I once formed an opinion based on clear and factual circumstantial evidence and learnt the biggest lesson of my life. Sometimes judgements made with what we see with our own eyes and opinion formed based on completely logical analysis of circumstances can turn out to be spectacularly false.
I want to tell you about an experience of mine that revealed the limitations of the mind. Your own mind can sometimes be your worst enemy.
It was a bright yet chilly morning in Early 1995. I was sitting on the large Sofa in my living room at home reading my morning newspaper since I still had 20 minutes to leave for work. My 4 year old daughter Yogita who could not see or talk came groping towards me and pulled my hand indicating to me to play with her. I put my paper aside and sat on the floor to play with her and since she had a tendency of pulling away at my watch by clinging on to it whenever she felt it on my wrist, I removed it and kept on the large Teapoy in the room. As I was tickling my 5 year old angel and making her giggle away merrily, my wife Mamatha called me to the Kitchen to take my cup of coffee before leaving for office. I asked our trusted housekeeper Putti who was wiping the floor to keep an eye on Yogita and went to the Kitchen for my cup of coffee. I sat on the dinette in the Kitchen for a few minutes exaggerating my ensuing business tasks for the day to Mamatha in an attempt to balance the equation of familial contribution and finishing my coffee.
After a brief visit to the rest room I returned to the living room. Putti was still sweeping the floor with a broom and baby chatting with Yogita and as soon as she saw me approaching, she left the room. I sat down and played for some more time with Yogita and after about fifteen minutes I got up to leave for my office and reached out to my watch that I had left on the Teapoy. It was gone. I searched everywhere and I called out to Mamatha and asked if she had kept it inside when I had gone to the toilet since she sometimes picked up my pens and watches that I would carelessly leave on table tops or our bed. She shouted back that she had not moved out of the Kitchen at all. I left for my office deciding to ransack the room after my return.
After unsuccessfully ransacking for my watch in the evening I declared “Mamatha my Rado watch with white Gold strap is missing”.
“What?” She said sounding shocked,paused, sighed and added “about time”matter of fact edit as if it was waiting to happen.
I recounted the sequence of events starting with my newspaper reading and concluding with my looking for my watch to wear it and leaving for my office without it.
‘Putti was sweeping the floor; she must have stolen it since no one else entered the room and she was alone with Yogita’ I declared my verdict.
Mamatha stared back at me and said softly “she has been with us since three years and as far as I know she has clean hands Mohan”
“The watch could not have vanished into thin air and it is too big for Yogita to swallow Mamatha” I said like a true detective.
Mamatha continued pounding and squeezing the Chapatti dough appearing contemplative.
“She must have some pressing commitments for her to resort to stealing” I said.
“What do you want to do about it?”Mamatha asked me.
“I don’t know. Let us ask her if she knows anything about the watch and if she acts innocent let us ask her not to come from tomorrow” I gave my verdict..
The next morning Putti came promptly as usual and finished all her chores.
“Putti did you happen to see Appa’s watch lying on the floor or the Sofa yesterday by any chance?” Mamtha asked her just as Puttamma was about to take leave.
“No Akka, I did not see any watch anywhere’”
“Appa said he had left it on the Teapoy and came to the Kitchen to drink his coffee and when he returned to the room his watch was gone” said Mamatha watching her closely.
“I cleaned the room yesterday and remember Appa playing with Yogita and going to the Kitchen. But I did not see any watch” Putti said avoiding eye contact.
I took her avoiding eye contact to guilt . After a minute of awkward silence I said “Hold on a minute” and went to our bedroom returning with 3 months wages and said ‘here is your pending salary for this month and two months additional salary. Please don’t come from tomorrow”.
Putti looked at Mamatha who avoiding looking at her.Putti turned towards me and meekly asked “why Appa? Are you upset with me?” “What mistake have I done?”.
“I don’t want to talk about it” I said.
Putti started weeping and left wiping the tears from the corner of her ragged sorry cutting a sorry figure.
“For some strange reason I feel guilty” Mamatha said after Putti had left.
“That is because you still have a soft corner for her in your heart. There was no way that my watch could have simply vanished. She took it Mamatha. It was too glittering and tempting” I said as I picked up my brown briefcase to leave for office.
A new maid replaced Putti and months rolled by.
Thanks to the hot chocolate and curry spillages from our other two children while watching Cartoon network, our living room Sofa that was cream white had acquired a Technicolor status, starting to appear so dirty as to make guests hesitate a trifle before sitting on it. Mamatha decided to change the upholstery with brown leather in place of fabric and sent it away for refurbishing.
“Mohan I will be out this evening when you return from office. The upholstery shop had called asking me go to their shop and take a look at the finish. Also he said there was a treasure of items that had slipped into the gap between the seat cushions and settled at the base” a week later.
As soon as I got home Mamatha was eating a cup of Yoghurt sitting on the bed and said
“guess what all was stuck in the Sofa”
I shook my head and said “what?”
Mamatha opened the drawer next to bed pulling it all the way and went back to eating her Yoghurt. I peeped inside the drawer and saw a couple of crayons and pencils, a bracelet and then saw something that sent a strong surge of shock wave in my mind; my missing Rado watch.
Mamatha looked at me swallowing my saliva and irking through the corner of her lip swallowing her yoghurt saying nothing. I started opening my shirt button and escaped into my walk in ward robe acting as if I had not understood the cause of her smirk.
It had so happened that my daughter Yogita who was sitting on the sofa when I had gone for my coffee had gotten up after I left,picked up the watch from the Teapoy while groping on surfaces of her surroundings as she normally did since through her fingers were her eyes, went back and sat on the Sofa to play with it. She had dropped it on the Sofa Cushion and while trying to trace it out had pushed to the edge of the cushion. The watch had slipped in between the back pillow and top cushion while she tried to take it out and found its way to the base of the Sofa where it lay for the next several months.
I wished right at that moment that someone hit me on my head so hard that I would never ever make the same mistake; accuse someone trusting my mind setting aside trust and basic human Goodness.
I recalled Putti’s face and her shock. I cursed myself for my immature and unilateral judgment in accusing her of the theft. Putti had avoided eye contact at the embarrassment of her integrity being questioned and not due to guilt.
There is a wonderful folk song in my mother tongue Kannada about the owner of a pet Mongoose mistakenly beating it to death when he returns home to see it welcoming him with blood smeared face enraged that it had killed his infant son. After finding his child happily playing on the floor he looks around and finds the carcass of a venomous snake. His pet Mongoose would have protected the child by killing the snake moving towards the playing infant. The song goes on to advise listeners that sometimes what we see and what we hear could be misleading and that we will realize the truth only when we pause to think instead of trusting what the mind says blindly.
Not only are the domestic maids in India underpaid but we eat first, they later; we sit on chairs and they on the floor; we call them by their names and they address us by titles.
I felt like an eel on the surface of the bottom of the deepest sea in earth.
That was the last time in my life that I ever accused anyone of theft or cheating even when my ever deducing and judging mind points its ugly pointing finger at someone.
I so wish that I come across Putti one day so that I can beg for her forgiveness and put my haunting conscience to rest.