Roadside Motherhood……

I was not really successful as a business person but I was satisfied. My small business gave me and my family enough to eat, little to splurge and rest to save. I have no fancy bungalows to live in, no BIG shop to boast of, no flashy cars, but I had what it takes to be satisfied. A gentle heart (not necessarily an overly generous one, for that), two little children who were beautiful, a wife who waited for me everyday at home and parents who spent most of their time in worshipping Ma Saraswati.

My shop is located in an inconspicuous corner of a busy clothes market. And if I were to tell you how to find it, I can only say one thing: I don’t know. It’s one of those small little affairs that says “Prerna Blouse Matching Center” (Prerna being my lovely wife’s name). I bought this shop five years ago out of the money given in dowry by my wife’s family and some saving from my previous job as an accountant in a big tile showroom on the other side of the city.

In the past five years, I have generally lived a life of contentment. For the more adventurous ones, my life may even be boring. There’s nothing out of place that ever happens to me. I leave my house on my run down scooter everyday with my daughter. I dopr her off to school and come to my shop a little before 9:00 am. Daily pooja is done for keeping the evil away from my shop (I don’t think evil would even notice my shop if it came looking). And after this daily morning ritual, I sit in my place, reading a religious text or the cash register or rearranging things on my table. My shop isn’t really a bustle of activity, you see. Afterall, how many women will buy sarees everyday and will go looking for matching blouses.

In this rather uneventful life of mine, there’s ONE thing that interests me a lot. It may sound funny but I find the flower seller across the street very intersting to watch. She’s a very very ordinary looking female. And my interest in her has no romantic undertones. In fact, the interest may purely be out of mere habit of seeing her everyday. Never went a day when I didn’t see her crumpled figure holding out strands of jasmine flowers to uninterested people milling around. Her expression never changed, an expression that of an impoverished beauty who seemed to hold nothing against the world for ill-treating her.

Her son, an infant of more than 6 months of age slept peacefully, wrapped in tattered blanket pieces as she hollered out, 2 ruppes per strand Amma…….take home……….beautiful fragrance……..she chanted the same thing over and over again, never ceasing to catch even the faintly interested customer. And I know why she always ended up selling flowers. She was a woman beautiful in her own crumpled way. She had huge eyes that intrigued people. And despite her malnutritioned body, she was rather attractive. And with the torn clothes, she interested the rogue hidden in every man. Men ogled at her, some openly, some stealthily……..

March 11 was like any other day and I arrived at 8:55, as usual. The flower seller woman hadn’t come till then. It felt a little awkward as she was always there before me. At about 1:30 in the afternoon, she finally came with a somewhat smaller stock of flowers and an incessantly wailing child of hers.  I was tempted to ask her what was wrong with the child. But I found this an extraordinary thing to do. And I was too scared to attempt anything I hadn’t attempted before. I watched with anxiety as her child kept crying, irritating the passers-by with the screams. She made no attempt to silence the child. At about 6:00 pm, the child suddenly went silent. She just gave him a look and went about her business again.

At about 8:30 pm, when I began to close my shop, I saw her lifting the child. I stopped doing what I was doing as I watched her opening up the bundle quietly. She undid the blanket covers and started to breast feed the child. After a few moments, I couldn’t quite understand what it was that she saw but her face became expressionless. She stared unabatedly at the child.

A moment later, a scream filled the air that chilled my down to my spine. I turned around to see her sitting glued to the railing and looking at her child………”Take him away. He’s dead, he’s dead…….”, she was screaming……….

I ran forward along with a neighbouring shop owner. I picked her dead child up. The other shop owner tried to console her. And I don’t know if it was a figment of my imagination, but I saw the shop owner fiddle with her and touching her the way he shouldn’t be. I wanted to protest but I didn’t. Two or three more men gathered and did their share of fondling while she screamed like a madwoman……..”Take him away, he’s dead, he’s dead…….”

I arranged for the child to be taken to a mortuary while another shop owner took up the responsibility of taking her to her house.

I got back home only at about 11:00 pm, utterly exhausted after having struggled with the authorities to register a dead child. My lack of knowledge of the mother’s name only added to the trouble. I narrated the incident to my wife who looked morose after hearing all of what had happened. She calmed me down and I finally slept at 2:00 am.

When I got to my shop the following morning, there was no trace of the flower seller woman. I asked the shop owner who had taken her home and he said he dropped her to where she asked to be dropped. I left it at that and carried on with my work.

Two days later, the most extraordinary thing happened. Police came to my shop. I’m a tax-paying, law-abiding person, so I was baffled at the appearance of Police. The Inspector asked me if I knew any woman who looked like this. He showed me a old battered photo. I had some trouble but I could recognize those eyes anywhere. And I told him about the flower seller woman.

He asked me if I could recall when I saw her last. I said March 11, at about 9:00 pm. I couldn’t understand what was going on. The Inspector asked me a few more questions about her whereabouts, but I pleaded ignorance. Just as he was about to leave, I finally mustered enough courage to ask him what had happened to her.

He said, she was found in a gutter in an isolated area, raped and murdered…….he asked me if I knew who was the last person to see her.

And I said…………………………………………………..

No, I don’t…………………………………

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4 Comments

  1. Rajarshi said,

    October 15, 2006 at 1:21 am

    My God!!..That was so touchy…Wat inspires you to write such stuff? It exposes the very darker side of life, of our country sometimes we take so much pride in….It’s true that we are so far from a safe n secure life…I feel it so strongly after seeing the conveniences provided to every important unimportant person in a country like US.

  2. October 15, 2006 at 1:42 pm

    Well, I guess I notice misery a lot……it’s not that I do not write cheerful stuff. I guess this helps me vent MY own depressions out…….

    I guess our country has a long way to go in being fair to everyone…….

  3. Bhargavi said,

    October 23, 2006 at 10:14 pm

    Why does this guy not tell the police whatever he knows? Doesn’t this happen to all of us at some point in time? It takes a lot of courage and conviction to stand up for something, and most often, we dont feel its worth “our” time and effort…if each one stood up for a cause, the world would be a much better place…

    yes, u do bring out the Dark side of humanity in many of ur writings…its creepy, u know, but true, it does happen everywhere…and most often, we are blissfully unaware of the potential dangers lurking behind every corner…

  4. October 24, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    Hi Bhargavi, it’s true. And the dark and creepy side that I talk about can have another effect on the reader. A determination to never fall in this trap of “Why should I waste my time on this lost cause?”…….the other effect, of course, can be that of disgust……it depends on what we want to take from it…..


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