TODAY -

The will-o'-the-wisp

L Kamakhya Kr Singh *



What would she do with the cash that she had! The things that she would have to do – she began to list, one by one, in her mind. " First, the fees for the boy. That's of course the thing that is to be given top priority. The boy has been too understanding for his age."

He was the only one who had yet to clear the fees – all others had cleared theirs. He knew the financial weight his mother carried. All the boys in the class sympathized with him. Understood his predicament. Each one had experienced the same problem –having no money to clear the school dues – of course, they would clear the fees one or other time.

The headmaster and the teachers too knew what it was. They all sympathised and of course they knew the fees would be cleared, by one or other means by everyone before the final examination.

She remembered what the son had told her the day before. He was asking her, " Mother, how much does a football cost? You know, Bikram threw a ball in the river. He did it, threw the ball so carelessly, as if he was throwing a pebble away. Said he did not like it. The ball was carried away by the swift current. And, mom, it looked so nice – the ball floating away. Mother, how much does a ball cost? Mother, will you buy a football for me when you have some extra money?"

She thought, "Those rich boys! Lucky ones! Careless about things! It must be nice to be rich! Can throw a ball, carelessly to be carried away by the rushing water!" She had said, "Well, when your father gets well from his illness, then we can think of buying a football for you. Pray to God he gets well soon." But, 'soon' has never been 'soon'. It was only a word, having no substance, an amorphous something, lurking somewhere in the recesses of the heart – something that won't take a visible shape.

Her thoughts had run wild – had strayed. "What was I doing? Listing the priorities–the fees for the boy receiving the top priority." She connected her mind with the present. "Next in the list will be a frock, even if it has to be from the second – hand bazaar, for the daughter. Yes, that should be the third item in the priority list. Yes, Babita's shirt! She is growing up. Pity, the old one she is wearing is almost torn–it was a charity from the neighbour. The neighbours – they are so helpful." The thought created a feeling of feel-good sensation in her . A little smile passed in her.

She was not sure if her husband would ever get well. She had spent a fortune on him – a lot – may be about Rs. 30000/-. With that much of money she could solve all her financial problems of Himalayan proportion. Himalayan proportion! The word was so vague to her. "The Himalayas! They say it is a big.But, it can't be bigger than my problem," she thought.

She remembered the day her husband was knocked down by a passing bike. He was drunk – her husband. For twenty days he was in the Government hospital. He recovered, but had become a cripple. "Fate is sometimes – or often – so unpredictable. Why do all the misfortunes come to the poor people," she thought.

She saw the police constable making his rounds. She recognized the face – a familiar figure. Her heart began to throb – will he ask her to disappear–shoo her away– like he did to all those unauthorised sellers. But he was kind in one sense – he would not kick away the vegetables, scattering them all around – a loss that would be difficult for her to make up. But this one would demand some money – hush money, not much, – sometimes only ten rupees, sometimes even five. She pulled out a tenner from her cotton bag and said, "Tada, take it, have tea." The constable looked happy. He smiled and went to the next one.

Once she lost vegetables worth rupees three hundred. The constable was a rude one, but that day he was more rude than other days. He simply threw the plastic mat on which her fare was displayed and dumped them in the river. She could not do anything. She shouted "No; no; please please." But the vegetables were already in the river. She then cried – sobbed – sobbed continuously for half an hour – and cursed: "let my misfortune fall on you." she wished. But later on, she relented and took back her curse.

At the same time she thought 'We of course can't do without policemen.' She remembered an incident a few months ago. A goonda had snatched a woman's purse and ran away trying to make good his escape. The shout 'thief, thief, please catch him, someone,' filled the air. And the beat constable ran after the thief like he was running a lifetime's race.

Of course, others too joined the chase. The constable was brave and a fast runner too. He caught and overpowered the scoundrel. The crowd gave him a severe thrashing. But the womenfolk intervened. She too had shouted, "Enough, enough! Don't kill him. He must be having kids." Later on he was taken away in a police gypsy. The constable said to the woman whose purse was snatched. "Hei, Ibema. Take care of your money. What would have happened to you if he had escaped."

"Yes! What would have happened if she had escaped!" She had thought. She now felt thankful for their presence doing their rounds. There was a customer in front of her. "How much are the tomatoes; Ibema." "Rs, 50.00 a kg, Tada. Take it. It will help me pay my boy's school fee."

"Which class does he read in?"

"He's in class IV. Says he wants to be a pilot."

"Good. May God fulfill his dream! Now, give me a kg of tomatoes. And that bean. Give me that – a kg. Put them in the bag. Those chillies too. And that yongchak. Give me for a hundred."

"Tada, you've bought quite a plenty, enough for to pay the fee for the boy. You've been sent by God. God's benediction be with you! Rarely do I come across a generous man like you."

"O.k. o.k. Here is your money. Clear your son's dues."

Occasionally, such a God-sent benevolent man does come. Meeting such a man always cheered her heart. Increased her faith in God. "God Almighty! My Lord! Let better luck wait for me in my next birth," she murmured.

"How much are the yongchaks?"
There was a customer.
"Three pieces for a hundred."


"Too costly. Give four for a hundred." "I can't. That's my purchase price."
"O.K. Take it back unsold then."

Yes, oftentimes such unsympathetic customer she had to encounter. " No sense of benevolence. No sympathy for the poor. Always bargaining and bargaining. Seems to be of a well-to-do family. The car is big ….." she felt.

It was eight O'clock. "Bina, shall we call it a day. It is eight O'clock."

"Don't know! Wished someone would buy the tomatoes. By tomorrow, they will be spoiled! The luck – so bad – these days. Talk about home! The mother-in-law is unwell, old as she is. Don't know if she is going to die. No idea, what I'll do, with no money at hand."

"Come on. No use, no one will come, except drunks. I don't like to accost them. So rotten."
"Yes; Yes. Come on, let us go."

And they go back to their dwellings. Tomorrow, a new day. But the dream–the same, will go on, with no change – ­ a will–of–the wisp!


* Shahnaz Husain wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on July 06, 2017.


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