The Interior Decorator

Rehman squatted in the corner of the room smoking beedi as his father Mahmood’s body lay still on the floor before him. Circles of smoke floated before his welled up eyes but he did not dare to check if his father was dead or alive.

Rehman belonged to a family of carpenters and the skill was passed on from generation to generation. But to his father’s dismay, Rehman was not interested in the family business. In fact he was interested in doing nothing.

Even after being married and becoming a father of two kids, Rehman did not take over the work from his father. He only assisted his father in the shop. His elder sister who was divorced and staying with them pacified her father that Rehman will soon become responsible, but her father was far from convinced.

The old man Mahmood had no choice. Rehman was his only son. After the death of his first wife, Mahmood married again. His second wife bore him three daughters. The lady was so ill tempered that Mahmood finally divorced her. The wife took her eldest daughter and left the younger two with Mahmood. So the poor man was left alone to fend for three daughters, one son, daughter in law and two grand children. If only his son would take up more responsibility, their finances would improve.

Rehman on the other hand was very thoughtless about his father’s plight. He was happy doing little or no help around the workshop and spent most of his time chatting with neighboring shop keepers and passer bys. But today was different …

Mahmood entered the workshop cursing Rehman for not completing the work and slipped on due to the paint on the floor. Rehman was scared as the paint on the floor was his doing. He kept staring at his father’s body. There was no sign of blood or movement. Mahmood’s body lay there as if in deep sleep.

Just then Raju the tea vendor entered. “What is this Rehman? What happened to Mahmood Chacha?” Raju raised the alarm. Shopkeepers and other people from the neighborhood gathered. Everybody started questioning, but Rehman continued to quietly sit in the corner.

A newspaper reporter Saajan Kumar who was sitting at Raju’s tea stall, also rushed to the scene. Considering the dearth of news in this small town, he smelled opportunity. Saajan immediately called his editor – a stout South Indian, who also owned the newspaper. Since the newspaper was the only local English daily, it circulated in the richer part of the town. Saajan told him that there was the body `of a 55 year old carpenter and possibly attacked by his son. The editor hungry for some news to sell his paper instructed Saajan to get entire details of the incident.

Saajan returned to the scene. More people had gathered by now, somebody had called Rehman’s elder sister who started wailing without even asking any questions. Someone from the crowd suggested, “Call the police!”

Saajan flung into action. He needed the story before the police reached the workshop. While everybody was busy consoling Rehman’s sister who had created quite a scene. Saajan quietly moved and sat next to Rehman. He offered Rehman a cigarette.

For the first time Rehman moved. He took the cigarette. Both men smoked in silence for a few minutes and then Rehman said, “Father slipped as he entered the workshop. He was scolding me and did not see the paint spilt on the floor.” Saajan knew Rehman was telling the truth.

“What were you doing when he slipped?” asked Saajan. Rehman looked at him innocently and said, “I was spreading the paint on the floor.”

Rehman took a puff and explained, “I was supposed to paint some wooden planks but I had already wasted a lot of time. So I thought I will spread the paint on the floor and put the planks over it. The planks would get painted without me doing much effort and I would be saved from Father’s ire.” Saajan looked at him with disbelief.

“I spread the paint and took a break to smoke beedi, when father arrived. Before I could say anything, he had already slipped and banged his head.” Rehman continued.

With much reluctance Rehman asked “Has he died? Who will manage the workshop now? I don’t know how to handle a thing.”

Rehman began to cry. Saajan somehow felt pity for the foolish yet innocent man. He could feel the helplessness in Rehman’s voice.

The police arrived along with the ambulance. Officer Khilaaf Singh, a bulky man with a huge moustache roared, “What is all this commotion? Who killed this old man?”

Everyone fell quite and looked at Rehman who was engulfed in the cigarette smoke lit by Saajan. The Officer looked towards Rehman and asked in his loud voice, “Boy did you kill this old man?” The cigarette fell from Rehman’s hand. He was flabbergasted at the question. “I … I did not kill father.” he stammered.

“He is the dead man’s son.” Saajan jumped in to help Rehman. The Officer looked at Saajan in anger, but seeing the press card hanging around his neck kept quite. “How did he die?” roared the Officer again.

“He is alive.” said the male nurse who had been checking Mahmood’s body. The Officer was taken aback. In possibly the most polite manner he could speak, the Officer asked the nurse, “How can you say this Doctor Sa’ab?”

“Because he is breathing.” replied the male nurse. Khilaaf Singh was embarrassed. Showing off the newly inflicted importance of being called ‘Doctor’; the male nurse went a step further and diagnosed, “The old man slipped near the door but as there was paint on the floor he slid further and fell on his hips so his head was saved from hitting the floor directly. He must have just fainted due to shock. Whoever spread the paint on the floor has saved the old man’s life.”

Khilaaf Singh who had regained his composure and wanted to regain his authority, roared, “Who spread the paint on the floor?”

Saajan Kumar, by now 50% felt it was his moral responsibility to help Rehman and 50% in need of the complete story blurted, “The dead … I mean the old man’s son.” and he raised Rehman’s hand.

“Take him to the police station.” ordered Officer Khilaaf Singh; which was immediately followed by a loud wail from Rehman’s sister. The very irritated Khilaaf Singh shouted, “Quiet Woman! We are just taking him to record a statement and close the matter.” The Officer knew there was no chance of getting a bribe in any form from this poor family but he could definitely earn some fame. He looked towards Saajan Kumar and said, “You can accompany him, he might need your help.”

The male nurse along with his helpers put Mahmood in the ambulance. Raju the tea vendor went along with them. Rehman narrated the whole story to the police man who took down the details vaguely but Saajan’s journalist mind was at work. He struck a deal with the Khilaaf Singh.

Saajan Kumar dropped Rehman back home on his scooter. Mahmood had also regained his senses and returned home from the hospital after getting some first aid. That night while the town slept, a type writer keys kept clicking as Saajan Kumar completed his report of the day’s incident.

The next morning as Mahmood & Rehman opened the workshop a police man came with two chairs tied to his motorcycle. “Officer Sa’ab has sent these for repair, send them back to the police station when you are done and take 50 rupees for your work.” the police man instructed. Rehman quickly took the chairs inside the workshop. As he returned a car came and stopped right at their doorstep. A lady loaded with jewels got out of the car and asked, “Is this the Interior Decorator’s shop?” Mahmood was dumbstruck and he did not even understand the word ‘Interior Decorator’. The lady looked at her driver, who asked the father son duo aloud, “Can’t you hear what madam is asking? Do you do woodwork? Are you the old man who fell on the paint yesterday?” Both the father & son nodded in affirmative but still did not speak. They had never come across anybody so rich and were confused at seeing a customer of this stature in their shop.

The driver further said, “Madam needs some woodwork to be done, can you design a dining table and in the Spread Paint Style that is mentioned in the paper?”

Raju the tea vendor who had read the newspaper and heard the driver and the lady immediately came to rescue the father son duo. “Yes Madam, they are the same people. Mahmood Chacha is a very good and experienced craftsman and Rehman here, is his son who is behind the new idea of spread paint.”

The lady smiled, “Fine, please come to my house tomorrow and take the measurements. But remember I should be the first to get the spread paint design in this town.” Both Mahmood and Rehman nodded vigorously in agreement. “Good so the driver will explain the way to you.” the lady said as she got into the car. The driver did as instructed and the car sped away.

Mahmood and Rehman did not believe their luck. But Mahmood questioned, “What is this spread paint design that you have discovered son?” Rehman looked back at his father in his regular dumbstruck look. Even he did not understand what design idea the lady and her driver was talking about?

Raju the tea vendor brought them the news paper. There was a photo of Rehman standing with the Officer Khilaaf Singh and the caption read “Creative Boys’s Design Idea Saves Father’s Life – detailed report by Saajan Kumar”

Saajan Kumar had changed the entire story from ‘Boy Killed Father’ to ‘Boy saved Father’ and mentioned everyone possible in the scene from Officer Khilaaf Singh (who had in turn promised Saajan stories from case files), the male nurse and even Raju the tea vendor. That day the news paper which barely sold 100 copies in a day had crossed the 150 mark as everyone who had a claim to fame in that article had bought at least 5 copies each. Khilaaf Singh alone had bought 20 copies and sent it to all his relatives. He also got one framed by Mahmood and hung in the police station for everyone to read –

‘It was a day of all odds. Never would have Rehman thought that his creative idea would save the life of his father. Yesterday afternoon the interior decorator Mahmood returned to his workshop after lunch, he slipped. The slip would have been fatal had it not been for the paint spread on the floor by his son Rehman who was trying a new idea of Spread Paint Style Wooden Furniture. The old man Mahmood skid a little further due to the paint and instead of falling on his head he fell on hips and was thus saved from serious head injury and death. This was also confirmed by the medical assistant Mr. Ram Singh from the city hospital. The Officer Incharge Mr. Khilaaf Singh from the local police station conducted a detailed enquiry of the incident. He was impressed by the creativity of the boy and moved by their poverty. In order to give a new dimension to the Police Public relation, Officers Khilaaf Singh has given them the contract for police station furniture. “I believe in encouraging local talent. Young boys should work hard and stay away from crime.” said Mr. Khilaaf Singh

The tea vendor Shri Raju, who is also their neighbor said, “Mahmood Chacha’s family has been in the woodwork business since the time of the royals and craftsmanship runs in their blood.”

An accident which could have been the end of a talented craftsman was turned into a life saving incident by the creative idea of his son.’

Six months have passed. The hype for the Spread Paint design has died but Mahmood has some more business from the other & richer side of the town besides his regular neighboring customers. Rehman still barely helps around the shop but after the incident Mahmood sees his son in a new light. Yes, one thing has changed in the workshop; it now had a board hung outside with “Mahmood & Son, Intirear Dekoretar” written in English.

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