The Temporary Bridge over the River – part 3 of The Grand Fair on the banks of The Great, The Younger Sister and The Subtle


 Update for week ended 22 Feb 2013

“Wake up, Monu”, nudged Govind, the novice initiate. The morning sun had cast a scarlet hue to the skies outside, and one could see without having to squint much within the darkened tent. Monu moaned and pleaded to sleep a tad longer. He had curled up into a ball and had tugged the warm blanket over his face. “Don’t you want to find your parents? asked Govind. That startled Monu, whose eyes opened immediately and he sat up with a start. All this while, Monu had rested blissfully parking his lost status in his sleep and Govind’s words literally woke him up. He burst out crying as he looked at his surroundings and Govind sat beside him with the warm glass of milk. He nudged Monu to drink it while it was warm. Monu turned his head away and that was when the Sadhu Baba entered the tent. He looked at Monu and asked him endearingly whether he would like to go out and look for his parents. Monu was eager, but did not know how to go about it. What if he got lost again? Govind meanwhile, pushed the lip of the tall steel tumbler to Monu’s dry lips and instinctively, Monu started sipping. Govind held the tumbler in his right hand as his left took Monu’s little hands to cup the tumbler, and he slowly let go and got up to leave the tent. The Sadhu Baba walked up to Monu and told him about Govind’s registration of the “found” Monu and they could go and check today to see if there was a registration for a “lost” Monu? The Sadhu baba was convinced that history would not be so unkind as to repeat itself here, but he knew not to fight against fate. But he was hopeful that Monu would find his parents and so asked little Monu to get ready for his bath and be clean and prepared to go back to his parents. In the past 12 hours or more, the Sadhu Baba had been drawn to the child that he felt his eyes turn moist as he said that last sentence. Govind was a teenager, but mature for his age and he tended to little Monu as though he was his younger brother, sometimes chiding, sometimes goading and at times scolding, as he went about getting the boy to brush his teeth with the powder charcoal ashes mixed with salt, (which Monu immediately spat out and made a face), getting him to take off his clothes for the bath – partly reluctant because of the cold, but mostly because of the open nature of the “bathroom” and the persons around looking at him and laughing, and finally getting dressed in cleaner but larger clothes – with folded sleeves on the kurta and double folded “dhoti” all in ochre colour. Monu was convinced that even if his parents would recognize his face, they would disown him by his appearance. He wanted to take off the “dhoti”, but then relented, lest the people in the Ashram laugh at him again if they see him unclothed. Govind was patient and stern and the Sadhu baba looked pleased and relieved that this rebel had become responsible.

Govind had run away from a broken home – a drunk father who had abandoned his family for other hedonic pursuits while his mother struggled to get two ends meet in the filthy hovel that they called home. She had no money even to wash up, and hence found it difficult to even get work as a househelp. She would work at the street sewers cleaning out the muck and at times was asked to broom away the roadkill of a cat that had lived its nine lives, or a puppy that had strayed from its mother. It was horrendous work and Govind was determined to not follow her or his father. He ran away to the railway tracks nearby and one night slept in one of the waiting train compartments. That is where he found his answer – of running away and joined a troop of wandering hermits who had visited his hometown of Rameswaram and were now returning to their abode near the Great River. He was Sundar then. At first he was willing to do small menial work for them, like cleaning their plates after their meal, taking the senior monk to the bathroom and helping him clean up after that, but by the time he reached his destination, he had had enough. This was not what he had run away for – he seemed to be doing the same work that he did not want to and so one night ran away from that hermitage. As he wandered the streets,   he bumped into two men who had just kidnapped a woman and had beaten her up and were hauling her away in a waiting tonga, 2 wheeled horse-cart. Sundar wanted to shout but held his wits as he raised his arms horizontal to the ground and started ambling about like a blind person. He wanted to help the woman but was scared and waited for them to leave in the tonga. Then he ran away as fast he could till he stopped outside a lane where there was an evening prayer in progress. Sundar mingled with the crowd and he felt safe. He walked in towards the kitchen and asked if there was any food to eat. The Sadhu who was in charge of the kitchen was kind and he offered the boy some rotis and dal, wheat bread and lentils. The boy did not know how to break the bread and eat by dunking into the lentil, he was used to mixing the lentils with rice to eat as they would serve at his school in Rameswaram. That is what he did. The Sadhu smiled and asked the boy who he was and where he had come from. The boy could not speak the local language well, but his expressive face gave the gist of his tryst and the Sadhu offered him space in the hermitage only if he would work. Sundar was a reluctant worker, at times absconding from the hermitage to play with the older kids in the street, but more often getting into a brawl with them. He did not mind being beaten up as long as he got to beat one or two of them. The Sadhu baba found it difficult to tame this young boy, but was patient with him, especially at the evening prayers. Sundar mastered the bhajans, devotional songs so well and he sang it with such devotion that he soon became the lead singer of the group. That was one reason why the Sadhu baba had hope for this young rebel – and now he saw that young Sundar had indeed become Govind – almost like the hero of that ancient poem – Geet Govind.

And the day ahead was one filled with hope and the Sadhu baba was about to take young Monu with him to the Lost and Found Desk of the Great Fair when they heard a loud thud and screams rent the air. It was not the usual sound of the fortnightly festive dips at the Great Fair. The cries were not that of the Sadhus rushing into the water for their ritual baths, but more of children and women. One of the ashram mates came rushing from the main gate, halting as he saw the quizzical look in the Sadhu Baba’s face. He was panting and frightened. There was a stampede that had occurred as a large brdge that traversed the river banks to the sand bar island in the center of the confluence and thousands of people had either fallen into the river or were trampled over on the remains of the bridge as people scampered back to the banks for safety. Monu clung to the Sadhu Baba as he heard this.

 

The D Street was trying to shake off its fears of the previous weeks when the D Boyz had lost their way and their SENSEX and had lost over 500 points. And so when they returned to D Street this week, they tried to gather their lost selves and re-assemble the SENSEX. As they picked the threads together and almost heaved a sigh of relief as a Malaysian air carrier tied up with an Indian pioneer aviator business group which let their SENSEX soar skywards, they were jolted out of their senses as another airline wanted to relook at its proposed announcement of an Indian JV. And then the bad news of a trouble from the West blew in and the Boyz who brought the news were panting out of breath as they received the news towards the end of their week – the SENSEX had tumbled 19317. 

 

Monu looked up at the Sadhu baba and tears filled his eyes. How would he go out to look for his parents. He did not cry or bawl, but tears still rolled down his eyes. The Sadhu Baba looked down at him, and held him tight turning his gaze outwards. How much suffering would the young seven year old have to endure? he wondered. He called out to Govind to take the boy back in. The Sadhu Baba urged everyone to stay inside, till there were further announcements. He knew that the situation would settle only if people did not panic, but how could he manage this for folks outside his group? Ramlal had returned that morning after a futile search for Monu. He had registered his complaint at night of the missing boy but had forgotten the photograph – that crucial item that could have saved him and his wife Vimla the travails of the coming days. And then there was this news of the stampede. Though they were safe, Ramlal knew that the stretched administration of this temporary city on the banks of the Great River would not have time to deal with a lost child – they would rather focus on the dying ones and see how they could save as many as they could. How ironical, thought Ramlal, the reason why people came to take a dip at this Great Confluence of the Great, The Younger Sister and the Subtle was to become immortal as legend had it that the place would be blessed by the drops from the heavenly ambrosia of immortal nectar. And here were people dying as they fell into the river. Ramlal looked at Vimla and were relieved to have each other with them at this moment, but Vimla’s eyes were filled with tears. She was worried about Monu.

 

I have not heard back from you on the lost and found ones and any other stories you would have from a Great Fair like this one. Please share with me, if you please.

 

Cheers and have a great week ahead.

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