Thursday, January 18, 2007


His Three Sins
Wash away your sins.
Jan 4 2007 11:38PM comments rss:

Tags: Ganga Ganges Kumbh Mela
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Chandan was slightly intrigued. Instead of his usual fare of dal,roti and a watery subzi with some leaves floating here and there, his bahu had handed him a veriety of dishes including laddoo. He wondered whether it is a special day today. Even if it were, they are not wealthy enough to afford money on these items. Possibly someone from the neighbourhood might have sent it after a wedding in the family. He wondered who was so generous. The basti where they lived housed construction laborers like his son and they were all poor, barely able to afford two square meals a day. He knew better than to ask his daughter in law Chamki or his son Bhairav who had just entered the one roomed brick house with his implements. Neither would give a straightforward answer. He would be asked to mind his business and be grateful for whatever crumbs were thrown his way. His daughter in law, being a woman, was a little softer. She might just get irritated and murmur some galis. Bhairav, on the other hand, would get very angry and would start shouting at him for showing curiosity.

A sigh escaped Chandan; he missed his wife terribly. Till about 5 years ago the two of them used walk 10 miles to the big city and work in a construction site. She died in an accident and Chandan who was already ageing slowly lost the will to work. With the money he and his wife had saved, they had purchased this single room brick house and had got a bride for their son. His son, daughter in law and their three kids now lived with him in the house. But ever since he quit working a year ago, Bhairoo and Chamki were constantly angry with him. They did not realize or want to realize that his years as the construction labourer had taken the toll. He was in poor health and spent a lot of time in the queues at the government dispensary.

Bhairav threw his implements to a side and went to the tiny backyard to wash his face and hands. There was water in a small plastic bucket which had all but lost its bright green colour. He aimed his foot at a little puppy that was tied to a pole nearby in jest. The puppy yelped and then wailed as though he had tried to murder it. Little Chhoti had brought it in and had tied to the pole a few days back. The parents did not object because they thought that a dog would be a good guardian for their kids as it grew up in a year or so. They could not rely on the old man who spent most of the time sleeping and spent his waking hours at the government hospital queue.

As Chandan polished off whatever was in the plate, his son came and stood next to him. ‘Tomorrow morning we are leaving for Allahabad’ he said. Chandan was taken aback. ‘Why? We don’t have enough to spend on eats; where will you get money for the travel expenses? Besides, that place will be so crowded because of Kumbh Mela’. Chandan thought he saw a gleam in his son’s eyes. Bhairoo mumbled something about washing off sins and left the hut. Chandan could not sleep in the night. He kept wondering why his son was willing to spend money on the trip especially now that Chamki was expecting her fourth baby. However, he did remember that his wife had harbored intentions of going to Prayag to attend the mela. Bhairoo was neither attached to his mother nor his father. So Chandan could not imagine that sentiments drove him to take the decision.

The father son duo sat huddled in the overcrowded train. Chandan had difficulty breathing because there were quite a few passengers who flouted the rules and smoked their beedis inside the compartment. Besides, every now and then he had to make his way to the bathroom very carefully without treading on people squatting on the floor everywhere. Another old man like him sat near the bathroom door. He had come along with four women. His turban was similar to Chandan’s and he spoke to his daughters in the same dialect as Chandan’s. He tried to smile and make eye contact with Chandan who tried to avoid him.

The train purged itself off all humans at the railway station. Chandan watched the empty train chug away as he and his son carried their sparse belongings on their head and made their way out of the station. People seemed converge here in droves from god knows where. Chandan could see all kinds of attire, turbans, and bags. It was interesting to hear people speak so many languages. Near the river ghats there were long queues and police constables wielding their lathis were trying their best to control the milling crowds. ‘How would we manage to go near the river and take a dip,’ Chandan wondered. Bhairoo said, ‘Wait here under this tree; I will get you a cup of tea and some buns. Don’t move from here, come what may. Otherwise I will find it extremely difficult to spot you.’ Chandan, who was very hungry, liked the idea of tea and buns, but the thought of waiting all alone under the tree seemed frightening. ‘I will come with you’ he said. ‘Oh no, there is an Ashram quite far from here where they give free food. I have to find out where it is. We will go there for our lunch after our dip. I will find out the location of the Ashram and on the way back, bring your tea and buns; please sit under this tree or lie down if you like. You will get tired if you come with me.’ Chandan who was quite tired after the train journey weakly agreed. He sat under the tree with his small torn bag and waited for his son.

An hour passed and then two; there was no sign of his son. Families in brightly colored clothes passed him by. Some gave him curious looks; others just ignored him. Chandan was worried sick and was very hungry. He felt very weak. After some four hours or so, he heard someone hailing him in his own language. ‘You are here all alone. I saw the younger person who came with you board the train that goes right back to where we all came from. Did he come all the way here, just to drop you?’ he asked curiously. A crowd collected as Chandan who was already very agitated started wailing. ‘That son of mine has left me here and gone. I have not a paisa with me. How will I return home?’

Some people looked at him with pity. For others, the whole thing was a tamasha.

One wise person remarked, ‘These things happen at the Kumbh Mela. Parents become a burden to some children; and the children leave their old unwanted parents here and quietly slip away.’

Chandan realized that this is what Bhairoo and his wife had planned. That is why Chamki gave him sweets with his last meal hoping that hereafter she would not have to feed him. His son earned very little and Chamki was expecting the next child. ‘Whatever was his financial condition, how could he do this to me? Haven’t I fed him and clothed him, got him a bride after spending quite a considerable sum? Why? Even the very hut where they live was bought by me.’ ‘You must have committed sins when you were young’ remarked a sadhu who happened to pass by. Ponder over what you have done, take a dip in the Ganges and wash away your sins.’ Saying this, he disappeared. The old passenger on the train bought a cup of tea for him from a chaiwala and one of his daughters offered him a roti.

‘Come with me’ the old man said. ‘Let us all take a dip and wash away our sins. Later, I will take you to an ashram where you can take shelter.’

As he tried to take a dip in the crowded ghat, Chandan tried to figure out what could be his sins? He was a poor man, but he did not cheat or rob anybody. He did not beat his wife like many of his acquaintances did. What could his sin be?

‘Let me hold your hand. You are too unstable, you will fall into the river’, volunteered one of his savior’s daughters. It struck him then. ‘He had committed grave sins. Not once but thrice. Before Bhairoo was born, his wife had given birth to daughters one after the other. In spite of her protests and at the instance of his own parents, he had agreed to let the dhai drown the new born infants in milk. Girls would mean fizool kharchha, his parents had warned him. They had been too poor and he was too dumb to think for himself. (His wife had almost become insane after the third child was … bathed in milk) Besides, it was quite common in his village and his community. So much so, he had not even realized that it was a sin.

If only he had allowed his daughters to live and grow, his own three daughters could have taken care of him like this old man’s three girls did. The son for whom he and his wife had toiled had heartlessly left him behind and gone back to his wife and children.

Chandan did not know whether to laugh or cry at his fate. Something seemed to choke him and suddenly he could not breathe. The girls who realized that something was wrong with him started screaming and their father and others tried to revive him by sprinkling the holy water on his face. For a while, there was a lot of confusion around him. At last it was peace for Chandan on the banks of the Ganga.


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