The Ahuja house was once more in the dumps – Nisha missed her son and Rajani of course had fought with her one and only friend (while missing her one and only brother). That leaves us with Suryakant – collars high, head up in the sky and smug in his victory?
Wrong – he too was in the dumps.
Suryakant in a fit of bullheadedness and bravado had gone ahead with Abhi’s admission to Manipal. But it was only now that the fullest enormity of his financial commitments struck him. He obsessed over his economic burdens, balanced his books and cursed his kismet no end.
“Maybe I could take up a job?” Nisha suggested timidly.
Suryakant flared up. “You take a job? Doing what? Washing utensils at other people’s houses? It won’t even pay for one day of your darling son’s stay at Manipal. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to earn money? Any idea?” he snorted. “All you know is how to spend money.”
Nisha swallowed. “I could take tuitions. Hindi tuitions are very much in demand.”
Suryakant raised his hand. “Please just drop it ok? What are you trying to prove? That I can’t take care of my family? That I need my wife’s earnings to run the kitchen fire burning?”
“No…I…I didn’t mean that. I was just trying to help.” Nisha faltered.
“Help? If you really want to help, then curb your expenses and reduce wastage. That day, when I opened the fridge, I found two rotten tomatoes. Is this how you are trying to help?”
“The weather is so hot and sultry.” Nisha flushed and twisted her fingers. Besides, the sabzi guy always…”
“So that it makes it your fault isn’t it? You cannot even manage your house and you will hold a job? You think it’s so easy?”
Nisha crept away to the kitchen while Suryakant ruminated in peace over Nisha’s money spinning idea. Her suggestion had merit. Coaching classes were the in thing now and an excellent revenue generator (not to mention tax free). Tuition fees would supplement their income and take care of the monthly expenses while he could save his salary for Abhi’s medical college fees. The idea appealed to him and almost immediately put his plan in action – in a rather covert manner.
The generally taciturn and aloof Suryakant began going out for walks, making it a point to greet his neighbors and asking about their children. One thing led to another and harried parents of next-in-line-exam-going sons shared their woes with him and actively sought his advice. They couldn’t help but envy him for hitting the jackpot – Son a doctor! They soon flocked to him begging for tips on how to crack the dreaded entrance exams.
“Yes the competition is very high,” he stroked his chin and intoned, “but I blame these mass coaching classes. Useless! Money-wringers!” he squarely put the blame on his competitors.
“They charge a lot of money of course. But they do deliver results. Even your son…”
Suryakant raised his hand. “Exactly! If they were any good wouldn’t my son have cracked the exams last year itself?” He spread his hands and appealed to them.
They looked at each other and nodded. Ahujaji did have a point.
“The fact of the matter is that it was only when I took up the reins in my hands,” he clenched his fists, “that he cracked it.” He shook his head ponderously, “I only wish I had had the foresight to remove him from the coaching classes entirely, then he would have surely aced the other exams as well. But I didn’t know any better and,” he sighed, “I suppose the dual pressure was too much for my Abhi.” He looked at them and sighed. “Anyway, I hope you all will learn from my mistake.”
“Oh but how can we manage without coaching classes? They never study on their own. Where can we find a good tutor,” babel of noises arose.
Suryakant raised his hand. “Well I can help.” He laughed. “Actually I do enjoy teaching and now that Abhi has flown the nest, I find myself missing the educative experience. Oh look at the time! I better go, my daughter will surely be worrying.”
He let the offer simmer and bubble.
Parents went into a huddle – coaching classes were tried and tested but Suryakant’s son had aced his boards and cracked the entrance – so what if it was Manipal, entrance was entrance. Could they take the risk? Should they take the risk? Best to go with the time-tested way some thought, a few were more willing to think out of the box.
A few tentative requests came Suryakant’s way. With his eye on the future and with the sky as the limit, Suryakant played it smart. Instead of accepting all the few offers, he hemmed and hawed.
“Oh I don’t know…”
“But Ahujaji you only offered?”
“Oh did I?” He feigned ignorance. “You must have misunderstood me. Of course I do love to teach but where is the time?”
The more he dithered, the more persistent the half-way-there parents became. They accosted him individually until Suryakant unbent enough to ask for his prospective students’ report cards. He studied these carefully and then chose two who had the best marks out of the lot. He conveyed his regrets, claiming paucity of time, to the others.
Initially he didn’t charge any fees, but parents not comfortable, pressed white envelopes in his hands or sent them along with their children while he kept saying, “No, no. How can I take money for teaching them? They are like my own sons. There is no need for this.” He often said. “I am just trying to help.”
“It is but a small token of our appreciation. Please do accept it. We cannot repay you ever for your kindness and generosity. It would make us very happy if you did take this and absolve us at least in part our burden and shame at having imposing upon you in this manner.”
Suryakant had little choice but to relieve his well-wishers of their burden.
Suryakant was a natural teacher, especially mathematics and was quite soon the very much-in-demand math tutor in the area. But to be fair, Suryakant worked hard and set himself a grueling schedule. He got up an hour or two earlier than usual and studied school course work before leaving for office. He began leaving office on time and was home by 6.30 and by 7.00 pm he was at Abhi’s table with student number 1. Dinner break was at 8.30 and at 9.00 pm student number 2 would drop in for the second session. This was the schedule for three days a week. Suryakant left the other days free – for now.
After a couple of months, Suryakant’s untiring efforts paid off. His students aced their unit tests. The good word spread and slowly but surely the demand for his services increased. But Suryakant bided his time and waited till he got offers from other sectors – more affluent localities who could afford higher tutoring fees. Exactly Suryakant was angling for.
He wasn’t quite comfortable taking money from his neighbors. What would they think – that he was doing all this for money? No no, he was just trying to help, be neighborly etc. But taking money from other localities was fair game and now that he had smelt blood, err I mean money, the embarrassment and hesitancy not to mention a genuine horror of being labeled money-minded had all but vanished from his psyche.
Moreover, the mounting bills and the added workload justified and rationalized his actions – to his own eyes. He began expressing his regrets to students with white envelopes carrying yellow-green notes, preferring pink ones (multiple pink notes) – by the class and by the hour.
All the strategized hard work paid off and after an initial sluggish start Suryakant’s samaj seva grew by leaps and bounds. His financial woes eased and within a year he was in a position to use his tutoring income to pay for home expenses while reserving his salary for Manipal fees.
And financial stability wasn’t the only way he gained.
Suryakant went from being just another regular member of the locality to a popular and much sought after and respected member of the community. His heart swelled with pride and held his head high among his lesser peers and mere mortals.
Up next Chapter 62: Aiming for the Sky