On International Workers’ day,
A strange story; completely unrealistic with out of the box thinking, but with a small message on the value and pleasures of work.
Due to his goggles I could not make out where he was seeing, but he was coming in my direction, approaching the door. No it couldn’t be so, I had no time; hardly ten seconds .I closed my eyes and started counting. “Ten, nine, eight, ……” and lo it happened.
‘No…no…no…no…no…,’ I thought to myself. ‘It can’t happen to me. Nobody is supposed to watch me when I’m………’
Mama (maternal uncle) came running, almost out of his breath as he saw the man walking to the door. He held the man by his waist-coat trying to turn his eyes from me but he didn’t know that the inevitable had already happened; I had already……
I was there, in an embarrassing state, fully exposed with my pants down, squatting on a basket. More than being afraid of the possibility of taken to the police, I was ashamed of my present situation, my pause most importantly. I became so numb that couldn’t even muster up energy to readjust myself and put on my pants at least and pick up what I’d been manufacturing for last half an hour.
I was empathizing with myself when mama entered and made a sign to keep mum by putting his finger on his lips, first and then on his eyes making a sign to tell me that the person was blind. I took a deep breath of relief and immediately put on my pants. I saying thanks to God and mama revering his earnings for the morning, we both left the place.
“Thank God; we had a hair’s breadth escape today, suppose if that man could see!” said mama breaking the ice.
“Yaa, mama and I was also running out of time,” said I looking at the only luxury I had on my wrist.
“What would we eat for the breakfast today, or the rest of our lives? The boon would’ve stopped working.”
“Yaa, what a great boon,” I tried to hurt him sensing he was more interested in his belly than the embarrassment caused to me due to the exposure of my buttocks.
“Hei, boy it is a great boon, at least we are having two ends meet.”
“And what about all those conditions, nobody must watch you; you have to do it in a stranger’s house, till 7 in the morning, 1 in the noon, and 12 at midnight. And what do you get in return, eggs.”
“But it’s not me who put those conditions. It was the fairy, not my fault.”
“It was all your fault mama, couldn’t you ask for something else?”
“I was in a dilemma as what to ask and the fairy made me confused. She said nobody should be knowing, but how could I hide anything from you?”
“Yaa, so you didn’t ask the fairy that you need a boon where you needn’t do anything?” I made a face.
“No, I said, I need a boon like the golden goose, and I can’t keep it a secret from my dear Bantu,” said he hugging me.
“And the fairy said then your dear Bantu will be the source to earn for you.”
“Yes, so it was the fairy who did this, not I. And what’s wrong now, you have just to lay eggs. You know how much industry is required to get eggs otherwise. You have to set up a poultry, look after the hens, do this, and do that and what not. And now it’s nothing.”
“Yaa, nothing for you, mama. But for me, you know I’ve to go through hell daily. It’s like giving birth to children daily. And what’s the purpose of my life, just lay eggs. Day and night, eat boiled potatoes and lay eggs. Am I a hen?” tears came out from my eyes.
“Hei, Bantu relax. I think it’s not because of the size of the eggs but because of the extra red chilly in the potatoes. Next time I’ll be more careful and will pour less chilly,” said mama nonchalantly which irritated me more.
“Chilly was not in potatoes mama, it is in my life, and you are the chilly. I am telling you mama we are not going to survive like this for the rest of our lives. We must find some job.”
“Hei, relax boy. You are embarrassed today, nothing else, you’ll be fine.”
I was surprised that mama knew I was embarrassed. The truth was we were bound together. And it was not just the boon but something more which bound us. We were sort of two vagabonds with nobody to look after each other except each other. But the irony was while my so called mama was fully satisfied with that carefree life, with no home to clean, no relations to worry about; I was not. I craved for something more, for a better life. But I couldn’t do anything because of the boon. I often wondered was it really a boon or the other way round. Doing nothing except eating and sleeping-of course also attending to nature’s call; to have none to look after; daily leading the same monotonous life laying eggs and selling them was it really a boon? Weren’t those tales as The Golden Goose written only to teach us the value of work which is the real boon? All such thoughts would bother me often, but like flies from the sweets mama would swat them immediately, saying, “Eat drink and be merry.”
One morning mama brought double the amount of potatoes for me with his peculiar smile.
“Mama, you too are going to lay eggs today.” I teased him.
“He…he..he..he, you are so funny,” giggled mama .
“Then for what you have brought the double amount of potatoes?”
“It’s for you my son, look you have grown so thin,” he tried to pamper me.
“As if I don’t know you mama. Now be straight and tell me, how much in debt you are?”
“Rs.500,” mama replied biting his lower lip.
“But it can upset my stomach.”
“Please my sweet son,” said he kissing me.
“Ok, ok now stop being so intimate.”
That day was the worst day of my life. I ate the potatoes, but got out of me not eggs, but loose motions. Cursing mama and wishing that the boon transfers to him, I yelled,
“Mama what was there in the potatoes?”
“Nothing, nothing my son.” He made a sly face.
“Mama please tell me.” I was losing my temper.
“Um….I thought if I mix Jamal gota (a small cultivated tree, croton tiglium, and its nut (used as a purgative) in the potatoes may be ….”
“May be what, mama?”
“May be….you start having loose motions of eggs.”
“Are you out of your mind mama?” I cried, “Don’t you remember what the fairy said….don’t be greedy, otherwise the boon would stop working.”
“No, no my son, it’s not greed. Imagine if it works, we can be rich. “
“Stop all this nonsense, mama. Can’t you see the boon has stopped working? Oh my God, I’m so happy, the boon has stopped working,” I suddenly realized and started jumping out of joy.
Mama was totally in shock. He was neither able to make out what to do, nor willing to accept the truth. Showing his unwillingness to accept the truth he cried,
“No, no, it can’t be so. It’s not yet twelve, come on, Bantu give it a try, try once.”
On mama’s pleading I tried but by God’s grace it was the last time for me to intrude anybody’s lavatory. I was free, oh my God! I was free from that boon, how great that sounded. But mama was dumbfounded with no idea what to do.
Next morning when I woke up mama had already boiled eggs but realizing his mistake he ate them himself and went for a stroll. Relishing that totally different morning, I remained in bed. I was lost in day dreaming when mama came screaming, ‘Eureka, eureka. ’I immediately got out of bed and ran where mama was standing wearing such expressions as he had got some treasure and couldn’t believe my eyes when he showed me what he had done.
“Oh my God! What’s this, mama, am I in a dream?”
“No., Bantu, I’ve laid eggs, look.” Mama’s happiness knew no bounds.
‘Oh my God! My wish has come true, the boon has transferred to mama,’ wondering I said happily,
“Wow, mama now you lay eggs and I’ll study, happy ending.”
“No Bantu,” said mama with a sad look, “I can’t send you to school, you are my confidant.”
“Hei, mama come on, you know I won’t tell anybody.”
Mama was adamant and I couldn’t reason with him. It seemed I was trapped for whole of my life. But to kill time only wasn’t in my reach anymore. While mama was more than happy with the boon as well as me-his only solace-as he used to say, I was getting fed up of that life as well as mama. It was getting harder to lead that life with mama and eggs and nothing else. Day and night I thought of plans to run away. And finally I got a chance.
Lost in my thoughts one day I was sitting at the city bus stop. Suddenly, I heard a couple talking to each other:
“Am I going to die childless?” the lady was complaining, while the man was trying to pacify her saying,
“Don’t say this, Pushpa. I’m sure we’d find him some day.”
“I want him, today, this city snatched him from me, I want him from it otherwise that Tara would snatch the P from us just as this city snatched our child.”
Hearing their conversation I couldn’t resist myself and went to them to offer solace and the lady was so touched that she hugged me saying,
“Your parents are so lucky to have a child like you.”
“I’m an orphan,” I replied.
“What?” said the lady wiping her tears and God knows what overpowered her, suddenly she hold my face in her hands saying, “Oh almighty God, you are great. See this boy has been sent by God for me, sethji”
The man got perplexed at that idea. But seemed such a hen-pecked husband that couldn’t oppose her and could only manage to muster up that much courage as to say, “But, Pushpa….”
“Yes, yes, I know you too were thinking this,” the lady interrupted him.
“Hei, boy would you be my son?” saying this she hugged me.
It was for the first time in my life that someone had hugged me except mama, and especially a lady; a mother; mother how sweet the word sounded. I too could have parents; I too could have family, even the idea fascinated me so much that I couldn’t even speak. I didn’t reply in positive, but didn’t say no either.
“So you don’t have anybody in this world,” the lady made a final enquiry.
“No!” The word came on its on from my lips. Mama was there but I didn’t mention, God knows why. In the meanwhile, the bus arrived and I went with them leaving mama behind, forever may be.
The couple was well off. They lived in a big house, not a bungalow, but nice house spick and span. Life had suddenly become great. It was not that they treated me like a prince or as they would treat their own son, but whatever treatment I got was more than heaven for me. Actually to show to Tara, seth’s brother’s wife who lived in the neighborhood with her three daughters, I was their son but otherwise a boy who helped in household works like looking after the buffaloes, getting them milked, cleaning their dung, and whatever work sethani could find me.
Tara was a virago. She would often fight with the sethani saying that she knew I was not her son and sethani would reply with equal valour,
“Hi, hi! Look at that bitch, has not been able to beget a single son, and pointing finger at my son.”
“Oh, ho… Your son! I know you have brought him from orphanage for getting P. Give that P to us. Bauji (father-in-law) said it would go to one of his grandchildren.”
“Not grandchildren, but grandson to correct you. And it is for my son.” Sethani would reply thumping her chest.
I neither understood, nor bothered to know what P stood for. When in mood Tara would invite me to her house and offer me sweets saying, “You are a very good boy. But these heartless people get so much work from you. I know they don’t love you as they’d have their own son.”
Tara’s all such strategies to poison me against seth and sethani always fell flat on face as I simply would eat the sweets without saying a single word.
Life was going on like this till one day when father and mother took me to show the P. I had no courage to ask them, but I remained curious to know about it till we reached a poultry farm. ‘Oh no! P is a poultry farm, so I am expected to be the owner of a poultry farm. These eggs are never going to leave me alone’, I thought to myself. But more than the fact that eggs were back in my life, a greater surprise waited me.
‘Mama?’ I couldn’t resist my happiness on seeing mama in the poultry. Mama too was taken aback on seeing me .Finding a lonely place we shared each other’s story. While mama was happy listening to my story, his story brought tears to my eyes. After I left mama, he started drinking and got in debt. In order to get money to remove the debt, he tried the same trick of jamal gota on himself too. There was nobody to look after him; he ran out of money; was not able to lay any more eggs. One evening, lying on the railway platform, when he was going crazy with hunger, he went to a tea vendor and begged for a cup of tea. The tea vendor was about to drive him away, when a man saved him by getting him a cup of tea and a samosa. While mama drank tea, he heard the man talking to another man about some poultry farm. From their conversation he made out that they wanted help on their farm in the selling of eggs as they were losing business in the city due to some family rivalry. Hesitantly mama went to them and offered himself to sell their eggs asking only for two ends meet in return. The man agreed and got so happy with his work that gave him a job.
Tears came to my eyes on realizing how mama had got new lease of life. For the first time in my life I hugged him and gave him a hard kiss. Mama was totally in shock but happy.