Thursday, October 29, 2015


It was small village in North India and the only semblance of its connection to the urban life is the dusty road through which rickety buses passed through daily at infrequent intervals. One could see camel carts loaded much beyond its size parked on the sides of the road. A few tractors could also be seen plying people.
One could discern from a distance a few people seated on a raised platform around a big tree with many folks seated on the ground. The winter had not set in but there was a nip in the air as was evident from the blankets over the shoulders of a few. There was a tall and well built man of about 70 with a big turban in white kurta and dhoti worn through the legs seated centrally. There was a hookah by his side. He seemed the head of the village panchayat and had some dignified bearing
The panchayat is an informal  organization operating in the villages that set rules some of them illegal and dispensed justice not always in conformity with government rules and laws. It met routinely this Sunday morning with no big issues on hand to be resolved. There was no controversial sa-gotra marriage, case of adultery or rape or assault. Everything seemed peaceful till it was broken by the shrill cry of a young boy of about seven or eight years being dragged by Bola the local grocer towards the group. The boy in shorts and an over sized vest seemed to be in pain presumably from the beatings by Bola.
“Hey Bola, what happened? Why is the poor urchin crying?” asked someone from the raised platform.
“This ladka (boy) is a thief even at this young age and if left unchecked may turn to be a robber. He took bread from my shop even as I was present there and ran away without paying for it. I had to chase him up to his hut and bring him here. He should be punished by burning his palm with hot iron as is the custom in our village”
“What is your name, young boy? Is it a fact that you took bread from Bola's shop without paying for it and ran away? Tell me the truth” asked the elderly head of panchayat.
The boy was silent initially and after some prodding said “My name is Murari.What he says is true. I took the bread as my mother is starving for the last three days. We have no money. She is dying. I could not bear see her hungry. I am sorry.”
“You should have requested him explaining the situation. What you did is wrong and you deserve a punishment” remonstrated the old man.”Hey, Munna, go to the boy’s hut and find out whether his mom is really sick as he says and what his dad is doing. We will wait here. Hurry up. We will see after you return about the punishment”
Bola’s wife had already lit up a fire and heated a thin steel rod waiting for Munna’s return.
Someone from the dais said “The boy has himself confessed to the crime. What is the need for further enquiry? He must be punished severely to ensure he does not do it again” A few others from the assembled crowd nodded in agreement. When the boy started crying loudly, Bola smacked him inviting the wrath of the headman.
“Stop it, Bola.Take your hands off the boy. Murari, come near me”
Munna came running and said “Saheb, I am afraid the boy’s mother is very sick, may be dead too I am not sure. She looks too emaciated and weak to respond. There was no movement. I think someone should rush her to the hospital in the next town to see if her life can be saved”
“Does anyone in the crowd know her?”
One man rose and said “She works in my field. Her husband had deserted her and she has only this boy. She came to our village after the husband left as her dad belonged to this village. She has not been coming to work for the last few days. I was thinking of checking myself about her when this incident has happened. She is quiet by nature and hard working. I have heard no complaint against her.”
“Are you suggesting that we let go this boy free unpunished? We must burn the boy’s palm for the theft. Does her mother’s sickness exonerate the boy of the theft?”shouted one heartless farmer from the crowd. Some merciless men joined him and there was a chorus demanding punishment.
The head of panchayat signaled silence and said ”Hey Jassaram, you have a jeep. Take that poor woman to the hospital immediately along with your wife and some other willing women. Take this 1000Rs.She belongs to our village and our daughter. We cannot allow her to die like an orphan. Hurry up before it becomes late. The others remain seated till I dispose of this case.”
There was a murmur of voices both in protest and in agreement. After Jassaram and others left the venue to take the woman to hospital in the jeep, the old man beckoned Bola’s wife to come near him and hand over the red hot iron rod. The boy sobbed in fear loudly.
The old man took the rod in his hand and said, “I agree with you all that the guilty should be punished without mercy. Murari's mom was sick and without work for a few days. There was none to take care of her. When her condition had worsened and she was starving, the seven year old had no other aim than to feed his mom. I am sure he must have asked Bola to give a few loaves of bread before snatching the bread and running away.” He turned to Bola and asked him “Did the boy not ask you initially for your help? Answer truthfully”
Bola in shame hung his head down and nodded his head in affirmative.
“As I told you the woman is a daughter of this village. She came here with her young son after her husband deserted her as she thought rightly this village her home and that she would be safe here than elsewhere. The farmer in whose field the poor woman worked did not make any effort to inquire about her well being although she worked for him sincerely as he himself had said. No other member of the village who worked in the field along with her cared  for her with each one minding his or her own business..Yet many of you are baying for the blood of this young boy who does not know even what is right or wrong in a crisis. His only goal was to save his mother. Bola could have been generous. I consider the whole village guilty of negligence and indifference. As the head of the village I own the responsibility for our callous attitude and inflict the punishment on myself. He opened his left palm and ran the red hot iron on it to the shock and dismay of the crowd.
“I hope this will be a lesson for future that we should not let down one of our own in times of distress. The boy Murari will be in my care and custody till his mother returns. I will take charge of his education and well being as if he is my grandson. The meeting is over” he said even as he put his right hand on the shoulder of boy. The crowd dispersed a little chastened and a few were seen wiping their tears.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The young lady in distress

It was unusually cold for this part of the year with the chill wind blowing now and then adding to the discomfort. I was sitting aimlessly on a raised parapet wall built around the lounge leading to the metro station. One needed a ticket to enter the station where one can find comfortable seats. I had neither a place to go nor the money to spend for the luxury of sitting in the station. I had just finished the last fag with my eyes closed and decided that it was time to leave for my room. It was then I heard a slight shuffle of feet by my side. It was a young woman in her early twenties who would look pretty charming but for her jaded clothes, crumpled hair  and a face that badly needed a wash.
 “Can I sit by your side for a while, as a jerk has been stalking me? I am unable to shake him off, and if he sees us conversing, he may go away looking for another quarry.”
I turned to see a tall muscular guy with a county cap on his head walking away
“Okay, sit down by my side though it is cold here. Tell me where you reside as it is obvious you are not travelling by train.”
“Frankly I have no place to go and that is why I am loitering here not knowing what to do.”
“Sounds strange! Where were you living hitherto?What is your name?”
“Tina,I was living with a man for six months till he threw me out this morning.”
“Oh oh,I am sorry. Why did he throw you out? Any other woman? How long you had known him?”
“Six months only as I had moved in on the first day I met him. He sounded genuine and warm. He was also sturdy and good looking. I had also no place to go. We were getting along well and I had no reason to suspect that anything was amiss. He did not also tell me why he suddenly lost interest in me” she said in a stoical way.
“Was it like that earlier too, I mean living with someone, before you met this guy? Anyway you do not have to answer that question. Tell me whether you work anywhere or just loaf around living off others?”
“That was a mean question from you” Tina said angrily. "I was working as a maid in a bar till a week back when they decided to send away a few girls due to poor business. I am looking for another place and hope to get in two days. May be the guy threw me out when he knew I had no job. Anyway it is a closed chapter.”
I remained quiet not knowing what to do. I did not have the heart to leave her in the dead of night at a vulnerable and dangerous place nor was I convinced about the desirability of taking an unknown woman to my place.
She broke me from my reverie when she touched my hand and with folded hands pleaded, “Please help me stay with you for this night. I will leave tomorrow morning. You need have no fear, I promise”
When I saw the same stalker a little yonder, I decided to take her with me.”Okay, come with me. I see that guy still there waiting for you to be alone. Let me make it clear. My room is small and cannot accommodate a guest on regular basis.. You will have to sleep on the floor and leave when the day breaks. Is it clear?”
We then crisscrossed through different dark and dingy lanes till we reached my room at the  basement of a house.It was self contained with a bath and kitchenette. A queen sized bed, a reclining chair, a big fridge and a small TV on the wall made it a livable place.
As she was looking around the room with interest, I rummaged the small closet to come up up with a faded jeans and a shirt. I gave them to her along with a towel and said, “Have a good shower. You can use the soap and shampoo. This jeans and shirt should fit you. I will get you a new pair tomorrow. Do remember you are leaving in the morning”
She extended her hand to shake mine and said “Thank you so much. You are so kind and understanding..I will be back in a trice after a shower”
When she was inside the bathroom, Tina heard the sound of something being moved.
She gently opened the door a little to see him moving the bed away from the wall and craning his neck that side. She closed the door swiftly without noise and had a warm and soothing shower. Everything was clean and perfect. His stonewashed jeans and shirt fitted her well and she looked attractive totally different from the grimy woman she was earlier.
As she came out, I screamed involuntarily and said “ Wow, you look ravishing”
She hugged me and said “Thank you. I am famished and need something to eat right away. Can I peep inside your fridge to find something?”
In a startled tone I said “No, you sit on the chair. I have a piece of Pizza and an apple. May be a glass of milk if you care to warm it up”
I had already spread a bed on the floor with a pillow and blanket. I said “You may eat and then go to sleep. I am dead tired and would like to hit the bed” and added with a wink “No misreading me, be sure on that. I am just trying to be hospitable to a young lady in distress”
I heard a loud knock at the door.It was 7 am,I turned to see the woman.She was not in the bed.I could see the light in the bath room.As I opened the main door slightly,the tall guy with county cap,the stalker,put his foot inside and pushed me in
“Where is the lady?”he gruffly asked.
“Who the hell are you? How can you enter my house without my permission? I am not obliged to tell the whereabouts of any lady you are talking about. Please get out” I shouted in anger.
He whipped from his pocket an identity card to show he is from Anti drugs authority and let in two  armed men in uniform. Shocked at the sudden turn of events, I turned towards the bathroom when I heard the door being opened.
The tall guy stood in attention and gave her a stiff salute that sent a chill on my spine.
She said in a soft but authoritative voice “Look at the wall on the side of his bed. He was meddling there last night.
I let out a swear “You dirty B***h when the two uniformed men encircled me and  handcuffed my hands behind me..The game was soon up  with the secret vault on the wall opened and a large cache of contraband stuff found inside
"I want you to open the large fridge  that is possibly empty  and rip it apart. I suspect it is bound to give a rich haul" she said to the tall guy. The search was not in vain and far exceeded her expectations.
As I was pushed into the waiting police car  she said to me “ I am sorry buddy. You were a good host  but I had my duty to do, though painful it was, on a trusting guy like you..We had identified you already but did not know where you had stashed the stuff. We wished to secure concrete evidence before you are put behind bars” and moved with firm steps towards her chauffeured car.