Shehjar e-magazine

A short story

*B. L. Dhar

y name is Puran Purandekar. They call me “Poo”. When I say “they”, I mean everybody including my parents. Why do they call me so? Do they not understand it is a bad word? I didn’t know what it meant until someone told me. I have a faint recollection of my school days when a teacher once coined the name as punishment for my not doing the homework. It has stuck since. The boys at school called me so and there were no girls there fortunately. But my fortune did not last long. Soon girls in my neighborhood started calling me Poo, as everyone else did. I became Poo for everybody and the tag has not left me even today when I am 24, and almost touching 25. Why am I saying this to you now is because I have to tell my story to some one and you need to know the truth and all of it. I believe when you have to tell your story it should be truthful and you should be sincere in your effort. So in a nutshell I am making a sincere effort to truthfully tell you my story. And why am I telling you my story? Well you have to when you are in jail at the age of 24 and there is nothing else to do but to tell your story. When I told the police my story they did not believe me. And since you are not present when I need to tell my story I write it down for you. When you read it you decide if I should continue to be in jail.

I was born to a poor farmer family in a non-descript village in Maharashtra, three hours away by bus from the glittering metropolis of Bombay towards Nasik. We have a small mud thatched cottage on our farm, which is not a big one, but enough for my parents to eke out a living from it. I started with helping my parents in the fields after I completed my middle school as I had nothing new to do or nowhere else to go. The place of higher learning was a distance away that I could not commute to on foot and had no money for transport. This is what every son of a farmer did in the village. Frankly, I also did not want to go to the High School because I didn’t have the intelligence to go through with the ordeal of higher learning. I found it fit to toil in the fields during the day besides doing other chores and spend the evenings with other boys in the village. We played local games and often watched TV in a friend’s house, as I had none at home. My parents were poor as I said earlier, but they had great hopes from me. My father dreamt I would turn out a genius and become a government official and build a pucca house in some big city and have my own TV and maybe own a bicycle or a scooter if the salary was right.

The days passed peacefully, but the wicked mind was not at peace with what I was doing. I was growing up in a village that was fast turning into a city by itself. The neighborhood changed fast. New faces turned up everywhere and small mud houses began turning into concrete houses that accommodated two to four families at each floor for four or even six floors. The farms were disappearing as fast as my friends who earlier used to toil on them along with their families. My family was propositioned into giving up our land for a big sum of money. My father refused. Firstly he did not know what he would do without a farm and secondly he was suddenly scared to own so much money for fear it would get stolen if he had nowhere to live instead of in his own village. The land mafia was active and we were under constant threat of evacuation from our land. It would happen sometime and I knew it from stories I heard from other sources in the village. I could not provide any cogent alternative to my father if he gave up on his land. Whatever happened to the village, it did not happen to me. I remained Poo for the new incumbents of the area. I do not know how they learnt about my name, and they still call me Poo.

Now when I say I will reveal all truthfully, I should not hesitate to say that I was badly beaten up by the policemen who caught me that day in Bombay. Yes Sir that is what they call this mega city where I landed one day from my little village. Firstly I did not realize the place was so close to my village. I had heard about it and the bad things that happened here. I had seen enough of its beauty on TV screens in my village. I had seen the tall buildings, wide roads and a host of glittering shops across the whole town and always wondered how people manage to live there with so much going around them. Only I never visited it before and nor had I any intention of coming here. Firstly I was scared of the people who appeared to be always in haste. Then there were those roads and the many tall buildings that I had to frequently look up and sideways to triangulate my position. It was early in the morning that I had arrived by bus from my village. The morning sun was up and it was already getting hot and humid though it was only mid March. At this time of the day it was cool in my village. Even though I was looking fishy and out of place in this city, no one seemed to notice me moving around. I was disappointed to see no reaction of the people’s faces to offer a conversation that would enable me to take directions to the place I was destined to be at. That was very unlike my village where we would offer directions to an outsider when we saw him. I would gladly have told them my name was Poo, if asked. No one did. In fact I already escaped near death twice, once when a two-story red bus brushed past my shoulder and the second time when a passerby, who seemed in a hurry, shouldered me making me lose my balance as I was thrown out on the road full of onrushing traffic.

Coming back to the day I refer to as my first day in the city of Bombay, I must admit that I felt a sense of pride that this place was in my own country and it belonged to me as it did to everyone else
who lived here. But where shall I live if I do not quickly find the place that will provide me shelter. That
is what the “babu” had promised when he gave me directions to arrive at Zaveri Bazaar, which I had yet to find. And how to find out if no one talks to you. I had the address written on a piece of paper that I would produce to passers by who responded by saying no to my queries. The move to shift to Bombay was necessitated after a discussion with my father who proposed that I take up a job some place if we were forced to give up our land on incessant demand by the builder mafia in our village. There was probably no alternative but right now I was feeling disheartened and desolate. I was hungry as hell. I knew I had to buy my food and I had some money in my pocket, but I did not know where I was supposed to buy food. I did not see food shops the way you find in my village. What I saw was expensive looking places with tables located inside shops that looked a bit uncomfortable for my taste. I finally located a roadside tea stall nearby and with a little hesitation I asked for a cup of tea and some biscuits for which the trader charged me an enormous amount of money. I was already being cheated. Hunger satisfied I asked the tea stall owner directions to the place written on the paper. I almost pleaded for help and he sensed urgency in my appeal. I finally got my location right and entered Zaveri Bazaar just as a deafening noise shattered my ear drums and I fell to the ground reeling in pain with my eardrums collapsed. I saw hell break loose as a sea of humanity rushed in all directions and some of them trampled upon me. I was in deep pain and remained rooted there for a very long time until much later when I sensed some people carrying me on a stretcher to a vehicle close by. I soon learnt I was in a hospital and bandaged at various places. This was the third time I escaped death the very first day in Bombay and I cursed myself for having come here.

Well I must tell you that I had agreed to my father that I would work for a living at the place mentioned by the stranger who had convinced my father of a good fortune coming my way at Bombay. I had to work at a place that did needle work on clothes and I was going to be trained in the skill by this man who was supposed to be my beneficiary, my employer and a savior. But now I was in a hospital bed and watched by a policeman who questioned me a lot about my reasons to be at the blast site. He also questioned others at the hospital, but he seemed more interested in me rather than the rest. I am yet to make any contact with my would-be employer and his address on the piece of paper is now untraceable. I dropped it some time when the blast occurred and could not provide adequate assurance to the police officials about my reason to be there or my affiliations to the city where I was found. I am now a suspect. I regained my health in a few days of treatment and the hospital declared me fit for discharge. Go away I did but it was not on my own but a forceful detention by the police who are now keeping me in the lockup for the last one-week or so. I am being constantly questioned day and night and the police are trying to verify my antecedents. The off and on beatings that I receive are not better than the beating I already received due to the blast. I am fazed and desperate to go back home and tell my father I would continue to live a poor man in my village than a rich tycoon in a big city. Now I write this missive and address it to the good people of this great city and ask for my pardon to have ventured out here without their consent. I promise never to come again if you let me go this time and I will not say any evil about anyone anytime. You are my judge and I seek your advice for I have no one else with whom I can converse. Please write back to me soon.

Yours truly,
Puran Purandekar.

PS: This is now many years since I wrote you this note but never sent it to anybody, because I did not know whom to send it to. It remained with me ever since. But I need to mention that I now know what exactly happened that day in March 1993 and why I was a suspect in the first place. Surprisingly I do not hold anything against the police who were my tormentors for more than a week. It appears they got a feedback from my village about me and found the reason for my being in the city. I am now a permanent resident of this great city and have my own place to live with my wife and my three-year-old son who is as naughty as Dumb I was. My father is dead now and we after all sold the land to the builder who all along wanted it. I bought a small business going here and am pretty well off so to say. Now that I can write about the aftereffects of my ordeal I send out this missive to say that everything is right with the world now though some people tried to disrupt my life for a while. It is a pleasure to say that I lost the “Poo” tag when I finally shifted to Bombay and I am so much happy about it. Everyone now calls me Puran. They also now call Bombay as Mumbai and I am happy all the Bombs have left the Bay but I am told that a bomb named Dawood Ibrahim took birth on that day and is absconding.

B. L. Dhar was born and educated at Srinagar. Did Master's degree in Mathematics. Took up appointment with the Civil Aviation Sector of the G.O.I. as a gazzetted officer and later joined the PSU, Airports Authority of India (AAI) from where he retired as General Manager in 2000.

At present residing at Delhi with frequent visits to the US and Europe where his kith and kin reside. Has interest in writing.

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