Prafulla Vyas creates a must-read real life emotional story of Rani Bai during lockdown in India
Rani bai was 80 years old and would probably starve to death if she did not find work and had to hit the street.
Rani bai was a migrant worker, like many others in India, who had left their beloved villages to find work in the city or in the farms. She too, had travelled a long way from her home, almost 180 km to work at a farm where they grew all sorts of vegetables especially onions and potatoes. Her job was a tough one, she was out on the fields every day, enduring the heat of the fierce sun as it beat upon her back. Now and then she would wipe her sweaty brow with her Odhni as she walked around the field collecting potatoes that were freshly unearthed. When the basket was full, she would place it on her head and walk over to the farmhouse. At the end of the day, the clerk would place a few rupees into her palm, look at the ledger, scratch his head in doubt and then as if doing her a big favor, would nod in approval and ask her to come back again. It was a moment of suspense stretched to its limit for jobs were scarce and manual laborers we are dime a dozen. Rani bai was 80 years old and would probably starve to death if she did not find work.
With a sigh of relief, she walked over to her tattered home on the corner of Grand and Station road. She had picked this spot for the old, banyan tree beside it offered plenty of shade and now and then a cool breeze would bring relief from the sweltering heat of the afternoon sun. Rani bai squatted underneath the tree, smoked her beedi and then walked over to her mud oven to make a cup of chai. She stopped in front of it, to examine large cracks that were visible. It was a clumsy affair, molded with small bits of bricks and stones that clung together with dark clay. She shoved a few dried leaves with twigs and dried cow dung and lit a fire. Once the heat blazed, she boiled some water, milk, and masala tea in an old copper pot. When the brew was ready, she poured it into a tumbler, swirled it around and then with a deep satisfaction took her first sip. Then she proceeded to boil some potatoes, which she had found, abandoned in a corner, almost rotting away, and had gone unnoticed by the watchful eye of the chowkidar. She thanked her stars that she had something substantial to eat today. Usually she satisfied her hunger with rice gruel and a piece of bread. Rani bai lay down on her bed of straw and stared at the starlit ceiling that twinkled and gave her hope.
Next morning, she woke up amidst chaos in the city. Within 24 hours the government announced a lockdown and a curfew. Nobody was allowed to leave the house. The government had promised that migrant workers would be taken safely back to their villages. Special buses were assigned for this task. There was no other means of transportation, but the buses were already bulging with people. Some were scrambling on top, hanging precariously for dear life.
Rani bai shook her head and moved away from the crowd. She picked up her bundle of belongings and her walking stick. She stared at the long dusty road ahead of her, her feeble eyes misty as a yearning for her home overcame her. She took the first step towards her village,180km away. This time she might not make it.
Written by Prafulla Vyas
Canadian citizen for 40 plus years.
Occupation: retired teacher- taught Special Education, English and ESL, with the Peel Board Of Education.
Currently living in Milton, Ontario.
Hobbies: Reading, writing, bridge and photography.
Favourite authors: Rohinton Mistry, R.K. Narayan, Agatha Christie, and Somerset Maugham.
Membership: Milton Writers Circle, Mississauga Writers Impression and Milton Senior Center.
Future goals: an amateur writer aspiring to write short stories and novels based on current social issues.