After nine years of marriage, one fine Sunday, both Krishnamurthy and Chitra were sitting opposite each other. They had a tendency to remain silent. While Krishnamurthy was reading the newspaper, Chitra read a novel until the sound of the pressure cooker reached her ears. Someone opened the front gate. Krishnamurthy looked out of the window. A man came walking in the verandah without any slippers on, carrying only a plate in his hands. He looked like he was in his late twenties.
“Who are you?” He asked the man. The man seemed lightly nervous when he looked at Krishnamurthy and started to narrate his story: “Actually, I am new to this place. I have come here to look for a job, but my wife died this morning. I do not even have money to cremate her. Oh generous man, please help me with some money.” Krishnamurthy saw that his plate was filled with a number of denominations donated by various individuals along with alit incense sticks and some flowers. His face looked worn out, eyes filled with unrevealed sorrow and the harsh stubble, Murthy noticed. Just then, his wife stepped out and inquired, “What is the matter?”
The news someone lost their wife can leave even those shattered who get to know about it. The right thing to do would be to offer some money, thought Murthy to himself. But he did not. He would not do that. His mind always interrogated everything. Chitra knew.
“Where is your house?” he asked. “It is near Gokula Street, sir.”
“Give him the money, he is a poor man”, his wife said.
“Wait”, he responded.
“Give me your address.”
“Sir, I do not know this city very well and I lost my beloved this morning”, the man replied.
“Out with it.” His voice was calm but firm.
“Near the theatre.”
“Sir, why do you ask? You know the name.”
“I know, but I want to hear it from you.”
“Sir, my life is obscured with the cloud of sorrow and you are grilling me like a police officer. If you do not want to help, you can say that on my face. Her dead corpse is lying there, waiting to be cremated”
“Why would I not give you the money if you speak out the truth? Your address?”
Chitra expected the poor chap to admonish her husband for his rude demeanour by saying, “Do you have a heart, you cruel man?”, but instead he started crying. He started walking back engulfed in deep sorrow and was soon out of sight.
“He is gone”, Murthy said.
“Call him back”, Chitra protested. “Why didn’t you help him, and even after his repeated requests, you seem to ask him for his address.”
“Chitra”, he roared. “You do not know the ways of the world. People cover their faces with masks underneath which lies the visage of deception.”
“Didn’t you see how perplexed he was when he felt targeted by your questions?”
“I didn’t feel that. Then, why did he cry? That was also a part of his plan. It’s all a big racket.”
“You should have given him something, however miserable and ill-fated that he is.”
“Why do you keep on saying things without any awareness? Do you know how this world is plagued with lies and treachery? Such duplicity! You’re ignorant because you don’t go out too much. Such fraudulence”, he spoke with disenchantment.
“Well, I did not see any dissemblance on his face.”
“That is because you do not have the consciousness. Your cognition is limited.”
“Let it be. We spend money on a lot of things. Giving him a two-rupee or a five-rupee coin would not have made much of a difference.”
“That is altogether, a different discussion. My point is that if he would have come and said, “Sir, I am poor man and do not have anything to eat”, I would have been generous enough to thrust some money in his hand. But, what he said was unacceptable.” How can we encourage such a trick to snatch others’ money? Tell me, Chitra.”
Chitra’s mind was racing with many thoughts. The man did not lie, she wanted to say. Probably, the intensity of his misfortune made him incapable to answer properly. I completely disagree with you, she wanted to say. But how would she? A heated argument would have arisen and Murthy would have walked out of the house without having his lunch. She went inside the kitchen. He resumed his reading, but could not concentrate. Something pricked him, but what? It was the fact that his wife did not recognize the importance of his point. He started talking, “One day, when a woman asked you for some money to go on a pilgrimage to Tirupati, you generously gave her, but then what happened? We saw her at the cinema hall. Didn’t we?”
“Yes.” A voice came from inside.
“You should never succumb to such stratagems, okay?”
He folded the newspaper and as he went into the kitchen, Chitra was crying. Murthy felt disconcerted and asked her, “Are you crying because I shooed him away?”
“No”, She sobbed, “I felt his heartache. It seems as if he has left a part of his dolorous tale inside me.”
“It is all a lie.”
“How do you know?” she rebelled.
“How do I know?” He gave a harsh look. “Experiences from practical life make you learn everything. You are emotional even if I’m not.”
“Okay, I agree. But what if all he said was true? Do you think questioning him and mutilating him with your words was right? Why is a two rupee coin such a big deal for you?”
“Again? Why don’t you get it that it’s not the money but my principles which bind me. I am a man of firm principles.”
He looked at her for awhile. “Fine! I will go and check if the man is still there near the theatre. Would that comfort you?”
“No. You don’t have to. I am convinced by your words.”
“No. You are not. You still don’t understand the real meaning of what I said. Even if you aren’t coming, I will go. Let’s see who is right?”
“Please! Why this dissension? I accept what you said”, she requested.
“You do not say this wholeheartedly. I think you need proof. I will find out.”
“If you think your point has been proved then why are you going unnecessarily?”
“Yes, Chitra! I saw your eyes filled with tears. So I want to establish it as erroneous.”
“I feel like laughing now.”
“We will see who has the last laugh.”
His car traced the roads of the city. “Near the cinema hall? I will go and see. What does she think? Am I uncharitable? Am I selfish and self centred? What does she know? Does she think I am a fool who would give a false man all the money?”
He kept muttering to himself as he drove up to the theatre.
“Always keeps crying. Ugh.”
Near the theatre, in the middle of the road, fire was blazing in an earthen pot. The funeral pyre was waiting to be ignited. The man was in mourning; his hands covered his face as he sat at the corner. Krishnamurthy felt hesitant for a while. He drove his car at a faster pace and reached home.
“What happened?” his wife asked without any curiosity. He responded, “What I said was right. I enquired about this unknown man, but I did not get any information.”
“Is it? Oh lord. Such lies”, said Chitra.
About the Story
“Nijaththai Thedi” or “The Search for Truth” was written in 1980 by S. Ranganathan, who wrote under the pseudonym “Sujatha”. This story essentially talks about male dominance in our society. The husband’s refusal to accept ‘I could be wrong’ coupled with the simple genuine emotions of the wife makes it a significant story. Mr. Maniam Selvam, who has illustrated this story, has also created art for other Tamil Periodicals.