Riches Beyond Wealth


In moments like these, he often found himself yearning for a simpler life, one without the weight of his accumulated wealth. He regretted spending his youth toiling away in the workshop, now thinking perhaps he should have let his children experience life’s challenges instead of shielding them with luxury.

At times like these, he wished he could go back to his middle-class existence when the fire in the hearth was cold but the hearts were filled with warmth.

At times like these, he asked his driver to take him to the roadside dhaba on the outskirts of the city.

At times like these, the chai served in chipped glasses and a little solitude gave him the much sought-after solace that was lacking even in the company of the elite or the finest wines of the world.

He had just finished his first chai and had asked the driver to fetch another glass when a sweet voice pulled his attention to it. “Papa! Papa!” cried the little girl as she rushed towards the busy dhaba owner. The little girl wore a plain frock with pink flowers and her hair was neatly tied into a ponytail. The girl was about seven and was chased by a boy who seemed no more than ten or eleven.

The dhaba owner though occupied, instantly lifted the girl in his arms and hugged her. “Who’s bothering my little princess?” he asked indulgently.

“Bhaiya has two toffees but he refuses to give one to me,” cried the girl with tears streaming down her cheeks.

The boy explained that it was a gift from a friend for his birthday, and that the last time the girl had two toffees, she didn’t share those with him. The dhaba owner, amidst laughter, promised the girl a trip to the market after closing, where she could buy as many toffees as she wanted. The girl hugged her father once again and ran away to their nearby quarter.

He sat there in his luxury car, savouring every sip of his cutting chai and witnessed the commotion that unfolded before his eyes. The dhaba owner wore a soiled kurta pyjama that must be reeking with sweat at this time of the day. And yet, the girl felt no aversion to him and hugged him as affectionately as she could. And here he was, whose children would not hug him even if he were bathed in all the attars of Arabia.

Two years ago, when his wife passed away, he hardly thought he would be lonely for his two sons and their children were there for him. Last year, the two brothers had a dispute and since then, have been after him to split up the business. When he refused to do so, they divided the house into separate portions and though they continued working along with him, the relationships were reduced to perfunctory greetings.

They no longer ate with him or watched cricket with him. They no longer came to his room to enquire about his well-being and no longer did they celebrate their special occasions with him.

At times like these, he felt a frisson of jealousy even from an ordinary man like the dhaba owner who revelled in the benevolence of his family. A sudden thought crisscrossed his mind, ‘What if I could give some of my wealth to this poor man to make his hard life a bit easier?’

He dismissed the idea as soon as it crossed his mind and instructed the driver to take him home.

Dr. Sonika Sethi