Simre had carefully prepared her speech for the event. She wanted to tell her class some nice things about her family and also about some good times that they had shared together.
By Roshan Shah
It was ‘Talk-About-Yourself Day’ at school that day. Simre was new at the school, and it was to be her first experience of what the other students said was a great occasion. “You stand in front of the class and tell them all you want about yourself,’ her friend Rooma explained to her. “You can crack a joke if you like, or share some good childhood memories. You could even speak your mind about some things about the school you don’t like or wish to see improved. But of course do that with tact!”
Simre had carefully prepared her speech for the event. She wanted to tell her class some nice things about her family and also about some fun moments that they had shared together”like the vacation her parents had once taken her on to a hill-station and about the wonderful time they had recently had at her cousin’s wedding.
When Simre’s turn to speak came, she said a little prayer. “God, please make me speak just as You want me to,” she whispered as she walked towards the front of the class”her mother had instructed her that morning that she must ask God’s help before starting her speech.
Simre spoke with great confidence”it was the first time she was addressing such a large group. She didn’t once feel at a loss for words, unlike what she had feared might happen. She was just about to conclude when Natasha, the class bully, stood up.
“I have a question for you,” Natasha announced. “You’ve given us such a rosy picture of your family”but you’ve conveniently forgotten to mention that your father runs an eatery where they serve alcohol. Every time I pass by, I see drunken men hanging around there, making a complete fool of themselves. Don’t you know this? You’ve lied to us about your family being all so very nice, Simre, and I think you better apologize. Lying isn’t a good habit, is it?”
“Hawww!” a collective gasp emerged from the other students.
Simre just couldn’t believe her ears! She was so, so shocked. She burst into tears and ran out of the class as fast as her legs could carry her. She sped out of the school gates, hopped into an auto-rickshaw and went straight to her father’s eatery.
When Simre got to the eatery, she saw two drunk men sitting at a table that was littered with empty bottles, babbling away to themselves. Natasha was right after all.
Simre’s father Ayran was shocked to see Simre there, barging in unannounced. The only time Simre had ever been to the eatery before was some months earlier, the day he had launched it. Following that, Ayran had strictly told his family that they mustn’t ever come there. “We get all sorts of customers, so it’s better you keep away,” he had said to them without explaining further. He didn’t tell them that he served alcohol there.
So when Ayran saw Simre, standing right in front of the two drunken men, he was stunned. “Simre! What on earth are you doing here?” he barked.
“I want to know what on earth you are doing here, Papa” Simre burst out. She couldn’t believe she was being so bold with her father”he was a stern man”but she knew she just had to speak her mind.
Ayran tried to interrupt her, but Simre continued without a pause. She told him what had happened at school earlier that day and how ashamed she was with him. “I just don’t know how I am going to face my classmates again,” she said. “You’re running a pub here, helping all these men get drunk, and you kept this away from Mummy and me. You’ve lost my trust completely, and when Mummy comes to know, it will be the same with her, too,” she continued. “And worse than that, God is definitely not going to be pleased with what you’ve been doing. I just couldn’t imagine what you’ve been up to behind our backs.”
Simre’s outburst went straight to Ayran’s heart. “Simre, please try to understand,” he stuttered, trying to justify himself, “but I did this so that we could have food on our table. This eatery isn’t going to run if all I serve are cold drinks and tea.” Pointing to the two drunks, he said, “These men”you see them? They come here for harder stuff. If I didn’t serve them that, I’d hardly get any customers, and then where would you and your mother get your food from?”
Simre cut her father short. “You can survive on money from making people drunk if you want to, Papa”, she told him firmly, “But Mummy and I’d rather go hungry. We don’t want to eat food bought with money earned from running a pub. God will provide for us.”
Saying that, Simre rushed back home, where she told her mother all that had transpired.
Ayran didn’t dare go home that night. He was too embarrassed to face his daughter and wife. Soon after Simre had left, he turned out the two drunken men, pulled down the shutters of the shop from the inside and sat down on a cot, holding his head in his hands. He thought hard”about what had happened that day and about the life he was leading. All along he had been aware, in some remote corner of his mind, that the means he had adopted to earn for his family and himself”selling alcohol and making people even more addicted to a bad habit”wasn’t at all a good thing. It was something that God had clearly forbidden. All this while he had struggled to expel this nagging thought from his mind by inventing excuses for what he was doing, such as by telling himself: “God is merciful, He’ll forgive me”, or, “I don’t drink myself, so God won’t be all that upset with me”after all, I’m doing this for my family”. And so on.
But now, Ayran realised, these excuses just couldn’t work. He could no longer try to convince himself that they could.
“God, what I’ve done is terrible! Please forgive me,” he prayed, his face soaked with tears. In his mind, he asked his wife and Simre, too, to forgive him. He also thanked Simre for what she had taught him that day. If his little daughter hadn’t firmly confronted him like she had, he might never have realised how wrong he had gone.
The next morning, without informing his family, Ayran took a train to a neighbouring city. There, with the help of a friend, he managed to get a job as a guard in an office. The salary was a third or less of what he had been earning from his eatery-cum-pub. But the important thing was that this was legitimate money, money earned from a means of employment that God would approve of, and his wife and daughter, too. He sent a letter to his wife informing her of the development and requesting her and Simre to forgive him for what he had done.
“I know I’ve done wrong, and I’ve asked God to forgive me. I hope the two of you will forgive me, too. I’ve taken up a job that I know will make you happy,” Ayran wrote. “Even though I’m earning much less than before, I know you will approve. I can hear you and Simre say to me: ‘Well done, dear, for the good decision you have made. Don’t worry, God will provide for us, as He always has.'”