By Mushtaque B Barq
A gentleman folded his hands stood before Sujata. She understood that no one in the slums is ready to take note of the woes of woman.
There was a pin drop silence, no one spoke. Few heads were lowered, few eyes were flooded with tears, few had cupped their faces, few had dropped their arms and a few were looking at each other as if there has been a general decree announced by deity, demanding massacre of men.
Sujata drew the entire woman folk from the scene. All men stood there as if left for mercy.
Late that night when Sujata’s little brother asked her to narrate her account, she sighed, but willingly open her little heart before her brother for she was carrying a burden much heavier than her size in her little heart.
“Few boys jumped into the pond where I was washing clothes, they were naked and rude. They teased me. They had lost all mercy and I couldn’t stop them since they had subdued my strength and I lost all my courage. I shouted, but they laughed. No one came to my rescue. I pushed one, bite off the other’s hand, and spitted on other, whose dirty hands reached into my chest and pulled my shirt, the fourth one didn’t harm me, He was a real good stuff among beasts, he didn’t touch me, rather drew the beasts off before I would have been their malicious morsel. A gentleman who was there in the crowd hand folded was the same who saved me.” she narrated.
Early next morning when as usual, women had to go into the open, they found the field enclosed; the entire area was covered with sacks. There was a little privacy now. The boys had the pond well enclosed with sacks and tattered clothes. Girls recognized the shirts of their brothers hanging on the poles to ensure privacy. Sujata touched his brother’s tattered shirt on the pole, she kissed it again and again, and others were flooded with tears on recognizing outfits of their houses.
“Thanks brother”, Sujata whispered.
Late that night he came to offer space to Sujata, he had carried his cushion and a sheet of cloth to replace Sujata, but she denied for the reason that her mother may need him anytime for she is expecting.
He didn’t go in. He called her wife out to observe stars above which they had never before observed.
“You go and take a rest now, you need it badly”, he announced.
The words kissed the ear drums of Shujata who could hardly believe in his words. He was out there under the sky, pushing his children in.
He called Sujata; she responded and stood before him. He touched her cheeks examined her face, kissed her, folded his hand begged for an apology. She hugged him in return.
Next morning she found few more shirts fixed to the poles. She recognized all these shirts. Lowered her gaze and didn’t raise her eyes for obvious reasons. Unwillingly lifted her eyes and found these shirts there, this time she didn’t lower her eyes, but stared hard at these shirts on poles. She sighed and in the heart of hearts acknowledged their confession.
In return one of the boys followed her. When she was about to pass through that tunnel connecting the pond with the interior of slum, he spoke softly, “Please forgive us”
The words echoed in the tunnel, she turned her head and found a boy so gently seeking an apology. She kept moving. No response, she had already forgiven them.
She looked back, the boy was still moving. She stopped, the boy stopped too.
They waited, no one talked. He stood like a beggar to seek an apology.
She wiped off her tears; it crushed the rib cages of the boy. He stood like a fallen angel.
She moved hurriedly, the boy stood where he was. She looked back, the boy was still there. Sujata was shocked, she stopped, the boy walked further towards her.
In a soft voice he repeated.
Sujata was confused what to do. She was not at all nervous, but her gaze was too low. The boy couldn’t afford to look into her eyes; he was too low in tone. His animal has been buried, he was trembling with shame.
She moved on, the boy stopped there. She looked back from the end of the curve, he was rooted there. She waved and he came running.
“We are sorry, we beg for mercy, they are all sad” he informed.
Sujata broke her silence, her sobs were clear, but she managed to say, “What made you such beasts”
The boy only stood silent, his head was hung in shame.
“Now go and don’t come here again, it will spoil my life”, Sujata politely demanded.
Tears cascaded down the lanes of the boy. He sighed and cupped his head in shame.
Sujata only knew that a beast can’t be a human.
“Why are you late today”, his master demanded.
He narrated the whole story. His master had cupped his face and after a while he lifted his face.
Do carry her here tomorrow; I want her to help my wife.
The dawn of new era for Sujata.
Sujata dressed her choicest dress, a yellow frock which she had repaired many a times. She was fond of this frock as it resembled to the sunset, which she almost daily observed, marking the end of plight of the day which always for her ended under the starry night.
She was introduced to female servants of the household, where she was received with love and warmth.
Every child and girls were eagerly waiting for her to take note of her. She would share all the proceedings of the day. The boy would stand at a distance to watch her, she ignored all the time.
One day she was out to set scores.
“Don’t come in my way”, she shouted at him.
“I won’t harm you, I am only watching you”, the boy replied.
Confused, she stood, “but why are you watching me”, she asked,.The boy stood silently, he had so much to say, but the words had long dried up, the expression had long been sealed. He only looked at her.
She realized his unrest, but in the heart of hearts she was desperate to hear those words.
The boy sighed, she was bruised.
The boy left and she too with heavy heart took her route.
Next morning she saw a fresh shirt on the pole at the pond. The shirt was appealing; she had hardly any idea who it could be.
His brother late that night informed that a boy from neighborhood had offered his fresh shirt for the pond. Sujata was stunned.
“Who was the boy”, she asked. Her eyes shined, her face once again grew pink. She could not hide her unrest.
“He is from neighborhood, I like him, he often comes to bath in the pond”, he informed.
The old storyteller had lost his audience. Sujata had a good audience; she would unlike the old man inspire the girls and young boys to work for the welfare of the slum. With the passage of time, many girls and young boys found their livelihood outside the slum which had reduced the disc of their sun. Now the fresh air has lured many, the sun appeared majestic like their willingness for the change. Boys of the slum were never seen near the pond when their counterparts were bathing. And the girls too had been warned not to pay a visit to the pond when boys are around. A long pole had been fixed at the end of the pond; it was higher than other poles. The red shirt on the pole was a signal for all. The shirt would work like a traffic signal, if it is raised; visitors would wait till the pole was lowered. This arrangement has not only made the pond significant , but also the male folk of the slum had already constructed toilets for their families. The slum looked pulsating in new attire, save Sujata as she never again met the boy.
It was the day when the pole was removed and in place a gate was fixed to cover the pond. Sujata’s eyes were flooded and she bathed in her own pond of tears for the red shirt was removed and dumped once for all like her love which she had developed for the boy who once pounced on her.
Mushtaq B.Barq is a Columnist, Poet and Fiction Writer. He is the author of “Feeble prisoner, “ Wings of Love” and many translation works are credited to the author like “ Verses Of Wahab Khar” and “ Songs Of Sochkral”