Angels of Mercy?
Hari Ram comes to Delhi in search of a quick-paying job to repay his loan and reclaim his mortgaged land in Unnao. He is accompanied by his daughter Pari. Will Delhi be the deep, dark pit of corruption everyone has warned them about? Or will they find their guardian angels here. Kritika Dixit tells a sweet and simple tale.
The fire crackled merrily as Pari fed it some dry twigs every now and then. She heard the 9 ‘0’ clock train thunder past. Baba should have been back by now, she thought. At this time, he would normally be seated on the wooden stool in front of the fire, finishing off the last of his meal and telling Pari about the eccentricities of the passengers he had ferried in his rickshaw that day, making her laugh uproariously at the exaggerated descriptions. She heard the sound of a rattling cough and dragging footsteps outside the house. That must be Chacha Munshi who lived next door. He worked as a nightwatchman and left for his work at 9.15 pm every day with clockwork precision. Why had Baba not returned yet? Pari gnawed at her lip. With a start Pari noted that the fire was dying down. She stoked the dying embers, and the flames slowly began to lick through the twigs she had placed in the ‘Choolha’. She did not want the fire to die down as she wanted to feed her father hot rotis when he came back from work. But her meagre stock of twigs and wood was fast running out.
Pari’s ‘Baba,’ Hari Ram, was a rickshaw puller, who despite the freezing, body numbing cold would set out every morning for Chandni chowk to ply his rickshaw. Baba had once explained, haltingly to Pari, that Chandni Chowk was the only place in Delhi where rickshaws could be plied because its narrow serpentine lanes did not allow cars to enter, and people would happily hail rickshaws and pay a decent sum for the ride. So, every morning, at the crack of dawn, Hari Ram would set out from his tiny shack, take the Metro to Chandni Chowk, and pick up his rickshaw from a friend’s place to begin his day’s back breaking work. But Pari had never heard him complain. She knew he wanted to earn enough to pay back the mortgage on his small piece of land in their village in Unnao. A fellow villager had told Baba that Delhi offered a lot of opportunities for quick paying jobs, so one day Baba had decided that he would go to Delhi, work for a year and earn enough to pay back the ‘sahukaar’ who had taken over his land when he was unable to pay back the loan, he had raised for his wife Bano’s treatment of TB. Bano, who was now back to her normal self, had stayed back in the village with Pari’s younger brother while Pari had accompanied her Baba to Delhi, hoping to help him out as best as she could. Without telling her baba, Pari had taken up a job in an apartment complex where she did the cleaning, the utensils and played nursemaid to the 4-year-old son of the owners. She was herself just 13 years old, too young to take on such chores. Her Baba thought she was going to the local government school, but Pari’s loving heart had decided that she had to help her Baba repay the loan as quickly as possible. She had already managed to save up a princely sum of Rs 10,000/- from her salary. She had asked the lady of the house to keep her money but sometimes she would use a bit of her savings to buy chicken to make her father biryani that he loved or get some ‘kathal’ to cook. She always told her Baba that it had been given out as a part of the Mid-day meal in school. Today she had cooked her Baba kathal vegetable, but her Baba still was not home.
Pari hooked aside the plastic curtain in the doorway, which her Baba had put up to give them some privacy and keep out the cold in the winter months. The narrow lane in front of her shack was completely deserted. Everybody seemed to have retired for the night. A thought suddenly struck her. She rushed to the tin trunk in the corner and opened it and began to rummage around till her hand touched a piece of paper. She quickly took it out. The paper had a name written on it and a mobile number. It was the name of Baba’s friend Bhupen Kumar and his mobile number. He stayed in Chandni Chowk and Baba parked his rickshaw at his place. She could call him. He would know about Baba’s whereabouts.
Pari quickly thrust aside the plastic curtain and called out ‘Chachi’. When there was no response, she crossed over to the shack opposite theirs and rattled the door. Chachi’s husband and son were both working in a factory, so they earned enough to afford an iron door for their shack. She heard the rattle of the chain as someone unhooked the door from the inside. It was Rama Bhabhi, the son’s wife. She was a soft and sweet person who mostly kept quiet and rarely smiled.
“Pari?” Rama Bhabhi looked perplexed.
Before she could say another word, Chachi bustled in.
“Arre Pari bitiya. What happened? Do you want something?”
Chachi’s familiar and concerned voice made Pari blink back her tears.
“Chachi, Baba has not come back home. I’m so worried. I have his friend’s number. Can I please use your mobile to call him?”
“Of course, bitiya. Come inside. It is very cold. I’ll fetch the mobile in a jiffy.”
Pari nodded and waited. And sure enough Chachi was back with the mobile. She handed it over to Pari.
“You call. I don’t know how to use this.”
Pari took the phone gingerly from Chachi. She knew how to use it as she had often seen the 4-year-old Munna use it. Baba would also take her once a month to a shop from where they would call and talk to her Mai and Chutka, her brother. With great care she punched in Bhupen Chacha’s number. She waited with bated breath to see if the call would connect. She heaved a sigh of relief when she heard a distant ringing.
After a few moments a voice responded. “Kaun?”
Pari said, “Bhupen Chacha, it’s me Pari. I’m Hari Ram’s daughter.”
“Pari? Who Pari? Speak loudly!!! I can’t hear you.”
Pari said loudly, “I’m Hari Ram’s daughter. He leaves his rickshaw with you every day.”
“Oh! you are Hari Ram’s daughter? Then you should come quickly. Your father had an accident. A stupid reriwala dropped his reri on your baba’s foot. He is in pain. His X-ray shows he has broken his foot. I’m in the hospital with him but there is no doctor. We are waiting for the doctor to come and plaster his foot. When you come, get some money for the medicines and the plastering. We are at the Mohalla Clinic in Chandni Chowk.”
Before Pari could say anything, the phone was disconnected. Pari felt dazed. Chachi shook her shoulder gently.
“What happened Pari?”
Pari told her about Baba’s accident.
“How do I go to the hospital Chachi? I don’t know the place.”
Chachi looked thoughtful than snapped her fingers.
“Rama’s brother has an autorickshaw. We can ask him to take us. I will come with you Pari.”
She paused. “But I don’t have money.”
“Chachi, I have some money, but it is with my madam where I work. I have her number. I can call her, and we can take the money from her on the way to the hospital.”
Chachi patted her shoulder.
“Call her. Rama, ask your brother to bring his auto,” she said taking charge of the situation.
Rama nodded and went down the lane to ask her brother to prepare the auto for the long ride to Chandni Chowk. Pari called her madam and hesitatingly told her she needed money for her Baba’s treatment. The lady muttered something unintelligible but agreed to give her the money.
After a long, very cold ride in the open auto, Chachi and Pari reached the hospital. Keshav Bhaiya, Rama Bhabhi’s brother, had draped a plastic sheet on the auto, to keep out the worst of the cold. Even so, it had been a freezing ride. The hospital was bustling with life even at midnight. There were lots of patients on gurneys and their anxious attendants, sitting on chairs in the brightly lit corridor. A little lost, they looked around wondering what to do next.
Suddenly, Chachi hollered loudly, “Arre Banwari!! Yahan toh aa!!”
A young boy, pushing a gurney looked up in surprise. “Arre Chachi Aap yahan. Sab khariyat? Abhi aate hain.”
The boy pushed the gurney to the end of the corridor with other empty gurneys and loped back. He had an open, pleasant face. He touched Chachi’s feet and asked again, “what brings you here Chachi?”
Chachi told him all the details and said, “We have to find Pari bitiya’s Baba.”
“Don’t worry Chachi. Let me find out.” After that Banwari had taken control of the situation. He quickly ushered them to the room where there was a long line waiting to be attended to. Pari’s Baba, was sitting in a wheelchair his face scrunched up in pain, awaiting his turn, while Bhupen Chacha was arguing with the orderly, trying to explain that Baba needed immediate attention. Banwari shushed him into silence and took the orderly aside, explaining to him that Hari Ram was his Chacha from the village. At once, the orderly’s irritated demeanour changed. He came over to Hari Ram’s wheelchair, dipped down to touch his feet and pushed the wheelchair into the doctor’s room. He also beckoned Pari and Chachi into the room. Setting Hari Ram’s foot in plaster took about 45 mins. The Doctor wrote down medicine for the pain and the swelling which Banwari quickly managed to fetch from the hospital pharmacy. Then Banwari settled them in a corner, away from the noise and bustle and brought all of them cups of hot steaming tea. “It is free for the hospital staff,” he smiled.
Pari was deeply touched by the affectionate warmth with which Bhanwari Bhaiya and Bhupen Chacha had helped her Baba. She tried to offer them money for the medicine and plaster, but they would hear none of it. Taking leave, she touched their feet and thanked them profusely. Keshav Bhaiya, in the meanwhile, had strapped a high stool on which Hari Ram could rest his leg, for the journey back to their house.
They reached their shacks just as the sun peeped out. Keshav bhaiya and Chachi helped Hari Ram into their shack and put him on the mattress on the floor. Hearing the sound of the auto, Rama Bhabhi and some other neighbours stepped out to enquire about Baba’s wellbeing. Rani Chachi, who had helped Pari to get the job at the apartment, left some hot parathas and tea for Hari Ram and Pari.
Pari was overwhelmed. She had always heard that the people in big cities are selfish and care for only themselves. But she had seen a warm and helpful side of the people of Delhi. She thanked God for sending so many angels of mercy to help her and Baba. After making sure Baba was resting comfortably, she left for the apartment to begin her workday with a light heart and a huge smile on her face.