Prashant Dutta



Prashant Dutta


Homeless. But Free.

Homeless. But Free.

5 mins 926 5 mins 926

His name was ‘Baacha’ that is what a young calf is called in Bengali and so are the boys working in tea shops called. However he claimed his name as ‘Vijay’. He insisted I call him Vijay too. He had long hairs, both his ears were covered by his hairs and he would always carry a comb, he would stop wherever he could see his reflection, that be in front of any shop with glass frontage or a broken mirror lying in some debris. He had a trouser too unlike me; I had only a short pant that too with holes.

“Let’s go out for a movie tonight” Vijay suggested. I also had a great weakness for movies so I got thinking how to escape for the tea shop. My maalik, the tea shop owner slept in the front area of the shop, it was difficult to make out whether he was awake or asleep through the white mosquito net. However, if he snored, which he did often, then I could understand that the turf was clear.

“Deewar” that was the movie, Vijay and me reached Navina theater a little late, the movie had started and I got the feeling as if I had already lost something very precious in life. Missing the beginning of the movie left us in sour mood. That stupid maalik only turned and tossed in his charpai, how fast we had to run that we weren’t able to ask for tickets in the counter. We were still panting when we entered the hall and saw the magnificent Amitabh Bachchan in the huge screen. It occurred to me while watching the movie the significance of the name “Vijay”. My friend Bacha had rechristened himself after the character of the superstar. He followed his styles, his hairstyle, dresses and even the gait in his walk. Vijay saw a reason to look forward to life and it was inspired by some movie maker I never knew. That is how movies inspire millions of ordinary and even lesser humans.

Soon after the movie I was blessed with a new hobby. I started collecting the pictures of the movie stars. I got them mostly from the newspapers; I would make a sharp crease around the picture and tear off the portion. All pictures would finally get secured in a cylindrical tin box which I placed on the ventilator of the shop.

It was Vijay who introduced me to smoking. It started with biris, local made cigarettes with some leaf wrapped around tobacco. You may call it our own Cigars, the ones Sahibs smoke when they visit Kalkatta. However their cigars are quite big and our biris are tiny and meek in front of it. I coughed and coughed when I took the first drag.

“Don’t worry, it happens, you need to drag this way and emit the smoke this way” Vijay would have made a good teacher; his instructions were followed by demonstrations.

He also taught me to revolt. To stand for my rights.

“That maalik of yours give you only food, does he give you any money. Just the little money that you manage to pocket, you are entitled for a proper wage and you should not work for 24 hours. You aren’t a slave after all” he spoke with zeal while smoking one biri after another beside the pond. He had one of his legs on the mound and his left hand on his waist. I couldn’t help noticing how beautifully he copied the Vijay of the screen.

“What is a slave?” I asked.

He laughed aloud and then said “Look at yourself, you are a slave, you have no freedom and you are just like that goat tied to that tree, you are nothing less than an insect that’s born to only die, nothing in between”. I felt small and meaningless in front of him and the whole city.

“But how do you know all these” I asked

“You need to study” he said, now he thumped his chest dramatically.

“But you have dropped out of school and I have never seen you study” I countered. I felt angry at being shown my pitiful existence. I had known Vijay from our Basti days, he lived with his family, his father a mill worker and a habitual drunkard. He had several siblings, all from his step mother. He lost his mother when he was very young.

“Look at me, I demand money from my father, he use to beat me earlier but now I retaliate, pick up objects to defend myself, he fears me, if he doesn’t give me money- I steal” His eyes were burning when he said this.

He suddenly mellowed down and said “and what do you think, I roam around purposelessly, NO, I listen to fiery speeches of many great people in Dharmatala. I know of things you would ever know, existed”

That evening I mustered enough courage to charge my maalik.

“I want wage and not food alone” I demanded. The shop was closed for customers and my maalik was counting the cash and coins. He turned his head and looked at me, puzzled, and then he called me closer. I reached there but was still a step or two away. He suddenly dropped the money in the cash box and slapped be on my head and face. I was furious and caught his hand and bit it with my teeth. He seethed in pain. He then caught me by my neck and pushed me so badly that I fell out on the pavement, on my knees.

“Go away you bastard” he thundered.

I ran inside the shop and gathered my box of pictures and then again ran out. My maalik though I was trying to run away with something valuable, maybe his money. He chased me; I ran faster, he gave up after a little distance. I saw him panting, standing bent, holding his thighs. I raised my thumb and made faces. He barked and barked.

I again became homeless that evening. But free.

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