Dusk was looking beautiful. Sun had almost set in and meticulously, it moved below the large wires and cables – silhouettes in different shapes and sizes. Gajodhar dragged his rickshaw toward his hut after dropping the young man at the address mentioned in the piece of paper. Basanti, his wife peeped from the small outlet. His wife worked as a maid in one of the apartments in the nearby society. They had put up a hut in the slum area near the DLF mall of India.
Scores of people, mostly immigrants from Bihar had come and nestled here. Leagues of rickshaws stood at one part of the slum and huts on the other.
Their shelter was compact and it had all the essentials – a charpoy where mostly Gajodhar would sleep, mattress where rest of the family would crash, a black and white TV placed diagonally on the right, and a kitchen on the left. The small kitchen had a stove, few bowls and plates nearby. To meet nature’s call and daily bathing, the family managed to make a corner made from wheat sheets, bags and bed sheets. Not a very comfortable bathroom it was, but it qualified as a namesake. Every morning, Basanti would make rotis first and keep them in a container covered with newspaper along with some pickle. This way, whenever they would leave for work, the couple would quickly grab the rotis without any haste.
Everything was methodically taken care by Basanti, an average built, dusky woman in her late thirties. Mostly draped in chiffon sarees, she loved wearing bangles and anklets and highly noticeable orange vermillion. The entire package was Gajodhar’s favorite and no wonder why, she loved staying that way round the clock. Her Hindi was broken but she managed after she was exposed to the city life. Overtly dependent on Gajodhar, Basanti avoided talking to people not only because she was shy but also, did not know what to talk about. However, she was comfortable with Nadiya, her neighbor. Both would sit on the pathway of their huts and watch aristocratic people walk by. They would gaze in utter amusement – bling everywhere, monetary bliss, security in all corners and happiness scattered like that of stars.
Those days when Nadiya and Basanti came early from work, they would never cease to sit for their evening ecstasy.
Basanti started working only after she got married to Gajodhar. Earlier, she did some stitching and once, worked as a babysitter. The couple had three children, Nima – 12, Pinky – 10 and Prince – 10. While, Nima and Pinky didn’t go to read, Prince was given the privilege to attend the government school. Like many disinterested children, Prince equally did not find any curiosity for books; he went just for the midday meal. He would bring bananas for sisters many a times which in a way was a good deal for the family as a whole. Though, Prince would mostly bunk classes, go to the nearest office space to see people, walk on the railway tracks and puff Bidis, his classmate and best friend Hukum brought.
The father paid around Rs.50 as the annual fees in the school. While for Nima and Pinky, he had decided to do Gauna (marriage) by the time they turn 15, till then they were supposed to take care of the household chores. Basanti had this urge to send her daughters to school too. Sigh! Prince – 1, Pinky and Nima – 0
Night had basked in full swing. Chapatis were being prepared and some potato curry. Pinky was serving while Nima was baking. Basanti was kneading some wheat dough for the next day.
Gajodhar and Prince were being served. Key members get served first.
It was quiet till Gajodhar stroke the first chord of communication, “Did you pour all the chillies?” The curry looks red.” Basanti diverted her years of guilt pleasures to Nima as the elder daughter of the family was officially, cook of the house now.
While Gajodhar complained, another key player, Prince fiddled with his chapatti, till a flying spatula greeted him on his head. He sat in peace.
“She has hit 14. I guess by next year, she should be married.” Announced Gajodhar.
Nima, just another reflection of Basanti buried her red face into the chapatis. All eyes, all utilities and all things in the house looked at her in one direction at a fraction of second.
Prince found it quite difficult to sit anymore.
“Panditji batai biyaa kab hoi? Panditji batai biyaa kab hoi? Panditji batai biyaa kab hoi?”, Prince went ‘all-aloud’ like those amateur music bands. A tamed baboon set loose.
Dinner was over. It was time to retire to beds.
Pinky got an opportunity to tease Nima.
“Now, I know what makes you so perfect at household chores.” Pinky had all the rights.
Nima was shy. She gave a gentle slap on Pinky’s left cheek. She continued to arrange Prince’s school bag by putting books upside down.
Nima – 1, Education – 0