The winding waters of the Madoi River ran as usual. The rainy season is just over. The fields are blossoming. Flowers are seen on the top of the straws and saplings grown along the rims, so also the corners of the fields. The village is relaxing in the embrace of the Madoi River. The dawn broke. People have not got up yet from their slumber except for the cocks and birds.
Mother is waking Lovu up. But Lovu is quiet adamant.
"Lovu, get up soon; Baba will get hot unnecessarily."
"Avo, I won't go please!"
"Son, how can you say that? If you go with Harishchandra, you will earn something. He'll find a job for you. We, too, shall be supported from your earning. You, too, will then have enough for your belly... understand? Get up Lovu."
"Avo, I don't wish to go, really. Please don't drive me away." Lovu is unable to suppress the out bursting cry. Following his sobs, Baba appears.
"Get up before you get a slap. I have already explained you in detail last night. That's your ticket. What's wrong with you now? Are you getting up or would you prefer a kick at the bottom?"
Lovu gets up weeping and after sometime at daybreak, two shadows are seen walking through the dark bushes. For some time sobs are distinctly heard from the hut. Gradually the other children get up. Lovu's mother too gets along with her daily chores, forgetting that a sparrow had fled from their nest.
Lovu, aged thirteen, short and ashen-skinned, should have been in Std. VII, had he not been forced to quit in STD VI. Clad in school uniform and keeping pace with Harishchandra, he at once remembered his school. Gono,Tanaji, Bhiso, Shankar, Shamba, Suman, Amrutem... Harishchandra was pacing very fast.
"Lovu, be quick. We have to reach Bhirondem before seven. Otherwise certainly shall we miss Akashganga."
"What is Akashganga?"
"Oh, It is an express bus to Panaji. We miss it and we'll have to strand till eight o'clock, Anjali leaves at that time."
"How far is Panaji from here?"
"My God! It takes three hours for a direct bus. It's far away, Valpoi - Honda - Sanquelim - Bicholim - Assnodem - Tivim and then Panaji, got it?"
Lovu just frowned as he used to, when the teacher would advice, "this isn't an easy topic, concentrate properly." Shrugging his shoulders, he shifted the bag from one hand to the other hand and continued walking, bobbing his head. In fact, mother had brought that bag from the uncle's. The red print on the bag read in bold letters - TILVE CLOTH MERCHANTS, MAPUSA - GOA. He was overjoyed that he would be seeing the Mapusa city for the first time. There was a towel and another school uniform dress in the bag. Baba had given it. Mother had squeezed in a blanket and kept something wrapped in a paper.
While walking, the train of Lovu's thoughts gained momentum. How would Mapusa look like? Goodness! And what would Panaji be appearing like? What would Harishchandra do there? What should I do? And school? Will there be a school at all? Shall I be opportune to go to school again? I was bound to quit school unwillingly this year, following Baba's 'order' to look after the cattle. What must the teacher be feeling? Lovu smiled within. He was the pet of his teacher, for he would sing the nursery rhymes and poems in a melodious tone. The teacher would then admire, "Our Lovu, dear children, will be a great singer."
They boarded the bus while it was about to leave. A gigantic crowd. Love had had the experience of traveling in a bus earlier, a very few times. Once he had been to his maternal uncle at Tiska. However, this bus was altogether different. No little space, even for an ant. Little Lovu was literally smothered in the massive crowd of passengers. Holding his head high, he tried to glance around furtively a couple of times. Harishchandra was not seen. Lovu had witnessed the torrential floods of the Madoi River. Dark reddish water. The flow would violently run, embracing everything it met - coconuts, twigs, wooden planks, bushes, trees, cattle ... Lovu felt that he was being inundated in the strong currents of floods, feeling a severe pain at his throat. The journey had made him dry as a bone. Within a single glance his welled eyes endeavored to feast upon a last look in the direction of his tiny hamlet.
They reached Panaji. Lovu was flabbergasted and just gazed at the sky, watching the
mountainous buildings. He put forth a volley of questions at Harishchandra. But Harishchandra didn't react. His legs were speeding and Lovu had to actually run after him. While running to catch his pace, Lovu stumbled. Two beautiful fair legs ... Making a big fuss and shouting curses, she moved, stamping her feet.
"Come on, hurry up - Patrao will fire me! It's already ten o'clock. Hurry up, be quick."
Naive and innocent Lovu was just sprinting. So many vehicles, never seen before. Various cars, so many bicycles, all the people running rapidly, clad in sparkling, new dresses. Goodness! So many roads converging and diverging at various points. Everything dazzling houses and tall buildings ,all around, a wide variety of sounds and noise reverberating. A sight for sore eyes ... S suddenly, Harishchandra entered in one house. So many posters and pictures were painted on the walls. A hefty person appearing like a frog was plopping in the chair near a shining table. After carefully checking the pieces of papers with both his hands, he was busy taking the notes and coins and was perennially flinging money on the counter. The people would collect it and go out wiping their mouths. So many people thronging in and out ... countless.
"Patrao, I' ve brought this boy." Patrao raised his head resentfully.
"Why are you late?"
"I had gone home, Patrao. The bus was late."
"I won't tolerate it, Harishchandra, every Monday. I've already warned you, several times, before."
"Yes, Patrao Here is the boy ... for work." Patrao bent to see him.
"Of what use is this thumb-sized kid! Couldn't you find a stout boy?"
"By the way he is not that young, sir. Aged fourteen years. He will collect the cups and plates. He will wipe the tables with the rag."
"Alright, show him his job. Is he from your village? These boys are quite uncouth and naive. They don't understand a thing. Within four days, they display rough attitudes." Patrao told one of the customers, who went laughing.
The first day of service in the life of Lovu commenced. Collecting plates, cups, glasses and then to wipe the table clean with a cloth. To dip the glasses and plates in the bucket ... Harishchandra was quite senior and rather experienced in his job. He was serving tea and eatables, to the customers. He would then write the coupons with a piece of pencil tucked at his ear. He would enter the kitchen premises shouting orders and then the boys inside would instantly arrange various fresh items, thumping it on that counters. There were so many of them. Lovu tried to count those boys moving hurriedly here and there. But in vain they were in uniform. He found it funny to observe a uniform system in the hotel like that in his school. He pondered, who is the teacher in this school? He inquisitively eyed at the Patrao sitting at the counter. Nevertheless, he must be the teacher and perhaps the Boss of all! Lovu was all smiles.
"Hey, you satarkari why are you laughing? Why are you standing idle? If you don't want to work seriously, get out, right now. All the boys, I get here are of the same mentality. Moreover, I have to face the Labour Inspectors."
The whole day just rolled quickly like a minute. Harishchandra had once offered him food at the backdoor. All the boys would have their food together. Over there Lovu found the food relishing and tasty - The 'Bhaaji' Harishchandra served him in the morning was tasty, but the bread was stale. He spared a little time to ponder within, during the lunch break. He prepared a long list of the questions in his mind, to be posed to Harishchandra. But Harishchandra had absolutely no time to attend to him. All the boys around were on the trot engrossed in their work hastily. At dusk, the lamps were lit, and the flood of customers gradually receded. Innocent Lovu smiled to see the glowing lights of the hotel. He had not seen such dazzling lights before. The tables were smooth and shining, so also the benches - little and attractive. The benches from his school were outworn compared to this furniture. Different items in the plates invited Lovu's attention. His mouth watered to see the 'ladoos'. He felt like asking for a 'ladoo' from Harishchandra. But the unusual fear creeping in him, made him suppress his feminishing desire. In the evening, after tiresome work and exhaustion, his limbs started paining.
The left ear was paining and still Lovu was bound to run after collecting the glasses lest the Patrao should reprimand him. He remembered Harischandra's words …Hurry up! Hurry up!..A little child unable to catch that pace tried his level best …perhaps he was compelled to…And the subtle mind acquired an incredible will power and gained the accelerated speed as desired…Hurry up! Hurry up!
Finally, the main door was shut and Lovu let himself on one bench. His legs were paining severely; ankles numb; head severely aching. The boys around sat circularly to dine. Lovu momentarily felt that he was in the village to over - hear their language and dialogues. The resounding words carried a fragrance of his soil. However, he was alarmed in this dream world. No more village now, no house …no family… mother… the tiny eyes over brimmed - like the flood of Madoi river … dark, reddish water … running roughly … hastily …hurriedly!
Of course was he not in a mood to enjoy the taste of that square meal. He couldn't decipher whether he had even had it or not. Harishchandra ordered him to take his clothings. Lovu took his bag. By now they were out. Other boys had already left. Patrao went in and checking everything meticulously, came out. Two of them pulled down the shutter of the front door. A creaking sound ensued. Lovu was zapped to see that iron door coiling in such a fashion. Although non-pulsed, he was not in a position to pose any question. The questions and doubts dissolved themselves and he felt a choking pain in his throat. He went out and sat near Harishchandra on the box of kiosk owner. Some of the boys were meandering around while a few had already started playing there itself.
"Lovu, will you play?" Asked Harishchandra. But words didn't escape lovu's lips.
"Don't worry, Lovu. I'm with you. For only a day will the longing for mother prevail. Tomorrow and then gradually thereafter you will get seasoned. I'll take you for a movie. Is that alright?"
Gradually all of them spread their mats and slept. Lovu arranged his mat and blanket adjacent to that of Harishchandra.
"Now, you just relax and go to sleep. I'm close to you. No problem, whatsoever. Is your ear still paining?" At that juncture, some of the other boys giggled. Harishchandra caressed Lovu's ear and then the tender part of his head. A boy of tender conscience, Lovu broke into sobs.
Lovu was busy collecting glasses and plates. Curiously he was watching the different people from various walks of life, so many different dresses! A couple was sitting, their Lovu was startled to see an unusual glittering watch on the man's wrist. A greenish dazzle emitted from it, made him gaze at it constantly. Unknowingly, the glass poured on the man's clothes triggering a noisy rumpus. The man uttered fiery vengeance and instantly called Patrao. Lovu was so absorbed in the watch, being unaware that Patrao had come, chiding - "Freaked out? I'll lambaste you and squeeze you to death …" Patrao caught Lovu by his left ear and literally lifted him up.
The flagrant memory surfaced to his mind, and he was pitifully embarrassed. No one from the hotel, neither the customer nor any other person sympathized with him. He tried to establish a rapport with a few customers but no one lent him an ear. Not a single soul had talked to him whole day. And moreover Patrao in front of all twisted my ear. Lovu couldn't stop crying … throughout the day, for the first time, he was remembering his mother from the cockles of his heart. My kind Mother … the footway along the side of the river … The raised platform of the local 'Denvchaar' deity, the tall mango tree sprawled jackfruit tree - and a little hut amidst the palm groves - caring mother in the hut - serving the food with utmost love and affection in the dim light of the hearth - a plate for me - for Baba - for Amrutem - and for the little one …
Translated From The Original Konkani Story- By Mukesh Thali.
Courtesy- The Navhind Times, Sunday Edition.