By Dr.Aniruddha Babar,
Tetso College, Dimapur
Sheela woke up from deep slumber with a noise of an alarm and realized it’s already 7. She reached her hands to catch hold of her mobile. There was no Good Morning message on Whatsapp. Yawning she rubbed her eyes with her hands and kept the mobile back on her bedside table. She blinked her eyes for a moment and started looking at the fan hanging from the decorated ceiling spinning in a rhythm. “Life has been volatile; it was very difficult to adjust with the new reality that came upon me when Ramos took his last breath”. Sheela was getting nostalgic. “Sweety was not even a year old, she never had the opportunity to experience a father’s love and care, I had to play both the roles at young age of 20. From a small ‘Roadside eatery’ to ‘Chain of Restaurants’ I came a long way in 30 years. A lonely journey of victories and defeats was too much. There are countless unhealed wounds and longings”. Clouds of thoughts started gathering in her mind.
Sheela Fernandez was born in a Sao Jacinto Island, a small village located in Mormugao Taluka of South Goa districtin a catholic Christian family. Her father was a fisherman who spent his life in drinking and gambling. When he died, both Sheela and her mother were relieved. Sheela neither liked nor ever respected her father because of his drinking habits and abusive behaviour with her mother who was compelled to be the sole breadwinner of family. While riding through difficult curves of life she fell in love with Ramos Saghoji, son of a rich Civil Contractor from Cansaulim village. Nobody in vicinity liked Ramos because of his character. Though he was strong, handsome, educated and intelligent, he had other side too, he was a well-known womaniser, but Sheela never bothered, nor Ramos ever failed to prove his love for her. Whether Sheela really loved Ramos was a question that even Sheela could not have answered because somewhere deep inside her mind she knew that she wanted to escape from the clutches of poverty and for that she needed a saviour. Despite stiff opposition from his family Sheela and Ramos got married, subsequently his parents; though reluctantly, accepted Sheela as their Daughter-In-Law, however Sheela knew so well that her ‘roots’ had already built an unbreakable wall between her and in-laws. Within a year of marriage Sheela gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, but her happiness did not survive longer. One fateful evening, when Sheela and Ramos were taking an evening walk Ramos had sudden heart attack and he died on the spot. Sheela’s world changed completely. Ramos left her leaving behind Sweety in her delicate arms. As expected, her in-laws rejected Sheela and her daughter completely. They never saw her beauty nor did they ever recognize her character or manners and dedication to the family, what they saw was her ‘caste’. Sheela was a daughter of fisherman, the stigma of which has followed throughout her life.
Her lone struggle to survive started with the confiscation of her small house and cow by moneylender who was yet to recover money which her drunkard father loaned from him. Seeing shelter disappearing above her head Sheela soon moved to Mumbai with sweety and old mother to test her ‘stars’ where she discovered commercial value of her culinary skills. With little money in hands and support of mother she set up small street-side eatery where delicious Goan style Fish Fry would be served in affordable price. Poverty was nothing new to Sheela but she had never been outside of Goa. Crowded streets of Mumbai often made her nervous and fearful. Poverty of rich Mumbai dwindled her soul. She knew she had to fight with this cruel city to survive. After she finishes with her work, she would often sit silently at night in her ten by ten rental room at Anandnagar slum area thinking about her painful past and uncertain future.
As days pass bySheela’s financial condition improved. Sweety now started going to municipality school. Money was coming in from her newly opened small roadside Dhaba, now there was nothing to worry about ‘survival’. However, there was still something missing in Sheela’s life. She has long forgotten Ramos, but she could not forget the memories of ‘those’ delicate moments that they created together. She was a human too-a woman with blood, flesh and ‘hunger’. All these years in Mumbai she never allowed herself to get entangled in emotional relationship with any man. Mumbai failed to destroy physical charm of Sheela. She was still the same who won heart of a womaniser. Hundreds of men of all ages approached her but she kept denying their advances. Tired souls left her after failed attempts except one –‘Kachroo Bhangi’. He was a peculiar character. He was about 5ft tall, fair with thin, malnourished physique. Kachroo was half blind. His one eye got damaged while cleaning one of the ‘Gutters’ of Mumbai. Kachroo was one of the contractual labourers working for sanitation department of Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC). Kachroo always wanted to be helpful to Sheela. Like a small child he would roam around her tall and hefty figure. Sheela too liked Kachroo for his innocence, honest and hardworking nature. Every morning before going to work Kachroo would take his old bicycle and go to wholesale fish market to buy fish stock for a day and some vegetables, then he would open wooden gate of Dhaba and start washing-cleaning-cutting, boiling, frying- fish, vegetables, rice and also prepare dough for rotis. By 8’o clock in the morning he would leave for work. In the evening Kachroo would attend B.A. lectures in Siddharth College at Fort. Kachroo was proud of his college, not only because it was set up by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, but also because its doors are open for an ‘out caste’ man like him who would go, sit in class with torn clothes and naked feet. His father would often tell him, “kachriya, study, study hard, become someone like Babasaheb”. Illiterate “JhanguBhangi” had only one dream- to see Kacharoo-his only son becoming a ‘Badaa Saab’. While on his death bed “Jhangu Bhangi’ told Kacharoo to not to waste money on ‘Last Rites’ but use them to buy books. “Kachariya, after I am gone burn my body thinking that you are burning a waste, don’t waste money, use paisa to buy books Kachariya, buy books and study”. Sheela mourned on death of Jhangu Bhangi. Her emotions for now orphan Kachroo became stronger.
Sheela often liked to see Kachroo studying. She herself studied till class five. Kachroo also used to help Sweety in her studies. Gradually he became a part of Sheela’s life. They would not talk much but Sheela knew that Kachroo liked her as a woman. With Kachroo’s dedicated help her business was running good. He never asked a single paisa nor ever expected words of gratitude from her. Sheela would often find him lost in his own world. With cold silence on lips, his thin, malnourished body would work tirelessly to survive.
She often used to wonder as to why Kachroo never spoke about other women. She often used to think as to why young man like him should remain single and for how long. Kachroo’s college was also coming to an end. One night as usual after finishing his college lectures, he came to Sheela’s place to teach Sweety. “Kachroo, when will you marry re”? Sheela asked. Kachroo looked at her and burst into laughter, “BaaiJii, my salary goes to one time food and study, from where will I feed ‘Gharwali’, poor man like me has no right to love or marry, see no clothes too”. Sadness in his eyes was deeply nauseatic for Sheela who herself was fighting battle to survive.”I want to study more and more books to become like Babasaheb Ambedkar, I don’t want to die cleaning ‘shit’ of this city”, words of embers were coming out of Kachroo’s small mouth. A five feet tall malnourished man was challenging a system that compelled him to do dirtiest job in the world. Sheela smiled. “Will you remember me when you become Bada Saab Kachroo”? Their conversation abruptly stopped as Police entered Sheela’s room.
“Kya re, are you Kachroo Bhangi”?
“Hasaab, Kachroo Bhangi”, ! replied Kachroo folding his hands.
“Take him, Sala Bhangi. Chor”. Inspector shouted.
Two constables came forward to catch hold of Kachroo. Seeing them Kachroo started rolling on floor at their feet crying for mercy. Seeing this Sheela shouted furiously at police but they did not listen to her. “Saab, I did not do anything, my exam is coming saab, don’t take me I am not a thief, saab my books, my books”. Kachroo’s words were hitting on deaf ears of inhabitants of Anandnagar. Kachroo was taken away. “YOU come only for people like us, we are illiterate, poor. Anyone can Come and take us”. Sheela shouted looking at Police Jeep going away. After that incident nobody heard anything about Kachroo except news that came after couple of years that he was awarded 3 years of imprisonment for theft. People sunk in darkness of poverty; illiteracy and struggle to survive cannot do much except seeing their brethren disappearing in the quicksand of injustice.”Dying becomes living” for some unfortunate souls in this unfair world.
However, time did not stop. Sheela’s business was gradually expanding. After Kachroo’s arrest she truly became lonely and helpless, moreover, her only support her mother died too. However, by this time Sheela bought one old restaurant from a Bankrupt owner. It was biggest risk she took all alone. She invested every paisa that she earned all those years in this new project; however, due to her hard work she started it running successfully. With this new fortune she bought new 2 BHK flat at Versova. Sheela was experiencing fruits of her honesty, commitment and dedication towards her business.”
In all these years, she never allowed sweety to help her. She kept her daughter far away from the practical hardships that she faced. Sweety was given everything by her mother, her every need, requirement was fulfilled. Now Sweety started studying in new English medium convent school. Sheela was happy that she never disappointed her as she always found her daughter’s name in top ten rank holders of school. Meanwhile Sheela also started to learn reading and writing English properly. Her night routine now completely changed. She stopped thinking about past and worrying about future. After her dinner, she would take dictionary, newspaper and start copying news with pen on a plain paper for hours. Kachroo’s memories have become her inspiration.
With a takeover of ‘Golden Desert Bar and Restaurant’ – an international brand, Sheela Fernandez became one of the most powerful hoteliers in city of Mumbai. Her interviews started coming in Newspapers, she started to be invited by various Hotel Management institutes for expert talk. Sweety was then studying to become a Barrister in England. Sheela recently constructed new Bungalow, a news of which was kept a surprise for her daughter. She named her Bungalow by the official name of sweety “Cynthia”. “Cynthia’s Villa” became symbol of three decades of struggle of Sheela. Entire past was moving on before her eyes like a movie; Sheela’s mind got entangled in different scale of time and space.
Mobile started ringing. Sheela suddenly woke up from her deep nostalgia; all drenched in sweat.
“Mom, I called you thrice, are you still sleeping”? WAKE UP !
“Sweety, I am sorry Baccha, say, how are you? Enjoying Switzerland”?
“Yaa Ma, too good, next time we both will go together okay”?
“alright alright, please take good care of your health and enjoy”.
“Okies, Buh Bye”.
Sheela kept mobile in her drawer, adjusted wraps of her nighty and tied her hairs.
“Come on, you successfully sailed through storms, get up its morning baby; sunshine is waiting for you”, she mumbled to herself with a loud laughter.
Sheela was so happy when Sweety accepted marriage proposal of Rishi- a young writer and Professor. “My Baccha has now become a part of highly educated and cultured family.” she lost in thoughts as she sits on commode. Even though she was missing her daughter, Sheela became happier and a content woman. After Sweety’s marriage sheela thought all her hardships and struggles finally bore fruits. Newly painted walls of her Bungalow reminded her of sweety’s passion for colours. “I am sure her children will inherit her passion”, Sheela mumbled to herself.
Now Sheela wants to pursue her own passions. She wants to travel, wear sexy dresses, spend money on herself and write. She wants to do everything that she could not afford to do all her life. Her Business has now been safe in the hands of her daughter and top executives. Sheela once thought of retiring, but she knew that her work has become part and parcel of her life. “I will have to live with this” she said aloud while looking at her reflection in a mirror.
“Kachroo, poor fellow, how could I forget his face when police was dragging him like animal, what might have become of him, he never returned home. Why am I thinking about him now? Do I still miss him? Yes I do. Do I still like him? Yes I do. Do I still love him? I think yes, I do. I think I loved only one man in my life, Ramos had my body; Kachroo became part of my ever burning Soul. ‘Baaiji, keep your keys, I am going to work, your ‘Maal’ is ready in kitchen’, his words are still echoing in my ears.”
God knows where he is now. I wish I could hug him and tell him, “Kachroo, Aee Kachroo re, your BaaiJee can now read, write and speak English ek dum gori Memsaab type”.Sheela smiled, walked out of her bedroom and the door behind her shut with a bang.