Sam Was Sad

Gianlorenzo BerniniIt was a sultry summer morning when I first met Sam twenty five years ago. My roommate was groveling for an omelet, sprawled in his bed. He had been missing his turn at cooking breakfast for the fourth day in a row. ‘I swear I’ll take over tomorrow.’

I hate the promise of tomorrows. Ask Macbeth.

Someone knocked at the door. Rubbing my hands with a towel, I let the visitor in.

‘Good Morning! I am Sam Narin.’ The man had a neat French cut. ‘I am in the second year of Arabian Culture. I am a writer.’

He had a firm handshake and his eyes were dark. He moved to the bed to shake the hand hoisted from the naked torso. He chose my padded up chair.

‘Toss in one more,’ the roommate said tentatively.

‘I’ll do two by three,’ I said.

Having pondered at the ceiling of our room for a considerable time, Sam opened the blue notebook he was carrying and scribbled something. He was known for chronicling life as it happened. My roommate winked.

I measured out stuff for two cups of tea in a saucepan. That could be shared too; rationing was in force towards month ends.

Without further warning, Sam closed his eyes and started singing.

‘When my black hair swayed in the mirror
I was proud of my young breath.
Now white is all that graces this head
And I remember my death.’

The dirge reverberated with a nasal force. Sam’s fingers twitched in his lap as he sang. Somehow, it had a depressing effect on me. My eyes fell on the notebook that lay open on the table, adorning a single line, ‘He made three misshapen omelets out of two oval eggs!

My heart flipped like a pebble at the harmony of syllables.

Sam leaned towards my roommate and whispered conspiratorially. My roommate looked at me.

‘What?’ I asked.

‘Boy, you have a hundred rupee note on you,’ he declared. ‘Sam will return it before you know.’

I freed my wallet of its lone pride.

Sam carefully hid the currency in a sheaf of folded papers in his front pocket. ‘You see, writers often get into financial ruts. But it is important for them to keep writing. In fact, all of us should hone our writing skills more and more. Today’s organs may be vain and vengeful but the days are not far when each of us will write for journals of his own. Maybe these journals will have no physical form. They will exist in computers that can store pages that anyone can read. Our lives will be determined by our output.’

Sam paused to study the ceiling fan. ‘The more we’ll write, the more we’ll get to live. In order to be writing every moment of our lives, we would write about each and everything that we meet on the earth. We would write of matters spanning from sun to moon, curse to boon, wrong to right, darkness to light, spark to blaze, night to days, mice to cats, skivvies to hats.’

‘And Alpha to Omega!’ my roommate added chirpily.

Ignoring him, Sam marked an entry in his notebook, ‘He gave his only note to a writer of note.’

I didn’t see Sam for months after that. Further enquiries revealed that his real name was Shyam Narain but he had rechristened himself to the ease of his global audience.  He had fallen on hard times composing prose and rhymes that never fetched him a dime. My roommate washed his hands off of the whole affair. ‘You gave it to him, didn’t you?’

But I admit, every time I mourned the loss of my high denomination bill I also thought of something being scribbled restlessly somewhere on the earth. Art has to be supported at all costs.

Late on my morning sojourn one day I passed by the terraced temple under the neem tree. The sun was glowing hot rather prematurely and most of the walkers had already left. Sam was seated on the terrace, gazing at a wisp of cloud in the shining azure. To his left, members of a laughter club kept throwing their hands up in raucous bursts, ‘Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha!’

Remembering my lost fortune, I went closer and wished him brightly but Sam’s face remained impassive. I looked at the sky where his gaze was fixed and returned to his brooding countenance. In a flash of revelation, my anger turned into deep admiration. It occurred to me with a force that I could be witnessing the birth of a classic at that very moment. An Odyssey, a Beowulf, a Mahabharata, a Paradise Lost was moments away. Stealthily moving sideways, I sat to his right at a distance so that his trance remained unbroken but I could still watch the unblemished page. In about an hour or so, a shadow crossed the writer’s face and his pen moved, ‘Sam was sad.’


  1. I really like this piece, Uma. Since I’ve started writing, I’ve discovered so many gifted writers, people who write for the sheer pleasure of it, “ars gratia artis,” so to speak. It comes from the heart. Those are the truly great works, IMO, the only kind of writing that really interests me.

    1. I am happy you like it, Helena; it is endorsement enough. Looking for people ‘who write for the sheer pleasure of it’ is akin to the proverbial hunt for the needle in the haystack. Sadly, a lot of us are merely competing for eyeballs.

  2. That was real subtle humor, Umashankar. Really enjoyed the read and the ending was the icing on the cake. The story reminded me of a story ‘My Lost Dollar’, I had read a long back, though of course the similarity ends with both being humorous pieces and a lost dollar being at the center of it all.

  3. Crisp, witty and lucid. I have said this earlier that your stories are incredibly visual. Sam came alive jumping out of the prose.

    1. Thank you for appreciating, Alka. Incidentally, I didn’t file this piece in ‘stories’!

      PS: Folks appear to be loving the story of Sam, after all! Time to file it as a story too. (May 04)

  4. Amazing alacrity with which the countenance, the mannerism and the mind of Sam have been captured here. I think I just saw a short meaningful video clip here Uma. Oh and how I am moved at reading whatever he writes in his book and the way you read and gasp for thoughts and ultimately write them down. Loved this one so much!

    1. Glad you saw the video, Amit. But I seem to have failed here somehow, I am not Sam! Sams are out there in the blogworld, waiting to unload.

  5. The fate of a fellow blogger US! What a character.

    Enjoyed following the story through, all the while wondering where it would lead me.
    ‘He made three misshapen omelets out of two oval eggs!’ – so good; & I did like the simple ending…perfect.
    Cheers, ic

  6. You are witty too, my friend.

    Love it … these hard-luck stories, that form a central feature of one’s wayward youth, never fail to strike a chord, at least with me. Reminded me of the Mike and Psmith stories written by PGW.

    Sam Narin is a classy character and the narrator a fabulous counterpoise.

  7. I love that Sam was juxtaposed with a laughing club! Your entry was brilliant with “ask Macbeth.” I really did appreciate what Sam said about writing, and for what you did for him. Sometimes we don’t get repaid how we expect to.

    1. Charlene, thank you for noticing the juxtapostion with the laughter club as well as the allusion to Macbeth. You made my day!

      We all keep doing our bit for the Sams of this world but sadly, they remain blissfully ignorant of the truths.

  8. I see a glimpse of Sam in everyone around, little sad and little confused and still striving hard to move forward. Taking notes of the life every moment, as Sam does. Some like to write them down, people like me and you like to type them down and some keep them intact in the attic of their memories.. and there comes a point when we think that we got less than we deserved.

    loved the underlying humor and sheer simplicity of the purpose of writing.
    Enjoyed as ever 🙂

  9. I loved the equanimity with which you parted with that 100-rupee note Uma, and the way you saw it as somehow “investing” in talent. I should also mention that your reference to my favourite speech from Shakespeare was an absolute delight:

    Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
    To the last syllable of recorded time;
    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more. It is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
    Signifying nothing.

    But that is not how your writing makes me feel.

    1. Dennis, that happens to be my favourite speech from Shakespeare too. I cannot even begin telling how it sums up my existence to me! Then there are times when it keeps me tethered to the earth. And I am sure it is relevant in this context too. What does the sound and fury of the legions masquerading as writers signify but nothing?

      Thank you for your precious input!

  10. So nicely you convey … what you wish to.. you are such a gem of an observer .. I believe… thats why u have such a huge following .. Kudos to your talent…
    In fact, today itself I was being warned while being lent a few100 bucks by the top boss of my nuclear family to get into some serious business than drawing useless shapes on my machine and just a couple of minutes back I was ‘promising about a tomorrow’ , to myself, when I will stop ‘ wasting time’ on my shapes and dedicate more time looking for a job, yet another(I already had one and got thrown out coz I was caught doodling about my senior’s attributes with a pig’s face on his shoulders 😦 )
    Sam’s story,oval eggs giving birth to mis shapen omlets 🙂 , .. USP’s help and then the cloud watch, all inspires me to hang on …with what I am doing .. may be some day .. I will learn to do them best … and earn some bread too 🙂 After all…living life on own terms … is rather expensive !!
    Thanks for the inspiration and yet another amazing read !!

    1. First of all, many thanks for the lavish praise, Mysay -you are being kind.

      Your art has a fine streak of talent and I believe you can carve out a career out of it. You may come across both thorns and flowers in your path but then that is what life is!

      If I have managed to inspire you, I may have done at least one good job today. Carry on, dear cartoonist!

  11. Are we running away with your story in the comments and giving it a different meaning 😀 But then i guess everything that is written will get interpreted. Enjoyed reading your piece.

  12. Wit, sarcasm, satire! Art needs to survive and for that we require rich patrons…you have hit the nail hard but the sound that reverberates is so musical. A bow to you Mr. Wordsmith!!!

    Sam is one such character who will always be in meaningful muse and a social parasite living on others. Aha! Its a well-sharpened edge that he possesses over others…the more gullible ones. The pretence and the knack of befooling others. Indeed! You always sweep me off my feet with each of your posts. I wonder what heights did the real Mr. Shyam attain in actual life?

    1. I will remain grateful for the lavish praise, Geetashree. You have captured the essence of this piece, as usual.

      I am not sure of the heights Mr Shyam attained in his life but I am very sure of the heights that measure up to him today.

  13. Really enjoyed reading the poignant story narrated in such a witty manner. Loved Sam’s writings. Writers always dream big but earn small. Poor Sam.
    You’re really awesome at short stories!

  14. Lovely US ! I truly admire the way you describe people, events and what I admire the most is the fluidity ! Many times, I have struggled to read some pieces of writing till the end without my attention wavering or some tingling annoyance at some improper usage, but your simply flows through.. I think I can safely call it fluidity 🙂

  15. This is like a snapshot. A moment frozen in time. It’s pervasiveness is as touching as its timelessness. The old, old story… the battle between Saraswati and Lakshmi.

    Unresolvable… eternal.

    1. Dagny, I am glad you approve of the snapshot, that moment frozen in time. This is what a writer would give his writing hand for. Many, many thanks.

  16. Alas poor Sam, I knew him, Umashankar: a fellow of infinite imagination 😉 A different kind of story but the character springs to life.

  17. I love the way your words go, but one I ripover with laughter is that on liner you left on my Sunsilk-story : ” I run like a rat from a sinking ship at contest entries, but yours…” – the funniest line I’ve read recently. Thank you for being born 🙂

  18. ‘It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’ – that about sums up the entirety of my writing 🙂 Yours, however, are very evocative pieces touching upon various facets of living and brightened by a soupcon of humor as warranted. Great read as usual.

  19. I am not a good enough writer to comment on a post as good as this, but the story, the lyrical sentences, were all so beautiful. I am discovering great writers like you in this world of blogs. You commenting on my post was truly an honour. 🙂

    1. It is simple post by a simpler scribbler, pseudomonaz. Wish you meet the best of the best out there! Thanks for those words.

  20. ‘He gave his only note to a writer of note?’
    So neat. 🙂

    On another note, it takes an artist to recognise another.
    Here’s hoping nothing but the best will happen to all Sams (eventually at least).

    Very interesting post, USP. It gets us all thinking.

  21. The Sams of the world do need all the support we can give them……..Sometimes it’s not just money – but that push they need to give their art their all! I think you know where this comment is heading…so I’ll stop here and say, ‘Your writing is brilliant.’

  22. Liked this short, simple and unpretentious tale that is bound to evoke thoughts. My personal experience with Sam Narin-s leads me to believe that they’re somewhat difficult to help. Sam-s can be appreciated, marveled at, empathized with, inspired, talked about – and even sponsored, and the world still remains quite imperfect for them.

  23. It was all realistic until the last line! I wonder how much “yourself” you had input into Sam’s spiritual caricture. I really like it. It’s a nice mixture of sense of humor, compassion, and imagination.

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