Chapter 9 Was Sajid for real?

Chapter 9

Nitya patted her stiff cotton kurta for the nth time as she waited for an auto that would take her to the railway station. She had to change trains at peak hours to reach Virar and that was a nightmare. But she didn’t have a choice… the worst of all was, she didn’t know where exactly Sajid lived. They had never come to a point where they could discuss his personal life.

Sajid had in passing told her he was brought up by his mother, a widow, who had to struggle to make ends meet after his father passed when he was barely 10. He had 2 younger siblings who were studying in a boarding school and the similarities in their backgrounds were what probably held her attention to his ventures.

Similarly, once when Sajid had accompanied her with her mom to the psych ward when she had overdosed on her sleeping meds, he had passingly mentioned some doctor in Virar’s M.A. J. trust hospital who had helped his mother deal with depression years ago… he had discussed the line of treatment with the attending doctor here as well and the incident stayed in her memory. Nitya was hopeful to find him close to the said hospital… at least she hoped to. He was supposed to be popular and he often spoke about being a club member. The name was something that began with ‘BUTT….’.

She had found it odd at the time, but she was too caught up with her issues at home to have thought about it further. Now as her auto cruised noisily along the road leading to Bhandup station, she cursed herself for not prodding more… and to think about marrying the guy! She shuddered at the thought. Now… that was a first. Whatever her feelings for Sajid were or hereby lack of it, fear never had a place among them. So why was this cropping up now? Was it because of what he did to her innocent brother?

She hugged herself as the warm afternoon breeze hit her. She had to face this. She had faced a lot of battles in her life and this was yet another one… yes that’s it.

Your problem shouldn’t have a rein over you… it should be the other way round. Now, how did this thought come into her mind? Was it her father? No… her heart skipped a beat. Maanav had said that years ago. He often said it… so she remembered it clearly as if it was yesterday. Why was she thinking of him? Probably the turn of events in the past few days, finding the hidden pictures, letters… everything was messing with her head.

Surprisingly, a sense of calm settled in her heart as she alighted from the auto to walk into the railway station.

As she stared at the speeding track from the window of the train, Nitya felt the emotional conundrum overwhelm her chest confines. A tiny headache began to take root as she inhaled the putrid air as the train passed over a ‘nala’. She wanted to gag… it was then she realized she had barely eaten anything in the fiasco that happened. She was feeling nauseous.

The woman selling ‘chikkis’ and ‘farsan’ screeched in her high-pitched voice urging the select women in the compartment to buy her wares. Thank God for small blessings… Nitya bought a couple of chikki packets and voraciously dug into them. But the headache was far from gone. She soon changed trains at the busy Dadar station… and squeezed herself to fit into the compartment, bursting at its seams. Fast train was out of question so the slow train had to do despite the time constraint she faced.

A while later she could stand without being squashed and could breathe but now had a mother of all headaches throbbing in…

At Vile Parle, a woman hustled in with her little boy and a little older girl. The boy was physically disabled and the girl helped the mother settle him into the fourth seat… the typical seat allotment process in crowded Mumbai locals. Nitya had balanced half her butt on the opposite ‘fourth seat’ and watched the display of affection by the girl who wasn’t over 12 for her little brother, who seemed oblivious to his surroundings. The other people only stared or passed subtle hushed remarks, but that didn’t deter the girl one bit.

Nitya was thrown back to the times when she had faced something similar with her brother, particularly when the Mumbai attacks happened and the fiasco that followed her family after her father was called one of the ‘accused’ She recalled the days of being hounded by the media… ‘the traitor’s family…’ they were called and for a long time they were on the headlines of the local newspapers. Her mother had been depressed and, for a while, with the help of a few sympathetic neighbours who knew them, they sustained. Her mother had got a job as a Kinder Garten teacher in a private school because they paid very little and didn’t demand a colorful resume. Her mother retained her maiden name. Her job helped them sustain for a couple of years. Their savings were already exhausted by then.

However, another blow hit them in the form of her brother’s diagnosis. Her mother, who was hanging by a fragile thread of hope for a better life, was distraught. The neighborhood got a new terminology, added to the string of insults hurled towards the trio. Even the couple of them who supported the Mohandas had made a complete about-turn. Nitya realised how important money was to command respect in society irrespective of your backgrounds.

Nitya grew-up overnight. From 11 she was 15. She had to understand everything around her as well as support her brother and the wreck of a mother. There had been instances of that ‘accidental touch’ or a ‘shove’ where a hard hand hit her delicate chest… She knew something wasn’t right, but was too young to understand the gravity of it all. All her martial arts training fell flat. She missed her father and missed… Maanav. He would have known how to tackle this crap.

One night when she was about 14, Nitya couldn’t sleep because her brother had been awake till 2 AM before finally sleeping off. She, however, couldn’t and that night her mother had a job to attend. Her mother never mentioned what work she did these days since the KG teacher job no longer existed. The woman no longer chatted with Nitya and Naman, nor did she cook and clean for them. Nitya burnt her dainty skin many times before she learned to use the crude cooking stove that had replaced the gas stove. They faced blackouts often because they couldn’t pay the electricity bills on time. Kamble kaka their new neighbour knew Appa hence he helped behind the prying eyes of his suspicious wife. He often slipped in food and money and walked away even before Nitya could thank him.

She often felt reassurance whenever kaka was around. She felt safe. Kaka had also helped her secure admission to a local municipality school for her last two schooling years. She would play with her brother and kept talking to him all the time when she was home, not understanding why he didn’t talk back or respond to her.

That sleepless night she stared out of their home picking at the piece of plaster that had joined the series of those coming off the wall, trying to silence the abuses and taunts that came her way very often or a recent fight she abstained from participating in school. She couldn’t afford to call for attention to herself. This was their other home after they had left the earlier one because they couldn’t pay the home loan anymore. Their savings had all dried up. Nitya teared up wondering if she would ever meet her appa. If yes, she would want him to explain all this to her. Why did they have to suffer like this?

That night, she walked to the kitchen window right in time to see the bright headlights of a vehicle. It didn’t look familiar and Nitya had a strong memory. The strange-looking vehicle reached the entrance of the housing colony and she saw her mother alight from the passenger side. Amma had worn a gaudy sequined saree, but… when had she changed? And why did amma look frightened?

A tall man emerged from the driver’s side. From her point of vision Nitya only saw his back and extremely short hair. Was he limping? He was taller than any man she had seen in her little life. He walked towards her mother even as she stepped back and held her by the shoulder. He was shaking the woman and her mother looked terrified. Nitya was furious. She wanted to go and hit the man but saw a sleeping Naman and sat back. The man let go of her mother who fell backwards on the pavement, her saree pallu falling off, revealing the shapeless blouse beneath. But her mother did not attempt to stand even after the vehicle had left.

Nitya didn’t care anymore. She rushed out of the house leaving the door wide open and not bothering about the chill night breeze slapping her tall bare limbs in the sorry example of a dress. Nitya was yet to remember the last time she got a new dress… that was probably for her 9th birthday, the last one she had celebrated.

Nitya reached her mother, who stared back at her with eyes so haunted, Nitya would never forget in this lifetime. Her reed-thin hands lifted the pallu off the pavement and she helped her mother stand. The mother-daughter duo walked back home on autopilot. Nitya had long learned not to ask questions.

Her mother plonked on the floor as soon as she entered home and lay down, curved in a fetal position. She shivered and began to cry, muffling her sobs by stuffing a part of her pallu into her mouth. Her poorly worn makeup had smudged ages ago…

Nitya brought a wet rag and wiped her mother’s face even as the woman continued to weep. Nitya then brought her a glass of water. Ignoring her hunger pangs due to a skipped dinner of dry hard rotis and watery daal that her mother had prepared that morning, Nitya spoke.

“Amma, do you want to eat something? Let’s go to bed otherwise.”

Her mother stared at her with bloodshot eyes. She seemed a different woman that night.

“Nitu…” her mother called her with her nickname after years and it thrilled her no end. “…Your appa… he messed up…he destroyed us… we are done for. What will happen to Naman? What will happen to you…? Why did your appa do it…?”

“Amma… was Appa really wrong?” Nitya had never understood.

“I don’t know Nitu… I don’t know anything. Not only did he betray the country… he gave us something too and they… they will kill us all… if… if we didn’t give it…”

“What did Appa give us?” Sleep-deprived Nitya was confused. Was this a nightmare?

“I wish I had known… I pleaded with them… I don’t have anything… but they didn’t listen. Torturing me for months despite doing… everything for them…” she panted as she stared at her calloused hands devoid of life. “… They said … I was acting… Gave me a week. Nitya…” She suddenly sat up. “…we… we… we have to leave this place. It’s dangerous. They will catch us… kill us… no… they will take you away… make you pay… no…” Her mother was panting.

Fear churned her insides and Nitya gripped her mother’s frail hands. Hands which had once been so soft as they caressed her head, putting her to sleep a lifetime ago.

“Nit… Nitya…” her mother spoke with a faraway look, her voice laced with fear. “…Just pack up. We will take turns holding Naman…”

“Amma… I am tired now…”

SLAP…

This wasn’t the first time her mother had raised her hand on Nitya. Nitya stayed away from her path and did whatever was expected of her… and the beatings had reduced to almost nil. But today Nitya was stunned.

“You are just like your father… don’t you realise we are doomed? Do you want to end up doing what I am doing now? Sell your soul? Should I kill myself and rid you of all trouble? Or even better, should I kill you both and then kill myself?”

“Le… lets go amma…” Nitya conceded.

They disappeared late that night struggling along some graveled path. Nitya didn’t know how long they walked with their meagre belongings and for the next few weeks, they stayed at a women’s shelter. Her mother worked as a maid and Nitya doubled up as a helper too. She attended a school for laborer children conducted by some NGO which also fed her well. She helped the NGO by teaching some martial arts to the little kids there. It helped her stay afloat and safe from predators that came in different forms when they saw a newly blooming young girl without the safety net of a family.

She was good at studies and the Aanganwadi tai always said she could work and earn if she studied. So, Nitya poured herself into learning. The next few years were tough as she grew in the unsung lanes of Mumbai were her mother attempted menial jobs to earn her keep in the shelter. With the help of the associated NGO, Nitya began to train further in martial arts at a sponsored program for girls. She took to instructions like fish to water.

Naman was also liked by children around him and though he had meltdowns which troubled her mother driving her into one of those moods, Nitya was alright. She was always there for the boy. To supplement her income, she began to tutor other children as well in the NGO-run school shelter.

She managed to finish her 12th grade with utmost difficulty and by then her mother had already begun to be heavily medicated with depression spreading its tentacles deeper into her soul. Nitya took up a job as a trainer in a gym that didn’t pay much but helped her gain work experience and later she worked as a receptionist in the night shift at a nearby hotel. It assured a variety of food once in a while for her brother and other children in the shelter.

Within a year, she managed to save up and move to a chawl close to her gym. That saved her travel time and by now her mother had to stop working. Her medication dictated her behaviour. Nitya was OK since her mother could now watch over Naman who was having a tough time coping with hormonal changes that hit him badly. His doctor in charge decided to mildly medicate Naman as well. That helped him have a good sleep and his mood was chirpy during the day.

Life in obscurity was Ok for the next couple of years and Nitya was doing fairly well to cover treatment and training costs for her brother and also her mother. She had also begun studying for her degree via distance learning though she never got the time to study. She hoped to get a better job.

However, her mother deteriorated further. One day Nitya accidentally met Kamble kaka after years and he suggested they move to a good community in Bhandup. His wife had passed by then. He promised to help her.

Nitya saw this as an opportunity and was pondering over it when she got an offer from a good gym as an instructor. It was close to where Kamble kaka suggested staying and she jumped at the opportunity. It would also allow her to start fresh where no one knew her.

 

The loud horn blasting from a train coming from the opposite direction startled Nitya bringing her out of her reverie… he realised almost an hour had just passed in her journey to her past. She still had about 5 minutes to alight at Virar station and moved towards the doorway.

As she exited the station at Virar and went to the autorickshaw stand, no one seemed to know about the trust hospital she mentioned. That was strange… She had Googled the location, and it did exist, though there wasn’t anything specific. Oh yes…. Butt club, Mansood Minar. That was mentioned close by.

She asked at the waiting auto for Mansood Minar. Many pairs of wide eyes stared back at her as if she were an alien. No one answered her and they moved away.

 

As she stood in the rising and ebbing crowd around her, lost in thought, clueless about what to do next, an old man walked towards her.

“Beta kidhar ko jaana hai? (where do you want to go?)” the man probably in his seventies asked her. He looked like an auto driver.

“Ye… Mansood Minaar jaana hai kaka…”

“Udhar pe kisko jaanti ho beta? (whom do you know there?)” the man seemed curious and Nitya’s patience was hanging by a bare thread.

“Kyon pucha, kaka?(why do you ask)” She asked.

The man looked around him as then back at her.

“Beta udhar koi nahi jaata… woh sahi jagah nahi hai… Udhar ke log udhar ka pata nahi puchte… seedhe jaate hain…” (no one goes there. It isn’t a good place. People going there don’t ask for the address. They just go)

Nitya felt a chill down her spine.

Was Sajid for real?

 

©priyanayakgole

(Disclaimer: This is a piece of fiction using the backdrop of the attack that happened and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. This doesn’t attempt to change history or facts.)

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