Mohanan was a hard working farmer. He worked in his paddy fields and in the twenty cents of land around his house from dawn to dusk in order to provide for his family. He never took liquor and never smoked a cigarette.
But he smoked at least forty beedies every day. There was always a burning beedi between his lips, except while he was sleeping or eating or bathing.
It was something peculiar. Especially because, his father or other close relatives never smoked a beedi, although one or two of them took a cigarette now and then.
Mohanan started the habit when he was twenty. Somehow or other, he could not discontinue it. There was no specific explanation for it. As far as he remembered, there were none of his young friends, who persuaded him to smoke. But it happened. One of his old friends now and then made a jocular remark that it was a habit which he brought from his previous birth. And hearing him, Mohanan used to laugh thinking that he may be right.
Once he had serious fever while he was at a distant place, and had to go to a doctor. The colloquial style of speech at that place was so slangy that at first he did not understand what the doctor said.
Realizing his problem, the doctor asked clearly: “Do you smoke Cigarette?”
“No.” Mohanan said. And when the doctor began to write something, he added:
“I only smoke Beedies.” “Then stop it.”
“But it is not harmful.” Said Mohanan. “Who said it to you?”
“On cigarette packets, it is written as injurious to health. But on beedi packs, nothing like that is written.”
The doctor laughed aloud. “That is the biggest mistakes done by the authorities. In fact beedi is more harmful than cigarettes.”
“There is another reason.” Said Mohanan calmly. “Beedi-making is a cottage industry in our area. So many poor people live only because of their income from beedi rolling. If I and the other smokers stop beedi, they will starve.”
The doctor looked at his face for quite some time. Maybe, he had never seen such a kind person in his life. Helping the poor taking such a risk!
And he prepared the prescription and gave it to Mohanan. And to his credit, it should be said that the doctor did not collect any fees from Mohanan. Probably, he recognized the greatness of his patient.
When Mohanan became old and crossed sixty five, he became the victim of cough and wheeziness. For months together, he tried to neglect it, but it did not leave him. And the main problem to him was that he was unable to take more than two puffs of a beedi.
Neighbours and friends advised him to stop smoking and to go to a doctor, and at last he obeyed them. The doctor gave medicines and advised him to stop smoking.
And he really stopped smoking at that moment. He had a pack of beedies in his pocket at that time, but he did not use it, but kept it at a prominent place in
his home, as a memento from the good old days.
One month passed and he recovered from the harassing cough.
One day he took the beedi pack in his hand. He looked at it for quite some time and thought.
“What is the need to totally discard the pleasure of beedi? I will not take to chain smoking again, but will smoke two, only two beedies every day, one in the morning and one in the evening.”
And he fixed the timing also. 8 A.M. and 6 P.M.
His son and daughter-in-law, who were looking after the family, tried to dissuade him, but of no avail. He stuck to his decision.
Time flowed on. He turned eighty, became very weak and tired. Ate very little food and that too without any interest or taste. His son asked him to meet a doctor, but he did not obey. Probably he knew that it is all due to old age and will come to its natural end soon. And he strictly and punctually followed the practice of smoking two beedies per day.
One day, at about 10o clock in the morning, he felt nauseous and giddy. His son and daughter-in-law had gone to work and their child had gone to school. He went inside and lay down, but could not sleep. At noon, he could not even get up to take meals.
By 5.30, his daughter-in-law and her little son returned and they noticed his pathetic condition. Immediately, she telephoned her husband and he too
reached. They tried to take him to a hospital, but he stopped them gesturing that it is a temporary affair and he will be cured of it soon.
It was near 6o clock. The small child was sitting near him.
Then he raised his hand as if asking for something. The child could not understand them and he called his parents, but they too could not understand what he meant.
Then the child noted that his grandfather’s eyes are on the clock and it was nearing six. And when he looked at the fingers of his grandfather, he saw that he was keeping two fingers raised.
Then, as if he had a brainwave, the child uttered: “Grandpa needs his beedi. It is 6o clock.”
Trace of a smile showed on the face of Mohanan. The guess of the child seemed correct to his parents. They looked at each other for a few minutes, then the wife pointed her finger towards the table. Her husband moved towards it, opened it and took out a beedi pack and showed it to his father, who moved his head slightly in agreement.
The son tried to hand over the pack to his father, but seeing him unable to hold it, took out a beedi and tried to fix it between the lips of his father. But it fell down. He looked at the face of his father, and saw the desire for a smoke writ large there.
He thought for a moment. He was a non-smoker and did not know what to do. Then, as if driven by the force of his father’s craving, he kept the beedi between his own lips, lighted it with trembling fingers and took it out and kept it between the lips of his father. His wife and child stood silently, as if in silent prayer.
Mohanan tried to take a puff. The beedi glowed once and a little smoke came out as if from the depths of a deep cave.
And his eyes closed for ever.
*“There is a saying in Hindi. “Dane Dane par likha hai khanewale ka naam”, meaning that on every grain, the name of the person who eats it is written. Nobody can leave this world till he has eaten all the grains, on which his name is written. The Title of this story is a parodic imitation of that saying.