Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Botu’s Puja

His friends in Rashmoni Ashram were quite jealous when Botu told them that his mother would be coming to take him home for Durga Puja. Most of them were orphans who have been growing up with Botu in this Ashram for destitute children.

Maya had been planning this for weeks. Her 5-year old Botu must be missing her. She still remembered how he clung to her when she met him last.

“I must give him some time this Puja”, she thought.
She had always been a tough one. Short, dark, with a nonchalant gait, she was considered quarrelsome by her friends. A tenacious fighter, she struggled for survival when Botu’s father died four years ago in an accident at Behala Chowrasta. As a helper in a truck he couldn’t leave much behind for Maya to take care of his one year old son and an ailing mother.

Maya fitted into her new role of a provider for the family quite well. But what she was earning as a domestic help in two houses was hardly enough to support little Botu and her mother-in-law. She had to find a solution.

Getting Botu into Rashmoni Ashram was Ashadi’s idea; “Your son will get two square meals a day and some education too”, she argued! “You can see him or take him home occasionally”.
Ashadi worked in the Primary Health Centre at Amtala. She helped Botu in getting admitted to the Ashram. Maya was very grateful to her.

Leaving Botu with their mother-in-law in their village home, she left on Panchami day for her work, Botu wouldn’t leave her, for him the Pujas had already started. He cried and finally sulked. But Maya had to go. She would be free two days later, on Asthami day to come back to her son. Her employers had promised to give her three days off after ‘Saptami’.

Kamala was sure she had heard her neighbor talking about Ma Durga coming riding an elephant that year. But the incessant rains told a different story. “Ma must be coming on a boat” she wondered. It had been pouring from the morning and Botu was getting restless for his mother. Kamala wondered how long she could keep her grandson engaged within the four walls?

“When will Ma bring my new dress?”, “It is already Saptami?” “She promised to take me out to the Mela”. “Why don’t you take me out and buy me candy floss?”
Botu’s constant crying and demands were making things worse for Kamala. She had her own worries. She had nothing to cook nor did she have any money left. In her own way she had also been desperately waiting for Maya to come. She needed her badly. “But it is only one more day” she consoled herself, “she should be here by tomorrow”.

“It is one more day” Botu thought too. He has to visit the Puja pandal tomorrow. The mike had been blaring away. “How I am stuck inside!” Botu gets angry. “Ma must take me to the Mela”
-Botu gets excited at the thought of visiting the village fair at Amtala. He had an eye on a toy car he saw in the shop. He would ask his mother to buy it.
Gradually, the day made way for noon and Botu was getting impatient.

“Give me money. I will buy candy floss. It is not raining any more”.

“Don’t go out alone. You’ll get everything when your mother comes tomorrow”- Kamala pleaded.

“No, you have to buy me, now”, Botu got adamant.

Tears rolled down his small cheeks. Kamala decided to be less indulgent; after all she had to keep the child in control till the next day.

“Stop crying and lie down beside me” she said sternly.

Botu’s cheeks were still flooded with tears. He developed hiccups due to the constant crying. Kamala couldn’t wait any longer. She lay down for her afternoon nap.

“Do not go out of the house. The pond outside is flooded and we have no fences”, she warned Botu before lying down.

It was too late before they could fish his little body out of the pond. The whole neighborhood had assembled in the small hut.

“How did this happen?” Didn’t you lock the door?” We had warned you to fix the fences!”
Kamala was still wailing, beating her chest. She tried to hit her head against the wall but the neighbors held her back. Botu would never have to return to Rashmoni Ashram anymore.

In the meantime, the mild autumn breeze embraces Botu on his way to see Saptami Puja. It’s a nice feeling. The white fluffy clouds, the distant sound of drums beating, the strings of light illuminating the sky- you could breathe festivity in the air. There is no one to stop him today. He is free to buy the toy car and all the candy floss he wants. He does not have to wait one more day. At last Botu’s Puja has begun.

(This short story is inspired by a real life incident that took place in our family many years back, Maya worked for us as a domestic aid for months; This story is, to some extent, special to me, as long back when I’d first begun writing I had written an original ‘Botu’s Puja’ for my school magazine with a lot of help from dad, who himself is a brilliant writer. I could never find the original script, but herein I’ve tried to re-narrate the entire episode with as much clarity as my memory could aid me with…
Pardon my free usage of terms, names and events typical to the Bengali culture, you are free to leave a comment mentioning anything that you're having trouble understanding and I shall get back to you).

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Of distorted sense of priorities and classic national hypocrisies…
(A much beaten path yet, my two pennies worth…)

(Scraps of news from the front page of ‘Anandabazar Patrika’; 1st May, 2008)

The following is just one day’s front page reports from one of the many newspapers circulated in this nation.

Howrah, West Bengal; 30th April, ’08;
‘70 year old Kadamprasad could just about manage to run a few steps following the bus, he had just been hastily shoved off from, before clutching his chest and collapsing on the dusty ground. All the old man wanted was his bag that he had forgotten in the bus; the sight of an elderly man struggling to chase the bus, yelling wasn’t commiserating enough for the bus conductor to stop or the people around to try and do something to help. As people around him stood watching, old Kadamprasad sat under the punishing sun crying for help as his pain got worse. Everybody heard him but none came forward with aid till gradually the man passed away slouching against a wall. His body remained where it was for about 3 hours during which two police departments argued about jurisdiction and as to who would take responsibility of the body, robbing Kadamprasad any dignity even after death.’

Somewhere 40 kilometers from Mathura, U.P.; 30th April, ’08;
‘A six year old ‘lower caste’ girl was thrown into a pile of glowering hot ash inflicting over 50% burns all over her body; she now battles for her life in some hospital in Mathura. Her crime; walking through a path constructed exclusively for the ‘high caste’ population in that settlement. Even after an FIR was lodged, the police showed much lethargy in arresting the accused and finally were compelled to do so after the matter began getting serious.’

Jhargram, 30th April, ’08;
‘Suspected Maoist rebels attacked a central bank branch, killing two policemen and making away with their rifles.’

Kolkata, 30th April, ’08;
Didi orders ‘Manusher Mohajot’ (teaming up people) against CPIM...another 'Bandh'?!

Leaf through the rest of the pages of this Bengali daily and make efforts to read through some of the articles and you’ll see issues so grave in West Bengal alone that you’ll realize how unsafe it is even to step out of your house, you never know, one minute you’re out on the streets and the next, you’re a sticky lump of goo underneath some bus. In Kolkata, to this day, your chances of getting run over by a bus are higher than being struck by lightening or let’s say, being stung to death by killer ants swimming underwater !(Obviously, analogies arent my strength). Power and water shortage are a way of life here. National issues come much later.
What ticks me off is a few people’s obsession with the IPL cheerleaders and the related issues regarding morality and the alleged ‘erosion of Indian culture’ by the same when there clearly are bigger issues in this nation to address. This, yet another display of suffocating hypocrisy by the so-called religious purists in this country, doesn’t make sense anymore, don’t the guys ever get tired!?
I am, for obvious reasons, going to abstain from being specific, but I cant help saying that if people can watch the likes of Rakhi Sawant cavorting around on screen wearing barely anything, exposing so much cleavage that the whole purpose of wearing clothes at all gets obliterated, and not have the slightest bit of issues with it whatsoever, what’s so mortally wrong with a few girls dancing around with pom-poms in the stadium, wearing short skirts and baring their navels? After all its only their navels they’re baring!!

They distract cricketers? Well, then why have Chennai Super Kings been winning match after match and the Kolkata Knight Riders getting flogged all over the place? Are the Super Kings immune to the irresistible charms of the pom-pom nymphets or is it that the men at Kolkata Knight Riders are so hopelessly desperate that they’d deliberately attempt to hit sixes all the time, so it’s a win-win situation, if it’s a six, the girls dance, if they're caught out, the girls still dance!

They corrupt children in the crowd? If my knowledge on such things is anything to go by, trust me, children today are equipped to the teeth with ‘such’ know-how, many thanks to the internet and of course, the idiot box.

They corrupt and offend the religious minded? Well, religion or culture has never exactly trashed or adjudicated man’s attraction towards the opposite sex as being necessarily bad, it’s perfectly natural!

There is enough on our own plates to be shameful about and there’s a lot to set right in our own neighborhood; can’t these individuals who, for years, have displayed with pride their blatant double standards and pseudo self righteousness by banning TV channels and tearing down billboards in the name of ‘culture’ and ‘morals’ for a change, forget about these outdated and inanimate theories and work towards making the power situation better or eradication of poverty or create jobs etc? Or can’t they just be quiet and enjoy the IPL tournament like most peaceful people want to do?
Most economically important coastal areas in this nation is still severely susceptible to floods, the nations in the brink of a food crisis, the law against Sati isn’t getting amended due to ‘technicalities’, people still get kicked around, being called "Outsiders" and "invaders" in their own country and hundreds like Kadamprasad die on the streets everyday due to the inhumane ness of people. We’ll earn the right to criticize the ills and immoralities of globalization only when we match global standards, after all, morals never fed the hungry.