Thursday, 24 December 2009

Our Pot of Gold

A few days back amidst all the news flow that kept coming, one of them was –GOLD crossing 1200 USD/ounce. It had been on a continuous uptick from the start of the calendar year. And a thought just occurred to me. “How much would a pot of gold be worth? And how would I feel if I had it with me?”

It was almost 7 ‘o clock that May evening, 27 years back in a small sleepy town about 200 kms from Madras. The young crowd including me were all highly thrilled. We were having the water connection being given to us which would mean uninterrupted water supply from the Govt. fitted taps. The two Sarkari[govt.] men who were digging up the ground to lay the water pipe were working nonstop and wanted to wrap up the whole job as soon as possible. But at the same time they took their own sweet time to start it. Anyways we’re not complaining, but thoroughly enjoying the new connection. After getting the connection we got drenched and played in the mud till we’re left with no energy. Over the next few days everybody found a greater convenience in the new connection and were gracious to the folks to have provided the connection –until one week later…

We were playing some outdoor games when one of them –Mani came running looking for my dad.

“He went away… took all of it with him.., I was the one who found it... I hit it first… but he took it away from me…” he said this while panting for air and deliriously searching for my dad.
“What happened Mani?”
Mani was still short of words and just collapsed on the ground; it seemed as if he’d run a long distance. He was given some water and sweets while we all gathered around him to listen to what he had to say.
With tears in his eyes and looking like a man who’s lost everything in life he started, “Anna, I was the one who spotted it, but he cheated me. I found it right there” and pointed to one corner of our compound where the pipes were laid. He was still dazed and there were a lot of people gathering outside so Anna took Mani to his office room. We were not allowed to enter his study so we waited outside the window.

“Mani what are you talking? What did you spot?”
“Anna, GOLD!!! The pot was full till the brim. Full of big gold coins” while he showed with his hand how big they were. And our eyes just popped out!!! Even though we’re kids but still knew what gold meant.
“Anna, I found it while I was digging to lay the water pipe… I hit the bronze pot with my pickaxe… I was confused by the sound that it made –Thun, that of metal hitting metal. I was curious then so I continued digging but carefully. At the same time I was getting excited and couldn’t control it myself so called Ponnu over.

“It was heavy… very heavy. We hid it as soon as we realized what it was and finished the work and hurried to his home. There we closed all the doors and windows and emptied the contents of the pot. There were about 450 gold coins and one gold chain with 7 gold coins fixed to it.
As Mani continued his story there was pin drop silence in the room. We always heard stories from grandma of gold being buried inside our houses, but dismissed them as children stories. Now as she heard Mani, she couldn’t believe her words coming out to be true. All were still, wanting Mani to continue the story. Anna found it difficult to control his excitement as did everyone else and asked him to carry on.

Mani took another sip of water, “That night we were completely blank. God had blessed us with our hard-work and we had no idea what to do with it. We divided the gold among ourselves and wanted to leave for Madras. We were dreaming of leading a life like that of wealthy… we would buy land, house, motorcar… have servants… [and he went back to his dreams]

“So why are you here?” There was a trace of anger in Anna’s voice now. After all it was our gold and he stole it. The question brought Mani back to reality and he felt guilty for having been greedy.
“Anna, we were supposed to leave for Madras tonight. Over the last few days we’d enquired here and there and almost everything was as planned. Yesterday when I went to his place he showed me where he had kept the gold. It was in two bags inside the trunk under the bed in the inner room. I asked him to show it and found that both the bags contained equal amount of gold. We again spoke of how life will be no more same for us and vowed never to leave each other and be friends for life. Today morning after I got the tickets for the bus, while I came to his house I found it vacant. The front door was open and everything was there except for Ponnu and the trunk. I searched every corner of his house… even the house owner does not have any idea about Ponnu’s whereabouts. I felt cheated; I did not want to believe that it’s true… I wanted this to be a dream… but he has left. I’ve searched the entire town and asked every possible person… no one has seen him since morning. Now I do not know where to find him and so I’ve come to you.

Silence... And finally everyone came to brace the truth –the stories were true. We had gold and lots of it.

We belong to this rich Brahmin community which had owned hectares and hectares of land about some 400 years back. The income was good and with no banks being available in those days, the money used to stay close to the owners. Over the years business kept on growing and never was there a need to dig up the gold which was hidden away for a rainy day and so generations after generations almost forgot about it. Until the water pipes were laid…

Well that was almost three decades back but the incident is etched in my mind as if it had happened only a few days back. Though the gold is gone and by god’s grace we never had felt a need for it, there is just one question that I have in my mind –If it were me, I would not risk my stake and bury ALL the gold in one place. And that would mean…

“Hand me the pickaxe… ”