Someone told me that the strange old man, who lives all alone in the house at the corner, 'celebrates' 10th December as the Human 'Wrongs' Day! Now as everybody knows this particular day is observed throughout the world – even in places where 'right' is just some place in the opposite direction of 'left' – as the Human Rights Day, so this did seem to be rather irregular.
I happened to mention this strange practice by the old man in presence of a colleague. I had just meant to mention it as an example of how bizarre people's eccentricities can get but my colleague's reaction was equally, if not more, bizarre. He actually seemed to support the old man's weird practice! He said,
"Most of the 'wrongs' in the world today are perpetrated in the name of 'rights'! Look at Iraq, the 'civilized world' – which is just a term that the U.S. and its allies has adopted for their unholy club – suddenly took it upon itself to improve the 'human rights' situation out there. The whole world watched the 'liberation' of Iraq on their TV sets. There were the usual scenes of celebration and gaiety on the streets, or at least that is what we saw on our TV screens. And then soon it became apparent that nothing was right about the whole thing. Not only did people's 'rights' not show any improvement but in fact they were subjected to a lot of 'wrongs'! They never got the promised democracy and in fact are on the verge of losing their country as well in the bargain!"
Now I say this is being unfair! The 'civilized countries' told us that there is no democracy in Iraq and people want to be freed from the clutches of an awful dictator, and of course they must have been right! They do see things much more closely, like when they got into Iraq they found that it is not one country but three actually. Now would any of us have ever guessed that! Of course some naughty guys out there got too wild in their enthusiasm and clicked all those photographs posing with some dead bodies or used a dog or two to terrify their prisoners…doesn't mean that they meant any harm!
On my way back home that day I happened to pass the strange old man's house. I paused for a moment outside this house and surveyed the whole place. Suddenly I badly wanted to go in and meet the strange old man. Luckily I had a valid excuse right there in my pocket. Earlier in the day somebody had given me a receipt book to raise some money for an orphanage. I thought I might as well use that as an excuse to meet the old man.
I knocked the door of his house and before I could change my mind the old man was there in front of me regarding me with a rather disconcerting stare. I managed to stammer an introduction. He just nodded his head and motioned to me to enter.
Once inside I blurted out that I was raising some funds for a local NGO to set up an orphanage. The strange old man scowled and asked me whether I was one of those Human Rights' guys. Sensing that a fellow who observes the Human Rights Day as a Human Wrongs Day must have a bee in the bonnet regarding the same, I not only denied any concern towards Human Rights but for good measure repeated my colleague's views about the whole thing.
At this the old man visibly relaxed. I thought that this was a good enough opportunity to slip in the question that was there in my mind. "Is it true that you observe the Human Rights' Day as a Human Wrongs' Day?"
"Yes, that's true…" he said, his unseeing eyes lost in some vision of the remote past.
"Why so?" I prodded him.
"It was the day I lost my family," he said.
"Oh! I am sorry," I said. So this is it, I thought. The poor fellow must have lost his family to an accident or something.
He regarded me and said, "It is not as you think… It was this day I met that man and then everything went wrong with my life…"
"Which man?" I asked, my curiousity stimulated once again.
"He said he was a Human Rights' activist…an angrez he was…maybe an American ('angrez' in the local lingo means any foreigner). He came to our factory and talked about freedom and equality and all that stuff. It was a heady mix of words and made an alluring speech. I spent the whole day in his company and then it seemed the most natural of things that I invite him to spend the night at my place. To my delight he readily accepted my invitation.
"Back home I met with quite a bit of resistance. My wife took me aside and in an embarrassingly loud whisper scolded me for bringing a stranger and an angrez at that, into my home! My son and daughter, both rolled their eyes and made wry faces, and it was by a combination of rather frantic cajoling and graphic threats that I convinced them to be civil to my guest.
"When we got up in the morning, the angrez complained that he was not feeling well. I urged him to take a rest for the day at my place and even offered to stay back to provide him company. He, however, declined the latter saying that he would feel bad if I missed a day at my job because of him. Finally, after giving instructions to my wife and children, along with the appropriate entreaties and threats, regarding their behaviour towards my guest, I left for my workplace.
"As things turned out, there was quite a bit of crisis at the workplace. The workers 'inspired' by the Human Rights' speech the prior day, had decided to go for a demonstration against their 'exploiters', though they couldn't seem to decide who that was! There was a clash between two groups of workers and at the end of the day half the factory was burnt down, a dozen of the workers were in the hospital and a score or so in the jail. Try as I might, I couldn't help thinking that it was the angrez who had brought things to this pass! I began to have serious misgivings about him.
"I returned home quite late. The Human Rights' guy didn't seem to be around. My wife looked quite cheerful and had even changed her hair-do. I asked her about my guest. 'Oh, he left in the evening. You kept him waiting for so long,' she said in an accusing tone. 'He was quite a nice guy really!' she added. I felt like reminding her about her hostile behaviour regarding the same 'nice' fellow the previous night as well as in the morning but such reminders being rather un-conducive to domestic peace, I resisted the temptation.
"She seemed to be in high spirits and kept talking and humming and fooling about with a mirror and when it seemed like she had completely forgotten about my usual welcome-home cup of tea, I gently tried to point out the lapse to her. 'Oh, that! Why don't you prepare a cup for yourself and for me as well, while you are at it,' she said somewhat archly. I was taken aback by her response as well as her tone and for a moment just stood there, looking at her unbelievingly. This really annoyed her and she lashed out at me, 'Why are you looking at me in this stupid manner! I have my rights, you know. You have been treating me like a slave all my life but I am not having any more of it. From today you are going to do your bit about the house and you might as well start compensating for all the past years!' I realized then that my guest must have been talking to her. There did not seem to be any point in prolonging the discussion and so I quietly went to the kitchen…
"I wish I had maintained a similar cool in the days to come," the old man paused and then continued with a sigh, "You see a couple of days later, I got rather irritated by my wife's continuous harping about her rights and spurred on by some 'ill-advice' by my friends, I decided to 'crack the whip'. My wife threw me out of the house, which was 'rightfully' hers, as I had put it in her name to evade the taxes! Anyway, this all came much later. There's a lot that happened before this…
"My daughter who had been missing the whole day called late in the night and informed that she had taken off with the Human Rights' chap as she wanted to 'see' a bit of the world. When I tried to threaten her in the usual parental fashion, she reminded me that she was an adult and that she had her 'rights' …and that I should be careful about threatening her because she could always drag me to the courts…and that she wasn't going to ever talk to me any more… and that…and a lot more!
"I kept wondering whether the Human Rights' chap had been talking to my son as well. Lately he seemed to be brooding more than was usual even with him. I could feel that he was preoccupied with something. I wished he would come out with whatever was brewing in his mind because I could not bear any more stress what with all this sudden 'emancipation' of my household!
"A couple of days later, he accosted me and with a defensive scowl on his face, said, 'I have got my rights, you know!' I wearily assured him that I knew and that he should come out with whatever was on his mind. 'I am going for marriage,' he said. I almost shouted out my relief! This seemed to be the only reasonable thing that had happened lately. 'Is it someone I know?' I asked, in my most friendly tone. He nodded and mentioned a family in the neighbourhood. Now this was a nice enough family and they had this pretty daughter though I didn't like her rude beef-hunk of a brother. I proudly thumped my son's back and said, 'I am glad that you are marrying Mr. ___'s daughter!'
The old man paused and then continued, "Can you guess what my son said? He just snorted contemptuously and said, 'Pops, you've got it all wrong! I am going to marry his son!'"
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