Makarand Paranjape

(31 August 1960 - / Ahmedabad, Gujarat / India)

Magan Bhai - Poem by Makarand Paranjape

Before he committed suicide
Magan Bhai met me one night
my parents were out at a movie.
Ringing the doorbell at an unusual hour,
he stood in the doorway
and started a conversation.
A small, dapper fellow in his twenties,
he had married young,
and had a daughter in the first standard.
Today he was misty-eyed
and smelled of whiskey.
The talk turned to films
which were his passion.
Before he joined the Company,
he had been an usher
at the Bombay Talkies.
'You must have seen your favourite films
several times,' I remarked.
'Ah yes,' he said, "but it was so boring
to see the same films again and again.
There were a very few," he mused,
"which were good enough for that-
Kagaz ke Phool-Paper Flowers—
have you seen it?-
was certainly one of them."

Like its protagonist, he claimed,
he was a man much abused
and misunderstood by the world:
'Here I am, no more really
than the caretaker of the Guest House:
paid a pittance per month,
but from my lifestyle
can you tell my income?
Look at my clothes:
aren't they as smart as yours?
Have you ever seen me
wearing a wrinkled shirt?
You may wonder how I manage
Well, that's the whole secret
of my existence.
By the grace of God
I have been favoured
with luck on the race course.
I have laid up money
to start a small-scale industry.
If my daughter wants to study abroad,
I have enough in the bank for her.
Can you believe that right now
I am actually a partner
in a small store on Brigade Road?
Yes, I have done my duty,
paid my dues.
Today I am a free man.
No one can fault me if I'm gone....'
His voice tremulous,
his loosened tongue wagged on
until one a.m.

Actually, he died
leaving a pile of unpaid debts.
So well-behaved, so respectful
to his employers and superiors,
no one suspected that
he ran up the company account
with grocers in the city
for thousands of rupees.
He had lost at the track,
lost at the card table;
and, when the Directors were out,
he sat at the bar of the Guest House
drinking the choicest liquors
at Company expense.
And one day, when he could
no longer sustain the act,
they found him dead,
sprawled on the expensive carpet,
his face the colour of sandpaper,
and a can of 'Tik-20'
(specially purchased for the rose garden)
half-empty by his side.

His death was reported
as 'Accident on Duty,'
which allowed his wife to collect
the maximum coverage on the insurance.
She was spared the debts,
but not the humiliation,
and left with his child
for a faceless widowhood
in some backward village.

After the event,
the inevitable verbal post-mortem:
what had spoiled Magan Bhai?
What had turned his head?
'He ought to have belonged
to some wealthy family
where his princely instincts
might have come to aught,'
commiserated a fellow-worker.
In public, however, everyone
roundly condemned the vices
that led to his end,
pointing out his case,
as a moral unto the others.
A few of his cronies
(their wives thanked heaven)
suddenly turned pious;
but most, after a brief suspense,
relapsed to their former ways.
The company Physician
(who had certified the death as accidental)
relaxing over a scotch with my father
confidentially observed:
'Born penniless, hardly educated,
could Magan ever have attained
the good life he so badly craved?
No! Not in this lifetime!
Attempting short-cuts
to wealth and power
in a society structured
for little upward movement
he was bound to fail.'
I overheard their sober reflections in silence.

Magan Bhai,
always the first volunteer
in any community event,
who took us when we were young
to movies and cricket matches,
is forgotten today.
The Directors, of course,
deigned no comments
on his untimely death,
but ordered that
the new valet in his place
be watched closely each day.

[From The Used Book]

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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Poem Edited: Wednesday, March 28, 2012

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