Monday, April 30, 2012
That day Khushi was extremely happy.....and why shouldn't she be? Afterall she saw a marriage tent being put up in the nearby ground. Very early in the morning she put on the jute sack on her shoulder and moved out of the house ,leaving Munna , her younger brother at home. Just that If she had a school bag instead of the jute bag on her back, she would probably have been in class 4 or even class 5…..umm….I can't tell precisely but I can certainly say that she would have been a bright student. Many a times Khushi had dreamt of how a school looked from inside. She had often seen hordes of children of her age coming out and going in through the gate...but all that poor girl knew was that she had never been to school and probably would never ever go to one.
Although she once tried to sneak into one, to just enjoy the huge swing in the playground….but was mercilessly shoed away by the watchman. Oh what a run for life she had that day!...But Khushi was happy in herself. And one thing was crystal clear, the struggle she had learnt by this age, no school in the world could have taught her. Life certainly is a better teacher as it first takes a test and then teaches a lesson, unlike the conventional schools where you are first taught and then examined on what you have learnt. So…. by the end of the day, Khushi's sack was full, and on her palm were 45 Rupees , earned from the 'Kabadi-wala' in exchange of the full sack of plastic, rusted iron, newspaper and bottles , all of which she had gathered through out the day on the railway tracks . Everyday for past so many years, this had been the best moment of her life which inadvertently brought a twisted smile on her face, the time when she got rewarded for her day's back-breaking labor . Each of the crumpled note and tarnished coin on her small and dark palms smelled of the hardwork she had done . And only she could tell how much in the world that money meant for her!
That day unlike other days Khushi wanted to reach home early. So she had kept aside 10 Rupees from her day's earnings for the 'auto-wala' and stood on the main road waving her hand . But none of the auto-rickshaw stopped for her, they didn’t know that today Khushi had money and could afford to pay to avail that luxury and even if she could pay, no one would let that shabby girl from the lowest caste sit in their auto. But Khushi's destination was not a slave to any 'auto-rikshaw-wala', and although late but she reached home finally as usual...on foot. And immediately got Busy preparing herself for the evening she was looking forward for . That tattered frock donated to her last diwali was no less than a wedding gown for her. She carefully brought that out from a bag hanged on the wall. In there, was also an old sweater given to her at the beginning of summer season this year by the fat aunti who stayed near the park. Only if she had got that sweater in winters, she wouldn’t have had to quiver and shiver all 4 months.
But why was she wearing a sweater ? probably she was trying to cover the holes in her tattered frock. It was 9 o'clock by this time. She thought it better to be out of home coz if his drunk father came before that, he would certainly beat her mother like everyday and not let her go either. As she was about to step out of the house, Munna, her younger brother called out to her to remind her of the promise she made to him in the morning. That she would bring him his favourite Gajar Halwa when coming back. Her fearful steps moved towards the marriage garden. Blinding lights, Deafening beats of dhol , resonating sound of shehnai ...oh !everything was so engrossing…..but Khushi's attention was somewhere else. The rich aroma of food was tickling her taste buds and inviting her to come and feast on everything she had ever wanted. Her happiness at that time can't be described in words . As she inched towards the entrance gate, she saw a dreadful chowkidar with a long stick! It was as if her dreams shattered in seconds. All the different delicacies she had thought of, the desire to see the bride and the groom , her promise to Munna...everything was razed. But as they say, If your teacher has been good...you don’t need to worry about difficulties and Khushi's teacher had been the best, the life herself.
So She gathered up some courage and somehow managed to camouflage herself with a big family and got inside the marriage garden. Oh….everything looked so much like a fairytale to her! She felt stupefied and started staring at the beautiful couples dressed for the occasion. It was in that moment of numbness that her mind and heart had a tussle. Her heart was asking her to enjoy the luxury of watching this extravaganza and mind reminding her that she didn’t have time for all that. Well her mind won. She moved towards the food stalls, although couldn’t read the names on any of them but the smell and sight conveyed that everything would taste heavenly. Her mouth started watering at the very thought of it. She decided to start with 'Gajar-halwa' and after searching fanatically she found the stall. She had not forgotten the promise to her brother, so she took two disposable cups and filled them with it. Although she could have come again for the second cup, for her brother but coming more than once to the same stall is never advisable, and past experience had taught that to her.
The moment she turned back with the cups in her tiny hands, she saw the same chowkidar yelling and rushing towards her with the big stick in his hands. Her most dreaded fear had come true. Life had taught her with two responses ; either 'fight' or 'flight' in such cases, but to fight was not an option here. And Khushi ran with all her strength. She ran for her life. She ran because she knew if caught, she would be beaten black and blue. With cups in each of the hands and dodging the crowd she dashed straight out of the entrance door and didn’t even turn back once to look if she was being followed at all. She kept running till she felt that she had come a safe distance from the venue. Traversing through the dark corridors, through filthy streets and broken roads with puddled water she finally reached her house which was under the streetlight. Khushi was panting for breath and sweating profusely, more so because of the sweater that she was wearing in that hot weather.
She decided to wait sometime before entering the house. Finally when she caught some breath, she looked at the hard earned halwa-cups. But what was that?!! One of the cups was totally empty. She understood everything in a flash. The halwa fell somewhere during her heroic attempt . Munna was eagerly waiting for her sister, more so for the halwa she was to bring for him. And the moment Khushi stepped in, Munna came near her smelling the halwa, grabbed the cup from her and started hogging. Thankfully her drunk father was asleep by then. Atleast the good thing with alcohol is that it induces sleep thereby reducing the time for which a man can become a beast. "You must have had the dinner of your life, didi, didn't you? " asked Munna. Khushi was startled to hear the question. She could just reply with a meek affirmation. Tell me na. Tell me how it was. I want to hear everything. Said Munna savoring the halwa. Do you want to have a bite? Aah...where would you have the space in your stomach for this after feasting on the delicacies...said munna answering his own question. And finished the whole cup. Khushi didn't say anything. I am waiting to hear... tell me na….emphasized Munna yet again.
That night Khushi spent describing what all delicacies she had at the wedding rather she imagined she had. She described the taste of each of them, the smell, the texture...everything. She even burped intentionally a couple of times to show Munna how really she was full to the throat. She described how people were beautifully dressed and how the air smelled of different perfumes she never had known before. She described how the orchestra band looked like, how the bride and the groom were dressed, how the stage was decorated ...everything to detail. She did that without looking at Munna even once….Who was happily stargazing the vivid details for sometime....and soon fell asleep . Khushi herself couldn't sleep that night. But she was happy because her brother Munna was happy. She was happy because she saw her brother contended with his favourite halwa. She was happy because his brother lived his life through her eyes. Yes, Munna was blind. Khushi stood true to her name , she was indeed the epitome of 'happiness'.
Khushi has us taught that it doesn't take anything else than willingness to make someone happy. :)
Post Script :
1. More food is wasted in India in marriages than anywhere else in the world. To avoid the wastage of food, the left overs should be given to the neighbors, or the nearby poor people or should be sent to the orphanage. Minimising food wastage is something that all of us individually can work towards and in the process help those who are not as fortunate as we are.
2. Inspite of lfundamental rights and regulations like RTE the Gross Enrollment rate for education in India has been just 68.51 as counted last in 2011.Policies are of no use till the time they are implemented on the ground.
© 2014 Kunal Rahar