A firm word !

(A translation of Devan’s Kandipaana Vaarthai)

Have you heard of the Adhirasam estate ? Well, if not, hear of it now. Till last month, its illustrious owner was a lady, a very capable woman who ran the place all by herself. She would even personally go and collect the rent from each and every one of the forty five houses ensconced in the estate.

Alas, her time ran out and the estate is now in the hands of Mr Rajagopal Naidu. He governs the estate very sensibly and has appointed Maharajan and Co. to collect the rent from his tenants. They in turn have handed over this grave responsibility to Bill Collector Muthusaami.

And this is the exact spot where the story starts. Rivetingly.

Bill Collector Muthusaami leisurely ambled up the road, feeding his paaku filled mouth one at a time with meticulously torn betel leaves. Gopal Swamy Iyer, perched on his front step was muttering his thoughts aloud as was customary. That particular day, his words were graciously blessing 1. The heat 2. His wife 3. His buffalo’s calf 4. His son-in-law 5. Rajagopal Naidu.

It was at this moment that Muthusaami, industriously wetting his pencil tip, arrived at his gate. “What, ready to give me the rent ? Shall I write out the receipt ?” he asked.

“Look at you demanding the rent ! When it comes to fulfilling my reasonable requests, you are struck dumb. But for everything else, you become talkative ? What do you say about this matter of the cow-shed ?”

“Which cow-shed ? How can I say anything unless you tell me about it first ! ” countered Muthusaami.

“See with your own eyes, Saar ! They have tied all the cows of your estate owner right next to my house. The stench. The mosquitoes ! I had complained several times to the previous landlady, but she never listened ..”

“Why ?”

“What “why” ? If it had been a man like yourself, something or the other would have happened in all this time. Being a woman, you see … No firmness, no decisiveness. She got worried about mosquitoes infesting her mansion if the cow-shed were shifted … ! Now to a man, I can ask something and be confident that he’ll understand and at least say “Yes or no” clearly.”

Muthusaami scratched his head. “Too true. I’ll take care of this ! I’ll think about it carefully and get back to you” he said and retraced his way back.

The next day, having dutifully reported this issue to his employer Maharajan, Muthusaami stood awaiting a reply.

“Well, how can I answer at once ? One has to think about it first before acting on it” said Maharajan.

“Gopal Swamy Iyer is extremely confident about our governing abilities. He says “One can definitely expect an answer when dealing with men, unlike the dilly-dallying one has to face while interacting with women””

“Gopal Swamy is quite correct. Women can never bring themselves to say a clear “Yes” or “No”” agreed Maharajan, thus settling scores with the previous land-lady for having refused to entrust him with the responsibility of collecting the rent.

Two days passed by. And Maharajan, while on a relaxed visit to Rajagopal Naidu, remembered Gopal Swamy and the cows and recounted the affair to his estimable employer. “Would you have any objections to moving the cows ? ” he asked.

“You’re asking me ? What do I know ? What reply can I give to this question immediately ? I must first think about it a bit”

“Yes, yes …. Apparently Gopal Swamy Iyer had spoken to your aunt also about this. However he feels it is difficult for women to think about such grave matters and is of the opinion that they are, in general, quite fearful of taking a firm decision. Now, he says, he is in safe hands and is highly confident of getting a clear-cut answer”

“Correct, correct ! I’ll think about this problem for a day and let you know”

That night, after a pleasing dinner, an extremely well-fed Rajagopal Naidu leaned restfully against his bed, contentedly watching his wife Mrs Mayadevi prepare his betel-leaves. Inexplicably reminded of the cow-shed, he asked her “Maya, do you remember that big cow-shed we have in our estate ? What do you think about moving it to the western end ? ”

“What is there to think about this ? I know the whole story. Let the cow-shed stay where it is. If you move it to the western corner, our mansion nearby will become completely uninhabitable, filled with mosquitoes, flies and an unbearable stench ! We can as well demolish the house instead”

“You’re right, Maya ! You’re absolutely right” agreed Naidu, in complete harmony with his spouse.

The next day, when Maharajan arrived, Naidu gaaru told him “I thought about it. If we move the cow-shed, our mansion will become unusable. So you please firmly say “No””

Maharajan forcefully nodded his agreement. “You’re right, Sir. That’s absolutely the right decision to make. Being men, that’s how we should reply”.

“Muthusaami !”, Maharajan called out. “I thought about your cow-shed matter. Master’s mansion will get affected if we move it. So you tell him it is not possible”

Muthusaami chanced upon Gopal Swamy Iyer a few days later. “Saar ! I gave due attention to the problem you had brought up. And it looks to me that moving the cow-shed is quite impossible, due to the mansion in the west-end”

“Righto ! A clear answer like this brings satisfaction to one’s mind. That’s why they say men should settle matters amongst themselves” said Gopal Swamy, his mind’s peace showing in his face.

And the abundantly cow-filled cow-shed stands exactly where it has always stood before, right next to Gopal Swamy Iyer’s house.

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