A Short Story: Grandpa’s Pet

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves” Ravi remembered his grandfather reading out to him many years back from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Whenever Ravi complained about something, his grandfather would come up with some quotation to inspire him. This was one of his favorites.

His grandfather had expired around six months back. For Ravi, it was a big loss, no doubt. The college going boy, just out of his teens was devastated when his grandfather had died. For the boy who had lost both his parents in an unfortunate accident at the age of 3, his grandfather meant a lot.

His grandfather was clearly his favorite between his grandparents. Right from the age of 3 when he became both his father and grandfather, it was grandpa who doted on Ravi, and Ravi who was grandpa’s pet. Though he was not a rich man, he was the one who brought Ravi presents, he was the one who celebrated his birthdays, and he was the one who Ravi depended on.

It was not as if he did not like his grandmother, but he knew there was a difference. She was a simple woman with not much understanding of the world around her. Brought up in a small village, and not very educated, his grandmother had devoted her life to, basically, running the household. She was happy to see her son get married and even happier when they were blessed with Ravi. But after the accident, she had this faint belief that it was Ravi who brought them ill luck. It was a deep-rooted belief for a few years, but over a period of time, it had reduced. But somewhere deep down, Ravi always felt that she held some grudge against him, perhaps at a subconscious level. May be she held him responsible for her son’s death. And now with grandpa gone, Ravi was not quite sure what would happen.

His grandfather had spent most of his life working at a tea estate with a rich family, helping them maintain their properties. That family had a sprawling estate of over a 1000 acres and this was their 3rd generation in the tea business. Ravi’s grandfather was one of their trusted managers. He had started working with the family from his early twenties, when the 3rd generation had just taken over. The eldest son of that generation was a few years senior to Ravi’s grandfather and had hired him. The initial years were strictly business related, but over the years, they had developed a close personal friendship. When Ravi’s parents had met with the accident, the scion of the rich family had provided a lot of support, both financial and emotional.

The scion of this rich family was an extremely well read person, and was a great collector of books. While his business interests were in tea, his personal passion was in books. He had a huge library in his palatial estate bungalow and one could find him there almost every evening after business hours. He and Ravi’s grandfather shared a common passion for books, old and new, and could discuss them for hours together. In fact, when they had both grown older, they had left the day to day management of the tea business to other members of the family and other employees. For the last five years before his death, Ravi’s grandfather had devoted his time to maintaining the rich scion’s library.

He used to tell Ravi about it when he was in school. “You must spend some time with me in the library. It has a wealth of knowledge in it. It will help you someday.”

As he grew older, Ravi also felt a certain deprivation of not having his parents. When he looked at the other children on the tea estate, he often felt he could have gone to a better school, and had a better life, if only his father were alive. His urge to make money to have a good life had taken root. “I don’t want to depend on any rich family. I will make it on my own” he told his grandpa.

But now with his grandpa gone, he did not know how. He was going to finish his college next year. He felt that he should leave the tea estate and go to the city for the sake of his own future and for a better life. But then what will his grandma do? Will she come with me to the city, or should I leave her alone here?

He was lost in thought about his future, when his grandma called him.

“Ravi, come here. I need your help in clearing up some of your grandpa’s things. Will you come here and help me?”

“Yes, I am coming” Ravi said. Cleaning up things in the house was his grandma’s favorite activity. She had been doing it for years. Needless to say, it was something that he did not like. So he lazily got up, and walked up the stairs to go on to the first floor of their house where his grandpa’s reading room used to be. His grandpa used to spend hours together in that room.

As Ravi walked into the room, large specks of dust welcomed him. He had hardly been to that room. His grandparents lived in another room in the house, that’s where most of his time used to be spent. This one was more of a reading room which his grandpa used for keeping the books that he read from time to time. It had started becoming packed in the last few years, as his grandpa gave up most of the tea estate management activities and spent most of his time in the scion’s library, and got books from there.

“Look at the dust around here. I told your grandpa so many times to get this room cleaned, but he never did anything about it” his grandma complained. “Let’s clean this up today.”

As Ravi looked at the pile out there, it was clear to him that this was going to take a large part of the day. The room was large in size for a reading or study room. Piled near one wall were a lot of old newspapers. The entire pile of newspapers must have been at least 10 feet tall and 3 feet wide.

A little distance away from that was a big wooden shelf around 18 feet wide and 10 feet tall, with 4 sections for books. It contained over 300 books of all types laid across in sets of 15 odd rows of around 20 books each. His grandpa seemed to have a pretty good collection of books, he thought.

Next to those books were a small set of files that looked like accounting related papers. Surely, they must be related to the tea estate financials that his grandpa used to spend so much time on. There were a few files which seemed filled, while some others seemed incomplete or work in progress.

Besides this big collection of books, newspapers and files were a set of loose papers and thick books that looked like encyclopedias or dictionaries of some kind. They seemed particularly old and tattered. Some of them were also laid on the writing table. They were covered with a lot of scribbled paper with something written on it. It looked like his grandpa was working on them, or reading something till he breathed his last.

“We need to clear this all up. Can you call the waste newspaper boy?” asked his grandma.

“Yes, I will call him” said Ravi, and proceeded to check the newspaper boy’s number from their home phone book.

“Is that Babu?” he asked as he dialed the newspaper boy’s number.

“Yes” he heard from the other side.

“This is Ravi. Please come to our house to collect waste newspapers and books. There is a lot of it here that we want to dispose of” he informed Babu.

“Yes I will be there in an hour” Babu confirmed.

Ravi walked back to his grandpa’s reading room, and informed his grandma that Babu will come in an hour or so. He noticed that she had already started sweeping the floor and clearing some of the dust out there.

“This will need some scrubbing. I will go get our maid, and some acid and water to clean this up” she remarked, and walked out to get it.

Ravi walked across to the newspaper pile. He saw that there were some labels on the pile at various sections. On one pile, the label said “Emergency period”. Next to it, another label said “August 1947”. Next to it, another label said “Pre-independence”. Ravi went through them in a bit more detail. He realized that there were some newspapers bearing historic dates hidden in those piles. One of the piles had a set of around 25 newspapers all dated “15th August 1947”. Another had a set of around 50 odd newspapers in multiple languages dated “31st January 1948”. Ravi realized that the first date was the day of India’s independence, and the second date was the date after Gandhi’s assassination.

It struck him that these were not normal newspapers. These were probably collections of the scion of the tea estate. And they definitely had some value. He was not sure how much value they had. But it looked like the scion had gifted them to his grandpa from his own collection. And his grandpa had carefully preserved them. He had stored them along with normal newspapers and hidden them carefully between them. He had also labeled them so that he finds them correctly. He was surprised by this, and pleasantly at that. He started getting a bit excited about what he had chanced upon.

As he walked a bit further, he now started looking for some other things expectantly in the room. Who knows what else his grandpa had stored here? So he started quickly going through the books that were in the shelf there. He reached the section which had the files.

As he opened a few files, he found that the files were not financial accounts about the tea estate. The files had a listing of the various books in the tea estate scion’s collection. Next to every listing was also a section containing specification details of each item. It looked like a librarian’s listing. Some books also had an approximate price.

But just as he was going to keep the file, he noticed that two books had a star marked against them. He tried to figure out what the star stood for. The footnote said star mark meant ‘antique’. In the entire collection of around 300 books, there were 2 books marked ‘star’. As he read the names of the two antique books, he could not believe his eyes.

The first antique book on the list was titled “Hand written Manuscript of an unpublished book by Shakespeare”. Under the specifications, it further said that this book was bought by the scion of the tea estate from London in an auction for 248,000 pounds in 1969. Current value mentioned was unknown.

The second antique book on the list was titled “First authentic Indian Version of the Atlas of the world: Made by the ancient mathematician and astronomer Aryabhatta”. It further said that this book was bought by the scion of the tea estate in an auction for 287,500 pounds in 1970, and only two such copies existed. Current value mentioned was unknown.

His eyes quickly wandered all around the files to search if they mentioned the location of these books. Where were they? Were they here? He hoped that his grandpa had created some labels like the ones for the special newspapers. His mind was working fast and calculating what the current value of these antiques could be. He could not find any location mentioned in the files. His eyes started wandering around the bookshelf, around the room searching for these treasures.

He did not know what exactly he should look for. How did these books look like? But he thought he would recognize them when he saw them. His eyes were searching all around, and then suddenly stopped near the writing-table on the study. There he saw a thick book which he had initially thought to be a dictionary or encyclopedia. He went closer and saw what it was.

In a moment of extreme joy that he had never experienced before, he saw that there was a label on top of the thick book which said “Aryabhatta’s Atlas”. And just under the thick book were a set of old, tattered pages which read “Shakespeare’s Manuscript”.

His joy knew no bounds. He felt like jumping around the room. He felt like crying out loud. He did not know what to do. He started firming up his calculations and started feeling very rich. He was overwhelmed with emotion for his grandpa. He felt like hugging his grandpa. He realized that he was no more.

He thought he should call his grandma and tell her about his discovery. He wanted to tell her to stop the disposal right now. These treasures were worth half a million pounds in 1970, he quickly calculated that they must worth many millions now. He felt like telling her how rich they had become.

But then he had second thoughts. He was not sure what his grandma would think about it. And he always had mixed feelings about her. Should he tell her? And if he does, will she become the rightful owner of these treasures? Would he be left with anything?

But he did have a duty to his grandma. After all, everything said and done, she had a role in raising him. What should he do?

And then he decided. I will take care of my grandma, but after I get the money. No point in telling her and getting into trouble. No point in making a fuss about it. She just does not understand the practical matters of the world. She would not understand. Or maybe she would grab everything for herself. May be she always never had great feelings for him.

Let me handle this, he thought. I am not being a cheat here, he rationalized. I am just making sure I get the money that my grandpa rightfully wanted to give me. Suddenly, he realized what his grandpa meant when he said there is a wealth of knowledge here. So that is it, he decided. He felt proud of himself. He felt he truly deserved it. He was ecstatic.

Then, his grandma returned to the room with her tools and material for cleaning up the room.

“What have you been doing? Everything is just like it was. I thought you must have started packing them” she said. He silently looked at her. “Why are you staring at me? Let’s get this done” she said.

“Yes. I was just trying to sort them out and check if we should keep some of these with us. May be I will read some of them” Ravi said.

He was thinking if this was, perhaps, the best way to make sure that the treasures don’t get disposed. After all, how could he prevent them from being taken?

“No, I don’t want to keep anything. You are not interested in reading. So many years, you never went to your grandpa’s library. There is no chance you will read anything now. Let’s dispose of everything.”

“No grandma, I will read now” he tried to argue, worried that his treasures may get lost.

“Nothing doing I said. Now help me in packing these” she said with a tone of finality.

He gave her a helping hand to get the room cleaned up, and start the packing.

But he was thinking on his next moves. How do I stop my treasures from being taken? Should I hide them somewhere? They were too big for that. Should I put them away somewhere? But where? And how? And what if someone saw them and found them out before him?

He was thinking about this when the doorbell rang. Ravi went to open the door. It was Babu, the newspaper boy. He had come with his weighing tools and packing bags. Ravi directed him to the room. On seeing the amount of newspapers and books, Babu said he had only brought his cycle. He will need to bring a 4-wheeler to take the stuff.

“Yes that’s right” Ravi said.

Ravi thought this was his opportunity. He must seize it. He must go with Babu to get the vehicle and make a deal with him, so that he gets his treasures.

“Ok but do the packing first and then go get the vehicle” his grandma ordered.

So they dutifully went about packing all the stuff.

While packing, Ravi was already thinking of the deprived childhood he had. He remembered with disgust the rich scion’s children going to their high-end schools, and going around the world for their vacations. He saw the cars they roamed around in, the doors of which his grandpa used to open for them often. He decided that he is soon going to get one of those cars. A few million pounds is a lot of money, he thought. And while doing the packing, he quietly smiled at the thought.

“They should all be around two feet in height and less than 6 kg in weight. Only then will we be able to lift them and fit them into the 4-wheeler” Babu announced. “Each of these packets of this size will all go in properly in the 4 wheeler. So pack them together accordingly” he said showing one of the packages he had created with a few books and newspapers.

They packed the newspapers first. It took a while to put them together properly; Ravi ensured that the labels were put in correctly so that he can spot those papers later to get them back. Even though the antique books were the key, he did not want to let go of the newspaper collection. So he made sure that they were packed in a way that they could be identified back again. Then they started packing the books. This was a tough ask. Packing the books together was not easy. His grandma was trying her best to give them all in the right sequence, so that they can be packed properly.

They were done with most of the packing when Ravi realized that it is best to strike a deal now with Babu, else he would leave it for too late.

“Grandma, now let me go with Babu to get the 4 wheeler. Let us save time. I think we will be back in an hour. We will finish the rest when we are back.”

“Yes Ravi, you are right. Why waste time? I will try to do whatever I can till you are back. Then we can finish this off. Already this has taken the entire afternoon.”

Ravi was happy with his timing. He knew his grandma, he smiled. He stepped out with Babu.

“So what’s the rate you are giving for buying this stuff up?” Ravi asked Babu when they were out of the house on their way to get the 4-wheeler.

“Sir – same rate as usual. 8 rupees per kg for newspapers and 5 rupees per kg for books” Babu replied.

“Ok – here is the deal Babu. Instead of you paying us, this time I will pay you 50 rupees per kg for newspapers and 100 rupees per kg for books” Ravi put forward his deal.

Babu was shocked at his stroke of good fortune, but could not understand why he was getting paid. But not the one to question it, he said “Ok sir, what do I have to do?”

Ravi smiled. “Yes, you have to do me one favor. I need 2 of these books back from you. You allow me to take them back, that’s all. And one more thing, this deal stays between you and me only. Nothing goes out to my grandma.”

“Yes sir, no problem” Babu confirmed to Ravi.

Ravi was in the seventh heaven now. Nothing could come between him and his wealth. His spirits were high. His future was bright.

He checked with Babu on the 4 wheeler for carrying the stuff back, and hired the most expensive one available. “And I am paying for this too” he told a shocked Babu. No one had hired such an expensive vehicle for carrying waste newspapers and books so far.

As they got closer to the house, Ravi called his grandma. “We are on our way. We will be there in 5 minutes.”

“Wonderful. Everything is ready. I have packed everything now. You just need to pick it up.”

Ravi thought “Great”.

Babu and Ravi reached the house in 5 minutes as promised. They went straight to the reading room to pick up the material. Ravi signaled to Babu to stay quiet, just do the job and get out.

He had already planned to finish the rest of the packing, keep the Atlas and the Manuscript separately; so that he can just take them back from Babu once they leave. So he felt all set.

On entering the room, Ravi and Babu saw that the packing was indeed finished. They did not have to do anything. But Ravi could not see the Atlas and the Manuscript. He looked around to spot them, but could not find them.

So he asked his grandma “So you finished everything? Where are that fat encyclopedia and the other pages that were kept under it?”

His grandma proudly replied “Oh, those? They were just too big to fit into any of the packages. I tried to put them in many packages, but the height or weight was exceeding Babu’s limit. So I cut them into many pieces and packed them all separately into different packages. Now each package is perfectly within Babu’s specifications, so that we can shift them properly. I don’t know why your grandpa got such oversized books which he never read!”

Just as she finished, Ravi collapsed and Babu ran to hold him.

His grandma replied “Oh dear Ravi. I am sorry to have made you work so hard since morning. Poor child, he did not even have a proper lunch today.”

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