Short Stories >> This City
By: Sundri Uttamchandani
Published in the 'Indian Literature' Vol 187 by Sahitya Akademi
Translated by Shri. Param Abhichandani
"They have placed her arms on the stone-block. They are breaking her bangles." Pushu pulled holding the hem of my saree and brought me out. "Mummy! Come out and watch." I saw and my eyes blurred.
These were the arms of our Gorkhin (a Gorkha woman). The bangles of red hue were reduced to small pieces scattered all over. But the beauty of the milk-white arms could not be destroyed. Her relatives asked her to take out the ring hanging from the middle portion of her nose.... This beautiful ring hanging from a beautiful nose in-between the small, swollen Nepali eyes ... It looked beautiful. But then, when the suhag (husband) was no more, the jewellery must come off. Unadorned face, moon-like golden body attired in a new coarse garment - she was shedding mute tears.
"Why is she crying, Mummy?"
What to say? The answer wouldn't come out. What to tell this little child? Her voice was heavy, as if a cloud will pour down. I wiped my eyes and said, "The Gorkha is dead."
"Is the Gorkha dead? But how? How did he die, Mummy?" She gripped my legs and sobbed. Yesterday, when we got the news that the Gorkha had been run over by a train, Pushu was in the crèche - From that time onwards, the scenes of the Gorkha's attachment with this place have been whirling in my head
The first day.
The Gorkha is appointed a guard of this place consisting of forty-eight flats, for providing a security to the refuge of approximately seventy-five men. He is not blear-eyed like other Gorkhas and his body doesn't look like that of a rustic- This Gorkha, Ram Singh, is quite healthy, good-looking and intelligent. "He is not fit for the job." I had said the very first day.
And that day.
Water couldn't be pumped up into the tanks. The quantity of water supplied by the Municipality was just not enough-And that was enough reason for him to be on the receiving end. Everyone was after him. "Tanks are empty" Someone said, "You tried to be insolent" The other one tried to pounce on him. "What's this gabbling with the ladies about?"
I laughed. Why should a woman say to a grownup man like the Gorkha, "You are prattling." The Gorkha is also a human being. He is someone's brother, someone's father But .... In Bombay he is only the Gorkha. And the people of Bombay? They only know that the Gorkha is their paid servant.
But the Gorkha?
The Gorkha once tried to explain to the residents of the flats that their demeanour, the tone they spoke in, their uncivilised treatment all these were not fair. Ah! as if all limits were crossed. Look at that civilised man! Ire emitting from his face, he bashed up the Gorkha with his fists and shouted, "Are you teaching me...?" This was something to be seen. It wasn't something for hearing only.
The Gorkha remained silent after that day. Perhaps the people in his clan made him understand that a servant in Bombay was just a slave. The slave, who has eyes, but doesn't have to see as others do, who has a pair of ears, but doesn't have to hear....
Forty-eight flats: there can be innumerable errands - grains are to be ground, luggage to be loaded in the taxi, someone needs mutton from the market, someone's child is to be escorted to the school. The Gorkha would attend to every errand, but it seemed that he had gone mute.
His wages amounted to only sixty rupees. Should he merely maintain himself here, or shouldn't he send some money home? He started bringing milk for some families. He could be seen with a bag of bottles on his shoulders - storm or rain, sun or severe cold - nothing mattered. Seeing him, the picture of Tenzing climbing Mount Everest would form itself before my eyes.
The seal of the bottle of milk he brought for Radha was not fixed properly. She shouted, "Gorkha, this kind of cheating will not work here. You bought the cheap milk and fixed the seal of costly milk on the bottle."
Flames leaped out of the Gorkha's eyes. He kept his mouth shut, however He stopped bringing milk for Radha. Radha threatened him, "You mean that you will bring milk for others and not for me? Why? Just wait and see how I get the permission given to you cancelled, You have been engaged to guard the building and not for bringing milk"
It's strange, isn't it? After twelve months Radha remembered that the Gorkha had been engaged only for guarding the building.
The Gorkha didn't say a word to Radha, but he found solace in relating the story to the servant in the adjacent building. He confided in him, "If I had to change the seals of milk bottles, wasn't it better to be a dacoit at my own place? What's it that we haven't in the village? A big house, two wives, a child, mother and father everything. We come here only for money....
And picked up a small piece of stone and hit it against the ground.
The same Gorkha.
He is sitting on a bamboo cot placed at the central gate of the building. A sacred book is placed on his knees. He was singing, reading from it. What kind of singing is this! Simple but full of lyricism. No one has heard such singing before. What kind of music is this? It vibrates everywhere. He looks like a Sadhu sitting in a trance at the door of every flat and sings this songs full of bhakti rasa. It seems as if a soul is wandering alone in the streets of new civilization where people don't speak in the same language, where people don't have time to speak a few sweet words. Yes, in the streets this song vibrates in an effort to spread a spell to unite hearts.
Another aspect of the personality of the Gorkha.
He has learnt to obey the orders of everyone. On the insistence of his friends, he took liquor and has returned drunk. Today he is not mute. He talks shamelessly He laughs shamelessly and at intervals he weeps and writhes in pain. All the people have locked themselves in the flats. Outside, the same soul cries -- alone, anxious to be linked to the human mind - in a disturbed and wretched voice, the voice that has changed from bhakti rasa to crying. It is not known what he has lost. He knocks at every door and tries to seek what he has lost. But all the doors are closed and he is in the fold of darkness and lies unattended on the ground somewhere.
And one day -
We saw the Gorkhin draped in a saree with red border - small eyes, beautiful face, ring in the nose and the golden body of eighteen years. Her lips were united lightly together and it looked as if she must be uttering only one word in years.
And the Gorkha's treatment of this statue -
The Gorkha has stopped reciting Ramayana, but at noon when silence pervades the building, the Gorkha says something to her in Gorkhali. We don't understand the language, but the gestures and the expressions on the face are clear. The expressions speak, as they do in all languages, "You are not enjoying it here, I know. Do you feel lonely? Try to learn a smattering of Hindi. Don't worry. I am always here, with you. Now tell me, do you want anything? Shall we go for a film today? You will feel lonely here for sometime. We shall have a child. I shall erect a hut on that ground tomorrow. Let me earn some money. I shall buy you a new saree. Yes, I know you have only one saree. Do you see the flats around here?
Every woman living there has fifty sarees ... now I shall try to earn more.
The Gorkhin says something in her language She, perhaps, says, "I don't need fifty sarees. Two will do. I shall wash one and wear the other at a time."
In the lurid darkness of the evening, when she sits on that bamboo cot, the red bangles around her wrists glitter - the red bangles around her fresh, beautiful wrists, Modesty and a smile take turns on her innocent face ... new bride, but
where is home?
The plain ground.
Yes, the same plain ground
The hut has been erected - five feet high, seven feet long and six feet wide, There is a kitchen inside, too. There is a bedroom which can accommodate four guests at a time. Yes, if the heart is big, the house is big, too. The facilities do exist in the holes of ants, too.
The eighth month. She feels uneasy sitting inside the hut A hot wind is blowing
outside. The distressed woman sometimes sits by someone's door and at other
times on a raised platform. If some stranger comes and looks at her she turns her face and leaves the place - the inheritor of Sita's culture, this Gorkhin.
The Gorkha worked hard and saved some money He also made arrangements in the hospital for his wife.
But what is this? When the Gorkhin brought home her son from the hospital, the baby was not clad in proper garments. A few days passed with his being clad in only an under-shirt. Radha observed this. She confronted almost everyone in the complex. "What a shame! If each one of you gave her a baby-dress, she would have forty-eight dresses"
Someone had to move the thread. In no time a heap of baby-dresses were heaped in the Gorkhin's hut. The Gorkha still worked day and night to make money.
Sitting on the platform, or on the bamboo cot in the soft breeze, the Gorkhin suckles the baby and speaks to him The baby listens to hen opening his eyes resembling his father's. With modesty emanating from her face, she perhaps says to her child in a subdued voice, "Are you remembering your granny?... You look like your grandfather. Yes, you are remembering your grandmother. shall take you to our village. It nestles in the valley surrounded by mountains, We have an old house there. In the severe cold, people light fire and sit around it and talk. Sometimes, picking up spears, they dance around the fire, Your father also dances. I, too, tie feathers on my head and dance. Sometimes clapping and sometimes holding a sickle in my hands, I revel in dancing. What a dance I perform! This is a desolate place, or isn't it? Even living with so many people around, I feel as if we are living in a jungle. Let your father save some money and we shall go back to our village. Your father could have earned money had he joined the army. But faujis normally don't return from the battlefields. We shall surely go back home. I shall teach you dancing. Oh! Look here. you are already trying to walk. You are like your father……."
Today, too, she sits there, suckling her son. Two Gorkhins sit by her side. High above in the sky, why do the crows caw so furiously?
Four Gorkhins have come. They say they will get the Gorkha's dead body back in a short while....
So many woman have come down out of their flats and assembled here. Now they remember the Gorkha's virtues and good deeds. All are of the view that this wise and saintly Gorkha was not fit for this job. How noble he looked! His friends did him in for his goodness and made him drink. Radha wiped her tears and said, "Is there anyone in these flats who didn't exploit his goodness? Everyone sent him on errands but rarely anyone gave him a few coins for the services rendered. He never asked for anything"
Radha is very stern, but she has a noble heart. She is very compassionate. She has taken five rupees from everyone. Tomorrow, when this rustic woman will board the train after losing her husband in this city, Radha will place this money in the tiny hands of the little child.
This city gives only money. What else can it give?