Prashant Dutta

Abstract


5.0  

Prashant Dutta

Abstract


The Mystery In Footpath Living

The Mystery In Footpath Living

4 mins 441 4 mins 441

After shifting to Kalkatta and sleeping on the footpath for several nights and wandering its streets I started getting a feel of the city. My father went out for work early in the morning while my mother knocked the doors of the nearby houses for some work. She swept and mopped floors, did the dishes and in return got some food and sometimes a little money. She would always keep the occupied pavement, our home, clean. She even had a pet, a stray dog. Food was limited, money was less but she managed the ‘house on street’ wonderfully. She even fed the dog. Soon my father got me a job in the tea shop. Now we all three were working. When we returned to our street home we found all our belongings intact. No one touched them. Our belongings were few. Few torn mats, a mattress made by mother-it had wool, cloth, and paper, foam, and all bundled together and stuffed together and covered with joined pieces of torn saris. She had done it quite well; I had always slept peacefully on it. Few months later when the income was steady we shifted away from the pavement. We built a house in Bagbazzar, this place is nearby, and I take my passenger in my rickshaw to that locality quite often.

Our house stood between the wall of a shut factory and the railway track. The outer wall of the factory served as the main back wall, besides that bamboo stick walls were erected and bundled straw used as the covering. We had a blue plastic sheet as the roof. It had a bamboo stick door with a traditional lock chain. I read in various newspapers featuring big ads for cottage stay, they romanticize poverty, rich people and foreigners pay big money to live the life of poor. And I lived in a cottage out of genuine poverty. Foreign tourists often visited our colony, clicked picture of the awful existence, enquired about our lives from the local tourist guide who explained in great details displaying his paan strained teeth. Several men and women also visited our shanties; they peeked inside our houses, distributed ladoos or jalebis among us and enquired why we didn’t go to school. I learnt later that they were social workers who made heart touching stories out of our lives and received big donations, god know where those monies went.

It was a colony of such houses around the entire factory wall and a community of displaced people came together for existence. The railway track was the most fascinating place; the suburban trains ran majestically with passengers bulging out. I ran out on hearing the hooting, very different from the whistle of the train that brought us to Kalkatta. I stood and watched in awe every time a train crossed. While the train offered me a source of entertainment it also served as an easy way to end life, for many. Every week someone would rush out of their tiny house and jump in front of a running train. Life and death, both were forgotten quickly in our colony. Shrieking, fighting, hitting were the normal activities which established that there was still some life left among the wretched residents.

The river Hooghly flowed not very far, it was just a little away, we walked to the river and plunged into it. I had become an expert sort of, I could dive deep inside and then emerge out. The river was our playground. I had quit the tea shop after shifting to this place. But, after few weeks my father took me back to the same tea shop and I resumed my work. I walked for half an hour to my work and returned when darkness descended, the whole day, all days, I toiled in the tea shop.

But when my father disappeared and mother died, I abandoned the house and shifted to the tea shop. I didn’t know how to arrange for rent for the house and empty house left me with harrowing feelings. I slept on a bench in the tea shop and worked for even longer hours. All I got was two full meals, innumerable slaps and abuses. But the most interesting part of the job was hearing to the loud narration of newspaper readings by the old group. They perhaps took pity of me.


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