WHEN FURIOUS WIND undertakes to falsify all the predictions made by economists and palmists whom people genuinely believed to be sane; when the clouds, with dense sheets of water, hurry to be off-loaded onto the earth-godown, as if their entire water-stock is expelled from the sky-office; when it is comfortable for a dead body to float and be forgotten, and when God forgets that these are the children of God, too, we in our region call it the rainy season.
My encounter with such terrifying scenes was limited to viewing of post mortem reports on TV screens. TV-people are perfect people. They wait tirelessly for days in rain for a single shot of a dead body floating. They know that flood hardly recedes without turning a score of humans into dead bodies. They would film people buried under debris and run behind the corpses floating on water. Then they make their deadly shots swallow-able on the tube surfaces, and inject the chaos into each and every living room.
“This is the D face of GOD.” Vijay said
We walked through that Three-D version of a destructive season, cruising through the streets and street-lets of mill colony area that was under Vijay’s supervision, exclusively. He might be on his evening work, but why on earth I was with him? There was one curious reason: how did the Farina look whom we were going to meet? She was, as reported by Vijay, an intelligent woman. Was she beautiful too? I wanted to check it.
One betel-shop owner ran at us asking us, where we wanted to go. Everyone who saw us would have thought that our car or bike might have drowned, and we were running for a shelter. In fact it was not so. Vijay wanted to be at Farina, the woman whom he had rescued when she was unknowingly standing under a falling roof.
“It’s stormy day, dear. Better you remain at home.”
“No. In my books, it’s the best time when I am with my odds.” I replied. He just smiled. A flood of offensive smell from open sewage, competing with lethal odour gushing in from a not-so-far cluster of chemical factories, filled the air and I had to put handkerchief on nose. City civic body, Vijay’s office, was still to do things for giving the area a human face.
“Your department is blind here.”
“My office is not an office as such. It’s just like a railway platform. They come and go. No one cares for their work.” He was right. Seniors at his office were not friendly to him, to anyone who were honest and not taking bribes. Vijay knew all about their preferred occupations. Had he participated at dancing-girl floors, at bar in basement of his office, or at some late-night playing-card meetings, he would have been up to their standard. Vijay lacked desire to ‘upgrade’ his standard.
“Vijay we live at different ends of a city, isn’t it?”
I could not pursue the idea of the ‘different ends’ longer, as he walked away, at a crowd of open-air bathers, telling the boys of misfit clothes not to swim in a polluted water. The water pool was so wealthy of chemical contents that one could try a suicide by drinking just one glass from it. But on seeing those bathing children, a doubt circulated in my mind. Doubt about the theory of
Once the rain declared an unplanned recess and retiring sun peeped through a cloud-hole, the roof-sitting people jumped down and began to spread over their reduced lives. They would cry, beat their chests, and then believe that they were not full-scale children of God. No sooner they would indulge in the practices of multiplying themselves, as if they were in urgency of making good the losses that had occurred due to the deaths by flood. Even the beggars had started begging.
Vijay spotted Farina. The woman I wanted to see.
She withdrew her clothes up to knees and ran into us. With a surge of pleasure on her face, her feet found spaces under water as a fish would find its food. Mud in her fingernails: she might be helping some neighbours to recall their life.
Then she walked ahead. Her down-to-earth clothes were proof of her culture-in-action. Her quasi-urban face was an old edition of a book. The book looked running in her thirties. A pair of blackish eyes, well-fitted nose with a tip and lower lip, slightly thicker than upper, hair-stock neatly parked behind: these were features that made her face credibly balanced.
The two lines of wounded walls and fallen shelters walked with us. Water was silent, silent like a herd of wolves sitting on their prey. I tried to walk on my own. But undisclosed land under the water made it hard to disconnect Vijay’s hand. One turn at an abrupt end of a narrow street and we followed Farina into one empty veranda.
She opened an age-old, stubborn door. Quite an old-fashioned house was made of cement, bricks, and fitness to survive. The plaster was aged and torn at places; so the red bricks underneath looked like wounds of a spade.
She opened one room that led her into kitchen. Another room was closed, its doors eaten by moths at lower ribs. The air in that corner smelt like an abandoned dream. Farina returned with one fresh cloth arranged properly on her head.
“Mine is an orthodox region.” She waved her palm around.
If maturity were wealth of a person, Farina was a fairly rich woman. But her limbs had features of a cat, the cat living among a herd of hounds. Her neighbours, living at a stone’s throw, might dislike her affiliation with a young man. Submitting her fearful eyes on the cultural barometer operating in that area, she kept chanting verses from Holy Qur’an.
“Ma’am, you may be feeling inconveniency…”
I could guess that by ‘you’ she meant my long-cut hair, an urbane woman’s get-up, and price of the dress I had put on.
“No, not at all.” I pretended.
It was easy to ascertain how difficult her life was, but it was difficult to believe that how effortlessly she could smile.
Along with her smile, the cups of fuming tea came out. Vijay put my introduction between sipping of the tea. Only thereafter Farina seemed to realise that we were not husband and wife. She could not swallow the fact that a man and woman can live together without having stamp of marriage.
I ran my eyes through the religious frames swinging on walls; the air waved presence of pure Islamic devotion. I saw no evidence of anyone else living in the house. “Where are your family members? I mean you’re alone in this stormy weather.”
“I’m used to both, ma’am, living alone and living with the storms.” Many nuts in one shell. Matter of surprise, as it was an area having a faint touch of literacy.
“It’s interesting. I mean you talk in a manner one can hardly expect in this area. People have their own dialects here.”
“My father was a teacher,” she said. “Died before three years.” A long gulp of air passed through her nostrils. “Sir, when you saved me, under that roof, I saw the same compassion in your eyes that I was used to see in my father’s.”
“He must be caring for you, here or in heaven.”
“Yes, I know. He looks after me from there, too.” She pointed at sky, without any weight of suspicion, as if her father had descended from heaven in Vijay’s form and rescued her from a certain death. It made me settled on an idea that Farina belonged to the land of faith and God. Vijay’s region. Was I able to peep into that region? No, not yet. It required less complicated mind, perhaps.
But shocking was Farina’s life-story: a stack of hard sticks. “My husband had kicked me out of his house and life by uttering the word ‘Tallak’ thrice; then he married one younger woman. Before four years.”
“Why?” I raised my voice.
“I have failed to produce a child in time.” I could guess that Farina had digested her ‘Tallak’, the divorce, and the reason for her ouster, too.
“So this is you father’s house.” Vijay said.
“Besides this home, I’ve inherited his poverty, too.”
They talked rain; they talked religion. And when Farina talked about the subjects living around, Vijay went into deep. His duty call. Mention of the closed factory alerted him. He took out a small diary and wrote down Farina’s account: the factory owners were touchy about frequent strikes; certain crooks hampered the efforts of reopening; workers wanted justice; and before a delayed justice, they wanted bread. On daily basis.
“Sir, most of the workers are dying to resume.”
He underlined some names having some influence, positive and negative both, over the workers. While noting he looked like the grounds-man inspecting a pitch before starting of a day’s play.
“What do you do for your living?” I interrupted.
“That’s the real power.” Vijay supplemented.
She taught girls at home, she said. Only some of them could pay fees. But it provided her a small amount of wheat-flour and much contentment. That was her prayer. “My income is too weak to keep the kitchen hot.”
I was undergoing a change of concept, the concept of not helping the poor in cash. I searched into my purse, and found out an amount that was nearly two months income of that lady. When I tried to give it, a broad smile spread on her face.
“No, ma’am. I can’t take money. If you want to help me, get me a job. I will be thankful.”
“We will find a job, suitable to your nature. Have faith on God.” Vijay said.
AT PARTING time, it was not the case that we were performing in an emotional drama, or it was a final scene of a tragic film, but Farina had tears in her eyes. I found it thrilling, not for the tears exactly, but for some different reasons. One: that there were people who regard their work as worship. Secondly the people always think that their departed fathers are in heaven.
And finally: All of the poor people are not beggars.
[iMAGE COURTESY Thomas Sully [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons ]