Stories to Stir your Soul...

The Buddha's Hand - Jack Galmitz

Jonathan Ryder looked out his back window and saw a stranger in the vegetable field. A woman - and to judge by her appearance, one of the residents of the adult home. She was heavy-set and about fifty and she was in a state of ecstasy. Initially, he thought that she was a foreigner and the flowers of the melons were for a recipe. She had a handful of the yellow trumpets of the
pumpkins- to- be in one of her hands and was rummaging through the vines for more. He thought of shouting out and frightening her away when she continued to tear away one flower after another from the thickened stems, but the words caught in his throat. He just wasn't sure.

The woman kept looking around to see if anyone saw her as she pushed her way up the incline to the railroad tracks. The sky was darkening and in the distance there was a lightning bolt that landed somewhere in the far hills. Maybe, she'll be struck by lightning, Jonathan thought. Then, the woman suddenly began to walk triumphantly along the narrow road the farmers had built for entering and leaving the field and in an instant disappeared out of his sight with flowers in her hand.

Jonathan surveyed the field, counting the remaining melon flowers as if they were stars in a personal account. Enough remained and the dark green leaves that had begun to brown were ignited by their presence. He wondered what the woman would do with the flowers. His wife had once collected dogwood blossoms that the rain had knocked from the trees, then cleaned them, dipped them in flour, and fried them. He remembered the pleasant taste and the even more pleasant surprise at finding such use for fallen flowers. Perhaps, the woman knows old country recipes that call for pumpkin flowers. She looked as if she had come upon quite a catch , he thought.

The rain had begun to fall heavily and he went to the porch to see if any of the cats were outside. He counted four; two were missing. He called out their names, but none responded. He gave up and sat down at the desk looking out on the porch and watched the rain. The drumming on the aluminum awning concentrated his thoughts. The rain was sweeping out the year's dying. It came in gusts and Jonathan watched as it unfailingly found the weakest leaf
stems and pulled the red leaves off the branches. The trees were already half emptied and the rain soaked the boles black.

Jonathan bent over and pulled open the desk drawer that contained his writing materials. He took out a small notebook and his pen and opened to a fresh page. He thought about how to phrase what he had experienced and began to speak the words silently, listening to the play of sounds as he replaced one word with another. When he achieved the relationships he was searching for he tried it aloud. Then one more time. Then he wrote it down in his notebook.

A lightning flash
Catching a thief
In the melon patch

He smiled. He would send it out with his next batch of haiku to one of the publications he subscribed to. It was good. He looked around to see if the two missing cats had returned, but they hadn't. He began to worry. He got up and went to the porch door and called out: Mim, NuNu, where are you? Come home! When the cats didn't respond he tried again. Then again. Then he stepped out onto the slick wooden deck and began to search.

The rain soaked his face immediately and its coldness was painful. He looked over the cats' favorite hiding places, but they were not there. His shirt was beginning to drench through and he lifted the wet covers his wife used to protect the old furniture that she put out on the porch. Looking up at him from the shelf of a bookcase were the eyes of a gray and white kitten. It was NuNu.

"What are you doing?", he asked her. " Are you crazy?" She was four months old and he picked her up and carried her into the living room and shut the porch door behind him. That left Mim.

Mim had gotten lost before when he fell from the coping of the roof and three stories down. Jonathan was worried. He went out and began searching the stairwells of the building, guessing the cat might have snuck out when his wife had opened the door to go shopping. He went down the three flights of stairs calling Mim as he went. At the bottom of the stairwell, he looked under the stairs and into the boxes stored there, as Mim had hidden there once before. The cat was not there. He went to the first floor and looked from door to door, hoping the cat had got confused and was waiting outside of the wrong apartment. When he reached the far end of the hallway, he began climbing the stairwell on the South Eastern end of the building, calling out for Mim as he climbed. But, no luck.

At the top floor, he opened the door to the roof to see if the cat had climbed through the broken windows and got out. He peered around the air vents and went to the elevator room. The cat wasn't there. From the roof, he looked down at his own overhang, but couldn't find him. He looked down at the vegetable field and called out the cat's name, but nothing stirred. The sky
had cleared, but night was drawing on and in the deepening blue it would be hard to find anything.

He went downstairs to find his wife, Lu Shi, arranging cans of cat food in the battered closet they used for storage. "I can't find Mim", he told her. "I think he's fallen again." "Did you look outside?" she asked.
"No. I didn't want to get any wetter than I already am. I looked through
the building."

Lu put down what she was doing and began to look through the house calling Mim, Mimi, in a high piercing tone. She opened one closet door after another. She looked on chairs that were pushed under tables. She went out on the porch and called and called. "I'm going outside to look," she said.

From three flights up and in the parking lot he could hear his wife's voice penetrating all of the places a cat might hide: through the fence of the collision shop, under cars, in the brambles beginning to thin, in the waste places of the field behind the clusters of drying morning glories that bordered the vegetable field. For a while he didn't hear her and then he heard her
again from higher up. He leaned out from the coping and she was beside the railroad tracks calling out the cat's name. "Come home, Lu," shouted Jonathan," He'll show up eventually. Come on, it's getting dark. I don't want you out there."

She paid him no heed but climbed down through a fence into the thickest part of the brambles to look for Mim. He watched her as she forced back wiry branches and nearly lost her footing in the uneven earth. He couldn't stand to be idle while she worked so hard, so he went out again and retraced the steps he had taken earlier to see if he had missed something. Nothing turned up. He went outside to bring his wife back.

Lights were beginning to go on in the parking lot and on the street. Lights were already turned on in the building and in the buildings across the road. Jonathan walked to the back of the building and looked through the links of the fence into the vegetable patch to see if the cat was hiding there. He went the length of the fence but found nothing. He called out his wife's name and she returned the call. "Anything?" he shouted. "Nothing," was the reply.

Lu appeared at the far end of the field and walked through it looking dejected. When she reached Jonathan she took his arm and they went together into the building.

It was late and they decided they would find him the next day. In the living room, Jonathan lit incense before the Buddhist altar and prayed for the recovery of the cat. His wife joined in for the prayer. They prostrated three times and beseeched the Buddha to locate Mim and bring him home to them. Then they went to sleep.

The next morning was Sunday and they slept in a little later than usual. Mim was the one who usually woke them for breakfast and without his weight on them they slept soundly. Jonathan got up first as was customary and went to feed the cats. They came without quite the usual frenzy and Jonathan mixed the meat in the cans with the rice set aside for this purpose. He fed them one by one: Ami, NuNu, Shamim, Yang. Then, he had to switch to dry food for Snow. He put out fresh water, watched for a moment, then began to make his coffee.

Throughout the course of the day, Jonathan and Lu took turns looking for Mim. There was just no sign of him. By the time evening came again, each of them must have searched a dozen times. By the time Tuesday came around, they hadn't given up hope, but they weren't as enthusiastic in their search, either. Each one had begun to blame the other. "You always open the door without watching," Jonathan accused. "You're always involved in yourself and
don't keep your eye on the cats," accused Lu.

Then, on Tuesday night Jonathan looked at the thangka of Shakyamuni Buddha that hung on the wall and it gave him an idea. He thought, 'If everything is a Buddha field, then in the field of the thangka will be the location of Mim. And, as my ordinary mind is the Buddha and the mind is everything, then the Buddha will point out to me where to find Mim.' Jonathan felt this reverently and stood before the image of the Buddha seated on a throne with his right hand in the Bhumisparsa mudra, the gesture whereby the Buddha invoked the earth to witness his enlightenment.

'Buddha, where is Mim? Where is Mim, Buddha? Please, help me find Mim.'

Jonathan emptied his mind. He looked at the quadrants of the thangka. He was drawn to the Buddha's right hand, to the place where the fingers pointed to the earth to bear witness to his truth. He turned away from the image and then turned back to see if the same response held true a second time. His eyes were cast onto the same small space just below the Buddha's fingers. That's it, he thought. Now where in relationship to the building is that spot? It's the
base of the building. In the lower corner.

Jonathan ran down the stairs, Lu yelling after him. He ran through the parking lot and then he heard a sound. It was a crying, a loud crying, and it was coming from around the bend of the building. Jonathan reached the corner of the building in the back and under a window, hidden in a rose bush, was Mim. The cat was frightened and crying and uncertain when Jonathan approached. "Mim. It's me," Jonathan said as softly as he could. Mim moved a fraction towards him and then Jonathan knew it was alright to reach out to touch him.

As he picked up Mim to take him inside, he looked out at the darkness of the vegetable field. In the moonlight, two raccoons walked through the stubble of tanned stems and roots across the field. They moved strangely and laboriously. And they were huge. One appeared to weigh forty pounds. They ambled along as if no one was in sight and Jonathan felt fear. He held Mim tightly. If he hadn't found Mim, would they have attacked him? They had such large, sharp
claws and teeth. And they were known to carry rabies. He quickly surrounded Mim with his arms and carried him upstairs.

Lu was ecstatic when she saw them. She fed Mim and leaned over to watch him eat. The other cats came over slowly, to smell him, to satisfy themselves that he was one of them. In the night, from the shed of the collision shop, they heard a fearful sound, as if wild animals were fighting for their lives.

- Jack Galmitz

Privately yours - Santwana Chatterjee

Mr Barat attributed a host of qualities to himself.He thought he was a perfect gentleman- which perhaps he really was; he prided himself for being an excellent judge of human nature , which did not always prove to be right and that he considered himself to have been endowed with an enormous masculine appeal,according to his female colleagues, was the biggest joke on earth.

Mr B N Barat was the Senior Manager of Mackilsons & Magor, originally owned by the British but now looked after by the State and as was the case with most state owned companies it was on the brink of being declared a "sick unit", producing spare parts.

Mr Barat was staring at a leave application that was lying on his desk with apparent distaste. `That lady wants a leave again. What nonsense, leave cannot be sanctioned, not so frequently`.Mr Barat pressed the bell. "Send Ms Sonali in", he howled.

The woman who drifted in looked more like a faded and dehydrated leaf. She had wrapped herself with the 'pallu' of her saree. It was end December and very cold, but as always she was without shawl. How such a frail woman could withstand such cold was a wonder. Mr Barat involuntarily shuddered under his warm tweed coat.

The saree she had borrowed from her second sister-in-law was quite heavy and protected her somewhat from the cold wind of December. Most days she had to borrow sarees from her sisters-in-law (there were three of them) and she was very considerate and careful in selecting the ones that were kept for the laundry and she limited her demands to the bare essentials,foregoing the 'luxury' of warm clothes, much to the relief of her sisters-in-law.

Her daughter's forehead was burning with fever when she had left home for office today. Chinki was only eight years old. Sonali had given her a tablet commonly prescribed for fever and promised, she would return early and take her to the doctor's. She had also promised to take a few days leave from office to be with her child.

Mr Barat did not try to hide his displeasure.

"Ms Roy, you take leave too often for our company's good.Please don't take it otherwise, but don't you agree that ladies should best be looking after their home and children rather than take up positions at offices,thereby displacing some good male candidates, the bread earners of a family? The office needs working hands and not vacant seats.I am sorry I can't grant you any more leave.Please try to understand."

Sonali came back to her seat resigned to her fate. She knew what she would do. She would simply not come to office for the next three days. Not because she had promised her daughter but because she simply couldn't leave an ailing child all alone. `It's very easy to say that a woman should not join office and remain just a housewife,but how could housewives like Sonali, fend for themselves and their children if not by working in an office?

'Bread earner' indeed`, thought Sonali. `So what was she doing;play acting?`

Deeply disturbed Sonali went back to her work. She simply had to finish the pending stuff. She took the petty cash payment ledger and made the entries mechanically with a frown on her small forehead.`These part time sweepers, they are a nuisance`, Sonali mused.`Always after money, putting fictitious bills for cleaning, carrying garbage.` Sonali could distinctly remember there was no garbage on the compound last Monday as the office closed in the morning following the news that Mr Samanta, their Accountant had expired in a road accident. Still Ramdeen had placed a bill for cleaning garbage from the compound on Tuesday.There were a few more bills to be entered in the register,a few vouchers to be made and she thought of sending the register alongwith the vouchers to Mr Avik Sengupta,the Assistant Manager. On second thoughts she herself went to his chamber.She had to get them signed that day itself.

Mr Sengupta was having the usual after lunch long and leisurely chat with Mrs Depali Sinha, a
catchy young lady with a reputation for leaving a string of broken hearts behind her beautiful frame.

Mr Sengupta gave her a wan smile- "Please Sonali why don't you leave them on my table. Err.. I am rather busy?"

Sonali looked at the dump of files, registers and papers on his table waiting to be attended to. "I won't take much of your time. I am sorry Sir, but these must be signed urgently. I can wait..."

Mr Sengupta gave a hurried and cursory glance through the papers and counter signed them. Relieved, Sonali sent the vouchers for payment.

The next two days were a nightmare for her.Chinki's temperature rose beyond normal limits and the child shivered and started talking in delirium.Sonali bathed her daughter repeatedly. She was constantly by her side, bathing her, watching her with anxious eyes,caressing ,feeding whatever little liquid she could consume, and taking temperature measurements at intervals. None of
her in-laws were by her side with a helping hand, as usual, but neither did they disturb her or call her for any household chores; for which Sonali felt immensely grateful.

In her delirium the child cried for her father which made the hapless mother more distraught. Three year ago, Kabir, her husband, simply vanished from their world. He was a draftsman in a
newspaper house. One day he did not reach home. Some of his colleagues said that they saw him near the Howrah station and some of them had even asked him where he was going to which they did not get any straight answer.At first Sonali thought that Kabir must have gone to Bandel, where her elder sister-in-law lived. But a few telephone calls later she was again at her wits end.
Kabir had not been at any place they knew of. For one whole year Sonali waited for him in vain. She still nurtured a faint hope in a corner of her heart that some day Kabir would return.

On Monday Sonali reached office quite early and did not panic when Mr Barat called for her. She decided to show her boss the doctor's prescription as evidence,and so first thing on entering his room she started putting the papers on his table.

Mr Barat brushed them aside saying "No need, no need." and asked her to take a seat which
was rather unusual. Sonali sat on the edge of the chair with a palpitating heart; surely she will not be dismissed for taking unauthorized leave?!

"Sonali, the office owes an explanation from you." He put out a hand to restrain Sonali, who was about to speak. "You have made a grievous mistake in the payment register.Because of you, a sum of Rs.1000/- has been paid in excess to the electricians who placed a bill for Rs.3999/- + Rs.202/- and you have put the total as Rs.5201/- instead of Rs.4201/- and the bill has been duly paid . Sonali take my word for it, if you can't make the electrician deposit the excess amount to the office cashier by tomorrow, I would be constrained to issue a show cause letter to you."

"Sir please, let me explain. Sir I was really very worried about my daughter's health. Sir I am giving you back the money- now, right now. Sir please don't take such an action." said a helpless Sonali.

"Why should 'you' return the money; you have not taken it yourself, nor did you do it 'deliberately'." said Mr. Barat.

Was there a sarcasm hidden behind those words? Sonali could not gauge.

Mr Sengupta spoke in her defense."Sir I can vouch for her, she won't do any such thing. It was just a clerical mistake."

"Well, a costly mistake Mr Sengupta, and the office cannot overlook such carelessness."

Mr. Barat was, after all, not an unkind man but he had a set of fixed outlooks on life. First among them was that women should not be seen in the workplace. Their ideal work arena, according to him, should be confined to their kitchens and if need be they can work in educational institutions at the most.

May be he thought that men being 'men' could take certain liberties, like flirting away their valuable office time inside office premises with their junior colleagues and could even afford to commit mistakes such as the present one by Mr Sengupta who was careless while countersigning important bills and vouchers for payment , but the blame should squarely be put on the weaker shoulders.

Mr Barat did not really intend to take any serious action on the incident if the money was returned safely but he wanted to teach Sonali a lesson. That it is a serious world, this workplace, that proper attention and care should be taken while performing office duty and that she should not have had the audacity to defy his order by staying at home freaking away time that was meant for office work. Men also have families but they cannot afford to neglect office for family.So should be the case with working women. If they cannot take such a stance, they have, according to him, no right to be in this place in the first place.

Sonali by nature was a introvert and fighting continuously with adversities in life had made her doubly so. She never made her private life be known to others and she could hardly recall the last time she shed any tears. But this was a situation where tears were very much needed. Mr Barat, the ultimate word in manliness, always melted before a weeping female. It would suit his male ego in the right place and in the right degree. But this was not the stage, so glycerin won't do.

So Sonali decided that she must do what she had never done before; she must pour out her life's misery before this man. 'Pity',the word that she hated most, was her only resort, for she couldn't afford to lose the job. She couldn't take any chances either for her job had not yet been confirmed.

Mr Barat listened to Sonali's typical tragic life history with a peculiar gleam in his eyes. It seemed to Sonali as if he was mentally licking her wounds and the feeling of suffocation and drowning came back to her.

She stopped midways and hated Kabir like never before for leading her to this unenviable situation,where she was showcasing herself as the wronged woman, abandoned by her husband, neglected and ill-treated by the world in general, just to arouse pity in strangers,to get a 'favour' she actually deserved.

'Why is it that when husbands leave their wives, they take away their dignity with them?'

Mrs Santwana Chatterjee

A166 Lake Gardens
Kolkata 700045
Ph: 2422-3170


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