AUTHOR : NAVAL LANGA
“MAMA YOU DON’T know how hard it is to earn money.” Sammy hurries for reaching his factory.
“My child, it’s your father’s death anniversary. I need some money for offering puja at the temple.”
“You can do it here in a temple of the city, too.” Sammy’s wife suggested a practical way-out. Sitting on a high cot, she dangles her legs and looks at the old woman as if she is a recurring cost. Vijaya the old woman sits back. She is on a costly sofa, but with a rundown face. The amount she needs is a peanut for her son, a reputed exporter of garments. For him his father is a thing of past, and to chew the past is ‘wasting of time’. He remains so busy, so occupied, so unconcerned about family.
But for the old woman Vijaya, her husband is still the present, present like the tears in eyes, which have not dried yet. She remembers how they were caught in the fire of worries. She recalls how jointly they had recollected the lost tunes of life and composed a song of happiness. She rubs her eyes first, and then rubs her spectacles. Her cleaned glasses help her to see the scene of her past.
THE BELLY OF THE dam was torn open. Water had run into in the streets, the homes, and the destinies of the villagers who were not left with a single cloth dry. The Rain God had displayed its wrath. And the wrath was flooding everywhere.
What worried Sampat was the stock lying in his shop. The entire stock was weak against water. Water is Sampat’s enemy in a novel way. Here a touch of it, and his whole trade would meltdown. On seeing the oozing flood in the street, his face turned white as the crushed rice. He feared for the loss. He feared for the struggle ahead. Vijaya, his wife was still driving out the water from kitchen.
Sampat traded in single stock: the salt. No one other did it in the area of seven villages. The storeroom for salt was at the lower level. The water entered his shop as a serpent would enter in the hole of its prey. When he waded through the floodwater, crossed his veranda, and reached in front of the shop, all of his fears had materialised. His stock had made the whole street salty.
“How is your luck, Sampat?” Bhima, standing on a raft like thing and oaring with a long bamboo, fired a joke at him. As the streets and fields were under water, the village was full of such rafts. They made rafts from the tree branches fallen before the rain. On Bhima’s joke two children, half naked, standing on a nearby roof giggled. Sampat groaned at them and the naked duo was silenced.
He would need a raft, too, Sampat knew. To reach at temple was like to cross the Bay of Bengal. But he needed to go. Only the Kama sold wheat flour in the village. “Flour has run out.” Vijaya had told him. Saving himself from the household articles swimming in the water and the walls waiting to crumble down, he however reached at the temple. At the bend of the road he saw Kama.
“O… God, I am dead…” Kama was beating his own head, ignoring his wife’s incessant solaces. His old mother had drowned and dead body was missing. His trade was no better than Sampat’s: blown off. Everything had gone with the flood. Only he was left with a pair of bullock, and three walls of his house, one wall washed out completely.
“Now I shall close the salt business,” Sampat spoke to himself. “The selling of plastic goods is a safe business. No threat from the flood. Water comes and water goes. Plastic remains plastic, dry.“ On the way home Sampat saw water receding. It was knee-deep when he opened the rusted gate of home.
“Vijaya… now boil the rice only. No wheat flour. Kama is bankrupt.” He told his wife.The firewood would be a problem, he knew. But he also knew that he had a clever wife. Would manage it. She did. She had also borrowed a small pot of drinking water from a neighbour.
THE MUDDY LANE was unsteady under Sampat’s feet. Vijaya helped him to walk through the temple street. The slippery mud was his enemy. Had he been alone, it would have been like walking through a war zone for his slightly obese body.
“Everything is gone. How will we live now?”
“We will start a new business. Clothes. “ Vijaya applied her tailoring strength for responding to the challenges the devastating rain had put before. Her husband was sceptical, not about her courage but about the success of the new venture.
“One machine, several metres of cloth, and our shop are sufficient for starting. And now a day I do not wear my gold bangles. Sell it.” Sampat looked at Vijaya’s face. It was brighter under the sunrays.
The bus came after a recess of three days. The couple went to the city. The gold was sold: hopes were purchased. The money procured was not a stirring amount. But they could collect the materials for their dream business. The materials were weighty; the dream was hard. On the way home, carrying the weight of their new ideas, they discussed how they would make their dreams true.
A SHOP OF ready-made clothes in a small village was like a festival in the desert. People of surrounding three villages came to see the courage. Wider were their eyes on seeing a woman, working in a shop. Women in villages sat at home, produce children, and cry for the losses. They did not fight like Vijaya. People talked so.
“Where is Sampat?” A customer asked.
“To the city for selling the clothes.” Vijaya would answer. Her little daughter was not a problem. She played near the shop. A seed takes time to sprout and become a plant. It took no more time to become a sheltering tree in Vijaya’s shop. Before their son Sammy was born, the people of three villages had started calling Sampat a Sheth, a respectable trader.
And the day of reckoning came. Vijaya got her golden bangles back, her gone assets back. New bangles were brighter than the old. The couple’s sweat had added more shining to it. It was the day they rejoiced: it was the day they felt as winner. It was the day on which they gifted one pair of clothes to every child studying in the village school.
The months became years, and the years made a decade. Their increased business, and the education of children: these were the compulsions, which brought them to the city.
THE OLD WOMAN, Vijaya, a widow since ten years, looks at the sky. The tears fill her eyes. There is no rain; there is no village; and there is no poverty dancing around. But there is pain. And there is no company of her co-fighter, Sampat. Since the day he died after a heart attack, Vijaya is dry as a lake without water.
Today it is ten years, his tenth death anniversary.
Vijaya looks at her golden bangles. ‘And now a day I do not wear my gold bangles. Sell it.’ She remembers how they had turned the page of their life, before twenty-five years. Standing on the muddy lanes, even facing the wild claws of the flood, She was the master of her affairs. But today she is helpless before her son. The time has changed.
But the gold is still gold.
The bangles are sold, second time, again for the purpose of her husband. This time it is for the happiness of his soul.
She remembers how she had climbed the bus for going to the city, to sell the bangles, and to purchase the happiness ahead. Today she rides a bus to the village. Is it a return journey? Is she leaving something behind? Or is she going to achieve something at the village? She has no answer. But the gushing tears wash out all the queries roaming in her mind.
THE RITUAL ENDS and Vijaya distributes alms to the temple Pundits and serves a feast to the school children. Sampat liked children. The villagers remember the days when Sampat, the sheth of the village, was among them.
During stay of two days in her old house, Vijaya feels that the walls are crying for someone’s presence. She gets the whole house mud-plastered and the grass grown in the veranda weeded out. The roof again saw the colour of a home. Standing within the four walls of the shop she smells the salt Sampat was selling. Sitting among the village women of her age was a rerun of her life, the life in which she was managing the events. The recess of two decades melts as the salt had melted in the floodwater.
She had sold the gold and bought happiness in past. Now she has sold the gold again and has regained the happiness, perhaps.
She sends a one-line message to her son Sammy: I need company of the walls that still smells the salt, and the walls of my home too need me, perhaps.