The clock just ticks 10 when familiar footsteps at the threshold can be heard from the kitchen. Mukesh hurries to unlock the door as he knows it’s his father coming in, who has just finished his daily duty of cooking for NERIST hostellers. He welcomes, “O Papa, you never late. I know it’s you by your footsteps.” “I’m always eager to meet you, beta,” his father replies. The weary but cheerful face of Sashi brightens with this usual welcoming gesture of his sole son. Mukesh, then, fetch a cup of cool water for his father who is reclining on the wooden bench in the living room. He’s been doing this regularly since childhood till today when he’s now 15, doing his 9 grade. Today, he is cooking for him and his father as his mother and his sister are gone to visit his uncle who is in Assam. Nonetheless, kitchen work is not a big deal for him; he’s been handling domestic chores since childhood.
"Papa, take a bath, I have drawn water from the river, then we shall have a dinner shortly," asks Mukesh.
“Going immediately,” smiles Sashi.
The dinner is soon prepared. “How’s your day, my boy?” Sashi inquires, as they start eating. “My class is fun. I’m the first to complete the maths problem exercises,” Mukesh replies delightfully. After taking a deep breath, he continues, “I play so much with my friends today that my shirt gets torn, Papa.”
“I’ll be cautious next time, Papa, I promise,” adds Mukesh in a remorseful tone.
"It's okay, son. Clothes do tear. Rather I appreciate your honesty, son."
"I know you'll not scold me. I still remember you telling me, to be honest. I always keep your words, Pa.”
“Be always ready to admit mistakes, and don’t ever be reluctant to apologize.”
Mukesh asks, “Papa, how’s your work today?” They usually ask each other about their day at this dinner time.
“It’s casual, son. Tiresome as usual. I have brought you twice there before, right?”
“I do my job sincerely and vibrantly. Although it’s not a very enjoyable one, I do it happily thinking of you and your sister and your mother.”
“Thank you, Papa. I love you very much,” Mukesh interrupts.
“Attitude is, people say, the most important element to achieve anything. I do believe it and live with it. Cooking for them is all I’m doing, and I have no reason to downgrade my job; it’s the highest level I can achieve with my capacity.”
“Yea, Pa, because of you I have respect for every profession irrespective of trade,” comments Mukesh passionately.
"You know, beta, doing a menial job isn't anyone's choice, neither mine. But, once I get to do it, I value it and serve it with my whole heart. However, I gravely anticipate a great profession for you. Not everyone has the same mind we have; for them, I'm working an ignoble job. We can't change their sentiment. Look for a socially respectable job, son, and they will listen,” teaches Sashi heartedly.
“Yea, Pa, I always want to hold up moral values and change the present defective worldviews. Everyone should respect each other’s profession,” Mukesh asserts, waving his hands in confirmation.
Sashi continues, “The students for whom I’m cooking, son, I really want to admonish them.”
“You know, I usually leave our house at 4.30 am so that I could serve them hot breakfast by 7 am. But, few would catch by time, many by then and much later. Most of them, I suppose, are from a wealthy family and enjoying modern luxuries at home; they wouldn’t just wake up in the morning. We always have some who would complain the foods served to them which we prepare at our best capacity, with love. I wish I could always bring the leftover for our family; we all would be healthier than now.”
After clearing his throat, he continues, “I observe each of them when they come to take their food. Some are nice to us, some smile to us, some don’t look at us, and another some don’t look at anyone. I don’t wrong them for not looking at us or talk to us, and no doubt we have minute significance for them, but my concern is to those who will not care for their fellows – selfish and unsociable. My son, I wish you be sociable and caring; self-centeredness is not just a social evil, but it a demon which threatens a peaceful and tranquil environment everywhere.”
"They have all this time to concentrate on their studies but they would busy themselves with many things. I again don't wrong them for this, neither do all of them are like this. However, couldn't they just spare some time for study so as to at least sustain their own family, if not their community, when they leave. I, many a time, envy their opportunity to study here. Son, you would serve the community, don’t you?”
“Ha, Papa, ki mere atyant chinta ka vishay hai.”
“Achccha. I really want you to be a blessing for our community, not just our family. And I do believe in you. Had I been in the position to achieve greater, I would have so. Now you are such, you must. Pakka?"
Not for long, silence fills the room as they are finishing up their meal. Mukesh cleans up the mess while Sashi washes his hands and off he went to bed, murmuring, “My son would be a social servant. Not a mess-worker. Never!”
Writer's note: This story was featured in the NERIST 2016 freshers' meet magazine, "Genesis".