Someone, look alike of Oliver Twist peeping from outside the main gate of my office. He was seen standing outside with confused but eager look, and I noticed him through the day when ever I ventured out.
The next morning, the watchman came in to my cabin and enquired if he can permit a boy to come in and that he wants to have word with me. Also that he was persistent that he was hanging around the gate since yesterday and would never go.
I remembered the chap I noticed the day before. I asked the watchman to send him in. He came in rather timid watch full but unsure of his next step forward, rather furtively- whether he should make it or not. He was certainly a late teen version of Oliver Twist- the image that we have seen in the work of Dickens. He wore khaki trouser, but no footwear. His long sleeved shirt was dirty and slightly open at seams. His hair was dirt brown and looked altogether not cocooned in a healthy comfortable living.
He was from a village south of Tamilnad, beyond Madurai. He has been in the city for a few days now and his hunt for livelihood was fruitless. He indeed looked distraught and famished. I asked him what work he could do. He pulled out a multiple folded plastic cover from inside his trouser pocket and took out a certificate which was almost in tatters. It said that,”Subu Raj …. Is approved Electrician in grade…” And that he has passed the Electrical curriculum from ITI.
SubuRaj reported to duty at 8. And precisely, the next morning. He was in a different clean trouser and shirt, but crumpled. He was bare footed. I called him sometime in the day and told him that he will have to compulsorily wear leather footwear while he is on work. I remember giving him a little advance for immediate personal chores.
He married in a year’s time. And I understood he lived with his young wife in a rented dingy room near the factory. He proved to be a fantastic worker. He had this keen sense and uncanny ability to handle electrical works, installations, trouble shoot, and all with élan, perfection and neatness. There was no hanging wires not tended points and all the haphazard matters typical of electrical works we often see in many places. I never had a breakdown in the factory and office while he was around. He eagerly ran errands for other members of the staff and fixed their electrical works in their homes.
He did a perfect and professional work in the new factory premises we wanted to commission. Later C asked him if he could do the electrical plan for the 4 acre plot we bought and wanted to build a small house amidst a jungle of trees. He planned things so wonderfully that in no time we planted some four hundred trees on the land. He did a wonderful work in electrifying various points on the land, drip irrigating every sapling. There was a small shack that was built on a corner of the plot, where tools and electrical mains were installed. Suburaj was asked if he would to stay there in the night. He was at ease. We lived some five kilometers away.
One morning around 7’o clock, I and C was on the verandah sipping tea and scouring the daily. The phone rang inside, and C took the call. I went in hearing C give a howl. She turned to me holding the phone and said,”Suburaj is dead, he hung himself.”
I soon began getting calls from other guys in the office. Some were already at Suburaj’s dingy home. They told me that he went back to his room after the night shift around 3 am. He even had tea in the way side shop and chatted with the guys loitering there, smoked cigarettes. He told them he will be back by 8 after dawn. And at 5 in the morning his sister-in-law who lived next doors along with two of her brothers went past his room and seeing the door open she peeped in to see the poor fellow’s body hanging lifeless from the ceiling. No one could tell what transpired in Suburaj’s brain between that short while from the teas shop to his hanging.
I asked the guys to inform the police and ensure that all help is extended to his brothers –in law to transport the corpse to their village. I promised to be there as soon as the policemen took charge.
At 8 am I stopped by the office to speak to the crowd of workers who gathered in shock. I got a call then from one of the staff that Suburaj’s corpse has been taken by the brothers- in law in a Taxi to their village. And that they were in a hurry. The police wanted the sub-inspector to be present before they could visit the scene. I was shocked at the haste and the lack of legal formalities. No autopsy, no police records. It can bring me trouble as he was on my payroll. I called the police station to record my anguish and complaint at the total lack of legal formalities. I suddenly felt something odd and expressed it to the policeman who attended my call. He said,” Why must you worry? The chap is dead, killed or extinguished himself and found in his place. Nothing happened in your premises. Let us not bother much. You take care of your matters. We have a lot of work to do than run after a dead man.”
Suburaj was not cremated in his village but buried and the same evening. I was told his uncle wanted it so.
His uncle a middle aged man came to my office one day and spoke to me. He said that he tried in vain to get the local police to exhume the body for an autopsy. And that he was certain the Suburaj was killed and then hung. He was adamant that the foul play was perpetrated by the two brothers in law.
Later it transpired that Suburaj was having a liaison illicit and amorous with his young sister in law (wife’s sister) who lived next doors. And his wife was upset with the matter and she went back to her village. And that Suburaj used to take his sister- in-law to the shack on our land for his amorous extremities. The brothers in law were furious that they could not dissuade either of them and struck on the plan to put an end to the man himself. I sat listening to all the matters in dazed attention.
And even when his wife and infant son came with her brothers to collect his pending salary money, and dues, I could only mechanically sit and listen to the eulogies his brothers in law reeled out about him. When they were departing, I commented,”Suburaj did not kill himself, he was murdered and then hung.”