As I was dusting the table and chair in my office, I stumbled on an illustrated copy of a book named ‘The Pied Piper.’ ‘Some customers who had come to make phone calls the evening before must have left the book here,’ I guessed. After I was done with all the dusting and cleaning of the computer equipment, I sat down to read The Pied Piper. The book read: There was a town called Hamelin in Germany. The inhabitants of the town were leading a peaceful and happy life. One day, suddenly, rats in hundreds and thousands entered the town swarming into every nook and cranny. No sooner had the rats entered the town than they began wreaking havoc in the lives of its inhabitants by biting small children and chewing up everything that came in their way. The inhabitants were out of their minds and terror-stricken. The Hamelinians adopted several measures to protect themselves from the rats but they were unsuccessful. There were not enough cats in the town to chase and fight so many rats. ‘If it has to go on like this we all will die of eating poisoned food,’ the people of the village said worriedly. On seeing this, the Mayor of Hamelin called upon all the men and children of Hamelin to gather in one place, one day.’ Even as I was reading the book, a middle-aged man entered my office along with a young girl and, tossing a chit of paper in front of me, said, “Will you please connect me to my son in the USA: the number is on that chit of paper?” He began talking on the phone very loudly: “Yes, it is your dad here. How have you been doing? Have you found a job?” “………….” “Never mind. Never mind. For the time being, you can hang on to any kind of job. Just find some means to eke out a living. What did you say?” “………….” “Exactly. Everything about this place is as depressing as ever. It’s getting harder meeting daily expenses. Criminal cases like extortion, abduction, murder etc. are on the rise, thanks to the raging unemployment problems. There is no certainty of a person returning home safely in the evening. Anyway, our only hope lies in your ability to do something for all of us; otherwise, nothing can be said for sure. Oh, your sister is here with me and is waiting to talk to you. Talk to her.” Saying this, he handed over the phone to the young woman. “Dada, darshan, hope you are doing fine,” the young woman said, greeting her brother. “………….” “Yes, you are right. We will be getting our results very soon. Most of my friends hope to go to the USA and UK for higher education. Is it okay, dada, if I too come there to you?” the young lady asked. “………….” “Now, let me talk”, the man said taking the phone back. “…………..” “Hello, what did you say? “……………..” “Oh, you mean you want to know what your mother has to say, right? She has the same refrain, every minute of the day. ‘When shall I see my son again?’ And, to convince and console her, I tell her, ‘It’s not the case of our son only; every house has at least one child in foreign lands.’ Okay, let me hang up now. Do your studies properly. Don’t pass time just fooling around.” After that, he put the phone down on its cradle and paid the bill. After the father and the daughter had left, I continued reading the book: Suddenly, there appeared a man attired in a very weird outfit. He had a green feather stuck in his cap, he had a pair of long boots and he had a flute tucked in his belt. ‘I can rid you of all the terror that these rats are causing you’ the man said in a loud and clear voice. And he added, ‘But I will do it only for a price. You have to give me what I demand.’ The Mayor and the people of the town readily agreed to his conditions. They asked him his name. ‘I’m known as “Pied Piper,’ he said. Then the Pied Piper marched straight to the bank of the river on the edge of the town and began blowing his flute. The magical tune that came from his flute engulfed the whole town of Hamelin. Drawn by the notes of the flute, the rats began coming out of the houses and from all other nooks and crannies of the town. The Pied Piper with his melodious music was able to draw all the rats to the bank of the river where the rats fell in and disappeared. There was not a single rat left to be seen in the whole of Hamelin. The people were watching it all from their windows, rooftops and open spaces of their houses. They couldn’t believe their eyes. They cheered in excitement because they were free of the plague of rats. “Could you please connect me to this number in the USA?” one student among a group that had entered my office asked me in a voice full of conceit. Closing the book for a few minutes, I dialed the number. When I heard the dial tone, I gave him the phone. “It’s Vijaya here dai ( elder brother). All eight of us got our visas today. Our whole gang is coming to the USA soon. I hope we won’t have any problems getting jobs. All we need right now is hassle-free entry. And you know, the whole family of sister Minu is also coming to the USA very shortly? I am calling just to give you the good news. We’ll talk more when we meet. Bye!” The student said in the phone. Taking the money, I asked, “Are you guys going abroad or what?” “How right you are. We are all going abroad,” the student replied, beaming and cheerful. “If all you young guys leave, who do you think is going to live in this country? Only old folks and invalids?” I asked giving him his change. He didn’t answer. He only grinned. After that, the whole of his gang left the office laughing and punching at each other lightly. After they left, I went back to reading again: After ridding Hamelin of rats, the Pied Piper went to the Mayor to ask for the remuneration that was due to him. The Mayor was a greedy and mean fellow. He didn’t want to pay as much as they had agreed. This behaviour on the part of the Mayor made the Pied Piper very angry. And he decided to teach a lesson to the town of Hamelin. He walked out of the town quickly. Then he began playing his flute. “Can you please connect me to this number, quick?” A client came hurrying into the office and passed over a phone number. No sooner had I handed him the phone than he began hollering loudly, “What? What did you say? You mean you want to return after completing your studies? The kind of agreement you have between you, mother and son, is not going to work, mind that. Thanks to my involvement in this (political) party. You know very well what tricks and techniques I used to get a scholarship for you. It would never have been possible had I been a common man. Now, you’re trying to be a nationalist, eh? Just forget it. Do you know that there is no future or security in this country? I warn you not to ever think of coming back here. There are millions of youths like you who are there for the sole reason of fulfilling their interests, do you get it? We will talk again later.” He finished in a few seconds his voice cracking in a manner that sounded exactly like corn roasting in an earthen jar. Then he hung up the phone. That left me pondering about the new generation and about the future of the nation, for quite some time. “Would you please connect me to this number, son?” She requested me politely. This time it was an old lady who came to make calls to her only son very often. She had come to call the previous evening too, but she received no response from the other end. “Why don’t you take a seat mother, while I try to connect you to your son,” I told her and began dialing the number. After several attempts, I heard the bell ringing but there was nobody at the other end. Finally, I told the old woman, who looked very sad and downcast, “Don’t you worry mother, I’ll try again after some time. But what makes you call your son after such a short interval of time?” I asked by way of conversation. “You are very right, son. It’s because my deurani (sister-in-law) is going on a pilgrimage with her daughter and her husband. They have asked me if I am interested in going with them. Because of their company, I have decided to go but as I am going on such a long trip, I would like to get my son’s approval first,” she told me. “How long has it been since your son left? I asked her. “Well, next 4th of Maungsir, it’s going to be eighteen years,” she said giving a long grievous sigh. “And did he not want to come home, even once in all these years?” the words just slipped out of my mouth. “Why not? From what he says to me on the phone, he is always very eager to come here but because of the lack of some paper he has not been able to come. I don’t know what paper it is.” And she added, “Poor fellow! I can’t even imagine how much his heart must be yearning to come to his native land,” the old lady said waxing emotional. I asked her, “Who do you live with?” The old woman replied, “An old woman like myself: actually speaking, she is not related to me but she too was having a hard time as a child widow in the village. She stays with me and has for many years. We are like two real sisters now.” Saying , “Let me try again,” I dialed the number. This time too, I could hear the bell ringing but there was no one to receive the call. I said, “Is it okay, mother, if I try your calls again after sometimes?” “Why, is no one receiving the call? I hope he hasn’t fallen sick and unable to receive the phone. Oh God, what do I do now?” she said in pent-up anguish. Don’t you worry, mother. Maybe he is out on business. He may return anytime.” I tried to reassure her. “He has been gone a long time but the scene of his departure still comes into my mind. I did my best to stop him from leaving but he wouldn’t listen to me. That day, I went with him to the airport to see him off. All throughout the way to the airport he kept on crying bitterly, his hands holding mine. Because of continuous crying my eyes too got so swollen that they looked as if they were stung by wasps. When the plane landed, all the passengers walked in a long line up to the door of the airplane. My son didn’t look behind even once. After he had entered the plane and the door had closed, it was as if he had disappeared. From that day onwards my heart has always been under a cloud of sadness. My eyes have never dried. It has been years since I have kept hoping for his arrival.” she said wiping her tears with the palm of her hand. I felt bad seeing her in that pitiable condition. Saying that she was going to come again in the afternoon, the old lady left. After she had left I was on my seat, reflecting and cogitating. I got down to reading again: A melancholy tune wafted out of the Pied Piper’s flute and resounded throughout the whole of Hamelin. Hearing the musical notes, all the children came out of their houses prancing and dancing on the street. The children went to the Piper and gathered around him. When the parents saw their children walking after the Piper and going further and further away they tried to stop them but the children wouldn’t listen. The Pied Piper had already taken the children up to a high cliff face. As soon as they had reached it, the cliff opened forming a dark cave. The Piper entered the cave, still playing the flute. The children too walked in a long line up to the door of the cave. The children didn’t look behind even once. After the children had entered the cave, the door of the cave closed, it was as if they had disappeared.The musical note of the flute was heard no more. The citizens of Hamelin had no idea where their children had disappeared. From that day onwards the parents’ hearts had always been under the cloud of sadness. Their eyes never dried. The whole village sank into a pool of sorrow. The people of Hamelin paid dearly. They got rid of the rats but had to pay a very high price.