Wednesday, April 06, 2011

She is a child, after all


The smell of cigarettes and shoes, the noise of ‘chai’, and a predominant feeling of dust all over me; I’m drowsy; and I force myself to look out of the train window as someone mentions ‘Bandra’. I get down, uncertain, fast heart-beat, heavy steps; I’m thinking of the orphanage I ran away from, I’m tired of running, my breath is heavy, hot, difficult; its hot, very hot, and suffocating, too many people, there’s sweat, and stink, and shove, and I’m too small; I wish I could be taller, soon. Someone shouts, “You! Boy!” I turn. I see khaki. I run. Again. Fast. Very fast. Till I am far far away. But I keep running. Because I can’t stop. I try to stop. I can’t. Why am I so small? Why am I running? Oh the ditch! I need to stop running!
It was a dream. I need to wake up. I can’t open my eyes. There is still noise. And wailing. Numbers. Lots of numbers.
“What about 143?”
“85% burns. Still unconscious”
“Hmmm, Observe for some more time. We need beds. There’s a fucking queue outside.”
I still can’t open my eyes.
“Glucose!” “We can’t do anything” “No”, Wailing, “Sorry”, “Get the injection!” “Fast!” “Who the fuck left it here” “Burns” “We are out of bandages” “Number 21”
Why can’t I open my eyes? I feel pain. It boils. Overflows. I should sleep. I’m slipping. There’s a thud. In my chest. It’s the scent! Oh God!
I run and run for a long time. I stop there. The chai shop. I run no more. I breathe. Chacha Jaan. The saucepan. Brown masala chai. Ilaichi. Hot. Money. Labor. Tears. The tea boils. Overflows. Like something else that I can’t remember now. It stains the slab. I clean it with the cloth on my shoulder. For a very long time. “Ek chai”. I pour it through the filter. I get tipped. One rupee. Gandhi on the coin. I wonder why.
They order it from the house today. I carry the metal stand. 6 cups. Daddu on the khaat. He smiles. He talks cricket. He talks of his days, years ago. It was a better world. Cheap. Good. He laughs. She laughs. I look at her. She smells of lilac and jasmine oil, or something like that. She runs behind her brother, and laughs. Adjusts her anklet, and laughs. Teases her mother, and laughs. Her eyes water. She smudges all her soorma with her dupatta. I smile. She is a child after all. I feel much taller, stronger. She is a delicate little girl. God bless her.
The scent fills the air. I see nothing else. Just her small feet and her green dupatta tangled in her anklet.
They are coming! I see them, coming towards Mohammad Ali Road. I see swords. And sticks. And a lot of saffron. Fire. Shouts. They are at her gate. They are banging. I hide and watch. Jumman comes out, and the other brothers and cousins. The gate is locked quickly. They are fighting. They are hurt. I know one of ‘them’. He plays cricket with Jumman and me. He is not himself. No one is themselves. It makes no sense. My heart will pound out. I need to hide. I am ashamed. Why can’t I fight? But I don’t. I am scared. For life. For her. I can’t run. Anymore. I peep out the back window. She is outside the back door. With the other women of the house. And her small brother. She clutches his hand. She stares back. With her big, black eyes. Will she ever smudge her soorma again? They are already there. I squat. I press my head between my knees and squat. I wait for them. They kick me. “Hindu ya Musalman?” I wish I knew. I can’t speak. The boy I know sprinkles the kerosene oil. They step out. Everything burns. Instantly. For a long time.
She is critical.
Hmmm..We observe for a few minutes
I inhale her scent. I shut my eyes hard. I won’t try to open them anymore. Give her a chance. She is a child after all.

10 comments:

magiceye said...

wow wow wow!!!
poignant
beautifully done!!!

Tulika Verma said...

Thank you :)

SUB said...

wow...awesome post...really scary...you feel the tension throughout...the incidents are really sad...but you brought it out beautifully...

Tulika Verma said...

:) always wanted to write about this subject..

ima girl said...

wow it was so powerful and sad.You are a great writer, Tulika Verma

Tulika Verma said...

Thank you Alex, so are you..

Anne said...

I'll always run out of words. That rocked!

Tulika Verma said...

Thank you Anne! This is one of my own favourites! :)

AutumnLeaves said...

Intriguing.. Just too good!

Tulika Verma said...

thank you :)