Zaid was nervous. He should be called anytime now, inside, for the interview. He and Vikas, another boy from his neighbouring village, were now waiting for their turns. Zaid desperately needed the job. His father was critically ill and his mother who worked in a toy making factory had lost her job, occupied as she was with looking after her husband. Being the eldest of three siblings, Zaid needed to shoulder the responsibility of his family. He had just passed out of school, and had topped his region. He always dreamt of becoming an astronaut, but now his father’s sudden illness had forced him to look for a job, immediately. He got to know of a job requirement in the chemical factory close to his village, and that had brought him here for an interview.
While waiting for his turn Zaid got talking to Vikas, who too had come for the same job. Vikas had come from a neighbouring village and he too, due to his father’s financial crisis, needed this job badly. Vikas too was a brilliant student, and both of them studied in the same school. Due to a severe famine, Vikas’s father had no produce in his fields that year and he was neck-deep in debt. His family was struggling to make both ends meet. Vikas had two twin sisters who were to be married off, and they had just been engaged to two brothers living and working in a town close by. Accidentally, Vikas had overheard his father talking about the threats he was receiving from the moneylenders, about how they would beat him up and might even murder him, in case he failed to return their money that he had borrowed at an unbelievably high rate of interest. Vikas loved music passionately, and wanted to be a singer. He wanted to finish his basic studies though, but now, because of his father’s plight, he was in dire need of a job, immediately.
Both Zaid and Vikas were thinking about each other’s predicament, and about who among them needed the job more, when Said was called in. Wishing him luck, Vikas kept on thinking about Zaid’s need; his father was critically ill and they needed money for his treatment, to save his life. Zaid had foregone his own dreams of becoming an astronaut, to get any job that would fetch him money, and would hopefully save his father’s life. Vikas got up and walked out of the room. Zaid needed the job more than him, he decided. Zaid came out after the interview and, to his utter surprise, found Vikas gone.
In a couple of days, Zaid got the appointment letter for the job. Though he was immensely relieved, he could not take Vikas, and his sacrifice, out of his mind. He went to Vikas’s house but got to know that Vikas had left the village to go to the town, to look for a job. Zaid returned home and henceforth, every month, he would leave two sacks of grains at the doorsteps of Vikas’s house. No one knew where the grains came from, but these helped relieve the family’s pangs of hunger, to a large extent. Vikas’s father believed that Vikas was behind this.
Vikas looked for a job in the town, but failed to get any. One day, while sitting by the side of the road, in deep thoughts and with a starving stomach, he saw an old lady walking by with a basket full of vegetables on her head. She tried to put down the big basket under the shade of a tree nearby, but unfortunately lost her balance, and tripped. The basket overturned and the lady too fell on the ground. Vikas ran to help and after settling her and her basket down, got to know that she was a vegetable seller. She had nobody to call her own, and she sold vegetables to earn her living. He started addressing her as ‘Aaji’, meaning grandmother.
Vikas immediately offered her help. He offered to take the veggies around, to sell them. Thus began his first job! He would take the veggies to houses of the people, and sing songs to call them out. His happy, musical pitches were a roaring success. In no time he would return to Aaji with her wares completely sold. Gradually, Aaji started getting more vegetables and those too were sold off in no time. Aaji got four times the money that she would normally earn, in the first month itself. On Aaji’s insistence Vikas started staying with her, in her tiny room. On the first of the next month, Aaji, after the day’s work, asked Vikas to go home while she would be going on an errand and would be back in some time. Vikas insisted on accompanying her, to which Aaji finally gave in.
They walked for a while, and soon Vikas found them standing in front of an orphanage, ‘Muskan’. He cast Aaji an enquiring look and followed her, as she opened the gate and went in. Aaji reached inside and suddenly, many girl children of different ages, came out to meet her. They were all so happy to see her, and flocked around her. Aaji too seemed very happy with them. She spoke with everyone and after spending a couple of hours, took leave of them. She then went to the office, and quietly handed over something to the nun sitting there. It was a bunch of notes! Vikas heard the nun exclaiming that it was a lot more than earlier months. To which Aaji pointed to Vikas, saying that, because of his efforts, her earnings had increased almost four times and hence the increase in the amount in the nun’s hands too.
Vikas could not believe himself when he heard that Aaji had been donating around 90% of her earnings every month to this orphanage for girls, for the past ten years! She had a son and a daughter, both of whom had gone away to live their own lives, leaving her behind, all alone. Aaji had no idea where they were now. She had been making her living by selling vegetables and after keeping the minimum amount needed for her sustenance, she would donate the rest to this orphanage for girls. Now Vikas started working harder, and hence earning more. Aaji now offered to share her earnings equally with Vikas. Initially Vikas refused, but then when Aaji would not budge, he finally accepted the proposal. He had a plan. He used that money to take a small place on rent, and started his own small vegetable shop. In no time, the size of the shop doubled. Now Aaji did not go selling vegetables; she sat there in the shop, supervising. Soon there was a second shop, then a third, and in about a year’s time, Vikas had ten shops all over the city.
Vikas got both his sisters married, and paid off all his father’s debt. All this while, the two sacks of grains kept coming at the doorsteps of Vikas’s father’s house. One day, Vikas went to meet Zaid. Zaid was pleasantly surprised. Without beating about the bush, Vikas came to the point. He offered Zaid an equal partnership in his vegetable business, without Zaid having to pay anything. A little bit taken aback, Zaid stared at Vikas in disbelief and then they both hugged each other. That was the beginning of a huge empire. They named it ‘Aaji’s Veggies’. ‘Aaji’s Veggies’ was now all over the state. It stood for the best quality at the best price. Zaid’s father was completely cured now and he and Vikas’s father took charge of the branches of ‘Aaji’s Veggies’ that had opened in their respective villages.
‘Muskan’ now had a new building. The girls were all sent to good schools and colleges. Things were all going great for these two marvellous boys Zaid and Vikas, who had the highest of human values: compassion, which both of them had exhibited in times of great difficulty, proving their true mettle. One morning saw Aaji pass away peacefully, in her sleep. She couldn’t have died more peacefully.