Yet another one of our seniors was Saradgi who had approached me with a request, so politely that I couldn’t refuse it. He wanted the notes in English he’d obtained from his seniors to be translated. Though my senior, he would address me as ‘sir’ and behaved very servilely. He was very submissive and worst sycophant. Although his fawning and bootlicking came on my nerves, I couldn’t refuse to help him, for saying no to the people had always been more or less impossible to me. So late every evening, after my ritual drinks and dinner, I used to go to his room and sit comfortably on his bed holding the notes while he sat on the chair drawn up to the table, taking down whatever I dictated.
Swarthy complexion, frail body and a balding head made him a very ordinary looking, if not ugly looking, person. His passion was to impress upon all those who cared to listen to him of his struggle to get education because of his poverty. He talked of his poverty so much that sometimes I felt he enjoyed doing it or that it was an obsession with him. He would talk of how he worked as a manservant doing cleaning, running errands and even dishwashing. He would frequently refer to the days when he absolutely didn’t have anything to eat. He said he was an orphan, but with the help and encouragement of some well-wishers, he had been able to complete his graduation and take admission to the master’s. He for ever sought the sympathy and help of others.
But my serendipitous mind or clairvoyance perceived him to be a humbug. He wore good quality clothes, always clean and pressed. He wore leather shoes that always shone. He shaved everyday and looked fresh anytime of the day. Where was he getting the money for all this? Once I posed this question to Sharan, his classmate. He said Saradgi was getting several money orders every month from different people. He had told all those people of his so-called miseries and all of them had been credulous enough to believe him and in good faith were sending him money to sustain him. The amount so received by Saradgi was double the money the other guys were getting from their parents.
By the time Saradgi gave me this information, I had completed almost two months in translating the notes and the task was over. He’d not offered me even so much as a cigarette for the time and energy I gave him. Of course, after hearing him pour out all his trials and tribulations, I did not expect him to even buy a cup of tea for me.
One evening I found Satish, another senior of mine, holding the photocopies of the notes that Saradgi had written to my dictation. I could recognize his handwriting immediately, for I had seen him writing for a couple of months.
“Ah, good to see that Saradgi is sharing the notes with you!”
“Yes, thanks to you all the ten of us are reading the same notes,” he replied with a smile.
“Why only ten?” I asked with curiosity.
“Because only ten have given the money. You have charged too much. Two hundred each must have been two thousand for you,” he replied.
“What! What are you talking about? I didn’t charge even a single rupee for translating,” was my shocked response.
Now Satish also looked surprised. He thought for a moment and then said, “Saradgi has collected two hundred rupees from each of ten of us, who wanted to get the notes translated. He said that you had demanded two thousand rupees for the work. We’d to contribute. Now from the look of your face, it seems you have done it free of charge and he has duped not only us, but also you.”
I was dazed at the revelation. Moreover, it hurt me hard that I had been deceived. Those boys who had given money would be blaming me that I took the money from them. They would at the same time be grateful to Saradgi for sitting every night for such a long period and taking down my dictation, in lieu of his contribution of money. In effect, he had got the work done by me absolutely free and sold to his classmates and had made a couple of thousands, a fortune in the eyes of the students. What could I do now?
“Listen Satish, now that you know what he has done, all those of you who have coughed up money, should recover it from him. I can’t ask him because he never promised me anything, nor did I ask him for anything. There was simply no deal between us. You get it?”
He considered that for a long moment. Finally he said, “I will tell the other guys about this,” and left.
I stayed looking at his back, frustrated.