Kochunni

Another one from the Aithihyamala, though I remember reading this in one of the Amar-chitra kathaas as a child.

Kochunni was a dacoit in the 1800s, whose memory still lives on today, getting a new whiff of life every-time a mother tells her sleepy eyed children his story, as she heard it from hers. Born in a poverty stricken family, to a father who had sunk into a life of crime in a desperate attempt to save his family from starvation, Kochunni’s early days weren’t meant for anyone, let alone a child to live through. However life gasped on, grim and hopeless though the conditions were and allowed Kochunni to grow into a boy of eight or nine years. The child couldn’t bear the harsh conditions that his life was subjected to, and his father’s job, a necessary evil , troubled his thoughts till he could take it no more and ran away from home. Miserable and dreary, but still home, the one place which rocks you to sleep when the world around you crumbles away.
Hungry and tired, Kochunni’s glazed eyes roved pleadingly around as he mutely begged for alms from door to door. But in vain, till a kind but obviously poor Brahmin took pity upon him and fed him an afternoon meal. It is hard to feel true gratitude, but once felt, it is almost impossible to alter your attitude, and Kochunni would remain grateful to the poor Brahmin for the rest of his life. The kind man, not having the heart to turn away a child after something as temporary as a meal, took him to a flourishing shop-keeper and secured a daily job for the boy.

Happy days were in store for Kochunni. Eager to please his master, he worked away, happy with his new life. Business was flourishing too, and his master’s shop was always in demand. Not unusually, after his master had locked up the store and was halfway to his house with Kochunni, a running customer caught up with them from behind.

“Have you finished up for the day then ?”

“Yes  ..  Why, do you need something urgently ?”

“Some jaggery. My wife has sent me to scour for it, and will not let me inside until I get some”

“Very well .. Kochunni, you know what to do. Follow the boy,  he will take care of you”

“My heartfelt thanks!”

And the customer and Kochunni went back to the shop. As Kochunni searched for the key in his yellow-cloth bag, he realized that he had failed to obtain the same from his master.

“Aiyya, can you wait for sometime. I have inadvertently left the key behind with my master” said Kochunni

“Oh .. it is rather late already, and my wife is waiting for the jaggery” said the disappointed customer. “I shall try my luck elsewhere then. You go back home”

Kochunni felt he had let down his master and the customer who had banked on his master’s shop, and the young heart couldn’t bear the crushing feeling.

“Aiyya, please wait for a moment. I will somehow bring your jaggery” and Kochunni went around the shop, contemplating it. And with breathtaking agility, leapt up onto the low stiled roof. Carefully, removing a loose tile, he dropped inside into the shop and came back up again, with jaggery rolled up in paper.

“Well, well. You certainly are a most ingenious boy”, said the customer patting the boy’s head while he gave him the money.

When Kochunni went back to his master’s home, he found the shopkeeper waiting for him in the verandah.

“You obviously found out that the key was with me, when you reached the shop .. Too bad. Well, never mind, one customer, after hours, is not that big a deal”

Kochunni grinned with pride, as he handed his master the money from the customer.

“How ? … ” asked the master wonderingly

The boy narrated his antics, a proud smile hovering on his face as he waited for his master’s approbation.
However, ..

“Kochunni, I have known for sometime that your father is a thief, yet I thought I will give you a chance. But your actions today strike a fear into my heart, that when you are desperate, you too shall turn to crime. That time, it will not be to my benefit .. So, I have to let you go from your job”

Kochunni looked on blankly as his master gave him his last wages.

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