Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Circle - part 2

Rajni quickly made 2 chapatis for Raju who devoured them and then fell into a dreamless sleep. By then, she had made more chapatis for her girls and kept them in a metal container by the fireside. The sun was rising as she tidied herself up the best she could and made her way to the first house where she went everyday to do the top work (sweeping, cleaning and washing soiled utensils).

She was a very hard-working by nature and her present circumstances had nothing to do with it. Her up-bringing was in a poor family living in the interiors of rural Tamil Nadu and she was used to an early start and hard labour in the sun. Her family though not well off had been self sufficient enough to not lack for anything. A very bad drought had rudely brought them down and left them on the proverbial streets. By then, Rajni was already married and her husband, though a gem of a person was not born with a silver spoon himself. His contracting throat cancer due to constant chewing of tobacco and his death soon after saw Rajni bereft and in town looking for work to support herself and 3 kids.

Rajni reach the first of the 3 houses she worked at 7 am sharp. The owners were a young married couple with a 4-year old kid, both of whom worked in multi-national companies. They’re mornings were a blur as they rushed about the house getting ready to first drop their kid at the crèche and then get to work on to time to start off another power-packed day.

As usual, Rajni went about her work with the practiced efficiency she carried wherever she worked. Today she was in a very good mood with the unexpected windfall in her family fortunes and was humming as she started swabbing the floor. She could hear the man of the house as he shaved with his electric razor while his wife finished her shower. She had just about finished the master bedroom when she noticed that Piya, the 4-year old who was usually fast asleep was not in her bed. She looked around wildly and saw that the French windows leading to the balcony were wide open.

Startled, Rajni ran to the balcony and saw that Piya had climbed on to the balcony railing and was straining to look at the pigeon which had alighted on the sewage pipe leading downwards. Another inch and……. Rajni leapt at that very instant and held on to Piya’s pajama top just when she was tipping over the edge. Her grasp tightened then and both Piya and Rajni collapsed onto the balcony floor shivering with fright. By then Piya was bawling and hanging onto Rajni’s neck.

Both Shyam and Sunita came rushing to the spot hearing their daughter’s wails. They gauged the situation in an instant and while Shyam took Piya into his arms, Sunita held a hand out to Rajni to help her up. No words were needed at the moment. The situation was amply clear and the look of gratitude that reflected in Sunita’s eyes was not lost on Rajni.

While Shyam tended to their daughter and got her ready, Sunita started to give Rajni money in return for her deed but she declined. “I have children too, memsaab. I know how I would feel if something had happened to my Raju.” Both mothers had tears in their eyes but these were of happiness.

Rajni soon left for her next place of work and Sunita told Shyam she had decided to sponsor at least one of Rajni’s children’s education for life. That was after all the least she could do...

To be continued....

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Circle

It was a dark night. With a strong drizzle that threatened to transform into a heavy shower – one that characterizes Mumbai every July now. Sumant sighed and stepped out into the rain pulling his wind cheater tighter around him knowing that it was futile and that he was going to be drenched by the time he got home.

The worst part was that his home was so close to office that no rickshawalla would agree to go there. As Sumant walked along the deserted sidewalk, his thoughts were all on what happened at work today. While he always knew his boss, Priya did not like him, he had not realized how deep the dislike ran. He wondered how it had come to this and also what he had actually done to bring about this rift.

The previous 2 months had not been good for him professionally with 2 of his plum orders going to their competitor. While neither Priya nor he knew how this had happened, the entire thing had created a major misunderstanding between them with blame being traded from both sides. Now today, Sumant had learnt that he had lost yet another client to the same competitor. This was the last straw!

Tomorrow, as he well knew, Priya would surely have a so called “we need to talk” kind of meeting with him. For all he knew, he might as well start looking out for a new job. Things couldn’t possibly be worse!

In his reverie, Sumant hadn’t realized he had forgotten to take a left turn off the main road. Cursing, he was about to turn back when he saw a light burning ahead. He knew it came from a small chai shop which served piping hot tea all night long. Suddenly, a nice cup of tea seemed like a good idea as he was anyway close to the stall.

He quickly walked the remaining few yards and ducked under the low shanty roof. He had barely sat himself down on the rough wooden bench when he felt a small hand take his and tug on it. Sumant looked down to see a small boy, maybe 6 years old, wearing a tattered old school shirt 2 sizes too big for him and dark shorts. In response to Sumant’s raised brow, the boy pointed to the big oil lamp kept on the bench at the opposite side. Perplexed, Sumant looked at the tea stall owner for an explanation and that’s when he realized that the little boy was only asking him to sit closer to the lamp so he could warm himself.

He slowly crossed over and sat down cupping the hot cup of chai in his palms. Taking his first sip, he looked at the boy again and saw that he was still staring at him in an amused manner. Something gave way and Sumant felt his lips finally crack into a smile not being able to resist the boy’s enthusiasm. That’s when the tea stall owner told him, the little boy was deaf and dumb.


The little boy was called Raju by whoever knew him. They knew he lived in a hovel somewhere off the main road where the tea stall was but no one knew where exactly. He appeared at the tea stall everyday without fail and assisted customers to find a place to sit, cleaned used glasses and ran small errands. For his efforts, the tea stall owner paid him twenty to thirty rupees depending on the day’s business.

It was now 4 am and the rain had abated a little. Raju left the tea stall and skipped his way home. His “home” was in an abandoned construction site amidst decaying piles of bricks and dripping half built pillars. He lived with his mother and 2 sisters and they had made their home in one corner of this huge derelict. He reached home and saw his sisters fast asleep covered by the one tattered quilt they used. They were very protective about him, as he was the youngest. They spent most of the evening and night winding fresh flowers they bought from the wholesale market into small garlands which they sold to the flower stall at a nearby temple and were tired out as usual.

He saw a glow emanating from somewhere behind them and knew his mother must be heating a small pot of water over the fire she had built painstakingly using bits or paper and some dried twigs that was scattered over the site.

Raju entered and went straight to his amma, as he thought of her. Amma looked up and saw her little son dripping from the rain. She pulled him into the warm circle created by the little flames she had managed to generate and used her saree pallu to try and wipe his locks dry.

Right about now would be the time that he would put his hand into his pocket and give her the little money the tea stall owner gave him with a small face, knowing that it wouldn’t make too much difference to their day. Here he was delving into his pocket for the two or three notes he would hand over to her and here his hand came out with a………a hundred rupee note accompanied by three ten rupee notes??!!

She looked at Raju and she now noticed the difference – today his features were lit by a brilliant and happy smile.

To be continued...

Monday, April 11, 2011

What Then?

It was 2:15 pm and he finally decided to get some lunch. It was a departure from his usual routine – he almost always carried food from home unless there were advance plans made to have lunch out of office.

Last night, for some reason, he did not feel like it and so told the maid to not pack lunch for him and that he would eat out. But now, lunchtime was already past and he was still not feeling too hungry. But he had to eat so here he was walking towards the elevators.

Just below his office building was a sidewalk lining the main express highway which passed through his city and ever since these office buildings had come up, this sidewalk was crammed with small eateries selling all the possible street food you could think of. Sandwiches, scrambled eggs, road-side Chinese food, South Indian snacks, butter-milk, fresh fruit juices, coconut water, tea – you name it and it was available in some shape or form!

When he stepped out of the building, he was hit by a blast of hot air just like it would be in a furnace. It must be close to 40 degrees, he thought, and loosened his tie. To top that up the length of the sidewalk on the highway side was being dug up for laying some underground cables and this was adding to the discomfort in terms of fine dust layering every possible surface and every breath people took.

He walked carefully, picking his way amidst the big and small rubble lying all around and climbed onto the sidewalk heading towards the sandwich stall he usually patronized, if ever. When he reached it, he realized that was hardly any place to stand, seeing that the stall itself covered most of the available space and the huge mound of dug up earth and stones blocked his way on the other side.

He ordered his sandwich and stood to a side while it was being made looking at the work going on. The other side of the piled up earth was taken up by an enormous pit, in which huge black metal pipes had been laid. His sandwich was now ready and after layering it with ketchup, he settled back to eat it. That’s when he noticed them.

The labourers who were digging out the mud and stones from the pit had also taken their break to eat lunch and were sitting on top of the mud pile they had made. From where he was standing he could see a father, mother and 3 kids, none of who was above 5 years. They were eating a little rice and some daal that was kept in an old newspaper. The couple had made 2 small piles of rice, one for themselves and one for the kids and they were partaking of it together.

He saw that both parents were covered with dust and sweat was falling off their brow in constant streams. Their meal hardly took any time and the parents immediately lay down on a small length of cloth for a brief siesta before their next back-breaking session.

The 3 kids were now left to their own devices and the oldest and the next oldest, both boys started playing in the mud with a piece of string. The youngest was a girl, not older than three years old. All of them were wearing clothes a little too small for them and those too were torn and frayed. The baby girl was caked in wet mud all over and had snot running down her nose. She continued to roll in the mud and as he watched, the oldest kid deftly reached out clutched her little ankle preventing her fall on top of the pipe in the pit.

The scene hit him hard; he was father to a 2-year old girl himself and he knew very well the emotions that go through a parent regarding the well being of their own flesh and blood. He and his loving wife had sit through nights when their little one had high fever feeling helpless about not being able to do anything to bring down the temperature in spite of being so well to do. He had gut-wrenching experiences when she fell on her knees in her constant quest to explore the world around and reach places where she was not supposed to be.

He had just seen how these hard working labourers had fed their three children and even then were hard up to make sure that it was a satisfying meal. They didn’t even know where their next meal would be coming from – their parents were day-wage workers and lived from day to day though they were honest and resourceful. But he could see the expressions of these children surrounded by the mud and squalor; they were peaceful faces, faces which retained a winning smile along with everything, in spite of everything.

Again he was overcome with the same helpless feeling when he looked at the baby girl on the heap of mud with her two older brothers forming a protective circle around her even as they played. Looking away, he ordered for a bunch of sandwiches to be packed up. Paying for them and taking the plastic carry bag with the sandwiches, he climbed up the mound where the parents lay in the deep slumber of the exhausted. He gently placed the bag next to them. Then he dipped into his wallet and found three hundred rupee notes, which was all he had at that point, folded them and tucked them into the bag. He knew that the oldest boy had noticed and he gestured to him to make sure the bag was safe.

He quickly walked away towards the office building but couldn’t resist looking back one last time. His last view was of the three children sitting together and smiling at something the little one had done. He might have made that one day for that family. But what then……..?????????

What can we do to alleviate the situation for thousands of such families who are essentially honest, hard-working but are nomadic in nature and live on day-to-day labour as and when they get some work. One time help rendered by the protaganist above may serve to bring about a brief respite for these people as also reduce the guilt people like us might feel when we witness such moments - but in the long run, is but a drop in the ocean.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Books I own, but have not read.....

Not a very impressive way of reviving my blog, I must admit. But at the same time, cataloguing the books I own has been such an enjoyable activity that I couldn't resist this!

I've always thought myself to be a very avid reader (in fact, I still think that) but I just realized that I'm just as avid a book collector. I just cannot enter a bookstore and leave without having loosened my purse strings just that little bit. This has made me very wary of being in the vicinity of one off late considering that my financial status post doing up my home has sadly dwindled. S and me often dream of that day when we both can just enter Crossword or Landmark or and pick up books we want to without even thinking of their prices. Sigh.......

Anyway, coming back to the matter I am writing this post for, my finished catalog tells me that I own at least 93 books which I have not yet read!!! 93!! Can you beat that? Am not very happy about it but at least now I have a defined "to read" list.

Yes, you got that right - if you have managed to read this post till this point, you are going to be subjected to going through the list of 93 books that Sachin owns but has not yet read. So here goes:

The Complete Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Adams, Douglas

The Eleventh Commandment by Archer, Jeffrey

Paths of Glory by Archer, Jeffrey

The Mammoth Book of Dickensian Whodunits by Ashley, Mike

The Mammoth Book of Fantasy by Ashley, Mike

Jonathon Livingston Seagull by Bach, Richard

Split Second by Baldacci, David

The Slayer of Kamsa by Banker, Ashok

The Japanese Wife by Basu, Kunal

The 3 Mistakes of my Life by Bhagat, Chetan

If I am Assassinated by Bhutto, Zulfikar Ali

The Best of Ruskin Bond by Bond, Ruskin

Carpet Sahib by Booth, Martin

Mirror Image by Brown, Sandra

Command the Morning by Buck, Pearl S.

The Power of Creative Intelligence by Buzan, Tony

How to Mind Map by Buzan, Tony

Witness for the Prosecution & Selected Plays by Christie, Agatha

The Mirror crack'd from Side to Side by Christie, Agatha

Partners in Crime by Christie, Agatha

I'll Be Seeing You by Clark, Mary Higgins

No Place Like Home by Clark, Mary Higgins

The Darkest Fear by Cohen, Harlan

The Second Jim Corbett Omnibus by Corbett, Jim

Postmortem by Cornwell, Patricia

Cause of Death by Cornwell, Patricia

Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed by Cornwell, Patricia

Gorky Park + Nightwing by Cruz, Martin Smith

The Best of Roald Dahl by Dahl, Roald

The Snow Leopard Adventure by Dalal, Deepak

Great Expectations by Dickens, Charles

Other Challenger Stories by Doyle, Arthur Conan

The Maracott Deep by Doyle, Arthur Conan

Mill on the Floss by Eliot, George

Banker by Francis, Dick

The Diary of a Young Girl by Frank, Anne

The Case of the Careless Kitten by Gardner, Erle Stanley

Blink by Gladwell, Malcolm

Lord of the Flies by Golding, William

Stone of Tears by Goodkind, Terry

Blood of the Fold by Goodkind, Terry

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by Gray, John

Classic Mystery Stories by Greene

Shyam (in Marathi) by Guruji, Sane

A Spot of Bother by Haddon, Mark

King Solomon's Mines by Haggard, H. Rider

Airport by Hailey, Arthur

A Second Chance at Eden by Hamilton, Peter F.

Hannibal by Harris, Thomas

Catch 22 by Heller, Joseph

The Dash to Khartoum by Henry, G A

Most Wanted - The First Line Up by Hitchcock, Alfred

It by King, Stephen

Duma Key by King, Stephen

Indian Stories by Kipling, Rudyard

Oh Shit Not Again by Kokate, Mandar

The Prophecy by Kuzneski, Chris

The Arraignment by Martini, Steve

The Best Short Stories by Maupassant, Guy de

Twilight by Meyer, Stephanie

Caribbean by Michener, James

Hawaii by Michener, James

Lore & Legends of Kerala by Narayanan, T C

An Outline of American History by Olson, Prof. Keith W.

Jaya, an illustrated reading of the Mahabharata by Pattanaik, Devadutta

The Complete Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe by Poe, Edgar Allan

Fools Die by Puzo, Mario

The New Army by Ranjan, Rajiva

Shriman Yogi (in Marathi) by Ranjit Desai

The Complete Adventures of Feluda by Ray, Satyajit

Midnight's Children by Rushdie, Salman

A Situation in New Delhi by Sahgal, Nayantara

Hauntings by Samanta, Suchitra

The Rozabal Line by Sanghi, Ashwin

The Last Song of Dusk by Sanghvi, Siddharth Dhanvant

Shivaji and his Times by Sarkar, Jadunath

FIELD by Sathe, Rajiv & Shenoy, Vinayak

Airport 77 by Scheff, Michael & Spector, David

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare by Shakespeare, William

Gold Mine + Monsoon by Smith, Wilbur

The Amulet of Samarkand by Stroud, Jonathon

Golem's Eye by Stroud, Jonathon

Ptolemy's Gate by Stroud, Jonathon

ET Traveller - 101 best holidays this season by Timesgroup

Unfinished Tales by Tolkien, JRR

Sigurd & Gudrun by Tolkien, JRR

Great Sea Stories by Various Authors

Great Short Stories by Various Authors

The Mysterious Island by Verne, Jules

Conversations with God - Book 1 by Walsch, Neale Donald

Conversations with God - Book 2 by Walsch, Neale Donald

Pappillon by Charriere, Henri

Yes, before anybody tells me, I do know that this is a completely assorted set of tomes and there is no real reason I've not read them. Enough said - hopefully next time I'll be able to post a few reviews of some of the better ones amongst these. I am back! :)

P.S. Just so you know, currently am reading "Unfinished Tales" by JRR Tolkien....