Palaniappan always wanted to be a famous guy. He often dreamt of becoming a ‘Collector’, dreamt of people saluting him, dreamt of going around in a big, white car with lights flashing on top.
He did not know what a Collector did. All he knew was that whenever he asked his father about why he couldn’t go to school when all his friends did, his father used to scream, “nee yellam paduchu enna periya collector aaga poriya?” (“What is the use of you studying? Are you going to become a Collector?”). And, Palani would silently go back to attending the solitary cow in their backyard, sobbing silently. The cow, imaginatively named Gomata, was his sole companion in life. After all, he was the soon of a poor farmer, who couldn’t afford to go to school.
So, to cut a boring story short, while his friends completed their engineering and MBBS and MBA degrees, and found fancy jobs with fancier pay packets, Palani grew up to be a farmer, struggling to make ends meet.
He had always secretly fancied his neighbour’s attractive daughter, but she grew up to be a big doctor in a big city. And he knew, in his heart, that a poor farmer like him could never aspire for such a girl. After all, his father had always told him, “endha kazhudhai kazhuthula thaali kattu nu sollreno, andha kazhudhaiya thaanda nee kattikuve.” (too tough to translate, find yourself a Tam friend). And accordingly, he was soon married off to a woman who lived up to her description by her father-in-law by sheer dint of hard work.
Years went by, and his father passed away. Soon, long forgotten ‘relatives’ crawled out of nowhere to claim their share of the meager land he had. After a settlement at the local panchayat, the leader of which seemed particularly friendly with his ‘relatives’, he was left with a tiny piece of land and his beloved Gomata.
With no fancy degree to ensure that he got a paycheck for sitting around and blogging in office, Palani did the only thing he knew. Slog at his farm, morning to night. The rains were good, the harvest even better and he even made a tiny profit.
Since the disease called ambition strikes even illiterate farmers, he started dreaming again. He dreamt of buying another cow (“Gomata seems to be feeling very lonely”) and milking money, instead of farming all day.
After all, he had some money from the last harvest, and the bank officer who had visited him seemed so friendly. So unlike the evil moneylenders his father had put up with. Soon, papers had been signed, money had changed hands and he was the owner of another cow. He named her Lakshmi, imagining that the Goddess of Wealth will finally smile on him.
By now, since the story so far has run like a typical Tamil film script, you would know that the cows caught some unpronounceable disease and died. Palani was heart broken, but vowed to pay back his loan in full, since his dignity was the only thing left.
So, like all Tamil film heroes, he slogged his ass off and repaid his loan. He sold his wife’s jewellery, and though he did not want to, took his children out of school. After all, “better to be an illiterate child of a man with dignity than to be an educated child of a cheat.”
As he went to the bank to pay his last installment, he heard the news. His namesake, a much more educated man, had announced a loan waiver. All outstanding loans of small farmers would be waived. All defaulters could just forget their debts and apply for new loans. Palani was dumbstruck…
“WHY DID YOU HAVE TO DO THIS? WHERE WILL ME AND THE KIDS GO?” he heard his wife scream, as he saw the young student doctor sent on a compulsory rural stint struggle to revive him. The young doctor was too much of a rookie to know that the poison Palani had consumed acted fast, and there was no chance of reviving him. As the rickety ambulance rattled along the mud roads, Palani smiled.
He had finally achieved his dream of traveling in a big, white car with lights flashing on top…