Saturday, February 21, 2015


Author’s Note: It is now 60 years that India got its political independence. Surely, there has been economic development in the country. The per capita income has gone up, child mortality has decreased and literacy percentage has increased and so on. These are but statistics bolstered by government slogans like Garibi Hatao (Poverty Alleviation), India Shining, Bharat Nirman and many more. The reality is that life has not changed much for the rural poor. Distribution of wealth in the country has been acutely uneven. Stark poverty still exists amongst millions who have neither shelter over their heads nor are they fortunate enough to have daily meal and it is a deprecating irony that in this very country there are privileged few spending millions on personal amusement and recreation.

In the sands of Great Indian Desert in the Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan, there is a small village called Gotaru. The dusty outskirts of the village now form the international boundary. The population is a mix of Bhils, Gujjars and Meenas, the backward castes among Hindus and Muslims. They are however identified by their professions such as cobblers, carpenters, masons, blacksmiths and other such trades. Lure of money has now added occupations like pimping, stealing, bootlegging and smuggling to the list. However, the most unfortunate development in the past half century has been the division of the people on religious basis, which the old men and women say didn’t exist in the pre-independence days. The divide is the gift of politicians, the modern destiny makers of the poor people.
In fact, in good old days, religion for the people of Gotaru meant following a few common rituals on the occasions of birth, marriage and death. Id, Holi and Diwali were celebrated collectively by Hindus as well as Muslims. Firewood being difficult to get, even the Hindus buried their dead. Survival in fact was the essence of life.

There is an earthen mound on the east-end of Gotaru. The mound has a cave facing east. Perhaps it was a temple since the half-buried and withered pillars have yakshas and Kinners carved on them. No one knows when the structure was constructed and by whom? The people call it mati-tillah. In the past, the cattle and children of the village soiled the place, and there never was any feud over its ownership. Instigated by politicians and religious leaders, today it has become a bone of contention between the two communities.

Hakim Sah is an old man of the village. He is one of the five panchs of the village panchayat. He doesn’t know his age.
“I may be seventy, may be eighty, may be less, I really don’t know and really come to think of it, how does it matter?” He says feebly.
Hakim Sah was a tall man with broad shoulders, which were now drooping because of age. In his young days, he had a camel and was engaged in ferrying goods. His entire life is a saga of oppression, exploitation, persecution, hunger, pettiness and crime. He has killed strangers for few silver coins and he has acted as a pimp without any compunction. But today, he is infirm and helpless, unsure of his next meal.
Pherumal is a contemporary of Hakim Sah. Both of them have spent their years in and around Gotaru. Pherumal was a blacksmith by profession. They were close friends who had shared happiness, pain, sorrow, liquor, stolen booty and prostitutes.
Pherumal is no better than Hakim Sah in terms of health and worldly possession. He lives under a perforated tarpaulin stretched between two mud walls, secured to a Neem tree on one side and a keekar bush on the other.

1942 was the year when Congress Party workers wearing white khadi had come to Gotaru. It was the year when Quit-India Movement had stormed the entire country. The party workers were carrying the tri-colour flags. There were Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in that group. All of them were shouting Inquilab. The people of Gotaru don't remember the details. They only remember that the group talked of freedom from the British rule and that they promised better life for every Indian after the white men were driven out of the country.
Hakim Sah squints when you ask him the difference in his life after the white men had left. His face gets distorted with the wrinkles. He is circumspect, perhaps flabbergasted by the relevancy of the question.
“What change? A Raja is a Raja and the Praja is Praja always. The former is born to rule and the later, to be ruled. What difference does it make whether the Raja had a white skin or brown skin? We will always remain the Praja, the servile,” he laments.

The year 1947 changed the course of the history of the Indian sub-continent. It was a difficult year for the people of Gotaru. They were told that half a mile away, from the other side of the village nullah, a new nation of Pakistan had been created. The people of Gotaru could never conceive the prudence of the decision. In fact, the Tangia, a village on the other side of the nullah with identical population composition was now part of Pakistan. Apart from poverty and hunger, which were common on either side, the people of Tangia and Gotaru were related to each other by marriage. Besides, the masons from Tangia and the carpenters and painters of Gotaru worked in both the villages and even beyond. The division of the country had curtailed their movement, making life more difficult.

Hakim Sah was once caught and severely beaten by the border police. He thereafter discontinued going to the other side of the nullah. Over the years, his body strength drained out and he could not bear the treachery of the sandy tracks.
Hakim Sah had two children, a son and a daughter. His daughter, Sabina was married to Sahnawaj, a camel rider from Tangia village. Sahnawaj unfortunately died in a clash with his own people over a land scuffle leaving behind a daughter, Sakina of two years.
Life became difficult for Sabina and her daughter. Sabina was in her early thirties and when an elderly cousin of her husband proposed to her, she married him even though her new husband had six children and two wives. Sabina was not welcomed in the new family. The senior wives of her husband often insulted her and her daughter Sakina was always last to get meals. About a year later, her husband's amorous interest in her waned and he considered Sabina to be an unnecessary additional mouth to feed. One day he took unsuspecting Sabina to Karachi and sold her off to a brothel keeper.
When Hakim Sah came to know of it, he went to Tangia and brought his grand daughter, Sakina to Gotaru.

Hakim Sah's son, Aftab didn't like his father. The dislike was mutual. Aftab disliked the look of a camel and refused to accompany Hakim Sah on his business errands. Aftab became a rebel and finally turned in to a petty thief and a bootlegger. He was caught, beaten up by the border police several times but the habit didn't die. Whenever he got some money, he spent it on liquor and prostitutes. Today, Aftab is mentally and physically diseased. Children tease him and you can see him loitering and begging in Gotaru and adjoining villages.

Pherumal too had a daughter and a son. The son joined his father when he was eleven. Working on a furnace in the blazing desert is understandably a very tiring job. Pherumal after day's work would find relief in a bottle of country liquor, which he often shared with Hakim Sah. Pherumal’s son soon adopted his father's passion for drinking and smoking and in the prime of youth he became a victim of tuberculoses. He often suffered chest pain followed by vigorous bouts of coughing. On such occasions, Pherumal would give him liquor to bear the pain. The battle didn't last long. One day when pain was acute and he was heavily intoxicated, the young lad vomited his lungs out. Life deserted him with black fluid oozing from his mouth. Pherumal's son died at the young age without any descendent.
As time passed and Pherumal got over the grief of losing his son, he became sad for not having a male descendant. Pherumal wanted to have one, at any cost. One night he entered the hut of his son's widow. The young widow resisted but failed and capitulated to Pherumal's irresistible desire to have a male descendent.
Pherumal was happy over his triumph. His wife as well as his daughter-in-law had succumbed to his desire. Everything was working to his liking, unaware that the widow but had her own plans. One day, the young widow left the village for some unknown destination. Pherumal was disappointed, not for losing his daughter-in-law but for losing all hopes of having a male descendant.

Pherumal's daughter, Kajari was married to a young man from the adjoining village, Tanot, which was a tehsil of Jaisalmer district. Kajari’s husband was in the service of Thakur Kripal Singh, the landlord of Tanot village. The Thakur owned five hundred acres of land tilled by bonded labourers. Apart from money, Thakur Kripal Singh also liked wine and women. He had more than a dozen Goli-maids in his harem to satisfy his carnal desires. Kajari was initially employed as farm labour. One day Thakur Kripal Singh saw her and he was stuck by her bewitching beauty and figure. He immediately ordered that Kajari be added to his harem as his new Goli.
It is the duty of a Goli to serve the master and to satiate his sexual desires. A Goli's husband has no right over her body and it was sacrilegious for the husband to touch or desire his wife. The Goli and her husband were however duty-bound to accept the children sired out of the companionship with the master but children from a Goli had no right over the property of their biological father.
Over a period, Kajari was pregnant and was removed from Thakur's service. To her ill luck, one evening she was seen in the company of her husband who could not resist the charm of his wife. The inevitable followed. Kajari was paraded nude in the haveli and beaten till she fainted. Thakur Kripal Singh then ordered to throw her outside his haveli.
No one ever saw Kajari's husband. The story goes that he was hacked to death by Thakur's men and pieces of his body thrown in to a dry well.
Pregnant Kajari came to her parents who refused to accept her. Living behind her parents' hut, one night she gave birth to a son. Two weeks later, Kajari kept the newly born son below the cot of her father and left Gotaru in search of a new life. Nothing was heard of her thereafter.
Pherumal reconciled with his fate and accepted his grandson from Kajari. He named the young child, Panna.

Pherumal and Hakim Sah had grown old and infirm, unable to continue their profession. Pherumal’s family inherited a little knowledge of herbs. Unable to work at the furnace, he now practised as village quack. The two friends would sit together in the evening and talk of the bygone days and their miseries. Hakim Sah would bring his hookah. They would make a small fire out of dung cakes and smoke hookah, coughing phlegm now and then. In the winter months they would sit on the mati-tillah whole day, smoking and lazing around in the sun.


Young Panna, the grand son of Pherumal, was extraordinarily sharp. He didn't want to be a blacksmith. When eleven, he ran away to Jaipur and got the job of a dishwasher in a road-side restaurant. A couple of years later, he was employed by a retired army officer who had turned to politics. There, Panna had the opportunity of observing sly, deceitful, lascivious and hippocratic lives of the political leaders. He was amused watching politicians changing colours faster than the legendary chameleons. It was a training ground for Panna and he learnt the art with amazing alacrity.
Panna often went to his village and gave some money and small gifts out of his savings to his grandparents. Pherumal was very proud of his grandchild.

Panna was distressed to see the pathetic living conditions of his people in Gotaru and around. He felt that the upper caste landlords were ruling the country, exploiting the vote bank of the poor and down trodden. Pherumal and Hakim Sah were worried by Panna’s views, which he propagated openly. They always advised him to lie low. “We are Praja, destined to be ruled; they are Rajas.”
“That is a deep rooted fear instilled in you by the upper castes. They are the people who have made the rituals establishing their superiority. No other society anywhere in the world has such discrimination. It is time that we revolted against social persecution,” Panna often told the young boys and girls of his community.

Panna knew that democracy was the virtue of multitude. He wanted to harness this power, which he knew rested in his people. But the response from his people was far from encouraging. Centuries of servility and impoverishes, ridden with domineering rituals to respect the upper caste had left them timid and meek.
Panna wanted his people to realise that power belonged to them if they mustered courage. He was undeterred by their diffidence. He cultivated young men and women from his community and developed a network of volunteers to take up people’s problems with the district authorities. In couple of years, Panna became a known entity in political circles and consequently an eyesore to the upper caste political leaders.

The elections for the State Assembly had been announced. Panna was busy running from one village to another with his young friends. He had gained a lot of ground, which prompted almost every candidate in the fray to take him on his side. Panna declined all such requests and sent across messages to his people wait for his word until the eve of the election.
One evening Thakur Kripal Singh who was the District Chief of a political party called him to his haveli. Panna anticipated such invitation.
. "Look, you are a Hindu. In fact, your mother was in my employment. I suppose you understand…. I mean ….. ,” Thakur Kripal Singh was feeling uneasy to explain the relationship. With a little pause, he continued, “Why don’t you join us and work for me? If you garner all Hindu votes, I will surely win and for that you will be amply rewarded,” Thakur Kripal Singh was forthright.
"Thakur Saheb, you have been winning the Tanot seat for last thirty years. Please tell me what have you done so far? People go twenty kilometres to fetch water. There is no hospital here and in the absence of roads, the patients die before they can be taken to district hospital. The school is without teachers and its building is in a dilapidated condition.”
Thakur Kripal Singh was not prepared for such outburst but he didn’t want to precipitate the situation.
“Look, I promise to bring all these facilities to the villagers. I do realize that I should have been more attentive to these problems of the people but I assure that hereafter these public demands will be my priority.”
“Thakur Saheb, I see no specific reasons in your change of heart. The fact is you have been exploiting their ignorance, miseries and poverty. And now you are playing communal card. I want to tell them that if they remain united, the power belongs to them. I want them not to be swayed by your communal propaganda. I want to tell them that irrespective of our religion, all of us belong to the oppressed caste.”
The Thakur was infuriated. It was an outright insolence. It was an insult from the man whose mother was once his Goli.
He left the meeting in a huff.
"I don't want to talk to that bastard. Keep a watch over him and find out his weaknesses. Do something to keep the son of a bitch silenced," he told his cronies.

Panna continued with his campaign relentlessly. Slowly he was getting the attention of his people. The number of people coming to hear him was increasing. Thakur Kripal Singh was getting the alarming reports from his party workers. He decided to remove the thorn once for all.
One evening Panna and couple of his friends went to Tanot to attend a marriage. The host treated Panna and his friends reverentially and served them liquor in a separate room on a lavish scale. The drinking spree came to an end with Panna and his friends vomiting blood. A couple of hours later they died writhing in pain. The police declared it a case of death caused by consuming spurious liquor and closed the case.

For Pherumal it was a stunning blow. He could never recover from it. Hakim Sah was sad for he loved Panna but he couldn’t muster courage to go to Pherumal to offer his condolences.

Thakur Kripal Singh once again won the Tanot seat. Years have passed by without anything changing for the people of Gotaru.


It was the month of June. Sun was at its nadir. The wells had dried. People had to go long distance to fetch water, which was highly contaminated. There was an outbreak of cholera in the region. Death stalked every home. Children were dying every other day and those alive, were worst than the dead, their famished bodies looked awful.
Thakur Kripal Singh, the MLA had no time to come to Gotaru. He was in fact busy mustering support to stake his claim to become a minister.
In Gotaru, people's strength and courage was failing. There was no succour coming from any quarter. The government dispensary was twenty miles away. The village road made by the government agencies had vanished under the sand dunes.

The villagers all went to Pherumal for he was their last hope for some treatment of the dying. Pherumal had no children left in his family after Panna had died under mysterious conditions.
"Why have you come to me? What is left of my family that I should treat your children?" He shouted in anguish but his heart told him to save the children.

Pherumal had seen children dying in last few days. After every death the village was getting re-united. Everyone went to the bereaved family irrespective of its caste and creed. Pherumal with his shaking hands was administering the herbs to the children, writhing in pain and dying.
Pherumal remembered Panna’s words, “Our strength lies in our unity. Remember, no one will come from outside to help us.”

After six decades of independence, Gotaru is still a cluster of dilapidated huts. Withering mud walls supporting tattered tarpaulins mark the landscape. Children with running noses and perennial layers of dust on their body play with chickens, goats and dogs. The school, six miles away from the village is mostly inaccessible due to scalding sand or marshy patches during rainy season. The doctors seldom remain the in the dispensary, which is twenty kilometres away from Gotaru. Men in the pursuit of livelihood cross the border and are often caught, beaten and at times maimed or even killed.

The life of the people of Gotaru still remains a tale of unmitigated miseries, poverty, neglect and oppression in modern India.


They were from same street and from same school. That was years ago. In their young days, they had shared dreams; common dreams for their future. They wanted to settle down in the hill town of Gori, which was their ancestral town; a quiet sleepy town, where you could live reasonably urbanized life and afford a kitchen garden and a small orchard too.  They wanted to have a peaceful life, surrounded by their children and a few pets playing around.

After school, Tamuri had joined an accounts firm as intern and his childhood friend Miranda was a helper in a departmental store. They wanted to save enough money before getting married and moving to Gori, the land of their dreams.

Life but took an ugly turn shattering their dreams.

Tamuri was now posted on the North Western frontier of the country pitted against the Russian troops positioned there in support of disputed territory of Abkhazia. Not that his battalion could have stopped the Russians advance but it soothed the battered ego of Georgian government to have resisted the colossal Russians even if it were symbolic. It was late in the evening and he was sharing the cold dinner with his mates in the forward trenches. It had snowed the previous night; the chill in the air was biting and they had to save kerosene of the rickety stove for the long dreary night.

Looking beyond the sky line, quietly chewing a piece of dry chicken, Tamuri was lost in the reverie of past memories.  A year had passed since he had left his home, his mother and Miranda, who was once his beloved.

She must be sharing a cozy cottage with Zurab, unmindful of my woes. He thought.
Zurab was Tamuri’s cousin who had all the makings of a worldly wise, successful person. His father, a Deputy Minister in the public works department helped him in getting contracts for the government works. Zurab, a shrewd young man quickly learnt the knack of keeping the government officials happy.  Inevitably, prosperity gravitated towards Zurab and then other traits followed. Zurab became ostentatious, garrulous and fond of women, wine and wealth in that order or it could be interchanged.  He would take them out for dinner and shower lavish gifts on them. And that made Zurab popular among girls of Mtskheta Street, the place where he, Tamuri and Miranda had spent their childhood.

Zurab had an eye on Miranda as well as she was fair, beautiful, charming and affable.  She was but in love with Tamuri who at times was riled when Zurab tried to come too close to her. He once expressed his fears to Miranda.
“I don’t like that philanderer coming close to you, trying to win you over.”
“Tamuri! I love you more than anything in the world. You don’t have to bother,” Miranda had assured him time and again.

Tamuri had lost his father in the earlier Abkhazian aggression of early nineties. He was the only hope of his widowed mother. Tamuri wanted to be a sculptor. “One day you will see my creation on the main entry to Tbilisi from Gori,” he used to tell his mother and he had confided in Miranda.
“Why Gori side?” Miranda had asked him.
“Because Gori is our ancestral town. It will be a gift from a sculptor from Gori to the capital of the country.”

Tamuri had a flair for sculpting. He loved it and spent all his week-ends in the company of Shalva Gogiashvili, a famous sculptor who saw great deal of promise in the young lad. But the situation changed too rapidly after Tamuri’s father was killed in the war.  He had to earn his bread and look after his mother. His ambition to be a famous sculptor was relegated; he had to join an accounting firm to earn his livelihood.  Tamuri was sad to abandon his love for sculpting but Miranda’s company gave him strength and kept him going. Whenever he found time, he would visit his mentor and watch him work on the sculptures.  

The year was 2008. Trouble started again.

The Russians crossed the Georgian border with Abkhazia, threatening the town of Zugdidi. The Georgian government panicked. Her army was too small before the overpowering Russian presence. Besides, the Georgian boys were not enamored by a career in the armed forces. The forces were acutely short of young soldiers and officers. So the Georgian government issued orders enforcing conscription. All young boys and men were to serve the army for five years. There was no appeal against these orders. Tamuri’s plea that his father had already sacrificed his life for the country and that there was no one to look after his infirm mother was not heeded by the authorities. The letter of reference from the national sculptor was also of no avail. Tamuri was given thirty six hours to report to the 3rd Regiment of the Georgian Lancers deployed in the North Western border.

Events took place so fast that he could not even arrange groceries for his ailing mother. He was heartbroken to leave his mother in that condition and to be separated from his beloved. That evening he brought ‘kachapuri’ from the nearby vendor and shared it with his mother. The old woman had no words to say. She could not even bite the kachapuri. There was a lump in her throat.
“Son take care of you. Don’t worry for me. I am a dying lamp. A blow of wind will put me off. You have a long life ahead of you.”

Tamuri left for Miranda’s place.  Zurab was there. Tamuri knew Zurab too had received the mobilization orders but he saw him in animated spirit enjoying peeba, the Russian word for beer. Miranda looked subdued. He wanted to be alone with her. The possibility seemed to be remote. Miranda’s father offered him a seat on the table and asked him to join. 
“Let’s share Zurab’s happiness,” he said smilingly. Miranda came up to Tamuri and offered him a can of peeba, which he took reluctantly. A little later Miranda’s mother appeared with a tray of snacks. Tamuri noticed; the old lady too had a thin smile on her face. He was perplexed.

Miranda solved the riddle. “You know Tamuri! Zurab’s father has been able to get his mobilization orders rescinded.  Wish someone had helped you also.”

Tamuri never liked Zurab. In fact, it was a mutual dislike. Zurab was a loud mouth and always bragged of his father’s position in the government and of his wealth and he was never shy of throwing his weight around and impressing the girls.
“I have come to say good bye to you….  I mean to all of you,” he managed to say looking at Miranda.

“I am sorry for you,” Miranda whispered. Tamuri noticed Zurab was smiling. He ignored it. He was desperate to talk to Miranda, to hold her in his arms, kiss her and hug her. He looked at her with all the pain in his eyes.

 “Take care of yourself. The place and the enemy are very hostile. Please don’t bother for your mother. I will look after her. God bless you,” she said and then went in to bring another tray of snacks and cans of beer. Tamuri looked at Miranda pensively and then left the place bidding good bye to all.

He was now posted at the war front. The soldiers had access to phone once in a week. He had tried to get in touch with Miranda but she would not come on line. He was dejected and crestfallen. Thoughts of all kind perturbed his mind.

Why is she not talking to me? Had she left him for Zurab?  He would talk to his mother and return to his post.

A year had passed since he was separated from his people. It was that fateful afternoon that he had received a letter from Miranda. It read that she was getting married to Zurab on the coming Sunday and that his mother was serious and had been evacuated to hospital.

He finished his dinner and checked his light machine gun, LMG and the munitions. That evening the enemy aggression was on the rise. They were firing rockets and mortars. The enemy had superior weapons and better fortified trenches. Casualties on Georgian side were always heavy. Tamuri was guarding one of the positions. Tamuri knew there was no possibility that he would be given liberty to attend his cousin’s marriage or for that matter see his ailing mother. Grief overtook him; it pained him that he could not do anything for his dying mother.

As the night advanced, enemy fire intensified. Suddenly his buddy was hit by a splinter cutting across his face, blood spluttering all over.  Tamuri saw him faltering and falling in the trench.

Tamuri was now defending the post singlehandedly.  The thoughts of his ailing mother and of his beloved, going away from him vanished from his mind. He was now a soldier defending his motherland; a possessed soul uncaring for his own life and safety. There was no stopping of him. He was returning the enemy fire furiously, changing the magazines of his LMG one after the other.

The Russians had not anticipated such fierce resistance. They stopped firing but there was no stopping of Tamuri even after his platoon commander asked him to stop.

“Let there be an end to this agony for all time to come,” he shouted at his officer without interrupting the barrage of fire from his LMG. The Russians were vexed and annoyed. They lobbed a couple of incendiary grenades at his bunker. There was an explosion and then there was a ball of fire followed by thick black smoke all over.
Firing from either side subsided. It was time to look for the dead and wounded. His friends in arm rushed towards Tamuri’s trench.

Tamuri lay at the bottom of his trench, his one hand still on the handle of the LMG and Miranda’s letter in the other.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Just in front of my house is a small park. Small but beautiful and I often thank our 'Residents Welfare Society' for its excellent upkeep round the year. Frankly, I have very limited knowledge of flowers and ornamental plants. What I admire are the flowers of different hues during the winter through spring and I love the shades of various manicured plants during summer.

I have been living in my house for nearly ten years now. In fact, I shifted in the newly constructed house four years before my superannuation- retirement in common parlance. I vacated a spacious government accommodation quite close to my office which my friends and well wishers thought was being foolhardy. In short, they were not happy. Often retired government servants retain government accommodation several months even after superannuation; many seek post retirement employment just for the sake of retaining government accommodation. I but always felt otherwise. I wanted to be rid of the yoke, we the fraternity of government servants bear for three decades or even more. Let me share with my readers, I immensely enjoyed the thrill of shifting to my newly constructed house. To tell you the truth, it is no less exciting than the company of the newly wedded bride.

Well, let me not go astray. These days I go for a morning walk to the park and in the evening I often sit on a bench and enjoy reading a magazine, sometimes sipping tea and watching the children playing, running and shouting mirthfully. I see parents and grandparents walking leisurely and many of them sitting on benches and gossiping.

The park has a couple of swings, very popular amongst the children. There is a merry go round, a sliding plane, a monkey ladder, a parallel bar for little grown ups, couple of see-saws and many other play things.

In this playful melee are my three grand children also; two girls and a boy, eldest of them being less than ten. My grand son, the youngest among my grandchildren likes the see-saw, clasping the handle very firmly.

On the farther end of the park just near one of the entry points there nearly every day comes a balloonwallah. He comes on a bi-cycle. There is bamboo stick with cross bar at one end, which is tied to the frame of his bicycle. On the cross bar are coloured balloons of different sizes and other toys. He has a flute like instrument, which he plays to attract the children.

Generally, I notice the balloonwallah from a distance unless my grandchildren drag me to him to buy them toys or balloons. The balloonwallah is generally surrounded by children and is busy talking to them, making funny noises from the toys. He talks to the children very courteously and at times speaks to some of them in English. To me, he looked a gentleman undergoing the duress of fortune. I felt sympathetic about him.

At times, I noticed him giving away balloons or toys to the eager children asking them to bring the money next day. I wondered if he got back his money in full and that surprised me. I also noticed that he sold the balloons and toys at very reasonable rates, even at lesser rates than in the market.

The Dusshera festival was round the corner. The atmosphere was charged with gaiety. There being school vacation, children were delirious since they had all the time to play. The weather being pleasantly mild, the children were seen in the park even during day hours playing heroes from the epic Ramayana and some rehearsing plays they were to enact in the Kalibari temple of the sector. The balloonwallah was by and large relegated from their memory.

One of those evenings I walked towards the balloonwallah. He was sitting on a plastic stool that he carried as part of the contraption.

"Poor sale these days," I mumbled.


"Hard times for you, I mean how do you pull along- your family expenses."

"God's grace," he replied with a thin smile.

"What is your family? I mean how many children do you have? How do you manage?" I was genuinely distressed.

The balloonwallah sighed and then looked towards the sky. I could see his quivering lips and tears welling in his eyes.

"Sir, I don't sell balloons for my livelihood. I am a retired government servant. I have a small house to live and my son is an officer in the army."

I was stunned. The balloonwallah continued.

"I have a ten year old grandson who is afflicted by polio. Bed-ridden, he gazes at the toys we bring for him or his father brings whenever he comes on leave from the border posting."

The balloonwallah paused. I couldn't find any words to speak.

"Sir, I pretend playing with my grandson and watch him trying desperately to stretch his hands towards the floating balloons. Time and again he fails and on those moments my heart cries to see the feeble smile on his face."

The balloonwallah took out a handkerchief and wiped his tears. I simply gawked.

"Sir, I come to this park to seek a few moments of relief. When the children here play with the balloons and toys I sell them, I see in them the happiness that could have been of my grandson too."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Author’s Note: I have a seven years old grand daughter. Recently she had an argument with her mother over her pocket money. I was privy to their conversation and hence this story.

Sylvia was waiting for her father since afternoon. Her father had promised Sylvia and her mother a week end vacation. Sylvia’s holidays had started about a week ago but her father had still not finalized any holiday plan. Sylvia was getting impatient with nothing much to do at home. Many of her friends had already gone on vacation and Sylvia knew all of them would boast of fabulous time when they returned.

It was Friday afternoon and the holiday plan was still not in place. Her father talked of several hill stations mostly where official guest house existed and in fact where official transport could preferably be provided by some sister unit. Sylvia appreciated that that was necessary to cut down the costs but what worried her was that most of the time her father’s leave plans amounted to knots. In fact, the experience was that nothing was certain until they had boarded the train. It was for this reason that she would keep them secret from her friends. It had often happened in the past that her father had come up with some excuse or the other to defer the holidays at the last moment, generally attributing the postponement or cancellation in final terms to pressing demands of his office.
The long wait that Friday ended in what Sylvia and even her mother had apprehended. Her father had sent a message through his secretary late in the afternoon that he had to go to Kolkata next morning to resolve a sudden labour problem of serious nature in Khyderpur docks.

Sylvia was Nineteen, a first year student in the Arts faculty of St. Mary’s College, Delhi. She was proud that her father was a senior officer in the government. In fact, she never missed any opportunity of talking about her father’s arduous and important job of national importance. She had become adept in making policy statements on behalf of the government nonchalantly with load of confidence. Her rich friends didn’t like it and they would soon change the topic to safaris, picnics or dinner parties and discothèques. That was where Sylvia felt left out. She would back track with a wry smile but it hurt her inside.

“Mom, you better stop my pocket money, it is an insult. With it you can’t even buy a cup of coffee,” she told her mother one day.
“Your father has a fixed salary; we have a budget to live within.”
“Mom! Do you ever realize that the money I get is a pittance when compared to what my friends get?”
“Syl! You must also realize that the prices all over are shooting up rapidly on day to day basis whereas the increase in salary is once in six months and mind you that is not related to the soaring market prices.”

Sylvia hated to hear the same explanation every time she asked for extra pocket money. She needed money, at least once in a while to treat her friends. But she never picked up the courage to broach the issue with her father.

She often talked of it to her cousin Barry, a final year student in the same college appreciated her problem for his father was also in the government and in a much lower position than Sylvia’s father.

“Sylvia, I know a guy who is a tour manager. He is taking a rafting group to Rishikesh this Sunday. He needs some one with life guard certificate. Since you have one, why don’t you take up the job?”
“It is one week affair, Sunday to Saturday,” he added after a little pause.
“You Dumbhead! What do I say to my folks?” Sylvia snapped.
Barry had anticipated the question and hence ready with the answer instantly.
“Say, you are going out on a college excursion sponsored by some NGO. I will join you in convincing your parents.”
Sylvia thought over and felt the idea could be sold to her parents.
“What is he paying?” And then she added, “How much do I get out of it………. I mean what is your cut?”
Barry ignored her query. He always thought Sylvia was a skeptical type, particularly when it came to money. The ground reality was that they knew each other too well. Both of them were convinced that the other was mean.
“I have a feeling and it comes to me too often that you could beat the greediest bitch hands down,” Barry responded nonchalantly.
“Well, my dear cousin, thanks for the compliment but
that doesn’t take us away from the truth of the matter. I don’t mind being called a bitch if that is necessary to protect my interest.”
“Look, you get three hundred rupees a day and all
meals. That’s all and what I get is none of your business.”
Sylvia stared at Barry and then said with a placating smile, “How about five hundred a day.”
Barry seemed to have been bitten by sudden ulcerous pain.
“Syl! You are a limit……. You ……. You, he stammered.”
“Five hundred bucks and no less. Take it or leave it.”
Barry was still clinching his fists. “You are mean…… in fact, meanest of the means I have ever known.”
“Yes my dear cousin, I am mean but so are most of us including your benign self. I know you still must be making enough for yourself.”
The arguments however concluded with Sylvia holding to her price tag and Barry giving in reluctantly.

“By the way, what are you going to do with so much of money?” A naïve question but Barry couldn’t hold himself asking.
Sylvia was quiet for a moment and then suddenly she turned somber.
“Barry! You may laugh at me or disbelieve altogether. I have been feeling slighted when ever my friends take me out for a treat and brag about it thereafter and the worse is, I can not reciprocate.”
Barry was in maize. Sylvia continued, “You know the monthly pocket money I get is not good enough to enter a coffee house. For once I want to give a decent treat to all my friends.
Barry didn’t buy the story. Sylvia was not the person he knew who would spend her hard earned money on her friends. It was hurting him inside that due to circumstantial compulsion, he had agreed to a high fee for Sylvia. It was a legal requirement to have a life saving guard with a rafting group and he was aware that those guys always acted pricey.

All went well. The group was very happy with the expedition and with Sylvia in particular. They complimented her and loaded her with small goodies. The tour operator too was quite pleased with Sylvia.

Sylvia was very pleased with a fat fee packet under her belt. On the following Thursday she invited half a dozen of her friends at an expensive joint in a popular Mall for a treat. Since the money had come through Barry, she thought it proper to invite him also.

Sylvia went home, had a quick wash and changed in to her favourite purple gown. She took an auto-rickshaw to reach the party joint. She was in an effusive mood humming her favourite tunes. She paid the auto driver, alighted from the auto and entered the Mall. Suddenly she had an urge to buy her favourite perfume and apply it before joining her friends.

It was a grand treat, more than her friends could have expected. They were enjoying and Sylvia for the first time felt herself an integral part of the group. She was in high spirits and then she wanted to distribute the goodies amongst her friends. She looked in to her bag and suddenly she realized her purse, which she had put in it was missing. She searched the bag several times with no luck. Sylvia was now frantic. The party was in full swing. Her friends were in expansive mood and so was Barry who knew the extent of Sylvia’s fee.

Sylvia got up and asked Barry to come out with her and then she told him that her money bag had been pinched in the Mall.
“What are you talking? How can it be? And now how will you foot the bill?”
“Barry! Please go to the manager. Try to explain the situation to him.” Then handing Barry her gold chain she said, “Pawn this with him until I find money to pay the bill.”

Barry was apprehensive. He had an inhibition that it could be a prank from Sylvia. I will be doomed if I were to pay the bill. Besides, he felt it would be impossible to recover the money from his cousin.
“Let me see what can be done,” he grumbled taking the gold chain from Sylvia.

Sylvia joined the group back trying her best to look normal. Barry was in the back room with the manager. Her friends were busy enjoying but they didn’t miss to see Sylvia’s distraught face. Besides, the party time was getting lengthened beyond normal expectation.
“Any problem Syl?” One of them asked.
“No, no. Please carry on,” Sylvia managed to say feebly looking towards the manager’s cabin and praying that Barry succeeded in persuading the manager and that the manager didn’t create any fuss.
It was seemingly a long time since Barry was closeted with the manager. Sylvia prayed and prayed for the success of the mission.

Sylvia turned stone when she saw her mother entering the restaurant. The old lady came over and hugged her with a smile.
“Child! Take it easy. Barry has told me everything. Don’t you worry darling. I appreciate; you do need extra pocket money once in a while. Now tell your friends to continue and enjoy the party,” she whispered.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


I had seen her first time in a party. It was the marriage anniversary of Ajay and Sudha, my doctor friends. I was in high spirits; virtually and emotionally because Ajay has been my oldest pal. We had gone through the thick and thin of life together.

She had the touch of arrogance. Beautiful, yes she was and she was charming. Tall and shapely, in fact she was alluring and captivating. Dressed to the occasion, she carried the freshness of the flowers, and a mesmerising smile on her lips. Looking at her, I was swooning and the first thing I did was to talk of it with Ajay.
"Ajay, who is that dame in the light blues next to the flower vase, up there", I asked him pointing towards the right corner of the hall.
"Ah Ha! You too have been bowled over."
"Not exactly but then she is attractive. Isn't she?"
"Well Sir, she is Dr. Amita Shukla, the new doctor posted in my department. Has in fact joined recently."
"What is her husband?” I asked, trying to look un-inquisitive.
Ajay waited for a few seconds and then said, “She is a
“A divorcee! My God! Such an enticing colleague by your
side and a divorcee. Lucky, you!”
"Don't be stupid," Ajay said giving a wry smile and then added with a broad grin, "Incidentally, she is an anaesthetist." I could not miss the stress on the last word.
"She is worth any thing yar. You don't live many lives. As it is, she need not give anaesthesia to the patients; a look at her is enough," I said smiling. And to press home my brimming exciting, I added, "Who would like to be anaesthetized? I wouldn't mind even if I was lacerated if only she remained in front of me.”
"You are incorrigible,” Ajay said and walked away to
attend other guests.

Now I had several ideas coming to my head to get myself introduced to the bewitching lady. She must have noticed me often talking to Ajay, I thought. And that could be the best plank to launch myself, I thought.
I called a waiter to follow me and started offering drinks to the guests. I noticed that she was watching me from the corner of her eyes. "Be brave", a voice spoke within me and propelled me towards her.
"Good evening,” I said and then with a slight bow I added, “Care for a drink?"
"No thanks. I just had one" was her brief reply and before I could think of any other appropriate address, she walked away. I was dumbfounded and hurt. Seldom had I experienced such indignation. I abandoned the host’s role mid way and walked to the other corner of the hall. I was musing and licking my wounds when Ajay appeared again from nowhere.
"Sad indeed! No?" He said with a wide grin.
“Shut up you bastard! Bloody sadist! And I don't need your sympathies,” I said looking at the ceiling.
“What does she think of herself? An out right arrogant and pretentious female,” I fumed.
"I don’t know that but I am happy you have met a match.”
I had to do some face saving. I gave a rather loud coquettish laugh and said, “Let's drink to those spicy, spiral curves.” And then I lifted my glass in Ajay’s direction and added, “And to the fiendish friends."
"May you go to the hell and by the quickest possible route,"
Ajay said and walked away.

I had forgotten the episode as one of the pranks of my wavering, lustful mind. It often happened with me that I fell in love with every beautiful woman I met. My imagination would run wild, weaving stories, chasing fantasies. For days together, I would be lost in my quixotic romanticised world till it petered off over the passage of time or in better circumstances, another exciting subject, real or imaginary entered the scene.
I once told Ajay, “Perhaps I am suffering from schizophrenia. I debate both ways on the superiority of virtues over vices but at the same time I believe that vice has the variety and that is all what matters to a human being.”
I was aware that I was perhaps carrying a label but it never bothered me, I wanted to live life my way.

I was a free lance journalist and I fancied writing stories and poems. A busy bachelor, travelling places and meeting people from different cross sections of society. Ajay knew me from my school days, we were neighbours. I was the only son of my parents. When eleven, I had lost my mother and it was only a year later that my father married again. That changed everything. Ajay had shared all my agonising moments. After schooling, Ajay took to medicine and I adopted a wanderer’s life.

“I wish I could convince you but I always feel there is some thing wanting in your life, you are running after the unrealistic, the non-existing, dwelling in a world of fantasy,” Ajay often told me.
“Ajay! Desire is a force that keeps you going. You ought not measure the longevity of pleasure; a few ecstatic moments in life may out weigh the entire life of comfort.”
“I don’t believe in frittering away life since I consider it precious. I want to feel the ground below me and unlike you, I don’t trust flimsy suppositions,” Ajay opined.
I could not emphatically deny his observations for I believed in him even if not in his words. This had happened often. We would sit together, argue and end up with status-quo.

It was after a few months of Ajay’s marriage anniversary that I got in to a problem. I had a new junior, a young girl, Lalita whom I had taken out for dinner. I was in my full mettle after few large whiskeys. We had out after dinner and walking towards the parking. I was holding Lalita’s hand for two reasons. First, that I was not in a position to walk straight and second, and more importantly for me, holding the hand of the young exciting colleague was giving me abounding sensuous pleasure.
As we were crossing the road, Lalita was knocked down by a speeding car and I too was thrown over. I managed to get up, summed up my wits and then rushed her to the hospital. I rang up Ajay. He was not at home. His wife replied that he should be back any time. I told her of the accident and requested her to tell Ajay to reach the hospital as soon as possible.
We were rushing Lalita to wards the OT when I saw Dr. Amita, the lady doctor I had confronted in Ajay’s wedding anniversary. I could hardly speak when she said, "Please do not worry. We will take care of your friend," and went in to the OT. I was not sure whether she had recognised me.

Lalita, the only child of her parents was lying on the operation table and I was worried of the impact of the story on my career. That it was past two in the night and that I was quite sozelled at the time of the accident would have made an exciting story.
Besides, I didn’t know how to break the news to Lalita’s parents. Never had I felt so remorseful in my life. Tears of anguish were burning me from top to toe.
It was after an hour that a nurse came out from the OT and told me that Lalita’s condition was stable and that the operation was successful.
I was tired and waiting for Ajay to come out of the OT. Depressed, I slumped on a sofa when Dr. Amita came over to me. I was not in a position to start any conversation. I wanted to thank her but words were failing me.
"Don't worry. Your friend is Ok now", she said.
"Thank you doctor" I managed to say.
“Let’s go to Dr. Ajay’s room. He will be joining us soon." Then smiling she added, “Why don't you have a cup of tea. You need one."
A cruel joke, I thought. To be in her company, I would have given up my one arm but here I was not in a good enough frame of mind to have a fulsome look at her.

I thanked Dr. Amita once again when she told me that she had informed the parents of Lalita. It was a big load off my chest. Ajay had joined us by this time and a few seconds later, I found my faculties soaring again as I saw the curvaceous hind side of Dr. Amita bending over the table to pick up a cup.
I feigned looking towards the ceiling when she surprised me, "Tell me is hunting females your favourite hobby?"
I was not prepared for such frontal attack. I thought the situation was still serious. Nor could I say that she was wrong. “Had she read my mind,” I was vexed.
"I don't believe in chasing anyone,” I said wanting to rest the topic.
"Now that Lalita is out of danger, I suppose you consider yourself absolved of all responsibilities. The file is closed, no?"
I was nearly stunned. She was not only outspoken but ruthlessly correct.
"Look! Don’t you realise, story of this accident can cause her immense harm at the onset of her career.
“Dr. Amita! This is a baseless insinuation, an irresponsible comment,” I was by then quite irritated.
“Isn’t it a fact? I feel sad for you. You are like a grasshopper keeping yourself away from the ground,” she said looking straight in to my eyes.
I looked away from her gaze. This female can never be my friend I thought. “Thanks for your observation and for the help and the rest perhaps we may talk it over sometime later.”
"Is that an invitation?" She asked grinning. I didn’t respond but her laugh had a contagious effect on me. I smiled.
“Be warned that I am an anaesthetist,” now she said with a bigger smile.
"You will need to give me an extra strong dose, I don’t faint easily.”

During that period I often met Dr. Amita to find out Lalita’s progress. I had intentionally not renewed the offer of invitation. Her words even in lighter vein had made me feel uneasy. I realized for the first time a pit in my stomach.

Lalita was discharged from the hospital. Her one leg was under plaster but she could walk with a support. A couple of days later Lalita was discharged from the hospital. week later she was I went with her parents to thank the doctors and staff attending her. Then I told them to wait in my car and went again to Dr. Amita’s chamber.
“Thanks a lot, doctor.”
"It is all right. I am happy to see Lalita’s progress. Take care of her and .......” she said giving me a searching look.
"Thank you," I said and as I turned, she asked, "Is the invitation still open?"
Was it a capricious suggestion, I couldn't make out. "Any time", I said and came out thanking her again.

I related the incidence to Ajay a few days later. His reaction was not as I had expected. I had expected him to pull my leg, pass some caustic remark or laugh it out as pure fantasy of my mind. Instead he was very sombre.
"What's the matter?" I was surprised.
He was quiet for some moments and then said, "Life is not what it looks to be. You have been flirting with life; your own and others but there are more pressing demands on life than mere flirtation."
I was about to react to his words but Ajay held me with a gesture of his hand and continued.
"Amita is so caring, putting other person at ease, never letting others know her troubles. Lost her mother about ten years ago and three years ago, her father and brother met with a serious accident. Both are handicapped. She looks after them with no time to think about herself.
She and her doctor husband were offered an UN assignment but she declined the offer to utter dislike of her husband who was very keen to take up the new job.
“You don’t appreciate the professional advantage of this assignment apart from the monetary benefits. We can engage a nurse to look after your father and brother,” her husband had suggested.
Dr. Amita was but firm. “I can not leave them in this condition. A nurse can not give them the psychological and emotional support they need. They need me here more than anything.”

“Both of them stood to their grounds resulting in their separation,” Ajay concluded.
I was quite shaken. I felt sorry for Dr. Amita and I decided to make amends.

I went to her house one evening. It was a quite unexpected visit. That has been the bane of my life. Unpredictable, that is what I have always been. I didn't care how she or her people would react to an unannounced visit.
"Hello Doctor!" I said as she opened the door.
"Anything is the problem?" she asked me with apprehension.
"Nothing. I just thought to call on you and talk to you."
She gave me a vexed look.
"Look! I owe you an apology."
"For what?"
"For my unfriendly, irresponsible behaviour."
"Don't be silly", she said in an unguarded moment and then realising the slip she hurriedly added, "Oh! I am sorry....I mean......"
Intercepting her I said, "Yes that is the way I like people to talk, frank and free."
She wanted to say something but withheld herself.

I went in and saw her father and brother, both were sitting in wheel chairs around the dining table. They were having tea and invited me to join them. I learnt that Amita’s father was a professor of History in the state university before he met with the accident and her brother; an engineering student was in his teens.
They were in a jestful mood, pulling each other's leg, irony of fate that both having none. Doctor Amita made tea for me. Words would not come out my mouth as I took the cup and I could not I look them in their eyes.
The father and son were discussing World Cup soccer that was the ongoing event those days and I was amazed to see their enthusiasm. Doctor Amita told me that both of them would sleep during the day time to watch the games during the night hours.

I was jolted to the core. To be honest, I was afire. How different was Doctor Amita than I? Wasn’t she right in saying that I was a grasshopper jumping all over, never touching the ground, never having the feel of reality? I felt belittled but lighter in soul. When I came out of the room, I had tears in my eyes.

"Thanks a lot Doctor,” I managed to say and ran towards my car.

Monday, August 30, 2010


Author’s Note: Hansuli is a silver bracelet like ornament worn around neck by women in the hills of Garhwal and Kumaon. The name Hansuli symbolizes prosperity and happiness.

She had been convicted of homicide and awarded fourteen years rigorous imprisonment. The judge in his judgment said that he was taking a lenient view because of her two minor children.
Yes, she was the mother of two sons. Looking outside from the tiny holes in that police van, taking her to the central jail, she could see the trees, all running backwards. So were her thoughts; running back to painful memories, anguish over her broken dreams and the frightening thoughts of the future awaiting her sons.
The police van was winding along the curves of the hill road and her mind was sinking deep in the memory lane. What was that she could remember of her childhood?

Her name was Hansuli, the only daughter of the village grocer, Sukhram Sah. She was always pampered by her father and cursed by her mother for being careless and clumsy. She was very beautiful and her father was dotted on her.
"I will marry her to a prince and my daughter will dwell in riches." That was the dream of this shop keeper of a tiny hill village. There were no schools and in any case those days need was not felt to send girls to schools. A marriage in a good family was the ultimate wish of every girl’s father in this part of the world.
If the dreams of Sukhram Sah were to come true, Hansuli would have been married to some sepoy of the Garhwal Rifles or Kumaon Regiment or she would have been given in marriage to some one with a house and little land. Neither of them unfortunately came to happen for Sukhram Sah, one day after excessive drinking in a marriage feast died without leaving any assurance of his dreams.
Hansuli was then fifteen. Now the biggest ailment of her ailing mother was the young daughter who by all social norms was crossing the marriageable age.
"If alone I could get Hansuli married, I too could die a peaceful death", she would bemoan before every sympathizer, requesting every one of them to find a groom, any groom for that matter.

At last a groom was found for Hansuli. Ganpat Sah, the goldsmith in the next village had lost his wife. By local standards, Ganpat Sah was quite well off. He had a smithy shop, a servant, good paddy fields, pair of oxen, couple of cows and a buffalo. Perfect match as late Sukhram Sah would have called it. However there was a little snag. Ganpat Sah was nearing fifty and was already a grand father from his daughter's side.
"Look at his wealth and prosperity. Your daughter will live like a queen. Ganpat Sah promises to cover her with gold and he will also give you four thousand rupees," Hansuli’s mother was told by the matchmaker.
"And remember, there is no dearth of girls for rich men like him. On the other hand, your fatherless daughter is getting overage. You can not find any match for her, let alone such ideal match."

Hansuli was thus married off. She was a rich man's wife. On her first visit to her mother after marriage, she distributed sweets to all homes of her village, offered prayers to the local deity and gave two sarees to her mother. And of course, no one missed the Gulabad (gold necklace), ear-rings, a bulaak (V-shaped golden ring studded with diamonds) in the lower nose, a large nath (round shaped golden wire with precious stones) on the upper nose and the glittering bangles. She indeed looked like a queen.
Dhanpat Sah was rejuvenated in the company of his young beautiful wife. Hansuli gave birth to two sons. Ganpat Sah was overjoyed to have male descendants. Hansuli looked more charming and beautiful. Ganpat Sah's cup of happiness was full to the brim; rather overflowing.
Ganpat Sah could not hold the cup for long. Following summer, he was one of the victims of cholera epidemic in the villages around. Hansuli was left alone with her two sons and the world to face.

Ganpat Sah had a younger brother, Dhanpat Sah, who never approved of anything that his elder brother did. Dhanpat Sah was not happy when his elder brother married Hansuli. He had several reasons for his dislike for his elder brother, jealously being the foremost.
Dhanpat Sah had seven children; four daughters and three sons. He was a worried man, always swearing, cursing his fate and his brother in turn. "Why couldn't my elder brother give a little out of his riches to me, his only younger brother? Why should sons of the same father not help each other?” Dhanpat Sah often lamented.

Dhanpat Sah was further dejected when Hansuli gave birth to two sons for with it his hope of his brother dying without leaving any male descendent had been razed to dust. He cursed the day his brother married Hansuli, cursed his brother who according to him, despite one leg in the grave had married a young girl.
"What a perversion! When he should have devoted himself to prayers and weaned himself away from worldly allurements, he has brought a young bride to satisfy his lust.” Dhanpat Sah would lament before everyone he met.
The death of his elder brother therefore brought back glimpse of hope to Dhanpat Sah. If alone he could keep Hansuli in his fold, he could get a share from his brother's property. Hansuli was then twenty, a simple village woman unaware and incapable of comprehending Dhanpat Sah's designs. She had accepted him as the Karta (the head, the doer) of the family.
Hansuli helped generously when Dhanpat Sah's two daughters were married. She gave a part of her jewelry to her nieces and money to Dhanpat Sah for meeting other expenses.
Slowly, Dhanpat Sah had acquired authority in the household. He wanted his writ in all matters. Hansuli had to compromise for her sons were too young. The only wish, her only dream was to bring up her sons well; give them good education.

Dhanpat Sah lacked the skills of a good goldsmith and soon lost the clientele of his elder brother’s time. He closed the goldsmithy and opened a grocery shop. It hurt Hansuli but she realized that the shop had to be used in some way or the other to sustain the family.
Dhanpat Sah was now growing in health as well in ambition. His amorous interests were increasing as well. Hansuli was a fully developed woman now, beautiful and appealing. Hansuli could sense his designs and avoided Dhanpat Sah as much as possible. Dhanpat Sah would come to her in the evenings on one pretext or the other and unduly delay his departure.

One evening, when in a drunken state, Dhanpat Sah came to Hansuli who was feeding her children. Sitting on a charpoy (wooden bed woven with coir ropes), he complained of body ache and several ailments that were chasing him ever since he had taken over the responsibilities of both houses.
"My wife has not brought a bit of luck that you brought to my elder brother," he told her. Then he lamented over his wife's apathy towards him.
"Now that he is no more, why don't you share this luck with me? After all this is an accepted custom and your sons will get a father,” Dhanpat Sah suggested to her.

Hansuli was fed up with Dhanpat Sah’s advances; she in fact loathed his visits. The money her husband had left was running out fast for Dhanpat Sah always complained of poor sale and damages due to pests and rats.
Hansuli was enraged with the latest suggestion. The altercation between them was heightened. For Dhanpat Sah it was the moment of decision. “Either I get over the arrogance of this woman and subjugate her or she would become independent of me for all times,” he told to himself.
"I am going to sleep in this house and you will be my woman hereafter. I know the young studs chasing you around. I will not allow that to happen; I will not allow the honour of my family sullied. I am the Karta of this family and you will hereafter obey me implicitly as your man."
Hansuli writhed with anger. The insinuation of infidelity on one hand and the right to molestation on the other was too much to bear.
"What do you mean, you rascal? Have you ever seen me talking to a man? Aren't you ashamed to speak thus to your elder brother's widow?"
Dhanpat Sah had no proof of the serious insinuation but he didn’t want to give up. “Every woman desires a man and it takes no time for a young woman like you to slip. In any case why this can’t this remain within the family?"
"Get out of my house and next time if you ever come here, I will char your face with a burning wood. You devil! Get out", shouting thus, she closed the door at Dhanpat Sah’s face and bolted the room from inside.
"I will teach you bitch a lesson. I will make you my woman and I will see who comes to your rescue." Dhanpat Sah went back muttering threats. He was annoyed with every one and he wanted to avenge his insult. Above all, he wanted that woman to capitulate to his desire.

In the middle of a night, in that hill village when it is pitch dark and even dogs find it too inconvenient to bark due to biting cold, Dhanpat Sah was heading towards the house of his late brother. With a sickle in his hand, Dhanpat Sah was writhing with anger and burning with lust. A full bottle of country liquor that he had drained down his throat had apparent effect; his legs were unsteady, his hands were shaking, and his senses were out of his control.

He wanted to overpower the sleeping woman and once done, he wanted to tame for all times. That was the plan. But it didn't work. Hansuli was young and stronger. After initial reversal, she regained her strength coming to know that the intruder was none other than the debauch brother of her late husband. Dhanpat Sah lost the battle, his clothes were torn and his breath failed. The influence of liquor had incited him to raid his brother's wife but sapped his body strength. And a hard blow of wood pulled out from the hearth did the final act. This time Hansuli closed the door behind him after giving him a couple of hard kicks.

With much difficulty, Dhanpat Sah could reach back his house, where waiting for him was his aging wife. First- aid was given by the elderly woman to the wounded who was now much more determined to oust Hansuli; the woman who had usurped the property of his brother.

A few weeks later when Hansuli was out of her house, attending a marriage, her house was gutted by fire. The iron box containing all her cash and valuable clothes was no more than a twisted ash container and the silver box containing her jewelry was no where. There were doubts in everyone's mind but nothing could be substantiated. The net result was that Hansuli was reduced to abject penury and she had no option but to take shelter in Dhanpat Sah’s house.
The elder son of Hansuli was six by now and she was very keen that he should be sent to the school. Dhanpat Sah was not in favour of this. He wanted the young lad to help him in the shop and to attend to errand jobs. Hansuli was no more than a domestic servant in the household. This she didn't object but her sons being treated as labourers was intolerable to her. There were altercations often. She was beaten by Dhanpat Sah who still smarted under the insult of his amorous adventures. He had not succeeded in taming Hansuli and that hurt his male ego.

One night, emboldened by the influence of liquor, he again assaulted Hansuli. This time Hansuli was beaten severely, her blouse shred to pieces, and her sari pulled down. Hansuli and her children wailed loudly and shouted for help. Dhanpat Sah was not prepared for such a turn of events. He didn't know what to do. Taking advantage of that, Hansuli ran out of the house in the semi-clothed condition towards the village chowk. Villages folks had come out, they saw her plight, but thought it proper to let it remain a matter within the family.
After some time, Hansuli returned to her place. She saw her sons smitten with fear and sobbing behind the door. Hansuli took the decision. “This village is no more livable for us. If I were to labour, and yet get insulted; I should rather to go to some unknown place where I will not be assaulted,” she thought.
In the wee hours of the day, Hansuli left the house of her husband along with her two sons for an unknown destination. She took the first bus that was going to Gochar, a small town on way to the Hindu holy shrine of Badrinath.

It was now over three years that Hansuli was in the small town of Gochar. She was working in a small way side hotel which catered to the pilgrims to Badrinath during the summer months. Its owner, Than Singh, had a small room below the hotel which became the abode of Hansuli and her sons.
Than Singh was a jovial man in his early fifties. He talked a lot and enjoyed drinking in a company. He regaled his customers with jokes and was easily convinced by other person's arguments.
Than Singh would return to his village in the evening leaving the management of the tea-shop to Hansuli who would keep the place clean, start the oven in the morning and prepare tea for the early arrivals. Hansuli persuaded Than Singh to buy a buffalo so that the requirement of milk could be met locally. Than Singh admired Hansuli for bringing good luck to him.
Hansuli was satisfied. Both her sons were going to a school. In the afternoon they would come back and help her in serving the customers or delivering tea to other shops in that small market.

By now Hansuli knew that a widow was an object of desire and notwithstanding his good nature, Hansuli had realized that Than Singh was no exception. She therefore had to make a choice. She compromised this time and accepted the status of a servant and a mistress of Than Singh. It was a pragmatic arrangement that suited both the sides.
Than Singh helped Hansuli to acquire a piece of land adjoining the shop. Industrious as she was, she started growing vegetables in her land. Hansuli by now had some money of her own and she was bringing up her children well. She had forgotten her past, was happy with her present and cherished a dream for the future.

Her past but was dogging her. The word at last reached the remote village of Dhanpat Sah that his sister-in-law was working as a maid servant in a hotel in Gochar. Her newly acquired prosperity was told to him in multiple measures and of course he was told of her new status. It was this part of the information that inflamed the dormant ego of Dhanpat Sah. He decided to bring her back.

Gochar being a small town, Dhanpat Sah had no difficulty in locating Than Singh's hotel. He saw it from a distance and also saw his sister-in-law serving attending to the customers. He decided to wait till it was dark.
That fateful day, clouds had collected over the valley of river Alaknanda. It started drizzling by the evening and it was cold. Than Singh who had a good season that year, was in his element. He decided to celebrate the day's end with a bottle of liquor in the company of Hansuli.
The hotel had closed. Hansuli' sons now slept there, leaving the room below to their mother and Than Singh, her companion. Than Singh was enjoying his drink and Hansuli was cooking meals for him.
Suddenly, there was a big thud on the door and in came fully inebriated Dhanpat Sah giving a snide laugh to both of them.
He turned towards Hansuli and shouted, "So this is how you are bringing good name to the family. If you were so hungry of men, what was wrong with me, the younger brother of your husband? But you have the traits of a harlot, a prostitute and you need a new stud every night to satiate your lust." Then he suddenly lifted a burning wood from the hearth and moved towards Than Singh.
"First, I will teach you a lesson, you bastard!" He growled advancing towards Than Singh. Than Singh though younger and stronger than Dhanpat Sah was not prepared for such an awkward situation. He didn't want to create a scene. He was out of his wits, afraid of being denounced before his folks. Giving Dhanpat Sah a big push, he ran out of the house leaving Hansuli to deal with her visitor.

"And now you bitch, I will tell you what I am going to do with you. I will satiate your desire for ever," he said trying to catch hold of Hansuli. Hansuli once again cursed her fate.
"Go away, you devil. I have nothing to do with you. I left every bit of the property to you. I said not a word even when you burnt my house and took away all my gold and cash. Why don't you leave me and my children alone?"
"We will talk of that later. First you come to me, you bitch in heat", he said his voice slurring due to intoxication and excitement.

As he plunged towards her, Hansuli saw the sickle hanging on the wall. Mustering all her strength, she gave him a push and leaped for the sickle.
It was all in a flash. A full force blow and Dhanpat Sah was lying in a pool of blood shouting for help at the top of his failing voice.
Dhanpat Sah could not survive. Hansuli was tried for murder and the judge taking a lenient view sentenced her for fourteen years rigorous imprisonment. It was for meeting this punishment that she was being taken to the central jail.
As the van moved away, her thoughts returned to the small hill town of Gochar where her elder son washed the dishes and her younger son begged for alms.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Author’s note: This story reflects my anguish over the division of society on caste basis by the political leaders in India for their personal gains.

Ramanna did not know his origin. It never occurred to him that a day will come when he would need to know it desperately. He vaguely remembers his early childhood days. His mother was tall, slim and fair working in the house of the Dharmakarta of the temple in the small town of Srirampuram.

They say his mother was a poor young girl from a nearby village when she was taken in to temple service by the Dharmakarta who was a widower but liked to be in the company of a young woman. Resultantly, when two years later a child was about to be born to the young woman, the Dharmakarta married her to one of the temple workers. There were gossips all around but no one dare speak against Dharmakarta. And no one spoke against Dharmakarta when few months later, the servant suddenly disappeared from the temple.
Young Ramanna grew oblivious of his origin and of the history surrounding him. At the age of seven, his duty was to rear the two cows of the temple and their calves. The cows had their names and so had the calves. Nandi, the black calf was Ramanna’s favourite. Ramanna was a happy lad in their company.

To get up in the morning, drink a glass of porridge which some times his mother gave him stealthily; clean the cow shed; take bath in the pond; eat whatever was available out of the leftover from the kitchen and then to take out the cows and the calves for grazing until late in the afternoon was a set routine which Ramanna enjoyed since the time his memory could take him back.

For Ramanna, there were no demands on life and every thing was in order. Sometimes, he used to mock at the children who were burdened with the load of books and trudged towards the school but in his heart he wished his mother could also send him to the school.

Days passed. Ramanna and his mother were still in the service of the Dharmakarta. One evening, he was told by one of the temple servants that his mother had died suddenly. Ramanna didn’t know the cause; in fact no one knew the exact cause. A story however went around that she was forced to abort a child. Ramanna was only eight then.

Ramanna missed his mother and often wept for her. There was no one to care for him. He missed her more when he felt hungry. He remembered how she always produced something for him to munch whenever he coaxed her. After her death, things had become very difficult. Though he never neglected his work, he used to get abuses from everyone in the house.

On many occasions he was not even called for the meals along with other servants. Ramanna felt very dejected and he would talk of his grief and cry over the hump of his pet calf Nandi who was now a fully grown bull.

Ramanna eventually decided to quit the temple service. He knew the thought was fraught with severe punishment. He had to keep it a closely guarded secret. He shared the secret only with Nandi with tears running down his cheeks and left his village one night walking in an unknown direction.

In Ramanna walked for three nights, hiding during the day time behind haystacks and bushes. On the fourth day break, Ramanna reached Vishakhapatnam. Luckily for him he was spotted by a mason who took him in his employment on half the salary. Young Ramanna soon became adept in the skill of brick-laying, white washing and painting.

Over the years, Ramanna grew in to a tall, well built young man, fair like his mother. He was over twenty now. All these years there was not a single day when he didn’t remember Srirampuram, his mother and his favourite bull Nandi.

Times were changing around Ramanna. People talked of rights and privileges based on caste basis. Ramanna could never understand anything of the matter. He worked earnestly during the day time and in the evening spent most of his time in the small temple near his work place.
“Isn’t it fair that everyone gets equal opportunity to work and earn his livelihood? Why should there be any social or economic discrimination on the basis of origin of birth, he would often argue within himself.”

The urge to see his birth place drove him one day to Srirampuram. The township had changed; it was acutely congested with concrete structures all over. The cowherd that he had reared with passion had died. There were no friends left in the neighbourhood. All boys that he could remember were out to some town or the other in search of jobs. Ramanna was unaware of the twelve year’s exile he had served on himself. He was sorry to have come to Srirampuram. He decided to return the next day.

In the evening, he went to the temple to attend the evening prayers. As he was entering the temple he came across the Dharmakarta talking to the temple servants. Ramanna could notice Dharmakarta’s faded impact. He had grown old and lost much of his acerbic tongue that Ramanna remembered. Ramanna then saw him coming towards him.
"Namaskaram Aiyya!” Ramanna said with folded hands.
"Ah! You are Ramanna, right?”
“Yes sir.”
How come you remembered this place after so many years?”
Ramanna kept quiet.
Dharmakarta then sitting on the upper railing of the parapet wall asked Ramanna, "I believe you are planning to go back".
"Yes sir. There is nothing in this village for me", said Ramanna in a choking voice.

"Why do you think so? It is your lust for money that has given birth to such feeling. Don't you have any duty towards your birth place? Don't you remember your mother serving the temple all her life? Didn't I look after her? And what is this I hear? Is it true that you are working as a mason?"
Ramanna still kept quiet.
“Who is there after me to look after the temple? I may have been severe but didn’t I trust you like my own child?” The old man continued. He was now trembling with rage. Age was not in his favour. His wife had died early; his daughter was married off and his son had settled in the USA. The Dharmakarta was indeed an isolated old man.

Ramanna couldn’t make out the purport of the outburst. He felt sorry for the old man and he thought he had a duty towards the old man and towards the temple. The words of Dharmakarta were therefore catalytic in his returning to his old world. Yes; he thought he could do some service to the temple which was withering from all sides. He thought to repair the temple with his own hands and paint it fresh. And then there was old Dharmakarta to look after.

Ramanna stayed back. He was happy once again in his new life in the old world.

Ramanna married and had a daughter and a son. He married off his daughter when she was eleven and put his son in the town school.

When Dharmakarta died, his son could not come for the cremation. “Perform all the rites on my behalf since you were no less than his son. Since my family has decided to settle down here, I will transfer all land and property to you name whenever I come to Srirampuram,” he told Ramanna over the long distance call.
Ramanna tilled the temple land for his survival and used the temple offerings strictly for its upkeep.

Things but took an unexpected ugly turn for Ramanna. Dharmakarta’s daughter staked a claim over the property and filed a suit in the court blaming Ramanna to have usurped her father’s property. Ramanna could not bear the allegation made against him and quit the service of the Dharmakarta family and the temple. What a reward after his mother and for that matter he himself had served the Dharmakarta family and the temple for so many years? But there was no animus in his heart against anyone. He used his skills to make a small house for his family and started practicing as multipurpose artisan.

Ramanna was no longer young now though he was strong and healthy despite his fifty years. He still worked hard and he served the temple with same enthusiasm and dedication.

Ramanna’s son Saraswathi Chandran was very bright. Ramanna had named his son after his mother whose name was Saraswathi. Young Sara was doing very well and Ramanna was proud of his son and he was proud when people called him for his services and praised his craftsmanship.

Sara didn't belie the hopes of his father. He secured high marks in the examination and wanted to join an engineering college. Ramanna was diffident because of his weak financial position. He would have been much happier if his son had taken a job to help him in his old age.

Sara was a determined lad. He consulted his teachers who advised him to get a backward class birth certificate, which would qualify him for a scholarship to take him through.
"Try it out. Everyone knows that your father is a mason."

Sara was pragmatic, unlike his father. He made an application duly attested by dozen of his neighbours and submitted it to the Town Munsif Office. He was sure of getting the required certificate.

Day after day, young Sara went to the Munsif’s Office but there were no signs of his getting the desired certificate. He met every functionary in that office pleading them to help him out. He reminded them of the work his father had done in their houses on several occasions and promised them of the future help as well.

There appeared a ray of hope when an official from Munsif’s office told him that the certificate will be given to him after verification by the Munsif himself. Sara was delighted for everyone in knew the fact. Sara was the son of Ramanna, the mason.

"Yes, Yes. You are the son of Ramanna, the son of a mason. But what is the origin of Ramanna?" the Munsif asked Sara.
How could Sara reply to such a question?

It was therefore for Ramanna to establish his origin. Whose son was he? He knew his mother's name only and that he lived in the house of the Dharmakarta. Whose son was he? He could say nothing?

"We know your mother was in the employment of Dharmakarta and no one knows the whereabouts of your father. How is it that you were till recently tilling Dharmakarta’s land? Why did Dharmakarta ask you to stay back in Srirampuram after you had settled in Vishakhapatnam?
Ramanna had no answers to these questions.
The Munsif continued, “You picked up the skills of a mason which is not enough proof that you belong to the caste of masons. On the contrary there is enough evidence to link you to the Dharmakarta family. I am afraid, under such circumstances your son cannot be given the backward class birth certificate," announced the Munsif.

Young Sara was crestfallen. No one has seen him after Munsif’s fateful verdict.
Old Ramanna is remorseful but hopes his son will return one day to Srirampuram as a successful man based on his own merit sans the divisive birth certificate.