Badi Ma used to sell glass bangles at a shabby corner of our town’s market, lacking what it takes to afford renting a nicer platform in the town. Everyone was oblivious of where she hailed from and how she had landed up in a small town, and neither was anyone interested in delving into the past account of her life. But she surely belonged to a tribal community, her broad wrist tattooed with a pattern of birds and snakes.
A small plastic mat that served as her business place would be carefully arranged in a decorative fashion with colourful bangles, alongside which were placed small packets of vermilion, nail-polish, bindi, and especially woven black thread worn by children, supposedly to ward off evil spirits. At the end of each day, Badi Ma used to carefully wrap her meagre earnings in a knot at the end of her saree. On her way home, she would sometimes pat that knot, assuring herself of the money being safe.
Badi Ma’s makeshift shop lost its popularity in the ten years that followed; as the market expanded, purchasers preferred fashionable bangles from larger shop providing wider collection. Although the sale of her old-fashioned bangles had decreased, Badi Ma was sought after for her practised art of fitting bangles into wrists with exquisite skill. Regular customers visited her for the ease and precision with which she slipped bangles through their palms without getting the bangles cracked.
Apart from her bangle business, Badi Ma was adored in her society for her sharp conventional wisdom, which she pursued although being illiterate. No amount of formal education imparted by school or university could infuse such exceptional attribute in an individual. She was consulted by males and females alike on every important and trivial matter of theirs – be it for advice on the marriage of their progeny which haunts every parent like a ghost, for resolving petty family quarrels, for traditional remedies for benign medical ailments, for harmonizing conflicts in marriages, for the arrangement of religious or social ceremonies, for reconciling joint family troubles, etc. Women, especially, consulted her regarding their menstrual, menopausal and pregnancy difficulties. Many times at the onset of winter, ladies would seek her help while they’d get stuck in advancing their desired patterns in knitting pullovers and sweaters. Everyone returned from her abode with a satisfying workable solution.
No one could quote Badi Ma’s exact age. Her hair were dense and shiny white. The overlapping pattern of deep wrinkles on her face indicated her diminishing age. She walked with bent knees, often balancing her tread by resting her hands on her waist.
Badi Ma had a grandson named Subhankar, who was barely eight months old when his parents succumbed to their injuries in a temple stampede. Since that incident, Badi Ma had nearly lost interest in life. It was Subhankar’s lonesome innocent face, the only mortal legacy handed down to her, which rekindled her hope in life. Her onward journey of life moved ahead solely by the force of love. She talked to her neighbours about her grandson with an interest which can be termed obsessive; perhaps, a natural manifestation of her profound affection for her grandson.
Nature has its own course. Life sometimes turns upside down in a single flash. For some it becomes a blessing and for some it brings adversity. Human life is a concoction of uncertainties. Grace and disgrace, happiness and sorrow, affluence and poverty, run on parallel tracks with erratic possibilities of spontaneous displacement.
One fine evening when Badi Ma returned home, she was filled with fear and apprehension seeing a huge familiar crowd gathered around her home. The crowd began to hurl abuses at her as soon as they saw her.
“Where is your rascal grandson? He has stolen dozens of bangles from my shop. We know it is your dirty plan. You old vagabond bitch! Will you carry those stolen bangles to hell?” someone from the crowd screamed. And the battering continued!
Badi Ma was left dumbstruck. She had never faced such an assault in her life. She felt as if piles of hot iron rod had been stabbed in her heart. She stood dead silent with her eyes firm on the crowd. At that moment, she mustered her conventional wisdom to digest the assault while being anxious for Subhankar.
Badi Ma desperately looked for Subhankar. In the darkness of the night, while wandering in the alley, she got alerted by the tinkling sound of glass bangles approaching her ears. Exerting strain on her eyesight, she found one of her female neighbours accompanying Subhankar with guarded steps.
“Badi Ma, your life is at threat. You should leave the town for good.” The lady suggested concernedly.
“Yes, I know” Badi Ma replied in a feeble tone, worriedly holding Subhankar’s hand.
The same night she caught a train, steering ahead her tribal fate. Heading for an unknown destination, she was self-consoling her heart, trying to contain the maddening episode. Alighting from the train at its final stoppage, she asked Subhankar, “My son, did you really commit this act?”
“Dadi Ma, no one was purchasing your bangles. So I stole them for your benefit” Subhankar confessed in a weepy tone, almost choking.
“My son, stealing is not a good habit.”
Subhankar caught the lobules of his ears, indicating an apology. Badi Ma, without uttering anything further, had a deep understanding of her child’s self- realization of his fault. Subhankar was trembling with fear. Curbing her deep seated agony, Badi Ma tried to ease Subhankar in all ways possible, but her hollow eyes were drenched with tears seeing her little grandson sobbing, trembling and still holding his ears.