Chapter 9 The pride and glory of 42nd Road!
– I have already written a novella , AMERICA, in Tamil, based on my life at the detention camp. The journal, ‘Thaayagam’ was published from Canada while this novella was serialized. Then, adding some more short-stories, a short-story collection of mine was published under the title America by Tamil Nadu based publishing house Sneha. In short, if my short-novel describes life at the detention camp, this novel , AN IMMIGRANT , describes the struggles and setbacks a Tamil migrant to America faces for the sake of his survival – outside the walls of the detention camp. – V.N.GIRITHARAN –
Ilango and Arulrasa had planned to spend the day wandering in the Manhatten area of New York City. As far as Ilango was concerned, he was prepared to get into any kind of job at once. But, Arulrasa was not prepared for that. The dialogue between the two, given below, which took place that morning, is enough for anyone to understand why such a difference in opinion existed.
“Okay Arulrasa, as Gosh said, it seems like we should seek the help of the Employment Bureau agent, Peter.”
“The lone that must be available with Peter is playing guitar.”
“What, playing guitar? But, I don’t know how to do that.”
Giving out another sarcastic smile, explained, “That means washing the cups. It’s a type of code language.”
“What is wrong with that? Why should we feel ashamed about it. whatever the job we get, let’s do it! So what?”
“Ilango, I am not up for it. I will not seek the help of Peter for a job. In this Manhattan place, I will go wandering around and find some other job.”
“Arul, I too have the wish to do that, but, when we are penniless, how long we can hold on? I have just one hundred-and-fifty dollars with me. Before it gets dried up, I should try some way save some money. So, are you coming with me to Peter or not?”
“Of course, I will but let’s do sightseeing today. Let’s go around Manhattan. From tomorrow onwards, we can begin our job-hunt.”
“If we are going to Peter’s, we should go early – Gosh said so yesterday. He told us to be there by six o’ clock. No chance today anyway, since it’s past nine.” Upon hearing this, Arulrasa smiled a little.
“Arul, why are you smiling?”
“Well, the job is just washing the dishes. But, to get that we need to work so hard!”
“Not just that. It is not as if we will get that job in just one day. From what Gosh had said, it appears that sometimes we require to go there by six o’ clock itself and wait till 4 or even 6 PM. We don’t know anything until they call us in; we are penniless. We have no legal documents, so we must do this. We have to play the game and see. No other choice.”
“Fine, let’s get something to eat and get going.”
Downstairs, Padma Ajith was watching T.V. where Billy Joel was singing Uptown Girl. It was a song from his latest album ‘An Innocent Man.’ This song is ubiquitous, literally heard in every nook and corner of the world, so to say.
Ilango felt happy to see Mrs. Ajith, “What a blessed soul Mrs.Ajith is. See her. Relishing to the full the sweetness of the Uptown Girl!”
Arul was quick to point out, “In the soil which is known as the land of abundant opportunities, don’t be disheartened. Cheer up man.”
“Let’s just wait and see what this land has in store for me.”
When the friends finally left, after having some food to munch on, it was past 10 AM. They walked towards the Metro Train Railway Station. Once there, they bought the relevant tokens and later arrived at the world famous Times Square located on 42nd road. This road was something else. There can never be anything like it anywhere else in this vast globe. The great, grand 42nd Road was filled with advertisements of anything and everything. Year after year, this too was where the New Year celebrations take place on such a grand scale. This tradition started in the year 1907 and hasn’t slowed down since. Times Square stands between Broadway, where world-renowned theatres are located, and the Seventh Avenue of the 42nd Road. It is the time-tested and world-famous Daily New York Times that has given this area of 42nd Road, the proud title of ‘Times Square.’ In 1904, New York Times built a building of its own on the 43rd Road and that’s the reason why the road and the places in the adjacent area, including the 42nd Road, came to be called ‘Times Square.’ Prior to that, this place was considered a dangerous area. It was previously called Longacre Square and only after New York Times arrived there that the name of the place was changed into Times Square.
Following it, the places in the nearby and surrounding areas, all kinds of night clubs, theatres, shops, cabaret spots and a lot more came into being and by the 1920s, the place had progressed into a bona fide tourists’ paradise. Following THE Stock Market Crash of 1929, the numerous clubs and outfits in this place suffered a steep drop in income. And, to make up for that, in the 60s and 70s, was when other forms of services came into place. These included centres and bookshops that were there to titillate the audience and viewers with explicit scenes and descriptions about sex and related issues, pornographic books in the guise of providing guidance and counselling in matters of sex, places where the body of woman was the sole commodity, bookstores that sold such implicit and explicit books on sex, stores that made available gadgets for sex-stimulation and such other things, film-houses for screening exclusively ‘adults only’ movies theatres that provide Peep-Hole Shows, centers for providing Live shows where the act of sex could be viewed live… Areas like these were adjacent to the junction where the 42nd Road and the Eighth Avenue meet. In the middle of the 70s, the place which had become a place of all sins, and came to be referred to as Sink Hole by the city-based Journals and Dailies. As a result, the place suffered a setback in being a famous world-wide tourist spot. Realizing this, the business houses encountered great setbacks but were reforming. As a result, 42nd road was slowly regaining its past glory and splendour.
It is in the place where this significant 42nd road and the Eighth Avenue meet where the main bus terminus of New York City is located. Here, the Road and the Fifth Avenue come together as a point of interest, one that occupies one of the most famous libraries in the U.S. ‘The Public Library of New York’ stood in splendour.
On one side, stood the abode of education. And, on the other side stood the great centre of sex. This astonishing Road is indeed another miracle of America! It is a veritable heaven that lures not less than 26 million tourists every year to come and enjoy the pleasures it offers.
From the Metro Rail Station, the pair of friends went along the main bus terminus situated at the junction where the 42nd Road and the Eighth Avenue meet. When they finally surfaced, the great grand paradise of America welcomed them, whole-heartedly. In the locality filled with clubs, pubs, cabaret spots and recreation centres, occupying every nook and corner of the place, they found the spot in between it all where Peter’s office was situated. The two approached the building and stepped inside. They did not want to start the jobhunt today, it was too late already; their main intention was just to see where the office was. With that out of the way, they decided to explore the landscape for a bit.
CHAPTER 10 THE CAMELS OF THE DESERT THAT HAVE LOST THEIR WAY
Agent Peter’s office was located on the second floor of an old office building that stood close to the main bus terminus of New York. Peter, his personal secretary (who happened to be his wife too), and the office assistant Henry, an elderly person with a hunchback, were the only three officials there. Peter and his wife Christina were inside a cabin containing a glass partition. Outside the cabin, a chair and table were kept for Henry. The illegal immigrants of the third world, in search of jobs, would assemble in the hall right at 6 AM till 5 PM for the dish washing jobs that Peter would offer them. Those were the only jobs available to people like them. In New Jersey, as well as in New York, hundreds of restaurants run by Greeks were scattered throughout, which offered their services of Peter. In taking advantage of this illegal immigrant status, these workers were often worked inhumanely hard throughout the day. Patiently bearing this and being all too willing to toil hard like cattle, these immigrants worked to pursue dreams about their future with a wife, children and family. Just one visit to Peter’s office and spending several hours watching the goings-on of the day would be enough for anyone to realize this.
Office assistant Henry would arrive there at 6AM, sharp. It was he who organized them all and gets the office ready for them. All the jobseekers would arrive even earlier if they could; they eagerly await his arrival each morn. They eagerly await with their cold breakfasts and coffee. Agent Peter would arrive there exactly an hour after that, and then by eight o’ clock, Christina would arrive. Once Peter makes his appearance, then nobody there would think of leaving the room, either to get some more food or even to attend to the nature’s calling. Of course, there was a valid reason for that. While selecting for jobs, Peter showed his idiosyncrasies in his selection process. While conducting interviews throughout the day, Peter’s eyes would swirl around every now and then, watching those men sitting there, waiting. And, at such moments, Peter would be evaluating them and their characteristics and their peculiarities.
With the help of his years of experience in the field, he appeared to have an in-depth knowledge of the owners of the cafes and the restaurants he helped. Therefore, his observations gave him insight into choosing the right employee for the right employer. Whoever would have the patience to bear long hours of waiting, bearing it all with a sweet disposition and a pleasant smile would have a good chance at a posting in some nice cafes and restaurants. And, those who go out often, feeling restless and impatient, for those chatterboxes, jobs in comparatively more difficult restaurants would come their way. Gosh had already warned Ilango of this. It is because of this point alone that some of the people had already trained themselves in the art of waiting patiently in order to earn a good recommendation from Peter.
Some of those who would be waiting to get employed by him would lose their patience and cool on the first day. They would leave the place with the vow not to step inside his office ever again. Some were patient enough to prolong this reaction until the second day. Thus, with a sizeable number of the eligible candidates leaving one after another, among those who would remain would win the grace of Peter! These blessed souls would be accompanied by Henry to the bus terminus at the Metro Rail Station. It is at this time when Henry would give several pieces of advice to the chosen ones. These were rare moments in time, moments when Henry spoke.
Ilango had been waiting in Peter’s office for three full days. The success came on the fourth day. He had decided to try just one last day. It proved terribly tiring to be there from morning till evening. This week he must get a job by hook or crook, he thought. It would be enough to just work for a few weeks; he had devised a well- thought out plan to undertake another initiative using the money earned from a few weeks’ employment as capital.
In these three days he had become well acquainted with Musthafa of Afganisthan and Michael Hailing from Ghana. They helped him overcome the fatigue of the long waiting hours. Musthafa had come from Afganisthan as a refugee and had gone to various countries before finally landing in America. Michael had originally come there for higher studies, but after completing them, he didn’t want to leave America and has since stayed on as an illegal immigrant. Everyone had the American dream; riches, fortunes, and finally settling with a home in the new land.
Michael had also turned a bit impatient near the end. It could be heard in his conversation with them. “Friends! I have come to think of whether it is necessary at all to wait so much and get this kind of job. We have come here in a desperate situation with the hope that we would be getting some job immediately. But, this fellow is dragging on and on. If I had known this earlier, I would not have come to this place at all…”
Hearing that Musthafa responded, “What you are saying is correct, but not reasonable. Where else can we go, searching for a job? Wherever you go, they keep asking for the Social Insurance Number, don’t they?”
Michael replied, “If only we can shell out some 200 dollars, we can easily get a social insurance card with any name we want. Once I get a sufficient amount of money in my hand, I am going to follow through with that plan. Our very being here is illegal here so, what more do we lose by resorting to another illegal action? It is only when we acquire a Social Insurance Number when we can easily get a job in some nice factory, you know.”
In Ilango’s case, there was some difficulty in getting employed in such a way. He explained his position to them, “Though I am also staying here illegally, I stepped onto this land through a perfectly legal way. So, if I were to get caught in the act of committing an illegal act, my requisition for refugee status would be brushed aside. So, what you propose wouldn’t be suitable for me. All the same, what Michael says is absolutely true. A person I know has attained a Social Insurance Card in exactly the same way and is now working in a factory.”
During this time, they discussed of any alternatives, and at other times, they talked about the agent Peter, the job of washing the cups, the city of New York, many other things. Sometimes, having nothing to talk about, they would be deep in contemplation. At such times their thoughts would invariably crowd around their personal life, their relatives left behind in the violent native land. Naturally, many feelings of fear surfaced. Right from the day of first existence, the very beginning of society, there existed the need for human movement, moving from place to place as a strategy for their very survival. Starting from the line from Silappadhikaaram which says,” KALAMTHARU THIRUVIN PULAM PEYAR MAAKKAL’ migration takes place due to various reasons. And, today’s immigration takes place mainly for socio-political and economic reasons. Ilango continued with such thoughts as he remembered the poignant poem of the renowned poet of Eelam, V.I.S.Jeyabalan that has the following lines:
‘நானோ வழிதவறி அலாஸ்கா
வந்து விட்ட ஒட்டகம்போல்
just like the camel that has lost its way
and have arrived in Alaska
being in Oslo
A poem that speaks to any migrant whose purpose was to move due to the prevailing socio-political and economic reasons. Be it Musthafa or Michael or his own self – they all appear as the camel that has lost its way and has landed here. The fact is, real camels may have not even survived in Alaska, but these human camels would surely find ways to survive and get along with life. Or at least venture on all possible roads in order to do so.
Ilango’s thoughts expanded into another time. Memories of one’s childhood and teenage years would never fade. He thought of the way he used to get up early in the morning to study for his P.U.C exams. His father would wake him up without fail during these times. Mother would bring hot tea with lots of milk. From the mango tree in the garden, a Cuckoo would always be singing. The hours of dawn and early morn would be filled up with the boisterous sounds typical of the morning hours. These were the true morning hours! During these hours, the wind whistles and swirls around the palmyra leaves, swinging and swaying each one. This can be both seen from the eyes and heard by the ears from a distance. Oh, the sweetness of studying in the night with the glow of the moon falling all over you as a gentle breeze caresses you, all coming through the windows, singing a soft lullaby ….
The thought of his mother and what she was thinking came to Ilango’s mind with a soft smile accompanying him for a fleeting moment. How can one escape a dry smile at the thought of all that one has to undergo for securing the job of dishwashing… During such an existential crisis, anything might be possible any time. His Present very clearly revealed the fact that Time the tyrant had all the power to make the impossibilities possible.
At last, on the fifth day, which was a Friday, in the noon the boon-giving eyes of Peter fell upon him. When he called Ilango’s name, the way he felt proved to be something truly indescribable. In that short span of time, Ilango’s made several calculations about his future, in the following manner:
1. To retain this job as far as possible.
2. If only he works at least for a week he would be able to survive for the next few weeks.
3. If the job and the work spot proved to be congenial, let’s work there for a while and save as much as possible.
4. At the same time, we should continue to try to legally secure the Social Insurance Number.
5. Should hand over the case claiming the refugee status to the hands of a Legal Aid Centre running on a non-profit basis. By doing so we can save at least a little.
6. Once we get the Social Insurance Number, we should search for a job as mush as possible, that would suit his qualification.
7. We should stay in America at least for a year and stabilize our financial condition.
8. If such a plan doesn’t work out, we should move over to Canada.
9. There, we should start all over again, from square number one, our struggle for survival.
With such plans for the future, Ilango entered inside Peter’s cabin. Greeting him, Peter asked him to sit on a chair nearby. “My dear young friend! Please be seated, be relaxed,” she advised. “Good fortune has begun to smile at you. In fact, golden times await you. I am going to send you over to a restaurant in New Jersey. It is a quality hotel that excels in serving seafood. The owner, Napoleon, works as the head chef. And you will work under him.”
“Is it so? Thank you very much Sir, I will try to fulfill my duties in the best way possible and be loyal to you, working hard and not doing anything to bring a bad name to you. I will try to work hard and try my best Sir.”
“I like you very much young man. Particularly, the way you said that you would try to– I like it very much. Instead of saying that you would work hard, you have said that you would try to work hard, which rings more true. You will survive and come up in life. Napoleon is a very nice fellow. But a little strict. He would always treat those working under him with due respect. One more thing….”
With his eyes, he asked, “What is that?”
“Three square meals a day, also boarding, you will get free of cost. When you go there, Napoleon would be waiting for you with the necessary preparations. And, he would take you to your place. He will explain in detail all aspects of the job. If there is to be some problem at work, don’t be a loggerhead and quarrel with him. You call me directly, over the phone. What else? Give 80 dollars to Christina and get your receipt and go. Henry will accompany you to the bus terminus and will then see you off. My best wishes to you. If you have any doubts, ask them now.”
Ilango quickly took it all in. “Nothing as of now. If I need something later on, I will surely contact you. Thank you for securing me this job.” Saying this, Ilango took out the 80 dollars and gave them to Christina. He got the receipt from her and left for the bus terminus with Henry.
11. THE TALE OF ILANGO TURNING INTO ILANGAA!
The restaurant so well known for its seafood was located near the main bazaar street in a city called Newark, which was in New Jersey State. When Ilango reached there, it was past 10 AM. As Peter had informed, the head chef, Napoleon, was awaiting his arrival. Upon seeing him, he took him straight to the restaurant and introduced him to the assistant chef, Mark. This Napolean was indeed in stark contrast to the one of history, Bonaparte. He stood a little taller than 6 feet and with a thick, silvery moustache, he resembled the great grand Hollywood hero who took tinsel town by storm, Charles Bronson. In contrast, Mark looked youthful with a wide smile and round face. Several female attendants were seen throughout the restaurant.
Looking at Mark, Napoleon introduced Ilango in the following manner, “Mark, your headache is over from now onwards. Henceforth, this one will be your trusted assistant. He is joining duty right now. Brief him while clearly explaining to him all his duties and responsibilities. His name is rather difficult for me to pronounce. Tell him your name, won’t you?”
“Ilango”, said Ilango.
“Ilangaa” – so, dragging the word Mark tried pronouncing it.
“Not Ilangaa. Ilango,” repeated Ilango.
Once again Mark and Napoleon tried pronouncing his name and dragged it to “Ilangaa”.
“That is also correct only in a way. I belong to Ilangai. So, the word Ilangaa too sounds appropriate in a way,” saying this made Ilango smile a little.
At that moment a female attendant of the place came running. Calling her “Emily,” Napoleon told Ilango this, “Ilangaa, she is our employee, Emily. A very good woman and a friendly person. She will need your assistance and cooperation. There are more like her, working here. Some more will come in the evening only.”
Emily looked at him with in a friendly manner and quickly said “Hi” before scurrying away to attend to the rest of her chores.
Napoleon turned towards Mark and said, “Mark, please explain the nature of his job to Ilangaa. So that he can begin his day here as soon as possible. But first, come to my cabin, I have to brief you on several things.”
They went towards Napoleon’s. Gesturing towards the chair nearby, signaling Ilango to be seated there, Napoleon paused till Ilango sat and then said, “The people here will be very cooperative. They will be if you do your job perfectly. You will have your food here morning, afternoon and night. Today, after your work is over, I will take you to your lodging and leave you there. From tomorrow onwards, you should come to work from there. You can walk the distance. It is not that far. It is the house of an elderly couple I know. They have rented out the rooms upstairs. Like you, there are several others that are staying there to. The couple is a nice pair, you know.”
Noting Ilango’s silence throughout the conversation, he warned, “Ilangaa, if you have any doubts or questions in this issue, it’s better to ask me now.”
Hearing that, Ilango asked hesitatingly, “You have not said anything about the hours of work, how much salary I will get…” – without completing his sentence Ilango paused.
Napoleon’s responded immediately, “Your working hours are from 10 a.m to 10 p.m. Just that. Within that time you should complete all the works assigned to you. If not, you have to stay back and finish your chores. But, as according to the order given to me from higher-ups, you will be paid for the usual hours only. For each hour you will get three dollars. At the same time, you should also take into consideration the fact that you are given three square meals a day, free of charge. If you need any more clarification, you can ask me when the need arises. Now, I am going to entrust you in the hands of Mark. He will explain to you the nature of your job and all that you are expected to do here.”
After that, Napoleon left Ilango under the care of the assistant chef, Mark.
Mark told Ilango, “Ilangaa, if you wish to have something to eat let’s eat and talk.” In saying so, he brought toasted bread with eggs and cooked, salted ham. Along with that, he also brought cups of orange juice. He also offered some tea, if he’d wanted. For a while, he was just watching Ilango eating those items. Then, he began to list the job’s chores to Ilango.
“Ilangaa, your most important chores are these: firstly, you have to wash and clean the cups that the female attendants would be bringing every now and then. You have to wash them in the ‘dish-washing machine’ and keep them in their places. When you are doing so, you are not to throw away the butter-pieces, jam and all that were left unused in the plates and cups. Instead, you should collect them in another cup. With that, you should also collect the peelings of lobsters that would also be left unused at times.
That is your first piece of important work. If you are slow in doing this, the female attendants would become disorientated and their work will suffer. So, the moment they come and place the cups and dishes, you should wash and clean them at once. Secondly, you must cooperate with me. I would keep the pans that I use for frying fish and other meats in those wash-basins over there. While washing the cups and dishes, you should have an eye on those wash-basins too. When you see the basins filled up to a certain level, you will wash them (and any utensils you may find). The next important chore is washing and cleaning the kitchen floor, which becomes dirty and sticky every now and then. Not just the kitchen, if required, if asked, you should clean the floors of the restaurant too. Finally, when our business comes to a close every night, you should sweep and clean the entire restaurant thoroughly.. After collecting the dust and garbage in a sealed bag, you should bring it outside. These are all your daily chores. True, the work is a bit difficult. It is in your hands to make it less difficult.”
Mark’s detailed explanations and descriptions found Ilango dumbstruck. In his life, he never had to resort to manual labour as a means of survival. This was the first time he would be doing so. He was never a very strong man. He was of a weak and vulnerable physique prone to be afflicted with all kinds of ailments. Till that date, whenever he would turn weak in health, he would start suffering from various pains, including knee and back pains. While in his mother’s place, his mother would not allow him to even peel the coconut rind. She looked after him so very dearly.”
Once again, it was Ilango’s silence that tipped Mark off. “What Ilangaa? Are you afraid? Have you any previous experience in such chores?”
If he said ‘no’ they might send him back! Waiting for so many days and at last he acquired such a precious, coveted job. Oh, no, how can he afford to lose it so easily…Hence, Ilango answered as follows:
“What? Afraid? Me? Not at all. This job took me along for a trip on memory lane. That’s all/.”
“Memories of the past!” Mark sounded surprised.
“Once, I performed such chores in a ship owned by a person of your land. Why, even when I was in Sri Lanka, I had performed such chores at the Subhash Café in our place. (‘Oh, hail thee Subash Café!’, his heart greeted with gratitude). And those memories came flooding in,” explained Ilango.
Laughing, Mark observed, “What you are saying is of course true. Old is indeed gold!” Saying this, Mark thought to himself, ‘This fellow looks thin and vulnerable. But, must be real smart in such matters. Not bad, Peter has indeed chosen the right person. The suffering that I had undergone all this time, for washing and cleaning the pans and cups, despite having two helping hands, is enough. Bloody thieves, both of them ran away without a word, ditching me. Thank god, this fellow doesn’t know about it. Otherwise, he would be feeling really afraid of taking up this work. Let us wait and watch how he manages this job.” Blissfully unaware of what was going on inside the Mark’s mind, Ilango, with the alias Ilangaa, put on the uniform and began his work for the day.
12. WITH HOPE INTACT!
The light cool climate typical of the hours of dawn was omnipresent. The horizon looked red. And, it lent a rare beauty to the early morning’s pale darkness. The Morning Star and the Full Moon were still playing with the beautiful damsels, the stars, dreading their parting with every second. Ilango’s mind replayed the whirlwind of events that occurred. He could stay in the Greek restaurant hardly a day more than a week. It proved unbearable to remain there for even a couple more days. On Friday morning, before starting his daily chores, he was about to disclose his decision to Mark. However, he could see that Mark didn’t expect it, not that soon. His question had confirmed it.
“Don’t you like the work here?”
Ilango decided to speak the truth as far as possible, being true to his conscience/ “It is not that I don’t like the work, but – ”
While he was half way through his sentence Napoleon cut him short and shot another question, “Then, is the work difficult to do?”
“That is the foremost reason. Working for too many hours, non-stop, and when I return home at last, it is just to go to bed, sleep and get up early and return to work. This is what is proving very hard. The body feels terribly fatigued and broken. Then…”
“The income is not proportionate to the hard work. It is not something easy to do, the work of two single-handedly.”
When Ilango uttered these words, they must have made Napoleon a little startled. His next question made it clear, “What? Doing the job of two? Who told you so?”
“Where is the need for anyone to tell? The mere quantity of work tells it all. Don’t you see?”
Ilango’s blunt words must have saddened Napoleon a little. “Being here is illegal. In such a condition what better job can you expect?”
The way Naopoleon stressed the illegal immigrant’s pitiable existence angered Ilango. In a voice that expressed his anger, which was rarely shown by Ilango, “Though my stay here is presently illegal, I have the relevant documents with me, you know. True, I have entered this country as an illegal immigrant and circumstances have thus forced me to come and stay here.” Speaking in this way, Ilango stopped and wondered whether he should explain his situation and personal life incidents to this fellow at all. Thinking along those lines, he changed his aim of converation, “Just think of me not being able to do this kind of job. Let me go and search for a job that I would be able to perform. If I am to remain here and do all the chores for one more week, I would surely become mad. Even now I can continue in this job, but on one condition…” Ilango hesitatingly paused.
Hearing of this, Napoleon asked, “What? Are you laying down conditions now? You are the lone person who dares to lay down conditions in these circumstances. Well, tell me your condition, Ilangaa.”
“I will work for ten hours only. And, I should be paid proper salary for the number of hours I work everyday. If I am required to work for more hours, I should be paid extra for that. I can’t offer my hard labour for free. I need to be able to earn the deserved amount of money for peace of mind. There should be proper reward for the work that we do.”
Ilango’s reply greatly surprised Napoleon.
“Look here, my friend, you are a hard-working man, I know. You work skillfully and real hard. I am really worried about losing you. For, it would be very difficult to find another person like you. But, I have no right to offer you what you ask for. The proprietor of this restaurant would not agree to that. In New York, there are millions of people struggling to get into this kind of job. If I tell Peter he would send me another fellow in no time. Yet, let me thank you for you real hard work this whole week. Today evening I will calculate and pay you salary for the work done. I wish you a bright future,” said Mark.
The way Mark spoke genuinely made Ilango look at him with some respect. As for Mark’s side, it wouldn’t be too difficult for him to get workers for meagre salary. Ilango was reminded of Agent Peter’s words and his example of the ‘stark standing on one leg in the manner of a sage doing a penance.’
At that moment, he started to think about Emily. Of the female attendants in that hotel, she was somewhat different. She was studying Hotel Management in a New Jersey college. In fact, it was Emily who told him the truth about the two people doing his job previously. She would feel sad and concerned, seeing him sweat and slog and told him once in a while during breaks, to go and try for some job in New York.
But, by nature Emily was a very strict person. Assistant chef Mark was a light-hearted fellow. And, he would always go melting at the sight of women. He loved to flirt with them and he would wait for an opportunity to feel them here and there. But, at their back he would abuse them, calling them ‘sweet street-walkers’. Each and every time the female attendants working in that hotel had to go into the kitchenette, Mark would make it a point to flirt with them for several minutes. Giving a pat on their back, caressing their bums and what not. But, he would never dare to do any such thing with Emily for, he knew that he would never make any headway with her. Hence, he would be polite in his dealings with her.
Ilango’s wandering thoughts left Emily and came back to his present survival crisis. Seeing him come back so quickly, Arulrasa would surely make fun of him. “I know this would happen. That’s why I didn’t opt for the work in the first place. And, I know for sure that you wouldn’t last in this job” – so he would comment. Let him say whatever he wants. No use worrying. And, no use going to Peter once again. He would offer some such job only. I must try on my own to get a decent job back in New York. I should also try for Social Security Card. I can get along for about a week, I have some money saved up. The money at hand would be helpful in taking the next steps, but this time more carefully and keenly.
And with that he started his travels.
Within the great, grand travel through space, his small travel on earth continues. What a strange world! What a strange existence indeed! We are unable to realize even the speed of our own travel. And, with all these fundamental inabilities we keep raising hue and cry, making much ado about everything. Is there a minute when the world is free from violence. Somewhere, in some corner of the world, shells explode. The world is forever bleeding with violent clashes and riots that go on and on. All because of man’s foolish endeavours to be one up above the others, indulging in all sorts of activities, being in a small air-filled bubble, thinking that he would last forever. But, this bubble would burst and cease to be at any moment. It is already torn, gaining more holes. Wonder how many more days we are going to be here, on the earth? And, why do we remain so ignorant of it all, living in a fool’s paradise?
During such ‘all alone’ travels, in the early morning and the twilight hours, he would look to the sky above the dark city and then is mind would invariably become that of a true philosopher’s, pondering over the various forces of life at work and the meaning of man’s existence on earth – things like that. And, he would feel the urge to shed off everything and run away to some unknown destination. But, the next instantஇத்தகைய தனித்த பயணங்களில், அதிகாலைகளில், அந்திப் பொழுதுகளில், இருண்ட instant he would get entangled in the web of the practical world and plunge deep into it. He would plunge deep into the incessant struggle for existence. And, life would start its cycle once again. He remembered several lines from Mahakavi’s poem captioned ‘meendum thodangum midukku’. When the seasonal rains fail, in such a dry soil even the weeds and thorny wild plants wouldn’t sprout. The plough couldn’t get in, the bull would refuse to drag the plough, with the weight proving unbearable. Yet, the peasant wouldn’t lose heart but strive hard and break open, even the rock. Digging all too deeper he would bring out water and grow paddy. But, alas, the paddy, the shots of which would have all along danced and reveled in the soft breeze, would go to waste in the torrential rain, which would rip apart the night one day. The field would be flooded. But, even then the peasant wouldn’t lose heart. No, he wouldn’t .
When the flood recedes, he would once again take the plough and start digging the soil. He doesn’t despair looking at the sky that scatter everything saved, never to be used again. His ‘midukku’ would start its onward journey from square number one with undaunted hope and courage.
The poem highlights the courage of the peasant weathering against all odds and adversities of life, in fact all chalenges being faced by the whole of humanity, in a telling manner. So what if this job is lost. He wouldn’t be disheartened. Never. There would surely be Spring in his life once again! Oh, his life would be renewed; re-energized; re-vitalized; rewarded…meendum thodangum midukku…meendum thodangum midukku….meendum..meendum…