The New Dawn
The New Dawn23 mins 337 23 mins 337
The sky was overcast and a light breeze was blowing. Lightning was continuing incessantly. The afternoon sun was completely covered by dark clouds. It seemed as if the clouds could be touched if one went up a few hundred meters above the ground. The heat of the day was siphoned out by the sudden change in the weather. Earlier in the day, the sun had been firing down upon the mother earth with a malevolence, hitherto unheard of. The trees had borne the look of retired soldiers with very few leaves still showing signs of life. The sudden appearance of the clouds had rather blown new life into them. But, the clouds seemed to carry far more energy in them than expected. The last weather bulletin had warned of fierce winds to the tune of more than a hundred kilometers an hour, coupled with heavy to very heavy rainfall in the next forty-eight hours. The coastal areas were being vacated to shift the people living in low lying areas into cyclone shelters situated on higher grounds, lest there be storm surges measuring more than two to three meters above the sea level.
The effect of an impending disaster loomed large on the densely populated coastal town, which was located exactly in the direction of the approaching super cyclone. The Government had issued a red warning in the area. The people who were housed in strong buildings were seen scurrying hastily towards the few open shops to get the basic necessities before the storm struck, in fear of being left hapless victims on the aftermath of the cyclone, were it to strike with a much larger force than expected. The hotels and restaurants wore a deserted look, as the inmates had either departed or were searching for vehicles to leave for their safe homes far away. The residents were expecting a much larger disaster than that which struck towards the end of the twentieth century. They had survived that super cyclone and had bitter memories of their unpreparedness at that time. So, they tried to get more adequately prepared this time.
Malini had come to her father’s house only two days ago with her one-year-old son in her lap. She had been beaten mercilessly by her drunk husband the other day and had fled from her in-laws to seek refuge in her paternal house. But, the approaching storm had shattered all her hopes of escape from the torture she faced at the hands of her husband, Musa and his mother. The small hut which housed her poor parents was situated in a slum, quite near to the coast and they had been asked to vacate the same with the paltry belongings that they could carry along to the cyclone shelter. Malini’s father had asked her to return to her husband before the storm struck, as he was unsure if he could save his own life and that of his wife, if they remained in their wretched hut. Malini was left dumb struck by the sudden turn of events and felt forlorn and forsaken by the pangs of poverty. She could, as well, have ended her life, but for the small life that hung from her frail shoulders clutching her breasts for food. The meek smiles that the child gave her, kept her alive in this, all too cruel world of treachery and inhumanity. If at all she had been tolerating all these hostilities, it was only because she wanted to groom her small child into a man of some superior identity in future.
When she left her parent’s home in the afternoon, after a poor meal of previous day’s rice and some green leafy vegetables for her, and a glass of cow’s milk for her baby, she was determined to go to any place other than her husband’s. She did not want to stake her dignity in front of that wicked animal. She would rather starve to death than meet that person ever again. It was her firm resolve, and nobody could deter her from that; not the cyclone and not anything else.
She had been trudging along the road on foot for around two to three hours, when the first whistle of the stormy wind lashed at her face. She was around thirty kilometers away from her paternal home by then. The wind was like a whiplash, cold and tormenting. And along with the wind came the rains. The baby had been fast asleep on her shoulder, but, the sudden whistle of the wind had awakened him, and he cried out.
Malini knew she was in trouble. She had to find a shelter soon, or her child might get wet and catch cold fever. The small child had to be protected from the rain and the wind. She started searching for a temple or a school building where she might get some protection from the cold wind and the rain. The rain had started pouring , and she somehow covered the child with her saree. Lightning and thunder exploded in the dark sky, rendering her completely helpless. In that flash only she saw a small hut at some distance on the road ahead, and she ran for it. When she reached there, she found herself a cozy corner in front of the hut, and got into it. The door of the house was bolted from outside. So, she just sat on the verandah with her child, who was staring with scared eyes at the flashes of lightning, and trembling with fear when the loud claps of thunder rumbled in the sky.
Malini could do little to prevent the child from getting scared other than covering his face with her right hand and kissing his forehead in a gesture of assurance. Presently, the child started crying. He had not been fed for hours. So, Malini cuddled him to her breast, trying to cover him from the torrential rain and the howling winds, with all she had.
It seemed as if the storm was still gaining momentum. She needed a better place to protect the child from the rain and the storm. That’s when a strong light fell on her eyes. She looked up, but, couldn’t see anything at first. Then she saw the silhouette of a policeman in uniform pointing a torch light at her. In the din of the howling winds, she couldn’t hear anything, but, realized that the policeman was trying to approach her, wading through knee deep waters that had collected within that short time around the verandah. When he neared her, she heard him, “Who are you? Why are you sitting here like this?”
She answered feebly, “Sir, I was going home on foot, but, the inclement weather has stopped me. I have this small child to save. I couldn’t move any farther in this horrible weather”.
“But”, he said, “you could kill yourself sitting here. This is no ordinary storm. It has grown into a super cyclone. The hut you have chosen, may collapse any moment. Where were you going?”
She knew of a town around fifty kilometers away. She told him that. “No, you can never reach there in this weather. You better come with me. Come along!”
She followed him unknowing where he was leading her. The wind was so strong, it was almost taking her off her feet. The child was getting wet. She tried her best to keep him from the rain. The boy started crying. At length, they came to a building. Both of them ran towards it. It was a police station. The policeman said, “You come inside. I have a room in the back side of the police station. You can put up there for the night. There is no electricity in the whole town. Supply has been cut off because of the storm. Let the storm get over. Then we shall see, what can be done. Come inside”.
He led her towards the backside and opened a door. There was no electricity, as the power lines had gone dead due to the storm. He lit an emergency light and gave her some dry clothes to wrap herself and the baby, and spread out a mat and a cushion on the floor. This was far more comfortable for her than where she had been earlier. The sound of the storm had been somewhat subdued by the walls of the police station, but, the shrill whistles were still being heard at times.
“Let me see if I have something for you to eat for the night”, said he, and went away, only to return after a few minutes. “Here”, said he, “take this biscuit packet. I have got nothing else here. There is a pitcher of water in the corner. You can drink as much as you can. Then go to sleep. Tonight is my duty at the police station. But, I don’t think I have got much of job there. Anyway, you can sleep on that cushion”. Then he went away.
Malini first fed her child and put him to sleep. After he fell asleep, she put a thick cloth on him to save him from catching a cold. Then she went to the washroom inside and changed her dress. She sat on the cushion beside her child and reflected back at her life.
What a cheerful girl she had been her whole childhood. She even went to school up to class seven. Then she dropped out. Her elder brother died of malaria, and her father could no more support her studies by selling fish. She then helped her mother in the daily chores. Life was still good in those days. But, then her marriage came up and changed everything. She was twenty one years old and her father thought it was the right time to get her married. She got married to a truck driver, named Musa. Musa was an incorrigible drunkard. She had tried reasoning him against drinking in the beginning, but to no avail. He used to come home drunk everyday, and beat her up before ravishing her body for his gratification. There was no love or passion in the love making. He only used her body. In less than a year, she got pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy. Musa’s parents were happy to have a grandson, and Malini thought that her husband might change.
But, some people are really incredible. Musa was one of them. He continued beating her. Now, even his parents joined him, probably, because the family was incurring extra expenses because of the child. Matters became worse day by day, until one day Malini had to leave the house and approach her father. But, as ill luck would have it, it was the day the storm was supposed to hit her parent’s poor hut, and they had to forsake all their belongings and seek refuge in a Government cyclone shelter to protect their lives. It was no time for Malini to seek refuge in her paternal home. So, she had to leave. But, her firm resolve not to return to her in-laws, made her lose track of where she would go. Then, she was here at the mercy of the good hearted policeman, without whose help, she would have been facing the storm in the open. God only knows what might have happened if she had stayed there. The roof could have fallen over her and killed her or her child. What could she have done then. Tears of gratitude filled her eyes for the policeman who brought her here, and gave her a shelter in this raging storm, which was at its peak now, whistling and howling, tearing down trees and electric poles as it lashed at them. She was safe now. But, what would she do the next day? She didn’t have enough money to last more than a week. If she couldn’t find a solution to her problem soon, she and her child would, almost certainly, starve to death. What was the solution? She couldn’t find any. But sleep overtook her, and she lay down beside her child, sleeping peacefully on the cushion covered with the thick cloth that worked as a blanket.
When she woke up, daylight seeped in through cracks in the small window, but, the storm was still going on in full swing. The child had also awakened by now and needed to be fed. Malini picked him up and cuddled him. After he was fed, the child gave a lovely smile and thrust his head into her bosom. This was the only thing that kept up her spirits. How he loved to be cuddled! Once again he fell asleep and Malini went to use the washroom.
The policeman was at the door when she came back. “Did you have a good sleep yesterday night?” he asked. Malini nodded her head in affirmation and looked at him with gratitude. Had this person not helped her last night with food and shelter, she could have still been lying in the verandah of that hut. Now, she is scared to think what might have happened to her child.
“Where are you going now?” he asked.
“I will have to leave. How long should I remain here?” she quipped.
“Wait my dear lady! The storm is yet to recede and daybreak is another hour or so ahead. Try to get some more sleep. I spent the entire night on the bench in the police station. I was on night duty yesterday. No one else could come. I don’t know whether they might come in the morning, as the wind speed is still rising. The sun may not come up in the morning even. So, lie down and take rest”, he said. Still, Malini did not move.
“You want to say something, lady?” he asked.
Malini had faced so much torture in her life, that kindness brought tears to her eyes. The policeman was taken aback by her tears, and started thinking what wrong could he have said that might have hurt her sentiment. He felt sorry for her.
“What happened?” he asked, fearing what she would say.
“Sir!” she began, “If you did not help me yesterday, I would have lost my…” She couldn’t say any more. Emotion betrayed her completely. She couldn’t hold back her tears. She started shivering as she cried.
“Listen my dear lady, don’t cry. Tell me your problem. Maybe , I could help you somehow”, he assured.
At length, Malini opened herself completely before him. She told him everything, about her marriage, her husband, her in-laws, their torture, her escape to her parents, and how she had to dart back from them.
The policeman looked at her, studying every bit of her plight, and trying hard to find a way out. The poor woman could have lost her son last might. She herself could have been killed in the storm. He had rescued her from the jeopardy she had brought unto herself. He was thinking hard. He did not utter a word for about half an hour. Then an idea struck him. Members of a number of NGOs come to the police station. There were a number of women oriented NGOs as well, who took care of destitute women. He could call them and hand her over to them. Then she might be able to make ends meet for herself and the child. Yes, that’s what he would do. But, let the storm recede at first. He didn’t know, what condition the town was in. The night long storm must have uprooted trees all along the road. Several houses might have collapsed. It may not be possible to rescue people trapped in those houses. God knows what lay in store for him. He would be having a very tough time after the storm got over.
He finally shook his head and said, “Let the storm get over, Malini. Then I shall introduce you to some people known to me. They could help you overcome your crisis. So, don’t lose heart. Everything is not lost. If God has deprived you of something and forced you into this crisis, then he must have something bright waiting for you at some place. Have patience and trust in God. They say-He might delay but will never deprive you”
The storm raged on even after daybreak. The rain also did not show any sign of stopping. In the morning, it was found that the police station was completely cut off on all sides by waist deep water. The drainage system was not working. Solid waste must have clogged the drains. There was no escaping the fact that the three were marooned from the world outside the police station. The policeman’s heart sank at the thought of guarding the police station all alone for another day. He looked up at Malini, who was then sweeping the floor. The floor had been dirtied by the rain water that was swiped across by the stormy winds. He approached her and said, “Can you cook? I am quite hungry”. Malini smiled and said, “Yes, I can cook, but, do you have anything to cook? I didn’t find any utensils or cookable food anywhere here”.
He laughed, “There is a store house behind my quarters. Let me lead you there”. He took her to the store house. There was a kerosene stove, an electric heater, rice, vegetables, cooking oil, everything. “Everything is there. Why didn’t you tell me before? Then you wouldn’t have had to last the whole night yesterday on a pack of biscuits”.
“I should have thought of that yesterday. But, the storm had driven me mad. Anyway, you bring your child here and start cooking, while I use the washroom and get freshened”, said he.
Malini brought her sleeping son and placed him on a small bed beside her. “How peacefully he sleeps”, thought she. She took out the stove, poured some kerosene and lit it up. She poured some water in a pot and put it on the stove. By the time he came up, she was already halfway through. He was amazed by her speed in setting things up.
The storm seemed to lose steam towards the afternoon and finally subsided in the evening. The rain, however, continued in drizzles. When Malini came out to the verandah of the police station, she was shocked by the profusion of devastation left by it. Trees were uprooted all around, not a single electric pole remained standing, and the road from the police station was simply unapproachable. Branches broken from the trees completely blocked the road. Telephone and electric wires were strewn all over the place. The state highway running in front of the police station was filled with fallen trees and debris of all kind. There was water-logging all around. Her heart sank to think, how she could ever get out of this place.
“It may take days before this rot is cleared”, said the policeman, as she looked back to see him. “You better stay inside”, he further said, “while, I try to get some food from the nearby market, though, I doubt if any of the shops are open”. So saying, he went out. It was getting dark. So, Malini went inside to light a candle inside. Her son would get scared in the darkness. The policeman returned with two loaves of bread, a dozen eggs and a bottle of milk for the child. Though Malini breast-fed her, the boy also liked milk, as Malini had told him.
It took more than two days for the disaster management team to clear the roads for the relief teams to approach the devastated areas. News started pouring in of the many unlucky people who had been killed in the cyclone by falling trees and collapsing houses. Thousands of dead bodies had been extricated from collapsed houses. Asbestos and corrugated sheets had been blown over by the powerful winds. Lots of people had been rendered homeless. The relief trucks entered the area on the third day. But, even before relief work could start, looting started. People who were living in better places took the opportunity of lawlessness to make some money out of their loots. Trucks filled with vegetables, baby food, food grains, clothes, medicines were looted by the local hooligans. They had a field day, as local authorities struggled to help the genuinely affected people. The evenings were dark, the nights darker still. And looting took place mostly in the evening.
The police station was, now, recording better attendance. The policemen also participated in distributing relief material. NGOs, the Red Cross, the civil volunteers, everybody pitched in with their contributions to help overcome the situation. Malini wanted to leave now, as the police station was crowded, but her savior told her to wait, as he had promised to contact an NGO to hand her over to them, so that she might be able to make a living for herself and her child. Malini, now, knew his name. His colleagues called him Srinivas. He was in the rank of a havildar, and was about to retire in a year or two. She really felt gratitude for him, for helping her out of a precarious situation.
The NGO, about which Srinivas had spoken to Malini came to the area on the fourth day to distribute cooked food to the hapless victims of the storm, who had not been able to cook their food for the last three days. Srinivas took Malini along to meet the Leader of the NGO, whose purpose was to make arrangements for the survival of destitute women like her. They readily took her as a member. It was a women-only group, which pitched large tents to cook food for the destitute. Malini was told to help them cook the food for distribution among the starving people. Malini eagerly accepted the offer and started a completely new journey in her life. Before departing from the police station, Malini touched the feet of her savior, Srinivas. He blessed her with happiness and gifted her child with a new dress, telling her to be careful all along.
Malini liked her new work. She knew, she would get a salary in return for her work. So, she was quite happy now. She did all sorts of works, like sweeping the floor, washing the cooking utensils, cutting vegetables, and sometimes, even cooking the food. Here, food mainly comprised of khichri. It was easy to cook and distribute. The cyclone-stricken men waited in long queues to get their share of food. They were served in plates made of saal leaves. Earthen glasses served as glasses of water. Water was a very scarce item in the aftermath of the cyclone. Malini actively participated in these food distribution. On the seventh day after the cyclone, the team geared up to serve food on the national highway. There were many on the roads in need of food. They had been caught up in the traffic jam for days, as the road had been washed away, and had nothing to eat or drink. Their condition was horrible. Malini and her friends pitched up tents on the roadside in the early hours of the day, cooked khichri for around three hundred people. They were mainly truck drivers and their helpers who had been caught up in the mess.
The team went about in their work as usual. The men were seated on both sides of the road with saal plates in front of them. The team served them as fast as possible. Malini was serving out khichri from a large bucket. A girl was replenishing the bucket whenever it emptied out. Malini had served an entire row and was about to turn back to the next row, when she marked someone trying to hide his face. Maybe, someone known to her, she thought, and stepped away. After the entire row of men were served, Malini went back to the tent to see her child, who was playing with the volunteers there. The child was absorbed in playing with so many of the women, that, he did not feel the absence of his mother till he saw Malini. As soon as he saw her, he burst out crying. Malini knew at once, he needed to be fed. She took him up in her arms and went to a secluded corner to feed him. After being fed, the child fell asleep in her lap. Malini cuddled him singing a lullaby.
One of her team mates came in and seeing the child sleeping in her lap, said to Malini, “The child is sleeping comfortably. You go and have your lunch. It is quite late, now. I will be here with your child. You need not worry about him”. Malini left the child and went to have her lunch in another tent. Most of her team mates were taking lunch there.
After finishing her lunch, Malini got up to wash her hands with a mug of water outside the tent. She had just finished, when someone called her by her name, “Malini!” Malini recognized the gruff voice immediately. But, it was the last person Malini wanted to hear from, in this world. She knew who he was and did not want to look at him ever. She stepped away and started walking back towards the tent, when he called once again, “Malini!” Something in the tone of the voice stopped her footsteps. She was compelled to look back. Musa was kneeling down on the ground before her, his hands folded, head lowered in shame. “Forgive me, Malini, for what I have done. If you had not served me food today, I would have really starved to death. It was the seventh day, we all were about to survive without food. I was passing by this national highway when the cyclone struck. I had nowhere to go. I tried to remain in the truck as the storm blew. I had parked it under the shed of a godown. But, when the storm gained speed and wrought havoc all around, I got scared. I had to live the truck and run for my life.
As soon as I left the shed, it was blown away by the powerful storm. I took shelter in a nearby school building. There were many of us there. We passed the whole night there. Every moment was ridden with horror. Trees, houses, poles, walls, everything fell before our eyes. I remembered you and the child. I thought I was destined to die that night. I cried. You know? I cried for you. I cried for our child. I prayed to God, that I may be pardoned for my sins. I promised, I would never again abuse you, if I got a chance to live. Today, when you were serving us food, I tried to hide my face in shame. I thought, what a wretch I was begging for food, and how noble you were, serving food to the starved. I was overwhelmed. Malini! Please forgive me. Come home with our child. I promise, I won’t touch liquor in my whole life. Please come back”. Tears of repentance flowed down his cheeks. A few of the team mates had now come up beside Malini, to see what the whole episode was about. Malini felt ashamed. She ran back into the tent, tears flowing down her eyes too. A few of her friends also ran back with her. Malini stooped down in front of a chair and hid her head in it sobbing. She could not bear it any more. What would she do now? What was her duty? Should she go back to her husband with the child? Should she stay in the NGO to serve the people at large? She had no answer. She had resolved never to return to him, but, the tears of repentance had melted her heart. What should she do?
Malini turned her head to find the leader of the NGO calling her.
“Malini, your husband wants you back. We all know your story. We all know how he has treated you. But, now, he wants you back. You should go with him, Malini. Give him another chance. You also will need some support in your life, and who else can give you the best, other than your husband? Go with him and try to mend your broken house. If he misbehaves with you again, give us a call. We will be with you. But now, you should go with him. Go! Malini. Go. Don’t waste your time”.
Malini got up from her position and rushed into the arms of the leader crying inconsolably. She patted Malini, comforting her.
In the afternoon, Malini left the tent with her son and husband. They would have to walk for about three kilometers, after which, they would have to take an auto-rickshaw or some kind of a conveyance to reach home. Musa would return to get his truck once the road was repaired.
As they headed for their home, the sun was setting on the western horizon, marking the end of a day, to rise up next day at dawn. Maybe, it could bring about a new dawn for Malini and her child. Ah yes! For Musa also!