Monday, June 10, 2013

A risky act of compassion

Vijay had lost his job in a travel agency three months back and he was yet to get a new one. He had spent all his meager savings and was practically starving. The rent for his room was in arrears and he was afraid of a notice to vacate. The day time he roamed around various offices seeking for any job. His evenings were spent in the local big temple ostensibly to pray but actually hoping for some prasad that would fill his stomach He got something or the other many days.
That day was a festival day and the temple was heavily crowded. Nothing was available to eat and his stomach was gnawing with hunger. He felt his pocket and he had just 10 rupees in coins but he did not want to spend it. He went near the place where the coconuts were broken to propitiate god. He was shy of competing with poor urchins in ragged clothes to pick up the broken pieces. There was a virtual scramble but he was content to pick whatever fell near his feet. When he got three big slices he was relieved that the day’s dinner was taken care of. Someone had given him a plantain.
As he was walking away from the crowd, he saw a young girl of six from affluent family standing alone and crying. He went near her and asked her “Why are you crying? Where are your parents?”
“They are lost and not seen. I want to join them”
“Let us wait for some time. They may come in search of you. Have this coconut piece.”
“No, I don’t want it. I am thirsty. Can you get me that ice candy?”
He felt pity for that girl and unhesitatingly parted with his last ten rupees and fetched her a candy.
As she was happily sucking it, Vijay asked her whether she knew her house. She picked a slip of paper from her pocket and gave him. The parents had the foresight to leave it there. The place was just couple of kilometers away.
“Can I leave you in your house?” he asked. She happily nodded
Vijay was afraid to take the young girl with him what with news papers screaming daily of rapes of young kids. When he approached an elderly auto driver, he looked askance at Vijay in his soiled and crumpled dress with a well-to-do girl. Vijay understood his genuine suspicion and explained the circumstances and his aversion to leave the child alone or with a policeman especially when he had her address.
“Are you looking for a reward?”asked the auto driver.
“Not at all. It is just compassion and fear that girl may come to harm if she were to fall in ruthless hands.”
The auto driver agreed and within next five minutes they were at her house. The door was opened by the girl’s grandmother. Her parents were still trying to trace her. Vijay explained her how she found her and the auto driver corroborated.
“Grandma, this uncle gave me candy” she said with joy
This shocked the old lady and her suspicions about his intention returned again.
Vijay saw the change in her expression and said “The girl said she was very thirsty and I had only ten rupees and that is all that I could buy”
The old lady took the addresses of both Vijay and auto driver before they left
When Vijay came out of the house, he took out his old watch from his wrist and said to the auto driver “This is all I have. Please do not mind accepting it in lieu of fare”
The driver said “Hop in. I will drop at your place. You don’t have to give me anything. I am proud of you”
As the auto reached Vijay’s place, the driver thrust 100 rupees in his pocket and said as he sped away “Return it when you can”

Friday, June 7, 2013

Behind the veil

The auditorium in the women's college was over crowded with many students standing on the aisles on both sides. They were listening with rapt attention as the guest speaker Mr.Gangaram mesmerized the audience with his powerful and persuasive speech on the imperative need for quick empowerment of women. Known for his pro women stand, the young audience hung on to his words as he thundered that women comprising more than half the population were still a deprived lot, backward in political, economic and social spheres. Illiteracy,poor health, female feticide  and discrimination haunted them like a shadow. He bemoaned that even after independence of the country they were subject to all kinds of violence both mental and physical with no security. He pleaded for a society where they can walk freely with their heads held  high equal to men in every respect. When he concluded with a warning to the governments and the society that where the women were in tears gods did not reside in such places, there was a standing ovation. The girls thronged him after the meeting for his autograph. There were shouts “Long live champion of women”,”Gangaram Zindabad”,”Hail defender of women rights” and such like.
Gangaram was a successful man of many parts. A lawyer by profession, he joined politics early in his career. Given the gift of the gab he had the knack of drawing huge crowds for his political meetings with his oratorical skill. A clever man he could impress the leaders and rose within a short time to high position in the hierarchy. He saw no virtue in sticking to one political party and seamlessly gravitated to whichever was the ruling dispensation ensuring he held power continuously. With huge wealth made over a few years by means that cannot be called entirely  fair, he knew what businesses brought more money. He opened several educational institutions not forgetting women colleges, marriage halls, hospitals, destitute homes for young women and women hostels..He had several other businesses like hotels and resorts. He had earned a name over a period as a liberal, an educationist and fighter for women rights.His establishments had a preponderance of women employees.
It was 8pm by the time function ended. As he walked towards his big Merc followed by the principal, teachers and  girl students praising him for his great speech, he was a happy man. When the car moved a little distance, his faithful driver turned to him and asked “home?”
“No, it is too early. I am in a good mood now. Take me to the destitute home for women. I haven’t visited it for more than a fortnight. I wish to see whether things are all right there and spend some time with inmates to ask whether they had any specific needs.”
As the big car entered the compound of the home in the outskirts of the city, the hapless young women who were chatting happily in the long porch stood up in fear wondering who could be the victim for that night to the lust of their benefactor.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Flicker of recognition

Vimala had landed from London in the wee hours of morning. By 9 am she was in the hospice. The emaciated figure lay in what appeared to be a bed larger for her size. The hair was white and disheveled and the cheek and eyes were shrunk and hollow. The woman in her 80s was still dozing under the influence of tranquilizers.
The kindly nurse cautioned Vimala not to wake her up. Any small irritation it seemed gave rise to bouts of uncontrollable anger and foul mouthing, but was assured that was not uncommon among advanced Alzheimer patients. She added for good measure that the woman was in very advanced stage with practically very little memory of current events. But what bothered the nurse more was her inability to swallow food, to communicate her needs like wanting to drink water or go to toilet. Her continuous wringing of her hands to the point of hurting herself was worrying the nurse. The old woman  was hardly able to identify anyone except on very rare occasions for a flicker of a second and suspects others as cheats out to rob her though she had nothing with her. She was not even aware whether she was fully covered. But she repeated occasionally some names, may be her children’s.
Vimala could not suppress her tears. The nurse put her hand on her shoulders and said “Do not cry. Her misery may not last for long and possibly end in a couple of months or even earlier. But we try our best to make her comfortable. I will go now to other patients. Wait patiently till she wakes up”
Vimala sat thinking of what her brother had warned.”Vimala, you would be shocked when you see her plight. She is not recognizing me and manni (his wife) and is very abusive especially to manni.Infact our presence makes her agitated and that it took considerable time for her to quieten down that we were requested by the doctor not to appear before her. I go there once a week and have a look through the window. I had her admitted after much hesitation here only when things became unmanageable.”
Vimala could hardly believe that the ailment could alter so significantly a very gentle and soft spoken lady who had nothing but appreciative words for everyone. In the three decades she lived in Bengal, she was noted for her affability and was popular among her neighbours. It was her dad that was very impatient and angry. Her dad had left her mom in financial comfort and she was not dependent financially on her children.
It was then she heard a shuffle and found her mom turning her face towards her side. Vimala saw her staring vacantly at her devoid of any recognition. Vimala smiled at her that was responded with a twitching of her eyelashes and twisting of lips that showed suspicion and uncertainity.She did not reply when Vimala asked ”Amma,are you able to recognize me?”The silence dragged in what seemed eternity.
Then suddenly Vimala heard her bellow “Who are you? Who allowed you inside my room? Have you come to pilfer things from here? Get out before I call police”
Shaken by such violent and insensitive response, Vimala could hardly stop from crying for a few moments. She wiped her face and said again ‘Amma, can you not recognize your own daughter on whom you showered all affection? Just utter my name once and I will be greatly pleased.. I have come just a few hours back from London and will be with you as long as you wish. Won’t you please call me once by my name?”
The nurse entered the room and arched her eyebrows at Vimala as if to ask how things were going. Even before Vimala could reply, the old lady shouted ”Why did you allow this young woman in the room. She has come to strangle me, I am sure, as she came near the bed and pretended to caress me. Ask her to get out this moment. She is an evil woman“ and began throwing the pillow at her.
Inconsolably sobbing, Vimala started moving out of the room when she heard the ailing woman mumbling to herself “She resembles my Vimala, my Vimmu” Surprised Vimala turned towards her mom and told her in Bengali “I am your Vimmu, amma”
 Hearing this there was a sparkle of 1000 watts in old lady’s eyes even as she broke into a smile and replied in Bengali “Vimmu,come near me. I miss you so much” When Vimala gently hugged her and caressed her head, her mom started screaming again ”I am being strangled by an evil woman”
The nurse understandingly led the sobbing Vimala out of the room.