The Altruist by Dincy Mariyam


Art by J. Scotti

Mahadevappa poured water to wash his hands on the plate to remove the few grains of boiled rice doused in sambar sticking to his fingers despite his efforts to lick them clean. He burped, announcing the gratification of his stomach. His wife, Susheelamma, who was sitting across from him to serve, moved to clear away the dishes. While she was walking into the kitchen, he stepped outside the house to the courtyard and walked slowly towards the bucket filled with water. With his left hand, he lifted his lungi a bit and shoved it between his knees so that the falling water droplets wouldn’t dirty it. When he was gargling, he heard the gate open with a squeak. He spat and raised his head to see who it was.


Vinod, his son, walked in through the gate. He kept the stick in the corner of the verandah and sat down beside it. Susheelamma also came to the verandah when she heard the gate open. Vinod gave his torch to his mother who handed him a big tumbler full of water to drink. He had just returned from Mahadevappa’s field after watching over it when his father was away after a day’s work. Mahadevappa wiped his wet hands and face with the end of his lungi. He walked to Vinod and sat beside him. “Appa, Sankaranna is already in his field. He said he will watch over our field till you go.” Mahadevappa’s sugarcane field, which was a kilometer away from his house, was next to Sankar’s. Sankar was their neighbour and they worked together in their respective farmlands, which was also close by.


Mahadevappa looked at his son with love and compassion. Vinod broke that gaze by getting up when he understood the meaning. Vinod had been helping his father on their farm since his exams got over. While he was in school, he used to go to his father’s farm after coming back in the evening. Now he had completed 12th grade and wished to join an engineering college. He even got admission in a decent college in the nearby town.


However, Mahadevappa didn’t have enough money to pay for the college. He was counting on his sugarcane harvest of the year but the elephants that came to his farm a couple of nights ago damaged a large portion of his farm leaving him with very little crop and hope. His family has been dependent on agriculture for decades. It was never a problem as his family treated elephants as the incarnations of God. But to Mahadevappa, they were more than God. They were also creatures that shared space with him. He believed that they had right on the land as much as he did. He did not protect his farm land as diligently as his friends did. The returns from his field, despite the routine elephant damages were enough to sustain his family. In fact, he grew extra sugarcane just for the elephants to feed.


The co-farmers weren’t in favour of this attitude as they thought that it was a waste of time and resources. Moreover, they believed that it would attract the humongous beast to their farm as well. But now Mahadevappa was in a critical situation and he could not afford to waste even a stem.


Mahadevappa got up to go to the field. Susheelamma went inside to get his white cotton towel that he carried while going to watch over their farm. Her face looked as miserable as his. She didn’t utter a word while handing over the towel and torch. Vinod picked up his stick to give it to his father. Mahadevappa refused however, as he didn’t find any use of carrying it again. He draped his left shoulders with the towel and held the old torch, which required a light blow to start functioning, in his right hands. When he turned around to latch the gate, he looked at his wife and son who were watching him leave and then turned around and quickly walked away.


The path that led to his farm site was dark in spite of the day being full moon along with few working street lamps. Mahadevappa walked cautiously shining his torch on the road, and also on the bushes on the sides when he heard any noise. He was lost in thoughts about his son’s future during the commute. Earlier during the week, he had approached the bank for a loan application by pledging his house and field. However, the manager couldn’t assure him about the loan sanction. They were aware of his current predicament and were not convinced that he would be able to repay the loan.


The manager promised Mahadevappa that he would try his best but also reminded him that it might take a while. However, Vinod had to pay the fees before that to confirm his admission to the college. Mahadevappa tried his best to raise 1.5 lakh but he couldn’t go beyond Rs.20, 000. He knew it was a big dream for Vinod, but the boy did not want to make his father anxious. For a boy who hardly demanded anything, this was the biggest and the best Mahadevappa could do for his son.


He started mental calculations, about the expenses and the amount required to complete the course, while he was walking. He finally arrived at a figure of 4-5 lakhs. Mahadevappa stopped walking. He didn’t know what to do to raise that lump sum. He could see his field, which was a few hundred meters away, from where he was standing as well as Sankar who was shining his torch while sitting on the machan (tree house). Mahadevappa started walking towards the machan. Sankar, who saw the approaching Mahadevappa, shouted his name cheerfully. He then shone the torch on the ladder made of wood and rope to help Mahadevappa climb up. Sankar moved aside so that Mahadevappa could sit and then they started talking.


When Vinod’s topic came up, Sankar asked Mahadevappa, “The loan didn’t get sanctioned is it?” Mahadevappa just nodded in response. Sankar looked into the distance and said, “These animals destroy our lives and hopes along with our crops. But, we cannot hurt them because we will be sent to jail. And the compensation, it will take forever, may or may not get and we never get back what we invested”. He turned towards Mahadevappa again, “So the officer said the remuneration for the raid will take time? What are you going to do?” Mahadevappa just sighed. He had gone to the authorities to report the damage the previous day and they had said that there would be delay in compensating the loss as they had just used the funds for a few human death cases.


Ever since he heard that, he had played with the idea in his head. The human death caused by wild animals was being compensated in large sums of cash immediately after the incident, to the family of the deceased as the loss is grievous and villagers never tolerated such losses. Mahadevappa wanted to live a little longer to see his son reach a good position before closing his eyes forever. But if that has to happen, he wasn’t left with much choice at present other than sacrificing his own life. Suddenly, Sankar gently patted Mahadevappa’s shoulder and pointed in the direction where he saw movement. A herd of elephants were coming for their routine visit. While Sankar turned to get his weapon to chase the elephants, Mahadevappa started to descend down the ladder. The elephants were approaching his field to feast on the remaining cane. While Sankar was shouting at him to get back, he moved towards them leaving behind his torch.