Lila stood at the gate of Ramkrishna Mission Hospital, a small bundle in her hand. She looked furtively to the left and right, then followed the pavement to the left, and stopped when she spotted a shady tree. The street lights were on, and the swaying branches made eerie designs. But though she was trembling with weakness, and felt the bundle would slip out of her hand, she knew it was not wise to deposit it under the tree, as she had planned, in the full gaze of the public. She waited patiently for the passers-by to go past, then again looking on all sides, taking due precautions, she put it down, when she thought that there were no human eyes to observe her sordid and abominable action. In a flash, she left the place so that she could disappear before people discovered the contents of the bundle.
Her whole being had revolted against doing such an obnoxious thing. But she had no option. She had thought over the insurmountable problem over and over again. She had no one. No one at all! Her heart was breaking into a thousand pieces, but there are times when one has to steel oneself. Her frail body was on the verge of collapsing. Dark rims around her large sunken eyes, made her look sickly. She stood behind a pillar, so that no one could see her, and watched from a distance the little bundle which she had left behind. She did not have the luxury of shedding tears, but her inner self was cramping with unexpressed pain, and mental agony.
As she watched, first she saw some movement in the little bundle. Then she heard the sound of muffled crying. She felt like running and picking up the bundle and pressing it to her heart. But after that?! She knew she would revert back to the same unsolved problem. She controlled her impetuous urge, and stood fossilized with emotion. She looked on aghast, as she perceived three street dogs pull at the wrappings. Her heart sank; in another two to three seconds perhaps they would start making a meal of the bundle! Again there was a louder wail. The dogs excitedly pulled at the cotton sheet, with more vigor. They exposed a tiny baby, all wrinkled and puckered, pink and skinny. It was kicking its puny legs, as if rebelling against being left on the streets. As its cozy cocoon was removed, it felt uncomfortable, and gave a distress alarm. Immediately curious passers-by crowded round, and clapped the dogs away. Each person had his own explanation, why, and how the baby was on the streets. They were all unwilling to pick it up, imagining the complications involved. In the end an old lady volunteered to take it to the nearest Police Station. In the meantime, the heart-broken mother, craned her neck to be able to see what was happening. When she saw the lady leaving with her baby in her arms, she felt like running after the lady to claim her baby back, but no, she must control herself!
Lila stood at the bus stop for what seemed an interminable time, and almost gave up hope to go home in one. Her endurance had been wrung out. She felt she would collapse any moment. Luckily at that moment she spotted the rickety monster, and was thankful for the seat offered. At the door of her house, she just dropped down on the dust floor, in a dead heap. When she got back her awareness, she was still in a leaning position against the door. She scrambled up, opened the door, drank a glass of water, and sank into her bed. When she opened her eyes, she felt terrible hungry, but did not have the energy to cook. She put some rice and dal in the pressure cooker and let it boil, at least that would assuage her hunger.
The past came back vividly to her. She recalled the day Ravi and she were at Kalighat. They were madly in love and just because Rabi was leaving for Canada in a fortnight, they had planned to marry first in the Kali temple, and then to follow it up by civil marriage when he came back. She remembered vividly the sparkle in Ravi’s eyes, the eyes which expressed his profound happiness in getting married to her, as he put the garland of multi-colored flowers round her neck. She also remembered the overwhelming passion in his embrace, and the pride of possession in his touch, as he guided his newly married wife to the taxi. Her mother had been very angry when they told her that they had got married in the temple.
Their happiness knew no limits the following two weeks, as if the portals of heaven had been thrown open, so that happiness could gush out uninhibited, only to deluge them. But the day of parting was extremely difficult and heart wrenching. Ravi promised he would come back to take her with him as soon as he had earned enough. She had clung on to him like a child, not having the power to let go. He had gifted her a mobile phone, and said he would call her on that, daily. But as soon as he left, her mother snatched it out of her hand, saying the sight of it, put her blood pressure up. There were no letters from him either. The worst situation she faced was when her mother told her to leave the house. Her contention was when her neighbors found out that Lila was going to have a baby, her mother would not be able to show her face to anyone. So Lila was compelled to leave for another city. Her mother gave her a meager sum, and told her to defray her expenses from that. Lila was able to survive somehow.
After coming back from the hospital, when she regained her strength, she took up three tuitions, and so she spent the next three years. One day as she was searching the columns for more tuitions, her eyes fell on an advertisement that caught her attention. She saw her name on it. It said that anyone who knew anything about the whereabouts of Lila Basu, should contact the given mobile number. She wondered who wanted to know where she was. With a mind in a whir, and heart beating like the drums, she put a call through to the given number. On the other end, she heard Ravi’s voice. She could not believe her ears. She almost exploded with happiness. On the other hand, he sounded almost angry, “Where have you been all these days? I have been looking for you high and low and I just can’t wait to meet you.” The same urgency and impatience in his voice! “I am taking a cab right away, and will be there in just six hours. You better not disappear again!”
Lila was in a dream world. She just could not believe what was happening could be true. She combed her hair a dozen times, looked at the mirror to see whether she would appear attractive to Ravi. She imagined what Ravi would say to her. She quickly rolled out two parathas for him, and made some potato preparation to go with it. At last she would be able to look at him, hear his voice, and finally touch him. She thanked God over and over again, for it was a wonderful, unimaginable stroke of happiness.
Lila looked out till her vision became blurred with too much straining. The taxi finally came to a screeching halt in front of her door. There he was, exuding the warmth of his personality, cheerful, and full of energy. He jumped out, and without even paying the cab man, took Lila in his arms, and held her tight in an embrace, which expressed his intense love and passion for her. They exchanged their news, and narrated to each other in detail, what had transpired in the years they were away from each other, all through the night. When he heard that their little daughter had to be put out on the street, he was very upset. He then and there resolved to find her, and get her back.
The next day, they first went to the Police Station to find out, if on the given date, three years back, there was any record of a new born baby having been given to them, for safe keeping. The Officer –in-charge was not very co-operative. He said that they would have to hunt through the records, which was not a very easy task, after such a prolonged span of time. The probability of finding the baby was next to impossible. Ravi then took off his expensive imported watch, and told the officer that he could have it. Immediately the Officer – in Charge became a changed person, and within half an hour, he had produced all the details.
Ravi and Lila now proceeded in search of the orphanage, where the baby had been taken from the Police Station. They arrived at 12 Lake Place. But there was no orphanage at that location. People residing in the locality said that it had shifted to Salt Lake. Both of them wanted to find their baby with such urgency that this information was very frustrating, and their enthusiasm took a dip. They were now not very sure whether they would find the baby at all.
They hurriedly took a cab to the given address. The road did not seem to end—every minute seemed an hour. When they came to the orphanage, they stopped at a dilapidated rusted gate. They went to the Reception, only to be told by the In-Charge that the lady who kept the documents had not come that day. They should come another day, but make an appointment prior to their visit.
They requested the In-Charge whether they could just visit the children. The permission was given, and the lady took them to the room where the children were having lunch. The couple was shocked to see their condition. They all sat on broken wooden benches and ate at the shoddy, rusted iron tables in front of them. Each had an aluminum bowl, with three spoonfuls of thick rice served on them. There was a watery liquid escaping to the sides of the bowl, presumably dal. The children of all ages were using their fingers to pick up the grains. One small girl grabbed some rice from her neighbor’s plate, and a fight ensued. The end result was that both their plates landed on the floor, and both had to go without lunch. There was no one to supervise and see whether all the children had had their lunch. The couple went home with a heavy heart and depressed. When they reached home, their only thought was, whether one of those unfortunate children, was theirs. The state of the orphans in their bedraggled soiled clothes, their unwashed faces, their knotted uncombed hair, touched them to the core of their hearts.
The next day by appointment they reached the orphanage. The Secretary took out the thick, moth-eaten catalog, and skimmed through the names. Then she informed them that the child which had been brought to the orphanage three years back, in the month of June, had been taken out a fortnight ago for adoption, by a couple from Darjeeling. But the proviso was there, that before adopting, they could try out whether the child was able to adjust in their family environment. They had three months for trial.
Immediately Ravi took the phone number and put a call through. Ravi told them, as they were the biological parents and had lost the child, they were frantically searching all over to get the child back.
They said that the child had adjusted very well, and they had only to complete the legal procedure. But on considering the development, they would come to Kolkata shortly, to give the baby back. They knew what it was to hanker and crave for one’s baby!
Ravi and Lila waited with bated breath at the orphanage, on the day of their baby’s arrival. As a cute little girl came out of the cab, they were dumbfounded to see a miniature Ravi. All the features of Ravi’s face and her face were almost identical, so much so, even the smile! Lila excitedly cried out, “We will name her Sonali, because she has tinged our life with the golden hue”!
As Ravi completed the paper-work, Lila took her long parted baby, and pressed her to her heart, quenching the thirst of so many years. One can imagine the untold happiness of the united family!