She walked towards her home, with a hungry stomach and a tired mind. Holding her fake leather hand bag, she walked in her own leisurely pace, in a red sari and matching black blouse, her mind several miles away. Walking past a halwai shop she looked pensively at the display of assorted sweets, ignoring it, she increased her pace.
Children played cricket, quite a few layers of brick formed their wicket, numerous beggars lined up, lifting their aluminium begging vessel, some of them without a full hand or legs mutilated and some blind. She dropped few coins on to few beggars; received god blesses in return, and then walked past them, crossing a junction and towards a slim lane. She felt a sea of humanity, as if parading with her, all in coherent motion but different worlds.
Sarita entered her neighbourhood and smiled deliberately at many old aunties and uncles she came across, some even staring at her from behind once she crossed them, looking at her well curved silhouette and lusting at her dancing butt. Many around her neighbourhood found her attractive, some even said, “She is a real good maal . Look at her when she moved. From the front and also from the back.Ha!..”
The oldest were the one she reviled the most. Some of them would stare at her plainly, without shame and that stare extended from her face to her breasts, she would impulsively move her sari pallu covering them. Most men made her feel self-conscious.
She walked through the slim lane and reached her house. The most copious in that slum and between several scruffy houses, her house stood out. Theirs was the only house painted recently, that was one year back during her sister’s marriage. Most houses saw paint during someone’s marriage or more often, once in its life time.
Several cows wandered in the street, often coming in the way of hurried cyclists and unconcerned, dumping their stomachs content onto the busy road. Gau maa: they were often called and most had a vermillion marking on their forehead. Sacred they were, but creating mayhem for the passengers. Cow dung also gave a distinctive local odour to the surroundings. Some villagers who migrated to cities often missed the smell of their villages and would say, “ my village has that aroma and fresh air which is never there in these cities and how I miss it”, not realizing what they smelled..
Opening the makeshift gate she entered her slum and found the bicycle of her father. She placed her sandals outside, washed her feet with the water placed outside for that purpose in a metallic bucket and entered her house, placing her right foot first.
Her old man sat on a plastic chair, sipping tea from a steel tumbler. Without giving a glance, she walked straight and entered the only other room in the house. Placing her handbag on the table, she removed her sari and wore her long nightie.
“ aah, you have come?” mother greeted her.
Without concern, she lifted the glass jug and poured several mouthful of water into her wide open mouth.
Sudhakar had his tea. The tea was not the same he used to have, he preferred a stronger brew. His wife had cut-short on the tea powder. “Tea have become very expensive, what to do?” he had had a conversation with his wife few weeks ago. These type of conversation happened quite frequently these days, he realized.
“Its increasingly difficult for a common man to survive.” He had said despondently.
The barber, Muraad, had told him about a potential groom for Sarita and ever since, he was seen with a perpetual thinking state of mind. The last he was in such state was before Kusum’s marriage. He didn’t want to think much about those times, he felt his muscles stiffen.
Clinching a steel tumbler of tea, Sarita came to the room where Sudhakar was sitting. She switched on the TV: a colour TV which the Govt had given to the poor people like them, just before the election and waited for the screen to come alive. Her favourite serial was about to start and nothing mattered to her during those hours. Her only worry was the power cut which frequented and more so during the serial time. Soon, the rest of the ladies joined her.
Sudhakar puts on his third shirt out of four, a cream colored he had stitched for his daughter Kusum’s marriage, sniffing first and frowning at the disgusting odour. He applies talcum powder over his armpits and sniffs again and then walks towards the crowded street.
He goes straight to Muraad’s shop, sits on the wooden bench and opens the leaf of the news paper. Muraad was occupied with a thick haired boy and in between, he glanced at Sudhakar.
“Muraad bhai, did they call you?” .
“Yes SudhakarBhai. They asked me if they can come this Sunday”
Sudhakar looked into the eyes of Muraad, the date didn’t matter to him much.
“No Problem Bhai, Did they inform their demand?”
“Boy looks forward thinking, I don’t know much details, but I feel it’s a good match” he looked at Sudhakar through the top of his glasses and continued with the boy, now not so thick haired.
Sudhakar looked engrossed in the news paper, but he was thinking ahead about coming Sunday. He would buy some biscuits and Pakode from Sundar’s Shop and Rasna. That would be enough, even for Kusum’s girl seeing he had offered the same. And it had worked. He had to arrange some money; he got up and walked towards his home.
He reached home and saw his wife waiting outside on the door steps. Sarita sat alongside and they gossiped. He knew they would be talking about their entire neighbourhood and the events of the entire day; who went where; who had guests. “These women have nothing else to do”, he mumbled to himself and entered the house. They stood up to greet him. Sudhakar went straight to his room, hanged his shirt and went to the bathroom for a shower.
After bath he walked to his room, sprinkled some talcum powder on to his armpits, looked into the mirror and combed his greying hair. He looked at his stubble and bulged his cheeks with his tongue. He noticed that he had not shaved for days.
He came back to the main room and saw that his wife had placed a plate on the table. He adjusted the chair and sat for the diner to be served. Aloo gobi, dal, and roties were served and Sudhakar had his diner, even though not hungry.
The family slept very late, like one big herd of cattle in a shed. Sudhakar slept on the cot, his daughters and wife slept adjacent on the floor. Few minutes of turning and all looked still, but Sudhakar looked up on the ceiling in the dark. He thought about his elder daughter Kusum’s wedding. Now again he has to go through the ordeal. Even after Sarita’s marriage he would have to start again for his youngest daughter Ekta.
“ Bhagvaan, these daughters’, he mumbled again to himself and his mind meandered through various thoughts. Being dark and wrinkled, no one noticed the dark circles around his eyes. When did he last sleep? He couldn’t remember.
Sudhakar was the first to take bath in the morning, followed by his wife Indira, then Sunitha and the last-Sarita. After Sarita’s bath, everyone joined at the prayer room and Sudhakar performed pooja before the framed photos of several gods and goddesses. Sarita closed her eyes and felt the image of her favourite god, the elephant headed Ganesh form before her closed eyes and smiling at her. That was an indication that things would work out. She thanked the god several times and while doing so, closed her eyelids forcefully, forming several horizontal wrangles across her closed eye lids. The fragrance of Agarbathi spread the house.
Muraad came with the boy at eleven in the morning. Sunitha and Indira spread the biscuits and pakodes in steel plates and while placing them on the table, took turns to gape at the boy. Sunitha managed a giggle and the boy smiled in return and then took out his kerchief to wipe his lips.
The boy hesitated and slowly sipped Rasna, the Rasna tasted overly sweet and he had an urge to guzzle down at once. He looked around at people and followed the pace with the snacks served. Sudhakar and his wife stared at the boy, his wife even walked few times around to have a complete picture of the boy. Every time the boy looked at Sudhakar’s wife he caught her gaping at him, but without any uneasiness she continued her gaze.“Pakodes are very nice”, the boy commented this to Sudhakar and Sudhakar gave him his tired smile in return. Sudhakar’s wife, Indira, called him with a gesture, which only Sudhakar understood and he went inside for the titter-biter.
to be continued........ very long, so thought of writing in parts....