The Jingling Rickshaw
The Jingling Rickshaw4 mins 903 4 mins 903
“Sita come and have your food”
“Sita..aye..Sita…are you listening”
The voice of my mother rang in my ears. I wake up with a start and realise that I was sleeping on the roadside on a bed of crumpled newspaper. My hand rickshaw stood beside me with the handle resting on the floor of the roadside as if bowing in front of me. I was so tired that the hustle-bustle of the street didn’t disturb me but perhaps it was the hunger that brought in the dream of my mother calling me for food.
So many years have gone by since she left this world but she keeps visiting me in my dreams especially when I am hungry. I walk to the nearby footpath selling sattu and ask for half a kilo of sattu. Pandeyji the shopkeeper, known to me for years, weighs the powdery substance in a blackened traditional scale; the bowls have a coating of yellowish powder, he then pours the sattu in a tin plate which has several dents and hands it over to me. A piece of onion and a long chili comes as a supplement. Pandeyji picks a round pot ‘lota’, dips it into a bucket and extracts water from it. I mix the water in the sattu and make manageable dough. There are many such customers like me in various stages of eating, all sitting on their haunches. I generally rest for some time after food but today I rested before food so now I need to get to work.
While I wait for a passenger let me quickly take you through my life.
It must be at least fifty years ago, I was born in the family of a Chamar in a tiny village of Bihar. My father was in the profession of leather work, which is what Chamars did then. He would be summoned whenever a cow or buffalo died. The entire community would have feast of cooked flesh that night. My birth was rejoiced in the family and the small community, a boy is after all considered a treasured blessing. A boy born in a poor family was glorious then a girl born in a rich family, likewise a boy born in a lower caste was considered blessed then a girl born in a high caste family. My ailing grandfather rose from his loose ‘Charpai’ in the courtyard and uttered ‘Sitaram’ along with his fit of coughing when my shrill cry filled the sky. “It is a boy” exclaimed the midwife and immediately I was named ‘Sitaram’. I went to be called ‘Sita’ instead of Sitaram much to the surprise of many as to how come a female deity name was given to a boy.
The same evening the news of a death of a buffalo arrived; the gods must have conspired for a celebration in honour of my birth. Local liquor was procured in large quantities and a grand feast was organised, drinks and cooked flesh. “Sitaram will bring great name to our family” stuttered my drunken father that night.
I started growing up, I was enrolled in the local school but I found many reasons for not going to school. Leaving home for school but running around the fields and back home at the time. Years went by peacefully until a sudden turn of event turned our lives into turmoil.
One boy from the lower caste eloped with a girl of a higher caste. The entire upper caste charged on our community, many houses were burnt, people killed and maimed. We were lucky to escape with just a small bundle of clothes; those were the only precious things that we had. My father, mother and me, merely ten years then, ran the whole night, that winter night. The cold wave piercing through our bodies like arrows but the fear of death kept us running. We reached some town; from there we took a train and then by chance arrived in Kalkatta. Exhaustion, hunger and dejection taught the greatest lessons of life. Soon after arriving in Kalkatta I stole food but my parents didn’t say a single word, rather they also ate a portion of the spoils. Such is the power of hunger- it turns a human into animal.
Looks like a passenger is coming.
Yes Babu. I quickly wrap the gamcha on my head and pull the handle of the rickshaw; the fat babu is already seated like lord Ganesha on the seat. I start running on the street while the bell jingles, the bell is the horn for my humble rickshaw. If I am lucky this Babu may give me ten Rupees. Let’s see.