Written By: Amar Sneh
We are stationed on Triveni (Sangam-Triple-braid: the confluence at Allahabad of Ganges and Jumna with a subterranean river, Saraswati). An unorganized flood with impetuosity and recklessness of human is flowing nonstop all around; it would just not cease even for a moment. As far as your eyes could pan you see the thatched roof huts, temporary eatery stalls, tents, pavilions of holy men, temporary hermits with their flattering flags and banners and banners with religious slogans. All around spiritual people performing religious sacred rites; countrymen and foreigner in the ecstasy of the impersonal ultimate narcotic drink of hemp leaves and hashish are seen lost in their own world.
The place with all these activities is buzzing all over sparing not an inch on the ground to lay your foot. Thronging of people as a glut in the assemblage like innumerous ants forthcoming from the ant-hill, pious offering folks, religious people, believers of formless god, rich and poor, yogis, naked cult of ascetic and holy men, old widows, family men and women, happy-go-lucky carefree people, young and old, men, women and children is endless. Noisy atmosphere due to shrilled enchanting of religious hymns and mantras, aartis (A dish holding a multiple wicks oil or ghee lamp, incense is moved in a series of clockwise circle in front of deity), blowing of horns and conches, loud sound of drums, duffs, bugles, damarus (A small drum narrowing in cone shape at centre; played with beating of dangling strings on both sides), beating of gongs, sound of cymbals playing, loud spell of mantras for sacred offerings in the fire-pits, religious congregation and preaching and enthusiastic shouts of rejoicing and triumph and to add to the noisy atmosphere the indistinct gurgling and wrangling of the river; all in all the chaotic atmosphere where your own speech is inaudible.—-
—–in this hubbub and chaos a very old feeble woman standing on the raised rock was seen searching some body in that human flood; her eyes were wearily wandering all around to find the lost ones, gazing at every face passing by her. Hopelessly she starts calling out. After exhausting she would sit down for a while and again she repeats her act of searching and calling. Looking at her anxiety you feel that a trapped bird is desperately trying to come out from a dense tangled bamboo grove. I have been watching her for quite sometime from a distance. I waited for a moment and there came a shove, which jostled and heaved me along, that after a while I found myself near river wharf.
It took me more than two hours to reach the same spot again making my way through the mammoth crowd. On reaching there I saw the same old woman in the same state, calling out and searching, but she is dead tired now; sometimes she busted in tears with the agony. Somehow I made my way to the raised ground near the old woman. Accosting her Ma two or three times she came running with wings on her feet to me; in that desperate flee, she was about to fall, but I held her from that fall. She touched my face with warm tender affectionate soft palms of her both the hands and intensely gazed and made eyes at my face; probably she had a feeble vision. She uttered, “Son I have not recognized you—who are you?” The love and affection with which she held my face, her soothing touch of soft wrinkled palms, I felt her like my own mother. Amma consider me your own son —- tell me if you have missed or lost someone? Yesterday my son and daughter-in-law left me here saying that they would return here after praying at temple and further said that managing old folks in the crowd was difficult so asked me to sit here in peace and on return from the temple they would take me home with them—-but they never turned up.
Oh! You are here since yesterday morning—? Well Ma do not worry— they shall meet you—I consoled her and gave her some water from my water bottle to drink; she had two or three gulps. I opened my thermos and pour some hot tea and offered her; I saw remorse in her eyes and diffidently she began refusing, but when I insisted, so, she accepted it. She caressed me by moved her hand on my head in love and blessed me immensely, pouring all the love on the earth.
After a while she took a deep sigh and began sobbing——-mean while there were people forcing to make way for the procession through the crowd; the convoy of some great Mahatma sitting in palanquin arrived; the great saint accompanied by his devotees and disciples with flags and religious banners, Holy men (sadhus) on horses back, playing of loud drums, bugles, gongs. Behind the palanquin of Mahatma there were rich men and women, devotees and all followers. The parade when made its’ way through that densely crowed sea of men folks assemblage; I found it difficult to carry old feeble Ma out from that gushy stream of people to a safe place. Somehow I could make it. I took her near a temple and made her sit there. There was a chill and it was getting very cold; I took out a shawl from my backpack and covered her with a shawl to save her from that shivering cold. She began removing the shawl and said, “No my son, you might catch cold—-tears rolled down her cheeks and she said, “Mother endures any thing and everything—-What all I have not done for him, I slept in wet but I lulled him sleep in dry—-elbow greased for him and—–he—– he—–left me—“. She sobs—
I insistently covered her with the shawl while consoling her, “Ma! You do not worry, I shall spare no pains in finding them out—what name did you say? —
— Sarvan Kumar (Shravan Kumar) She was speaking a colloquial slang —- lad, I know —-they will not come back for sure, — Mother’s affection is defeated today—-mothers’ eyes relentlessly keep searching—-deceiving her own mind, mother’s heart keeps calling—-Yes! My son—They both have deserted me by intentionally deceiving me and give me a wide berth; oh! They deserted me——
—-Yesterday my daughter-in-law took me for holy-dip at Ganges; she held the chain at the wharf and pulled me down in the stream and pushed me, but fortunately a young boy saved me; he held me tight in that gushy stream and pulled me out to a safe place on the river bank. —–My son was never so rude and ill-hearted before—– —She said, “Sarvan while studying at university, whenever he used to return to our village in the vacation, he always used to lay in my lap and say, “ If god offers me the entire wealth of the world and ask me to choose between you and the wealth, then I shall tell god, I am not a fool to lose my mother, since there is a heaven in my mother’s lap; worldly wealth is worth the dust compared to the love and affection of my mother”———and see today he has deserted me. —
—-Son! Four to five days before we came to this assemblage, my daughter-in-law entered my bedroom in the midnight while I was fast asleep, she dip my thumb in the ink and took its impression on legal stamp paper—when I woke she drew a veil over the paper and hurriedly ran out of the room. I saw Sarvan standing out near the window and then both hastily entered their room. —-Only four months back his father joined the majority. He was very sick when he breathed his last. They brought us from the village and dumped us both in a corner room in the bungalow. Whenever I urged Bahurani (son’s wife) to take Babuji (father) to hospital for his treatment, she replied, “What! Would he grow young if taken to hospital? He is an old man and in the old age ill health is the order of nature, besides, who has time to spare for the hospital visits now and then.” Listening to this, Babuji asked me to calm down, though it was a bitter pill to swallow and said that he understood the ill intensions of his son and his wife. Without medical treatment of doctor, Babuji passed away. —Son! Your Babuji left behind him two hundred acres of land out of which Babuji sold fifty acres to build a bungalow for Sarvan in the city and bought him a car—-so much of land and property—six shops, one big mango orchard—-after us all this belongs to them only; upon our death can we lug all this along to our final destination? —the only expectation and hope any mother ever has –before passing into eternity is that she wishes her kids to be near her death bed. —-
Hearing her pathetic plight, I was completely broken and shaken within—I wanted to know from her the address, she got lost in a trance in a deep agonized gaze, then in low tone she uttered, “My address? ——Son this place is my address now—-I have to spend my last days here only—-what to do with life—for whom and for what shall I live?
All this compelled me to think as to what path the social fabric is weaving and knitting for us all. Is selfishness the ultimate goal left in human life? The values and, the righteousness, the human perception and sensitivity for which a human is called a human would be lost forever meaninglessly? If the human becomes emotionless like a stone, the nature would reciprocate and lose the trust in human—- I gathered courage after a lull and told, “Your son and Bahu have not done any good to you—–please forgive them, they are waylaid. —–Yes! I have no mother; you come with me, I shall look after you, I shall think that I got my mother back. —–There was long lull, she went into a deep trance and then wiping the tears of her eyes she held me tight to her bosoms. She drew her sarees’ pallu (edge of cloth of her Indian attire like stole) on my head and articulated with a deep sense of attainment, “Son! The seed of love blossoms and yields fruits very fast; you longed for mother’s love and I was filled with the motherly love and affection; son! In minutes you transformed the sorrow and melancholy into joy and pleasure—–long live my son—bless you—you have given all the pleasures to this mother.”
Mother did not accept my proposal and my earnest request; it seems that she took a wow to herself to face the cruelty and adversity of the time and kiss the rod all by herself. She did not tell me the address though I kept asking her repeatedly; either she knew only to call a village a village and town a town or that she never wanted to tell in spite knowing it, since she kept repeatedly telling, “If this is what satisfies and pleases my son and Bahu, then let them be happy.”
I was left with only one alternative and with that I brought her to one nearby rest-home of lonely deserted old folks. I saw so many helpless old folks were compromising time. I brought some essentials and clothing for her and deposited some money with the authority of this rest-home. I requested the authority that they should take proper care of mother. In short span of time the relation between us grew so strong that parting from her made my heart very heavy and sad, but there was no other option than to leave her there. I took her leave and bid her good bye and started off from there; I must have not gone, may be, two to three steps and she called Son! And came close to me and said, “You call me Amma, I have enjoyed the pleasure and happiness of char-dham (pilgrimage of four abodes of Hindu gods) in your call. —-but can you return empty handed from mother? She tore a piece of cloth from her attire and gave me saying, “This what is mother’s wealth in her treasure and mother always secures all happiness and sorrows in it; go my son—my blessings shall follow you where you go or whatever you do.
Amma’s that piece of cloth was more than precious treasure for me. It has given me the strength and inspiration through all my thick and thin. It was an article of worshiping for me. When often I am depressed or disheartened, I remember my Amma and her precious gift; I take it out, touch it, and hold it to my forehead and then on both the eyes and immediately I am relieved of that pensiveness.
More than a year has gone by; I was busy with my work abroad and now I was returning home; Ammas’ memories perturbed me; whenever I thought of her, it worried me as to how she must be? What all she must be going through in my absence? —-When I returned, I planned my visit to Allahabad and straight reached the confluence (Sangam). While on my way back, I purchased so many things for Amma. It was winter so I brought woolen clothing also. On reaching here to my horror everything was changed beyond recognition; I could not locate the rest-home, where I kept Amma. First, I felt as if I have come to a wrong place. —-For number of days, morning till evening, I kept wandering from one rest-home to another, from one temple to other; wherever my mind gave me hopes of finding my Amma, I went there; everywhere I enquired of the people describing her but it seems no one had seen her and no one knew anything about her; I talked to the old destitute folks, who were from different parts of the country with varied languages; they too were given lag bail and deserted here by their own kith and kin. Listening to their sorrowful plights, I felt frustrated and disappointed. After long day’s search for my old Amma I used to return to my hotel room.
Most of the old folks had the same story, either it was property affairs or none of the kin wanted to take upon oneself to look after them, but amongst them there were old folks who were tired of pocketing insults at the hands of their own kids have deserted their own homes and are unwillingly passing time here to pay the debt of nature.
Today at the reception of the hotel, where I put up, gave me an address of yet another rest-home and instructed me that I must go there in the early hours of morning, since these destitute folks go out to either for some menial work or beg alms to feed them. I reached there in the morning the next day. — I enquired of the people there about my old Amma, but in vain; mean while I listen to the painful sad stories from some old deserted folks and felt how mean, cruel, selfish, emotionless, malicious, unkind, brutal people are existing in the society, which keep up appearances of human values and up beat the drums of great Indian religions and its unparalleled values and virtues in the world.
One old man told his tale; he brought up and educated six broods, who are well placed in the society today, having good positions and all are in high feathers. The eldest son used to stay in the old man’s house, but he was not willing to keep him in the house, so he used to send the old man to younger brother, who used to chuck him out to his younger brother and this way the old man kept shunting from one son’s house to another. In the end the eldest son declared the old man mentally derailed and sent him to mental asylum from where he escaped and now was working with a transport company as a manager. Mean while he got paralytic attack and became crippled; another old man from this rest-home helps him to a place on the street, where he begs alms.
The second old who helps this man has yet another tale; his elder son for grabbing the entire property gave him a heavy dose of tranquilizer when he was down in bed with fever and by bribing the doctor, got him declared dead; he hurriedly arranged his funeral. When he was kept on pyre bed at cremation ground, the old man regained senses and got up on the pyre bed; all mourners started running hither and thither, thinking it was his ghost, which sprang up. His sons declared him as the ghost of his departed father. People of the vicinity used to run away from him due to scare and even used to stone him. Weary of all this, the poor old man came here in this rest-home. In this country to make fast buck and be rich and famous in no time and then to remain rich, there is the immortal and everlasting formula of exploiting the weaker section, robbery, giving lag bails and dishonesty. —– I was completely broken, disappointed and shattered: I thought to myself that I must go back; probably my old Amma might have returned or that her son might have taken her back home. —-
Winter was becoming harsher and unbearable; at a distance I saw one thatched tea stall; thinking that a glassful of hot tea might give some warmth in this chill, as I turned to go, a loud call from behind was heard, it was from a young female beggar— oh! Sahib, could you find your old ma? When I moved my neck in negation, I saw her sitting on a street across with her child in tottered cloths lying on the ground in front of her and she was begging alms. I remembered to have met her a day before near a night lodge. —-oh! Poor soul some high society folks in the village raped her, when she complained about the incident to the villagers, then these high society folks labeled her as a whore and wandered her through the streets of the village blackening her face. The next day her elder brother committed suicide by dawning himself into river, he thought better to end his life rather than living insulting life. — She narrated, “To bail out from these insults and tortures at the village, I left the village with a stranger, who got me a job of cleaning and washing at one hermit at Banaras, where again the bachelor disciples of maharaj of the hermit with preserved masculinity used to rape me every night. One day with a fear of disgrace and bad reputation the maharaj expelled me from the hermit. With disgrace hiding the face from there I came to Allahabad and now I am looking after the kids of ascetics.” After listening to her story, I walked away ahead but returned to her thinking I must give her all clothes which I purchased for my Amma. She expressed her gratitude and kept the packet in her bundle.
Lonely as I was, very much depressed and sad, kept loitering with emptiness on the river bank of the confluence (Sangam); after a while I came to a small tea stall and sat there to relax. Suddenly like a small child two palms from behind blind folded me. As I removed the palms with my hands, I found a smiling face of an old actor colleague of mine from TV; we worked together. —- We had some formal and then informal chat on that hot glass of tea. He was telling me that he was shooting a documentary film and his camera unit was with him. He told that the subject was very interesting, “Real life actors” —- inquisitively I asked, “What is it all about?” —-my friend assumed a grave face while scratching and itching his French-cut beard and said, “In our country begging alms is a profession with a special skill of acting; their acting is far superior to professional actors like you and me. They have a deep study of human psychology, they change their act according to their target audience and then they perform their act by crying, whining and wailing with appropriate speech and make their prey put his hand in the pocket to pay alms; if the prey heeds not, they pick-pocket the prey. —-During day they go house to house begging and observe everything and in the night conduct thefts. By the by while going through the street, they trounce and steal things.” —- Just a while ago as I was coming, I did a coverage— a beggar woman kept a small child lying in front of her and was crying, “Please give alms for milk, the child is very hungry” – suddenly my eyes fell on a packet in her bundle; when asked as to from where she got it; she replied, “One gentleman gave it to her” — there were costly new woolen clothes in the packet. When I said police hearing this in seconds she slipped and ran away very fast from there –bloody bastards! She shall sell this stolen material at throw away price. Well I am making a film on this social evil for the mass awareness.
In my mind the reflection of the same beggar woman with child flashed and then I felt remorse of unnecessary putting that poor woman in trouble by giving her new unused clothes; she cannot beg alms wearing those clothes, but I felt very sorry for the poor thinking and mentality of these people; it is not only shallow and hollow but it is blunt.
—-My friend continued his conversation—-“just near here there is an old blind beggar woman her one-act play performance keeps going on from morning till evening; she is an excellent actress. Today I came here with a planning of shooting her—–good that you met me, I shall get some directorial tips and help from you.” Though I was not at all in any frame of mind to take part in the film shooting, being my old days friend I accompanied him to the location.
When we reached the site, the act of the old blind beggar woman was going on. It was decided to shoot her from the beginning of her act when she restarts the act. Meanwhile camera, lights and reflectors were getting set at the proper places. I keenly observed the act of that old woman and felt that the so called actress by these people is not at all an actress but, she is mentally ill and sorrow-stricken woman. All over her body there were wounds and specially her head which is tied with different bands of colored clothes not as a part of her act but she must have had a deep head injuries. She has worn a strange attire, might be that whatever clothing she got, she had put on to save her skin from the harshness of winter and so her attiring looked funny and not as a fashion or show costume for the purpose of the act.
This act is that of her own tragedy and sufferings, which she had undergone in her own life; one shocking incident in her life, which has deep rooted effect on her psyche, is reflecting in her repetition of the act. How she fondled her child with her motherly affection, how she played and danced with the child, how she lulled him to sleep singing lullabies, sometimes she dances remembering those happy moments of her harmonious rich family. Happy and sad events are deep cited in her mind and her play is nothing but past memories of her life, which she is living now in this act.
While I was deeply lost and engrossed in psychoanalysis of her behaviour, suddenly in her fit of anguish she got up and ran madly and got struck against the raised rock – –unknowingly utterance of loud accost ,”Amma” out forth from my mouth and I rushed to hold her from her fall. My mind chocked seeing that raised rock with the memories of meeting my old Amma on the first instance. In pain she murmured, “Sa- sar- Sarvan, at last you could find your mother.”
Yes! I remembered her son’s name is Sarvan (Shravan). I could not believe that her sufferings could change Amma so much. She was in my arms, she touched my face with the same affection and kissed me; she kept caressing me with fondness by her hands and whispered, “I lost my eyes in your search my son; your Amma kept herself alive only for you; every moment Amma has spent in the memory of my son and the sweet home; in the deep corner of this poor mother’s heart was a confidence that for Ammas’ love and affection sake, my son will come back.” She kept quiet for a while—then got up with staggered and tottered foot steps lifted the bundle and brought it. She made a wrapping of the bundle with a shawl which I gave her. She uttered while giving me the bundle, —“My son this is all —all yours; whatever your mother could gather by begging alms is all stored in here. —all that belongs to Amma is all yours”—saying this she took me in her arms and kept moving her affectionate weary hands on my head and finally she rested her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes in deep satisfaction as if she is enjoying bliss of tranquillity and attainment. When I tried soothing her injuries, she wiped my tears…once again she rested her head on my shoulder and became quiet. So many times I called her Amma! Amma, but she passed into eternity after meeting her son for whom she suffered and waited so long. The tears were seen frozen in her eyes and falling droplet of tears from her eyes said, “Your Amma has nothing other than this as her sole possession.”