It was when we shifted to Bangalore and moved into our neighborhood in Kormangala. My father, who belongs to the old school, believes in friendly and helpful neighbors. Not even 10 days old in the city, he knew Mr. Joseph, our immediate neighbor and “the old couple” (this is how we refer them even today) in front of our house and few more in our street. His day starts with a half-an-hour walk followed by scanning the morning newspaper in the portico.
Next to the “old couple” house is an empty plot which is a bigger version of a kitchen garden. If you thought in 30 by 40 plot, one can hardly grow any plants, then you are wrong. A mango tree, plantain, papaya, bottle gaud, brinjal, and many more seasonal fruits and vegetables. Dressed in an old shirt and a lungi (Indian version of sherong), he comes everyday to remove weeds and water the plants. It is a sight to watch the gardener who nurses every plant, observes every leaf and bud, oblivious to his surroundings.
My father, out of curiosity, wanted to know the market value of the plot. So he asks, “Excuse me; where does the owner of this plot stay?”
The gardener: “Why?”
Father: “Well…just like that. Does he come anytime this side?”
The gardener: “What do you want to know sir? You can ask me.”
Father: “hmm…I wanted to know the price of this land?”
The gardener: “60 lakhs….I am the owner.”
Father: “Is it? There is one more plot at the beginning of this street. I saw you there too.”
The gardener: “Yes. Even that’s mine.”
Father walked into the house with nothing more to ask or say. By then, mother and I understood that the facts hit him hard and he is taking time to absorb them! He looked at us and what followed was a riot of laughter.
I was intrigued by this gardener, who is nothing less than a millionaire. What I am about to reveal is the facts about him which are no less than any shocker.
He has three other big plots in and around Kormangala, each costing a few crores. He is employed by a private firm as a grade 4 employee and takes home a salary of Rs 3,500. He has four daughters who are studying in a government school which hardly has any facilities. He doesn’t buy vegetables from the market. Whatever he grows in these two plots near our house is what they eat. Now you may ask, what happens when there are no vegetables in his kitchen gardens? I don’t have to answer that. You would have guessed it by now!
What’s special in the Sunday menu? Half a kilo of mutton cooked with papaya. Ever heard of that combination? By the way, papaya helps to cook the meat faster besides adding to the quantity that suffices a family of seven (including his mom. His father passed away)!
Most of us would not see that kind of money even if our two generations worked in an IT firm. I was tempted to ask him many times, “Why is he living a life of a pauper?”
Now you know why I have called him the Slumdog Millionaire.