Resting her chin on her folded arms, Meera was sitting quietly. She was trying hard to control the churning of her empty stomach. She took one corner of her tattered saree and started chewing it. Her younger siblings were crying and annoying their mother Kamla to get some food. Unable to bear, Kamla took out a half-burnt piece of wood form the clay oven and rushed towards them. Afraid, they ran away. She threw the wood and started her usual blabbering to curse her fate.
Kailash returned disheveled. He wiped off his sweat and sat on the floor with his head down. Kamla could easily translate his body language. “How could the Sarpanch refuse again? You had repaired his cowshed. Why doesn’t he pay?” she yelled. “Because, he is the Sarpanch and we can’t protest,” Kailash, Kamla’s husband replied. Since generations, his ancestors had been into farming. However, drought and Sarpanch’s menace had reaped him off. He lost his lands. Like many others, he too had chosen to do odd jobs to survive, though surviving seemed difficult with each passing day.
Kamla turned to Meera and said, “Bitiya, ask Mangla Chachi to provide some rice and I will find some taro root leaves meanwhile”. Meera hated begging. People would throw glances of annoyance. At times, they wouldn’t even open the door. However, thinking of her younger siblings, she followed Kamla’s instruction. Mangla Chachi’s husband had been working as a carpenter in the city. They were wealthier than Meera’s family. She reached there and knocked with hesitation. No one answered. She had to find a few fistfuls of rice anyway. She started walking again. Luck favored. She did get some rice.
After a few distressful days, Kailash entered the house with a stern face and called Kamla. Meera was playing outside with her siblings. “How could you do that? You are her father,” Kamla exclaimed signaling at the bundle of notes. “Do you think I’m glad to sell my daughter? Did I approach them? They met me with the proposal. They had seen Meera. Moreover, think about our other children, the burden of debt. And, tell me the truth Kamla, can you ignore your hunger? Meera will get a good life there. Food, money, clothes…. what else does she need? They will send us some money each month from her earning. We can meet our needs,” Kailash promptly replied. A few silent moments later, Kamla said in a muffled voice, “You didn’t approach, but you didn’t refuse either. She will get everything, but not life. She will sell her flesh, her dignity every day to feed us”.
“Penurious people like us can’t afford to have dignity. Sometimes there is no happy choice Kamla, only one less grievous than the others. I had met Vaid Ji and asked for some medicine to have a good sleep at night. Take these pills. Mix them with her food. They will be coming to take her after midnight,” Kailash uttered in a flat voice.
Sarpanch : The head of the village
Bitiya : Daughter
Chachi : Aunty
Vaid Ji : A person who practices ayurveda
The above story is an entry into #TheChoice a Five00 entry.
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