Ranu sat down tired, looking at her grandson playing in the dirt. Her azure blue eyes and grey hair were remanent of the days when she was the most sought after young girl in her village in Nepal. Her grandson Panku, reminded her of her husband, Chote Lal. Panku had the same broad forehead, curly hair, snub nose and eyes like almonds.
Ranu was married at fifteen and by the time she was eighteen she was already a mother of two bubbly kids. She was married to a man double her age. He had promised to take good care of her and he kept his promise, but Ranu did not feel a connect with him. He was too calm as opposed to her biosterous breezy nature. She felt he was her guardian not husband. It was during this time she saw Chote Lal for the first time.
Ranu had run automatically with the crowd toward the village well pulling her little one. Running along she filled herself with details. A child about six years had fallen into the well. There was commotion all around. The child’s mother was wailing, people were running helter skelter for help. By the time Ranu reached near the well, she saw a young man had tied a rope on his waist and had already jumped into the well. Next day she saw him carrying a load for an old lady even though he was going in the opposite direction. Then she saw him again, helping a farmer pull out the wheel of his cart stuck in slush. Even though he was plain looking she realised she was attracted to him, perhaps because she admired the way he helped others.
Chote Lal was what you call ‘Jack of all trades‘. There was hardly a thing he could not do. He had just moved into their village and nobody knew much about him, and he didn’t speak about his past either. He became the village handyman soon and could be seen doing many odd jobs.
Ranu’s husband had called in Chote Lal when their roof began leaking during the monsoons. Ranu saw this young man of twenty two coming daily and trying to mend the roof even in pouring rain. She would ask him to take a break but he replied, you have little children in the house.
One day Ranu confessed her love to Chote Lal and convinced him to elope to India. She told him to meet her at the bus stop and she brought her little children with her.
A fortnight later they were married and moved into a small village in the foothills of Himalayas. As earlier, it did not take Chote Lal long to establish himself. He began working as a gardener in the farm house of a predominantly rich man who spent most of his days in the town with his family. His patron gave him some land to build home for his family. Chote Lal picked up many jobs from being a gardener, to a scrappicker, to a plumber and an electrician, he was everyone’s favourite handyman. He bought two cows and started selling their milk too. He worked hard as he now had four children to look after. Ranu took care of the home, children and cows. She tried helping Chote Lal whenever she could.
They were leading a happy life except, the benevolent nature of Chote Lal, which had attracted her to him now seemed like a bane. He went rushing out even at odd hours to help anyone in need. Even the slightest discomfort of others evoked the most altruistic response from him. Not that he neglected his family, she worried for him. He was the most selfless person she had met and she often wondered what would happen if he needed help someday.
When their patron’s wife passed away, Chote Lal walked ten miles to reach the cremation ground even though he hadn’t recovered from the broken shin bone he got while repairing someone’s roof. His only explanation was that Sir would be lonely at this hour.
He would deliver milk to their patron’s home everyday without fail, be it rain or storm or snow. It had been his practice since he bought the cows. On that fateful day too he had gone to deliver milk and never came back.
Chote Lal had married his two daughters into good families. They were well educated and worked as nurses in a hospital. His sons were doing good too. His elder son worked as a clerk in a bank and his younger one was still studying. Despite the best efforts of his children he did not stop working. His would quote his favourite saying ” we rise by lifting others”, and get busy with his work.
It was a very cold January morning and Chote Lal had been suffering from high fever, yet early morning he was ready to deliver the bottles of milk. Ranu pleaded with him to skip one day, but he would have none of it. By the time he delivered the bottles and had to come back it had begun snowing accompanied by a blizzard.
Chote Lal was offered hot tea, and prepared to leave bidding farewell to his patron, who begged him to stay put, keeping in view the weather outside. But as always, Chote Lal had a promise to keep. He had promised to repair someone’s gas burner and they will be waiting for him.
On his way back, he tredged slowly as his leg hurt and his fever was back. As he walked along the road he saw a puppy stuck in the snow on a cliff. The poor creature was wailing loudly because of cold and also because of fear. The cliff had a sharp face, but Chote Lal decided to bring the puppy down. How could he leave him stuck up there? He balanced himself precariously and after a lot of struggle managed to put the little puppy out of his plight. He was happy to see him walk across the road. As he was moving down, Chote Lal slipped. His head hit the pavement and he lost consciousness. Lying on the side of the road the snow began to collect on him.
Passers-by saw him, but none stopped to help or check on him. A man who lived all his life helping others, lay helpless till the snow covered him in a white shroud.
By evening Ranu was anxious and in desperation called the patron. He panicked too, as Chote Lal had left long time ago. He went out to check himself and called on Chote Lal’s mobile. To his dismay he heard it ringing under the snow in Chote Lal’s pocket, not even hundred metres from his home.