Paraphrase of Mother India
The cloud is busy locking up the moon when Fatema reaches the bus stop, struggling for breath along with her children. In her shrunken bosom, the toddler is whining in an accusing monotone. She scurries the whole way from Station Goods Store to the Toll Gate to catch up with others, but her fatigued legs betray the speed. The last bus has gone loading all of them, except Fatema and her kids. She pants desperately wiping her sweaty forehead with the fringe of her saree. The other two, already drooped in hunger and heavy toil crumpled on the ground near the roadside Tamarind tree, covered in dirt and red splotches. The old patched sacks weighed with grains, mud and filth felt heavier on her tired shoulders and hands. Fatema feels helpless as she watches the crawling evening towards musty darkness with lightning flickering in the sky.
With the first cawing of the crow, she wakes and taking the kids in her firm grip runs for the bus tramping the fresh dew drops on the sleepy grasses in the courtyard. Reaching the Patakala Toll Gate they take the narrow muddy road through the bank of Darakeshwar to the Rail Station. They have to reach the wagon store before the goods train arrives. There are Sabina, Mitali, Jarina and others. The vision of fresh rice, and wheat, dripping and scattering all over accelerates their bare feet on the stony red soiled roads. They gather and scramble when the labourers carry the heavy sacks of grain on their backs. A handful of grains fall like a fountain of gold and silver from the rips of tattered gunny. They hurry and like frantic wild animals clutter on the dust with crawling knees. Scratching the ground with nails they pick up the grains. Their fists are full of debris and the rice gets bruised all over, their face sweaty and pungent glitter with determination. They do not care about the greasy stick of the police, the abusive red eyes of the supervisors and the vulgar words of the ‘coolies’. No feelings of embarrassment, fear, pain or hatred can subdue them as the hunger flaming in their bellies is far more substantial than anything else.
Fatema felt hesitant and nervous at the beginning. But cruel poverty and the starved faces of children made her determined. Jamal Sekh, Fatema’s father chose Sadik, the strong, chestnut-coloured man as her husband. He had valid hope for his daughter’s happiness as Sadik was diligent and young. He used to sell cheap plastic cups, glasses, buckets, and other things for home use through the distant remote villages of Taldangra, Bibarda, and Simlapal on his cycle. On the way to his return in the evening, he deposited all the trash craps and scarp iron to the Mahajan at Vadul More and went home. Life was hard but it was possible to manage somehow. In the meantime, Fatema became a mother of two and her body sagged due to hardships and childbearing every year. Fatema could feel the trailing away of Sadik’s attention and the tenuous bonding ripped with the birth of their third daughter. Sadik no longer took care of her. Mehedi, the neighbour’s daughter with all the youthful vitality attracted Sadik and he fled away with her, near Jamjuri. Fatema called the Moulabi, the Village Chief but got no justice. She cried, accused, and fell ill but realised nothing would come out of it. She did not wish to live but looking at the kids she felt the urge of a mother to sustain her babies. But how? When one-day Jarina said, “ Let us go to the wagon store of Bankura Station with us. You and your children can collect grains to eat. How long will you and your babies starve?” Fatema agreed. There was no way out of it. Her father was no more and her brothers were poor; they had their own families to feed. From that day Fatema started her new struggle.
With the others she catches the first bus wrapping the toddler in her lap tightly with the ragged saree and holding the two others in her hands. The conductor behaves niggardly with her as she cannot give fare for the kids. The bus does not want to take them, they are the burden, with no profit only loss. Other passengers also feel disgusted at them and look with miffed expressions. Fatema ignores their oozing contempt, the conductor’s uneasiness. They should not bother about these trifle humiliations of life. Life is much more precarious for them.
But what should Fatema do today? The sky is already cloudy, and it is a long distance. They have to return to their village anyhow. The kids are tired. A truck horrendously halts at the Toll Gate and a grizzled traffic police stretches his right palm at the window of the driver. His betel leaf-stained teeth look vulgar under the leprosy street light. Fatema advances towards the driver and with tears in her eyes pleads, “ Babu please take us, there is no bus and the kids are dying of hunger and fatigue, please babu take us. Allah Kasam, I’m in great danger.” The truck driver eyes Ftema for a brief moment and then speeds up with a clamour of the engine and blowing stifling black smoke over the hapless face of Fatema. She repeats the same prayer to every vehicle but no one pays heed to her. She implores the passers-by for help but under their cold indifferent eyes, she only cringes within. Seeing the children, already lying under the roadside tree tears gushes out of her eyes flooding her sunken cheeks and cracked lips. The children need food, they have not eaten anything since the morning. When they would reach home Fatema can wash the grains well and boil them with a dry chilli. But what can she do now? She feels the coins at the end of her saree’s knot but she needs to save them for the fare.
Night descends on the toll gate. The curved sickle of the waning moon is nowhere to be seen—an owl screeches from her hidden abode of the tamarind tree. Tired Fatema slumps on the road in abysmal confusion. Her back is paining due to the excessive strain of carrying the baby and the load. Her blanched appearance shivers in fear and apprehension. Suddenly she rises from her stupor and wakes the sleepy cubs, “Let us walk to the Dhaldangar More, where the road trifurcates in three ways. There we will flag down the cars or stand in front of them until any of them pick us up. Cannot you? We can reach within half hour if you speed up.”
Fatema lifts the toddler in her left lap and balancing one sack on the head and the other on her right-hand starts walking and those small lanky feet shuffle at her back. Dark clouds unshackle the moon from its grip. It beams on their heads like hallow.
Hey, I am Munmun, the phoenix fabulist who wants to tell you stories. I love to read stories and I love to weave stories. I feel life is an amalgamation of multiple stories, colourful threads, and threads of pain, pleasure, hope, and hopelessness. We just need to pick those hues and arrange them, knitting them with our own emotions and perception. So let’s celebrate the stories of life.