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And the story begins...My ten short stories

And the story begins...My ten short stories

Author: Dr.Anita Singh ,ARTS FACULTY,CWSD,BHU, ,

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published by mpasvo publication


                                 For my mother



If I have to go back to the whole story of this anthology, I cannot but mention the names of three people: Dr.Ravi Shankar, Late Mrs. Mridula Bhattacharya and Mr. Varun Srivastava from All India Radio, Varanasi. I here acknowledge their inspiration, affection, encouragement and their utter simplicity to believe that I could write a story.

As the Dutch proverb goes, “only your true friends can tell you when your face is dirty”. So, I would also like to mention three of my staunch friends and worst critics: Alankrita, Amitabh and Ashok.

 Front flap

The stories in this collection And the Story Begins: My Ten Short Stories were originally broadcasted from time to time from All India Radio, Varanasi. They are here with some modifications.

These stories present a tapestry that weave patterns from daily experience.

They explore cultural values and exact an emotional response from the reader’s.

Like a great journey, they show you things you may have seen before and will never forget. 


Cover design:  Alankrita and Amitabh


Back flap

   About the author   

Anita Singh is working as a Reader in the Department of English, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi. She has a number of articles, translations, book reviews and short stories published in various journals, anthologies and magazines. Her published works include:

 Arthur Miller: A Study of the Doomed Heroes in his Plays (1993);

Indian English Novel in the Nineties and After: A Study of the Text and its Context (2004).

Address: C-2, Satyendra Kumar Gupta Nagar, Lanka, Varanasi- (UP)-221005                                                             




   Preface: About the Short Story

1.  And the Story Begins

2. For her sake

3. Jaanhvi

4. River Sutra

5. Double Dealing

6. At the Railway Station

7. Ganga

8. An Unfinished Love Story: A Tale in Verse

9. Surviving the Storm

10. The Wait






                                          About the Short Story


A former classmate of Mark Twain told a journalist “Shucks! I knew just as many stories as Sam Clemens did. He just wrote them down”.



We have all been telling tales ever since we were toddlers and had just mastered the art of speech. The tale telling impulse is too irrepressibly fecund to be confined within any single narrative pattern. Therefore the short story has never been adequately defined. Many have tried to define it in their own way. For H.G. Wells it is “the jolly art of making something very bright and moving, it may be horrible or pathetic or profoundly illuminating”. In Edgar Allan Poe’s opinion the short story should have unity of impression and singleness of purpose. But for Anton Chekhov the short stories have neither a beginning nor an end. It should only be a slice of life presented suggestively. Somerset Maugham goes against the view of Chekhov and says that a short story “should be a finished product of art with a beginning, middle and an end”.

The short story has existed since time immemorial – so it is both old and new. However, as a distinct literary genre it has a recent origin, but if we look at it as a piece of tale or narrative it is almost as old as man himself. The love of story is ingrained in us. Stories have been told in every country, since ages, and each country has accumulated a rich store of tales. The instinct to listen to stories is also deeply rooted in human mind. Like the ballads and songs; it has its beginning in folk life. The ancient folk tale was an artless narrative, yet it had a great fascination and charm of its own.   The custom of narrating tales in the ancient ages was popular both in the East as well as in the West. Some of the earliest stories are found in the Vedas and the Upanishads, in the Old Testament, in the Buddhist Jatakas, in Panchatantra, and in the Katha Sarita Sagar. The fables of Aesop and the Stories contained in the mythology of every country can also be counted among them.

The short story in the sense we recognize today, has its origin in the 19th century .We can locate its beginning in America about 1830. In America, the genre of short stories made great strides in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, O’Henry, Stephen Crane, Faulkner, Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, and Henry James among many others. Although the short story attained maturity in America, one should turn to Russia to find its ultimate masters. A few illustrious Russian writers were Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekov. India has not lagged behind in contributing to world’s great short stories. Premchand, a writer of great renown has given us striking descriptions of the down and out’s. His stories which are worthy of mention are Buddhi Kaki, Pus kiRaat, and Kaafan along with so many others. Many other doyens who ought to be talked about are Sadat Hasaan Manto, Bhishma Sahani, Rajender Bedi, Mulk Raj Anand, Mahasweta Devi, Manoj Das to name just a few, who in their own way have indigenized the short story and taken it to new heights hitherto unknown.

 A few words about my ten short stories: these stories deal with ordinary people, familiar places, and recognizable emotions. All along they affirm that- love, faith, duty, friendship, freedom, reverence are part of human life most worthy of preservation. Art images life and life in turn imitates art:

“Like art

Life too, is replete with surprises

Unexpected twists and unforeseen


We have no control on tomorrow

As on the final work of art

Like the bliss of creation

Often eclipses the rationale of returns

Letting go of expectations in life

Helps savor the joys of living

While art unsettles and intimidates

Those blinkered by objectivity and realism

Life too appears meaningless

If not interpreted beyond

The visible, tangible and explicable aspects of existence

Life must imitate art in

Visibly and audibly manifesting our transformation

If only we looked for

The creative streak in every chore

Life’s drudgeries

Could well spawn self replenishing delight.”


  Since brevity is the soul of a short story let me be brief.

Happy Reading!!


                                   And the Story Begins


There were two schools in the village of Chandanpur. The one by the side of the river was an old crumbling, dilapidated building where occasionally classes were held when the master turned up in his creaky bicycle. The other school near the market place was a brightly painted school called ‘Vidya Mandir’ it was quite an extraordinary building to have been built in the village. The affluent farmers sent their children to this school.

Eight years old Ninad also studied in this school. She loved going to school and why not, didn’t her teacher Urmila consider her the brightest student. Ninad preened over the love and affection she got from her teachers. How she would miss her school when it closes down for the summer vacation. A day before the vacation their teacher Urmila had told them:

 “You have to write a story for your project work”.

 “Mind you”, she said,

“It should not be any story from the books but you have to think of something fresh and new, something that you see around you, the people whom you meet or anything in your surroundings that sways you”.

Mystified little Ninad came home absolutely confounded, what is she going to do, now for once she felt annoyed with her favorite teacher Urmila. But Ninad was not the one to be disheartened for long. She was reminded of her dear grandmother who always told her lovely stories of Prince and Princesses and witches who always created problems, but the courageous Prince was always successful in rescuing the beautiful princess from her distress. And as always they lived happily ever after.

After dinner Ninad snuggled in her grandmother’s lap and entreated her to tell her stories which she could use in her project work. Wise and pragmatic grandmother admonished Ninad:

 “No, I will not help you here. You go out in the village, meet people, talk to them and try to write about all that you observe and hear in an interesting way. Moreover , my stories are about prince , king , fairies , demons, in my stories birds talk , mountains fly and trees sing and your teacher wants real stories , isn’t it? So why don’t you go ahead and be a sport”.

The next day Ninad set out to look for stories .She met so many people on the way: Raju the cobbler, Jammun the shepherd, Nathu the hawker. How interesting these people seemed to her. Can she ask them for interesting incidents that had happened in their lives but they all seemed awfully busy as they were all going for work.

It was becoming hot and humid and still Ninad had not met anyone who could narrate anything interesting that inspired her. She stopped by in a nearby hut where aunty Kusum lived with her old mother and two daughters.

 “Can I have a glass of water, aunty”, asked Ninad with parched throat.

 “Oh! Sure, why don’t you come inside”?

 It did not take long for Ninad to divulge her distress. An idea came to her mind:

 “Aunty, can you tell me something interesting that has ever happened in your life?

 Hesitatingly, Kusum pulled her chair near Ninad. Her hair hung loose about her shoulders, eyes swollen and now seemed almost blinded with tears:

“Dear child, you will not like if I start telling you the things that have happened to me, you are too small for all that.”

“No aunty, please I would love to hear about all that you will say and you know I am not that small any more I study in a school- don’t forget that”, an exhausted Ninad quipped in.

Kusum began her tale slowly but surely:

 “I was married in Jhumru village to Raghu. It did not take me long to realize that my husband Raghu was a weakling. He could not go against the wishes of his dominating mother .His mother hated the sight of me. I bore the brunt of the travails I was subjected to, bravely. I got a job in a nearby school, only the money that I earned at the school made them happy. I remained an eyesore for them. My mother- in- law would all the time pester me for a male child. She increasingly became vociferous in her demands .Day and night I was called names for not giving her a grandson. Then after some months I was pregnant. She indulged in all kinds of superstitious rituals to ensure that the child would be a male. Few months later, I gave birth to a girl child. I was cursed, abused and tortured. My life had misery writ large on it. Meanwhile, she started consulting holy men, visiting every temple, every church, every mazar of sufi saint in the vicinity, praying for a grandson. She unrelentingly pursued me for a male heir. I was weighed down by my tormented conscience. The burden of the guilt of not having fulfilled her desire was heavy on my mind.

Time passed by and I was again carrying another child. Again, for the second time, I was pampered and given a privileged diet. I was dismayed to see my daughter neglected both by my mother in law and husband. I felt troubled about her future. What a great injustice I was doing to her by bringing her up in this despicable place. How unwanted and unloved my three year old daughter must have felt, this thought kept pounding at my heart. My life had become a walking shadow.  

The second child that was born to me was also a daughter. My mother in law’s rage was unbridled, her fury knew no bounds. She kept raving and ranting at me. Some voice within me told me to do something and not take things lying down. I walked out of the house but not without giving her my piece of mind”.

I had angrily blurted out:

 “dear Ma do you think you would have remained alive if your mother had treated you the same way as you have treated my daughters, you were also someone’s daughter don’t forget that.”

After Saying this entire, Kusum aunty had tried fighting back her tears and said:

“I hate to cry. I cry sometimes when I am harassed, humiliated and unhappy. You see Ninad, the events of these last few years have left a bitter comprehension of the complexities of life. God stood by me in these trying times. I was relieved at the restored strength; I walked off to my mothers place. I knew facing her wouldn’t be a cake walk for me. My dear old mother had looked at me. She tried to speak, but only her lips trembled. The baby in my arms started to cry. I looked at my baby. My mother looked at the baby. Ours eyes met. Tears stood in her eyes. I must not cry I had told myself. First few days in my mother’s place were very painful. A married woman returning home was an unusual sight. People’s pity depressed me their gossip enraged me”.

Kusum stopped her tale rather abruptly. Ninad looked at Kusum thoughtfully,

 “Can you tell me aunty, why did your mother- in- law want a male child?”

 Her innocent question pricked Kusum like a thorn. All the possible answers she thought up – religious, sociological, and ontological – seemed trite to her, extremely dishonest and concocted. Ninad perhaps understood Kusum’s helplessness and resumed without waiting for an answer:

 “You are such a nice lady aunty everything good is going to happen to you. Thank you for sharing all this with me. Anyhow, but I like my grandmother’s stories where everyone lives happily ever after. I wonder why we can’t have such stories anymore”.   



















                                          For her Sake


Revati was tense; her daughter had come home from the university after completing her Masters. But why was she tense in this moment of rejoicing? Hadn’t her daughter got excellent marks in her exams? No, that was not it, Radha was Revati’s only child and that too born after long supplication and propitiating the Gods. When the infant in a bundle was placed before Revati she had exclaimed:

 “Is she really mine”?

All the pain and loneliness of all those childless years fizzed out as the pinkish child occupied her arms. Revati’s happiness had been infectious; the child blossomed and grew to be a happy young girl. After Radha completed her schooling in Chandanpur, Revati had convinced her husband, Pandit Dinanath, the headman of the village of Chandanpur to send her daughter to the city for higher education. Dinanath had seen desire in his daughter’s eyes to study in the city, so he had consented, for her sake he could do anything. Radha’s departure did rend Revati’s heart but Revati could very well survive the pangs of separation as she had a dream – a dream of seeing her daughter as an officer, an unusual dream, the ladies in the village told her:

 “Why don’t you get her married her to Kashinath’s son, in the military, earning five figure salary, look at the land and cattle Kashinathji has”.

But no, Revati had often told her daughter:

 “Oh! I could die a hundred times to see you as an officer, didn’t you see the serial with that young girl Kavita who becomes an IAS officer that is what I want you to be. I don’t want you to become like those overdressed ladies in the afternoon soaps”.

 Radha would laugh at this and hug her mother hard:

 “I am not going to let you down Ma”, she would lovingly say.

And now, what of it, Revati was dismayed that her dreams seemed to slip under her feet. How she wished the earth cracked and she slipped under it, just as Sita had been swallowed up by the earth.

How can Radha come home with a strange looking lady and her son, of different caste, community and to make matters worse of an entirely different region, their facial features and skin color was so different from theirs. She kept looking at them tongue tied. Her daughter had only said on arrival:

“Oh , Ma , Auntie made up her mind to visit our village , I have told her so much about my beautiful home and of course about you too”. She said this as she embraced me tightly and taking me aside she had whispered,

 “I know you are shocked how you will mange two guests, don’t worry I’ll help you out, and moreover you don’t have to be too formal with aunty, she is nice you know”.

Radha had said all this in a little pleading whisper. For her sake I put on a lovely smile on my face and received them with warmth.

Almost a day had passed. My uneasiness was accelerating. Dinanath was also of no help. He seemed to be blissfully turning a blind eye to the situation that was increasingly clear to me, like a sore that festers and spreads.

That evening Radha and her aunty had decided to go for a walk towards the lofty mountains that stretched in front of my house. Her son stayed back and told us that he wanted to discuss something with us. I could, as it were, smell his thoughts. We were in Dinanath’s visitor’s room, when Fernandez, how difficult it was to mouth his name, came and sat beside us. He was a tall chap, not yet thirty, brawny and dark with a charming face and big intelligent eyes. His abundant black hair tended generally sideways. I stood watching him. He grinned innocently and I could see his teeth were white and even. Slowly he was getting into the centre of what he wanted to disclose:

“Uncle, I know you have brought up Radha with such love and affection, she values you‘ll above anything in this world .So what I have to say could only be divulged by me, as she is too scared of hurting you in any way”.

He turned around and looked at me and stretched forward to hold my hands briefly and said with a lot of warmth:

“I know and understand this place, your position, your society, but aunty can you tell me what to do”. He quite blurted out:

 “I love her and she too loves me as much”.

He did not have to tell me this I thought, I am Radha’s mother, who else will know her better. The activities of the day had already told me of her affection for this boy. I was prepared and knew this was coming. He went on further with the same cool collected voice:

 “And sir, as you know that I am in Radha’s university on a post doc program and I have a teaching job in Goa, so I want to solemnize my marriage before I leave. I would also want Radha to pursue her higher studies in the University of Illinois where I have taken up an important project. But all this planning is in vain without your approval. I can only think about this relationship if your attitude is positive. If you think I am worthy enough for your daughter”.

He continued haltingly:

“I know your social constrains – can you afford to go beyond the boundaries of your traditions and culture – I know social rules are stringent here in these parts. Our hearts were borderless and without boundaries, so we could reach out to each other – I don’t know how much harm I have done to you but believe me it has all been done unintentionally. Anyway I am prepared for all eventualities, Radha and I believe that love does not just mean possessing it also means letting go”.

With a sad sigh he got up and touched Dinanath’s feet and added:

 “I will respect your decision, my train leaves tomorrow”.

So, saying all that he had to say, he went out in the darkness of the night, leaving us alone together.

Dinanath looked at me, tried to speak, but only his lips trembled. A question mark hung between us .He took out a cigarette, wisps of smoke wafted in the air. Smoke seemed to intensify the mystery. I did not like the portents, he could have started a conversation, but we did not, we kept quiet, like convicts waiting for a verdict. I gazed around. It had started to rain heavily outside. I walked cautiously closing the windows. Radha was back from her walk. There was this niggling feeling of uneasiness. From the corner of the window I could see Radha take her father’s hands in hers and heard Dinanath say in clear voice:

 “Radha, I like this friend of yours”.

 Flash of joy rushed across Radha’s face I could see from where I was but soon this flash of joy was overshadowed by black clouds of anxiety. She shrugged and turned around to look at me. At last the question mark could now be allowed to dissipate, I knew it was my turn to say something, but could I stop the streams of tears flowing unabashedly, pushing them back I just could manage to say:

 “I am happy, Radha for having brought you up this way. I have to learn a lot from you”.

Choked with tears, I took Radha close to my bosom and wept tears of joy.




















Jaanhvi must have been around 35. Nobody knew anything much about her. She usually gossiped and was quite garrulous but when it came to her own life she remained tight lipped and hence rumors abounded- about her having left her husband, some said he was impotent, some narrated how she fell out with her acid tongued mother in law but who can say what was true - these were all speculations . Anyway nobody bothered much about what Jaanhvi was – her presence in the village was so conspicuous that her past rarely mattered to the people of Chandanpur.

For some Jaanhvi was a mystic masseur, for some she was an odd job women , a house assistance , kitchen help , a gardener, any work was good enough for her . Her professional attitude was well-known in the village. She was warm, helpful, and upright but would take no nonsense from anyone, never compromise with her dues and did anyone grudge Jaanhvi money – no! As her involvement and honesty with which she did her work was well known. But very few knew the flip side of Jaanhvi’s nature – didn’t she stay up the nights when Jagu’s mother was ailing. Helpless Jagu had no money and did not know how to take care of his mother. Jaanhvi had come to his assistance uncalled for, nursed her with loving care but Jagu’s mother did not survive long and one night died with Jaanhvi’s hands in her hand . After the last rites of his mother were over Jagu standing shyly behind the door had extended his hand with some money in it and had said meekly:

 “Jaanhvi, I know this is not enough for the work you did for my mother but what to do with my limited resources – don’t worry I’ll clear my debts to you soon”.

 Jaanhvi turned around to look at woeful Jagu and said tenderly:

“Jagu keep the money you will need to clear your bills from the medicine shop .Don’t forget that- and Jagu ,she was like my mother – don’t make me feel so small by giving me this, keep it and remember everything always is not measured in terms of money”.

  Tears streamed down Jagu’s eyes. He stood speechless. She took the corner of her cotton sari and wiped the streaming tears off Jagu’s eyes. That was what our Jaanhvi was like. The villagers knew that inside her tough exterior was a soft heart.

Jaanhvi behaved very sportingly when the village youths teased her. When they would see her approaching with jhumka’s dangling in her ears, feet red with color, bright sari wrapped around her they would call out in unison:

“O jaan! O Jaan!”

 Jaanhvi would turn around and arms akimbo glare at them reproachfully. They would immediately say:

“Jaanhvi your handkerchief”

 They would pick up one that was mischievously planted by them. Jaanhvi would simply shrug off her their banter and walk on.   

Jaanhvi soon forgot the grief of Jagu’s mother’s death with the approaching marriage of Lalita’s daughter Sandhya. Such a lot of work was to be done, Jaanhvi’s hands were full. She had no time, she enjoyed every bit of the preparations of the marriage – she helped out in arranging the bride’s trousseau, the preparation of the mandap and many more things. Whenever Lalita came across Jaanhvi running errands she would always say: “bless you Jaanhvi what would I do have done without you”, Jaanhvi would teasingly retort:

“I want a gold earring for the marriage”.

When Lalita would broach on the topic of Jaanhvi‘s marriage Jaanhvi would evade the query and flippantly answer:

“Marriage is not for me, moreover I like being on my own. What can a good for nothing man do for me?”

Lalita was wise not to prod the marriage issue any further as the village was rife with all types of tales about Jaanhvi’s marriage. Why should Lalita bother about these rumors? Jaanhvi was heaven sent for her – she had asked Jaanhvi about her marriage simply because she wanted Jaanhvi to be happy.

Sandhya’s marriage ceremonies were over. The bride and the groom were to depart .On the Bidai day, Jaanhvi had cried her heart out –  not for so much for Sandhya probably- but wasn’t it an opportunity to cry at her fate openly – give a vent to all those sorrows she had buried in her chest.

Time passed by, Sandhya’s marriage was forgotten as other activities occupied Jaanhvi’s attention. The village boys were at their pranks as usual – was there any way Jaanhvi could stop that? Sometimes it did pinch her:

“Why I am I the butt of their ridicule every time – why can’t they treat me with a little more respect- what have I done to warrant such behavior from them”?

 “Wishful thinking” thought Jaanhvi and as she did with all unpleasant things in her life – she put it aside:

“How will I survive if I pay heed to such rubbish”?

 Life rolled on for Jaanhvi.

One day on her way to work she came across an agitated Lalita hurrying home with milk in a can. Jaanhvi greeted her with warmth. It was unlike Lalita to behave in such a brusque way, Jaanhvi was puzzled and could not restrain herself:

 “What has happened? Is everything all right? Is Sandhya doing well in her Sasural?”

 A volley of questions greeted Lalita who blurted out:

 “Don’t talk about Sandhya, she is trying to bring a bad name for us by running away from her in -laws place , she has become so stubborn will not listen to me – she does not care for the reputation of her parents – but her father is trying to talk some sense in her foolish mind – he will take her back today- but the girl refuses – Jaanhvi if you have time can put some sense into that ignorant girl of mine?- she likes you maybe she will listen to you”.

A genuinely concerned Jaanhvi followed Lalita thinking it to be the usual quarrel between husband and wife. But the sight of Sandhya immediately alerted Jaanhvi that this was no laughing matter. She took Sandhya aside, bought a cup of hot tea for her, took her hands lovingly in her own – gently asked her,

“You don’t want to go – is it?”

 Sandhya looked at her with the eyes of a wounded deer. Her eyes told all, her attenuated state, creased sari, the dark circles round her eyes, shaggy hair – her hollow cheeks spoke volumes – hardly a month – such a pretty girl – look at her state:

 “What a shame”, Jaanhvi was aghast:

 “Are her parents blind?”

Jaanhvi covered her head with the aanchal of her cotton sari and stepped out in the veranda where Lalita and her husband were seated:

 “Lalita, ma” she said.

 “If you don’t want to keep Sandhya at your place for the sake of your good name, prestige and reputation and what not, I am taking Sandhya to stay at my place I cannot allow her to go back to the devils den to be swallowed by hungry wolves. I may not be wealthy enough but by Gods grace I earn ample to feed two stomachs”,

 A frightened Sandhya by this time was standing very close to Jaanhvi in silent acceptance to all that Jaanhvi said. A heated exchange of words ensued between them. Jaanhvi had her last word – when Lalita kept on harping:

 “How dare you – intruder – do such a thing”?

 Jaanhvi turned around and stripped her garment from her back to expose deep gashes, marks of ruthless beating:

 “can you see these marks – I had showed it to my mother – had cried my heart out – pleaded- wept- mother don’t send me back to those scoundrels – but she did not listen- she had sent me back-I knew if I stayed at my in- laws place I wouldn’t have survived - so I escaped ––I had no refuge. That is how I came to this village and started to earn my livelihood here. From then on I have never looked back. Now I can’t have history repeating itself before me. Sandhya is accomplished – let them learn to value her –why should we grovel before them – if they can be loving and caring let them come to fetch her – till then Sandhya will be with me”.

Jaanhvi said all this with a note of finality in her voice. Lalita looked at her daughter without the blinkered vision and now she could clearly see the unhappiness and sorrow writ large on her dear daughter’s face. Lalita turned around to Jaanhvi and said:

 “Jaanhvi, you have been sensible and acted very wisely and look at me how could I have been so insensitive towards my own daughter, no stepmother would have done what I was about to do. I don’t know how to express my gratitude to you”.

Lalita took her daughter in her arms and sobbed. Jaanhvi quietly slipped off – she knew she was not wanted now. The news spread like fire in the village, soon everyone was talking of Jaanhvi. What lay concealed for so many years, Jaanhvi had unveiled - her painful past to save Sandhya.

“Have you heard of Jaanhvi? Do you know what she did”, was going around the village endlessly the next day. A nonchalant Jaanhvi tucked a beetle leaf in her mouth , vibrantly clad walked with her usual swagger as she reached round the corner tea shop the group of youths who usually teased her stood in silent admiration – Jaanhvi turned back and with a twinkle in her eye asked them:

 “Hi! Boys haven’t I dropped my handkerchief somewhere here? Won’t you call out for me today”? The boys chuckled and called out in unison:

 “Jaanhviji we like you so much”.

  Jaanhvi walked ahead to do her daily chores    






                                               River Sutra


Shankar Baba lived in the northern end of the village, the part that almost touched the dense forest. A clear sparkling stream flowed near his hut. The villagers hardly came to this remote part as they feared wild animals straying around near the stream. Nobody remembered how long Shankar Baba had been staying in the hut by the stream, nor did they know where he had come from. Despite all this Shankar Baba was a highly respected man in these parts. Villagers would often seek his advice, blessings and even come to him to settle disputes.

It so happened, on day as Baba was walking up stream he noticed a small bundle half hidden in a bush. Baba reached out for his bundle to his astonishment it was an infant rolled in a scarf. He instinctively wanted to put it back:

 “What is a monk, a recluse like me going to do with an abandoned child?”

 Transfixed in his place the infant seemed to pull at his heart strings, visions of mythical and legendary abandoned children floated in his minds eye. Sita was found by Janak as he ploughed, Kabir was found floating in a stream by Neera and Neeru and the brave and bountiful Karan was also abandoned after his birth and was fortuitously found by Radha and charioteer Adhiratha. Maybe God had willed his life to take this turn .He encircled his arms around the child .But Baba fretted when he brought the child to the hut. He looked around his sparse hut, what resources he had to shoulder such a responsibility. However, the news spread like fire in the village. They flocked to offer their assistance to Baba in rearing the child. Baba named the child Sarita, for he thought no other name would have been appropriate for a child found by the stream and named by the man for whom the stream was synonymous with life. He would often refer to the stream as an example to be emulated , its qualities of moving onwards on its course , always flowing , fresh , bubbling , triumphing over all barriers , laughing merrily on its way , collecting and also propelling forward whatever came its way, perpetually a provider of joy to the beholder as it sinuously streams its way to the plains.

Sarita grew amidst the beauty of the surroundings. She was Wordsworthian Lucy whom nature reclaimed as her own. She, too developed a deep bond with the stream, waywardly dancing by the hut, she attained a kind of identicality with the river. This was possible thanks to the ministrations of the monk.

Once when Sarita was still an infant Baba had taken her upstream where he had dipped the child in cold waters, the child was extremely happy as the stream seemed to lull the child in its lap. During the monsoons the stream appeared to be full of human emotions he could hear its heartbeat pulsing under the ground. The small child would reach out for the river and play delightfully with its waters.

Time passed by. Sarita grew in her beauty and grace increasingly to be like the river. Like Kalidasa’s Shakuntala and Sudraka’s Vasantasena, Sarita’s beauty had affinities with nature, its spontaneity its freshness, Sarita had in fact become a beautiful extension of the ferns and foliage around her. However Sarita’s blossoming into youth had taken Baba’s peace of mind. He was gnawed by a sense of guilt and inadequacy of not being able to fulfill the duty of a father. He could no more stomach the oblique hints hurled at him by the villagers, who would in all politeness ask him if he was going to make a saint out of her. By some stroke of luck a Youngman who worked in a factory in Mumbai stopped by the village as his truck had broken down on his way to Pune. He was not untouched by Baba’s good offices and came to his hut to pay his obeseince. In the course of their conversations, Baba took a liking for this city bred youth. And proposed his daughters hand in marriage to this youth called Mahesh. The sly city boy Mahesh had seen Sarita frolicking with the goats outside Baba’s hut and he was already much enamored by her , his sharp ears had also picked up the loud whispers of Sarita’s unmarried status and Baba’s anxiety to get her married off. The desire to possess Sarita arose in Mahesh’s heart and he tried to befool Baba by the assumed grandeur of his thoughts and impress him by bragging about the magnitude of his job

Already a harassed man by his helplessness Baba hurriedly plunged into this match. Baba’s sense of foresight was momentarily blinded to be ready to graft a tender shoot in the harsh soil of the city. Marriage was soon solemnized. In a few days Sarita left for Mumbai where Mahesh worked in a pesticide factory. In the cramped one room apartment Sarita’s natural bloom withered away. She tried in vain to acclimatize herself in this world of stale air and skyscrapers.

After Sarita’s departure age started catching up on Baba very fast. For a long time there was no news of Sarita, increasingly Baba confined himself to his hut. Villagers would supply occasional gossip. Sarita was not keeping well, Mahesh was a man of indulgence, foul air of the city was choking Sarita, and she was a mere commodity to the man who should have been the answer to her dreams. After hearing all this Baba’s gloom would deepen.

Baba lay sick with delirium. The villagers nursed him, for the kind old Baba had always stood up for them in times of crises .When his limbs coursed with enough strength he dragged himself to the stream. The stream greeted him with a ghastly skull’s smile; it was no more than a swollen drain now. A thin ribbon of thick water lapped wearily, sequined with occasional dead fishes. It was disclosed to him that Mahesh had negotiated with the poor villagers whose land was sold to the factory owners at a throwaway price. A huge pesticide factory had been set up in the vicinity; black foul smelling emissions had altered the pristine purity of the stream beyond recognition. Baba was dismayed by the double duplicity. The stream smelt of pesticides. The fate of the stream spoke volumes for the fate of his dear daughter Sarita. Baba limped back with a leaden heart to his hut. Baba’s frail heart could not endure the grief of the silent stream



The next morning Baba was found dead in is hut .The villagers grieved profoundly. With Baba dead they had lost a paternal figure. Baba’s death signaled the enormity of their predicament. His death acted as a unifying factor, villagers swore to take cudgels against the perpetuators of Sarita and the stream, and salvage it from its exploiters. This would be their last homage to Baba.     












The summer afternoon was sizzling with heat .The path from the grand trunk road to Adikeshav ghat was lined with gulhmohar and Shiuli trees. The gulmohars in the month of April were adorned with fiery orange flowers. The dense trees were interspersed with bougainvilleas, chameli’s and wild roses, impregnating the atmosphere with a heavy fragrance.

It was almost a year since I had married Jatin. Even his simplest statements appeared to me uttered with an air of authority:

“Are you accompanying me to the bank?”

Boomed Jatin’s voice one afternoon. He knew I was finding it difficult to adjust to the rhythms of the city after my sedate small town existence in Koderma. He would make it a point to drag me along wherever he went. However, the idea of going to the bank revolted me, I relented anyway, as I was keen to visit Chandan shaheed, the shrine of a Sufi saint which was near the bank of the river Ganges. I had so many things to pray for, peace for my old mother back home, for my new marriage which was passing through a rough turf. A small voice told me that a visit to the shrine would do me good.

Jatin parked his car under a gulmohar tree and went in for his transactions. I switched on the radio FM and reclined my head to listen to the mellifluous old songs. The beauty of the surroundings made me take out a piece of paper from my purse to scribble some lines:

“The gulmohar tree dapples the road

Leading to the shrine

Creeks in the wind

A few brilliant red flowers

Fiery with colors sucked from the sun

Drift reluctantly towards me

Whole and unbruised

I pick them up


 In my palm

Such a simple thing can give me

So much pleasure

It has taken me so long

To see that happiness isn’t hard to find”.

 As I was keeping this hastily scrawled poem in my purse, in a distance I noticed a bored security man listlessly lying down in a creaky bench. There were some passersby. I saw an old man on a rickety bicycle with a small child, who I guessed must have been his grandson. He collided in the blind corner with two young men on a scooter. Collecting themselves after the collision the young men were quick to reprimand the old man who had fallen down from his bicycle:

“Don’t you see where you are going? Why don’t you stay at home if you are too old to ride a bicycle properly? You will die and so will your grandson by your blind riding”. The old man got up apologetic as if whatever had happened had been solely his mistake. He looked as helpless as a mouse in a parachute’s talons. The security men who were also eying the scene got up and scolded the two young men in harsh terms:

 “What do you mean, I saw it all, poor Baba was on the right, it was your entire mistake, these young men they just get hold of bikes and scooters these days and think no end of them. They forget where they are going, what they are doing .Hah! Too much influence of Hindi movies! They think they are heroes! I am sure these heroes don’t have their driving license with them”.

“Do you have it?

 “Come show it to me?” he spoke in an authoritative tone.

 The young scooterist mumbled that he had it but it was at home. That was reason enough for a second blast from the security man:

“I knew it, I knew it, the moment I saw you’ll I knew it. I will lodge a complaint against you – you know by your brashness you could have even caused the death of this old man, he could have had a brain haemmorege.  Let alone the law, the villagers down the road would not have spared you; they would have split you apart. You’ll don’t know how they behave when they are angry”.

 The boys were really frightened out of their wits at the turn of the events. However, the truth was that except for a few scratches the old man was hardly hurt. They knew the only way to get out of this mess was to appease the security man.:

 “Okay, sir we will do as you say”.

 They knew the situation was fragile and they must handle it delicately. They promptly took out a hundred rupee note and handed it to the astonished old man:

 “O, Baba, we are extremely sorry, hope this will help you to buy medicines for your wounds and help you to get your bicycle fixed”.

 Saying this they rode off in haste to save their skins from any further mess. The dazed old man still held the hundred rupee note as the two boys departed.

I was quietly appraising the scenes enacted before me; my sympathies were with the old man. I felt like applauding the security man by saying:

“A Daniel has come to the judgment”.

To my dismay, the security man was quick to turn his tune. He now instantly pounced on the old man with a volley of accusations:

 “So old man, see how I saved you, thank your stars that I was on duty today, otherwise you were sure to be handed over to the police – look at the way you were riding on the bicycle. Youthful brazenness is still coursing in your old veins! Yeah! You are from the village, Saraimohana, huh! I know what the likes of you do in the evening – no work, just drink and laze! What will the country come to with the lazy drunken bums like you! Come out with the truth, you idle drunken fool!”

The old man unable to comprehend the complexities of the whole episode muttered weakly:

”last night, I did take a little Saab!”

“There you go- confession at last. I knew the moment I saw you come riding that bicycle in a wayward fashion, I had said to myself this old man is up to mischief”.

Lighting a cigarette he added:

 “Don’t you know the traffic rules – drinking and driving is punishable by law. You can be thrown behind bars – look at your grandson, what an irresponsible grandfather you are. Thank your stars and me that he is still alive”.

 The old man bowed his head in gratitude and extended his hand which still held the hundred rupee note. The security man craftily slipped the hundred rupee note in his pocket and with a show of magnanimity dismissed the old man saying:

 “Okay, enough of your tamaashas. Now go to your village before the whole village converges here to watch the show. Pray to the Baba at Chandan shaheed for saving your life”.

The old man like the two youths before him had done – rode away in his bicycle as fast as his old limbs could carry him with a sigh of relief writ large on his wrinkled face.

And for the security man he took out the hundred rupee note, lovingly eyed it, folded it and hastily kept it in his pocket and with a swagger moved to his original place in the rickety bench.

I could now see Jatin come out of the bank. His work done, we drove off from the scene of high drama that sultry summer afternoon.  










                             At the Railway Station


I would invariably take the 6 o’clock train from Chandanpur to Moradabad. It was my first job, after completing my Ph.D – in a women’s college. The first day there was excitement and much hullabaloo in my house about what do I wear- how I style my hair- what do I teach – should I stand or should I sit while I teach was debated for hours.the discussions and deliberations went on endlessly. Almost my whole neighborhood converged like swarms of flies to see me off the first day of my job- with blessings, tikka, arti and what not , it almost seemed as if I was going on a battlefront rather than to an unpretentious classroom to teach English to girls who were themselves bogged down by the niceties of the language. Anyway, with all these elaborate preparations I boarded the train. When I was left all to myself apprehensions crept in like ghosts of the crypt which come back to haunt the cemetery guard sometimes in the dead of the night. Dreadful thoughts kept popping up like some unwanted virus:

“How am I going to face my class, will I be able to do well?”

 I rehearsed my lessons again and again. 

The train with a screeching halt reached the Moradabad station; turbulent thoughts like waves arose in my mind. I got out off the train amidst the tumult of the general station scene. As I surged ahead I was intercepted by a rather disheveled looking woman. On seeing her closely I realized she must have been around her early 50’s. There was urgency in her voice. She asked me:

“Have you seen my daughter around?”

“No, ma”, I replied.

“How does she look like? She may have gone a little ahead, I’ll tell her if I stumble on her on my way”, I told her warmly.

The woman only said dourly, “she looks like you”.

Baffled and mystified by her answer I moved ahead. Anyhow I was too preoccupied with my own impending troubles to pay too much heed to her. I somehow reached the college without any calamity. I was welcomed by the chubby principal and was introduced to the whole lot of teachers- some looked at me with smiling faces -while some measured me skeptically. I was told to engage my class in room no 4. When I made my anxious entry in the class, all fifty eyes seemed to devour me, scrutinizing me from top to bottom. Without any debacle I started my lesson – Tennyson seemed to be sailing smoothly till a girl got up to ask me about Tennyson having tried his hand at writing poetic dramas, she wanted me to talk about his poetic dramas. Tennyson’s Beckett did come to my mind but I thought better than trying to fool the students with an uncertain answer, I should be candid and confess my ignorance for the time being. I just managed to save the day by telling her that we will take this up the next day. Relieved at having tackled the situation amicably- that had the potential to put me in embarrassment .The class now being over the rest of the day went uneventfully. I was ready to board the 4o’clock train back to Chandanpur. On reaching the station I saw the same lady frantically approaching people with the same request. I took a different route to avoid confronting her. On reaching home – every detail of the day was discussed threadbare. The excitement of the day now came to a close after a good feast

The same routine was repeated the next day and the next. I kept encountering the lady with the same pathetic plea. My job was now comfortable, I had become confident in my teaching and had developed a deep bond of affection with my students, now I could shed some of my earlier fixation with myself . Naturally, I started to brood about this lady at the railway station:

 “Who is she? Why she always at the station? Why doesn’t anyone help her, is there no one in her family to look after her? I resolved to do some good- how I could have been so inhuman to ignore her plight for so long”.

So the next morning, I, on my own approached the lady, as she was sitting in a corner drinking tea, probably provided by some sympathetic passerby. I asked her about her daughter, I got the same reply that she was like me – I decided to probe further:

“Do you have her photograph, ma” I asked.

“Oh! Yes” she said absentmindedly.

“Show it to me” I persisted

She bent low and fumbled in her frayed bag and brought out a sepia colored picture. On seeing the picture I was aghast as it was the photograph of an eight or nine month’s old child. I nodded my head and mumbled some words of reassurance and hastily got up.

A railway clerk who was observing all this from a distance came to me and told me not to be distressed and bother so much about the lady as she had lost her daughter some 19 years back . She had left her daughter with the lady sitting next to her in the train with whom she had become friendly in the course of the journey .In this particular station she had come down to bring hot water for making milk for daughter whom she had left in custody of that woman next to her. When she returned she had found her daughter and that lady both missing. So, she got down from the train and ever since she is seen in the platform in this crazy state. She is still waiting here in the hope that her daughter will surely come back some day- one day. With a dismal heart I moved ahead.

























It had been almost eighteen years since Ganga had been working as a maid in my house .Ganga was an immigrant from Murshidabad – the place which in her memory is always ‘desh’, a desh where she goes every alternate year but has no plans of ever returning. Memories of her old desh before the partition are something that Ganga relishes. When nostalgia grips her and in moments of expansion she sits down to narrate to me how many cows they had at their place, how big her house was, how rich their land was and she would go on endlessly cataloguing her past prosperous state.

There was no hanky panky about Ganga. She was an honest upright woman. And had a strong sense of her rights which included going on a holiday whenever she desired. Sundays she considered her birthright to take leave. A complete novice in the art of housekeeping I often welcomed Ganga’s expert comments forthrightly extended on all occasions about how to cook leafy green vegetables, how to clean bottles, how to set the tables and almost anything where she saw my incompetence, she was more than willing to broach on a long ‘how to do it’ lecture. I had long given up the idea of employing any other maid as Ganga knew the ways of my house.  

It was a Sunday like any other Sunday’s – unexpected guests coming for lunch –

“How am I going to manage it all?”

 I thought. I got up with a heavy feeling. Ganga had as usual sent her husband Prafullo, with the information that she wouldn’t be turning up. I cursed Ganga under my breath:

 “Of all the days!”

 Really, Ganga had a penchant for choosing the most awkward of days. Anyway, Prafullo was there to help me clean up at least. The rest I would have to manage somehow. Her reasons for not coming for work  were varied- neighbors sons marriage , a boy fell from the tree nearby and had his head fractured , a murder in the vicinity, a holy man’s visit and many more ingenious excuses. It would be a sacrilege on my part to expect Ganga to come during the Pujas, fasts, and any other religious occasion.  It used to amuse me no end that whenever Ganga did not come her husband would come to help out, I marveled at the power she wielded over her husband Prafullo, my mind would inadvertently forge connection with my own case, would my husband Arun ever do this if I were in her shoes. She would intrigue me no end. 

 I have always abhorred having tea all by myself in the evenings, so with two cups of tea I would often sit with Ganga in the inner veranda as she was engaged in her work of peeling, cutting, kneading. At such moment she would invariably tell me of her troubles in her household and would often encourage me to speak of mine .What troubles had I to report to her or to anyone? By god’s grace everything was well with me. The worst I could think of was how my children were not doing well in their studies, how my job required me to put in more hours of study which I was unable to do. When I told her of such things Ganga would say;

 “Alas, that is the way of the world”

 And that would start her on a discourse regarding her experience with hints of managing this world of refractory ways. Ganga and I came to share our lives in a weird and wonderful sort of way.

As I was making tea one day, she lifted her head from washing utensils and asked me:

 “Bibijee, I see you work hard in the kitchen, look after the children’s breakfast then rush off to teach, come home back and cook and make endless cups of tea for Bhaiyaji and his endless friends and again you sit down with heaps of books – spoiling your eyes, look at the dark circles round your eyes – studying always – god knows what. Why don’t you ask Bhaiyaji to help you .They are his children, aren’t they? You too go out and work and earn, look at Prafullo I make him work that is why I go on leave time and again, otherwise you know that old man will become very lazy. I have told him you have to cook one meal a day I am not your servant to cook and feed you day and night. I love seeing movies – you know Bibijee it keeps him on his toes when I tell him how I admire those heroes in the films, he feels jealous – husbands are like that. Bibijee if I don’t wear good saris and look pretty he will go to another woman.”

She stretched forward and added conspiratorially:

 “Look Bibijee, I have been meaning to tell you this for a very long time. You too must be careful, wear pretty saris at the time your husband comes home. Men are inconstant you must snare them with pretty dress or blouse, buy flowers and perfume and make yourself attractive”.

 Saying all this she glanced at the sari I was wearing and shook her head:

“This is all right when you are alone and working in the kitchen but you must change it towards evening and wear something pretty”.

I laughed. It was sound sense all right. She would administer such advices on and off.

Of late the pressures of my job was mounting I used to get exhausted mentally and physically. I tried to remember when was the last time I sat down and relaxed. Sumi’s performance in the class was also eating me up. My household work was in topsy-turvy. Every evening I would roll out disinterestedly thick chapatti’s much to the dismay of my daughter who always insisted on having them thin. Anyway in the midst of the disarray I was determined to resolve the current crisis in my life amicably. Hadn’t I seen Ganga resolve her problems in a jiffy?     

I remember, one morning, a fortnight ago, she had come in a dejected mood.

“What is the matter, Ganga?” I had asked her.

 “Nothing pleasant, Bibijee, why talk about it?” she had said wiping her tears with the edge of her saree.

 “What happened? Had heated words with your son?” I insisted   .It was very unusual for Ganga to be in such a state.

“Words enough, Bibijee. He had the temerity to abuse me! He said he was trying to put sense into me, indeed! Didn’t I give birth to him just as you have done to your daughter? Now he thinks he has become cleverer than me. He and the wife of his wanted money out of me”. Shrugging her shoulders in annoyance went on:

“I have had enough of these bickering. I told them clear and straight that I will set up separately”.

Ganga burst into tears as she ended her narrative. I did what I could to comfort her. The next day she appeared to be a little more composed. I asked her if she had made peace with her son:

“Peace! Do you think this daughter in law of mine would permit mother and son to be on good terms?

For a day or two Ganga did not broach upon the subject again. Sometimes after this she came to me with a request:

 “Bibjee, I trust you. I have some money laid by. Could you put it in that place they call bank? It is attracting people’s attention”.

 However I noticed that the squabbles did not last long. Their differences were soon settled amicably. They came to an arrangement. Ganga went back without loss of face, in her own terms. The real reason of the quarrel was that Ganga wanted the purse strings in her own hands. She asserted her position as the head of the family nothing less. However I know the struggle will go on in her household. The last act of the play will never be written. But knowing Ganga there may be tumultuous storms in her tea cup but she will come out unscathed from these difficulties.

But what about my own hydra headed hurdles which stared at me with its monstrous mouth wide open. Like Ganga I too resolved to stop being an escapist and jump headlong into my difficulties and resolve it once and for all.

Sultry Sumi had become difficult to deal with. She was almost thirteen years old and now must take her responsibilities seriously, I mused. That night I gave my daughter a talking, tried to draw out what was worrying her. I kept on stressing the importance of education: “See, Sumi”

I said earnestly: “I am able to shoulder the responsibility of this household, and see I earn almost as much as your Dad does. Could I have done all this without education? Don’t you see I still have to study night and day? See how I enjoy studying. Why don’t you too make studies your hobby? See how it empowers you. Now look at poor Ganga how much she has to work; clean the utensils do all the drudgery. The choice is before you what kind of future do you want. Don’t you want to be like your mother working, financially independent and all that?”

 For once I noticed my firebrand daughter Sumi did not say anything. I was secretly congratulating myself for settling everything so amicably. I decided to allow her to sleep over the facts and got up to leave the room when Sumi blurted out:

 “Mummy, you said education makes us financially independent, liberated and not dependent on anyone, and we can lead our own life as we want. We can rest, relax and enjoy. But mom, you hardly seem to rest, relax – I see you slog the whole day – you hardly go for movies, you do not have any leave, you carry a lot of homework every day- you do not go out with your friends”.

She added with disgust:

 “What a life of drudgery you have. Look at Ganga – she takes leave whenever she desires and she has more holidays than you have. Sees movies, has frequent social gathering, has her Husband at her beck and call. Look at yourself. Can you ever get Dad to do anything for you? Other than being at his beck and call and as for the choice of my life is concerned - my choice is clear”.

She added with a note of definiteness

“I can never be like you.”

So saying Sumi left the room banging the door behind her, leaving me sitting in the bed dumbfounded.    






                              An Unfinished Love Story: a Tale in Verse



An extraordinary tale

Of love that failed

A boy met a girl

Their meeting led to liking

Liking blossomed to love

But cruel fate intervened

Boy to the army was commissioned


He promised to meet

At six o’clock

On Monday

Near the banyan tree

Outside the temple gate

Many Mondays


And elapsed

The girl appeared

At the gate

Left muttering

At her fate

                                                                                                 Days passed

                                                                                                    Turned to years

                                                                                                 Years rolled

                                                                                                          And turned o decades

Every Monday ritual she maintained

That Monday morning was fated

The postman’s letter for her awaited

The same old promise

For the appointment

Was reiterated

The girl

Now an old woman

Rheumatic and asthmatic

Reached the temple gate

On the appointed date

There was no one in sight

She returned bemoaning her plight

The old man paralytic

 Limped at the site

Crestfallen   and thwarted

 His fate

He ruefully repented


Memories of both of their youthful past in their minds prevailed

And hence to recognize each other in their present state they failed






















                               Surviving the Storm


I lay strapped inside the ambulance as it jolted its way to the hospital. Listless in a stretcher I could faintly see nurses rushing down white neon corridors to the double door marked ‘emergency’. There was a frenzy of activity around me, men and women in masks swarming like white bees. Two women briskly came near me, one held me down while the other shot some chemicals in my veins. Tubes and needles were inserted in my wrist. Reality gradually seemed to be phasing out, the last sensation I can recall was plummeting through space, solid as a spent bullet, raped as rage. My senses were lulled. I woke up in another room. A faint smell hung around me, like rotten eggs.

Stunned and breathless, the words between my husband Sumit and the doctor nosedived with the precipitousness of a kamikaze pilot – that I had a miscarriage – complications had caused the fallopian tube and the uterus to be removed – meaningless scientific jargon - disjointed phrases started slumping down – adoption – after all there is someone up there who decides- dipped in my dazed state.

All this as followed by long bouts of depression which immobilized me in my bed. Anguish ate at me, like slow pernicious rust.

“I don’t know how to help you when you are like this”,

 Sumit would say afterwards when the depression lifted. I thought I would soon get over the initial distress. But that did not happen. A trip to the hills, a new piece of jewellery and even a spaniel puppy did nothing to improve my downcast disposition. Hell broke loose in me when the maidservant declared that she was fifth time pregnant. The heavy atmosphere lay on a well done up house. I started spending more time out of the house, in the library, in the shopping mall trying to shut out the helplessness, the pain and the bitterness. Sumit and I drifted apart, with an invisible barrier between us strengthening with each passing day.

It was the year of dangerous movements. A month back the wreckage in my life coincided with the fatal floods that ripped the coastal regions in Orissa and west Bengal causing immense damage and making more than ten thousand people homeless.

Every evening we would go for long drives in our new metallic yellow Palio car from our salt lake apartment. It was Sumit’s idea to buy this flashy car to assuage some of my agony. The daily evening drive had also become tedious for me, it pained me to see numerous shabby tents dotting the place with hapless, homeless refugees of the floods living in abject poverty, on the mercy of the state and people who cared to extend a helping hand to them.

Sumit parked his car near a lending library and went in to exchange books. Books were his refuge to escape from the oppressive silence that stood like heat in the house. I sat alone in the car listening to ghazals and keeping an eye on Sumit moving between racks searching for ‘detective books’ which were his favorite. Suddenly my eyes got transfixed as I saw a toddler barely a year old crawling on the footpath, not before long I saw it come near the car and taking support of it tried to stand erect. I rushed out of the car and picked the almost naked baby up and held it close to my bosom. I wondered if the curious vagabonds around would take me for a kidnapper. I looked around in askance, desirous of handing over the child to the anxious mother, who I was pretty sure must be around. Nothing of that sort happened. I could just see a woman sitting at some distance eyeing the spectacle. I went up to her still holding the child tenderly:

“Are you its mother?” I queried.

 She nodded in affirmation, but was quick to add:

“Memsahib, I have no money to bring up this child, you will do me a service by taking it, she will be a good servant when she grows up she has a poor woman’s blood in her veins. At least at your place she can have two meals a day. I can barely feed her.”

She pleaded:

“So many times I have thought if she dies I will be relieved of the burden, but what to do, I am her mother after all, and I can’t stain my conscience with her death”.

 A seedy man, I guessed could have been her husband also joined in our conversation. A deal was struck. The lady readily parted with the child for a small amount of money. I was amazed at the promptness with which the deal was finalized. I was not sure what I was doing was legal. When Sumit returned he was aghast at my negotiations. However, I could see him relent. The image of the child wrapping my neck tightly with her tender hand was a clear message to him that perhaps this was the last straw and perhaps the only one by which I could be rescued from the abysmal depths of gloom in which I had plunged myself.

Days flew fast. The tiny baby whom we livingly called Sona grew up quickly into a toddler. We adorned her like our own. It was time we decided to legalese our adoption. Sumit got busy discussing the matter with the lawyers.

It was another Sunday morning. I was lazing with a cup of tea, looking amused at the attics of my baby chasing a toy rabbit all around the room, when the door bell rang. I opened the door and stood stupefied. The baby’s mother and the same seedy looking man stood there:

 ‘Oh! It was a difficult search, but we could locate you after all. Your yellow

Car, memsahib, and the moment I saw it, I knew this must be your place”, the man said.

“The difficult times are over”, Said the woman

 “We have a place to stay in the shanty along the railway tracks. We want our child back. You know how a mother’s heart is, can she be happy without her child.”

 Saying this she pushed something in my hands. They departed with the child. My vision was blurred with tears swarming in my eyes but I could see in my extended palm a crumpled five hundred rupee note that I had earlier given her.




Little Sona did go away, never to return. But the flood of love her stay with me had released surged with doubled energy. She had taught me to live. She was the last straw that lifted me from the storm of the sea of my life to a safe shore of splendid sunshine.  










                                                  The Wait

Tourists from Gangtok enroute to the much Revered Baba Mandir would often stop by Teesta’s tea stall. It was a small place, with a few plastic chairs and a small bench. When there were more tourists than her sparse furniture could accommodate, they would sit on the rocks that surrounded her stall. Teesta was a nine year old girl. She had never seen her parents. Although her old grandmother would often tell her that her parents worked in Nepal, and that they were just waiting for Teesta to grow big and strong so that they can come and take her. Teesta in all her childhood simplicity accepted this explanation about her parents and how was she to know that she had lost her parents when she was barely a month old – in a jeep accident.  

Life for Teesta was hard. Every morning she would get up at the crack of dawn, help her granny to make momos, arrange them in the stall - serving, cleaning and making tea was Teesta’s job. This summer an unusual man had come to her stall – long flowing beard, lean and thin, clad in kurta and jeans always. When Teesta had served tea, he had asked:

What is your name?


“Remarkable name. What does it mean?

“It’s the name of a river”.

“Does it have any significance?

“It is a commingling of good and evil. Aren’t we all good and evil both at the same time, black and white, day and night?

The tourist with flowing beard was intrigued and amused with this witty little girl. Everyday day this man would come to the stall have tea and momos and sit with a pen and paper for hours. Because of his long beard Teesta called him Baba; she would find him odd as he behaved quite unlike other tourists. She had asked him:

“Baba, why don’t you go for sightseeing? Everyone who comes here does that’

He had once told her:

“I am a poet”

And that: “city life is disgusting, so I try and take months off and rejuvenate myself in these majestic mountains. I wish I was free of all my liabilities so that I can come here more often and relax and write the poems I want to”.

He would often read out his poems, Teesta liked listening to Baba. She would listen to his poems with rapt attention. One day when Baba suggested that she should write:

 “Why don’t you try, I am sure you can write well”.

Teesta was excited and was determined to try her hand, she had heard enough of Baba’s poems now she understood how one had to put an idea and create some music with it. Baba had not just made a casual statement; he had observed how Teesta had a knack of narrating and describing things in a simple and effective manner.

“Can I write about flowers, insects and other things, Baba, will you still call it poetry? She had asked him naively.

The poet had smiled and said:

 “Oh! It would be very interesting. When can I hear my little brave poetess recite her poems?

 He had asked with a mischievous flourish of gallantry.

The next day an excited Teesta awaited the poet, even before the tea was served she demanded that the poet hear what she had written. Her excitement was mingled with anxiety, what if all that she had written did not make any sense. She read out her poem hesitatingly in her childish voice:

“I learn a lot

From a little ant

Like her

I too,

Keep looking for another way

And never quit

And always like an ant

I think winter all summer”

The poet was stunned at the profoundness of thought Teesta’s poem contained. He marveled how a little girl could write such skillfully. He told Teesta:

“You know Teesta, you are a born poet”

Teesta felt encouraged, she read out another of her ‘insect’ poems as she called them, the next day:

 “They say

A spider

Rebuilds patiently

But I can see

Impatience in it

Like my own

To rebuild

Again and again’

The poet was ecstatic, he thought of the falsity of so many poets in the city and sometimes even his poems had that air of artificiality. The poet would sit at the tea stall everyday till the ochre painted by the setting sun faded away to a grim grey.

The child’s innocent company had inspired the poet to look at simple activities of life with fascination. He wrote this while eating Teesta’s momos about what modern city bred man needs most:

“To listen to the birds

To run behind the butterflies

To climb up trees

To play in the shade of the mango grooves

To build castles with sandy grains

To aim to fly in the vastness of the sky

To listen to the call of the stars, of the sea, of the seagulls cry

To explore, discover and sustain

To remain to be human and humane”.

Days passed in a leisurely way. One day the poet received a telegram from the city asking him to come back for some urgent work. On departing, he informed Teesta about a school in Delhi, the ‘Nivedita Ashram’ which provides free education to promising children who have creative talent in any area. The poet assured Teesta that he would inquire about it and send for her soon – very soon, and then he told her how his little Teesta would become a great poet one day.

The poet left.

Days, months passed by,

 But Teesta still awaits that fateful letter which will transform her life.










































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