written by Indira Dangi
Translated by Ravi Shanker Kapoor
...To be 100 percent honest is like being God.
The sun is losing vigor as watches show 4 o’clock. Back to their shacks, maids are busy in their daily chores… cloth and dish washing. A few idle men are smoking bidis. Kids, wrapped in rags, are playing, fighting, and abusing each other. The regular hawker is shouting: “Bangles, bindis, utensils, toys. Buy bangles, bindis, utensils, toys.”
This causes a buzz among women and children. From the dirty urchins to their working class mothers, there was a sudden sparkle on everybody’s face. The hawker’s cart is decked like a bride. Beautiful clips for Rs 10 per pair; bindis shining like diamonds for Rs 5 per strip; plastic dolls—Rs 10 each; lar that can pass off as gold—just 20 bucks; only Rs 5 for tea filter; but not less than Rs 25 for well-polished kundan earrings. There is so much to buy—steel bowls, real-looking parrots, lipstick, nail polish, tops, pendants, perfumes. What good stuff, and how reasonably priced! The women who struggle to make ends meet are buying stuff spending even Rs 50.
Kanti’s elder son, Rahul, wants the Ben-ten watch. “Rs 25,” the hawker said.
“Rs 25? Make it 15, brother.”
“Not possible, sister. I get only Rs 1-2 per item. If even that is not there, what do I earn?”
Kanti does not buy the watch for her son. Grimacing, she wants to divert his attention from toy. Dragging him to home, she says, “When I get my salary at the end of the month, I’ll buy you the real watch from New Market. This is phony—cheap plastic.”
Inside, her daughter, the five-year-old Aditi, is reading a book. The mother’s heart swells with pride; a ray of hope illuminates her being. The dream of a better future is in front of her eyes… talent excels right in the beginning.
But she is not unmindful of her son’s obstinacy. She starts dish washing. She deposits cleaned-up utensils in one corner of the hut. Then she picks up a couple of 15-litre buckets to fetch water from the nearby hand pump.
Just outside her shack, she stops, stunned. There was a long strip of… butterfly clips. Twenty pairs of them! That is, the total cost of Rs 200—her one-month income from one house for a chore—Rs 200 for dish washing, Rs 200 for cleaning. The money that she gets from a house after washing all utensils is in sight—in the form of clips. Lovely, colorful clips on golden metal. She is surprised: how come that nobody could see it despite the fact that the hawker left the place 10 minutes back. The people who would fight over everything—cow dung, stones, scrap—haven’t even seen it! Life, after all, is full of beastliness over here.
What to do with the clips? Thinking of this, she looked around. Some women were busy in household work. Others were rubbing geru earth to cleanse themselves. Still others were washing clothes. The same chores, full of drudgery. The same animal existence… rising above which one becomes human.
Kanti thinks about her daughter; for her, Aditi is not an offspring but a big dream. There is a huge statue of Indira Gandhi at the State Bank square: the dream called Aditi is that big. Kanti does not share her thoughts with anybody around—illiterate idiots all, what would they know about the gem that her offspring is! The uneducated woman thinks again; almost every day she could see that statue from the apartment flat she works in. She knows a little about the subject of the statue; she has brought fame to her father in the country as also in the world.
Aditi studies in a private English school. Last year, as per a government rule, she got selected in a lottery to be admitted to the school. Kanti’s employer lady told her that she was fortunate, for it is a reputed school; it takes almost a day to even get the admission form from the school. While tuition and bus fees, etc., are taken care by government, the expenses related to arts, craft, swimming, and so on require a good sum. To meet these expenses, Kanti took work in a couple of bungalows—cleaning, dusting, dish washing. All this for her dream, for Aditi. Kanti wanted to keep her dream in a sanctum, a sanctum that was insulated from her drudgery, deficiencies, even the small blessings she could boast of.
Before proceeding towards the hand pump, she looks at Aditi. She is still reading, while Rahul is gathering stones and ball for his game; he is running out of the shack. The contrasting activities of both children are sorta making announcements about their future… ‘let it be written, let it be done.’
Kanti marches ahead with his buckets. Riddhi is crying in the nearby hut; her mother could not buy her the clip matching her school uniform from the hawker. “O Riddhi, come here,” Kanti says with affection. “Look, is this the clip that you wanted?”
A couple of clips make Riddhi’s face blossom like a small, weak flower—and its fragrance apparently travels inside the shack. Her mother comes out at one, amid washing clothes; her hands still smell of detergent and toil. She smiles: “Please come sister. Have a cup of tea.”
Kanti knows that there would be neither milk nor sugar. The little Riddhi drinks a concoction made of jiggery and black tea outside the home.
“Not today. Got a lot of work. Some other day.” Both laugh. A poor woman ensures that the honor of another didn’t get hurt.
“Riddhi, O Riddhi? Whom is your mom gossiping with?” The voice of a drunkard. Riddhi’s father is sozzled; before it could rise, her mother gets into the shack. Unaware of the subtle change in the surroundings, Riddhi happily watches the clips.
Moving ahead, Kanti just looks back. How difficult life is in this locality! Those who can overcome are Riddhi, and others… just crap.
A little ahead is the Prema Bai’s shack. There is little ‘prem’ (love) in her life. Her family has come here two months ago from a remote village. A drug addict husband, a jinn-like wife, five emaciated daughters and a son—the youngest child, a small, dark, always cranky boy who was in the lap of one daughter or another. When they came here, they were filthily poor—tattered clothes were to fall, all kids were hungry. Such hunger was beyond compassion; it was violent; it could make one kill or get killed. Kanti gives two pairs of clips to each of the children, but their faces don’t know how to show gratitude. Each is watching if anybody else got more!
Sitting at the threshold of her house, Prema is watching everything. She says, “You are distributing so many clips, sister, which of your prayers have been answered? It’s good anyway. At least for some time, they won’t pester me. My head is about to burst today.”
“Why do you work so much? After all, body has its limits”
“There is no work, sister, no work. Today I again lost one.”
“The lady run away with her paramour. The husband say, me need no maid. I say, clear my account. He say, come tomorrow. Have to make four-six rounds. He come evening. Can’t go there alone. I tell my husband to accompany me, but he don’t listen.”
Prema has tightly tied a strap around her head—how painful is the remedy of pain!
Kanti goes her way. She thinks why she didn’t answer Prema’s first question. What right does she have to give away somebody else’s merchandise so generously? And even if she is doing it, why not honestly? Is it her munificence or the lust for popularity?
The last question rattled her heart at her dishonesty. To be 100 per cent honest is like being God. But this day, this time, this moment she experiences the budding of a luminescent pearl within her being. How familiar is the darkness within! And how unfamiliar is the luminosity! How happy she is! Whoever she meets in her way, she gives them the clips. And whenever questioned about her generosity, she honestly replies, “I got them on road.”
The last pair she gives to the child in the arms of the disheveled maid. In the small hands of the girl, the butterflies of clips became alive. Kanti felt so much happiness! The happiness that the bee feels after converting pollen into honey.
While returning home, she sees little girls flitting around with pretty butterflies in their hair. She sees them as little princesses whose clips are their crowns. Only if she could bring light to the entire locality! Every home could have the kind of food that is presented to gods in temples! Every person with garments that not just cover the body but also embellish the persona! Every maid smiling! Every man happy with wife and kids! Her shanty, that she loves so much, would become a neat and clean residential colony, the one befitting for human dwelling!
Carrying the buckets, she enters her shack and catches her breath. Aditi has complete her lessons and is putting her books and copies in her schoolbag. Kanti thinks that when Aditi becomes somebody, like that statue, she would tell her about her today’s imagination.
While serving dinner to her husband, she narrated the entire incident. The tired man says, with some sadness, “You could have kept the strip for your daughter. Would have served her for years.”
“Not for her. I’ll buy Aditi adornments from the shop, from New Market.”
Her son Rahul smiled. She has one promise for everything that she can’t get for her children—New Market.
On makeshift bed, she says, “But that hawker would also be a poor man like us. Had we brought the stuff home, it would have been theft. Why should we steal? What do you say, Rahul’s father?”
Her husband doesn’t reply; he had slept, as evident from his sound breathing.
Kanti takes an old pillow and covers herself with a sheet.
...How fulfilling her sleep is!!
writer’s address :
Near khedapati Hanuman mandir
LAUKHEDI, Airport road
Bhopal (M.P.) 462030 INDIA 9109681599 8109352499
Author Notes: it is a Hindi Story translated in English .