Original sin — 2  

  Hunger
  Vol II : issue 6

  Amartya Sen
  Peter Svedberg
  M.S. Swaminathan
  Swadesh Deepak
  
Jayanta Mahapatra
  A.K. Shiva Kumar

  Only in Print

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Swadesh Deepak

Watercolour on paper by SUDEEP ROY

Ma is silent. The boy and girl stare at her. She runs her eye over every part of her daughter’s body. She is twelve years old. No sign of womanhood yet. She will not send her, she thinks. But then she reasons that it has to happen — if not today, it’ll happen tomorrow. Her own life was no different.

"Wash your face. Take a bag and go with your brother."

The girl goes to the tap outside and washes her face.

The boy stands ready with a bag. Ma tells the girl:

"Listen, don’t scream and shout too much."

"Why should I scream?"

"All right, go. Get lost!" And Ma turns her back and lies down.

The children run to the godown. Matka calls the boy to him:

"Would you like some chhole-kulche?"

The boy is too afraid even to say yes. What has happened to these policemen today? Matka puts a few coins in the boy’s hands.

"Go, son. Go to the station and get some chhole-kulche. Enjoy yourself."

The boy takes the coins and runs off like a dog with bread in its mouth. Muchhal stands by the girl.

"Ustad, she is far too young."

"Don’t worry, she’ll taste like raw mangoes."

"But she’s young. Will she be able to take it?"

"Just you wait. I’ll go inside and make her big in ten minutes."

Matka takes her by the hand. The engine of the goods train is shunting by the track near the godown. The noise of metal on metal and the long whistles drown out all sound.

The boy returns after eating his chhole-kulche. Matka is sitting on the rope cot outside the godown, smoking a beedi. The boy wonders where Muchhal has gone.

"Come, smoke this beedi," Matka gives the lit beedi to the boy. The boy puffs at it, satiated.

Muchhal comes out. He always looks angry, but now his expression is soft, happy.

"Ustad, it was great fun."

"Don’t talk so much. Fill his bag."

Muchhal goes into the godown with the boy. The boy sees his sister lying on the floor. He is angry — so she’s been taking it easy! She should have been gathering the grain from the floor. Now he will have to do everything.

The boy starts gathering grain with his small hands, but Muchhal stops him. He lifts his gun and with a tearing sound the bayonet slides into a sack of wheat. He draws out the bayonet. From the small hole in the sack, grain flows out like a thin stream of water from a tap. Muchhal puts the bag under the stream. In a few minutes, it is full.

His sister is standing outside. They start for home.

"Walk fast," says the boy.

The girl falters, as though every step were painful. The boy walks ahead, then stops, waiting for her to catch up.

"Can’t you walk faster?"

His sister glares at him, gathers all her strength and slaps him in the face. The boy is too frightened even to cry.

The girl goes into the shanty and drops like a felled tree. She draws her legs together and moans. Ma drags herself to the chulah and dislodges a hot brick with a piece of wood. She drags herself to the girl. Wrapping the brick in a piece of cloth, she puts it between the girl’s legs, then picks it up. Puts it back between her legs, picks it up. The girl weeps at Ma’s touch. The boy is angry. Ma has gone mad. The hot brick must be searing his sister.

The bag of grain is finished in two days. The girl lies on the ground all day. On the third evening, Ma puts the bag in the boy’s hand:

"Go and get grain from the godown."

"I won’t go. Send her with me."

"Shut up. Go, run and get grain."

"I won’t go. If I go alone the policemen beat me. Send her with me. When she is there, they give me money for chhole-kulche."

The boy runs to the door of the shanty. He knows his lame mother can’t catch him and beat him.

Ma handles the situation cleverly.

"Listen, your sister is ill. She can’t get up. Tell the policemen that she will go again when she gets well."

The boy understands. He knows his sister has not got up for two days.

He reaches the godown. Muchhal spots him and asks:

"Is your sister dead? Why hasn’t she come with you?"

"She’s sick."

"Motherfucker… you’re lying." Muchhal leaps up to beat him but Matka intervenes.

"He is telling the truth. She must be ill. You behave like a novice."

The boy is heartened by Matka’s intervention.

"Ma says that she will come with me once she gets well."

The three are silent. Muchhal’s eyes are blazing. His body is trembling, inflamed, congested with blood.

"Why, are you in pain?" asks Matka, softly.

"Yes, a bit," says a somewhat bashful Muchhal.

"Then let’s get the taste of this boy today."

Muchhal reddens.

"But the swine is stinking," he says.

"Wah, my delicate Englishman! Get a cake of soap. Let the boy enjoy a good bath."

Muchhal gets a cake of washing soap.

"Go, son. Go and bathe at the pump. Scrub yourself well with the soap."

The boy takes off his clothes and sits under the spout. Matka works the hand pump. He glances at the boy’s clothes and then signals to Muchhal with his eyes. Muchhal picks up the clothes and takes them into the godown.

The boy is done. He looks around and cries out:

"My clothes?"

"Go into the godown and put them on."

The boy goes into the godown. Both policemen follow him in. They shut the door.

Matka grasps the boy’s neck and bends him low. Muchhal places his hands on a sack.

The boy is on all fours, like an animal. The godown is as hot as a furnace. The boy’s tongue hangs out. He pants like a dog — of heat, or fear.

And outside, like any other day, the long whistle of the goods engine and the iron tumult of its shunting.

 

Translated from the Hindi ‘Paapi Pet’ by Nirupama Dutt with TLM


p. 1 p. 2

 
Swadesh Deepak is most widely acclaimed for his play ‘Court Martial’, which has been
translated into several Indian languages and has enjoyed tremendous success on the stage.
Deepak has also published three anthologies of short stories. He lives in Ambala