Saturday, February 07, 2009

The irony

"How much further do we have to walk, amma?", the little boy asked in a feeble voice.

His mother looked ahead. It was dusk, and was getting dark. She heard the horn of the 7 o'clock train leaving the station, behind them.

They had not walked much, but the child, his body weak, and his small feet aching felt that he had been walking for several miles. The child was only 3 years old, and his mother was still a young teenager.

It was that old beggar on the north end of the platform who had told her about this. He was always laughing at the world, his eyes brimming with dreamy mirth. A bit of spit always drooling over his long beard. He liked this girl, maybe reminding him of someone he had long lost.

He had told her about the wheat godowns. The big huge buildings filled with grain. He had even showed her some that he had got, carefully unwrapping a cloth bundle and showing her the wheat and rice.

He had also told her how to get into one of those buildings, about the small hole in one of those, through which you could sneak in and out. "Do not tell anyone else, Beti", he had warned her at the end. "Let this be our secret". And he had smiled again. No, not with mean or perverse intent but with a very baby-ish innocence that she did not find on the face of even her own son.

She had waited till sunset as he had told her and then had crossed the tracks and gone westward. It was perhaps a mile or two to the godown. She had passed them often, but had never even wondered what was in them.

The large buildings loomed ahead. She slowly hid behind the shadows. The old man had told that there were no sentries, but then nevetheless. She counted the buildings, and found the one that had the hole in the wall. Picking up her son, she slowly walked towards that one.

And there it was. Just as the man had told, one side of the wall had a small hole. She could just barely get in. The inside of the building was pitch dark. She stood in the dark in a moment of anticipation. Then fumbled with the box of matches and the small candle that she had brought along. She placed her son on the floor and lit the candle.

The sight took her breath away. There were hundreds, nay, thousands of sacks of grain stacked neatly, row upon row. She stood, wide - eyed and lost for a long long moment. Then she spread the saree that she had brought on the floor. Pulling out a small knife from her waist, she ripped one of the sacks. The wheat smelt old, but then, it was food. She cupped her hands and began gathering the grains into the saree. When she had a small heap, she knelt down and made a bundle of it. She then blew out the candle, picked up her son and the bundle and then made her way out of the building.

"A month", she thought. "We can eat for a month now". A hint of a smile played on the edge of her lips.

"Aye, Stop!". A voice hollered from behind her. "Trying to rob government property, you filthy beggar", shouted the man in the khakhi. He had a lathi that he had swung above his head to beat her, but then he had seen the baby. "Give me that bundle and then be off. I will break your legs if you dare to come snooping around here again". Saying that, he grabbed the bundle from her and opened it. He went inside the godown, emptied it and threw the saree back at her. "Now scram!!". She rested her fearful sight on him for a second, and then slowly walked back to the station. The child was whimpering.


She took her usual spot on the platform the next day, begging for alms and food. The child lay next to her, his eyes closed in an exhausted and hungry sleep.

She had spread a paper in front of her and had kept a small tin can for alms.

If she could read, the paper shouted in red bold letters "A lakh tons of wheat rotting in godowns".

Thankfully, she couldn't.


The news bit is here

No comments: