Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Hand

At best guess, he was barely in his 40s but it seemed as if age had rushed past him. But for him, it was as if everything else moved with time and his life was stagnant. Day in and day out he would limp from car to car, knocking on the rolled up windows (and many would roll them up as he approached) begging for alms. Those in bikes would ignore him and look elsewhere; those in auto's would quickly give a rupee or two so that he moved on; those in cars never rolled their windows down.

"Tak, tak, tak..." he knocked on my deeply tinted car window. He knew I could see him though from outside all he could see was a reflection of himself. I looked at the hands, heavily covered with gauze cloth that was once white but now was nearer to black because it had been ages since they were changed. All that was visible through that soiled cloth were stubs of leprosy infected fingers that had been eaten away by rats at night. It's the curse of the living dead for lepers really - they don't feel even the pain of fire let alone the nibbling of a rat once the cells start to dry and look like scales of fish.

The clock struck 7am and I was getting ready to go to work. It was summer but dark rain clouds hovered over the city. I was hoping I could push the belt buckle to the last hole - at least to feel a sense of triumph after relentless running on the treadmill for a month but then the door bell rang.

Saraswathi was a frail young woman and had been working as my maid for the last three years. It had been a little over a week since I had last seen her and her sudden appearance at my doorstep surprised me and a tinge of anger surged inside me.

"So now you decide to come? You vanish without a trace and decide to come back at will?" I expressed with livid. She just stood there in silent looking at the floor with the pallu of her saree covering her hair. "So where did you vanish off to? How come you didn't tell me before?" I asked.

"My baby is dead" was all she could utter in a soft but crisp voice.

I felt shaken. I knew she had a daughter of three years old whom she would sometimes bring along to her work and would let it play with the kids of other servants. But whenever I hear such terrible news I am most often too stunned to react. Before I could say a word she had slinked into the utility room to fetch the broom. As she walked by I could see her eyes had swelled with tears. I was supposed to be early at work but suddenly my urgency to get to office seemed all too immaterial.

I sat on the sofa waiting for her to complete her work. Meticulously, room after room, she quickly swept the floor. I pretended to read the news while my eyes would constantly peep over the top of the paper to look at her. What does on say to a young mother who has lost her child? I would frame some words in my mind but they all seemed too shallow.

"How did it happen?" I asked

"Shiva killed her" she whispered.

Shiva was her husband who worked as a construction labourer. How ironical that in real life too Shiva should kill his own child? In mythology Lord Shiva vanquishes Ganesha only to give him back his life and gift him the boon of being the preseiding deity. She had often told me how her husband would drink to the earth's end and would beat the child and her on a regular basis. But I could scarce imagine that he would have gone to the level of killing his daughter.

"How...?" I asked with a sense of disbelief

And she went on to narrate how he had come late at night drunk as usual. Pavitra, her daughter, had been burning with high fever. The little one had been crying inconsolably both because of hunger and because of the injection that she had got earlier in the evening. He walked in hurling abuses. Drunk as he was, he couldn't tolerate the noise of a child crying and kept hitting both her and her daughter, asking them to keep quiet. He tried to hit the child to force it to shut up. And when that didn't work he grabbed the child and covered the mouth and the nose with his palm saying again and again to...

It was over. All too soon. He handed the motionless child back to her arms and sprawled himself on the floor to get his sleep. It took her a long while to realise that her precious one would never cry again.

Saraswathi sat by the stairs with tears rolling down. She would keep wiping them with the end of her pallu but more would flow. Suddenly a week seemed all too short for her to return to work but time has a different meaning for us who don't worry too much about where our next square meal will come from. Mix poverty + honest life, then there is hardly any residue for grief.

"I hope one day both his hands fall off, the very hands that took away my daughter", she whispered under her breath as she picked up the broom and continued to clean the house. Up there, I hoped the real Shiva would have had heard the prayers of this traumatized mother.


Tak...tak...tak... the beggar knocked again on my car window. He folded his palms, or what was left of it from the dreaded disease, asking me for alms. The signal turned green and I put my car in motion. As I drove I realized I didn't feel bad about not giving spare change to the beggar. The hands that stretch and plead for help, have a history of their own and with that they wrote their destiny.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thatz not a fair comparison. If this had to hold good,for instance, imagine the plight of your political counterparts.

11:13 pm  

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