I sat amongst cheerful Palms who were busy swaying to the tunes of their favourite companion, the Air. And I, affected by the gayness of the palms couldn’t resist bobbing my head in sync with their movements. Lost in my own world, my little brain kept travelling from thoughts which I was more than pleased to have; to thoughts which just made me wonder even more. All of a sudden I felt a chilly raindrop on my knees, exactly where my lowers left a tattered hole, which made me realise that gloominess had started taking its toll on the joyful sky.
I heard Ma’s voice from our 0-BHK jhuggi, ‘Keshav, you better come inside at once. It has started raining already, I don’t want you sneezing and disturbing my sleep all night.’ I agreed at once. There were times when, like any other kid of my age, even I used to take at least good five minutes to agree to my mother. But now, after my mother’s husband (Unfortunately, my father!) left her, I agree to her at once. My mother had already gone through enough despair and humiliation, so I decided not to add my childhood pranks to her woes. Though at some level, I felt that even she craved for my mischiefs, so once or twice I deliberately did some kind of stupidity to assure her that she was indeed raising me well and I too like others hadn’t lost the innocence of my childhood.
Dinner was served. It was end of the weekend, the day for our weekly ‘Sunday Treats’. Today as a ritual we all got proper food and that to – two times a day. My younger brother, Keval, our elder sister, Rekha and I were all too excited. Rajma-Chawal were served on our plates (I’ve had Rajma-Chawal thrice in my life but till today its mention brings a smile on my face and makes my mouth watery). To mark the end of a ‘successful’ month, our mother used to serve us desserts, which were a rare sight and an added bonus to our meal. Indeed, this month was quite successful as we managed one meal on all thirty days and even saved a whole fifty rupees.
After a wholesome meal, it was time to sleep. We had one bed in our home but the whole idea of sleeping on a bed seemed a bit weird to me. I always felt comfortable down on the floor. Mattresses ended up giving me backaches which lasted for weeks together.
The whole setup of my studies was a bit complicated. My mother used to work as a maid at Chauhans’. Their son, Rohan, was about my age. Rohan had always helped me in my studies. and was like a teacher to me. He used to provide me with notes, made sure that I understood them, conducted my exams and checked my answer sheets. He was the one who promoted me to Standard III. For me, it was a dream come true to gain knowledge, in any possible way. Getting a real passing certificate had never mattered to me. Therefore, I cleared Standard I and II gracefully.
That day, like always, I stood outside the window of Standard-III of The City School and tried my best to grab whatever I could. Rohan used to sit near the window just to help me understand the subjects on the spot. Though, we had to be really cautious of the watchman and other authorities of the school catching us. I was under the impression that I had mastered this art, until today. Rohan’s science teacher caught him passing his notebook to me for copying down the text. She took us both to the Principal and briefed him about the situation.
Yes! It was my stubbornness that had put Rohan in danger. He had always insisted on teaching me after the school hours. It was me who always craved for that extra explanation by the teacher. And now, here was the sad outcome of my foolishness. Rohan was crying, he was afraid, he begged his teacher to forgive him. He promised her that it would never happen again. But she was constantly eyeing me. She gave me those looks which were proof enough of the fact that I was like a clot of mud to her. She deliberately made annoying faces and acted like she wanted to puke on my face. I kept quiet. I had so much to say, but I knew whatever I’d say would put Rohan in a bigger trouble for the only reason, that: I was nothing to them.
Now it was the Principal’s turn to show his kindness towards me. And like I had expected, he slapped Rohan on his face. I came forward for my turn of the punishment, but this time he took me by surprise. He did slap me, no doubts about that, but then he used a hand sanitizer to disinfect his hands. All I could do was just smile at his face, which obviously annoyed him even further. Rohan explained our whole setup to him and apologized saying that it was for my welfare and stated the obvious fact that I was poor and couldn’t afford such expensive studies.
After the explanation, I was expecting that the Principal’s heart would melt. I was sure that he’d forgive us and would allow us to continue with our setup. I’ve often heard that this is what happens in most of the Bollywood movies in the climax. But I was forgetting that after all, it was my life, which was accustomed of having ‘anti-perfect climaxes’.
Rohan was suspended for a day and the watchman was strictly warned that if I was seen anywhere near the school building, they would kick him off his job. I lost all hopes of getting that ‘extra explanation’. I was afraid that Rohan would stop teaching me completely. After all, his life and career were definitely his priorities even though he was just 8 years old. Rohan’s parents got to know everything. Though they never had any problems with Rohan teaching me after the school hours, but now when their only child’s career was at stake, they just couldn’t let us continue. Rohan was warned not to meet me again even after school hours. I still had some hope inside, I don’t know why, but I felt that eventually Rohan would teach me. I trusted our silent friendship more than the harsh reality.
A week passed. The entire week I kept revising my notes of all the previous classes. I waited to be taught more. This never-ending wait was making me restless, way too restless. I was shocked to death when in evening my mother came and voiced my doubts. She had a message from Rohan. He had asked her to convey me that he won’t be teaching me anymore. I didn’t know what to say or do. But I can’t blame him. It was not his fault. It was his parents talking, not he.
Now, it seemed pointless to revise those old notes. I already knew them by heart. And the fact that I would never learn anymore, discouraged me to study anything altogether. I started searching for a job. Many of my friends from my colony, worked already at various restaurants, tea-stalls and at other such places.
After just two days of wandering, I finally found a job at a doctor’s clinic. Though my job was to just clean the place but I was the only one in my locality working at such an exotic place. Even now my fellow colony-mates respected me. I still hadn’t lost everything. My working hours were 10 am to 10 pm. My family was more than happy; my income was a bonus for them. Except my mother, she was heart-broken at the thought that I had to sacrifice my studies. She promised me that one day she would earn enough to make me and my siblings study at a good school, even if she had to sacrifice her own life for it. For now, even she was helpless and resigned to the news of my working for the family.
At work, I made sure that I worked with full dedication and conviction. I never gave anybody a reason to raise their voice on me or complaint against me. Most of my day went in the clinic; at night I barely had any power left to do something. I’d often just sleep after having dinner. I missed studying but I had resigned to destiny. Whenever the thought of studying occurred to me, I immersed myself in my work completely; I would clean and re-clean the same area all over again. Apparently, no one had a problem with that.
A week later, the head doctor of the clinic told me that I will be recruited somewhere else, outside the village. I was told that my pay would be increased by three-folds. I convinced my mother that it was still a cleaning job but at a bigger hospital in the city. She eventually agreed. I set forth to my new journey. Once I reached the given address where I was supposed to stay, I met many kids of about my age. They were all newly recruited and were as excited as me. We were told that we had to work in the night shifts and in the day we could play and enjoy among ourselves. We had only one restriction whatsoever, that under any circumstances, we couldn’t leave the building premises and if we dared to leave even for a fraction of a second, they would find us and would do horrible things to us. For the likes of me, risking any little money was not a joke, so we were pretty fine with the whole staying-inside thing.
Our work started at night. One by one we were called in separate rooms. We thought that each one of us would clean a different room. I heard them calling ‘Keshav’ from a distance. I followed the directions and stepped inside the assigned room. As I opened the door, I found a man sitting on a bed. He was in his early forties and wore a proper official suit. He signaled me to enter the room. Once I entered, he got up and bolted the door from inside. I thought that he was our trainer and would teach us high-tech cleaning techniques; for it was a big hospital I had heard.
He asked me to remove my clothes, I did so. Now he asked me to remove his, I did that too. This time I thought that our job was to clean sick patients who were admitted in the hospital. He took my hand and made me rub his groin (I couldn’t think anything), he made me lick his chest (I couldn’t think anything), he made me suck his dick (I couldn’t think anything), he came all over me (I didn’t want to think anything). Finally, he asked me to clean everything. (Now, I understood what my job was, I had to clean ‘this’ mess and whatever I was made to do earlier was just done to create a little more mess in the room).
We all thought that our work was quite different from what we were used to doing and felt that it was a little absurd too. But then, they were paying us well and had recruited so many of us. So maybe this work was actually worth something. Someone told us that what we did was quite a respectable task. We were told that it makes all the doctors happy, and in turn they are able to concentrate more in their work and are able to cure patients successfully. That was like music to our ears. We were finally important to the society. We were helping doctors in curing the world. We were finally proud of ourselves.
We had successfully done our job for one month. It was time for us to receive our salaries. They paid us well on time. I even got a bonus of fifty bucks on recommendation of one of the doctors whom I cleaned-up ten times this month.
Following day, one of our fellow cleaners, Akhil, told us that the previous night he was made to do something different, very different from our usual routine. His rear hurt badly and there were blood spots on the back of his nickers. We couldn’t even ask anyone what had happened. Akhil told us that the man whom he was with kept mumbling, ‘Don’t worry my boy, it’s not rape, it’s not rape.’
The word ‘rape’ struck a chord somewhere inside me. I had definitely heard that word but I couldn’t remember where. I tried too hard to recall. My efforts didn’t go in vain. I remembered the day when I was once reading a newspaper with Rohan. I recalled the headline,’ A 17 year old girl raped and murdered by a Taxi Driver.’ I had asked Rohan what it meant. He was as clueless as me, so we asked his mother to explain us that piece of news. She had told us that it was a very bad thing and we would get to know about it once we were old enough to understand it. While she was walking away from us, I heard her saying to herself, ‘That bastard should be hanged to death; it is such a heinous crime. Thanks to media for taking up such cases and bringing them to light.’
Now I knew that it was not a normal thing to happen. I knew that it was indeed Rape otherwise that doctor wouldn’t have mentioned that word. I assured Akhil that he would get alright and he would definitely get justice. He didn’t understand what justice I was talking about. I didn’t even bother to explain. Now things were falling into place, I finally understood that what we were made to do was not normal. I didn’t tell anyone anything. Now my main aim was to get out of the building without being caught. All the security guards were always fully alert throughout the day. It was only night when they relaxed because at that time all the kids were with their ‘customers’. So, I began waiting for the night.
Throughout the day I kept planning my course of action that I had to follow once I was out of the building. Clock struck eleven. Today my customer was the same guy who recommended me for a bonus. We began our work. I was nervous. While sucking, I bit his testicles hard. He shouted and slapped me. I told him that it was a mistake. Things went according to my plan; he couldn’t bear the pain and fainted. Now I only had time until he regained his consciousness. I wore my clothes and made sure that I didn’t wear any footwear to avoid any kind of added noise. I ran out of the room, down the three floors and reached the main entrance of the building. Thankfully there was just one security guard and he too was busy snoring. I ran as fast as I could and reached the main road. According to my plan, I now had to go to a press office. Rohan’s mother’s words kept echoing in my head, ‘Thanks to media for taking up such cases and bringing them to light.’ And as I had no other plan in my mind, I started asking people if there was any press office nearby. Within an hour I found one after a run of five kilometers. It was the head office of The Express Times.
I had already seen this coming, as expected their security guards didn’t allow me inside. I tried my best to explain them that I had news for them and I badly needed their help. They kept pushing me aside saying that there was no place for beggars in there. As I was struggling with the guards, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was one of their reporters. She took me aside and inquired about my problem. I told her everything, right from my transfer to the rape. I even told her how I got there and what I did to that man. I read her nameplate, her name was Anita. She told me to follow her inside the building. Once inside, Anita took me to the CEO of the company, Mr. Vimal Das, and asked me to recite everything. Though I was losing my patience and was scared to death, I caught my breath and told him everything. As soon as Mr. Vimal finished hearing me, he called up the police and told them the whole story. I was asked to wait until the police arrived.
For the third time I was told to recite everything, but this time to the police. I did as I was told. Police interrogated me for a good one hour and asked me to take them to the building which they were referring to as ‘The Crime Scene’. It was a straight road so I didn’t have much problem taking them there. As we reached, I was shocked to see what was happening there. All the kids were being thrown in a tempo and all the customers were rushing out in their vehicles. Police and media took charge at once. The Express Times also had their own television news channel called ET24. Anita started reporting the event live on television. Police successfully rescued all the kids and caught as many people as they could. They took all the children including me to the police station to inquire about the customers who had run away. They asked us, if with the help of sketch artists we could help them draw sketches of the remaining customers. The Head Constable promised us that he would help search our respective families and homes the coming morning. Just then, their chief commissioner arrived, he patted me on my back, thanked me and promised me a ‘Bravery Award’. I felt elated.
Following morning, I was asked about my whereabouts. I knew my exact address so it wasn’t a problem for them in searching my mother. There were four other kids of my locality with me. A team was sent to my village to fetch our parents. We were asked to wait back at the police station; I still have no clue why. As told, we waited. I jumped out of excitement when I saw the police jeep coming our way. I went near the jeep. The other four kids met their parents and went away with them. I was told to wait again. I couldn’t figure out what was happening, I became really sad seeing that my mother couldn’t come to pick me up. I thought that maybe she was out working and they couldn’t find her. I kept waiting and waiting. Finally the policeman who had gone to my village came to me and blurted out what had happened. I fainted.
I was sent to some new place after two days as it took me complete two days to recover from the shock. Here, again there were too many kids. But unlike that “hospital”, here were kids of all ages and we weren’t made to do any kind of work. We were asked to enjoy, play and study. Yes! I was finally offered Education – Free Education. It was a dream-come-true situation for me. But now studies didn’t interest me much; I had no intention of studying anymore. I saw no reason to study anymore.
One of the kids playing there came to me and asked how I ended up there. He further asked what had happened to them. My heart skipped a beat, I had promised myself that I would not speak or think about it anymore. But then I thought maybe that’s how life works. I took a deep breath and told him, ‘While I was away being a victim of someone else’s crime, my mother worked hard day and night to earn money so that she could call me back and make me study. She had started working at a construction site away in the neighboring city. She was always worried about my other siblings so she used to take them along and they would while around at the site itself. It so happened that one fateful day, the building which they were constructing, collapsed. My mother was working on the fourth floor and my siblings were playing in the ground floor. The building along with my mother and other laborers fell on my brother and sister. They all got buried under the debris and were found dead when rescued. I lost my whole family in one blow. And in case you are wondering about my father, he left us long back. This is my story; this is how I ended up here.’
He felt sorry for me and started telling me his tale. I stopped him; I didn’t care what had happened to him. I was just thinking that the lady who sacrificed her life to make me study wasn’t even there to finally see me studying; those innocent children who just helped their mother in giving wings to my dream, didn’t even get a chance to study themselves. And here I was, who was promised a ‘Bravery Award’ for killing his family. Amidst all these thoughts, I remembered my mother’s promise that one day she would earn enough to make me and my siblings study at a good school, even if she had to sacrifice her own life for it.
I realized that she kept her word and now it was my turn to keep mine. I had to study, I couldn’t let my mother’s and now also my siblings’ sacrifices go in vain. I got a new zeal to study. I felt motivated. I stood up and went outside the main gate to check the name of my new home. It read, ‘The Orphanage House.’
– Also published in ‘Syahi – The Power of Pen’ ( An Anthology)
– Photo by Jyotirmoy Gupta on Unsplash