incessant crying brought Smitha out to the balcony. The Iron wallah’s
baby was bawling away. A thin cloth separated its tender skin from
the pinpricks of the gravelly road. The rusted ‘box on wheels’ that
he used to iron clothes, gave little shade to the poor child.
This scene was not
new to Smitha. She knew the baby’s mother well. She worked as a
maid in a couple of houses and had to leave the child with her husband
for hours together, and this was the plight of the baby on most
days. “Give her some thing to drink” Smitha yelled over the din
of the traffic. Majeeth the Iron wallah looked at her balefully,
“I just gave her some milk to drink an hour back”, he retorted curtly.
“She must be
hungry again”, said Smitha “I will go down the drain just
feeding this good for nothing burden”. Smitha’s sensitive
ears picked up his cruel retort and tears of anger and frustration
welled up in her eyes.
“If you can’t
feed her then why did you have her?” she replied angrily.
Again Majeeth gave her a vacant look.
a child is God’s will” was his remark, “You see I wanted a
boy…” and his pause spoke volumes. Smitha went inside too
angry and nonplussed with the conversation. The crying had
only petered down and not stopped completely. Exhausted the
poor thing must be dozing, thought Smitha Quick in thought,
she was quick in action too. She grabbed twenty rupees from
her bag and ran down stairs.
“Here buy some milk
and feed the baby, don’t you dare buy any thing else. Otherwise
I will tell my father”, she threatened, the only way she knew. Majeeth
was indebted to her father in more ways than one and she knew he
would hesitate to cross that line. Smitha’s disturbed thoughts trailed
behind her, all the way into the house. She peeped out to see Majeeth
giving the baby a bottle of milk. The baby’s thirsty suckling brought
fresh tears into Smitha’s eyes. Finally the baby dozed off and a
semblance of peace returned to their neighborhood.
Lost in thought Smitha
didn’t realize that time had lapsed and slowly she got up from torpor
and went about her evening chores, and waited for her mother to
come back from work. “Amma do you know that Majeeth doesn’t even
feed his baby daughter?” all the anguish of the afternoon poured
out as she narrated the incident to her mother. Tired after a long
day at work, Nirmala paid little attention and went about her routine,
as all mothers do, nodding and ‘tching’ at all the correct places.
“Amma you have not paid attention to a single word that I have said”
exploded Smitha, catching her mother’s attention immediately.
“No Kanna I heard
every word you said, but you must remember, they are very poor and
a girl child seems like a burden. The moment a girl child is born
they think of the difficulties of marrying her off, and of giving
dowry. Our society is to blame.” said Nirmala candidly. "All
that may be true, but is it too much to ask a father to feed his
own daughter?” replied Smitha emotionally. Realizing her daughter
was more affected than she had expected, Nirmala sat down to console
The futility of fighting
mindsets, conservatism, and ritualism were all funny jargons that
Smitha refused to accept. Nirmala finally gave up, only concluding
that Smitha should not get affected by such scenes as we lived in
India, a country abounding in such differences and injustices. Smitha’s
young blood simmered. She promised herself to keep an eye on the
baby. The resilience of human life against all odds, with a father
who couldn’t care less and a mother who could not care enough, the
baby grew into a little toddler (a pretty thing, under the layers
of dirt). Her place was the same, a mangy cloth under the same rusted
Smitha was rushing to college one day, when the baby’s shrieks reached
her ears. A wail suddenly reached a shrieking pitch. Horrified,
Smitha stood rooted to the spot. It was the baby’s shriek that finally
galvanized her into action. She tore away the rope around the toddler’s
hips and grabbed the child. She could not make out who was trembling
more. Seeing a piece of chapatti in her hands, a stray dog had crept
upon the child, ready to pull the piece from the hapless baby, when
her shrieks had alerted Smitha. “Majeeth ,Majeeth, where are you?”
she yelled. She did not expect a reply, she knew he must have gone,
to down a peg or two, leaving the baby tied to his cart, at the
mercy of crows and stray dogs. “I will kill him if I see him” thought
Smitha as she raced upstairs with the child.
“Amma, Amma” she sobbed
out the story to her mother. "Calm down, we’ll do some thing”
consoled Nirmala. But Smitha‘s mind was made up. She waited for
her father to come back and told him: the baby was not going back.
“I will take care of this baby, and I am not giving her back to
that man”, she declared emphatically. There was pin drop silence
as they digested the fact. Smitha’s decision was radical, grudgingly
(admirably) they accepted the fact that the baby was here to stay.
Majeeth and his wife came around the next day, to claim the baby,
but really to ask for money in exchange. Her father settled that
by willing to overlook past debts. Majeeth’s wife was silently happy,
and came around the next day to thank them. The baby thrived, happier,
healthier and safer. Everyone’s darling.
the child a new name, Vinita. A new life. A new chance at life!
She changed the child’s destiny.
Contributing Story Teller
Sowmya Srinivasn, 33yrs, married 2 children. Post graduate
diploma in Special education, a Masters in Psychology,from Annamalai
Univ. Passion for story telling, led to a certificate in Story Telling.
I do story telling at activity centers and libraries, and write
whenever I have time.