A River Called Life

3 min


Krishna navigated through the labyrinth of huts dotting the slum, to reach the bus stop.

‘Saar, is this the place where we wait to get hired?’ he enquired a middle-aged man.

‘Yes, this is the cooli chowki.’

Krishna’s tanned body with cuts on his palms made it apparent that he had worked the fields earlier.

‘New here?’ Krishna nodded.

‘Join us, you will not get hired if you are alone, or worse, you will get into trouble,’ the person added.

Krishna thought about it and following the man. The man turned out to be a mason, Chandu, had five people working with him. Chandu’s acquaintance allowed Krishna to earn a consistent amount, enough to fill his needs and that of his family. Chandu had instructed him to be at the same spot daily to leave for the work.

In the evening, Krishna returned with jalebi for his wife. She saw him enter the hut with the packet and understood that his day had paid him well.

‘The first day in the city and you are already buying me jalebi?’ she pulled his leg while sharing the sweet.

‘We are lucky, Laxmi. I met a person who took me under his wing. That pakka house across the huts is his.’

She did not ask him how much he had earned; she never did so in the one and a half years of their marriage. Krishna loved her mental strength, even in the days when they had no work, in the village, she never showed anxiety on her face or words. They were lost in the sweet nothings.

While the couple ignored the stench emanating from the canal, another soul in that hut couldn’t bear it. Their one-year-old boy started crying. The young one was used to the fresh village air. 

He was gasping for breath in the slum. She picked him and lulled him back to sleep.

***

‘Two weeks, in just two weeks, we have saved enough money to send it home. My mother should be able to buy medicines and also pay interest to Setti,’ Krishna was elated while counting the two thousand on hand.

He knew they would have saved more if he let his wife work, but he did not like his wife working as a maid, the only work that she might find in this city. Yet, even without her help, he had managed to save more than what they had earlier in a month. Construction work was going to peak in the coming months, and his income was going to increase even more.

While returning from the bank, he stopped at Chandu’s house. He was in a good mood and wanted to share a drink with him.

But Chandu was about to leave for the ration store, so Krishna offered to come along. They both had become good friends. Chandu treated Krishna like a younger brother, offering him tips on how to survive in the city. When they reached the store, there was an unexpected rush.

‘Is it usually like this?’ Krishna wondered seeing the mad rush.

‘No, today our Modi saab announced na, from tomorrow everything will be shut for 21 days.’

Krishna had not watched the TV; he had no access to one, and at the advice of Chandu, he bought supplies that would last him a week.

His wife was surprised at knowing the news from him; they pondered over the issue before concluding that this period was not going to last long. Neither was able to sense the impending hardships.

***

‘Do you think we should go home? We can only last two more days on these provisions.’

The concern in her wife’s tone did not escape Krishna’s notice; for the very first time in their marriage, she had expressed concern. He lashed out at her for suggesting something like that, another first in their marriage. Laxmi was numb, she could not digest his words. Tears rolled down her cheeks. This got Krishna back to his senses.

The dark interior of their shack gave him privacy to let him apologise to her without the fear of anyone seeing it. They reminisced the old days, in the village, they counted on the help of their relatives if they had any trouble. Here, they knew none.

Krishna decided to seek the help of Chandu to find some work, Chandu had lived in the city for years and knew it very well.

‘It’s impossible Krishna, you saw how the police are beating up everyone if found on roads?’

‘But anna, I neither have any money with me nor have I enrolled in the government benefits. We are going to starve in a day or two!’

‘I pity you, Krishna. There is very little that I can do. Even my wife is staying home, you know she used to work as a maid. You better go back home, or….’

‘Or? Please, tell me. Any work will do,’ he pleaded.

‘There is an old couple; they live in the colony some 4 kilometres from here. They wanted a house help who would stay with them through the day; they will pay well too. They had asked my wife to do it, but we did not want the risk, they had returned from Dubai last week.’

***

Krishna, back in the hut, sat with his forehead resting on his knees; he had left the decision to his wife, no, he had no choice but to let her work. He hated himself at that moment.

Laxmi sat beside him, running her fingers through his hair, ‘We are doing this for ourselves. A month will pass in no time, and I will sit at home, while you go and work.’ She hid the fear on her face with her pallu and stepped to work. 

Krishna managed a faint smile and hugged their son.

Their life had to go on, like a river flowing to meet the sea, forward was the only way.

***

Photo By: Tony Lam Hoang

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2 Comments

  1. The fact that common humans are victims of situations is clearly brought out. There is also a flicker of hope with the child , only if…. The following sentence tricked me: “The man turned out to be a mason, Chandu, had five people working with him.”
    # rulify 7.5

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