The Sun peeped slowly from the horizon and then bloomed with its tangerine-shaped petals replacing the night’s darkness that the earth had enveloped. The rising Sun is as if a flower of positivity, a dose of hope that is symbolic of a new beginning. The ordinary daily event which carries the essence of being extra ordinary each time one witnesses it. Though everything is cyclic, the same event of a sunrise can fill the heart with a new zeal, every single time.
Pratima was about fifteen years of age but looked much older. Probably one tends to grow fast when the situations are compelling. She had understood early in life that money is the only thing that makes life possible. Since childhood, all she could hear was discussion about money. If there was good food on the table, it was because there was good income that day, If there was a lack of it, then it was because there was no income on that day, if she was stopped from continuing her studies, it was because she had to help her mom in her ‘thella‘ so that there can be more money. So her life revolved around money and the consequences of having or lacking it. Her Amma had a roadside thella where she prepared snacks like Idli, Vada, and Upma. Her Idlis were in demand for their softness, Vadas for their crispiness and Upma for its aromatic flavor of the special tampering done with curry leaves & groundnuts. The chutney that she gave along was her unique selling proposition that helped her gain repeat customers. Pratima was almost second in charge of the whole business set up that her mother had solely established over the years single-handedly. Pratima had a father whom she met only when he came to visit her mom . Those nights were long and torturous because she would listen her mom wail and cry the entire night and her father would shout in all possible foul language. Again the topic was money. Pratima had vowed early that she never wanted to live like her mother. She was not sure what she wanted though, just like us probably.
Pratima’s mom got immense help from Khan Chacha who had his cycle repair shop near her own thella. He was a religious man who made sure to read Namaz five times a day, give regular alms despite his meagre earnings, fasted without fail in their Holy month and had been saving for making his dream come true so that he could go on Hajj. He was like an elder brother to Pratima’s mother and it was due to him that she, even as a woman had been able to run her business without any such major harassment from other bullies in the nearby areas.
Pratima had to fetch water from the common tap for their consumption as well as for the shop. It was her daily routine and it was the toughest task of the day . She had to stand in the queue with her containers and when her turn came, she had to fill one by one and carry them to her small one-room kitchen house. Her house was built on the government land along with other tiny houses that housed many stories within them. Stories of resilience, stories of struggle, stories of escape from the past, stories of new beginnings… That day, while she had to wait for long in the queue and was on her way back with a lot of difficulties, she found a helping hand which offered to help her with the bucket filled with water. She hesitated at first but after some time accepted the help from an unknown face that smiled at her with a warmth unlike those winks, whistles, and irritating taunting gestures that she was used to getting. He was a handsome young boy probably in his late teens. His radiant smile and caring attitude made an impact on her instantly. Her young heart skipped a beat when he looked into her eyes and smiled again. She felt something that she had never experienced. A feeling of jubilation, a sense of happiness run down in her veins and she could not stop herself from smiling back at him. He was certainly a new face in the locality. Later, she got to know that he was Aslam, Khan Chacha’s nephew who had come from the village to get settled in the city and yes, most importantly make money!
Aslam & Pratima met every day in their shops. The young hearts took no time to forge a bond that was more than just infatuation. Aslam and his caring nature towards Pratima made her feelings stronger for him. Pratima was on the other hand, had charmed Aslam with her simplicity. Aslam found other girls either too brazen or too timid. But Pratima was different in every single aspect. She stood out even with her nothingness among all. Sometimes, when the race is to be like someone, people who are just themselves stand out. Pratima was always in her own skin and her lack of attempt to be like anyone impressed Aslam. Pratima always made sure Aslam ate on time, a gesture that touched Aslam deeply who had always craved a loving heart after losing his mother, early in life.
“Pratima, will you be mine when I have my own shop? I want to earn a lot of money so that we can stay together.” Aslam had asked her once.
Pratima had sighed away without saying anything with a hint of smile on her face.
Aslam had held her hand tightly and had pulled her close and sealed her mouth with a soft kiss. An electric spark had run down Pratima’s body and she had closed her eyes and had surrendered herself. They both had been captivated with the intense burning passion of first love and there was nothing that could stop the young souls to belong to each other.
Pratima continued visiting temples while Aslam waited for her to return and the same was the case when Aslam visited the masjid during Azaan. And every time he went for his Azaan, Aslam, with his cap on his head and his white kurta, looked extra handsome in the eyes of Pratima.
“Pratima, do you go like Aslam?” ,Her mother had asked once sensing her daughter’s proximity to Aslam.
She had not been able to reply. “See, help and all is okay. But we are Hindus and they are Muslim. Nothing else will possible. We can not stay in society. Do you not understand. I am telling you, Pratima as a girl you have to be more careful. Nothing should come to my ears later.” Her mother had announced to her daughter.
However, Pratima and Aslam kept being close much to the dislike of other young men who wanted to woo Pratima. The little episodes of confrontations between the young lads had become a common topic of gossip.
Soon it was election time, it seems. But all that mattered to Pratima and Aslam’s family was that there would be more people outside, more discussions, more traveling, more hunger and that is when there would be a chance to earn more. So every day both were readily handling their shops and looking forward to some extra income. They did not bother which party won or lost. It felt like an exhibition where all that mattered was not to miss any customer.
There were colorful posters everywhere, announcement of a common feast and multiple people were visiting the slum every single day. Everyone kept promising the development in the area with 24 hours running water and electricity and many other things.
As the Election day approached, there was a growing tension in the air. But unaffected by all these events, Aslam and Pratima were lost in their own world just like the kites that soar high on the blue sky chasing each other. As they say, when people find their contentment, society largely gets either upset or envious. The other boys had always disliked a new entrant from another religion, claiming one of their prizes (as they considered Pratima to be one). Election results had been declared amidst much chaos and that had somehow led to the Hindu Muslim riot, thanks to the divisive elements claiming to be part of the political game. This was the golden chance to oust all the Muslims from the slum and break the unity that had prevailed, thanks to vote bank politics.
That night had been a dreadful night! The targeted houses were set ablaze, the shops had been shattered and the fabric of fraternity that was in place had been distorted beyond repair, the poison instilled was so powerful that years of trust among the communities was at stake, there was an emergence of sudden violence in the dread of the night . There was a group of young boys that broke into Khan Chacha’s house armed with knives, rods and swords, and they pounced on Aslam and Khan Chacha with blood in their eyes.
“Run, my boy… just run. ” Khan Chacha started screaming at the top of his voice. Aslam tried stopping them but in vein. He opened the window and obeyed his Chacha’s orders. He started to run only to discover that there was another group of boys that had brought Pratima out of her house. She held on to her Pallu tightly , while one tried to pull it out. Aslam could not understand anything. They belong to the same faith, yet Pratima was at the receiving end. Her mother was on her knees, crying out for help.
Aslam…. She started calling for help once she saw Aslam at a distance.
“Take my Pratima with you , please. I beg you…. Just take her along. Aslam, my child.”
Aslam, ran towards the gang with all his might and took Pratima in his arms and tactfully escaped the area of disturbance but not without a deep cut from one of the knives at his back. He was bleeding with his white Kameez soaking up all the blood flow but he kept holding Pratima’s hand . All they did was look at each other and run …. run into oblivion with all their might.
Aslam and Pratima had flown into the sky just like two birds and no one knew where they vanished that night. Whether they survived or perished , were they able to build their own world or become extinct in this jungle where sometimes even survival of the fittest is not guaranteed, whether they broke apart all the present trends or forged new rules ?No one knew …
The Sun rose as usual the next mornig as an usual affair. It was bright and again everything felt new and hopeful!
Empathy is mostly the first emotion that marks the beginning of any positive relationship I’m participating in #BlogchatterA2Z -2021