Monday, 31 July 2017

'Lives Without Meaning' English translation of chapter 7 of 'Kuchh Zindagiya Bematalab' (कुछ ज़िन्दगियाँ बेमतलब) - novella by Om Prakash Deepak


After that day he turned into a cowardly child again. However now, his fear didn’t disappear, but increased when bappa happened to be near. After his anger had cooled down, bappa had taken him by rickshaw to the government dispensary and had his wounds dressed with tincture. On their way back, bappa had also treated him to jalebis - those syrupy sweets - but the thread between him and bappa had snapped finally.

The thread between him and the others in the lane had snapped too. He was not on talking terms, not only with Kisana but with all the boys in the lane. He never came face to face with Rajee now. If she came to his house, he sneaked out at once without as much as a glance at her. He also avoided looking at other women neighbours. If a woman mentioned the day even to sympathise, or tried sweetly to preach against stealing he felt like strangling her, or even running off to a place where there was no witness to that day.

He felt most shamed and humiliated when he had to go back to work at Chhotelal’s shop. The news of his beating had already reached him. Bappa had returned the cycle parts he had hidden. Chhotelal didn’t say anything and only smiled. The smile held contempt and also a little pity and that was what he found most offensive. He went and sat quietly at a side when Madan pointed to a cycle – ‘Take out the tube of the rear wheel and check for puncture.’

He was completely alone those days. After working silently through the day, he returned at night to lie down and for the entire time that he was free, was nagged by just one thought – that he should run off somewhere. But where? Do what? The only part of his life that belonged to him was when he, sitting or lying down, dreamt like Shaikhchilli – the proverbial fool who was for ever building castles in air – would that he met a man with magical powers who, taking pity on him, would reveal to him the secret of a hidden treasure, or give a magic salve for the eye that would make him disappear so he would be invisible to others but could see everyone, move at will through closed doors and walls (he had seen a film which had such an accomplished magician) or make him so powerful he could conquer the world and no one could stand up to him. He dreamt and he dreamt, funny dreams that would enable him to possess all the human, godly and demonic powers, enjoy all the pleasures and when forced out of these dreams, he remained listless, thinking constantly of how to run away, where to run away.

Some days later, there was also some talk of his marriage – something to the effect that he should be married off in the next Jeth, the third month of the Hindu lunar calender. They had received a proposal from somewhere, he never came to know from where. And then gauna after a year or two. But bappa left it at that, or he didn’t know what exactly happened. The topic came up and it ended.

The month of Jeth came and passed. It was in that year that the country became independent and Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru became king – the Prime-Minister. A procession was taken out with him sitting in the same buggy as the English Viceroy. He unfurled the tricolour at the Red Fort. At night there were illuminations. He went neither to the Red Fort to hear the speech nor to see the procession. He went round the bazaar just once in the evening to see the lights. Bappa too, went out only in the evening, all alone, however, he gave him eight annas before leaving.

It was just after that, that Delhi was suddenly flooded with refugees. Two or three families ended up in their lane also. They appeared so strange! Some looked helpless and lost, others fierce and a little mad. They told hair-raising tales of atrocities Hindus and Sikhs were subjected to in Pakistan. A family came to live in a house near the well – they were Sikhs. The man was seen only seldom, and when he was, he was always quiet. His eyes were very strange, so hard one was frightened to look into them. But his wife interacted with everyone. The women in the lane were also curious and three or four of them always had her surrounded. Narrating her tale, she went through strange motions. On the verge of tears one moment, she started screaming like one mad with rage the next, as if possessed by a spirit. He heard the Sikh had two young sisters. He owned a tailor’s shop in a town. When the crowd surrounded his house, he himself beheaded his sisters with his kirpan dagger. He was about to kill his wife when the police arrived. The old police inspector was kind hearted, he had them escorted to the camp. They also had a boy of three or four years who always clung to his mother.

And one day, Delhi too caught this fire. He was sitting at the shop, checking a puncture. Madan was inside the shop, when suddenly a strange noise rose up from every direction and shops began to shut down quickly. There was panic all around. Hearing the noise, Madan came out and the two of them were watching in amazement, trying to figure things out when they saw a crowd of twenty to twenty five people rush in from one side. He took a little time to understand that they were chasing a middle aged man in a tehmad, running ahead of them. All of a sudden, either the man’s tehmad got loose or his feet staggered with fear – a naked dagger flashed in the air. It rose- dripping with fresh human blood. Dropped. Rose again, dropped again.

And the next moment the crowd passed on. His eyes fell upon the road and his feet gave way completely, his head swam, a churning rose in his belly and he began to retch.

He didn’t remember how he got up and went inside the shop. Leaving everything outside the way it was, he bolted the door from inside, dropped down on the floor, trembling for a long, long time. The day passed not in sleep but in a stupor. Chhotelal hadn’t come to the shop the whole day. How could he have? Later, he came to know that curfew had been clamped. Madan had run away then and there or perhaps had joined the crowd.

It was getting dark when bappa came looking for him. It had taken just a few hours for plunder and loot to start. A little further, to the south of the bazaar was a settlement of Muslims – about ten or fifteen huts and a few old brick and cemented houses. Subsequently it became known that a crowd had surrounded the settlement. Only very few could manage to escape. Even before the police arrived, the only survivors in the settlement were the wounded who had been left in the blazing houses. Of them, some were rescued by the police. By the time the fire-brigade arrived, the huts were reduced to ashes and in most of the houses too, the only remains were half-burnt roofs and walls. Some women too were carried away by the men in the crowd. Much later, when he was working in a place in Karol Bagh and also lived there, a couple too lived in a small room nearby. The woman was very quarrelsome, very much so. When the man failed to stand up to her, he bemoaned – ‘I brought you out, saved your life …who knows what sorry end you’d have met otherwise! And this is what you give me in return?’ But the strange thing was that no matter how bitterly they fought, it never came to blows.

This time too, bappa got a curfew pass from his depot. When he returned, mother was flitting about in worry – “Such plunder and killing in the city and the boy is missing”. At first bappa found the shop closed, but on coming closer saw it was bolted not from outside but from inside. Bappa’s knock at the door scared him at first and he neither moved nor made a sound. But when bappa called out, he felt much relieved. Bappa left alone the stuff that lay outside, none of it was very costly any way, but searching out a lock, locked the shop from outside.

When mai saw them coming she ran from a distance and holding him close showered him with kisses. She didn’t stop crying and she didn’t stop kissing him. “O my son, my prince, my moon’. At first he felt reassured, a sense of security but when mai’s caresses didn’t stop he felt a little vexed. Many of the neighbours, both men and women, were watching. Many came later to enquire if Ghaseeta had reached home or not. He concluded that mai must have been really perturbed and must have raised a big hue and cry.

Things with bappa could never be the way they had been earlier – bappa was murdered only a few days later. However, distance between the two reduced a great deal during those last few days. He had become even more of a coward but at least now his fear did not increase when he saw bappa. The city witnessed so much of plunder and killing that leave alone the lane, he was scared to step out of the house. There was a twenty four hour curfew and the military kept patrolling the streets. Then, when the fire cooled down a little there was peace for a few days, but again someone murdered someone in some area or there were isolated incidents of a crowd surrounding a house and putting it on fire before the military or the police could arrive. The occupants, if they received prior information, got away, otherwise they too perished.

Chhotelal’s shop remained shut for a few days and when it opened, mai refused to let him go to work. But bappa started going immediately after the curfew was lifted. Mai was a little scared too, but bappa laughed out loud – “Can anyone dare to come before a military truck?” Those days, a truck from the depot used to ply, taking people to work in the morning and dropping them near their homes in the evening. But bappa had to leave a little early now as the truck had to take a devious route in order to pick up people from different points. The train didn’t take up so much time and the station at the Subzi Mandi- the vegetable market - was quite close to the house and the depot too was near a station.

Bappa was not feeling too well that day. At first, he said he wouldn’t go for work. But then, on second thoughts he said, “Might as well go, what would I do sitting at home, this will only mean a cut in the wages.” He lost some time before arriving at a decision and though delayed by only a minute or two, he missed the truck. Everyone at home thought bappa had gone by the truck. But bappa, not seeing any of his fellow passengers, had thought at first that the truck had left but then had stood there for a few minutes thinking perhaps no other person had come and the truck may still arrive. When it didn’t he started for the station, intending to catch the train.

It wasn’t yet noon when a policeman, with bappa’s name written on a paper, came to make enquiries. Mai was inside the house. He was sitting at the door sill. The policeman stopped under the neem tree – “Is this Chhedilal’s house?” The moment the policeman stopped and asked, his heart skipped a beat. He stood up, was unable to speak, but nodded his head – yes. “Chhedilal has been murdered, his body is lying at the Hindu Rao hospital.” He heard, but didn’t really understand what the policeman was saying. “Who is it?” - Mai asked from inside but he still couldn’t speak or move. When mai came out the policeman repeated his question, then the message – “Is this Chhedilal’s house? Chhedilal has been murdered, the body is lying at Hindu Rao hospital.” Mai seemed paralyzed for a moment. Then hitting herself suddenly on the head, she almost crumbled down to the floor and started to cry loudly. Women from surrounding houses came out and circled mai. Four or five men also appeared. The two money lenders along with Bhagirath and two others who, perhaps hadn’t gone to work or were perhaps unemployed. Tears dropped quickly down his eyes but he had still not regained his voice, as if an unknown force had clamped down his mouth.

And later, the unknown force also locked up the memory of the day in his mind. It was unlocked very rarely and when it was, he lingered very shortly on the days and the ensuing developments. For, whenever the lock opened, the face of bappa lying in the hospital verandah appeared before his eyes – open lips, as though he was still speaking when death arrived, eyes too, open and unmoving, as if they were not real but made of glass. Bappa had no wound on his head but on his chest (or perhaps the back) and on his stomach which had been stitched and bandaged at the hospital. No one knew if he died before or after he reached the hospital. Nor if he had been killed by Muslims or by Sikhs and Hindus, who mistook him for a Muslim.

The policeman who had come with the news also passed on that there had been a commotion at the mouth of a lane almost two furlongs this side of the station. Two policemen, patrolling the area had gone to check and found bappa lying all alone in a pool of blood. Later, he also heard whispers that the masons – Munna and his friends - had taken their long standing revenge when they found the chance. During the days these rumours came to his ears, he was already thinking of leaving home. The rumours did not anger him, nor incited him to take revenge. On the contrary, the resentment in him went up and the wish to go away somewhere, where he wouldn’t meet anyone from the lane, became stronger.

The policeman was still saying how the police patrol had sent for a vehicle from the police station and taken bappa to hospital, how his depot card, stating his name and address was found in his pocket, when suddenly, mai rose and began to run, still crying and screaming. He, and the others too, followed mai. Everyone understood without being told that mai was headed for the hospital. Mai was crying and running as if her early arrival at the hospital was going to make a difference. The city was quite peaceful at the time, the bazaar was open and there were quite a few people on the road who stopped when they saw mai running and crying like this. Many also asked the people from the lane who were following her what had happened. “Her husband has been murdered.” “Tch, tch, tch”- making a sound expressing pity they moved on. Mai did not stop running on the incline before the hospital. She was breathless and her wails had turned to a strange, continuous sound which was filling up that deserted area.

They had placed bappa in a corridor on the outer fringe of the hospital, covered to the top with a hospital sheet. His was perhaps the only corpse in the hospital that day. Mai had gone crashing down on to bappa and accidentally or intentionally by mai, the sheet on the body became displaced, revealing bappa’s face, which gave him a severe shock as if he had been hit forcefully on the chest by someone with a fist. Bappa’s mouth was open with his teeth showing, the fixed eyes seemed artificial, as if made of glass. Unable to watch he looked away but again and again his gaze returned. Then someone covered bappa’s face and he felt some relief.

Some more people, with them Dulaare chacha and the pandit from the Shivala, arrived in a while. The pandit took charge of everything, to make arrangements for an early funeral, “If there is rioting we’d all get trapped here”. Dulaare chacha went to get what was required. The bier was carried straight to the Jamuna river from the hospital. Three or four women from the lane had also arrived. They held mai and then took her home with them. It was perhaps the effect of the pandit’s words that of the ten or twelve people who had come to the hospital, only six or seven went with the funeral.

When someone covered up bappa’s face in the hospital, he was overtaken by a strange desolation and broke into sobs. Bappa’s death had still not registered in his mind but the way his mouth remained open, his eyes looked glazed like glass, wrenched repeatedly at his heart. All the time bappa was being laid out on the funeral pyre and while lighting it up, he kept crying and sobbing, his heart turning in a curious way.

When he returned, he didn’t have the heart to enter the house and sat there at the doorsill. Dulaare chacha went in at once. Mai was sitting against the wall, quiet now, after having cried herself to exhaustion, but seeing him she broke down again. He heard mai’s sobs and lay there on his stomach on the floor. Dulaare chacha came out, paused when he saw him lying but didn’t speak, just sat there quietly.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

'Lives Without Meaning' - English translation of chapter 6 of 'Kuchh Zindagiyan bematalab' (कुछ ज़िन्दगियाँ बेमतलब) - novella by Om Prakash Deepak


Before starting to train at a cycle shop, he also received some schooling for a few days. It wasn’t much of a school. The pandit at the Shivala collected some children of the lane to teach them the alphabet. The pandit ran the school for some months but, for one, it was difficult to go about collecting the children every day and also, he didn’t get regular payments. One day in his exasperation, the pandit drove the children away. ‘Rogues … low castes … how would they know how education can benefit them..’ Thus the school came to an end. He had, meanwhile learned some numbers and tables. Also alphabets. But later, he remembered only the numbers. He could write his name but forgot the rest of the alphabets.

The cycle shop was to him the first, first-hand experience of the life’s realities and the first few days proved quite tough. Hearing abuses and receiving slaps was nothing new to him, what he minded was that he now received these from new people. People he had had nothing to do with till now, and he got nothing in return from them. The four rupees at the end of the month went to bappa. The owner of the shop was Chhotelal, who himself kept sitting on a tin chair and lent a hand only when the work load was too heavy. All the work was done by Madan and Rahmat – a Muslim boy. Madan must have been seventeen or eighteen and Rahmat, fourteen or fifteen. When he joined, minor jobs like cleaning, pumping, oiling, locating the puncture by soaking the tube in a water-basin, unscrewing etc. came to his lot.

A few days later, Chhotelal fired Rahmat. Rahmat was a thief, but more than that he was a Muslim and Chhotelal had wanted to sack him on one pretext or the other. When Rahmat left, his position got worse. For one thing, there were now only two of them, instead of three, in the line of Chhotelal’s fire and for the other, Madan too, apart from abusing him for every small thing also took to beating him because his own work had increased manifold. Rahmat could do almost all the work but he couldn’t even put a tyre on to a wheel. Madan had to do more work and Chhotelal too, had to get up to lend a hand and they vented their anger at him. Madan was angry with him also because with Rahmat he’d had a pact. Apart from slipping away small spare parts or at times even tyres and tubes, they had also shared the major portion of money made from customers who came to the shop when Chhotelal was not present. But Chhotelal seldom left the shop now and Madan too, rarely dared to keep any money with him. He was perhaps scared he would squeal to Chhotelal.

He felt both anger and envy for Kisana. Anger, because it was he, who had told bappa that Chhotelal was looking for a boy for his shop. Kisana had been working at a nearby motor repair shop as a cleaner for the past two years. This was the cause of his envy. He watched at times how Kisana opened the bonnet of the truck to be repaired and cleaned it, or lying underneath, greased all its parts. He felt really envious when Kisana emerged from under the truck with oil and grease on his hands and clothes.

And the way Kisana drew out petrol from the tank of the truck was nothing short of a miracle to him. Putting one end of the tube in the tank and the other in his mouth, Kisana sucked in air and hurriedly spitting out petrol, placed the tube in the basin. Petrol began to flow out and continued to flow till the time the tube was taken out of the tank. At first he thought there was a nozzle inside the tank, to which the tube was attached but in that case why did Kisana put the tube in his mouth? And if there was no nozzle, why did the petrol keep flowing? He asked Kisana once, and he laughed patronisingly – It’s a trick. One day Chhotelal was not at the shop. There was also no work. So when Kisana brought a tube and a basin to take out petrol from the truck, he also stood at a side and watched. Putting the tube in the tank, Kisana handed him the other end. ‘Sit down. I’ll teach you the trick today.’ When he drew in the air, he went through the same motions he had gone through when he had smoked bapu’s hukka. Nothing happened at first. He only drew in air. Then the petrol rushed through the tube to fill his mouth, some also went to his stomach and when he took out the tube with a jerk, the petrol too, stopped after a trickle.

He felt sick the whole day. The petrol swallowed was not enough to make him throw up, but enough to make him dizzy and queasy the whole day. Kisana rubbed his back and head for quite some time but it didn’t make much of a difference. Kisana also treated him to a glass of tea (tea wasn’t as common those days as it was now) which gave him some relief, but he did not get back to normal for two or three days. The shop was close to the lane and he used to go back home for lunch around one or one-thirty. But he couldn’t eat that day and started to feel sick after taking just one roti. Leaving the rest of the food he went to lie on his stomach and a little later, when he felt a little better, returned to the shop. Mai became quite worried and gave him a clod of rock salt to suck on. She was asking him to take some more rest, but he went back to the shop as he didn’t want either Chhotelal or bappa to know.

He became friendly with Kisana after this and the friendship opened for him, the door to a new world. Kisana never confided fully in him but hinted that the petrol from the tank was often filched behind the owner’s back and if someone chanced upon him, he was told the oil had trash and had to be cleaned. Otherwise too, if the tank had to be emptied they helped themselves to some of the petrol and sold it later. When they got a chance, they also swiped small spare parts.

Kisana was very fond of snacking on this spicy snack - chaat - and usually had money in his pocket. Now he sometimes treated him also to chaat. Once, giving Chhotelal some yarn, he also went to see a bi-scope with Kisana (nobody called it bi-scope now, but cinema). He felt a little scared that day. They took a tram ride to a spot near Jama Masjid. Never before had he ventured so far out to such a crowded place on his own. The fear that he might get separated from Kisana stayed with him till the end. There was a big crowd at the biscope but Kisana managed to go in and get tickets. Not only for themselves but also three extra tickets. Later, he sold these tickets that had cost him five annas each, for eight annas each. Thus the biscope cost the two of them a total of one anna.

It was the first film he had watched. As far as he could remember, it was titled ‘Bharat Milaap’. He liked it very much. And after that, he too became addicted. Whenever he found an opportunity, he too went with Kisana to see biscope. In the beginning he didn’t have money and could go only when Kisana took him along and then too, he had to think of an excuse to give Chhotelal to get leave. Often Kisana went alone and told him later. At times he himself asked Kisana but Kisana used to excuse himself.

If Kisana took him along it was because he could talk to him without fear. Kisana talked of things of all manner... like one much experienced. One day Kisana asked him – ‘Do you know how babies are born?’ Even otherwise, he had observed how Kisana and Madan passed obscene comments directly at women, especially young women, who passed by. Even others uttered obscenities, but those obscenities concerned mothers, sisters and daughters and he was under the impression that these didn’t actually mean anything. But Kisana and Madan directed the obscenities straight at women and somehow, perhaps by reading their faces, he came to understand these were not just obscene utterances but what they actually had on their minds. At such times their eyes acquired a strange glint, their lips tightened and all this made him feel a little uneasy.

He knew babies were born to women and before that their tummies bloated. He also knew women suffered a lot when they had babies and yet the whole business was filled with mystery to him. Therefore when Kisana asked him this question he kept quiet. And then Kisana told him in detail the ‘realities’ of life and also that women had in them, eight times the heat men had, but the women’s heat got released each month, while men’s stayed stored inside them.

Listening to Kisana, he felt a big secret had suddenly been revealed to him, as if this new knowledge had suddenly ended his childhood and made him an adult. For many a day he had this strange feeling, as if this knowledge had been a secret of others and was now revealed to him because it wasn’t yet a part of his experience. He also found it strange initially that Kisana, whenever he found an opportunity, either while going for lunch or returning in the evening, walked with him to his house and stopping him under the neem tree, talked of this thing and that while looking constantly at Rajee’s door.

Rajee was the same age as he, but had somehow matured more. She had now stopped playing with children in the lane, her mannerism too had become more like that of a grown-up. For some days in the beginning he thought Kisana accompanied him because they were friends. But one day, when Kisana was talking to him sitting under the neem, Rajee returned from outside, and throwing one glance at them went inside her house and shut the door. Kisana’s face looked unnaturally tense – ‘The bitch … has a thing going with Ganesh … he has all the fun … and I am not allowed even to touch.’

The tension on Kisana’s face and his words, not only baffled but also, to some extent, offended him. He failed to understand Kisana’s anger because he had seen nothing that would indicate Rajee had a ‘thing’ going with Ganesh. Kisana had spoken out of desperation. But what was there to be desperate about?

Not many days had passed after this, when that whole tension and desperation made its way into him. He was standing, unscrewing a cycle turned upside down, when suddenly he heard Madan, who was working on another cycle, raise his head and let out a mouthful of obscenities. A pretty girl, thirteen or fourteen years of age, was passing by with a small boy. As she walked, she turned her gaze – her neck slanted a little, so did her gaze – her lips twisted as she spoke and a flame of fire ran through his body and then kept on running. His nerves tightened, his body stretched like an arrow mounted on a bow-string. The girl passed and went out of his sight, but his body still seemed to be on fire, his eyes were red. Where to go? What to do? Should he knock the wall down with his head, break the cycle with the pressure of his hands, jump into a well, what should he do?

Crack. His wrist received a jolt, he had turned the wrench gripped in his fist in the opposite direction, cutting the rings in the screw. The fire went out and he gave a start. Looking round him, he felt everyone around was watching him, watching the fire raging in his body, his taut nerves, the blood welling in his eyes. As if he had become naked and bare in mid-market. He felt everyone must have heard the sound of the ring cracking, which to him had sounded like the report of a gun. No one was watching him. No one had heard the crack, at least no one paid any attention to it. Madan was bent over his cycle, Chhotelal was dosing on his tin chair.

His friendship with Kisana deepened after this. The first few days were really trying. Everything was the same, only he had changed from within – and no one was aware of this change. There was no need to say anything to Kisana. Earlier, it was only Kisana who spoke about girls, his job was to listen. Now the two of them began to share their experiences. In this new round of friendship, he too felt the need to have money. Kisana had, even earlier, given some hints and now he too, when he had the chance, swiped, sometimes a small part, sometimes an old tyre or tube, sometimes glue. If he got a chance, he handed it to Kisana there itself, if not, he brought it home and hid it. Kisana knew a junk dealer to whom he sold all these things. The money they got was spent on eating chaat or watching biscope. Gradually a system evolved and whenever a new film was released, they tried to purchase the tickets in advance, and then sell the five anna tickets for eight anna. Thus, they generally watched the cinema for free and often earned some money too.
But this friendship didn’t last long. In the beginning he liked it very much when Kisana walked with him to his house and sitting under the neem, talked to him, but began to dislike it equally a few days later. Kisana was so obsessed with Rajee that the moment they left the shop, he began to abuse her and kept abusing her even as they sat under the tree, sometimes linking her with Ganesh, at other times cooking up stories of her imagined pursuits. At first he enjoyed listening to Kisana’s talk but gradually came to find it offensive, mostly because Kisana, thinking him ignorant even now, gave vent to his frustration before him. He also began to dislike the way Kisana talked about Rajee. And then, a few times, he got a feeling that Rajee was looking at him in a strange way – as if weighing him up.

And slowly his heart, on its own, attached many meanings to that look of Rajee’s – Kisana was his rival, Rajee disliked Kisana. Kisana deliberately stayed constantly glued to him, if Kisana was not with him and he alone, met her, he could strike a friendship with her, Rajee could be persuaded to start a ‘thing’ with him.

He didn’t have an open fight with Kisana but began, gradually to cut himself off from him. In the afternoon he tried to dodge Kisana’s eye and came home alone. Even otherwise, he stopped hanging out with Kisana. Now, when Kisana asked him to come to the cinema, it was he who excused himself. When he started coming home by himself in the afternoon, once or twice, Rajee began to clean and pick something sitting out in front of her house. Once when he reached home, Rajee was sitting with mai who was stitching a patchwork spread and when she got up to serve him food, Rajee took her place and resumed the stitching. She sat there that day, till the time he went back to the shop. Rajee hadn’t talked to him but he came to believe that Rajee could be made to come round.

And then, one day bappa caught his theft. He was sure Kisana had told on him. It was Sunday and bappa had a holiday. But he left for the shop in the morning like other days. When he returned home for lunch in the afternoon, a few cycle parts, which he had hidden under his spread, lay on the floor of the room, right in front of the door. Bappa was sitting with a neem stick in hand.

Bappa did not so much as ask him where the parts had come from or if he had stolen them. The instant his eyes fell upon the parts, he stopped in alarm, and at that instant received bappa’s full handed slap. Staggering, he fell down. ‘Rascal. Scoundrel. Thief. Doing his father proud! I’ll teach such a lesson to this bastard, he won’t think of stealing again.’ Before he could pull himself together bappa had taken down his knickers, pulled off his shirt, dragged him out in the lane. He was struck dumb at first but when bappa, leaving his hand, began to hit him with a stick, he began to cry, screaming out ‘Oh mai!’ He also thought of running away but when he realized he was standing stark naked, his feet stopped. Suddenly, bappa pounced on him and catching hold of his hair, gave him a push so he fell down again.

His screams brought many women out of the neighbouring houses, Rajee too came out, and stood in front of her house. The realization that he was naked and was getting thrashed before all these girls and women was, for a while, more humiliating and shameful than the pain of beating. To hide his shame, he shrank on the ground and tried not to scream, but unable to endure the blows of the stick began to scream again.

The beating became unbearable after a while. The women began to plead with bappa to stop, saying he had beaten him enough. Mai, who had been giving him a tongue lashing from inside, saying he was a thief and would land up in jail, would bring dishonour to the family, now came out and chided bappa – ‘kill him! Butcher! He has no love for his only son. He would rest only after he has killed him. Didn’t even let him eat.’ But bappa thundered - ‘it is better the scoundrel dies than become a thief. But the rascal won’t even die. And no wonder. He is a thief. And thieves are a sturdy lot.’

And everything within him shattered, turned to ashes. He forgot he was naked, he forgot he had grown up, forgot that women and girls stood watching, forgot the person beating him was his own father. All that remained in his mind was that he could no longer stand the lashings. He cried and grovelled –‘I won’t do it again bappa, I won’t ever steal again.' After some time even the grovelling became meaningless to him, but his mind and tongue went on repeating, if only to retain his senses.

And then a few women neighbours also joined mai to intervene. Perhaps bappa too, had tired. Dropping the stick, he suddenly went in. By then his whole body had turned blue and he continued to lie still and sob even after that. He was only semi-conscious when mai, with others' support, brought him in and he realized afresh that he was naked. His heart sank in a flood of shame and pain.

Spreading out a kathari, mai helped him lie down and turning his face towards the wall, he closed his eyes. As bappa too was sitting at the other side of the room, he made an effort not to let out a groan. But couldn’t stop himself. Unknown to him, his mouth began to issue forth a strange, muffled sound. He began to  ache from lying for so long on one side but did not change sides till bappa was there. It was only when bappa went out after some time that he turned his face the other way.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

'Lives Without Meaning' - English translation of chapter 5 of 'Kuchh Zindagiyan Bematalab' (कुछ ज़िन्दगियाँ बेमतलब) - novella by Om Prakash Deepak


Bappa returned a bit late that night. Mai was quite anxious and had started to worry from the time she finished her cooking. But there was no cause to worry. Dulaare chacha came by to enquire and mentioned that as bappa was a government servant he’d have received his curfew pass. But mai relaxed only after bappa was back. He had, on coming to know as he entered the lane, stopped by at Bidesia’s house.

When curfew was lifted for two hours the next morning, some five or six people from the lane took Bidesia away. Bappa did not go with them for he had strict orders to be present on duty. He however, went to the police station before leaving to get a curfew pass so there would be no problem in case cremation got delayed. He told, after returning from police-station, that he hadn’t let on to the police that Bidesia had died of a bullet. He had said Bidesia had been ill since long. The police had drawn out a pass after looking at his depot-card which also had his photograph.

But no other person living in the lane could go for work that day. Curfew had continued for some two or three days. It was relaxed on the first day for two hours, then for four hours and then for the whole day. But not for many more nights to come. During the day, when the curfew was still on, people in the lane either stood or sat talking here and there. They were all either water bearers, porters, masons or cobblers and worked either in shops and hotels or with a contractor. Because of the curfew, all the bazaars were closed and everyone had to sit idle. Those working on a monthly salary did not lose out on anything but the daily wagers had no income. Massur Maharaj too did not suffer any loss because even though he didn’t keep his shop fully open for fear of the police (though no policeman entered that lane) he kept the door open to carry on with the sale.

Ganesh was not seen that day after bringing the news to the lane, but the next day, as the men stood around talking, he came and stood under the neem. A few children were already playing there. He stood there quietly at first. Some of the children came to stand around him. Ganesh’s face was still off-colour. Perhaps someone asked if he had seen Bidesia getting shot. And he began to tell. And as he began to tell, the colour of his face changed completely. “Arre, he fell right before me. The procession was taken out from the crossing at Ghantaghar - the Clock Tower. Such a huge procession too, there were thousands of men. Gandhi Mahatma has issued orders – turn the English out, bring in self-rule. The English have arrested Gandhi Mahatma. Therefore the procession. The English were so badly stoned, they had to run. All their rifles were of no use. The moment they came out of the police-station, the procession charged them pelting stones and bricks. Just when a Muslim Havaldar stepped out, I threw a stone with all my might. It hit him squarely on the chest. He ran back into the station. Processions were taken out all over the city. The town hall was burnt down. A pitched battle with the police was on when suddenly four trucks full of military arrived. All the telephone wires had been cut down and yet, somehow, the police had managed to send a message. The military took position at some distance. It was a black platoon – balochis with three or four white officers. They ordered firing at once. Bullets began to boom. They fired one round and advanced ten steps. Fired another round and advanced ten more steps. Men began to drop dead like flies. There was a stampede. Bidesia hadn’t been part of the procession till then. He had stood aside with his rickshaw. When people began to run, I too ran. And then, I saw Bidesia leave his rickshaw and come bang in the middle. With no fear for his life he ran forward, shouting Inquilab zindabad … long live revolution. And then there was a bang and a bullet went through his chest and out the back. He died instantly. When he had run forward, the stampede too had halted. Then some men came out of the lane at the back and began pelting stones. Even the military was foxed for a minute. Mahaadev had recognised Bidesia – he too had been in the procession. Together with a few other men, he picked up and put Bidesia on the rickshaw. By then the military had taken position both in front and at the back. The bullets started flying again. People took to their heels. Quickly they took the rickshaw into a lane and out from the other end. I was running ahead of them.”

As he spoke, Ganesh’s face began to glow. As if he was a different boy. As if the Ganesh of two days ago had been transformed. Although nothing had happened and it only took a few days for things to return to their old ways. But at that instant, Ganesh grew in stature in the eyes of all those children. He had gone with the procession, had hit a Muslim Havaldar with all his might, had been there at the time of firing. Nobody doubted he had hit the Havaldar. He may have exaggerated a little but the boys would have believed anything Ganesh said with that glowing face and all the boys in the lane came to regard Ganesh as their leader. Kisana always tried to be one up on Ganesh but after this incident, even Kisana stood in awe of Ganesh.

And then when the curfew was lifted and the bazaars opened, everything went back to its old routine. Only the children had now found a new sport. Whenever Mahaadev saw the children, he said – Say 'Bharat mata ki jai', victory to Mother India’. And then, the children went round the lane in a procession shouting slogans – Inquilab zindabaad, Mahatma Gandhi ki jai. Everyone understood the meaning of ‘zindabad’ and ‘jai’. During Dushehera too, when everyone celebrated the victory of Ram over Ravana, they shouted slogans like – Raja Ramchandra ji ki jai – Victory to Lord Ram. But no one knew what ‘inquilab’ meant and at times they also had debates over it. And at other times over why someone did not kill the government.

In the beginning, Mahaadev talked everyday at the well about the war and about the movement. ‘Subhash Babu’s army is going to attack. He is coming to India soon. The English are unable to face the Japanese army. The movement is in full swing. The police and the military are wreaking havoc.’ But gradually the talk at the well also cooled down. Mahaadev worked as an accountant with a cloth merchant and whatever he heard during the day in the bazaar, he repeated the next day at the well. Whenever mai took him down there for a bath, the talk came to his ears too. But there was no change in the rest of the things.

The only other change occurred in Bidesia’s wife. She was now clad usually in dirty, soiled clothes. Her hair dishevelled, in a tangle. She had always been thin but now became a bag of bones. Her face had withered, her skin had dried. Yes, her eyes almost sunken into hollows, still appeared large and if ever she looked with a fixed stare at someone even for a moment, it evoked a queer feeling. Her brother and his wife came to visit three or four days after Bidesia’s death – with three or four children. Neither of her parents were alive. Her brother had arranged her marriage. Whether or not her brother and his wife asked her to go with them, she hadn’t gone. A few days later, she began to go to some well-to-do households to do their dishes. And then her palms too, like her eyes, began to attract attention – for they now looked like the hands of a slender man. With a firm grip and yet strangely beautiful.

Everyone sympathized with Bidesia’s wife in the beginning. Then just as other things had cooled down with time, their sympathy too began to cool down. Bidesia’s rickshaw, parked under the neem, had kept reminding people of him every now and then. And then one day, a customer came from outside and Bidesia’s wife disposed off the rickshaw. And one day it so happened that bappa bashed Munna up. It was a holiday. Bappa had gone to bazaar. On his way back, Munna probably made a crack at bappa. Bappa turned back to give him three or four smacks. Munna, perhaps because he was stunned or cowed down by bappa’s anger, or for some other reason didn’t raise his hand in retaliation. He kept quiet after receiving the whacks and bappa, grumbling and growling, returned home.

However, there was tension in the lane after that day. Mahaadev, Munna’s father, was a mason and Munna, who must have been around twenty, was getting trained under him. Many households in the lane, all of them prosperous, belonged to the masons. Bappa wielded some sway because of his government service. He, however, was all alone. Even the boys came to know there was some hostility between the masons and Ghaseeta’s bappa. But, despite the tension nothing happened. Except for the talk in the lane about how a single woman always spelt trouble, for her own self as well as for others.

And so, he was completely unprepared for the battle of Mahaabhaarat that suddenly took place at his house. All that he knew about why bappa had hit Munna was that Munna had made a crack at bappa. The fact that bappa had returned after hitting Munna and Munna hadn’t had the gumption even to speak had only made him proud. Although he had stopped going to the Shivala for the fear of getting beaten up by the masons’ boys. One day, when he was playing with other boys under the neem after lunch, somebody, he couldn’t recall exactly who – perhaps Rajee, came to break the news that there was a fight going on between Ghaseeta’s mai and Bidesia’s wife. He went running and what he witnessed in front of Bidesia’s house was completely new to him. Their clothes in a total disarray, blouses torn, they stood scratching and tearing at each other, letting out choicest abuses, not heard even from a man’s mouth. Quarrels and beatings were routine in the lane but never before had he seen such a fight between two women. That mai could fight like this! ‘You man-eater, after eating up your own man, you’d now eat up another’s too?’ Had he not seen it with his own eyes, he could never have imagined it. Mai’s build was not bad, but Bidesia’s wife was still young. Soon, mai began to get breathless, and then other women intervened to pull them away from each other. These women too, perhaps sided in their hearts with mai  because as they separated the two, mai scratched at the face of Bidesia’s wife and tore down her aanchal - the open end of her sari. Something strange happened after the two were separated. Mai returned home still abusing but Bidesia’s wife broke down suddenly. She went back crying to her room and could be heard even from there.

Bappa, when he returned home that evening, was already boiling, either because he had gone to meet Bidesia’s wife or he had heard from other quarters. The moment he entered, he pounced upon mai – “You bitch! You are fond of wrestling? I’ll cure you of your wrestling now. You have claims to virtues? I’ll see how virtuous you are.” Bappa didn’t normally raise his hand against mai and mai too was generally subdued before him. But something was the matter that day. When bappa kicked her down, she got up at once and fell upon him – ‘hit me, hit me, but if you go to that hussy, I’ll kill you. I’ll have your blood, hers too.’ Just a push from bappa sent her sprawling down again – ‘You want my blood? I’ll give you my blood now.’ Picking up a firewood, bappa began to hit her, but mai too was like one possessed. Again and again she rose and pounced – ‘hit me, hit me, but you’ll go to that hussy over my dead body.’

He was petrified to see bappa so angry. And when bappa picked up a firewood, he lost his voice. Standing in a corner of the room, he watched it all, as if his body no longer had the strength to move. Then suddenly, tears started to roll and his throat started to produce a strange muffled sound, as if it was he who was getting thrashed. When mai fell back exhausted and began to moan, bappa threw down the stick and stomped out. He did not return home that night.

Many women from the neighbourhood showed up shortly, criticised bappa profusely and abused Bidesia’s wife to their hearts content. Mai said nothing. Only moaned. Meanwhile, somebody, perhaps Rajee’s amma, brought something, a paste of lime and turmeric or some such thing, to apply on mai’s wounds. But no one paid any attention to him. He sat down on the spot where he had been standing and at some point fell asleep. When he woke up in the morning he found someone, perhaps mai, had covered him with a kathari.

Bappa returned home early in the morning but didn’t speak a word. Mai was quite badly hurt. Still groaning, she had kindled the earthen stove - the chulha- and was engaged in cooking even before bappa was back. Quietly bappa ate his food and left for work. And from that day, a strange silence came to settle in the house. Bappa, quiet as he had been even earlier, now became completely silent. Mai too, became even more subdued. Her body ached for many days but she didn’t stop her household chores. He himself started to receive a little more of his parents' love. For many days in the beginning, whenever bappa wanted to convey something or even give money to mai, instead of doing it directly, did it through him. Mai too, when she had to call bappa to take his food, called out to him. But even in the silence and the softness, something seemed to have gone amiss.

Bidesia’s wife became almost invisible after that day. She kept always to her room after returning from work. And then one day she left her room also and went away. It was rumoured she had married another man but no one had any clue to the identity or the address or the business of the man.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

'Lives Without Meaning' - English Translation Of Chapter 4 Of 'Kuchh Zindagiyan Bematalab' (कुछ ज़िन्दगियाँ बेमतलब), novella by Om Prakash Deepak


The room where Shivalewali had lived lay vacant for days. Although no one talked of her, the lock on the door drew everyone’s attention. Therefore he found it very strange when his uncle, Dulaare chacha, went to live in that room. When he had first arrived from their village, Dulaare chacha had stayed with them for many days. But when he found a job bappa approached the Munim to let that room out to Dulaare chacha. He had liked the fact of Dulaare chacha going away from their home. But the fact that he would live in Shivalewali’s  room had initially appeared weird to him.

It was only when Dulaare chacha had arrived that he had come to know he had another home too, in village Murware of district Sultanpur. When he asked mai, she snapped at him. Bappa had gone to work at the time and Dulaare chacha too had been away. What mai had said in a slightly sharp tone meant – ‘...what home and what family? The relatives are the same as the contenders. No one has ever sent so much as a grain from the land at home for them even to sniff at...' But one evening, Dulare chacha - as he sat smoking a beedi with bappa, said – 'Ghaseeta won’t  have any memory of his native village!'

Dulaare chacha was forever smoking beedis and to tease him, often blew smoke at him. The smoke from beedis was so acrid that if he happened to inhale it, it sent him into a fit of coughing. When chacha smoked it became difficult to sit in the room. His teeth too, were a peculiar yellow and black and when he laughed, looked very ugly. His mouth smelt foul, and not just because of the beedis. Even bappa smoked tobacco but the smoke from his hukka - a water- tobacco pipe with a coconut husk to hold water - didn’t smell so bad. He had also wondered a little at times why the water in the coconut husk didn’t go through the pipe to bappa’s mouth? Once when bappa had gone out, perhaps to attend to a visitor, he had picked up the hukka and put his mouth to its pipe. Nothing happened at first but when he dragged hard, the water and the smoke went straight to his lungs and then he had a very tough time indeed. His eyes began to water, his mouth began to drool from the constant coughing. By then, bappa too had come back. I have had it now, he had thought, with alarm. Bappa looked at him and asked somewhat angrily, “Why? Have you been smoking the hukka?” He hadn’t answered. He couldn’t have, had he wanted to because of the way he was coughing. However bappa had not hit him ... looking once at his plight, he had returned to his hukka. Never again did he try to pull at bappa’s hukka.

Bappa had laughed a little when he heard Dulaare chacha. How would he remember ... he hadn’t completed even three! Later, bappa and chacha kept talking about their native village and home and from their talk he began to form a hazy picture in his mind. They had a house in the village where bappa too had lived initially. Now bappa’s chacha and his family were living there. He had many uncles and any number of cousins living there. They owned some land in the village which could no longer sustain them. Dulaare chacha sounded a little unhappy. Bappa too disclosed at the time that he had come to Delhi because of the growing squabbles at home. And then, when he found work in a mill, he also called his brother. When war started and he found a better paid job at the depot, he left the mill. ‘It is convenient here. Work regular hours, take back a regular salary.’

He had also come to know from their talk at the time that chachi - Dulaare chacha’s wife - had passed away some three-four years back and that chacha had headed for Delhi after giving away his only daughter in marriage. He also held it against  his elder brother that he hadn’t made any attempts to get him married a second time. He sounded as if he still nursed a wish to marry, but who would have given his daughter to him?

And then somehow – perhaps from the talk of bappa’s work – the topic of war came up and Dulaare chacha started again on his tale of woes – of how war was wreaking havoc in the village, nothing was available, the prices were soaring higher and higher each day. The house had come to ruins and could not be repaired. The family had expanded, not the income.
The war was a topic of discussion amongst the lane residents too, but how the war was connected to the repair of the house in the village was something he failed to understand. The women living in the lane too, said often that all the grain, vegetables and cloth went to the war, that everything was on fire and the prices were shooting up. One could only get six seers of wheat or eight seers of gram for a rupee! What was one going to eat? Often times, one heard of a chore-bazaar, and he wondered what this chore-bazaar was? Was it the market where ‘chores’ – thieves sold their loot?

But war was discussed, also in another way. At first he used to hear that the English and the Germans were at war. The English were the government and the Germans wanted to remove the English from India. Hence the war. And now the Germans were on the verge of coming in. Once Mahaadev, while bathing at the well, was saying that the Germans wanted to take knowledge from our country, but the English didn’t let them in. The Germans had secretly, unknown to the English, taken away the ‘Vedas’ and learning from them, had made such weapons and arms that had existed in India during the times of ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’, but had disappeared in the this present age of vice. The English could not compete with them but there  was a lot in the Vedas they couldn’t understand. Only the scholarly Pandits of India knew their meaning and therefore the Germans thought if they removed the English from India they could make immense progress with the help of Vedas. The science contained in the Vedas was not found anywhere else. Therefore the Germans respected Indians a lot.

Then he heard that the Japanese too had joined the Germans and their armies had reached the borders of Bengal. It was then, he also heard the name of ‘Babu Subhash Chandra Bose’, and how the police had laid siege to his house and how he, by appeasing the Goddess, had disappeared from there. He had reappeared in Japan and now his army was about to enter India.

He had heard the name of ‘Gandhi Mahatma’ earlier too – during the discussions at the well. But all that he had understood at the time was if Gandhi Mahatma had been arrested or released by the government. Why the government arrested or released Gandhi Mahatma, he didn’t understand. The names of Gandhi Mahatma, Subhash Chandra Bose and Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru came to be heard more frequently after Bidesia died in the firing. During those days, there was much talk of how the government was holding Gandhi Mahatma and Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru in a secret place and subjecting them to endless torture. He had also heard once or twice that the government had deported Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru to a place farther away than kalapani …the cellular jail at the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

Bidesia pulled a rickshaw, which he also owned. Although his house came much before the Shivala, he parked his rickshaw under the neem tree at night as there was no other space in the lane, returning quite late at night and taking the rickshaw out at the break of dawn. He came back for lunch and went out again after two-three hours. After he went home at noon parking the rickshaw under the neem, the children in the neighbourhood climbed up to play. Once when Rajee was sitting on the rickshaw, he began to swing holding its back. Suddenly Rajee turned and the rickshaw toppled over bringing down both of them. Both were hurt. When Bidesia returned and saw his overturned rickshaw, he screamed and shouted but Rajee did not let the secret out. She had cried out loudly on falling down but when Bidesia was letting off steam, she had stayed in.

Although Bidesia had been pulling the rickshaw for a good time now, he too had earlier worked with bappa at the mill. He was still working there when bappa left to work at the depot but quit after he got married and purchased this rickshaw. At the mill, one had to work the night shifts too. He remembered vaguely that bappa too used to sometimes leave after dinner. On such nights he had slept clinging to mai. Otherwise too, he used to sleep either with bappa or with mai during those days. When Bidesia left his work and purchased a rickshaw it became not just a sport for the children but kindled the curiosity of the adults too - how much did the rickshaw cost? How much would he earn from it? Why had he left his job? And Bidesia had felt a little embarrassed saying he had reservations about leaving his bride alone at night and had therefore quit his job at the mill. The earning from the rickshaw was not fixed and kept fluctuating. But he would be master of his time and could work at will.

Hearing Bidesia, he had wondered if Bidesia’s bride too was scared when alone? Many a time he keenly observed Bidesia’s bride while passing that way. She was quite young – only fifteen or sixteen – but no child! Also, didn’t give the impression she’d be scared at night. The people in the lane often jested with Bidesia with regard to his bride. Bidesia was nothing much to look at. He wasn’t too dark but had sunken eyes, hollowed cheeks and a scrawny neck. He had grown his hair a little after marriage which he kept oiled but which stood like spikes on his head. However, his bride was extremely winsome. Also, the  cotton sari she wore was usually red which looked very becoming on her dusky complexion. Every morning and evening, when Bidesia was not home she went to chat up the women in the neighbouring houses. She must have cooked meals, otherwise what would the couple have eaten? At times, she also came to his place to sit with mai. But mai did not approve of Bidesia’s bride. In her absence mai said that the way the lass was dawdling all over the lane, it didn’t show good character. And when Dulaare chacha arrived, her visits to their house stopped all together. Once she just happened to come by but turned back when, on crossing the threshold, she saw Dulaare chacha. Didn’t turn up again for the duration Dulaare chacha stayed with them.

If Bidesia’s wife came over when bappa was home on a holiday, she stayed a little withdrawn and reserved, kept her head covered, laughed softly and less frequently. But didn’t run away. However, once she had seen Dulaare chacha, she didn’t head in that direction again. Even otherwise something had gone awry in the house with the arrival of Dulaare chacha. For one, mai had to sleep now in the inside room, and Dulaare chacha, along with bappa slept in the outer one. Then when it grew very hot, everyone began to sleep outside, under the neem. One day when mai asked bappa for money he started grumbling – ‘It is not as we have a family treasure buried here. The man has been sitting idle for two months and eating without work or a job.’ And for some reason he remembered what took place one day. Nothing had really happened on that day either. Mai had been sitting inside cooking rotis when Dulaare chacha came asking for a cinder to light his beedi, and then sat by the door talking about one thing or another. Both Dulaare chacha and mai had begun to laugh over something when suddenly bappa returned from work. The moment he entered the house, Dulaare chacha stopped laughing and mai became a little flustered. Bappa didn’t speak a word but Dulaare chacha got up and left. Nobody said anything for a long time, as if something had gone wrong. And after this, bappa kept quiet when in Dulaare chacha’s presence, replying only in yes or no when Dulaare chacha said anything to him. He spoke seldom even with mai – and only as much as was required. His nature too had become irritable and he scolded and abused mai on every trivial matter.

The rains had started when one day, Dulaare chacha informed he had found work in a hotel on a monthly salary of rupees 8 and two meals a day. It was then that bappa said to him that Shivalewali’s rooms were lying vacant and that he should rent them. And so on the third or fourth day, Dulaare chacha went to live in Shivalewali’s room.

When it rained the entire lane turned muddy. Bidesia found it very difficult to bring in and take out his rickshaw. When the lane was dry, Bidesia stretched backwards in a peculiar manner as he pulled the rickshaw. Ringing the bell on the handle-bar of his rickshaw he took quick, small steps, as if trotting like a pony. But when it turned swampy he had to be careful with each step that he took and had to wriggle this way and that to pull his rickshaw out. He possessed one mackintosh, stitched perhaps by himself, which he put over his head when it rained.
It was raining during those days also and the lane had become a big swamp. The commotion must have started a day or two in advance but he wasn’t aware of it. Although what happened that day and on many days to follow was beyond his comprehension, not only was he a witness to the impact it had but was himself affected by it. Words like ‘government’, ‘police’ and ‘military’ had become as dreadful to him as ‘Ravana’, or ‘demons’ or ‘ghost’. ‘Government’ to him meant an English or a white man upon whom he hadn’t till then set his eyes. But the ‘police’ or the ‘military’ meant men in khaki, who although like the others, were still different. They arrested people, sent them to jail, hit them with their batons or put a bullet through them, pouring kerosene over bodies, torched them. He had heard that even those, who were not yet dead, had been set aflame by the police.

It was noon. The time Bidesia usually came in to lunch. It hadn’t rained for a day or two, so the lane had been dry in places. They were playing under the neem tree when Ganesh came running and stopped suddenly, ‘Bidesia has died. He was shot with a bullet. They are bringing him over now. There is military in the city.’ All the children stood stunned for some time, not understanding a thing. But Ganesh appeared completely stricken. As if he wanted to get rid of his fears by blurting everything out. He stood there for a minute then suddenly bolted, other children ran towards Bidesia’s house without speaking a word.

It was as if a heavy load had fallen over its heart and the lane had ceased to breathe. Some other children too, were running towards Bidesia’s house. Women had come out of their houses, but were quiet or talked in hushed voices. And suddenly Bidesia’s wife came running out of Bhagirath’s house – completely bewildered, dressed even then in a red cotton sari. Bhagirath’s wife came out after her and stood at a little distance from her door. But Bidesia’s wife didn’t stop running till she reached her home. The door was latched from outside, the way she had left it. A few children stood at hand, and a few women here and there, in front of houses. He had seen people in their moments of grief but never again a face like that of Bidesia’s wife, as it was at that moment. After the realization of the grave calamity that had befallen her... the wait for coming face to face with the calamity. She was not crying, but the words, ‘Oh God’, ‘Oh mai’, slipped uncontrollably out of her mouth as if a massive burden was crushing down her breath. Again and again she looked around with dilated eyes as if all the children and women that stood around held swords in their hands and would strike her neck any second.

He had no idea how long they had all stood there like statues. Perhaps a very short time and yet it felt like forever. As if a fear permeated the entire lane which everyone could see and touch. In fact when the men carrying Bidesia on the rickshaw entered the lane and Bidesia’s wife, bursting like a dam, began to cry banging her head against the ground, it felt as if the tension had given way. People began to move about, women came forward to be close to Bidesia’s wife. The children too changed positions and stood huddled against walls and doors.

At first one man, perhaps Mahaadev, entered the lane but stopped short after casting a glance inside the lane. And then everyone accompanying the rickshaw came in. They had propped Bidesia up in the seat like a passenger and had covered him with the mackintosh. Bidesia’s wife darted ahead the moment she saw the rickshaw but tripped after two steps, either on her own or because her foot got caught in her sari. Then she began to moan and wail – ‘Oh my dear, oh my mai, why didn’t  the cruel police drive a bullet into my heart.’

What followed was a jumble in his mind.  People took down Bidesia, still wrapped in mackintosh and laid him on the ground before his house. His eyes went repeatedly to the rickshaw which had reddish brown stains on many spots. Somebody went in unlatching the door and brought a cloth or a sheet or a sari from inside and, removing the mackintosh, covered Bidesia with it. He couldn’t see anything clearly from where he stood and yet suddenly began to feel sick, as if he was about to throw up the next minute. Standing against the Wall he controlled himself with some difficulty.

Things seemed strangely suspended for a long while after this. All the women in the lane had come to sit or stand there, surrounding Bidesia and his wife. Mai too had turned up. Men stood at a little distance. Many others, who didn’t belong to the lane and had come with the rickshaw, went back. Soon, some others from outside started to trickle in just to stand there. Someone just passed through at times and crossed over. Men talked in whispers. Only the wails of Bidesia’s wife echoed all over the lane, joined in by a few other women who mourned not just Bidesia but his wife’s youth. Despite all this, everything appeared to be on hold.

Then slowly, voices began to rise from amongst the men. ‘A curfew has been imposed for twenty four hours. No one can go out of the house. The town hall has been burnt down. There is military all over, firing machine guns. Hundreds have died. How is one to go to work? Stay alert. If the police comes, everyone will be taken away.’

And a voice rose a bit higher – ‘Hey Munna, go. Stand guard at the corner, give a shout if there is police.’

Someone said, ‘How will the cremation be done? The city is under curfew.’

Followed by another, ‘If the police comes to know he died by a bullet they’ll take away even the body and then who knows how they’ll cut him up or treat him.’

In a little while, Munna came running from the mouth of the lane shouting, police, police – and caused a commotion. Women, men, everyone made a dash for their houses. Mai, when she saw him run, held him to her and together they rushed into Bhagirath’s house. Bidesia’s wife too got into a flurry and her wails stopped. Picking up Bidesia from both ends, some people carried him in. The lane became totally deserted.

But the police had probably gone straight ahead on the road, bypassing the lane. When nothing happened for a while, some of the people took courage and ventured out. Bhagirath’s children, like so many sick puppies, stood in alarm for some time. Many others, dreading the police, had hastened into that house. Two or three of the children had then broken into a whimper. The wailing of Bidesia’s wife could also be heard again from his room. But no one stayed out in the lane after this. People stood either by the doors, or inside Bidesia’s room or went back to their houses.

Mai returned home with him. There was still some daylight left, but perhaps not wanting to sit idle, she lit the earthen stove and began to cook.