn’t respond as he was about to reach home.
But after a full ring, the cellphone started ringing again…then again…then again.When it ringed for the consecutive fifth time, he became fearful. “Nazma was alone back home.”
He drove the vehicle to the roadside. Switching the parking lights on, he grabbed the cellphone, which laid screen-down on the dashboard. He saw a local landline number calling on the screen. He became even more wary of his wife’s safety.
Voice on the other side was of a lady. She didn’t sound Nazma.
Apprehensive, Iman asked the name of the caller.
He was surprised.
She was Pamela…!
to be continued…