Journey into Past

Posted on February 2, 2010

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Journey into past
At the age eleven, I began to notice the selfish motives of the people. I lived in a village with fifty houses in the

Gujarat district of India. The people lived communally and they adhered to the code of practice established since

they migrated from the Punjab area. Originally, the ancestors were very poor. They had the opportunity to acquire

reasonably cheap, and in some cases, free land pieces.

I was brought up by the grandparents, mother and aunts. The grandfather was the sole income earner supporting ten

members of the family. He worked as a watch repairer in the city nearby. He leased a piece of land, large enough to

grow variety of crops like cotton, wheat, rice and sugarcanes. He planted mango trees around the field. The

members of the family slept on the ground that was painted with the cow dung. They placed mats, made from jute

strands, on the floor and spread cotton sheets over them. A cotton bedspread was used to cover them. The night

lights were made of tins with wicks and for the fuel they used Kerosene. They had one meal a day, mainly in the

evenings. For lunch, they had any leftovers from the previous evening, and sometimes roasted peanuts and savouries

all made at home. Chapattis, made of wheat flours, were considered as luxury items. They were for the guests and

for festival celebration times. I loved a chapatti with molasses but could not get it everyday for my lunch at the

village school.

My mother became ill with above normal body temperature. It was expensive to call the family doctor from the nearby city as the money was not easy to come by from the agricultural produce. She was told to walk to the surgery in the city which was three kilometres from the village. Also, there was no money available for the transport. The grandmother had prepared a large basket, full of vegetables, Ghee and some sweetmeats for the aunt who lived in the city. Even at the young age, I realised the inconsideration given to my mother’s health. A house servant put the basket on the mother’s head. A word of warning was given by the grandmother,

“Be careful of the bus drivers. They drive very near the edge of the roads and you could get seriously hurt.”

It was almost midday with the temperature of 37*C. I did not have shoes or slippers. My mother wore a well used pair of slippers she got from her father. She was concerned about my feet.

“What happened to your shoes that you wear when you go to the school?”
She was looking at my feet which I couldn’t keep in one place due to the hot dust on the road.

“It will be OK, Ba. Don’t worry about me” I was aware of her health. I was very annoyed about no money being given for the transport, but I did not show my anger to mother. We left the house and walked about quarter of a kilometre in the burning dust and heat before getting near the tarmac road. A bus with some people hanging outside passed by. The flying dust filled our eyes and nostrils even though we were standing reasonably far away from the road. As we began to walk on the road, my feet were in pain due to the hot tarmac surface. My mother noticed it and decided to stop for a while under a shadowed area. There were many bushy trees casting shadows on the sides of the road.
As we began to walk again, another bus stopped near us.

“Do you want to come aboard? It is very hot.” said the driver.

My mother looked at the driver first and then to me, and asked me,

“Are you OK?”

Although my feet were burning, I said that I was OK. My mother thanked the driver and indicated that we would walk. If we had taken the ride, we would have been expected to pay the fares otherwise the other passengers would make a big noise. A kilometre down the road, we faced a large pond with stagnant water which provided the perfect breeding ground for the mosquitoes. As we proceeded further from the place, I said,

“Ba, can we stop under that tree as my feet are getting hot?” I pointed at the large tree that reminded me of an incident that caused great pain to my right foot in the past. We stopped under the shadowed area for a while. I began to tell her about the incident

I was on the way barefooted to attend the school in the city. My books were weighty and now and then I had to stop under a shaded area for a little respite. It was getting very hot. I began to walk towards it from this side. Then, I heard the sound of the bus approaching from behind. To avoid possible accident, I decided to run at full speed, dropping a book on the middle of the road. As the bus passed me it created a big dust cloud. I ran hurriedly, only to find me stepping on to a large thorn which pricked right through between the big toe and the adjoining toe. I began to cry instantly. I pulled out the blood covered thorn carefully. I felt as if lot of blood oozed out. I tied the handkerchief around the foot and made my way to collect the book from the road. I could see my friend coming towards me.

“Hey, what happened to your foot?” He held up my foot to see how much damage was done. As I wiped the tears, I angrily said,

“Bloody thorn went right through my foot as I tried to move quickly here to avoid the oncoming bus.”

The friend offered me help by carrying my books. I kept my left arm around his shoulder as I limped all the way to the school.
My mother listened silently as I cited the past experience. Then, she ran her fingers through my hair and as she wiped the perspiration on my face, she uttered,

“In future, always listen for the sound of a bus before crossing the road. You should not run because the bus driver can see you from far away on this stretch of the road. He will slow down the bus. The book could have been destroyed and the granddad would have been very crossed with you. The books are expensive; you know that, don’t you? Anyway, why do you leave our house before your friend leaves his?”

“He goes to work with his father on the farm in the early hours of the morning. I do not want to be late because the art teacher punishes whoever comes late. You know Ba, do you remember that day when I returned home from the school with my fingers swollen? That was because that horrible teacher made me put the fingers on the edge of a drawer which was slammed hard with his foot. It could have broken my fingers. The granddad was very annoyed and wrote something addressed to the principal. From then the teacher gave me a nasty look but he did not punish me. I was very frightened of him at first”.

“Alright my darling lets make our way to the doctor.” I tried to help her to put the basket on her head.

On reaching the city, we delivered the basket to aunt and quickly headed towards the surgery. Aunt was a bit upset because we did not stay for tea she offered. My mother explained that she was not feeling well and had to see the doctor urgently. The aunt gave a packet of biscuits for grandmother.

At the surgery, after the doctor examined the mother, exclaimed that we should not have walked from the village under her condition. He then told mother that after the completion of the course of medicine he was to prescribe, she must report back for an x-ray of her kidney. He emphasised that she should not walk to his surgery in future. We left after picking up the medicines.
I was looking forward to the treat of ice cream and hot roasted salty whole peanuts and lentils. We set inside then famous air conditioned ice cream parlour. The mother ordered full portion of ice cream i.e. two large dollops for me and milk shake for her. It was a sheer heavenly experience for me. I tucked into the ice cream non stop. My mother kept looking at me and then said,

“Hey, take it easy. You will choke otherwise. There is no hurry; we will be taking a ride in the rickshaw up to the small bridge separating the village’s dusty road.”
I was excited at the prospect of having a ride in the rickshaw. That was a luxury for us.

“But, you will not mention a word about the ride to any one in the house or in the village, understood?” She said that as she finished drinking the milkshake. I affirmed and licked the plate to finish the melted cream.

Little, half clothed children who stood in the hot sun outside the entrance to the parlour were looking at me, licking the cream. I was too young to realise their plight. The proprietor kept swearing at them as they were told to go away. They did not move. My mother noticed me looking at them. She drew my attention,

“Come on love, we will have to catch a rickshaw. It is getting late. Do not mention that we had these things here to anyone at home.”

As we came out of the parlour, I could see still those children standing and starring at us.
The mother bought the roasted peanuts and whole lentils, some for the people at home and some for us to eat on the way home. As the rickshaw made a slow meandering bumpy ride on the half tarmac and half dusty road leading towards the village, we were shaken and tossed up and down. Some of the peanuts and lentils fell on the floor of the rickshaw. My mother requested the driver to slow down the ride.

“Aunty, if I were to slow this, we will never make it to the small bridge. The engine will stop and to restart, it will take more fuel. I have a little fuel left for my return to the city.” spoke the driver in a croaky voice, the result of chewing tobacco mixtures. His eyes were red. For a moment, I thought that he was drunk. We clutched on to the side handles until we reached the bridge. My mother had paid the fares in advance. The driver asked the mother if he could take us to our home. The mother refused his help and he drove away towards the city.

“Ba, I still get frightened of walking on this road. I have heard stories about monkeys jumping on us to get things from our hands. I also heard that there are robbers hiding in the bushes here”. I looked around as I spoke.

“Now there are no robbers and the monkeys here. The village council has directed some folks to keep a regular watch here. We will be OK, my love”. After a glance towards me, she quickly scanned the area. She could see a person sitting under a large tree, smoking BIDI, a hand rolled cigarette, and waving his arms at us.

“Hello Babubhai, how are you?” greeted my mother.

“Oh, I am fine. It is very scorching heat. Where have you been?” he said as he stood up.

“I went to see the doctor. I am not feeling well now-a-day. How is your family?” she asked him as we stood near him.

“All are well. Here, let me carry all those things. I am about to return home anyway” he took couple of items from us.

“Did you see any robber today, uncle?” I enquired. Babubhai smiled as he looked at me and said,

“No my son, there are no more robbers here. I tell you what, I saw that little boy who plays wonderful tunes on the flute. You know who I mean, don’t you?”

“Raghav, the worker’s son”.

I wished I could play the flute. Soon, we arrived at home. Babubhai was invited for tea. The grand mother enquired generally about the trip and her daughter, my aunt in the city. She appeared very pleased to receive a packet of biscuits from her daughter.

I felt very sad again to observe her happiness. Why could not she be so happy to see us? Why did she not give money for the transport and snacks?

After a quick bath, I settled down for the tea. My mother began to prepare the evening meals. She looked very tired but as no one in the house volunteered to prepare the meals, she being the eldest daughter-in-law had to work in the kitchen.

(R. Morarjee) © 14/06/2007 Words:-2182.

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