It was a holiday. As usual I was relaxing on the easy chair reading a newspaper, sipping my morning cup of coffee. My mobile rang. It was Mari my ex-driver talking excitedly on the phone.
“Sir, I am happy to tell you that my wife and I are going on a two week holiday to Europe”.
“In the first two weeks of December, Sir!”
“But December will be very cold in Europe. How will you manage?”
“My nephew who is in London, has asked us to come and stay at his house in London. as he is being transferred back to India, Sir. He has also arranged for a two week holiday in Europe preceding our visit to London”
“Well, go well protected and take care. I wish you all the best!”
The line got disconnected. My mind went back to the time, 30 years ago, when Mari joined us as a driver, recommended by a family friend. What a long distance he has travelled in life!
* * * * *
Born in a well to do business family in Salem, Mari was a problem child for his parents. A mischievous boy he was always getting into trouble with everyone, with his aggressive nature. Though he was sent to a good school, he was not interested in studies, skipping classes very often to play with boys of his age – leading to frequent confrontation with his parents. They began to worry about his future.
When he was 12 years old, after a very bad confrontation with his parents, Mari decided to run away from home. He landed in Chennai, seeking protection from a distant relative, who was running a very successful business. Since Mari was not interested in studies, the family agreed to keep him as a helping hand to run around doing errands.
When he grew up to be a handsome youngster of 18, they decided to teach him driving, so that he could pursue a vocation in case he was interested. Mari took to driving like the duck to water and became the favourite driver in the family. They even found a girl from a decent family from their native place and got him married. He was settled in a small LIG flat, which they bought for him so that he could lead an independent family life.
When everything seemed to be getting along well, Mari realized that the next generation in his employer’s family was not treating him well. He was getting into frequent trouble with the son who had taken over from his father and was steering the business.
Unable to swallow the frequent insults, one fine morning, he quit his job and decided to try his luck elsewhere. He joined my good friend Gopal as a company driver. Within the next two years, when Gopal got transferred to another city, he strongly recommended Mari to me, as he was a good, hardworking and honest man. Since I was looking for a reliable driver, I readily agreed to take him least realizing that it was going to be a life long tryst with Mari and his family.
It was almost six years that Mari had been with us. He was not only sincere in his job but was extremely loyal to the family. He would go beyond the call of duty to give a helping hand to any member of the family. A friendly and a very loyal soul, he knew all my relatives and would be respectful to anyone who visited us. Just as he was fond of our family, especially my aged mother, we also began to treat him like a member of our family.
On his pay day, after visiting a temple near our house, he would invariably visit us seeking blessings my old mother before taking his pay pocket home.
Obviously, my mother’s blessings worked. One morning, when I was comparatively free, he came into my office room, standing and scratching his head. I realized that he had, as usual, come to make some request.
“What is it Mari? What do you want?”
He hesitated before saying, “I am leaving your job Sir, because I have got a very good job in Saudi Arabia, Sir”
I was jolted by the news. When the whole family was happy that we had at last got a good driver, he was going to leave us.
“But Mari, I thought I am giving you a good salary. You have also become a part of our family. Why do you want to leave? You want more salary. I will give you”
“No Sir, I am very happy with you but the salary I am being offered in Saudi Arabia is very, very good sir. With that kind of salary, I can save a lot and give my two sons good education, Sir”.
I tried another tactic to retain him. “You will be leaving behind your very young sons, when they would be needing their father most”
“No problem Sir, I have been promised a two months paid holiday every two years by my employer ”
Since Mari seemed to have made up his mind, I had no choice but to relieve him. He came home with his whole family to receive blessings from my mother before he left the shores of India, seeking a fortune in Saudi Arabia.
I thought that it was the end of our relationship with Mari but it was not to be.
Mari continued to be in touch with us. Every new year, he would send a greeting card to my family, with a special message for my mother, whom he adored and respected! Every two years when he visited India on a holiday, he would not forget to bring some gifts for my children. Before he went back to Saudi he will visit us with his whole family and seek my mother’s blessings! His love and loyalty to our family was unbelievable!
During the fourteen years, he was in Saudi, he not only managed to send his two sons to a good school, but also saved sufficient money and wisely invested in real estate both in his native place and Chennai, where his family was living.
Every two years when he visited us we could see his growing prosperity reflected in his growing tummy. He was putting on weight and was having blood pressure problem. He was acquiring not only wealth but also health problems that the rich usually get. When I warned him to take care of his health, he would smile and say that he was trying hard.
During his seventh trip to India, after 14 years in Saudi Arabia, he had a massive heart attack and was admitted to the hospital. He had to undergo a By-pass surgery to get rid of the four blocks in his heart. He was only 46. Under pressure from his family, he decided to quit his job in Saudi and stay back in Chennai. That is when he realized that he had a problem, in re-establishing his authority over his family.
* * * * *
Six months after his return to India and after fully recovering from his health problem, Mari visited me.
“Sir, I have decided to work again as a driver. I will look for a job elsewhere, only if you do not want me”.
Though I was happy to hear the news, I was hesitant,“ But Mari, I cannot afford the kind of salary you are used to”
“I will accept whatever salary you offer me ,sir”. Obviously he was talking based on the strength of the adequate savings in his bank account.
Since it was not easy to find sincere, honest and extremely loyal people like Mari, I promptly hired him and the whole family was delighted. Soon I realized that I was not only his employer but also a consultant in sorting out his family issues, which he encountered frequently.
* * * * *
One Sunday morning when he visited us in our home I knew that he had come with a problem.
“What Mari? Everything alright at home?”
“That is what I came to talk to you about, Sir”
“What is it Mari?”
“Sir, while my second boy is good and obedient my elder son is giving me a lot of problems. He doesn’t listen to me, does not study well and is constantly spending time with his friends who are known bad boys”
“Have you tried to talk to him, Mari? Find out what is bothering him”
“I will blame my wife, sir. In my absence she has thoroughly spoiled him by indulging him too much. I also have frequent quarrels with my wife because of this. Life has become hell, Sir. I feel like going back to Saudi, Sir”
I was jolted out of my casualness. I did not want to lose Mari, again.
“Ok, Mari, why don’t you bring your son one day. Let me talk to him and find out what is bothering him”
“I don’t know if he will listen to me Sir, but I will try”
The following Sunday, Mari’s wife visited us with their elder son. While the wife got busy talking to my mother, I tried to understand the son’s problem by talking to him at his level.
I realized that the son was resenting his father’s bullying nature. He did not like the idea of sharing his mother`s love, which he was enjoying exclusively, with his father. I felt a streak of jealousy in him towards his father. While he respected his father, he had a problem accepting him on the same terms as his mother, who was always kind and understanding.
I tried to tell the son how his father had spent fourteen of his youthful years, away from the family only to save money to give him and his brother a better life. The son listened to me, without any expression Mother and son soon left. Obviously, I had not made much impact on the son, as I continued to hear complaints about him from Mari.
* * * * *
Years rolled on. While the younger son had a smooth sailing through his education and got a decent job after graduation, the elder son continued to give nightmares to his parents. However, with Mari’s relentless persistence the elder boy also got a degree, after a couple of failed attempts. He continued with his waywardness and was unable get a job. Even if his father managed to get him a job through his contacts, he would quit the job at the slightest provocation from any of his colleagues. Mari continued to blame his wife and his son’s bad friends for the state of affairs. While I did not know how to help with Mari’s problem, the news he gave me one day, shocked me!
“Sir, I have decided to get my elder son married”
“What? He does not even have a job. How can you get him married?”
“No sir, I have come to the conclusion that only if we tie his legs with a responsibility he will change his behavior.”
Mari was talking based on his native intelligence.
I tried my best to argue and tell Mari that he is likely to ruin a girl’s life if his son continued to behave badly even after marriage. But Mari was adamant and went ahead and located an educated and pretty girl from a distant relative’s family. My wife and I even attended the marriage at Salem performed in a grand style, befitting Mari’s improved status in his society. Having blessed the couple, my wife and I returned from the wedding praying god that Mari’s prophesy for his son’s future, comes true.
* * * * *
Almost a year passed without any complaints from Mari. One day I asked him how his son was behaving after marriage.
“First two months, he continued to behave badly Sir, But thanks to my daughter-in-law’s persuasion he has now got a permanent job. I think he is doing well in his job. Since he keeps himself busy with his job and his wife, I have less problems dealing with him, sir.
I was truly amazed. A decision that Mari took based on his rustic common sense was working better for him than the advise I was trying to give him to sort out his problems.
Obviously, the son found a life partner who belonged exclusively to him as against his loving mother whom he had to share with his father. I think that made all the difference to the attitude of his son to life in general and family in particular.
Soon, the son and daughter-in-law gave the greatest promotion in life to Mari and his wife. They became grand parents as they were blessed with a beautiful grand daughter.
I thought Mari must be a very happy man now, what with a grand child to play with and watching the son grow into a responsible human being, with a loving wife and child. It was not to be. Mari began to complain again about his son for different reasons.
* * * * *
“Sir, I have decided to retire from my job and settle down in our native place”
“Why, what happened Mari?” I was worried about looking for a new driver.
“No sir, these days my son only listens to his wife and does not care for our feelings”
“You should be happy that your daughter-in-law helped your son change from an irresponsible young man to a responsible husband and father”
“That is alright sir. But we have to keep our self respect, too. When he does not care for our feelings, we cannot stay with him in the same house”
He started mentioning several instances where Mari`s views on issues were ignored and the son decided to act only as per his wife’s wishes. I realized it was a problem of Mari`s ego.
“But Mari you will miss the grand daughter. You love her so much”
“Yes sir, but we will keep coming to Chennai whenever we feel like it. My grand daughter can also spend her holidays with us in Salem.”
Mari, had made up his mind, again. I wondered why people are never satisfied with what they have and are always clamouring for what they don`t get.
* * * * *
A couple of month later Mari left for Salem, where he already had a house which he had rented out. He got re-integrated with his extended family in Salem. Having fulfilled all his responsibilities in life, he is now busy travelling across the country, going on pilgrimages with his family groups and generally having a good time.
I am very happy for Mari, because he has realized most of his dreams in life by sheer perseverance and hard work. My family will, ofcourse, miss him. Because it is very difficult to get such fiercely loyal souls these days.