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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

THE FLOATING DIARY (Supplements): CHINTA-MONEY SWAMI

This is the tale of how Mr. Chintamani Swamimetamorphosed into CHINTA-MONEY SWAMI! Born in an orthodox Brahmin family, Chintamaniwas the only son of his parents. His father was a poor schoolteacher and was the only earning member of the family. Wealth and opulence were distant dreams in the family. However, education was considered a prized ornament of their lineage. Thus Chintamaniwas inculcated into a strict disciplinary routine of studies and good behavior!

Chintamaniwas inducted into a school where English was the primary medium of teaching and his father spent the lion’s share of his income for the same. However, this was the commencement of a unique life of comedy of the convent educated orthodox Brahmin boy Chintamani Swami!

On one side, were the boys from middleclass to affluent families who reflected a stable and decent financial and social status along with their education. On the other side was Chintamani, for whom a meagre and ordinary living was held as a reflection of his father’s achievement as a poor teacher! This created a constant monotonous tune within the innocent mind of Chintamani.

Money is power! It can buy comfort! It can buy respect! It can buy everything… Money is power!” rang the rhyme in his mind!

Then, one fine day, when the school authorities were taking down the formal spellings of the names of the students, Chintamaniwrote his name as… CHINTAMONEY SWAMI!

The incident came as a shock to his parents when they first saw the spelling of his name in the school’s report card. However, Chintamoneywas adamant to keep the spelling of his name unchanged. His father tried to persuade him with the calmness of a teacher but failed. His mother tried with strictness and failed as well. His stubborn mind could only think of one thing… MONEY! Despite his fascination towards the currency, Chintamoneynever ever resorted to stealing or forgery. In school, his performance remained good, but all his creative writings, his mathematical calculations, his vernacular prose had the single focus… Money!

“My life needs plenty and plenty of money!” he would often tell his classmates and then discourse a fantasy tale about his future affluence and how he would purchase everything with its power. 

Even though his childhood was a nondescript one, the happiness and innocent world of fantasy that thrives within the heart and mind of a child, died an untimely death, unknowingly. In its place, a puppet of monetary-hunger made an entry. Thus, he was never happy.

My son, not everything can be equated with money!” his father used to say,“Don’t worry about it. The human being within us is more important. You need to be happy with life, because life is simple. It is not complex!

However, nothing seemed to impact Chintamoneyand he brooded over the fact that the shadows of lack of money always overwhelmed their household. There was never plenty and his father’s income could not make a difference to this stigma.

That was the beginning of a journey and it continued through the years as the little boy grew up through his childhood, adolescence and reached adulthood, while the rhyme rang around the corners of his ears, “Money is power! It can buy comfort! It can buy respect! It can buy everything… Money is power!” 

The unhappy frown, the constant distress and consistent struggle within him, made Chintamoneylook a decade older than his actual age. Slowly, but steadily, he lost most of his friends (because they began to consider him insane) and family (as they considered him unsocial). He was a complete misfit for the society.

Chintamoney Swamihad one religion, one ambition and one desire in his life… MONEY! When he was 21 years old, his father passed away and then two years later his mother breathed her last. The young man felt sad, but there was a strange emotion of an ecstasy and freedom which churned within his heart. It was a happiness that he felt ashamed about, but it was very much real. He couldn’t tell it to anybody, fearing social taboo. He hung two big framed photographs of his parents on the main wall of the living-room, to display his attachment with them. The young man had just started off his career as a marketing executive and he became a staunch practitioner of transaction based relationship. Every move, every relation, every emotion of Chintamoney was associated with some monetary benefit and he ensured that his earnings register kept clocking in more and more in everything he did.

Soon, Chintamoney Swamibecame a real estate broker and began to earn handsomely. Another decade passed and gradually, his wealth started to inflate and his exhibition of affluence became more and more prominent. Within the social strata where he treaded, people displayed their camouflaged adulation, but laughed behind his back. 

Chintamoneyunderstood this gesture. Every evening, as he sat on his comfortable sofa inside the living room of his plush apartment in Mumbai, he used to look at the framed photographs of his parents and used to speak with them, “These people are jealous fools who are envious of my success and wealth! Let them be so.

Deep within his hardened heart, a subconscious soul of a child tried to break away from its chains and free itself, but Chintamoneyensured that it remained caged and wished that it died a predetermined death. When the uncomfortable feeling tried to irritate him more, he used to scribble on a piece of paper and write his own name… “CHINTA MONEY! MONEY, MONEY…. MONEY!”

Two more decade passed and Chintamoneywas now past his middle age and was a rich man. He had the abundance of currency notes and lived alone in his bungalow. Inside his ever grander living-room, Chintamoneyhung the framed photographs of his late parents. Every evening he used to look at them and scorn the rest of his acquaintance in the society, “These people are jealous fools who are envious of my success and wealth! Let them be so.

One rainy evening, somebody came to meet him. As the person came in, Chintamoneysprang up from the sofa as a sudden rush of memories flooded his consciousness. In front of him stood Radhika!  Chintamoney could recognize her from her face. From inside the overflow of memories, Chintamoneycould recall a glimpse of the little girl who used to study with him in school. Chintamoneyknew that she secretly adored him, but his own obsession for money never allowed him to indulge in anything else. His young heart garnered a hidden admiration for Radhikaand desired her love, Chintamoneysuppressed everything with all his might. Every emotion seemed to him as a barrier that was supposed to stop him from thinking about how he would become rich one day! Those days had gone past and so had those years of untold affection of little Radhikawhose affection Chintamoneyhad never reciprocated. At this juncture, after so many years, Chintamoneyfelt an unexpected pinch in his heart. 

As Chintamoneystood silently, he observed that little boy of about ten-years stood holding Radhika’shands.

Before Chintamoney’stransactional soul could brush away the sudden gust of emotions. Radhikalooked at him with her large expressive eyes and asked, “How are you?”

Chintamoneypaused a while and replied, “I am fine. How are you? And who is this young man?”

Radhikabroke down in tears and replied, “I am not good. I am a single mother and this is my son Raghu. He is suffering from a critical ailment of a malignant disease of the liver! I need a lot of money for his treatment, else he will pass away! He is all that I have… Please help me! I have faced rejection from everyone. Nobody is ready to help us financially. I don’t know what to do!”

As the words emerged out of Radhika’svoice, Chintamoneystared at the despondent kid. In his eyes, he could see his own childhood where money was never enough. However, there was something more in those eyes that haunted him. There was a question… Is money always enough? Can it buy everything? What is happiness and how can we buy it? Can it buy innocence? Can it buy life? Can it buy love? Nobody asked these questions but Chintamoneyfelt their pricks deep within the layers of his flab and inside his throbbing heart.

Chintamoneywas speechless for some time. Then, he got up, almost mechanically as if drawn by a controlling inner force. He took out his cheque-book and wrote a cheque worth a fortune and handed it over to Radhika

The latter looked at the figure on the cheque and then asked with an awe in her eyes, “Thanks! But, I don’t think I can ever refund this money! Do you want anything in return? I only have my own self, that I can offer you in return! I am ready to do so for the sake my son! The people say that you never do anything for FREE…”

Chintamoneysat down on the sofa with a thump. These last words shattered him. He somehow gathered his disposition then quietly replied, “No, I don’t want anything in return… just never come back to me again! And take care of him… he is special.”

As Radhikawent away without further delay, Chintamoneylooked at the framed photographs of his parents. He felt that there was a sardonic smile on his father’s face. He could hear a distant voice… “My son, not everything can be equated with money! Don’t worry about it. The human being within us is more important. You need to be happy with life, because life is simple. It is not complex!

“Yes Baba!” said Chintamoney, as if he was speaking with his deceased father, “I wish I had never grown up! What have I earned in my whole life? I wish Chintamaninever became Chintamoney! I wonder, how life would have been then…”

Sunday, June 23, 2019

THE FLOATING DIARY (Supplements): HUNGRY

Rahul felt HUNGRY ! It was a strange sensation that made him feel uneasy and Rahul was unable to understand what his mind and body was asking for.

The young man of twenty-seven years, was traveling to his ancestral home for the last rites of his maternal grandmother. Rahul had reached Kolkata only a day ago. The cremation had already been done, but the religious rituals for the last rites were pending. Rahul took the express-train from Kolkata to Azimgunj Station, a suburb of West Bengal. It was a four-hour-long trip that was supposed to reach its destination around noon. However, a sudden disruption in timetable caused the train to be delayed by another two more hours. The rising heat and humidity of the summer, made Rahul perspire profusely and raised his frustration as he sat inside the compartment.

Rahul had spent the lion’s share of his life in Denver, Colorado. His parents had migrated from India when Rahul was less than a year old. As he sat inside the congested compartment of the train, his mind flew away towards recollection of his childhood days. During his annual visits to the city of Kolkata, along with his parents, his grandmother used to come from their village and the family used to spend a month together in Rahul’s father’s apartment. Rahul had never visited his ancestral home, where his grandmother used to live. His father never preferred to visit the village! He disliked the unhygienic environment and illiterate culture. Rahul didn’t have many memories of his grandmother, but deep within his heart, he cherished the warmth of love that she garnered for him and the beautiful milk-cakes she used to prepare for him, every time he visited Kolkata.

As he got down at the Azimgunj Station, Rahul thought, “I am famished! My stomach is crying out loud for some food!”

However, the rural setting of the small railway station and the unhindered flow of dust in the wind, made him feel a bit skeptical about the hygiene. His ancestral village, Haldipara, was another ten-kilometer-long bus ride away. With the gastronomic turmoil inside his body, Rahul knew he would not be able to manage the journey. He was traveling alone, as he was representing his parents, and didn’t have the luxury to fall sick.

Rahul came out from the station and saw a little sweetmeat shop at a corner. Even from a distance, the place reflected a cleanliness that attracted Rahul’s attention. He thought, “Let me eat something there. Skipping breakfast was a bad idea before I started my journey.”

Rahul went inside the shop, sat on a table by the road and ordered for a plate of Samosas. The shopkeeper took out two pieces of the freshly made delicacy and placed the plate in front of Rahul. However, just as he was about to take his first bite, Rahul’s eyes fell on something in front of him. Beside the table, stood an old lady, perhaps a beggar woman, with her eyes fixed on the Samosas!

Rahul could not take his bite. He felt uncomfortable. Within his mind, a question wheezed, “Has this woman eaten anything since last night? How hungry is she? Certainly, I cannot be hungrier than her! She looks so despondent and helpless…”

Rahul took one Samosa from his plate and gave it to the old woman. She took it with an unimaginable ecstasy, blessed Rahul and went. The look in her eyes melted his heart and felt a strange pang in his heart. Rahul was not used to such scenes and sat wondering for a while. After, he finished the other Samosa and got up. He felt relieved after quenching the thirst of his digestive juices and sensed revitalization of his energies.

As he went near the bus stop, Rahul looked at his watch to note the time. The bus was supposed to leave within the next fifteen minutes. As he stood and waited, Rahul thought about the upcoming appraisal time at office and what his boss going to say. His financial status would be defined by what rating he would receive and that would subsequently shape his career progress. His mind got engrossed in these thoughts while he stood and daydreamed. He had managed to earn a prosperous career after graduation and with his wit and talent, he aspired to soar high through the ranks within a couple of years. 

Again, Rahul felt a pang of hunger. This time he didn’t understand why he was again feeling hungry. The sensation made him feel giddy and he started to feel anxious.

“I just had a Samosa!” wondered Rahul, “This cannot be hunger! What am I feeling?”

Presently, a local vagabond came and stood beside him and said, “May God bless you son! I see all your dreams would soon come true… My celestial powers are giving me this vision!”

Rahul tried to avoid eye contact and looked away at a different direction. The vagabond came closer and whispered with a sardonic smile, “Son… I have not eaten anything for the last two days…”

This time, Rahul stared at the vagabond. The old man had a body that was emaciated far beyond his actual age and had given the man the structure of a living skeleton. He was visibly poor and underfed and looked ailing. Rahul took out a decent currency note and handed it over to the man.

The overjoyed vagabond touched Rahul’s head and before leaving, said, “You are an angel! I don’t have to beg for food anymore. I can devote myself to God now.”

As Rahul got inside the bus, he looked outside the window and saw that the vagabond was begging in front of the passengers of another adjacent bus. A sudden thought struck Rahul’s imagination. He felt amused and thought, “We are so similar! We are rascals of the same tribe! He is begging for more money, when he should be devoting his energies towards God… while I am thinking about my appraisal, when I should be grieving the death of my grandma! We are both hungry for money!”

As the bus started to move, a young lady hurried inside with an infant in her lap and sat beside Rahul. The little child was crying loudly and the lady was struggling to calm her down.

The cacophony of the baby’s cries created a visible discomfort among the passengers and the young lady was left embarrassed. Rahul decided to help and began to many funny expressions at the baby and cajoled her from his own place. The little creature felt amused by this and stopped crying. It first smiled and then began to laugh.

The young lady said with a sigh, “Thank you so much! I was not able to calm her down for such a long time! I thought she was hungry, but even after feeding her, she kept on throwing her tantrums! Now, you have finally managed to bring her to peace!”

As the passing wind fluttered over his face Rahul wondered how he himself cherished the attention of his parents and how he craved for their love, even at his matured age. He replied with a smile, “She was hungry for attention!”

Rahul reached his ancestral home at around four ‘o’ clock. His distant relatives greeted him inside, gave him some refreshments and then all of them sat down for performing the religious rituals of the last rites. The entire episode took another hour and the formalities got completed. It was the first time Rahul had been to this village and he roamed inside the earthen house where his grandmother had spent her entire life.

Rahul didn’t feel bad in that rural environment. There was a sense of peace amid everything. However, his pang of hunger crept back. Rahul wondered, “What is going on? Why am I still hungry?”

As he pondered over his strange feeling, a distantly related aunt came up to him and said, “Rahul, here are some milk-cakes that your grandmother had made a couple of days before she passed away. She used to say that she was making them for you! She knew that you loved her milk-cakes. I don’t know whether she understood that she won’t live long and that is why she made these!”

Rahul felt an emotional upheaval and took a piece from his aunt and placed it inside his mouth. The milk-cake melted away like butter and, after a long time, Rahul’s hunger vanished!

As everybody left, Rahul sat on his grandmother’s bed and wondered, “I now know why I was hungry! Throughout the day, my hunger had shown me so many aspects of my own character! I felt my hunger for food, my hunger for money and success, my hunger for attention! But, I was still HUNGRY!”

Tears rolled down from his eyes as Rahul looked around the room. It smelled of his grandma’s presence. Rahul looked up and tried to say something to the invisible air, “Nothing could calm down the real hunger in me. Only your milk-cakes did! I am sorry, I could not be with you when you went away grandma! I was and I am… really HUNGRY for your LOVE!”

Monday, April 15, 2019

THE FLOATING DIARY (Supplements): DHOKLA SAMACHAR

Paritosh sat inside the conference room, along with four other journalists, while Mr. Baraskar blabbered, “Our news channel has gained significant popularity and boost through our aggressive reporting methods and well-crafted stories! Folks, we need to keep this momentum going on! Over the last couple of months, we have garnered a significant nationwide viewership and that has brought us under the limelight! I hope all of you understand what I had explained in the last forty minutes. You would now disperse across various parts of the country to cook up interesting stories so that we can telecast them for our hungry audience!”

As the short heighted, overfed and excessively dressed Vice-President, Mr. Baraskar finished his speech with an air of victory, Paritosh innocently raised his hand and asked, “Sir, can you explain to me what exactly needs to be done?”

Shekhar looked at Paritosh with a shock. “What is wrong with him!” thought the young journalist.

Mr. Baraskar sat down on his chair with a thump and an irritated expression on his face. He sighed, “Everyone other than Paritosh and Shekhar please leave. I hope the rest of you have understood my points!”

As the rest of the team moved out from the room, Mr. Baraskar pulled his chair closer to the table and said, “Paritosh, my boy, you are a fine young photographer who has been doing an excellent with our company! What is it that you are having difficulty in understanding?” 

Mr. Baraskar looked at Shekhar sternly and continued, “Shekhar, I hope you understood the work assigned to the two of you?”

Shekhar gulped down some water from a glass in front of him, nodded his head and remained silent. Mr. Baraskar was feared by most of the staff and the audacious question from Paritosh has tickled his anger!

Mr. Baraskar controlled his emotions and spoke in a calm yet stormy voice, “Both of you are supposed to go to the village of Savalipur. A leading political party has requested us to cover a story there. The representatives of the party have done some development work in that village, including the construction of an Open Air Amphitheatre! Ahead of the elections, they want us to cover this story and show how happy the villagers are!”

Mr. Baraskar looked at Paritosh for a while and then added, “Mr. Paritosh, you would capture fine photographs and videos of this story, including smiling faces of those wretched villagers and Mr. Shekhar would pen down an excellent speech that he would deliver in front of your video camera!”

Saying the above lines, Mr. Baraskar got up, followed by both Paritosh and Shekhar. Before leaving, the big boss finished in a somber voice, “Best of Luck! I hope everything is crystal clear!”

****

Two days later, Paritosh and Shekhar arrived at their destination, fully equipped with all their equipment to cover the much anticipated story. As the duo got down from the car, the first thing that caught Paritosh’s eyes was the ramshackle condition of the entire village of Savalipur. The dilapidated houses, the dirt strewn broken roads and dingy localities. The poor living conditions of the residents was a stark contrast to the so called development work done by the political parties. Acres of land being utilized for tobacco plantation was the primary source of occupation for most of the poor villagers. It was well past midday and the sheer backwardness of the village struck like a shining armor in the faces of these two journalists.

“This is our so called developed village that we would be covering as a leading story in our news channel!” exclaimed Paritosh. 

Shekhar laughed satirically and said, “Look around brother! Look at the community hall over there and the adjacent playground that has been newly decorated! Look at the Open Air Amphitheater for cultural activities!”

Presently, a few members of the political clan arrived and one among them said in a macho voice, “So you guys have arrived! As per the instructions of the party headquarters, we would assist you in completing your work. Tonight, you would be staying in a room we have arranged within the school building. We would take care about your food and other necessities! Now follow us…”

Paritosh and Shekhar passed a quick glance at each other and then followed instructions. For the rest of the day, a weird drama unfolded and the two of them participated in it like mute lieutenants. The villagers were like puppets and the political workers made them perform different acts of glee, with intermittent speeches of praise, in front of Paritosh and Shekhar. The spectacle reached its zenith when the villagers were provided hired clothes and were made to sit inside the Amphitheater and a performance was enacted by a group of entertainers! Shekhar and Paritosh captured everything in their report.

In the evening, as the duo retired within the school campus and sat down for a little refreshment, they heard a commotion. At a distance, within the campus, somebody was screaming at the top of his voice, “You hooligans! I will kill you all! You monsters, nobody would be able to save you from my wrath!”

Presently, the man appeared from behind a pillar and hurried away through the main gate. A group of boys, dressed in dirty school-uniforms ran behind him while screaming, “Long Live Kammo Ganjawala!”

Paritosh caught one of the boys, perhaps the one who was the most enthusiastic amid the crowd, and said, “Hey you, what is your name? And what is all this nonsense about?”

“Hello! I am Sachin, I live here in this village. That man is our only teacher in this school! He is supposed to teach us everything… from English to Sanskrit!” replied the boy with a grin.

“Then why are you guys teasing him?” added Shekhar wryly.

“Sir, his actual name is Kamlesh Paaniwala… However, the whole village knows about his fondness for smoking weed! He does it throughout the day, almost! This has won him the name of Kammo Ganjawala! We have a great time during school hours teasing him by his new name! He is mostly in a state of hallucination and cannot catch us!” replied the boy with an even bigger grin.

“Kammo Ganjawala! That’s innovative!” replied Shekhar with a loud laugh.

Paritosh didn’t feel like laughing and let the boy go away. He felt a remorse at the visible juxtaposition between the raw truth and the veiled reality they were capturing on news media.

Evening fell and a cool breeze started to blow. Shekhar and Paritosh sat on the roof of the school building to prepare their report. A while later, a group of boys, led by Sachin came around in the adjacent playground. It was perhaps time for their evening foolery. With nothing else to do in that rural setting, the boy engaged themselves in doing nonsense.

Sachin sat on a stool and screamed on top of his voice, “Welcome gentlemen! I welcome you to today’s episode of DHOKLA SAMACHAR! The source of energy in this episode originates from the delicious DHOKLA made by our very own Chulbul Kaka! Everyone must taste those fly ridden delicacies!”

Following the above announcement, he began screaming about different wild and imaginary jokes that were supposed to be pieces of juicy news snaps about the current lives of the villagers and their worsening conditions. A few boys enacted scenes while Sachin recited his speech. The other boys clapped, while some of the elders laughed sardonically on understanding the jokes about their own pitiable state. Soon, many ladies gathered around the playground and watched the peculiar performance of the young boys.

As the performance ended, Shekhar and Paritosh came down and went near the boys. Paritosh asked, “Why do you call this mockery as DHOKLA SAMACHAR!”

Sachin looked at him and replied, “Sir, when I grow up, I want to become a news reporter like you! I wanted to do this performance with the hope that the two of you would notice me and maybe, one day, you would ask me to come to your office!”

Paritosh felt pity but didn’t say anything. Sachin continued, “Have you seen a DHOKLA? It looks bizarre, tastes awesome and sounds dangerous! The entire concoction surrounding it has a contrasting sense and nobody can understand what it is, until one tastes it! Then again, the question remains… why do you have to call it DHOKLA… as if it is an ATOM BOMB! Such is my news reporting…”

Saying the above words, Sachin kept grinning and looking at Paritosh and Shekhar. Paritosh replied, “You are naughty but you are an intelligent boy! I am sure someday you would become what you want to be…”

As Sachin went away, Paritosh looked at Shekhar and said, “Brother, are we doing anything different from what this young guy was doing! We are covering a highly backward village with the camouflage of development so that it gets a taste of political achievement! It’s just like the DHOKLA!”

Paritosh became serious while speaking and continued, “We, as journalists have a responsibility towards the citizens of this country! However, what we are doing is simply a matured version of the foolery that these kids were doing! Yet, I don’t know how I can come out of this and become more responsible! Can I save my job and do my duty? Can I get a platform where the uncut truth ever be spoken out? Will the lives of the residents of this village ever improve? Will these kids ever get proper education and become free from the clutches of Kammo Ganjawala? This place needs a proper school, proper sanitation, proper employment and not a decorated Amphitheater!”

Shekhar was speechless but listened to everything that was being said. Paritosh sighed and added, “I guess, the shady world around us has taken away the soul of journalism! We don’t have the spines to say NO!”

He sat down on the broken portion of a wall adjacent to where they were standing and asked, “Anyways, what is the title that you are giving to our news report here in Savalipur!”

Paritosh stood up in surprise while Shekhar took his camera, deleted the videos and photographs and then tore away his own notes.

Shekhar looked at Paritosh and answered with a smile, “I named it… DHOKLA SAMACHAR!”

Paritosh exclaimed, “What?”

Shekhar took up his things and started to walk back towards the school building. He faintly replied, “There is always a point to start afresh! Let us make a beginning. From tonight, I quit! I know you would do the same! I know the two of us can do so. This evening was an eye opener for both of us! Even though our step might be insignificant, but I am sure our souls would remain true. Someday, more people would follow and an honest fraternity of journalism would bring out the truth and only truth in front of the masses! Till then, Goodbye… DHOKLA SAMACHAR!”

Thursday, April 11, 2019

THE FLOATING DIARY (Supplements): GANGU DHOBI

Krrriiiinng!!! The doorbell rang sharply within apartment 12B of Sunny Housing Complex. 

It was 7:30 A.M. in the morning and the streets of Kolkata were buzzing with traffic and scorching in the glare of the great Indian summer right in the middle of July.

Arati, the overweight wife of Doctor Sameer Gupta, opened the door, looked and said, “Wait here Gangu, let me get the clothes and linen”. 

Arati went inside and returned a few moments later with a bag containing the day’s laundry, “here, please bring these back positively by tomorrow morning! Doctor Sahib would need his white coat before leaving for work… make sure you starch it well and please take extra care of my silk tunics, they are really expense!” 

The old man nodded in agreement, collected the bag of clothes and began walking towards his next customer’s home. 

The old man was Gangu Dhobi, the local washer-man. Though his surname was Rawat, people had been calling him Gangu Dhobi from time immemorial, courtesy his profession, Dhobi, the Hindi translation for washer-man. 

Gangu was nearly 62 years old and had already forgotten from when he had been in the profession of being a Dhobi

“I guess maybe from the time I was a young boy! I really don’t remember… I can only recall that all my forefathers had always been in this profession… and it doesn’t really matter, because I only know how to wash clothes for a living…” he would tell anybody who asked him.

Every morning Gangu collected the dirty linen and used clothes from his customer households, returned to his dwelling, the Dhobi Ghat (dedicated washing area for all men and women in the profession) at the Bhawanipur slums, washed, cleaned and starched them and then sun-dried them over long nylon ropes. 

At night he pressed the clothes with his charcoal heated iron. The next morning, he returned the fresh clothes back to his customers and collected his payments and further assemblage of unclean clothes and linen. 

This was a routine that Gangu had followed all his life.

****

Often while relaxing under the shade outside the Dhobi Ghat, while drying the clothes and linen, Gangu pondered over his own journey… 

Gangu remembered that he came to Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, almost 55 years ago, perhaps, when he was about 6 or 7 years old. 

He knew that he was born in a village near Kharaghoda, a small town adjoining The Great Rann of Kutch, the seasonal salt marsh located in the Thar Desert in the Kutch District of Gujarat, India.

The only memories he had about his hometown were the stories his father used to tell him about the colossal desert of white sands and fables of the unexplained strange dancing lights, Chir Batti(ghost lights) that occur in the Rann. 

Gangu came to Kolkata with his father, who too was a washer-man and taught him the trick of the trade. Gangu never remembered his mother, as she passed away when he was only 3 years of age.

Gangu had lived in Kolkata ever since, with a dream in his eyes that one day he too would touch the magical white sands of The Great Rann of Kutch

Gangu’s father too didn’t live long. At the age of 25, his father had married off Gangu to a local girl named Malti… a girl who became the woman of Gangu’s life… a woman who he learned to love and admire… a woman who gave Gangu his beloved son, Vijay. 

However, she too passed away a few years after childbirth. She suffered from pneumonia and couldn’t recover from her ailment. 

On the night of her passing away, Gangu had held his 5-year-old son close to his bosom, clutching his only belonging, his only child, his only companion as close as he could and wept profusely for hours. 

He never wept again after that night. He was determined to be strong. He paid the school tuition fee for his son and ensured that he gave everything that the young boy required. 

However, Gangu had to be out of the household for earning his living and even though willing from within his heart, he could never dedicate his full time to his son.

As youth ushered upon Vijay, Gangu found that his own hair too had turned gray, as if in a flick of an eyelash. 

Time indeed flew by. The young blood in Vijay had distanced him from his father, who was old and was a mere Dhobi… a profession that Vijay despised. 

However, the father-son duo sat together at supper every night and spoke a few words. After all, Vijay was Gangu’s only companion in life.

****

That morning, Gangu’s head was whirring with the incident of the past night. He was unable to wipe away the thoughts, the way he wiped away the sweat from his forehead. His only companion, his son Vijay had left him forever. 

Gangu felt bitter, sad and angry… a cocktail of emotions that rocked his heart and body. 

Vijay, a 22-year-old lad, diligently followed a local conman, who had promised him great job opportunities in life! Gangu had tried in vain to convince Vijay against his master. 

At night Vijay had packed his belongings in a tin suitcase, came to Gangu and said, “Father, I never wanted to be a Dhobi…. I am leaving for Bombay and there I would get good job and big money. Don’t stop me, let me make my own life… I will write to you when I can.”

Gangu didn’t protest any further, he didn’t have any more words. 

He said, “Stay safely and live honestly my son. Don’t worry about me, I will be fine.” 

He hid the tears of loneliness behind his own shadow, while sitting quietly outside his Chawl (temporary hut). The dim light of the street lamps threw long monstrous shadows from the adjoining huts and trees around the Bhawanipur slums where Gangu had lived his entire life. 

His own shadow hiding his tears, mixed in harmony of the larger shadows and played hide and seek with the street lights and the moonlight.

In the morning Gangu found himself all by himself in his empty Chawl. His world had suddenly become completely vacant. Unable to bear the loneliness he had started for work, heading for the households to collect the day’s laundry that he would wash. 

At 8:30 A.M in the morning, Gangu had exhausted his list of customer households and walked towards his all too familiar Dhobi Ghat

As he walked past the children’s park, at a corner, under a tree he saw a Sadhu (a soothsayer) sitting with folded legs. The man was dressed in an indigo colored robe and had grey long beard. He had an indigo colored sheet spread in front of him in which he had put on display an assortment of fake gemstones, bird feathers and wooden boxes to bless his prospective clients.

As if drawn by a remote power, Gangu went and sat beside this soothsayer, putting down his pack of unclean linen and clothes near his own feet. 

Though he never believed in such tricks, Gangu, driven by his grief moist heart spoke, “what will I do now? I don’t have anybody else in this world… I feel so lonely, I cannot understand it, nor am I able to overcome my grief…”

The Sadhu, rolled his eyes (and did a few more tricks with his hands and chanted a few gibberish) and then suddenly pulled out a broom of thin sticks and struck a blow on Gangu’s head.

Totally unprepared for this action, Gangu winced with surprise and stood up in a shock.

“Don’t worry son… this blow would open your eyes to see the greater sorrows, it will help you find a way… now sit down and let me give you a few gemstones to help you heal faster…” uttered the Sadhu.

Already regretting his decision to sit with this cheater, Gangu picked up his packet and ran! 

“I already have enough on my plate and don’t require gemstones from some fake soothsayer…” he shouted while running.

Back at the Dhobi Ghat, Gangu put down his packet, opened it and arranged the clothes and linen according to the household they belonged to. There were clothes from Doctor Gupta and tunics from his wife, school uniform of Mrs. Mehra’s son, shirts from Mr. Das who was a clerk at the government bank and sarees from Mrs. Banerjee who was a receptionist at a big hotel.

It was just past 10 A.M. and one by one Gangu watered the clothes and added the washing soap, trying to keep away the thoughts of his recent loss. The blow from the Sadhu’s broom was also fresh on his forehead, where it had left a small cut. 

Gangu, picked up the white coat of Doctor Gupta and banged it on the concrete slab (specially made for each washer-man at the Dhobi Ghat to beat all the dirt out) in front of him.

As the wet coat smashed on the concrete slab, splashing little drops of soap water everywhere, a flash of events went past Gangu’s eyes. As if in a blaze of bright light, Gangu saw Dr. Gupta rubbing his hands violently in his coat, trying to get rid of the unsuccessful attempts of being unable to cure a patient who was slowly dying. He saw that the Doctor was sobbing by hiding his face within this coat and trying get rid of his inability to cure the patient.

In a shock, Gangu threw away the coat… he was unable to grasp his visions! The other washer-men around him gave him awkward glances and then returned to their own chores. 

Grabbing his wits together, Gangu picked up the coat, put it beside his feet and grabbed the school shirt of Mrs. Mehra’s son.

As the wet shirt smashed again on the concrete slab, splashing little drops of soap water everywhere, a flash of new events went past Gangu’s eyes... In a flash of bright light, Gangu saw the little boy wiping his forehead on his sleeves while the other boys in school bullied him for not being able to play good soccer. The boy was terrified to confront his classmates, in shame, and hid behind a pillar and cried.

Gangu stopped his work… he was unable to understand his visions. He picked up some other cloth and as he washed it he saw a vision of the person who had worn it! Gangu, couldn’t fathom whether he was daydreaming or becoming crazy!

The Sadhu’s words struck him suddenly… “Don’t worry son… this blow would open your eyes to see the greater sorrows, it will help you find a way…

Unable to believe himself Gangu took the clothes and began washing them furiously, as if to thrash away all the sad visions that whizzed past his eyes each time he tried to work.

The next morning Gangu returned the starched and ironed clothes to his customers and collected his payments and also the laundry for the next day.

As he began his washing, Gangu’s visions reemerged, however this time they comprised of different stories. Gangu felt that as if he was re-living the sad and painful moments of the past day of the wearers of those clothes…and he furiously continued to thrash away all the sad visions that whizzed past his eyes.

The next morning something new happened. At Doctor Gupta’s house, as Gangu collected the clothes for the next day, he saw a group of people speaking with the Doctor… 

One of them said, “Doctor Sahib, you have brought back our patient from the deathbed…you are a god!”

“No sir, I am just a Doctor, but I must say yesterday there was a miracle and as I treated your patient, I felt a new zeal and his body too reacted so well to my treatment that within a day he has shown marvelous progress…”

“What are you listening to Gangu…” interrupted the Doctor’s wife… 

“Oh… they are a patient’s family who have come to thank him… actually, you know, he wore the white coat you washed so well and returned yesterday… I guess you deserve a share of this good luck too!” she smiled mischievously while giving Gangu his payment. 

After he had come out of the doctor’s house, Gangu wondered about her words and proceeded to his next customer’s home, the Mehra household. 

At this house, Mrs. Mehra’s son looked quite happy as he spoke with his father telling him how his friends had stopped bullying him after he won the chess championship at school and defeated all the senior students the last day.

Though nobody said anything, Gangu assumed that the boy had worn the same uniform that Gangu had washed.

Hence the incidents continued for the next couple of days… Gangu continued to get his visions of the sorrows of men, women and children who wore the clothes and Gangu thrashed them, shattered them and cleaned them out of their sadness for a fresh beginning.

****

Almost a month had passed since Gangu discovered his visions. However much he tried, his own pain, his own loneliness never left Gangu’s heart. Gangu, had nobody to even share his supper with. 

It was a Sunday, night and the city of Kolkata was preparing to go to sleep. The Dhobi Ghat was empty, as the washer-men and washer-women were enjoying their only day-off in a whole week.

At about 9 P.M. in the night, a few local kids were roaming around the Dhobi Ghat when they saw Gangu sitting in front of his washing slab and vehemently washing his own clothes. 

He was beating his shirts, pajamas and shawl with such fervent that he didn’t even notice when the boys asked him why he was cleaning at that odd hour of the night. 

Gangu’s eyes were focused on the froth that came out with the dirt and water as the clothes smashed against the concrete slab…

The kids only heard a faint murmur, “Go away… go away you dirty, you ugly…”

The kids didn’t pursue Gangu any further, and went away.

The next morning, neighbours found Gangu’s Chawl empty and its door wide open. Gangu was gone… nobody knew where he went. Nobody ever found out what he was doing or where he was.

Perhaps that night Gangu was washing away his old memories, his old sorrows and grief and his sad visions far away from his soul. 

Perhaps the soothsayer was a hoax, and Gangu’s visions were his mere imaginations… but they were real enough for him to come out of his shell. 

One might wonder that Gangu was finally able to visit his village and the colossal desert of white sands and fables of the unexplained strange dancing lights, Chir Batti (ghost lights) that occur in the Rann.

Perhaps the journey of Gangu Dhobi would never come to an end… perhaps, perhaps…

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