WHERE TO GO


Whenever I pass by from here, I see two big stone statuettes of cow’s muzzles and I do not know why the face of the grate leader, Vinoba Bhave with his mouth covered by a white khaddar cloth, flashes on my inward eyes and his anti-cow-slaughter slogan sparks through me like an electric current.

These two big statuettes of cow’s muzzles are mounted on the pillars of the entrance-gate of a community; they are very conspicuous because they are disproportionate to the size of gate, besides they are protruding out awkwardly and bear gloomy looks. This locality is known as Gai-Wadi, tenement named after Gai, a cow. As you walk along the same pavement you come across a very long signboard of yet another tenement known as Kranti-Nagar. Well, I am not aware as to what story of revolution is attached to this place or it signifies; more so I never ever bothered to find it out, since each step as you walk further, you find either the revolution is standing one-legged in the form of different colored flags fluttering out or the revolution is sitting peacefully in an array of big buildings and business houses or it is standing helplessly on the door steps of numerous political-party offices or else in the form of  signboards seen loosely hung leaning against walls or poles.

WHERE TO GORight opposite Kranti-Nagar across the road you find a Shiv Sena sponsored peddler’s wheel-cart vending Pav-Bhaji (simmered and fried vegetable with bread buns). When the kitchens at home and the shutters of restaurants are down, here the tapping sound on a big flat iron saucepan by beating spatula on it creating a peculiar sound continues through the midnight till two to three o’clock and it serves freshly simmered vegetable prepared as per individual’s choice with hot buttered bread buns served to kitchen less households, homeless folks, and bands of hungry family folks; they all keep thronging at Pav-Bhaji peddlers. This street has sleepless nights and the street is known as Thakurdwar, locality of lower middle class and old residents of Mumbai main city.

A little distance away from these Pav-Bhaji peddlers, on the corner of the street of the next lane is a temple, religious discourses are heard day-in and day-out in the confines of the four walls of the temple; many professional philosophers, religious-leaders, renowned devotional singers and religious discoursers are seen pouring out their hearts and minds preaching the devotees. Their voices shut up only when they receive their agreed honorarium.

In the adjacent lane there are numerous shops displaying marriage invitation cards in their showcases; this lane is right opposite Gai-Wadi and it appears as if the statuettes of cow’s muzzles always keep gazing at this lane in the utmost despair and in helplessness. As the Sun hides, you can see under the loft of these card shops and near by it, the exhibition of freedom and colorful parade always decorates and adorns the venue by Happy-Hookers. These daughters and spawns of freedom are seen attired jazzily and in obvious getups with heavy makeup to match and suit their ages, obliviously trying to hide their real age. Some of them stand in the dark corners of the shop’s loft, while some in slimmer light, but others dare stand just below the street-light projecting their lustful figures and bodies luring the pocketful kings who like vegetable market scan their bodies judging the softness or hardness by touching their amatory parts for their likings of erotica and higgle haggle to negotiate the deal with these hookers.  These poor helpless unwilling girls in this nakedness of nude trade take their hirers or say customers with them just to smother the fire of hunger. Here begins the play of agitating, crushing the live flesh mercilessly and the game of greedy hunger to fulfill their lustful desire by pouncing on the live-emotionless-skeleton of bonny frame begins. The venomous clause over powers and ruptures the feeble running sores and slowly begins to scrape the wounds and the mark of victory of masculine strength ooze the lava of pus from the poor compulsive prey. The link of this social relationship dies here and then everything once again becomes unknown like strangers.

These machines work day and night. Every man handles them according to his hunger of lust and erotica to prove his masculinity. Their emotions, sentiment and sensations are trample on and crushed like the ground under the boots of marching soldiers; the life becomes sick and ailing, part and part of body wears off; sensitivity and consciousness within keeps dying; self-respect and conscience mortifies ruins and melts away. The business of these oppressed ill-fated keeps running. It is indeed a business. It is earning of livelihood. This is a game of stomach’s hunger and struggles for existence; it is pilgrimage of body’s pains, tortures and sufferings. This is a grave yard of our socio-economic structure. Here there are dead souls in live body. The wheel of time shall keep rotating like this day and night —- the wedding card shops will open, thousands of cards shall be sold, the sign board of Kranti-Nagar shall remain hanging there and the opposite roadside’s statuettes of cow’s muzzles shall keep gazing the opposite lane in helplessness, god knows for how long.

The place where I am standing, just opposite that is a three storied congested Chawl (Barracks), small cheap rental tenements quarters, accommodating numbers of tenants. There are tens of thousands of such congested Chawls in Mumbai; it is resting shelters to millions having crawling life like worms. These congested Chawls is the biggest attainment of common man and it is a last mile stone on his journey of life. The congested chawl I just mentioned, its ground floor is repressed in stifling and suffocation has a decrepit railing, which leads to the expanse of this erotic bazaar of live human flesh; dead quiet within and chipper in spirits on faces with suffixes to their names like, Kumari, Kali, Devi (blonde, budding-beauty, black-eyed, etc) are ready to trade. My eyes journeyed piercing through the rumbling chaos of bazaar, paused and suspended on a hooker standing in the opposite door at a distance; her name is Laxmi Devi. As the evening falls Laxmi stands at the door. She must be in her early twenties; she appears like a live twisting sculpture carved in stone; very expressive big eyes with a neat attractive figure, which becomes more attractive in her radiant dark complexion; she always adorns a big round red vermillion dubbed on her forehead; on the cute looking face there are expressions suppressing the layers of sufferings she had undergone and still it appears as if her eyes are lost in apprehension of her parents and family far way in the village.

These hiccups in the remembrance are the only inheritance left to me. Reason and purpose of my of living in this dire state, arouses the storm of fear and anxiety for my parents and dear ones far away in the remote village; my sari’s paloo (upper end of sari) keeps drenching and drying and l am left wringing hands very often in the memories of sad episodes, while those moments usually come alive to die standing helplessly on this doorstep here. From that doorstep to this doorstep is too long a distance.

I was born in Harijan (people of God” as pronounced by the great Mahatma Gandhi) family, a poor down trodden family of untouchables. I grew with insulting, hateful and scorn looks of the society with filthy ridiculous behavior, though the greedy eyes of lust always viewed me in nudity. Whenever these thirsty looks of perverts scanning my youth used to cross my tolerance, I wept in my mothers’ arms. For me       the happiness was in love, doting and fondling of my mother and father. Yes! I always felt the obscurity of helplessness and poverty of our household was far more glittering one and believe me, I was very in that world.

My brother had grown up, while my parents became old and feeble, so they no more go out to work. Brother some how used to make the two ends meet with whatever small trifle wages he earned. He used to work far off in the fields of Santu Choudhari at Kirbale ki Takia. My brother was a very strong and stout young man. Whole day long like a donkey he worked hard on the fields but he was still a daily wager. He earned only minimum wages of two Rupees and eight Anna; he hardly had spare moments of relaxation for him. For earning this two Rupees and eight Anna he used to toil whole day long in the scorch of the sun. Often I carried two dry chapattis for him in the after noon as his lunch. Santu Choudhari often used to come across on the pathway; his mischievous eyes full of lust used to tear me nude; his smile was roguish and naughty; he always used to pass very uncouth shoddy remarks; and looking at my breast he used remark, “Hey! Pilferer! What are you hiding there underneath?” I used to feel embarrassed and ashamed at his remark; then he used to give two onions and tell me, “Take this and give it to your brother, poor fellow eats dry chapattis.”

I do not know how many such gifts were showered on me with my growing as young and attractive female, though I never wanted and liked it, but under compulsive circumstances, I kept accepting them. Like Santu, scores of villagers used to cast the lustful looks denuding me with their imaginative eyes everyday. Those who hated my sight in the childhood used to leave no opportunity to talk to me and ask my welfare with extra love and care.

One day in the hot afternoon Santu Choudhari was waiting for me under mulberry tree. Dead silence ruled supreme all around. In the scorch of the heat the earth was flaring hot flames, while hot air was blowing all around; I was carrying lunch for my brother, taking long strides to save burning of my bare feet, then Santu accosted me and urged me to sit under the shadow of the tree to rest for a while. His looks revealed his ill intentions; he lost control on himself; my tattered blouse which I stitched over and over again trying to wrap my nudity, got ripped and all the stitches split opened. I cried and wept, but in vain, I could do nothing. In my scuffle of saving my skin, the bundle of chapattis wrapped in a cloth for my brother slipped and fell in the well with water drawing wheel. Like mad I kept searching the bundle all around, meanwhile Santu ran away making his way through sugarcane fields.

My brother, Birju, who was waiting for his Tiffin came up to the pathway searching and he saw me from the distance and came near me. I hid this incident from him and made a false story that since I felt thirsty so came to the well to drink water but unfortunately the chapatti bundle fell in the well. While hiding my strewn blouse, I turned away from him and found that the Tiffin was lying in the bucket hung to the rope of water drawing wheel; I immediately spin the wheel and took out the Tiffin; what a pitiful mockery of fate, Santu, who laid his sinful hands on me, my brother was eating dried chapattis given by him.

Hungry Birju might have just eaten a morsel of chapatti and the supervisor came shouting near him and began vomiting bad words and said, “You bastard! You are resting here and enjoying your Tiffin like a lord and there is ample of work left undone there.”

I could not stand and bear the supervisor; in the fit of anger I lifted the Tiffin and hurled it at the supervisor’s face. A commotion spurred up. All workers from the field gathered there; then there were heated arguments, the scuffle and fracas took place. My brother, Birju stopped going to Santu’s fields. Compulsive circumstances do not know and understand self respect, honor and esteem; once again Birju was forced to beg of Santu for the livelihood of the family.

With one successful attempt of molesting me, Santu got the wings of courage and fearlessness; he kept trying to harass and sexual assault me everyday. He knew now that there is no other bread earner for us other than Birju and it had been established fact that our family livelihood is totally no the mercy of Santu. I quietly kept on bearing sexual-harassments till I could endure, but it seemed that Birju came to know of all this. One day Birju gathering courage gave a slap with all his might and main to Santu. , The episode did not end here; in the assemblage on the auspicious day of Dashahara my brother was murdered. There Ram got victory over Ravan and here in the sea of blood our hopes and our livelihood got drowned.

  .  My poor old parents in the hopes of getting justice kept banging their heads on the doorsteps of blind folded goddess of justice, but in vain, instead the number of consoler and sympathizer grew more and a new play in our lives of struggle for justice began. Our throats were choked with problems of livelihood, but our bread earner brother neither could have returned nor could judiciary have provided us with daily bread.

Day and night a long sequence of police station began. I used to be detained at the police station on one or the other pretext. Now many like Santu Chaudhri were buzzing and droning around me awaiting an appropriate opportunity, but now my brother is not there, who could have protected me from assaults or even could have sacrificed his life for it. There was no difference between my own villagers, who tyrannized us and the sympathizer who were trying for justice; the only difference was, at first only one Santu Chaudhri was there and now everyday I was assaulted sexually where every man was a Chaudhri.

Now the distinction between darkness and light slowly ended and our circumstantial compulsions and our helplessness were being exhibited like public commodity.   There were no traces of the murderer of my brother; the investigation as usual was creeping at snail’s pace, but during investigations my skirt got stained and tarnished thousands of time. Under the pretext of our hunger the thirst of people could hardly quenched and the new thirsts used to take birth. Now in this vulnerability any sympathizer ever used to approach, in aguish, within the mind violently used to shrike. The empathic behavior of people used to translate their latent ill-intensions, but still in the adversities of life, these people used to appear close to us; though knowing fully well the poisonous intensions hidden behind these words of consolations and compassion, we could not leave these people. How compelling, oppressive and helpless the life becomes; the adverse circumstances compel already looted to get looted further; a wrecked person is exploited to further keep wrecking, this is a disposition of our society and the law of time.

Some rays of light emerged in the dire state of darkness. Prakash was silently observing all the events in our life from a distance. One day he met me on the outskirts of our village; seeing me alone and exhausted he pulled his bicycle and began enquiring after me, putting up the same old questions, which normally people often ask, but his manners and tone in which he expressed his concern and sympathy sounded different than the rest. He kept quietly looking at me, “often tears used to roll narrating the pathos or even its horrifying recall”. He kept walking for some distance besides me and he was quietly listening to me, suddenly his eyes turned red in the rage. He said, “Laxmi! Do not worry; remember those who have none to help, God helps them.”  Consoling me he urged me to ride his bike saying that he was going town wards. Suddenly I jumped off his bike as we were close to our village and I told him, “Go! Prakash go now! Someone might see us together; this might create unnecessary whirlwind of gossips in the village; you are respected gentleman.” Prakash looked at me for moment and replied, “You care so much for the honor and respect of others, but do people—? —-Look here Laxmi! You have seen only the gentlemanliness of Prakash, you have yet to witness the courage; come on! Ride the bike I shall reach you home.”

 “Prakash unnecessarily your would be botched and vilified”

Prakash stared straight at Laxmi and he extended his hand, “Laxmi! Only brave men lead the life; fortune favors the brave. If you fear the botchery so much then just hold my hand, do not be scared; bigger than the edge and boundary of this village is the edge of humanity, where victory and defeat meet at a point.”

Laxmi inadvertently outburst in tears; she felt as if some god is standing in front of her; she fell at feet. “Prakash! Fighting against the storm of difficulties and revolt by giving a refuge to a grief-stricken girl would not be that easy and besides — I am Harijan (low-caste); how shall you face and counter the people when they would ridicule and scorn you of your status?  Suddenly her flow of tears stopped as if some one pulled it in from inside; she stood desolately still like a statuette; Prakash in restrained calmed voice said, “Laxmi! Your brother sacrificed his life and died to save sister’s self-respect, which was not for any Harijan Girl. We are now standing on the periphery of the village and in the village discriminations of caste still reigns and we are standing away from it. Here we are only humans and the true human is one, who cares and supports the fallen fellowmen; a real man is the one who does not  desist once he decides no matter what may happen and to keep learning to fight the storm is the righteous way of life, else this world would have ended in fragments.”

The life got saved from scattering like straws. Laxmi in her dreams weaved a small nest conglomerating the straws. — The stagnated water began thunderously gushing in a stream making its way out once again.

Prakash and Laxmi began staying in a near by town as if sneaking from themselves. In the stream of blind love there were obstructing rocks, some remained and some got shattered. Both have forgotten their individual existence, but beneath the calm water there were some sandiness and pebbles still existed. While swimming on the surface, whenever they dived down deep, their breath used to be sandy. The color of man and his frenzies began fading away as the days passed facing the reality and cruelty of time. Now their eternal divinity of love limited itself to the physical relationship only. Whatever upper form and shape of the red hot iron needed to change had changed of by hammering it. —- Prakash now is seen secluded under the same roof sitting lonely like a dumb in the corner. Seeing this change Laxmi used to be very fearful and within her mind numerous doubts and suspicions began surging; unwillingly yet! She began questioning Prakash to know the reason for his raptness and dumbness, “Prakash what are you thinking; where you are lost and why do you keep sitting like a dumb.

Prakash’s simply used to gaze at her, as if inside birds have stopped chirping and they have left capering. The meaning now began researching meaning of the meaningless world. Prakash gathered his courage and put forth a proposal before Laxmi.

“Don’t you think by being away from roots can plants ever blossom?  Why should we not go back to our village; we shall see and face whatever might happen there; otherwise also by staying in here could be hiding us long? One day or the other every one shall come to know about it.

The ground of scarcity began fading the colors and they now were appearing dull and decolorized.  Laxmi’s that hint, “Prakash! It is not easy as it seems” began haunting Praksh’s mind within.  Prakash quietly began weaving a web of conspiracy.

“Laxmi if you are so scared of going together with me to the village, then why not we do it this way; —- neither you would be separated from me nor I would be from you.— In the village you stay at your home for some days and I will stay at mine. —– Seeing the earliest best opportunity we shall get married with fanfare in front of the village folks— how do you find it? —- You see! When eternal love is there —- this is just pretence —- Today time is changing Laxmi! Soon you would see in front of your eyes that the things would change; for this patience and faith is needed.

Listening to all this Laxmi within her lost the courage and faith at that moment. Before the reasoning of changing the world, she began foreseeing her changed world. She held back the rising storms within her and kept pretentious smile on her lips. She controlled the outburst of her emotions so that her god should not know that within the depth of her heart she is losing the faith, which day by day was flouting and now shattering only remained. For the soaring and running waves this was the shore. One day the trustworthiness of love has seen the death of its faith and respect on this shore only. Laxmi in her mind began creating a delusion in herself and wanted coining an impression on Prakash such that, “I am ditching you and after I leave, you could say that your got deceived in love.”

One evening leaving Prakash there, she ran away. To suffer was her destiny and she kept suffering — From the darkness she is now pitching into thick darkness. The darkness for her livelihood brought her to Mumbai and made her stand at this doorstep, where near all around her obscurity of seven lakh chains are burying their pathetic stories, take their breaths on floors of the brothels, on the streets, in the lanes, and in the hotels.

Here the hiring price of Laxmi is just rupees ten only;  out of which she shares three rupees to the contractor madam, two rupees for the bed, one rupee goes to police as a bribe, four Anna to a boy who serves water and tea, eight Anna to pimp and one rupee goes to her provident fund. After distributing she earns two rupees and four Anna per customer; sometimes she gets baksheesh of two to four rupees from satisfied customers.

Every time she goes up the hill carrying burden of her small hopes of life, but the cruelty of time takes her to the end of peek and shoves her down. Memories of her poor, feeble parents are conjoined to her breath; what must have happened of helpless old feeble parents; are they alive or not? She could gulp her morsel with help of swigs of her tears, but burden of breath is intolerable. Numerous attempts to end her life, but every time she felt as if her old mother father are standing on the pathway waiting for her return ever since she renounced home and abandoned them. They might have wearily returned home sobbing in despair resting the head against doorway waiting for their Laxmi. They must be counting rosary-beads and praying god for the safe return of their daughter.

Churning these thoughts she spent four years. The entire share of her earnings she used to keep depositing with the brothel madam. Whenever she used to imagine of her accrued sum, she used to think of returning home; where she could keep her parents happy for some days and take some job for livelihood, so the she could think that her life is become purposeful and effectual, but this too was not that easy. There are set of peculiar rules and regulations of brothels; after entering here once, thought of return from here, outside people cannot understand, they cannot know its punishments. Here they neither let you live nor let you die; punishments otherwise they are suffering, there are far more bitter and horrifying punishments given in their books— these people making you cripple and handicapped leave the already pain-shooting life to crawl here only.

 Laxmi, every moment keep thinking about some strategy after all there is no motivation of living here like this. — At last the blessings and well wishes of parents surged as help. Slowly she took her entire money back from the madam and with the help of one of her customers, she worked out an idea; she gave two hundred rupees to madam for spending two-three nights in a hotel with him; she took her belongings and deceivingly ran away. On reaching railway station, she again and again counted the money, which she earned in four years. Today for the first time she enjoyed a sigh of relief; with three thousand she could definitely take up some or the other job after reaching home. It appeared as if the entire signs and ciphers of the losing life are turning into victory and for the first time she perceived the meaning of the meaningless life.

 She boarded the train; journey was too long; every passing moment she thought who knows when she would reach home. She spent the entire night sitting near window and watching outside. Out in the light of window as she beheld running trees, poles, houses and jungles, she felt as if all these are running to meet some one and she should go ahead of them. Hastily in the running train she gets up and starts walking. In the delight of meeting her parents her heart get filled with passions. In the mix of these thoughts, the day broke and in the late afternoon she finally reached her station. The bus stand was not too far from the railway station, from where the bus to her village plied. She went running there and she got the bus. She kept her bag and baggage on the rooftop of the bus and she boarded the bus. In a few hours she would reach the spot, where she would alight and then the passage to her village would remain at a small distance.

In this journey her heart began to freeze – when she reaches her village, people would recognize her from the distance. — God knows, in the absence, what all might have been contemplated and cooked about her — those who were not concerned also hold the rights to question her as to where suddenly she had gone. Sitting in bus for very long, the morning began prowling in and now suddenly fear began possessing her and then she appeared as if she was talking to herself and was reflecting over logically.

Who knows if her parents, who in their life on every single occasion suffered insults, abuses, bore hunger, mental tortures and shocks might possibly be not there and if at they are alive what conditions they might be in; would she be able to withstand it??? —– How does destiny play its role, when she left home, she always used to keep remembering them and now she reached here so close, she is that far from them? All of a sudden there was an announcement for the bus going to the railway station. Her hand reached for a kerchief kept under her blouse, where she kept some change for petty expenses; she rushed with electrifying speed to the ticket-window; got ticket and sat in bus. Life marched two steps forward and halted.

Not knowing for what desires and purpose of living she is returning. As the bus started she began chagrin like kids in loud wailing. She looked back through the bus window beholding her native village, she saw the shadows, the trees, lush green fields, the houses and the heat pouring sun all were preset, as they were before. No one called her and stopped her, but as she went pass the village, she felt she heard her mother’s scream, she looked around every where right at the distances till her sight could reach and she felt that the demon of time is running way snatching a child from some mother’s lap.

On the sandy life some lines of optimism and hopes were drawn and got wiped. Today once again Laxmi is for sale standing on the same doorsteps and the statuettes of cow’s muzzles from across the street seems gazing at her; looking at them my mind always imagines of some Vinoba Bhave with mouth covered in white khaddar cloth.

Dhananjay Dhamankar

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