Updated: Apr 5, 2020
Beads of perspiration trickling down the temple of his head, Ram Sampath continued working with great dedication, oblivious to the fatal summer heat – just like a guardian angel who is unaware of the goodness and the charm it’s painting the world with but continues to flutter its wings, shooting projectile arrows of kindness towards people.
Pretty saree clad women set foot next to his sugar cane cart, as if they have just returned after conquering the world, flashing their ultimate victory weapon – their umbrellas. Patches of white sunscreen gleaming on their faces, making them resemble an onscreen vampire who didn’t get his make-up right. Ram would often come across these kinds of aunties who would stop by to quench their deadly thirst – well deadly ‘coz they would turn scarlet with anger if their parched throats weren’t soothed in a jiffy. These were the kinds of aunties you would often get to see walking on the roads, getting horribly angry with all the domestic chores they are entrusted with, and God forbid if you collided with them accidentally, they threaten you with that look- you know the kind of look which unabashedly howls -‘I’ am going to bury you under a mound of vegetables and pickles if you don’t apologize RIGHT NOW.’
Ram simply had to make sure he satiates these short-tempered housewives with his sweet nectar – his amazingly sweet and divine sugarcane juice. Although he would come across all sorts of customers but the predominant target audience were housewives carrying the burden of heavy grocery bags – who would finally settle for Ram’s magical liquid after battling the scorching sun. Sampath was a lean man, with a wheatish complexion. He was neither friendly nor rude. There was an air of indifference about him as if all he cared about was extracting the juice out of his sugar cane by rotating the machine which required great physical strength. The 10 bucks which he received out of every glass is what bought a slight curve to his lips – but just when the arc would be at the brink of transforming into a smile, he would stop. He found solace in hard work, drudgery and the everyday mundane moments, not in the drill of ‘grin-out-loud’ showiness.
But Ram wasn’t soaked in sweat alone. His wife Kavita was equally exhausted with the daily circus of existing. They thanked their stars that they had their cart to earn their living – even though it was in a very rickety state. The tormenting pain in her eyes was brighter than her shiny green bangles- without which she felt incomplete. The bangles were an extension of her fierce, silent personality. The jangle of her accessory calmed her – reminded her that they will speak on her behalf, like an interpreter decoding the messages of the soul. Kavita stood by her husband’s side no matter what. Even though he took up the onus of all the heavy-duty work – there were times she would just place her palm on his shoulder- an indication that she would take over for a while. She couldn’t make the sugar cane instrument spin the way her husband did with that fabulous spin of ferocity- but she managed to do a decent job. The couple had a set routine and had by now understood the unstated rules and the unspoken boundaries of their relationship. The only time they would share a word or two with each other was when it was time for lunch. Since they didn’t have a fixed location and would roam around the city – transporting their cart from one place to another – all they needed was a footpath or a park round the corner where Kavita would open the contents of the lunch box diligently and Ram would simply catch his breath, soak in the fresh air, followed by finally putting a morsel into his mouth.
What was ironical that even though they were spreading sweetness through their labour, their life was only coated with bitter unmerited experiences. It was like a series of one problem after the other, piling up like a heap of stained clothes left to languish in an unattended laundry bag.
So if Ram would manage to cover the leaking roof up with his meager salary, there would be some other crisis waiting to be solved in the serpentine queue of quandaries. Son’s fee, broken chappals, landlord’s grievances – Ram and Kavita tried their best to convert these nightmares into ‘just another unpleasant day’. Just the thought of having each other by their sides gave them a sense of security. Kavita had weathered many storms but the one thing she couldn’t bear to see is her husband yoked to the tether of ill-health. She felt a great deal of helplessness when she had to walk through this turmoil laden path. The road-side cheap substitutes masquerading as medicines were no good, and the couple even though illiterate, didn’t give in to the placebo of superstitious beliefs to pacify themselves. Life was their teacher and their experiences were their spiritual coach. Unlike their neighbours and other chawl inhabitants, they didn’t believe in wasting their hard-earned money on fake pandits who claimed to know the mantra to reach the zenith of bliss. Ram’s deteriorating health had started to affect their livelihood. Life was gliding at a snail’s pace and the poison had just started to crawl through every vein of their existence. The scrawny man’s life was at crossroads – of staying in this sweet hellhole or levitating in the cloudy clutters of heaven. The decision had to be made. He chose withering away in the coarseness of the soiled ground – the same soiled ground on which he set in motion his means of earning his bread and butter, the same earth on which he spent years wheeling around his cart, scraping his feet and giving people some respite with his gratifying sugar cane juice. He lay there with his eyes open, his heart not synchronizing anymore with the sounds of the world. He gave up – moments of having lunch with his wife everyday under the effulgent sunlight flashed like a quick movie in front of his eyes – and then he finally bid goodbye to the world without a trace of grievance, without a remnant of regret.
Kavita didn’t shed a tear. She just sat there with the lunch box on her side, waiting for her soul mate to meet him in another birth perhaps. She felt numb, but not helpless – there was an infectious sense of assertiveness about her which led her to believe that they are going to meet soon enough. The family received a lump sum amount of insurance money which was enough for Ram’s decorous wife to live a dignified life, at least for a while. But Kavita chose to settle for the hardcore ruthlessness of the earth. Being under the scorching heat, sticking her nose to the grindstone made her feel close to her husband. And whenever she felt fatigue overpowering her, a strong swish of air would give her the much-needed support to help her spin the cart. Deep in her heart she knew it was the soft-spoken Ram who was mysteriously helping her out…without uttering a word like always…!