Short Story

Dhanabala Chettiar Company

Print edition : September 16, 2016

Of course, all this is imagination. But could the lives of these individuals be any different? The owner Chettiar’s pomposity, the labourers’ weariness, the contrasting attitudes of the two, only all this I’ve written. Read it and see. You will never get a lesson equal to this even if you read cartloads of books.

Dhanabala Chettiar's account 7-1-1940

panchamrita abhishegam


Rs

Annas

Paise

By interest from Aa mu ka

648

6

0

By shop rent from Kalinga Naidu

68

0

0

To conveyance

0

6

0

To clerk Kumarappan

5

0

0

To household medical expenses

22

0

0

To Lokamrita gurukkal for

75

0

0

To advocate Sundaram Iyer

32

0

0

To watchman Kandan

2

8

0

To oranges

1

8

0

To Ambika Hotel expenses

2

8

0





Rs

Annas

Paise

Total Income

716

6

0

Expenditure

140

14

0

Balance

575

8

0



Dhanabala Chettiar was a moneylender and a landlord. He leased out many houses on rent. The above are the details of a day’s account written in his account book.

Clerk Kumarappan’s account 8-1-1940



Rs

Anna

Paise

By salary from Chettiar

5

0

0

To rice merchant

1

8

0

To firewood

0

6

0

To vegetables

0

2

0

To temple expenditure including archanai

0

4

0

To cinema

0

8

0

To interest

2

0

0

To soap, ribbon for the child

0

4

0

Earnings and expenditure are equal here!

Kandan’s account



Rs

Annas

Paise

Salary from Chettiar

2

8

0

Arrack

0

14

0

Tiffin

0

2

0

Household

1

0

0

Moneylender

0

8

0

Here too the income and expenditure tally!

Kuppi’s account



Rs

Annas

Paise

What Kandan gave

1

0

0

Rice

0

8

0

Dried fish

0

1

0

Chillies

0

2

0

Oil

0

2

0

Salt

0

1

0

Pujari

0

2

0

Here too the accounts tally!

Lokamrita Iyer’s account



Rs

Annas

Paise

Income from Chettiar

75

0

0

To fruit vendor

15

0

0

By Mr Su Pa Su for panchamritam

6

0

0

To Shama

5

0

0

By Sethji Bansilal

3

0

0

By Muthu Mudali

7

0

0

By Nagalinga Naidu

4

0

0





Rs

Annas

Paise

Income

95

0

0

Expenditure

20

0

0

Balance

75

0

0

The accounts don’t tally, but there is an excess.

Pankajavalli’s account

perfume, ribbon


Rs

Annas

Paise

Received from Iyer

75

0

0

Bombay silk sari

35

0

0

Organdy blouse

6

0

0

Silk pavadai for Janaki

12

0

0

Cuticura soap, powder,

5

0

0

Chintamani expenses

2

8

0

Bangalore vegetables

2

0

0

The accounts don’t tally here!

Chettiar’s accounts were written in a calico-bound notebook by a clerk. Clerk Kumarappan wrote his accounts in a pocket-sized diary. Lokamrita Iyer wrote the accounts in a pretty notebook stitched by his daughter Kokilam using the temple festival handbills. Pankajavalli’s accounts were written on the back of cinema advertisement bills. Where did Kandan and Kuppi have books to write on!

Kandan came home and gave a rupee.

“What is this nonsense? What can I do with a single rupee?”

“Go, di! What do you know how I had to bare my teeth to that fellow to get this money.”

“Tell me, on your father’s honour. Did he really give you only one rupee?”

“Yes, di. I tell you.”

“Wonderful. I can see it. What is there to tell? I can see by the way you are staggering. Did you pay off the moneylender?”

“Will he leave? Took away eight annas.”

“The remaining…?”

“I have the remaining…”

“Where?”

“It’s there, just leave me. Simply irritating a man!”

“Tell me, where?”

“Won’t tell. Go, di! Will not tell! Won’t show it even.”

This is how the accounts were sorted out. At the end of the argument, Kandan’s fist tested Kuppi’s back and that woman’s wail pierced the ears of the neighbour. After that, Kuppi settled her account by giving one on the back of her child who asked for sweetmeats.

“That sinner gave me a rupee after spending on the moneylender and the arrack. Half a rupee for rice, two annas for chilli, one anna for salt, two annas for oil, the remaining two annas I tied into the ends of my sari. The pujari said that they were sacrificing a goat for Goddess Moolakaatha and I gave what I had. What else would I have? If you want to eat sweets, I have to steal only. I have bought dried fish for an anna, and I’m going to make it now. If you cry and don’t eat that, I’ll give you one.” Thus Kuppi recorded the accounts. Thus were the family’s accounts. Leave money matters aside, and see how they labour.

Chettiar’s labour:

Morning 7:30 opened his eyes

By 7:45 got up from bed

By 8:30 finished the ablutions

Till 9:30 stayed at home and had tiffin, etcetera.

The watchman informed that the cart had arrived.

Chettiar shouted, “ Dei, you fat donkey. Day by day you are becoming very lazy.”

That lazy fellow got up at 4:20 in the morning. After informing the farmer that Chettiar wanted the work in the fields to be finished quickly, he ran to the garden and told them to bring six tender coconuts to Chettiar’s shop for the afternoon.

On the way back he went to the granary. In order to keep the boss informed, he noted that about only ten carts had arrived. He went to his hut, but there was no firewood. Kuppi complained that the wood from the tamarind tree was very knotty. He split it with an axe, popped a betel leaf into his mouth and made his way to Chettiar’s bungalow. After telling the cart-driver that Chettiar would soon start, he went in and told Chettiar that the cart had arrived. Chettiar scolded “that lazy fellow” and went into his wife’s room. He came out at eleven! By this time, the cart had been readied three times.

The lazy Kandan watered the crotons, heaped up mud and levelled the holes near the fence, plucked wood apples from the tree and took them inside the house, wiped his sweat, shook out his faded cloth and tied it on his head.

Chettiar asked him, “What audacity, da, for you. Other than shaking your cloth, tying a turban and strolling around like a bridegroom, do you do any work at all? Day by day you’re getting too spoilt. You don’t want to stay here and work properly or what?” Kandan bowed his head, bobbed up and down, and displayed his servility.

Completing his task at home, Chettiar started for his shop. There would be lazy fellows there too, wouldn’t there? He had to extract work from them too. How did he go? By cart. On the way, the bulls gave some trouble. The cart-driver had been telling for the past four days that there was no horseshoe, the bulls were not moving and that the feet had worn out.

“What da, you son of a thief! It’s not even three months since you had fixed the horseshoe and so quickly it has worn out, is it? That horseshoe fellow, he’s giving you commission or what! Every month, without fail, you take my life out saying, “Horseshoe, horseshoe!” We’ll look at it next month, manage somehow and drive.”

That day too he tried to drive, but the bull collapsed.

After cursing him, “Useless fellow! Buffalo! You have only clay in your head!” Chettiar hailed a cart for hire and reached the shop. Wasteful expenditure of six annas for the vehicle.

One of Chettiar’s clients welcomed him, “Come, come Chettiar. You look tired and exhausted.”

Chettiar replied, “Yes, yes, too much of running around.”

“Everyone is now gathering and talking at Ambika’s.”

“Who?” asked Chettiar. He looked towards the clerk. The clerk looked at the shop-boy. The boy brought a hand-fan, stood near the boss and commenced his work.

Meanwhile, Chettiar’s friend replied, “Who-aa? What, Chettiar? You’re sleeping or what? The three parties have already arrived.”

“Coimbatore or Salem?” asked Chettiar.

“Salem fellows only,” he replied.

‘What is happening at Ambika?’ asked Chettiar.

“That PV fellow—taking them to Ambika, buying coffee, tiffin and all, and cajoling them to buy stocks from him.”

“Is that so?” said Chettiar.

They both left for Ambika Bhavan. They met the party. PV wasn’t there. For the three of them, coffee, etcetera, at Chettiar’s expense. The bill came to 2-8-0! Then they all came back to the shop.

The clerk informed, “The rent money has come.” At that time Chettiar was busy explaining the difference between banana and potato chips to the Salem party. The clerk attempted to convey this twice or thrice, but Chettiar turned a deaf ear. After the Salem merchant left (oranges worth one rupee eight annas were polished off before they left!), Chettiar called the clerk.

“Look here ’ pa, I’m telling you nicely only. I’m not at all happy with the way you do things.” The clerk started to reply. Chettiar raised his voice and uttered quickly, “Don’t talk back. Get out of the shop. Behave properly.”

The clerk turned silent. After ten minutes Chettiar started again, “You get angry soon. Do you do at least one job properly? Didn’t I ask you the collect the rent money?”

“You did tell me. I only…”

“I told you and you asked and simply came back. You are a big lord’s son! Whose money is it?”

“I told you I received the rent money.”

“The rent money has come, is it! Why are you then standing like a tree? I’m shouting myself hoarse “rent, rent”. You kept quiet then, and you are telling me now as if it is a secret.”

“I told you then itself, ayya. That Salem party was there.”

“What, da, you said it in front of them? Should you be saying all this in front of them?”

“That’s why I whispered.”

“The devil only knows what you said. Okay, how much did he give?”

“Sixty-eight.”

“What is this—why two rupees less?”

“Two rupees for whitewash it seems.”

“Who asked them to whitewash?”

“The sanitary inspector sent a notice it seems.”

Ade, what do I care what notice came. Did I ask them to whitewash?”

“No, ayya.”

“Who did they ask and whitewash? How can they deduct two rupees? Fine story this is.”

“I tried to tell them.”

“He said no and you agreed, is it? Why are you betraying me like this? Look here, these two rupees must be somehow collected. Otherwise I’ll deduct from you.”

After all this show of affection, he managed to wrench what he wanted. The lunch arrived. Chettiar ate and the boy cleaned up the place. The clerk poured water to wash the hands. Another clerk gave a towel to wipe. In the meanwhile, a mattress had been spread out. Chettiar eased his tired body. The boy fanned him. He got up at about five in the evening. He sent the clerk to the medical shop. He asked the boy to fetch the lawyer’s clerk and gave the man some money.

After overseeing the work at the field the “lazy Kandan” filled his stomach with a bit of kanji. Hefting back tender coconuts from the garden, he found Chettiar asleep. So he went back to the bungalow, busied himself in chores, returning later to the shop. Chettiar threw him some money.

As he started for home, the gurukkal arrived. Chettiar welcomed him with a smiling face. The sacred conversation began.

Chettiar: Come, come, saami. Never seem to get your darshan these days.

Gurukkal: What are you saying? To get an audience with Chettiar only is like a horse’s horns.

Ch: Siva, Siva. What saami, talking about me so grandly.

Gu: Do you think it’s only me, Mr Chettiar? Why, do you know what Kamala said last evening?

Ch: Kamala- va? She talks about me and all, is it?

Gu: Besh! Asking if she talks about you. God knows what magic you did. All the time thinking about you.

Ch: Go on! You are saying all this simply.

Gu: I swear to you.

Ch: Siva, Siva. Okay, what did she say?

Gu: She said looking at Chettiar is like seeing the special prayer for Lord Garuda in Kanchipuram.

Ch; Did she say that? That Kamala always talks very cleverly.

Gu: What are you saying? Only in speech?

Ch: No, no, she’s smart in all ways.

Gu: Who sings like her in this town?

Ch: Dances too.

Gu: Like the dance of Siva.

Ch: Good-natured, but always an eye on money.

Gu: That’s natural, Mr Chettiar. Tomorrow she’s also coming for the panchamrita abhishegam.

Ch: Bale. Then you should do it grandly.

Gu: If Brahma wishes, can the lifespan be short?

Ch: Give Iyer fifty rupees (calling out to the clerk).

Gu: Give another twenty-five.

Ch: So much expense?

Gu: Yes, she and I have made the budget.

Ch: Then there’s no “appeal”.

After Iyer left with seventy-five rupees, Chettiar walked merrily towards the bazaar, chatted with friends and then left for home.

Original title: Dhanabala Chettiar Company

1945

This story is taken from The Tamil Short Story: Through the Times, Through the Tides (Ed. Dilip Kumar; translated by Subashree Krishnaswamy) , an anthology, in translation, of 88 short stories written between 1913 and 2000.

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