Popular Posts

Total Pageviews

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Hell

The Hell

Dharmabhai Shrimali

Translated by Dr.G.K.Vankar

The stink would not leave her nose alone. All the filth used to accumulate around. “Damn. The toilets, are just facing the vas1. Every morning I have to visit. If clean, then it’s all right. Or else they are not even worth sitting. Why to fuss, no sooner you squat, you rise. The smell plus smell… the spit will form till you come out,” muttered Ratan. Spit continued to gather in her mouth after coming out of the public toilet, till she reached her home.

She had gone to the public toilet after bath and yet she felt like bathing again. Her daughter who was playing in the vas came running to her and settled in her lap, hence Ratan paused and caressed her head. The daughter said, “Mother, mother, there are people with movie at uncle Kanti’s home.” She was astonished, “people with movie? There is no dearth of movies in the city...” then she thought, “Who knows …Kantibhai knows so many people. May be there is something new”.
She disengaged her daughter from her lap and went to wash. She took a soap powder lying on the parapet and began to scrub. The palms and face were full of froth. Seeing her face full of froth, the daughter laughed and clapped , again she left for the vas galloping.

She remembered her own childhood.

Ratan appeared before her eyes, in skirt and blouse. She could not help sighing; “with what joy my parents had got me married in the city!” she muttered and splashed a palmful of water on her face. The soap in the eyes smarted. She splashed and splashed the water… then from her wet eyebrows some memories began to emerge.
“Ratan, beta, please go and do the task. Go my darling”
‘No mother, do you think I would ever go for such a job?”
“I do not feel well, bai, this is our life. You can not turn your face like this. Go; make haste. There are, one after the other two, three messages from the village. If we do not go we will have to listen to their rebukes. People give only a fistful of grain. That too, they will not …”
Mother shivering with fever continued to speak and Ratan stamping her feet went to the village. The stench from the corpse of the swollen dog was so terrible that it would burst her head. Nausea gripped Ratan. She covered her mouth with the odhni end and bent down. As she tried to put the noose of the rope in the dog’s feet, saw the worms swarming the carcass. Trembling, she drew away from it. The nausea recurred in the held up breath, she left the rope noose there and then, ran to home. Her mother had rebuked her for long but she did not bother.
‘Rand, you are making so much fuss but when you will go to your in laws , you will have to do this willy-nilly; then to which mother will you complain?”
She recalled everything; pulling carcasses of dogs and cats, going on festival days and occasions for village feast, and being dragged after mother uttering, ‘ Give us the gift of the festival , o mother, o father!’ , from house to house.
Here in the city too, Gomati, living at the entrance of the vas used to send her children to the colony, to beg for valu. She had told her more than once,
” Gomti, it ‘s better to eat only chilies and bread, rather than to send children begging for valu.” But Gomati said, “Look at this woman! Keep your advice to yourself. To ask for valu is our dharm, what is wrong in that? Don’t teach me!”

Children, who had climbed up the jeep parked besides Kantibhai’s home, blurted a horn.
Ratan, lost in thoughts, stretched her eyes to the entrance of the vas.
Soma had not returned yet. There was again something sharp; screech of the horn pierced her. Once again she heaved a hot sigh.
“You are more beautiful than even Shahukar women...” saying Soma would draw her close and those moments bloomed with joy,, her shy face turning red …

The smoke of coal stove continued to encircle in the eyes.
“Look, the municipality people are bloody dirty. You do only household chores and look after children.” As if she were trying to catch Soma’s words in fleeing smoke, she closed and opened her eyes for some time.
The coals on the stove were glowing red. Her eyes steadied on the live coals .She stared. Her elder daughter cleansed rice bought from ration shop for cooking khichdi, took the coal stove inside the room and put water in the vessel for cooking.

When Ratan was pregnant with her younger daughter, Soma gradually changed. She spared no pains to make Soma understand, she was tired of beseeching. Soma, to begin with used to give his whole salary in her hands, now began to waste money giving a hundred excuses. Sometimes he would get drunk and mutter “If not today, tomorrow I will win… I will not quit the cards... I swear by Meldi, if I ever quit the cards...”
On the stove the water was boiling, and it was now overflowing, she rose and lifted the lid with her bare hand. The tips of the fingers got burnt; she blew air on the burnt tips. The eyes which looked at the tip of the finger gradually moved on each and every part of her body.

The open gutter flowed just ahead of the verandah, at some distance heap of city waste accumulated and mosquitoes flying from the public toilets were a nuisance. She tried to remove a mosquito from her body with a thrash of hand and the overseer’s words began to echo in her ears.
“Look the one who sweeps…! Today onwards you will clean the toilets of vegetable market.”
The overseer, black cap on head and with equally dark face and yellow teeth was moving to and fro , frequently spitting tobacco from black lips.
She was trembling.
Every evening Soma would return intoxicated, stumbling .He would blabber and rush to beat her. Soma who once did not want her to work for Municipality, now uttered- you are lying down whole day in the house and how dare you ask me for the account of my salary? The women, who have come to their in laws after you came, have been working for the municipality for two years now”.

And she had begun sweeping municipality roads along with women from vas. The dirt on road- all filth she would clean, sari covering her face. But the overseer who repeatedly crushed tobacco in his palm to make paste , his show off at time of marking presence in roll, and uttering Ratan Soma Bhangi’s name in long singsong manner…She again thrashed her face. There was a sharp mosquito bite on her cheek.
“This is hell, nothing but hell, o God, I am sick of such a life...”
“See this slut who talks of hell! When it comes to work, you feel sick.”
Late night, Soma would come besides her and would beat her even before she opened her mouth to tell about the overseer’s rudeness and harassment, Somo would say, “Shut up, don’t talk nonsense now.” He would roll on the other side. The darkness of the room would envelope her. The rising buzz of mosquitoes would not let her rest. In the passing night she would hear the lone vehicle’s scream, repeated whistles of the train at the station in the distance, some dog’s bark at the entrance of the vas, and cry of a child waking up for water amidst inaudible voices of parents in the neighboring rooms…

“Mother, o mother, the khichdi is burning and you are sitting without switching on the lights?”, the elder daughter who returned after buying tea and sugar from the shop , said and switched on the light and got down the khichdi from the stove.
The smell of burnt khichdi spread in entire room

She rose quickly, went to Meldi Mata shrine, could not find incense sticks in the pack , she left aside the empty pack , and folded her hands in prayer. Then she stared at the khichdi being served. The plain khichdi , devoid of any ghee or oil , and hungry children turned her soul restless. She came out and stood there for long. She continued to look at the entrance of the vas. She could not see Soma’s stumbles yet. Her body felt fatigue of the entire day. The wind from the other side that gathered a heap of stink surrounded her. The dirty toilets overflowing with piss and shit that afternoon, appeared before her eyes.
Since last week, the overseer was bad tempered. In the beginning he was chanting her name, but now as his intentions did not succeed, he changed her worksite. He assigned Ratan the cleaning of stinking toilets. She felt that she would vomit, retaining nothing that she had eaten. She had resolved in her mind, “Even if my younger one’s father kills me, I will not tolerate this bloody hell henceforth”.

The sweepers were coming to their rooms one by one. Some of them were blabbering after going to a bidi shop at the entrance of the vas, some were drunk, returning to vas stumbling. Before the quarreling dogs rushing through all this collided with Ratan, her younger daughter came out of her room with leavings of food on hands unwashed and ran to Kantibhai’s house.

The tube light on the pole in the middle of the vas was flickering, and insects had encircled the bulb that spread yellowish light from the other pole near the dung heap.

In the verandah of Kantibhai, people from vas were gathering together. Quickly doing the dishes, the elder daughter too left and merged with the crowd saying, “Mother, there is khichdi in the container. You have it.’
She wondered. “What would it be? Have they come to show a movie?” She closed her door and slowly went there and sat on the floor behind the gathering..

From the strangers in the chairs, an enthusiastic young man gave introductory information on the program of the day and then shifted the chair a bit to switch on the TV. With scramble the TV was on, there were scenes, incomprehensible, that moved up and down .Then the picture cleared and the voice also became clear.
The scene of a village spread over the screen. Then gradually the streets, royal houses with coats, mansions of seths and public roads appeared. Then there was a scene - a barely ten year old girl and her mother, all of them grew restless. ‘Oh, this is…’ someone from the crowd spoke. Then as if someone had sewn their lips, they grew silent. A series of scenes began.

That girl undid the lid on the toilet container, and was emptying the stinking feces in a tin, and then she helped to lift and put the tin on her mother’s head. The mother and the daughter began walking straight on the road, keeping themselves aside, careful not to touch anyone, shrinking their bodies and trying to cover their faces with cloth. A young man with microphone in his hand was asking some question. The woman was confused, staring for a moment towards the house from where they had just started, remained silent.
The scene changed…

One could see faint flicker In the innumerable wrinkles of the faces of the couple standing in the middle of a heap of feces,. The daughter and the mother of the previous scene arrived there with the tin on head. The tin was broken. Feces trickled down from it. It ran from head to face and swiftly trickled down her neck.

In the midst of silence Ratan mumbled something like a scream. Before her eyes everything began to swarm, from the time when she returned without pulling away the dead dog to the dirty overflowing toilets she had cleansed this noon, … Her eyes steadied on the mother and the daughter, the feces with the trickles, and the scene changed…

The old woman’s answer to the man with a microphone in the hand drilled into Ratan’s heart deeper and deeper. ‘Sir, please don’t ask. We live in hell… but for the belly we are forced to …”

It was difficult for her to sit there any longer. She began to rise; once again her eyes went on the trickle of the feces from the tin. She could not stand this on the tender girl’s face. She quickly averted her face. Now there was a crowd behind her , all their eyes glued to the TV. So many things simultaneously clouded their faces…She saw Soma with totally dry eyes and Ratan thought, “He will create a scene in public... look, woman, you were shouting so much ....’ ”
But Ratan saw that Soma who was watching all this with dry eyes, looked at her; he had begun trickling constantly.

Vas = colony
Meldi mata = Goddess
Seth = trader
Khichdi = a dish made by mixing rice and pulses
Shahukar = caste Hindu
Bhangi = Sweeper
Valu = evening food
Dharam = religion, duty
Bai = mother
Odhni =
Rand = woman, bad

The Prey

Dashrath Parmar
Translated By Dr.G.K.Vankar


Even after an hour's hot debate and exchange of ideas there was no consensus. The acting chairperson, the vulture maharaj , who sat on a babul stump, with a fleeting glance on other members spread his wings, cleared his throat and concluded,
"Silence friends! Silence…! If we will continue like this, it will be morning and yet we will not be able to reach any decision. Hence please stop the discussion and listen to what I say. With all the presentations and arguments we can surely conclude that the prey belongs to all, it is the joint property of all. Hence it becomes our duty to care for it closely. Now it's not far from night. The times are difficult, moreover we cannot rule out outer invasion. Hence using my chairperson's right I have decided that till this prey becomes worth eating, at least tonight, we should keep vigil turn by turn. Tell me, do you agree?"
"Yes, yes, we agree, we agree..!" all those who were present, agreed unanimously.
"Then listen to me carefully!" the vulture maharaj bobbing his neck said," I have myself decided the turns of the vigil. And I am sure no one has any objection to that!" pausing for a moment he continued,
"In the first prahar, it's the turn of hawk! His first half of the night otherwise also is spent in search of a prey. Moreover in the first prahar the risk is maximum, to deal with this he is competent. Isn't it so, Hawk hero?"
"As you order, Sir!!"
Hawk slowly came forward and leaning forward saluted.
"Second prahar it's mouse, third crow and the fourth …"
Before there was announcement of the fourth prahar, taking a circle of flight , going close to babul stump, the cawing craw said,
"Please pardon me, sir! But I don't get sleep the fourth prahar. Hence if you allot me the fourth rather than the third, I will be highly obliged."
The vulture maharaj threw a glance at the craw, blinked his eyes, then as if mediating , finally said,
"O.K. ,Mr.Crow , the fourth prahar is yours, the third would be that of the owl! Are you happy now?"
The craw, gleefully took a small circle of flight, fluttering his wings. As soon as he settled down, authoritative voice of the vulture maharaj was heard,
"That is not the matter of being inflated, friend. Reserve such expertise for the vigil…"
Then he warned the rest of the members.
"Please always keep this in mind. I myself don't join the vigil. I will supervise you all though. Hence while keeping vigil no one should move an inch near the prey, none is supposed to touch the body. If someone dares to be smarter, remember. The prey will remain as it is, and first you will be slaughtered."
"And Sir Mouse, this is for you, Your community has a bad reputation because of your habit of biting. If you dare to apply that hereditary skill here then.."
" O brother, why so much mistrust?" as if he were urging, the mouse said, " I am hungry for three days , Sethiya. But on oath to Gauriputra, I have not even looked at the prey."
"O.K., O.K." The vulture maharaj stopped him. "It was only to mention your abilities. Won't it be better if you don't become so emotional in such trifles?"
Meanwhile the crow had constantly fluttering eye on the prey. As there was slight movement in the prey's body he made din.
"Look, sir, he is still alive saala."
"That is the matter of mourning," The vulture maharaj muttered in disdain. Then got up from his seat and settled on the prey's belly and reassured all.
"It's only a matter of a night. Even if it does not die tomorrow morning, we will strike."
All came closer to the prey. The vulture maharaj had some knowledge of medicine too. He looked carefully at the prey's abdomen and said,
"Still it is alive. But my medical knowledge dictates that things will turn right. If tonight he is devoid of any food and water, in the morning for sure…"
This statement lit a flame of hope as they were now tired of waiting since morning. Stumbling the prey had come to the chowk and collapsed. Since then no one had even winked, eagerly waiting, no sooner it dies, they would pounce.
Looking at the body though, one would not get much. Is this a body or a cage of bones? The skin was glued to the body making it flat. It had several sores on the body. It was doubtful if this body ever had any meat.
"How how how…" A pack of dogs standing on the hill came a bit close and announced their presence. But their arrival made the vulture maharaj fume with anger. With red eyes he roared, "motherfuckers, keep away. How many time have I to say this? Go, come tomorrow evening .."
"But o father, we haven't asked anything from you," an old dog begged.
"We came to tell you that keeping a watch is our duty. The world knows that since time immemorial, it has been our monopoly. Hence please entrust us with one opportunity.."
Kaw kaw kaw. The crow laughed loudly. "See, one with monopoly! When will you get rid of your habit of going anywhere uninvited? Why don't you improve? And saala, how can we trust you? Once you have the prey then you become bullies, we know this well." He said this on basis of some past experience on food chat.
"But father, we do not ask for any share from yours. It will do if we get only the left over. Once you eat your fill then only give us.."
"That is why bloody, I say you just leave now, ." the vulture maharaj angrily said.
"O.K.,O.K., as you please."
The pack of dogs moved towards the hill mumbling. Climbing the slope the old dog could not help looking at the prey. Sight movement in the prey's body and low groans made his heart ache.
He knew the prey for some time.
In the youth, his life was glorious. But with old age, the difficult days dawned. Ten days back his owner abandoned him considering useless. Restless with hunger, he moved from outskirt of village to the farms. Finding nothing to eat, he used to drink water till his belly was full and collapse. Today he had some chance as the owner of the farm was not around. Opening the clearing he entered the farm, took green leaves of castor seed plant and was very happy. But as he came out of the farm, he felt dizzy and moved towards the chowk with unsteady gait.
"Damn, leave it aside giving our share; they do not even answer us properly." One young dog ventilated his burn. " I think we should gather our colleagues and take full charge of the prey .If we do so, what can they do?"
"You are absolutely right, Bhooriya!" Kaliya agreed.
"Now its beyond limits. Begging does not satisfy our hunger. We are like them only, and yet our vas is separate. We are even forced to eat their leftovers only. Is there anything like animalism?" the old dog could not resist, he coughed and said,
"Look, you are the younger ones, puppies. This is the tradition that continues from generation to generation. Our forefathers had suffered, there is nothing new that we suffered and now you are suffering. If you wish to live peacefully, there is no way other than to follow the traditions; do you understand my little ones?"
There was sudden dark.
While climbing the slope of their vas , they looked back. Nothing could be seen. They heard the loud laughter of the vulture maharaj dipped in the dark. That sound mixed with dark became a question in the dark eyes of Bhuriya. Can one not break the tradition?
It was long before dawn and the cawing of the crow rang in the whole region piercing the darkness . Leaving their beds, rubbing their eyes everyone rushed to the chowk. Shaking darkness , as they tried to see, the remnants of sleep also vanished.
The prey was not in the chowk.
The vulture maharaj's eyeballs bulged in anger. He was looked at each and everyone one with piercing eyes..
"You are useless ones, bloody weaklings! You have lost the prey from your hand. Now what will you eat? Your tambooro?"
"It was very much there until my turn was over."
With low neck, everyone tried to defend oneself, but when it was craws turn he began trembling.
"I tell you the truth, o brother, o sir. I had no sleep for three prahars as I had a suspicion that you all would finish the prey. And when I came here at the fourth prahar I had a small nap. Please pardon me, Anndaata, o giver of food!"
There was a flash of light in the vulture maharaj's mind. He walked a bit slowly, he closed his eyes, and rubbing his beak on the earth, he began to smell something. After some effort, as if he had grasped something, yelled,
" I have caught him. I have caught the thief. Come with me."
"Today I will not spare them."
They briskly went to the dog street.
Near the street hill, Bhooriyo and Kaliyo stood obstructing the way.
"Beware, if anyone dares to step forward, we will get your feathers scattered."
The vulture maharaj got a bit scared of the rage in their eyes .
He winked at his colleagues. Then he addressed those two,
"Look friend dog, we are the travelers on the same road. Then why such a split? Show us the prey, then we all together …"
"Now those days are gone, maharaj. The prey is in our possession. And we have exclusive right on it." Kaliyo sharply said.
"This does not befit you, friends. Look, you do all this in puppy-play, hence we would talk to your elders. Where are they?" the vulture maharaj's voice turned syrupy.
Meanwhile old dog also arrived.
"This is very wrong, dog bhagat!" the voice of the vulture maharaj changed.
"You live on the dead, breaking that tradition you kill the living. How can you do that? That too one can understand, but you take away the prey of someone else. Tell me, is that reasonable?"
"Maharaj, disgrace is your life! Have you any trace of being animal or not? You are waiting for someone's death, at the top of it you arrange vigil..! As you say we live on the dead, what do we do with your prey?" honor
"Then where is it?"
"It has gone nowhere. It is with us only. But you will regret to know that it is not dead. And like you we are not waiting for the death either. That much difference of sanskara will always remain. Look there.."
The vulture maharaj rose. Craning his neck, he looked in the distance in a cave like place. He was stunned. The prey was struggling to raise, four sturdy dogs supporting. One was offering water at his mouth, some gave grass to eat. The red, white puppies gleefully moved in circles. The victim, looking at them, falling and rising, struggled to stand up…
The vulture maharaj uttered. Then he turned his back and began walking. The others followed him. With withered faces, pressing their bellies, sighing, they began walking down the slope of the hill.


Maharaj= King
Chat=Stone slab with a hole scooped to collect refuse of food for dogs or cattle
Bhooriyo and Kaliyo= Common names of dogs, literally white and black, Dogs here represent Dalits, outcastes
Sethiya= Seth
Annadata=Giver of food
Gauriputra= Ganesha, mouse is Ganesha's vehicle
Prahar= Measure of time, three hours
Live on dead= Reference of dalits who eat meat of dead animals