Under The Flyover
Under The Flyover12 mins 19.9K 12 mins 19.9K
Good Morning Sir!
“Good Morning Madam”, “Pronaam!” said the little boy, hands folded.
“My name iz (is) Babon Haldar”
He then cleared his voice on the mike and held it tight with both hands. First time in his nine years age he felt the amplifying effect of his own voice, through the holes in the device. He suddenly felt proud.
But then the buses, the trams, the auto rickshaws and the noise of people bustling around submerged his words as they flew far. So he tried again forcefully.
Myy Namme Izz Babon ….Haaldaar, Babbon the Winner!
His legs quivered, mind reeled. He cleared his throat and began again, in English, repeating and stressing each word.
My home is too good here,
Someone’s dark and some are fair!
Inside us, no one knows
That the same blood flows
That knows not of India - Pakistan!
In all places, everywhere for everyone,
God still remains but one
Then what it means to be
A Hindu or a Musalman!
Babon narrated the poem in just one breath. He could not afford the second gush of fresh air in his lungs.
His mates of all ages sat in straight rows on the main road where velvet red carpets were spread for them to sit over. They clapped together for him. Some laughed, some listened, some made faces and some sat disenchanted for the function to get over.
The road was blocked, chairs put up in the middle of the street, festoons and balloons decorated streamers and colorful flags tied to a barricade of the newly built flyover, for the felicitation of the street children who lived and studied in the open. The small intersection on the main road was blocked off too for the high speed traffic two hours that day so that the children of the open air school could show their skills.
The principal Sorkar Babu had asked the children living under the flyover to come over for the “Udbodhna” (inauguration) of the flyover. They would be given prizes and a wholesome lunch. So the children obediently sat and waited for their goodies to arrive.
The chief guest, city police commissioner arrived with his wife, to attend the function and also supervise the arrangements for the “opening of the newly constructed longest flyover of the country”. Both of them sported flashy sun glasses and sat amongst the children in high chairs in the middle of the road listening to stories of their accomplishments in the last year.
Though they did not understand a word of what Babon said, they were amused at the child’s confidence. They looked at him and smiled. Babon was encouraged. So was his daily wage laborer mother who watched him from across the pavement. Babon looked at her and smiled too.
Puja madam taught him the English poem. She visited them every day under the flyover and asked urchins like him living on the pavement to come to the open air school. In return the children got books, copies and wholesome lunch for free. The children liked only the lunch; they did not want to sit on the road and learn. Yet she carried their blackboard with her wherever they went and taught them Bengali poem, English and Maths in the open air on the pavement across the flyover. In between lessons kids ran to beg at the traffic intersection when the traffic signals turned red. The teacher did not mind. Her main job was to ensure their signatures on her note book after every meal she gave for free.
In the last year Babon and his mother had found home under the roof of the half built concrete flyover. Babon’s mother Soma worked as a painter cleaner at the flyover under the supervision of the fat bellied contractor. While she finished her daily duty late at night with mask on her face and cap on her head, Babon cooked their only meal late at night in the kerosene stove from behind a saree tent. They had together put up a long cotton saree on the west of the flyover for privacy and that the wind did not blow off the cooking fire. They found this home because Soma found work there and then they had lost their own last year when the high tide washed away families, homes, fields and islands a hundred kilometers away in their small village in Ghoramura Island in the Bay of Bengal.
Today when Babon stood narrating the poem he felt proud of his mother too. Her hard labor had paid off. The gigantic structure of the flyover was ready for inauguration. The city Mayor would take the first ride over it. Babon knew the vehicles would drive over him when he laid deep asleep underneath at night. This was such an excitement!
That day was particularly special. First it was the last day of studying on the pavement. And then he was narrating his poem on the mike. The engineers, the neighbors, the shop keepers and teachers gathered to sit on the pavement and listen to the children.
As Babon finished, the esteemed audience sitting in the heat clapped in awe and appreciation. The chief guest stood up to cheer for him. His wife pulled her glasses to wipe the tears of joy. Sorkar Babu, the principal too rose to pat his back, when the mobile phone rang, for the Chief Guest. His boss had called to find out about the flyover. And so he went ahead taking the urgent call.
“All is well Sir”, said he in chaste English. “The place is ready for you to take the first drive”. “We have barricaded the roads, cleaned the place, and beautified it with flower pots and aesthetic plants. The encroachers are on notices; they will vacate the area before you arrive”.
Puja madam then made final announcements. “Children, have you packed your bags”. “Mothers have you packed yours too”. “From now on no one can live here, study or eat here. There will be fast running buses and cars”. “And so you’ll have to leave forever”.
Babon’s newly stitched half pants went loose. He pulled it up and looked around. Everyone was happy, children clapped, elders smiled, teachers fixed plates for the free food and onlookers just stood. Babon was the only troubled soul. He wished nothing; not the food, not the bags, not the English books, but his space underneath the concrete flyover, inside the saree tent with his mother around, from where he counted the wheels of the running cars, and the stars of the sky.
He just learned that it was not to be. It was not only the last day of the open air school but also his home under the flyover.
So he irritably picked a small concrete pebble from the street and threw it strongly on the newly constructed flyover showing his anger. And then he made a wish, folding his hands with tears in his eyes; “Thakur tumi ekei”, “God you are but One”!
Then why still I have none?
You, the Almighty!
Have left me in the open
Over there at our roof
Why don’t you drop the Sun
So that I do not have to go away
Again on a run,
Oh God, listen!
I promise I’ll build this again.
He looked at the flyover, then the beneath, where he lived, then across the road towards his mother and ran fast to hide his tears. He knew no one would listen and he’ll hang around in those alleys forever living in the open.
But just three days into the grand inauguration of the longest flyover when the fast paced vehicles found speed on the elevated road, the underneath cleaned up for parking vehicles, and Babon shifted to the nearby pavement with his saree tent, and finished his first wholesome meal of fish and rice after losing home, he witnessed the enormous falling of the giant. It was like the sun had fallen that crumbled the sky down. The crashing came unexpected when vehicles plied above and beneath, people talked casually on the street, shopkeepers into their daily businesses, urchins ran towards the slowed vehicles, and Babon forgotten completely of his devilish wish.
Down came the massive structured flyover; its fall started from the middle of the highest point, just after the largest lorry drove through it. A shopkeeper on the side road noticed the shake-up. He thought it was an earthquake. But then within moments, the iron rims moved and the concrete rained from one side just like the landing of a huge monster on earth. First there was a crack, then the dust storm and last the massive bang with a final enormous collapse of the huge concrete construction.
There was complete commotion. The 100 meter portion of the giant joint structure was down in minutes on the crowded narrow street on pedestrians, cars, vehicles, the least attentive gone forever under the huge slabs of concrete and metal. For minutes no one understood what happened. Those on the top dropped down along with the vehicles they rode, those below brutally crushed, insignificant ones completely flattened, the iron rods gone through people and vehicles, metal pierced into hearts. Those who stood on the sides took time to comprehend the tragedy that for years now would scar bodies and minds.
Babon ran shouting around like a madman from across the pavement. No one heard him. He looked around in haste, for his mother. Everyone looked around for their own in midst of the mayhem. Men, women, children, police, shopkeepers, pedestrians, rescue operators, volunteers, the survived, the injured, the dead, all lay scattered all over the place. Then he noticed the gush of blood dripping from the debris of the broken walls from all sides. And he realized his roof had broken down to dust.
“Ma (mother)”, “where are you?” he searched between people, ambulances, policemen, army men, doctors, shopkeepers, volunteers, TV crews and bystanders. He ran around aimlessly looking for her in deep fear. She had asked him to wait while she went looking for something. She did not return. She was nowhere to be found.
The dead were pulled out from under the massive structure. Men in suits, women in sarees, children like him, many in school uniforms, some half-naked, some complete with their clothes torn, their flesh fresh, their blood dripping, some blood dried. He could not recognize anyone. They did not look like people; just like pieces of bone and flesh, painted by someone. The living pulled out the dead out of everywhere from all sides. No one knew who was dead, who injured, who survived and who helped. They were stained fully in blood. People, animals, vehicles, carts, all ran hither dither. Three taxis stopped midway as the iron pillar had torn their roof apart. There was chaos and smoke all around.
People cried, some shouted, some lost hands, some feet and many their lives. Some lost loved ones while others thanked God that they were spared. Babon stood shaken by the distress of it all. The loss was acute much beyond the pain of living with nothing in the open. He ran around sneaking between the legs of the standing spectators, from among the thousands of people between people, shops, cars but Ma was nowhere.
Nothing there was left for Babon. He could go nowhere, not even to the Thakur, (God). He just thought Ma might appear looking for him in the chaos. He looked for her from among the women dragged out, those trapped under the debris, those crying and groaning asking for help. His tears flowed freely and then dried up all day that day.
Tired of all, throughout the day, Babon dropped flat in the middle of the pavement in despair, when he saw Sorkar babu, his master of the open school. Sorkar babu was the only one he knew. “May be he will believe me, maybe he will help find Ma”.
The police, the army, the leaders, the foot soldiers all had arrived to manage the flyover disaster. The Television crews, outside broadcast vans, police jeeps, Minister’s cars, men in khaki, women in nursing gowns, medical vans and doctors in white, all came to save and rescue.
The lady Chief Minister made a visit and supervised the rescue operations. Seeing the devastation she looked up towards the sky and said, “This is an act of God”. Having said that, she wiped her tears with the open end of her cotton saree and held the mike. Then she announced, “Five lakh rupees for the kith and kin of the dead”, and “one lakh rupees to the injured for their medical expenses”. Her announcement boosted recue. Cranes, steel cutters, sniffer dogs all were brought to find the crushed people from under the wreckage.
Sorkar babu also came with the city police commissioner. They got down from the car together. They recognized Babon from his dirty new uniform and the loose pants. Then Sorkar Babu took out his camera and clicked his picture. And filled a few forms for him. He made him sign and give thumb impressions on number of pages. He held him close and promised to find his mother, “dead or alive”.
In the gloom he said, “God forbid if you do not find Ma, you will have money to start life afresh”. Babon cried hearing that. He only wanted Ma back.
Sorkar Babu, said, “I’ll take you home and be your mother and father”, do not worry, child”. But Babon would not agree. Sorkar Babu caught him by his arms and pulled him closer and stroked his back gently. And then he asked the police men to send the child to his home.
By the time Babon reached Sorkar babu’s home he was dead asleep. When later that evening, he woke up frightened, he forced himself to go back to sleep. When Sorkar babu offered food, he did not take any. He just lay down on the marbled floor and kept his eyes closed, wishing it remained like that forever.
But just two nights later when he was in deep asleep again, he smelt a familiar pheromone near him. So he got up in the dark in haste and looked around. It was then that he found Ma near him, in real, holding him and hugging him with her one hand. Her face bandaged, her hands plastered. She was alive, smiling meekly.
He held her close to his heart to feel her completely.
“Let’s go away from here just now” she said in a low tone.
Babon was surprised, “Let’s get back to our flyover Ma”, “now that it will be built again”.
Ma gently caressed her son. “Sorkar Babu has made arrangements, we cannot go back there. I am dead for everyone. I only live for you”.
She showed him the dirty bundle of cash from a knot of her saree. “This is twenty thousand rupees that Sorkar Babu has given. This is for us. This is for being counted as dead”. “We’ll start all over again”.
Sorkar Babu stood at the corner. “My car will drop you guys in the dark”, never turn back, and never talk about this incident again”.
Babon knew no one will ever ask him this. There was no one to look for him. So what if Sorkar Babu took away the compensation money of the dead. He still found Babon’s mother.
“What more can I ask for? I had no home before, I have none now. At least now Ma lives”, he reasoned. “Money will come and go away but Ma is forever”, he smiled to himself and held his mother’s arms to take his first ride in the snow white car of Sorkar Babu.