Ganga had come late to school today also. The teacher chided her for being late every now and then. She was late most of the days in a month, let alone some days when she was absent. The only municipal school that stood at the periphery of the village had an assortment of pupils drawn from various walks of life from the village residents.
Little did the teacher know that Ganga’s day started at 4 in the morning. She had to supply milk from Lalchand Seth’s diary to around 25 households which used to get over by 5:30 and go to Ratan Seth’s house to wash and clean the dishes.
Today the teacher had had enough and decided to give the punishment to the little girl. As she stretched out our hands for the cane to land, the teacher’s eyes fell upon the marks on the hands. It was full of cuts and bruises. When asked what had happened, Ganga preferred to remain silent. She escaped the beating this time, but will have to sit outside the class for 2 hours as punishment. As she sat outside, her eyes fell on the chirping sparrows playing in the sand and the parrots flying to some far off land. If only, I was one among them, she wondered as she shielded her eyes from the hot Sun making his presence felt.
Bala is standing beside the road with an assortment of guavas and oranges. Like his elder brother Shiva he is also a bread winner for his family, berefit of their father, and with 2 more siblings and an ailing mother to support. Both of them are out all the time selling wares. In the case of Shiva he has a make shift stall outside the main market that he uses to sell bangles, beaded chains and all such items.
Bala used to buy 5 kilos of guavas and oranges and walk another 2 kilometers to a vantage scenic spot on the highway so that he could sell them to people or tourists frequenting the place. There were lucky days, when before reaching the spot, his goods would have been sold on the road itself. Bala had gone to school till his 4th standard and after that what ever knowledge he had gained in the last 5 years was from these very tourists; He had picked up a bit of few languages at least that came handy in negotiating during the purchase or the haggling saga. There were days when very few people picked his wares or gave him a decent money in return for them. Today was a hot summer day and there were not many people who even cared to look at him, let alone his fruit basket.
Rakesh was enjoying his vacation as his summer holidays had started a few days back. He along with his family is on the way to Nasik and planned to visit places that they had skipped in their visit last year. On the way, they saw some tourists have disembarked from the magnificent vehicles to see an attractive waterfall.
They also stop to get down to take pictures, selfies with all backgrounds possible. At this time, a boy of 12 approaches them. “Saab, madam, Peru, Santra lo na; yeh bahut sast hai, saab ” in a pleading voice (translation: Sir..please buy these fruits Peru(Guava) Santra(orange), these are very cheap). Rakesh looks at the boy aged same as him, he appears shabby and sun burnt. The boy is watching him with awe and wants him to negotiate the sale with his parents. No no, the father says, we have enough food and fruits stocked in our car, no point in buying from this boy, don’t even know from where he has plucked all these.
The large guavas, for Rakesh, seemed inviting as also the boy’s eyes but his pleas fell on deaf ears and he had to get into his car that was raring to go with his parents. But before getting in, he waved back to the dark boy with his basket of fruits who was still looking at him with one hand shielding himself from the afternoon Sun.
While speeding through, in the cool comfort of his Innova car, that was now negotiating a hump, his eyes fell on a girl sitting outside a small school veranda near to the road. Pointing to her, he nudges his father. Why is she sitting outside father? He curiously asked. “Maybe she hasn’t done her homework before coming to school ” was the quick reply..” Put the blinds on son for the sun is really hitting us even through the tinted glass”.
Charlie, came into our lives the same month I got married. He was just 2 weeks old when one of my relations handed him over to us and he adapted to his life with the new surroundings. There was our Tom cat whom we used to call Mani with us for the last 2 years before the little dog arrived.
Initially Charlie used to play with Mani, but somehow the cat was not very amused to see the attention getting diverted to the new visitor. Once he tried to put his paw at Charlie, and from thereon the dog was careful in his interaction with Mani. Mani as tom cats do, slowly used to disappear and would come back once a week and thereafter his frequency decreased to a month and then he never came back again.
Within leaps and bounds, in a matter of a year Charlie grew up and was seen in almost all corners of our one acre land. You could see him smelling something at one corner, and the next minute he would be standing just next to you. He was a dog seen in all places within the well defined boundary walls of the compound that had a pond and many palm and arecanut trees and a few cashew and jack fruit trees.
When we used to call him, he used to run across to us in a fluid motion with his mane flowing. Most of the time he would collide with me as he rarely could bring himself to a complete halt.One of our past time was me putting my hand in his mouth an he trying to bite playfully with the right amount of pressure applied.
In the initial stages, he loved to take a bath especially in the summer days, but as he aged, it was a bit difficult to entice him for the bath. Sometimes he would run away before the first cup of water was poured over him, and sometimes he would vanish after the soap was put all over. But somehow I would manage to grapple with him and bring him back to the bath stand and because of the love he would stand still and take the bath, maybe, because he did not want to hurt me or any person in the family, who was trying to clean him.
In the night, he was left to roam the compound and during the day, he was sent to his kennel, the only way to entice him to it, was to either bring his breakfast or his lunch. He would run from wherever he was, the moment he heard the sound of his steel container, as that meant, his food was ready.
Dogs rarely like anybody touching their plate, once it is handed over to them, and this was true with Charlie too, as he would growl and show his teeth, if your hand went anywhere near his tiffin once he had started eating.
Dogs also know who is the real master of the house, and that way, he first respected my father and mother and then us in that order.
He was vaccinated only twice in his entire life of 13 years with us. Once I remember, I had to close his barking mouth, since he was not very keen to get the injection the first time when he was around 1 year old. But I could see the trust in his eyes, as I closed his jaw, saying silently to me, “I am not bothered what the doc does to me, as long as you are close to me and wish me well”.
The pond in the compound would see him standing at the edge and looking into it, maybe looking at the tortoise or the fish that used to come near the edge. He rarely was engrossed for long in any particular thing and would move on to the next thing that interested him.
While my father watered the plants and the palm trees, he would run around or stay around, but would rush with great speed towards the gate, the moment he heard someone touching the latch on our gate. That way we used to keep our gate closed and had to take him to his kennel before letting our guests in.
Since he was seen strolling freely most of the afternoon times especially in the summer, all visitors would call out to us at the gate just to make sure that Charlie was not anywhere near.
One day, I remember, I came home late in the night, and my parents had locked the gate as I had told them, I will be sleeping at the office and be coming in the morning. As I came near the gate, Charlie made those funny squeaky noise especially when he spotted a loved one. But I wanted him to bark at me, so that my father would be alerted. But he just lingered for a few moments and vanished and finally I had to climb over and jump into our compound. I was a bit worried though, as to how he would react to me scaling and jumping over. But then, he had disappeared into the darkness..
After the first few years, myself and my family moved to the middle east and would see him only once in a year, and you could see the joy as he saw us when ever we came back. Leaving him after the vacation was heart wrenching for me, as was to the whole family.
My parents took good care of him, and he turned out to be their second son in my absence and mother would say to me, “taking care of him, sometimes would neutralize your absence “. The last years, was not good for him, as my parents had to leave him alone at the house with the care taker coming twice a day to feed him. The absence of his loved ones for one month or so in the last 2 years left him a bit gloomy and depressed. Though I came back, 2 years before he breathed his last, because of relocation to the city, my visits to him also went down.
My parents had gone to meet my sister and during that time, he contracted some illness and stopped eating for 2 days, and on the third day, I reached and gave him medicine to help him recover from his ailment. He was also running a fever. I knew he was going through his last moments. Dad arrived that evening without my mother as she planned to stay for a few more weeks at my sister’s place.
Dad gave him some food in the evening which he took, he must have been really overjoyed to see him back, the master of the house, despite his illness and happy that he could rest in peace. That very day, during the night he passed away leaving a vacuum in our lives. My mother was really sad but in a way consoled herself that she was not there, as it would have been heart breaking for her.
It has been around 5 years since he left us, but to us, he was, a great pet and shall ever remain etched in our memory till the very last…
This story goes back to my school days in Bombay, now Mumbai, where I grew up. The 4 storeyed building where we stayed had around 72 tenants. Each tenant had a home of 450 square feet that included a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom.The ground floor had an assortment of shops that had 2 laundry shops, 2 clinics, 3 groceries, a tailor, a medical shop, a co-operative bank, classrooms of a school and now to the central character of this story, the civil supplies ration shop.
The locality spread across roughly 30 plus acres was called Abhyudaya Nagar which had around 45 such buildings, and also had the Kalachowky police station quarters opposite our building. The nearest railway station was Cotton green. To serve these tenants, around 3000 and amounting to an average of 15000 people, we had 6 or 7 such ration shops in the locality.
Since this particular ration shop was in our building, in my running around the building during play time and my weekly visits to buy our monthly ration of rice, sugar, kerosene and sometimes wheat, I became friendly with the owner of the shop, who also acted as the cashier. His job was to check the ration card, similar to a bank’s savings pass book and give out necessary receipts after collecting the payment. There was another person to help him dole out the ration to the customers as they came in whenever any or all of the above mentioned commodities was made available.
The wheat, sugar and rice came in jute gunny bags on lorries or trucks. Kerosene used to come to these shops on bullock carts from the nearby Sewri Indian Oil godowns at a distance of 3 kms. A 500 litre tank was drawn by one bullock, and sometimes the 1000 litre tank that made its appearance to these shops were drawn by 2 bullocks. In those days, the rationing for kerosene, priced at 1.20 INR per litre, was anything from 20 litres for a small family for a month or more based on the number of members listed on the ration card.
Since kerosene was a scarce commodity and strictly available only in ration shops during the early late seventies and early eighties, people used to flock to these shops in great numbers whenever such carts made their visits to the shops. At such occasions, during my playtime that would start at 3 pm to 5:30 pm, I sometimes used to volunteer for support to give the grains and sugar to such customers, since the only man was busy managing to give kerosene and grains at the same time. The shopkeeper liked me coming, since as I was known to him, and did not mind me helping him and thereby increasing the throughput and reducing the waiting time of customers in the queue.
I never went every day, as I could now remember but made it a habit of chipping in only when the kerosene carts came and when the queue was more than 15 to 20 people. Some people especially ones from my building was only too glad to see me serving them. There was one occasion when an old woman from the police quarters who blessed me saying, “Son, you will be never be want of food in your life for what ever help you are rendering to us”. It was during those formative years that I learnt my initial customer service and support lessons.
Once, during my 9th standard, these consortium of such 6 or 7 ration shops decided to bring a lottery scheme for all the ration card holders in this area, and the shop owners went to each and every home and sold lottery tickets which had the first prize as black and white television and other prizes which I do not remember. During those times, since color televisions had not appeared, the black and white one costed as much as 5000 INR, a costly luxury item for most of the people. They came to my house and our shop owner asked my mother to buy at least 10 tickets each costing 2 INR to which she obliged, since she did not want to upset either him or me who was present at that time. 2 rupees itself was a big amount in those days, because you could buy a kilogram of sugar or rice or wheat at that time.
The day of the prize came, and I had memorized the lottery series numbers which we had bought. That day however I forgot all about it and after school, I went out to play cricket. The shopkeepers were going to each and every building and announcing the prize winning numbers on a loud speaker and when they came to our building and announced, was I glad to hear that we had won the first prize…
All of us are walking on the road that leads us to our final destination. This is the path that everyone takes in their life and which no one can shun. All get pushed on to this road and walk they have to. Experiences that we gather get tagged as luggage on to us. Some are good whereas some are bad and others best to be forgotten.
These experiences and memories cannot be discarded as each event and action gets etched, some on your body and others most in memory. We get our family members to walk with us in this journey of life where some leave us soon and others stick on till the very end.
Friends come in from different directions as they meet us in their journeys. Some give you company and lighten the travails of the travel. There are others who confront you with negative motives and who are best to be avoided but not everyone can, as some are forced upon you that leaves you weak and tired to continue the arduous path ahead. The journey is long for some who grumble about it and short for others who enjoy the travel.
The sun, the wind and other elements play their parts when they cross your paths daily as you walk ahead not knowing what is in store for you, a journey where the destination marks the culmination of a life well spent or best forgotten…
There never was and never will be
any one dear to me as you were
but it took long years to know it
now that you are no more with me
How will I reciprocate the feeling
that now criss crosses my mind
now that you are not there…
It took years for the love to mature
just as good old wine with sweetness
that fermented and lingered
How can I now raise a toast to you
to commend you on your support
etching those memoirs in my mind
now that you are not there…
A friend I had in school long back
did she love listening to my stories
every day she would come prepared
every day she would listen with awe.
I used to invent stories by the day
just to keep her amused and gay
watching her eyes filled with love
were they beautiful I could never say.
On a new year, I missed her in my class
she left me and our school to someplace
with whereabouts unknown she was lost
her imprinted face memorized forever.
Several years passed, nay a few decades
I saw a woman walk past, a fleeting glance
was it her, I thought, the features so same
I called out her name, just so she could hear
and turn back she did, was it bliss forever…
Everyday the postman would cover long distances
whether across green fields or wet lanes in any weather
a bunch of letters in hand that would steadily decrease
adding small sorrows to some and great joys to others.
To the village kids, he carried a lot of unpacked promises
for to them, his letters meant tidings and hopes from fathers
To aged parents, he carried news of their distant loved ones
for to them, he was preferred than the daily newspaper.
He remained untouched by what he would distribute
He never knew the depth of the contents in those letters
He never cared about the weight of the parcels he would carry
for to him, it was just a part and parcel of his messenger job…
I picture myself holding my father’s hand
going to school for the first time.
I picture myself graduating from school
going to college for the first time.
I picture myself graduating from college
going to work for the first time.
I picture myself getting married
holding my wife’s hand for the first time.
I picture myself retiring from work
holding my pension fund for the first time.
I picture myself in those bygone times
holding on to distant memories for the last time…