Philosophy aside the fact remains that the odor emerging out of the ground nut seller's frying pan took Praveen back down the memory lane to the days when his mother used to get him roasted groundnuts. He remembered the wonderful days he used to have with his mother. Those days would never come back. He lost in the pursuit of career advancement had had no time for his mother and his mother was now gone forever. He could not get his mother and the wonderful times he had with his mother back but he could at least still get roasted groundnuts.
He stepped out of the car to get some groundnuts. The sight of the large black pan filled with sand and the dull pink groundnuts getting roasted were balm for his tired eyes weary from looking at the computer screen 14 hours a day. The old ground nut seller filled the groundnuts in a nice paper cone and handed it to Praveen. And Praveen happily took the ground nuts and had a wonderful time munching them reminiscing over old times and lived happily ever after. The End, eh? Not quite. A poor excuse for a story this would be if that were the case! As they say there is many a slip between the cup and the lip and so there is. Praveen took a 500 Rs. note from his purse to pay the old groundnut seller.
"Sorry, Sir. No change."
Praveen looked into his purse. The 500 Rs. note was all there was. But he had made up his mind to have groun nuts and a small matter like lack of change would not dither him. He saw an auto parked some distance away. He went up to the auto driver.
"No, Sir. No business since morning. Where will I have change? Since this metro rail has come, you people have stopped taking autos. How will we survive at this rate?"
Praveen had heard enough. He has his head full of his own problems to listen to the auto driver's problems. What he needed was change for the groundnuts. Clearly the auto driver did not have that. He went around shop to shop, to the petrol bunk and even tried with people standing at the bus stop. But no luck! The shop keepers needed all their change for their customers. The petrol bunk was closed. The people at bus stop had been plain hostile. The old woman seemed to think he was some kind of con man and kept turning her face away from him. The young man and woman were too busy gaping into each others' eyes to bother about a man looking for change. The fat man was a garrulous fellow who seemed to want lot of change - in the government policies, the value systems of the current day youth, the character of the country's leadership and many other things. But he had no change to give. Finally Praveen found one man who was willing to part with his change. But as luck would have it, at the moment his bus arrived and he had to rush to catch his bus. So it came to pass that Praveen was left high and drive. Where was this world coming to! A man can't enjoy a handful of groundnuts! He was seeing firsthand how devastating change can be in a man's life. Or in his case the lack of it.
The sun was setting and it seemed Praveen would have to go without groundnuts that day. Any other man would have let it go and driven home and got back to work on his presentation. But then Praveen was of a different mettle. Once he had made up his mind that he wanted something, no force in the world could deny him. This never say die attitude had contributed to success in his career in sales. The old groundnut seller was wrapping up his cart and getting ready to leave. In a sudden rush of blood, Praveen handed him the 500 Rs to him and told him.
"You can keep the change. Just give me my groundnuts"
The old man looked at him strangely wondering if this fellow had turned insane. But he was not complaining. If this was what madness did to people, the world could do with many more mad people.
Praveen stood on the sidewalk relishing every little groundnut to the fullest as he had when he was a child. By the time he was done, it had turned dark. He started his car when he realized he was running low on gas. He pulled in at the next petrol bunk. But unfortunately their card swiping machine was out of order and they were accepting only cash. And Praveen had spent all his cash on groundnuts. There wasn't enough petrol to reach home. There seemed to be no ATM machine in the vicinity and it was getting too late in the night. There did not seem to be any autos plying in that area either. His ego did not permit him to call any of his friends for help. So he decided to park the car somewhere and spend the night inside the car and go looking for an ATM machine in the morning.
As night progressed, he could feel mice gnawing his tummy. He had eaten nothing since afternoon. The streets had by now become completely empty except for the odd stray dog. Soon the denizens of the night would emerge. Two old men in ragged clothes were seated comfortably on the sidewalk and chatting away to glory. They seemed completely blissful and without a care in life. The two of them probably did not have 10 Rs between them but they looked as if they owned half the world. Reflecting on how these two men could have so much happiness without money, he fell asleep.
He was woken up by the sound of loud music. A jeep was passing by playing loud jarring music. It stopped a little way ahead. There were three richly dressed young men and a scantily dressed young woman in the jeep. The men were pawing the woman in a not too modest way. They did not seem to be fully in their senses. The Woman did not seem to mind the excessive attention too much. They were probably sons of Wealthy men, returning from the local bar after enjoying Wine, picking up the third ‘W’ on the way to keep them entertained for the rest of the night. As Praveen was watching, they seemed to have developed some difference of opinion, probably over the woman. As the seconds turned to minutes, the differences seemed to aggravate and they were men no more but street dogs fighting over a bitch or worse. Praveen was sure he would have seen a death if the night police man on the beat had not intervened. Praveen once again dozed off reflecting if this is what money did to men, was money really worth pursuing.
There were no more disturbances during the rest of the night and he was woken up only by first rays of the morning sun. He decided it was safe to go and look for an ATM machine. He was feeling very hungry as he walked down the street. He put his hands into his pocket and his hand touched something metallic. He took it out and found it was a 5 Rs coin. His purse apparently had a hole and this piece of change had rolled off into his pocket. The elusive piece of change that had put him through this entire ordeal! But it could still serve him. He went to the nearby bakery and got himself a bun. He was about to devour it when his eyes fell on a young puny kid in rags eying him. He looked as if he had not eaten for weeks. The boy probably needed the bun more than him. He gave the kid the bun. The kid took the bun gratefully and cried out “Ramu, Ramu”. A small dog came running looking almost as famished as the kid. He tore the bun in half, put it into the dog’s mouth and thrust the other half into his own mouth and ran away with dog in tow. But the child’s gesture had made a profound impact on Praveen.
Soon Praveen found an ATM, got back to his car, got gas filled and was back at home. He kept his presentation aside and called up his father and spoke to him for 2 hours. Then he went over to his old school friends’ place and spent the evening there. He now felt much more relaxed than he had been in the past 10 years. He spent the night thinking about life. He came to a decision. He would take a 2 year break from work and be a part of the ‘Teach for India’ initiative. So many changes in his life! And all thanks to a piece of change! For the want of a nail, a whole kingdom was lost and for the want of a small piece of change, a whole life was transformed!
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