Jan 19, 2016, India
It all started over this TV antenna that a boy wanted to place on the terrace of a house his family had just moved in to. They had rented the first floor as it overlooked the site where they were building their own house.
The boy was a college student, and a generally quiet type. But like most teenagers, he had a streak of recklessness that revealed itself in the way he rode his bicycle, darting and weaving at high speed through busy traffic.
Anyway, the boy and his younger brother had taken the antenna up the stairs to the terrace. It was just a few rods atop a short pipe but needed a clear view of the sky to be able to get good reception of the TV airwaves.
The landlord lived on the ground floor of the two-storey house. He was middle aged, known for his quick temper, as well as feared for his high level political connections.
Hearing the sound of metal on the floor, he came up to investigate. The boys hadn’t asked his permission to put up the antenna, probably because they didn’t intend to fix it to the building, but just lean it in a corner. On seeing the antenna, the landlord took off on the younger of the two boys, telling him to be careful and avoid damaging the terrace walls.
The older boy tried to deflect the anger off his brother, saying, “We will try.”
Though the boy meant no harm, the choice of words was unfortunate, and the older man saw red.
He rounded on the boy, raised his voice, and asked, “Who are you?”
The youth went silent, and older man yelled at him again, “Who are you?”
On not getting an answer, he bellowed for a third time, “Who are you?”
The boy lost it, and replied evenly, “Your father.”
The older man was taken aback, and asked, “Are you insulting my father?”
The boy shook his head, “No, I’m just answering your question.”
For a moment, it looked like the older man would attack the boy. But the youngster was quite well built, and there was a glint in his eye that didn’t bode well for anyone attempting a physical confrontation.
So the older man stormed off downstairs saying, “We will see about this.”
Later that evening, the boy’s father heard about the incident. He gave the boy the benefit of doubt as it was the first time the kid had got into trouble. The father tried to sort things out with the landlord but the man was breathing fire, and promising vengeance. Realizing the situation had gone out of control, the father booked a vacant flat in a building across the road, and informed the landlord that they would be moving out in a few days.
The next morning, the boy got on his bike and rode off to college. He had been living in the college hostel till his family’s recent move to the current house. The college, a prominent government-owned institute was just 20 minutes away. There were just a few colleges then, and getting admission to one was not easy. But once in, the education itself was almost completely subsidised, while hostel rooms were virtually free. So the boy had not bothered to vacate his hostel room when he moved back home, and was in the habit of staying over if he was in the mood for company.
On this occasion, there was a youth festival going on, so the boy stayed back at the hostel, and didn’t return home for a few days. When he did, he found the cops had come looking for him. It seems the landlord had pulled some strings, and the police had been ordered to give the kid a lesson. Fortunately for the boy, he wasn’t at home when the cops came for him.
The next day, as the boy got on his bicycle, he noticed the landlord sitting on his porch, and glowering at him. The boy ignored the older man, and pedalled off to college. However his father had told him to stay put at the hostel for a few days, as educational institutes were off limits for the cops.
In India, family bonds are quite strong. It turned out that chief inspector at the local police station was distantly related to the boy’s family. So the boy’s father called on him, explained the whole story, and informed him that they would be moving out of the house in a few days. The inspector told him not to worry, and the situation would be taken care of.
Meanwhile, the landlord had been following up at the Ministry level to have the boy picked up. The police inspector duly received another call from the Minister’s office. The inspector informed the Minister’s man that the boy had already been picked up, given a thrashing, and his family had been asked to vacate the house in a few days. This information was passed on to the landlord by the Minister’s office.
It was a stalemate.
Over the next week, the boy would come home once in a while, cheerfully spend time with his family, and stay overnight, before riding off back to his college in the morning.
He completely ignored the fuming landlord who would be pacing around on the verandah outside his front door. The fact that a mere boy had insulted him, and was getting away with it, was hard to stomach.
Seething with rage but unable to do anything about it, he must have felt frustratingly impotent and stressed out. In a few days, that anger and stress began to take its toll, and he was hospitalised.
In the meanwhile, the teenager’s family moved out of the house into the flat, put the incident behind them, and got on with their lives.
A month later, the boy came home from college one day, to find his mother looking worried and fearful. She informed her son that their ex-landlord had passed away of a heart attack last night though he was in a top hospital in the neighbouring state. The boy felt sad for the man’s family but asked his mother why she looked so scared. She said that she had seen the man pacing around on the porch of his house, just this morning.
The reckless streak in the boy surfaced, as he replied, “I wasn’t scared of him when he was alive so why should I be scared of him when he’s dead?”
The story should end here. But this is India where there is a strong belief in karma. The good or bad you do, will come back to you. Some time later, the boy’s recklessness caught up with him. He tried to overtake a truck by squeezing through the narrow space between it and the road’s central divider. The truck suddenly swerved, knocked him off his bike, and its back wheel ran over his left leg, smashing it up badly.
Surprisingly, the boy survived the horrific crash with all limbs intact, and was up and running in a while. Probably his karma wasn’t that bad as he hadn’t really intended to harm his landlord.
But there was one change in him that I saw for myself. We were travelling together in a car that he was driving, when a speeding moped crashed into it. A friend of the moped rider started trying to bully him to hand over the cash needed to repair the bike. I saw the familar glint appear in his eyes, but he kept silent. I intervened, and told the bully that we would call the cops. The guy backed off, and we sorted out things with the moped rider.
Later, I asked the now grown up man, why he put up with the bully.
He replied, “The only person I will hurt by getting angry is my own self.”