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Lallan Langda

Lallan Langda

11 mins 489 11 mins 489

Imran Bhai was the village cobbler. He stitched and mended footwear of all and sundry in the village. He charged anywhere between four annas and two rupees as his professional fee for curing as simple a footwear ailment like a broken strap, to as complicated disease as a worn-out sole. Of course, he charged twenty rupees for a new sole over and above his professional fee. During a lean day, his earnings would be as low as ten rupees, and there were lucky days when he made fifty rupees! 

His meagre earning notwithstanding, he found his limited means enough to feed his wife and child. He was satisfied and grateful to Allah for giving him the resources to run his family. Of course, Allah was not that benevolent to his son, whom he had destined to live the life of a spastic and retarded, physically and mentally challenged as they say. Lallan, his favourite son, was born with multiple handicaps. He was blessed with the physical infirmities which Allah gave only to a chosen few. He had cleft lips, and a split palate, which made it difficult for him to take in any food; he could not stand on his legs which hardly had the strength to move; his biological growth was retarded by a brain which simply refused to grow to age. At the age of ten, Lallan looked like a two-year-old, behaved like a one-year-old, could neither walk nor talk or stir. His eyes bore no recognition of his creators, and he would stare vacantly into you all the time. For him, as the poet would say, the skylark did not sing. He was truly shut in and shut out.

Imran and his wife Rehana were pious and thanked Allah for giving Lallan to them instead of any other. They would tend the child with all the love and affection they could, nurse and nourish him diligently, attend to his every need and pray for his life. What they could not provide their son with was the medical care and attention he required to regain some semblance of human life. They could simply not afford it. They had shown him up at the district hospital, but doctors there had asked him to take Lallan to a more equipped hospital at Mumbai. Imran gave up and left it to Allah to deal with Lallan.

Imran’s well-wishers would sometimes tell him that Lallan was better off dead than alive, and Allah would be kind-hearted to give him salvation. But Rehana and Imran would never agree to this. Allah had given Imran to the couple and there was some purpose behind it. It was Allah’s own way of making the couple’s life meaningful, than just living for survival. Rehana believed that most human beings lived for themselves. If in their lifetime, they managed to survive their needs and aspirations and were able to live beyond themselves, for other beings and matters, their next life would be better. They must have done something really good in their earlier life that is why Allah had blessed them with limited desires in this life and had given them the divine responsibility of looking after Lallan. This was, she believed, a God-sent opportunity to serve Him through her son.

For this reason, the couple never felt frustrated with Lallan’s vegetable state. Lallan must have been a saint in one of his lives and had now become the chosen one for Allah to test human beings for patience and endurance. Imran and Rehana were forever inspired by the life of Shirdi Sai Baba. The twin concepts of Shradha (sublimation, dedication) and Saburi (endurance, faith) were what he had preached and practised. He remained a poor monk but people still venerate him. Through such saints, Allah showed people the way to overcome one’s own survival needs and dedicate oneself to Allah.

Such was the strength of the couple’s conviction that all those who knew them respected their faith and belief. Imran and Rehana had thus transcended their present miserable life and had already become Allah’s favourite.

Allah’s ways are strange. Into the couple’s sedate life came Mamu. Mamu, for those of you who do not know him, resided in Mumbai and prospered from various business activities there. Mamu left the village at an early age to settle down in Mumbai. He had grown rich there, but would never forget his roots. His entire family migrated to Mumbai, but he would come here to his village once a while. He donated generously to the village Madrasa, and would often help people in need with money, jobs and any other support.

This year, Mamu had decided to distribute clothes and blankets to the entire village. As he went from house to house distributing his largesse, the village urchins would run along with him. For them he had confectionaries and they happily munched the chocolates, shouting his praise. That is how Mamu came to see Lallan.

Lallan’s plight moved Mamu to tears and he begged Imran and Rehana to bring him to Mumbai for better medical treatment. Imran would not leave the village and Rehana would not leave Imran. If it were Allah’s wish that Lallan should be treated in Mumbai let it be so. Mamu promised to take charge of Lallan himself and get him the best possible medical attention at Mumbai. Imran and Rehana thanked Allah for sending Mamu to them. So it was that Lallan Langda (as he was known to all) went to Mumbai to get treated; thanks to Mamu.

Imran and Rehana would visit Mumbai off and on to see Lallan. Mamu would arrange their tickets and stay at Mumbai. They would visit Lallan at the nursing home where he appeared to be getting the best attention. They, however, did not find any apparent change in his status.

One day, some eighteen months after Lallan left the village, Rehana requested Imran to bring Lallan back home. Their lives were not the same since Lallan left. Lallan had not shown any signs of improvements in the Mumbai hospital, so why not keep him home? After all, how long could Mamu afford to keep Lallan at the hospital? Was it not unfair on their part to dump their responsibility on Mamu? Imran agreed and decided to go to Mumbai. He would not trouble Mamu for tickets and other arrangements. He knew the place and would go directly there. He would call upon Mamu in Mumbai.

When Imran reached the hospital in Mumbai, he was amazed to find that Lallan was not there. The ward nurse told him that Lallan came to the hospital only for a day or two, mostly coinciding with Imran and Rehana’s visit, and would leave as soon as they left. No, Lallan was not under any regular treatment there.

Imran took Mamu’s address and went in search of the house. He did not know how to reach Mamu’s place. He was told that the house could be reached in half an hour’s walk from the hospital. He set on foot, enquiring from the locals about the location.

At a particular intersection, he was dumbfounded to see his beloved Lallan. He was perched on the shoulders of a frail-looking boy in tattered clothes. The boy was moving from one vehicle to the other, begging for alms. When the signal turned red, the boy would push Lallan to the window of a vehicle for those seated inside to see his horribly deformed state. He would take hold of Lallan’s hand and extend it to the passenger, who would put some small change into it. As the vehicle passed on, the boy would take the change from Lallans lifeless hands and put it in his pocket. Imran could not believe what he saw.

When the signal turned green and vehicles started moving, the boy carried Lallan to the pavement and dropped him down, to give him the chance to count his earnings. Imran ran up to Lallan and the boy and took his son in his hands. Lallan looked at his father without the faintest trace of recognition. The urchin shouted at Imran to let Lallan go.

Imran could not hold back the tears. The lump in this throat refused to allow words to come up to his lips. The urchin looked perplexed. Who the hell was this man and why was he crying? He enquired and Imran told him.

The urchin gently released Lallan from Imran’s clasp, put him on his shoulders and taking hold of Imran’s hand, took him to a nearby tea stall. He called for tea and biscuits for Imran and gave some to Lallan too. Lallan allowed the bits of broken biscuit to be pushed into the gap which was his mouth, waited for the bits to dissolve in the saliva before he swallowed.

As Imran gratefully sipped on tea and ate the biscuits, the urchin told him about Mamu. Mamu was the boss of a gang which operated in various parts of the city in what can best be described as an organized begging business. Mamu got his people from everywhere. He had two sets of people. One comprised of able-bodied boys and girls who had the potential to get good business. The other set of children were the infirm, deformed, maimed and challenged – young and old, which would draw people to give money by evoking their sympathy and pity. At the end of the day, everyone reported to designated team leaders, who would collect all the earnings and distribute wages to all. 

Lallan was the urchin’s responsibility, and his coming had increased earnings manifold. Lallan got nothing except for morsels which he could not eat. He was dumped on the pavement and picked up the next morning for yet another day. Before the day began, the urchin would carry Lallan to a watershed and wash him up.

Imran wanted the urchin to hand over Lallan to him. The urchin refused. If he did that, his team leader would kill him. They, however, agreed that the urchin was not responsible for Lallan after work hours. If Lallan disappeared after his duty was over, he would profess innocence and would go unpunished.

Imran waited till evening when the urchin left, dumping the boy on the pavement. The urchin looked at Imran before going, his eyes holding Imran’s in an emotion of strong empathy. Then he disappeared. He took Lallan to the watershed the urchin referred to and washed him up thoroughly. He bought new clothes for Lallan from the shop on the pavement and threw away the tatters. Imran then picked up Lallan and headed for the station. 

Imran reached his home the next morning. Rehana was excited to see Lallan. She thanked Allah for returning their son to them. Imran never told Rehana or anyone about Mamu. Mamu would still visit the village but never enquire about either Imran or Lallan.

Imran found out that Mamu had taken four other boys and girls from the village and they were all in Mumbai. Their parents were forever indebted to Mamu for his benevolence. Imran told them nothing about Mamu. Allah was there to see, hear and do what he wished. But strange were the ways of Allah. He knew everything about Mamu but still let him exploit children like Lallan! Imran had no answer to this and other questions. He would not even ask Allah why. Who was he to ask? Who could understand Allah’s ways? Imran would accept what was offered by Allah without questioning. He must have Shradha and Saburi.

Years rolled by. This year, Mamu did not visit the village. The Moulana told the villagers that a special prayer was being organized at the mosque to pray for Mamu’s recovery. He had suffered a stroke and had lost his speech and the ability to move his limbs totally. He could recover, but it would take time. The villagers gathered at the mosque to offer prayers to Allah to restore Mamu’s health. Imran too prayed. He genuinely felt sorry for Mamu. 

The news came from Mumbai that Mamu would never recover. His business was taken over by his unscrupulous partners and Mamu himself was evicted from his bungalow. His family refused to spend on his medication. Mamu’s wife told him that Allah had punished him for his misdeeds. She would not interfere with Allah’s wishes.

The kind Maulana, whose mosque was a big beneficiary of Mamu’s benevolence, decided to bring Mamu to the village and put him up at the mosque. The day Mamu was brought home to the village, Imran was there to witness the spectacle with many other well-wishers. As Mamu was laid gently on the string cot in the mosque, Imran pushed near to him. Mamu’s eyes caught Imran. The lips struggled to say something to him, but would not move. Mamu’s eyes recognized Imran and it seemed to Imran that he wanted to speak something. Imran gently put his hand on Mamu’s frozen shoulders, squeezed, and said: “May Allah have mercy on you.”

Mamu died six months later, a very heartbroken and miserable man. Imran attended the burial and threw a fistful of mud on the coffin. Strange were the ways of Allah. Who could fathom His thoughts? Who could understand Him?

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