The Lonely Life Of Despair
The Lonely Life Of Despair5 mins 872 5 mins 872
A Rickshaw puller is expected to be unlettered. But, that isn’t the case with me. I went to school briefly in my village, which was the only formal education that I received. After that while I roamed around the streets of Kalkatta aimlessly I tried reading the names of the shops and roads. I was familiar with the Hindi alphabets but Bengali and English were alien to me. I did my own translations and tried developing logic for the English and Bengali words by hearing the names and at time by asking. Though whenever I asked I got an irritated and annoying response. But, the years that I worked in a tea shop, serving tea to customers in clay cups and wiping the chairs, a group of old people encouraged me to listen to their loud reading from the newspaper. Slowly, with time, the letters started making sense and I could read Hindi, English and Bengali. I even picked up Bengali, I started speaking the language. My assent though was that of a Bihari. Even to this day my assent is not polished but I speak and understand the language just like its native. Abandoned newspapers, pamphlets and torn pages of books became my precious possession; I read and read until I could understand it fully. The tea shop where I worked was in College Street, the whole area is filled with books. Pavements are always full of books, the shops received thousands of buyers, and there was some magic in the street. Whichever way you see you could see only books. Even the coolies carrying mountain of books could understand which book was what looking at the cover. The street has its own way of transforming unlettered to lettered. While my father worked as a coolie and I worked in a tea shop, I often went to meet whenever I could find time. I saw he seated on the corner of the pavement wiping his sweat with his gamcha, he stared blankly on the metallic path lost in his thoughts. I would go and shout near his ears shaking him out of his musing. He would turn angrily towards me but his angered vanished the moment he saw my face. He was a man of very limited words; he never expressed emotions and affection when he was sober. There was always an inexplicable sadness in his eyes; I could feel it all the time. But, the moment he was drunk he use to be a changed man, he would express an elaborate display of affection. And then, every morning he would be a silent man, I don’t recall him speaking when he was sober. One fine day when I must have been 12-13 years old, just 2-3 years after we arrived at Kalkatta, he didn’t return home. My mother and I went out looking for him in all the places he went for work. We scanned all the places of College Street and Burra Bazaar. There was no trace, even the people for him he worked day and night, and lifting loads day after day couldn’t recall who he was. How could a man just disappear, as if the earth gulped him or the sky sucked him? We went to the police station, they asked for a photo but we never had any photo of his. All we could do was to explain how he looked, the constable there said “Almost all majdoors look like that, how are we going to find him, go back home, he must be lying somewhere drunk and will return when he is back to his senses”. I was filled with anger and wanted to hit that constable with the shining paperweight lying on the table. My mother perhaps sensed my anger; she held my hand and dragged me out of the police station. One hand holding me and dragging me and covering her mouth with the end of her sari with another hand, trying to cover her wailing. All night she wailed and when it was morning she was still sobbing, though tired and weary, she looked so frail as if she had turned old overnight.
She fell sick; I took her to the government hospital not very far from the area where I operate with my rickshaw. I visited her every day in the evening after my work ended in the tea shop. One day I reached the hospital to find her bed occupied by somebody else. I ran here and there, from one nurse and doctor to another. No clue, I felt terrible, how could now she disappear. I finally found her, in the morgue. She was dead and was transferred to the morgue as unclaimed body. I could do the last rites with the help of my tea shop friends. I was an orphan at such a tender age. In a matter of few weeks I lost both my parents. I didn’t know how to live life, I found myself alone in the big city with no one to share my pains. I even didn’t know to cook. We lived a life of poverty but I always got food at home. Now that was also gone.
I was miserable, sad, angry and melancholic. But no one cared, the city still continued to treat me roughly. I woke up one morning, wiped my tears and took charge of my life. I was determined to survive. And I did.