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The Vacant Chair

About Puja Roy

Puja is an avid reader who loves to explore life's various facets and bring them out through her short stories. A Copywriter by profession, she also blogs at speakometer.wordpress.com.

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Prologue

It’s 6.45 am in the morning and Murlidhar has already reached his workplace.

Kaushalya Prathamik Vidya Mandir.

Born an orphan, the school has given him everything that he could have asked for – basic livelihood, a life of reasonable dignity and above all, a purpose to cling on to. This school is the place that he worships like a temple. Each brick of this school, each sapling of its small little garden and each corner of its wall has Murli’s careful glance as a constant protector, caretaker and nurturer. Murlidhar Yadav is the chief peon of this primary school.

Part 1

Every morning, it is he who arrives at the school compound first, sweeps the entire school, which includes the principal’s room – Head sir, as he is called here –  and then goes on to do the other chores along the day. He has been working here for the past 20 years now. Everyday he thanks his stars and that one man for this life he has today. That one person who literally lifted him from utter destitute and gifted him a normal life with meaning and purpose.

Hariprasad Jha. The principal of this school.

Murlidhar was very young when he had lost his parents. He used to beg at the Chhapra Railway station. Hariprasad, then a newly assigned Teacher of Kaushalya Prathamik Vidya Mandir had spotted this boy one day at the station. Those days, Hariprasad used to travel to his native place every weekend and come back to Chhapra on Monday mornings. On one such Friday afternoon, while still waiting for his local train to arrive, his attention shifted to this poor thing.  He noticed the boy, barely 10 years, selling balloons to fellow travellers. He wondered, how come the same boy who was begging the other day, is selling balloons today.

The boy came up to Hariprasad and requested him to buy his balloons. Hariprasad offered to give him the money as he didn’t need the balloons. To this the boy said, ‘Saab, I won’t take money just like that. If you buy these balloons, I can take this money’.

Hari asked him, ‘You are the boy who begged a few days back, who gave you these balloons’?

The boy replied, ‘I do not like begging, saab. From what money I earned, I bought food for myself and then saved some for buying these balloons. Dhaniya chacha (uncle) sells balloons in our village fair every month, children of rich people buy from him. I bought some from him last week.’

He then lowered his face and said, ‘Since morning no one has bought a single balloon from me.’

This boy, Hariprasad thought to himself, has a strange sense of integrity and the will to progress in life. Something deep inside him said that if this boy is given a chance, his fortunes can change. Without wasting a single moment, he asked him whether he would work for a pay instead of selling balloons in railways station.

 

 

Many years have gone by after that sultry afternoon in the railway station. Today Murlidhar is a man of worth, earns bread for his family and is father to two sons, both of whom study in this primary school. And he owes all of it to his ‘masterji’. Whenever he speaks of his masterji his eyes well up in gratitude. “Had masterji not been there in my life, all of us would have drowned in this sea of life. It was he who gave a poor orphan, a life worth living.” He would say to his family almost every other day.

Part 2

 

Like all other days, today too Murli has reached his workplace before time. But the regular zeal is missing today. He generally begins his sweeping work from the Head sir’s room, which is the first in the row of rooms followed by four classrooms and a staffroom at the end of the corridor. However, today he chose to sweep the staffroom first, quite the opposite of what he has been doing for all these years.

After sweeping all the other rooms, Murli finally reached his ‘masterji’s’ room. He stood at the threshold of the door. His heart was heavy with the thought of the new person who would be joining today as the Principal, replacing his masterji. Hariprasad Jha, the acting principal of this school retired yesterday. A small farewell ceremony was organised in the school premises, post which he, with his family would leave the Chhapra town for his native place, never to come back here again. While other teachers were having their farewell lunch of puri-sabji and kheer, Murli’s heart sank with deep sadness. As Hariprasad gave his farewell speech, Murli couldn’t hold back his tears. Visions of this extra-ordinary man who shaped his life and taught him so many lessons flashed past him.

‘No work is small or big Murli. If you work with utmost devotion, it is no less than praying in the temple.’ Masterji always said this to him. All these years, while he swept or did other meaner chores, he never for one second felt ashamed about it. Even if he made some mistakes, Masterji would never scream at him. Putting his hands on Murli’s shoulders, Masterji would tell him affectionately what should be done, instead of why it wasn’t done.

There were others also who felt sad at his exit, but none was affected like Murli. Hariprasad bid his goodbye to everyone. He too was emotional at this hour. This was his place of worship too. He came to Murli finally and once again affectionately put his palms over Murli’s head and said, ‘Murli, why are you crying? Nobody can stay forever. Each one who comes must go one day. Whoever comes in my place, be good to him. Help him whenever he needs you.’

In between copious tears, Murli said, “Masterji, I hear from other teachers that this new Head Sir is very rude and moody. I am a mere peon, I don’t think he will ever speak to me the way you did. No one can take your place Masterji. I feel like an orphan once again.” Saying this he burst out in tears.

Murli looked at the clock on the wall. Its 7 am now, an hour’s still for Murli to ring the bell for the first period. The new principal will arrive by 7.30, he is told. There is a small meeting that would happen in this room today with the teachers and the new Principal in attendance.

He stood at the threshold of the door. While he was supposed to clean the room and put enough chairs inside for the meeting, he felt so low that even a regular job that he has been doing for all these years, seemed like a big burden. Bereft of all emotions, he vacantly stared at the empty room ahead.

A drop of tear welled up around the corner of his eyes thinking of his dear Masterji. He kept staring at the room. The table was left neat by Hariprasad Jha, for the new Principle. The wall hangings of Rabindranath Tagore, Sarvapalli. Radhakrishnan and Swami Vivekanand were securely placed just as usual. Nothing was different about this room from the other days, yet a huge strangeness struck him hard. He stepped inside.

In front of him ‘that chair’ stood erect. The chair that seated his Masterji – his saviour, his idol – is now lying vacant. Murli looked at the vacant chair, something sharp pricked his insides. His Masterji will never sit on this chair ever again. He will continue working in the school, but life will never be the same. He wiped his tears with the tiny cloth piece hanging from his left shoulder and carried on with his day job, unmindfully.

It’s 6.45 am in the morning and Murlidhar has already reached his workplace.

Kaushalya Prathamik Vidya Mandir.

Born an orphan, the school has given him everything that he could have asked for – basic livelihood, a life of reasonable dignity and above all, a purpose to cling on to. This school is the place that he worships like a temple. Each brick of this school, each sapling of its small little garden and each corner of its wall has Murli’s careful glance as a constant protector, caretaker and nurturer. Murlidhar Yadav is the chief peon of this primary school.

Every morning, it is he who arrives at the school compound first, sweeps the entire school, which includes the principal’s room – Head sir, as he is called here –  and then goes on to do the other chores along the day. He has been working here for the past 20 years now. Everyday he thanks his stars and that one man for this life he has today. That one person who literally lifted him from utter destitute and gifted him a normal life with meaning and purpose.

Hariprasad Jha. The principal of this school.

Murlidhar was very young when he had lost his parents. He used to beg at the Chhapra Railway station. Hariprasad, then a newly assigned Teacher of Kaushalya Prathamik Vidya Mandir had spotted this boy one day at the station. Those days, Hariprasad used to travel to his native place every weekend and come back to Chhapra on Monday mornings. On one such Friday afternoon, while still waiting for his local train to arrive, his attention shifted to this poor thing.  He noticed the boy, barely 10 years, selling balloons to fellow travellers. He wondered, how come the same boy who was begging the other day, is selling balloons today.

The boy came up to Hariprasad and requested him to buy his balloons. Hariprasad offered to give him the money as he didn’t need the balloons. To this the boy said, ‘Saab, I won’t take money just like that. If you buy these balloons, I can take this money’.

Hari asked him, ‘You are the boy who begged a few days back, who gave you these balloons’?

The boy replied, ‘I do not like begging, saab. From what money I earned, I bought food for myself and then saved some for buying these balloons. Dhaniya chacha (uncle) sells balloons in our village fair every month, children of rich people buy from him. I bought some from him last week.’

He then lowered his face and said, ‘Since morning no one has bought a single balloon from me.’

This boy, Hariprasad thought to himself, has a strange sense of integrity and the will to progress in life. Something deep inside him said that if this boy is given a chance, his fortunes can change. Without wasting a single moment, he asked him whether he would work for a pay instead of selling balloons in railways station.

Many years have gone by after that sultry afternoon in the railway station. Today Murlidhar is a man of worth, earns bread for his family and is father to two sons, both of whom study in this primary school. And he owes all of it to his ‘masterji’. Whenever he speaks of his masterji his eyes well up in gratitude. “Had masterji not been there in my life, all of us would have drowned in this sea of life. It was he who gave a poor orphan, a life worth living.” He would say to his family almost every other day.

To Be Continued in Part 2…

Like all other days, today too Murli has reached his workplace before time. But the regular zeal is missing today. He generally begins his sweeping work from the Head sir’s room, which is the first in the row of rooms followed by four classrooms and a staffroom at the end of the corridor. However, today he chose to sweep the staffroom first, quite the opposite of what he has been doing for all these years.

After sweeping all the other rooms, Murli finally reached his ‘masterji’s’ room. He stood at the threshold of the door. His heart was heavy with the thought of the new person who would be joining today as the Principal, replacing his masterji. Hariprasad Jha, the acting principal of this school retired yesterday. A small farewell ceremony was organised in the school premises, post which he, with his family would leave the Chhapra town for his native place, never to come back here again. While other teachers were having their farewell lunch of puri-sabji and kheer, Murli’s heart sank with deep sadness. As Hariprasad gave his farewell speech, Murli couldn’t hold back his tears. Visions of this extra-ordinary man who shaped his life and taught him so many lessons flashed past him.

‘No work is small or big Murli. If you work with utmost devotion, it is no less than praying in the temple.’ Masterji always said this to him. All these years, while he swept or did other meaner chores, he never for one second felt ashamed about it. Even if he made some mistakes, Masterji would never scream at him. Putting his hands on Murli’s shoulders, Masterji would tell him affectionately what should be done, instead of why it wasn’t done.

There were others also who felt sad at his exit, but none was affected like Murli. Hariprasad bid his goodbye to everyone. He too was emotional at this hour. This was his place of worship too. He came to Murli finally and once again affectionately put his palms over Murli’s head and said, ‘Murli, why are you crying? Nobody can stay forever. Each one who comes must go one day. Whoever comes in my place, be good to him. Help him whenever he needs you.’

In between copious tears, Murli said, “Masterji, I hear from other teachers that this new Head Sir is very rude and moody. I am a mere peon, I don’t think he will ever speak to me the way you did. No one can take your place Masterji. I feel like an orphan once again.” Saying this he burst out in tears.

Murli looked at the clock on the wall. Its 7 am now, an hour’s still for Murli to ring the bell for the first period. The new principal will arrive by 7.30, he is told. There is a small meeting that would happen in this room today with the teachers and the new Principal in attendance.

He stood at the threshold of the door. While he was supposed to clean the room and put enough chairs inside for the meeting, he felt so low that even a regular job that he has been doing for all these years, seemed like a big burden. Bereft of all emotions, he vacantly stared at the empty room ahead.

A drop of tear welled up around the corner of his eyes thinking of his dear Masterji. He kept staring at the room. The table was left neat by Hariprasad Jha, for the new Principle. The wall hangings of Rabindranath Tagore, Sarvapalli. Radhakrishnan and Swami Vivekanand were securely placed just as usual. Nothing was different about this room from the other days, yet a huge strangeness struck him hard. He stepped inside.

In front of him ‘that chair’ stood erect. The chair that seated his Masterji – his saviour, his idol – is now lying vacant. Murli looked at the vacant chair, something sharp pricked his insides. His Masterji will never sit on this chair ever again. He will continue working in the school, but life will never be the same. He wiped his tears with the tiny cloth piece hanging from his left shoulder and carried on with his day job, unmindfully.

The End

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