Short Stories >> Atam Vishwas >> Orphaned (Nindhrki)
Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
Amma used to say, "A sensible daughter is much better than a spoilt son like you".
The friend said, "Come once to Kalyan camp and you shall see the other side of the world too".
I liked the friend's manly nature as well as the advice.
When my friend returned from office we met up and took a train together from VT station. We took a bus to the camp from Kalyan station. The bus was quite worn out but hearing the talk in it was like eating a sweet dish of pure ghee (Lola). Everyone from the driver to the coolie was a Sindhi.
Getting down from the bus we walked through the bazar.
"Look at Siru Chowk. How crowded it is. There are different types of shops but the language is the same everywhere-Pure Sindhi. But in our Churchgate home our grandmother too always made an attempt to talk in Hindi. Even me, a semi-literate person tried to talk in English. Even my father would act like a teacher. He would talk in English like coffee coming out of a machine. That is why there was an atmosphere of suffocation in the entire house. But here there is a fragrance of wet earth even in the absence of rain.
As soon as the bazaar road ended, there were crooked streets beginning. Perhaps a poet had rightly written about them. There were many potholes on the way and not a single lamp or light. But having a friend along made the travel easier.
After dinner in the night we sat down in a group on the floor itself, to talk. My friend ofcourse is a strong man but his sister and mother are not less manly. They told me many stories of the Kalyan camp and yet they left all the doors open while sleeping. They only kept a torch and a stick with themselves when sleeping. My friend's two arms seemed very strong and fat from the very beginning. So, I too did not want to be left out and I slept fearlessly outside the house.
Just as I gone off to sleep, I heard my friend's mother shout loudly, "To hell with you. Wait I am going to destroy you".
I got up with a jerk but my friend was sleeping. I went into the inner room and asked Amma, "Where is the thief?"
She answered, "The rascal has gone towards the bathroom. He has threatened and gone"
I took Amma's stick and stood ready outside the bathroom. Some neighbours who had heard the shouts had gathered too. Amma stood there with the torch.
"Come out you coward". I shouted, stumping the stick on the floor.
The door of the small room began opening very slowly and I quickly hit the head of the person with my stick. There was utter confusion. I said, "Oh, this is a pig! Amma, then who threatened you?"
Maybe I had a dream and when I woke up, I saw the sun shining above. Perhaps it was the water of the Camp or the stories told by the ladies, but as soon as I woke up, I felt the urgency to rush to the toilet. But there was a queue outside. Finally, I got to enter but I had hardly relieved myself that I heard a gentle knock on the door. I started sweating in embarrassment. After a few minutes there was another knock on the door. I wondered who could be so indecent to do this. As I pushed the door, somebody pushed it in again. I was furious and somehow after relieving myself as I opened both the sides of the door a pig rushed inside, sniffing away. I pushed it aside and came out. I jumped and came out and shouted, "Mannerless!"
My friend's sister who was standing a little distance away, was bending in laughter. Passing by I overheard her telling a friend, "People from Bombay are quite strange. They talk even to pigs". I was so ashamed and embarrassed.
Reaching home, I stood on a step peeped into the room to see if my friend was awake so I could ask him for some water. But he was asleep and his mother was lovingly trying to wake him up, "My son, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Ashok Kumar..." And the poor fellow was pulling the pillow over his head, stretching his arms and saying, "Even on a Sunday you won't allow me to rest".
After a little restraint I asked water from my friend's sister. When I returned in to the room, wiping my hands with a towel, I saw that my friend was awake and sitting on the cot. I asked him, "Friend Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Ashok Kumar, how are you? My friend replied angrily, "Those actors who ease the difficult lives of Kalyan even if for three hours, are the final heroes for the mothers of our country".
As I got up to go for a bath, the little sister was asked to rush and buy some oil. In my own house I would have created a ruckus if there was no oil at home, but in a stranger's home it is good to be silent. I tactfully said, "There is no problem if I don't apply oil one day".
The mother replied, "Yes, there is no problem at all. I use oil once in eight days".
I hardly relaxed when my honourable friend said, "If you were working in an office you would have had to apply oil twice a day".
I don't know how I blurted out, "Then she would have to apply Brylcream".
My friend too gave out a weak laughter. Rubbing his mother's head, he said, "Are you listening? You would have to use Brylcream. Have you ever seen Brylcream?" The way he was laughing made me feel he was a patient with whooping cough who was coughing and clearing his chest.
His mother said arrogantly, "Ofcourse I have seen it you fellow. Just because you don't use all these. The people from Kalyan are not like you".
My friend's laugh was again echoing. I don't know why I felt a pain in my chest. My friend got up, took a colourful paper pot and dusting the paper flowers said, "I find such people like these Amma".
Mother said, "Okay son, now eat your breakfast now". Saying this she brought an omelette of four eggs and two rotis. This breakfast was a reflection of the Amma's rich heart inside her frail body.
For some time, my friend and me had a discussion on books but as the day was passing by, I began getting restless. The tin sheets on the roof had not learned any lessons I hospitality. We made a plan to go to the hills to enjoy the cool evening breeze. As we had crossed quite a distance, I saw a policeman passing by very quickly and very firmly. He was walking as if his feet were above the ground, afraid to make any sound. I whispered in my friend's ear. "He is a policeman but has a walk of a thief..."
My friend did not allow me to complete and stood still Amma said, Sri Ram" and shook her entire body. I gave a jerk because was because right before our eyes we saw that below the bridge some culprits had stabbed a youth in his stomach. The young man's intestines were popping out and he was bleeding and struggling for life. The crowds standing at a distance were sighing in shock. Taking quick steps towards him I said, "If we put his intestines inside, perhaps he will survive". But suddenly there were weights on both my shoulders. My friend and his mother both said, "This is Kalyan camp. Do you wish to get entangled in another crime?' I realised that the murdered man is a more dangerous than a contagious disease. I felt helpless inspite of having two arms and not being able to do anything. Helplessly I said, "it is said that one who saves is closer than one who kills".
My friend had the same sad smile on his face and he said, "Already the refugee Sindhis of the Camp are washing the old proverbs with blood and giving them new colours".
"What do you mean? By then a number of policemen had come to the scene and the youth was now lying there, lifeless. The police carried the corpse away and within few minutes the entire play was over. My friend took a deep breath and said, "That's it? You have turned pale. This is an everyday matter here".
I felt suffocated. "That's it? No appreciation? No grievance?"
"Who will complaint? Who will grieve? Did anyone hear anything while we were migrating? Orphaned... horses! What proverb you used to say Amma?"
"Mysterious riders" ...Amma completed the proverb but feeling suffocated and suppressing a pain within me I visualised the entire Sindhu Nagar before me-totally orphaned!
We reached the peak of the hill and from there we could see the entire barren land in her lap. Lights appeared in some of the homes in the Camp. We three had climbed the hill and sat there in silence. After a long time, we three realised that we grown quite for a long time. Now more lights were seen in the barracks.
Breaking the silence, I said, "Friend, today I am feeling very sad looking at the island with the stars before us..."
"Ofcourse it is sad". said my friend with same fake laughter. He simply took some stones and threw them towards the island of stars.
I don't know why, there were tears in my eyes and they were shining in the valley before me. I don't know how many tears from the eyes of those separated by the Partition had become stars, shining in the barracks of the orphaned Camp!
- Translated by Arun Babani