Saturday, 19 August 2017

'Lives without Meaning'- English translation of chapter 8 of 'Kuchh Zindagiyan Bematalab' (कुछ ज़िन्दगियाँ बेमतलब) - novella by Om Prakash Deepak.


Dulaare chacha stayed the night, then stayed for good. It came naturally and he also felt relief for some days. Mai cried often. At times, clutching him close to her bosom she began to cry loudly. He could say nothing to mai and only began to cry himself. It was Dulaare chacha who consoled them. Often people turned up to express condolence but he still didn’t feel like speaking. It was again Dulaare chacha who offered them seats and talked to them. At first chacha brought down his bedding, it was beginning to get cold. Then his clothes. Then gradually pots and pans, box – everything. When the month came to an end, he vacated his room.

They had to borrow from Massur Maharaj to feed Brahmins on the thirteenth day of bappa’s death. No one asked him to do anything. Mai and Dulaare chacha made the negotiations and mai put her thumb impression on the paper. But then it occurred to him he would now have to work to earn. How else would they survive? Bappa had some money in the post office. Some also with the depot. But it wasn’t possible to get out government money so quickly. Dulaare chacha was not such a burden. He took both his meals at the hotel. But only the house rent was two rupees, besides clothes and food for mother and son.

He went to Chhotelal on the third or the fourth day to ask for work. But despite much pleading Chhotelal didn’t agree to pay more than nine or ten rupees (he had already increased it to rupees 6, after Rahmat left). Chhotelal’s income too was not all that big but what was more important was that Chhotelal thought since he had trained him and he was still inexperienced, he should work for him for less. But could the two of them manage in ten rupees? He went round the bazaar making enquiries and found a job in a big shop near the mills, that paid fifteen rupees. They didn’t do much of repair work, but mostly sold cycles and spare parts. Therefore he generally had to open up and assemble cycles.

Still, the money they had borrowed from Massur Maharaj was a burden, they had to pay interest on it so now they thought of withdrawing the money from post-office and the depot. They had to do a lot of running around and again it was Dulaare chacha who accompanied mai each time. For the first time, he felt a little piqued that mai hadn’t thought it necessary to even ask him to go with her. Had it not been for Dulaare chacha, he’d have faced a lot of difficulty. His own job was a new one and the employer may not have given him leave. Still, he felt he should have gone with mai.

Only a few days had passed when suddenly he had a feeling that the people in the lane were giving him odd looks. When he went for work in the morning or returned home in the evening, people standing at their doors looked strangely at him, with pity and sympathy but also with contempt that tore at his heart. If there were more than one they began to talk in whispers as soon as they saw him. It didn’t take him much time to understand that the people were talking about mai and Dulaare chacha. Also, he didn’t take long to realize that what they said was the truth. He hadn’t talked much to Dulaare chacha even earlier, now there was almost no dialogue between the two. Mai used to look at him with concern for a few days but the resentment in his mind had turned to silence. As far as possible, he said nothing at all. Neither at home nor at the shop. Earlier, he had been alone only in mind. Now he was alone also in body.

The most trying time was when he went to bathe at the well. There were always some people or the other drawing water or bathing at the well. When he went, there were whispers or silence for as long as he was taking his bath. A municipality water tap had also been installed quite a few days ago in the lane but it was winter and the water in the tap those days was very cold. A bath in the fresh, warm well water always felt good. Also, it was an old habit. But now it became difficult for him to go to the well. Once while going for a bath he overheard from a little distance, the voice of the pandit from the Shivala, saying that those who killed Ghaseeta’s bappa were not Muslims but the boys of the masons. They had been on the lookout for an opportunity for long. Pandit was a little short-sighted and didn’t, perhaps, see him approach, and kept speaking till he was very close. When someone pointed him out, he clammed up at once. Suddenly there was silence and every one grouped near the well slipped quickly away. He had this odd feeling of having been rendered completely helpless and defenceless, completely vulnerable and pitiable. And the feeling brought him on the verge of tears. From that day on, he tried to go to the well at a time when it was deserted. It was winter and he would stay without a bath for two or three days. If it was getting late and there was someone at the well, especially one of the masons, he managed somehow to take his bath under the water tap.

The wish to leave home, leave the lane and go  someplace else had become very strong but he couldn’t think of a place to go away to. Many a time he had thought of leaving Delhi and going to Bombay or Calcutta but hadn’t dared to. Also, he didn’t have the money for the ticket. If he went without ticket and was caught he’d be done for. And if he left his house, where else would he stay in Delhi? Once, he took leave from his shop and went around Chandni Chowk to make enquiries at cycle-repair shops. But the ones he told he was working looked suspicious – why did he want to quit his old job? And those he told he didn't work looked even more suspicious – Was there anyone he knew who could vouch for him?

Disheartened, he was returning and must have come half way when suddenly a whisper, going from mouth to mouth, began to spread in the air. 'Mahatma Gandhi has been killed. Who killed him? And how? Was the killer a Muslim? No. A Hindu. He pumped a bullet into him. He is still breathing. No, he is dead.' In no time, the shadow of death descended over the city. The doors of homes and shops shut down. 'Hare Raam! Hai Raam! What has happened?' People, anxious and over-wrought, were heading only in one direction. A crowd stood at one point in front of a radio. 'Hare Raam, Hare Raam, Sabko sanmati de Bhagwan – May God give good sense to every one!

For some reason his own heart choked with emotion. He had heard only the name of Mahatma Gandhi, had never seen him. The punjabi refugees, who had come to live in the lane often censured Gandhi ji, saying that Gandhi favoured Muslims, he arranged a grant of crores of rupees for Pakistan, got so many Hindus and Sikhs killed in Punjab, made us homeless, it was because of him that our mothers and sisters lost their honour. But he had been so disturbed those days that he hadn’t paid any attention to this criticism. However, at the time the whisper spread and the shadow of death descended over the city, he himself started to feel very disturbed and tearful. As though a muted lamentation rising out of a choked up, massive throat was echoing all over the city, 'Hare Raam, Raam!'

He kept following the people up to some distance without thinking. Then suddenly he wondered where, after all, was he going. He asked a few pedestrians, “Where is Mahatma Gandhi?” “At Birla Bhavan.” “How far is it?” “Four or five miles.” All of a sudden, he felt very exhausted. It was getting dark. He had been walking non-stop since afternoon and didn't feel up to walking another four or five miles. “What would I do there? I won’t be able to see anything in so much of crowd and such darkness.” He turned around.

Before he reached home, he met Mahaadev on the road, almost on the run with three-four other men. Seeing him, he had paused a little, people were standing in groups and talking in the lane at two or three places. At one spot, it appeared that someone was telling how Gandhi had been shot, he didn’t remember whose voice it was. For a moment he thought of stopping to listen but then his eyes fell upon Munna and also some others of the masons standing with the group and he moved on.

All business came to a stand still for three days and he confined himself to his room. The next day, almost everyone from the lane went to the funeral, even Dulaare chacha, but not he. He stayed in his room thinking of what he should do. For some reason the restlessness in his mind had increased, as if his personal crisis had become more acute. He even thought to himself how it was going to make a difference to his life? But his sorrow and his exhaustion had increased. There was no sound and yet it felt a heart-rending wail was echoing in the room.

The remaining two holidays passed in similar fashion. The people in the lane stood at several points talking in groups. Some one or the other sat under the neem all through the day. Dulaare chacha too sat along with them. Half-heartedly, he strained his ears to hear the conversation taking place outside but didn’t feel like going out. It was some Maratha who had shot the Mahatma. He had been nabbed. People said he was killed by Sanghis. The funeral was attended by lakhs of people, eminent leaders, many had come from foreign countries. When he found the water-tap free during the day, he went and had his bath, took his food and flopped down again. Most of the time he stayed immersed in his dreams – If only an accomplished Guru would teach him the mystic yoga, he would take on so many different forms, go to so many places, do so many things. What all would he do, if only he won a lottery of one lakh of rupees!

A few more days had passed and he had, in a way, given up. There had also been some talk of leaving the lane and moving to another house – not too far away from his shop and Dulaare chacha’s hotel. But they hadn’t found one immediately. He had also thought that going away from the lane would bring him some relief. Meanwhile, the topic of his wedding too, had come up. Someone had told mai of a girl and mai had said to Dulaare chacha they’d get him married if the girl was good and the family decent, the bride could be brought home later. At times, he also thought of saving some money each month and going to Bombay. He had heard there were many people over there from their region. He would join a mill. But in a way, he too was getting used to things the way they were. The talk of marriage too had changed his mind. In a year or two he would grow up and try for a job in a mill or peon-ship in an office. Once he got married his parents in-law too would help.

But for some reason the matter of his marriage didn’t make progress. It didn’t end either but nothing reached his ears. Once on his way back from the shop, some people, sitting in dark at the well, were talking. He couldn’t see who all were there but recognized the voice of  the Pandit who was talking loudly, “… has no concern for her own son. Once there is a scandaal, who would give him his daughter.” Walking quickly he went past, and though no name was mentioned in what the Pandit had said, he was sure the reference was to mai. His resentment swelled and kept growing.

He sulked but said nothing. He didn’t even feel like saying anything in front of mai, who went about her household chores as a routine, spoke little and rarely went out. She had almost completely stopped going to neighbours and they too came only seldom and when they did, it was only to ask for something. Sometimes a sieve, sometimes a winnowing basket. Rajee used to come initially but then, perhaps, was forbidden by her mai. Whenever he was home, mai often turned to look at him after pottering about here and there, disturbed and full of concern. If he looked up, she moved away. Even otherwise, he felt mai looked a little sickly, downcast and subdued.

Holi too passed in like manner. They weren’t going to celebrate anyway. He stayed sprawled in his room and mai too, was a little too restless that day. Once or twice he had a feeling she had cried quietly in her room. It was perhaps one month after holi. The days had become quite warm but the nights were still a little cool and they used to sleep inside. He with Dulaare chacha, in the outer room, mai in the inside one. For some reason he was finding it difficult to sleep that night. He was extremely perturbed over no particular thing and was lying with eyes closed. The foot-fall told him that Dulaare chacha had gone in. Then, when muffled voices began to drift in, his ears cocked up unconsciously. Nothing was clear but he heard Dulaare chacha talk about calling the midwife the next day. Midwife? Why midwife? Suddenly, he received the shock of an electric current. Mai was expecting. He made calculations. It is over six months since bappa died, but mai’s belly is not that swollen. No, it’s not that, it’s recent. Dulaare chacha. And suddenly his head began to pound, like a sore tumour throbbing inside. He turned over to lie on his stomach.

He didn’t know when he drifted into sleep that night but remembered Dulaare chacha had not returned till the time he was awake. He woke up with a heavy head but last night’s incident had slipped from his mind. Without a thought he started to get ready for the shop. But after his bath, when he went into eat and sat before mai, it suddenly flashed in his mind. He couldn’t eat. Somehow he forced down the roti. Mai looked at him with grave concern and apprehension. “What’s the matter? Aren’t you feeling well?” He looked up, mai appeared sad and disturbed and he thought she had started to look old in just a few days. “Nothing. I am just not hungry. Wrap up the roti in a paper. I will eat it during the day.”

But even as he was putting the roti in his bag, he felt he could endure no more, could live there no longer, and like someone under a spell, he put a set of clothes in the bag, also the money he had saved, around five-six rupees, in his pocket and slipping his feet into his chappals, stepped out. He was not coming back. Ever.