Karmanye-vaadhi-kaarastey maa phaleshu kadaachana; Maa karma-phala-hetur-bhoor-maa tey sango-stva-karmani
Everyone had to go about performing their own duties. Fruitful or fruitless; cause and result was secondary. The activity had to be done without being attached to inaction.
The hustle-bustle of people marching like soldier ants, continued late into the deepening darkness. The darkness really never propped its ugly head as the lamps hanging outside each kholi shone proudly, projecting its owner’s pride. The buzzing moths did a merry go round around the Surya bulb. They cavorted and matched steps with the lazim practise of the Jhansi Girls, preparing for the upcoming Ganpati utsav. The over enthusiastic females of both clans matched fair rhythm. Chandu kaka tapped his varicose laden feet, enjoying the metal beats. He was simultaneously engrossed in the futile articles on nation building and society reforming. The multi-tasking had born out of his legitimate affair with Maharashtra Police as a road traffic controller. Fondly, the residents of Siddhivinayak chawl called him Pandu kaka. A nick name his entire brigade had conferred upon themselves. But for the 120yr old chawl, he was the only one Kohinoor.
The lazim practise didn’t seem to die, in fact it took a noisy turn as the girls started moving and swirling from one verandah to another. The competition was tough and they had to nail down the Jijau Girls this year by all means. It was the question of their integrity, and the struggle over the water tap for the entire fraternity. Savitri maushi , now, couldn’t take this musical extravaganza any more. Husband’s meagre earnings, son’s unemployment and her diabetes, all needed a vent out. Who better than these skinny, docile bunch of bean bags calling themselves torch bearers of Jhansi, be at the receiving end?
“Has the prime minister’s marriage ended or will it go on till the welcoming of the milkman? If need be, get the dhols and beat them till our brains too pop out and join you in the merry procession.”
The abuses were hurled faster than the intensity of light. There was an entire parliament standing out of their respective kholis, to bask in the free entertainment of the ruling party-Savitri maushi. The DD national was done with its 11pm samachar and no cable T.V antenna was intact, thanks to the avian meetings conducted on its wiry ends. So, the only spring to quench the thirst of boredom was this gratuitous grumpiness.
The girls had long back fled to their parental hideouts. The moths on the hanging bulbs too were running helter- skelter to avoid dashing with the growling lady’s bulb. Least it may burst to concur with the majority, again one person majority-Savitri maushi. Only one person who could now flag the vote of opposition was Sheila.
“Maushi, the sugars will rise with your bitter words. Take a deep breath and enjoy a sugar-free sweet dreams,” though she spoke, Sheila knew Savitri maushi’s doors were banged closed as her must have opened. She had suffered from such indignations since the time she had made her preferences clear to the residents of the chawl. After all, one takes or at least hands out a portion of one’s life’s decisions with one’s family. And the chawl was here family after her only kin, her grandfather had left for the Vaikunth. Her choices were made and she by all chance wanted to live by it, whether in colonial or solitary form, it didn’t matter, she had to exist by it naturally.
Few spectators, who devour the commercials long after the premier show is over, stood shamelessly exhibiting their tobacco stained teeth to her. What needs to be hidden is displayed at the peak, she thought as she wiped a brine tear, marvelling at the addictions people have at staining their canines and other’s characters. She went back to her confines and opened her book of rescue-THE BHAGVAT GITA.
“Paritraanaaya saadhoonaam vinaashaaya cha dushkritaam dharma-sansthaa-panaar-thaaya-sambhavaami yugey yugey,” loudly she recited the verse with its translation, “To protect the good, to destroy the wicked and to establish righteousness, I will return, from age to age.” She had an Everest of faith in the sixth parva of Mahabharata, The Gita.
Sheila was proficient in all the verses of the holy text. She was like the Arjuna on kurukshetra fighting her own blood for her own rights. Savitri maushi her mother’s, elder sister had abandoned her post knowing her real identity. ‘May maro pan maushi jago’, a dictum carried her till her youth after she lost her family in the SARS pandemic. Her trapped identity when it saw the daylight brought darkness in her life. The Surya lamp outside her kholi too was not visited by the dancing moths. The sweeper never swept her part of verandah while the black cat too refused to cross paths with her fearing a bad omen. Yet, she had to be erect and tall with her real self. Her shadows too had not visited the temple for a year now, as the pandit had ostracised her, for being who she was.
But this didn’t halt her good work. Every Monday and Friday, she gathered few street children on the deserted old Parel bridge and gave them sermons on the Gita. The children came not for the learnings, but for the craving of chocolates. She lured them into understanding the complexities of human life with sweet manipulations. Fondly, they called her Sheilu Didi.
“Didi, why do you talk so rough?” once a regular tinker asked. Poor fellow couldn’t articulate the hoarseness of voice amicably, instead pointed at her mannerisms.
“Oh, I had lot of ice-creams once when small and now this is the permanent effect,” she spoke more hoarsely to scare the creamy temptations out of these wimpy kids.
Some bold ones went ahead mockingly, “Didi, why do you have moustache like thing on your face?”
She loved their infectious innocent laughter and hence would join them saying, “I grow it to be your clown.” Thus, the entire flock would burst into pearls of laughter.
Occasionally, a drunkard would try to take advantage of her situation and style but she would bring out the manly claws and ripe open the invader. The Gita lessons continued without disruption.
For a living, Sheila sold newspapers, magazines on the pavement near Parel railway station. Mental engrossment was a precedent cause of this stall, than meeting mere hunger requirements. She had different visitors in form of her regular customers who showed variety in their reading conventions. Some preferred the crisp newspapers with crispier headlines while some directly hopped on to Bollywood masala. Some bought educative booklets while some lingered over crossword stuff. Life at the stall was not as dark as at the chawl. The sun shone brightly till around six in the evening and then a descending would start. Erratic minds with erotic demands tugged her, harassed her. Chandu kaka used be stationed right opposite her at the Lalbaug signal but he too refused to help despite being in uniform. She scuffled with the odd circumstances like Abhimanyu battling to get out of the chakravyuha. It was a constant Mahabharta that she had to ward off every single day. But the triumph would always be hers as she returned shattered yet safely to her personal, quiescent darkness.
Once in her shell, she read The Gita at length.
Vidyaa-vinaya-sampanne braahmane gavi hastini, shuni chaiva shvapaake cha panditaah samadarshinaha
When would the said equality be bestowed upon her? When would that sage who sees with an equal eye, a learned and humble Brahmin, a cow, an elephant, a dog, or an outcaste, arrive? Sheila sarcastically smiled through her tears realising she was none of the above category, then how the wise crusader be of any help to her?
New day, new beginnings, new challenges, she would march out with an attitude of blowing a conch and announcing her advent on the kurukshetra.
One fine morning, when the birds chirped, bees buzzed and flowers bloomed, she stepped out with that drab smile with an equally cordless attire to fall in accordance with her mood. Setting up the stall, she waited for the usual customers to line up. One by one, some in group, they started pouring to pick the news of their choice.
“Amendments to section 377. Activists take the case to supreme court.” A pot bellied businessman taking a second puff of his gold flake, read out loud. She looked up at him and he winked back. Nasty fellow and non-promising news, she got back to her dusting. The day was passing in a blur, about to die down on the horizon when a short- statured, skinny, middle aged man arrived. He asked for a copy of reader’s digest and left incognito. The next day too this gentleman arrived but today he made his presence felt by exchanging few kind words with Sheila. He offered her a cutting, “Would you mind a cup?” and smiled his best. The tea vendor next to Sheila’s stall gapped in astonishment for he hadn’t seen such a benevolent act in all the years, Sheila stood next to him.
“No thanks.” She politely but firmly turned down the offer.
He was firmer, “A cup of hot tea won’t break the ice. You may continue to be rigid. But at least the parched throat will bless you.”
Why was he trying to be friendly? Visual interrogations, she didn’t smell any foul play here. Years of sniffing rotten characters had made her the jack of telling the stone from the gem. He was not a gem but not a stone either. No harm in drinking the tea. She gave herself a green signal. Handing her the cup, he left. Didn’t even wait for her to finish and say a thank you. Never mind, now I can drink the much needed relief in peace without his dark big eyes gauging me, she said sweet nothings to herself.
Next day again, the same shadow fell on The Economic Times lying on the display. Today would he offer me lunch, she was musing while checking time on her dial.
“Funny, but it’s really sunny today. Would you like to have a sugarcane juice?” he had come well prepared. She nodded in assertion and he quickly presented a full chilled glass of ganne ka juice to her. This time though, he watched her a little longer before he left for the less known land.
Now Sunil and his sunny attitude brightened up Sheila’s dull day. From name to occupation, Sheila had learned quite a few things about him. He worked at the ISKCON temple, Juhu as an accountant. A respectable job, she thought. Friendship blossomed as bread moulds growing in close association with each other. He, too, was a similar strain found pathogenic by his family yet couldn’t muster the courage to go viral like her in the society. Sunil appreciated Sheila for her resilience and integrity with which she survived. To him, she resembled a perfect mushroom, growing on dead decaying matter yet fruitful; toad stool which always stood tall. He fell in love. She arose in love.
Life changed from black to white and her beige salwar kurta was now in shades of blue. No doubt it was Sunil’s favourite colour. They smiled together; cried together, most importantly they drew the onlooker’s wrath when together. But nothing dampened their enthusiasm, their spirit to stay in a pod. He accompanied her to the Gita readings on the bridge which no more felt desolate to her. He gifted her, what she had yearned for quite some time. She could first time step in the sanity of the temple due to Sunil’s untiring efforts.
Her Lord stood in front of her, decked in precious bijous and garlanded with redolent jasmines. The chants of Hare Rama Hare Krishna echoed in the serene atmosphere of the ISKCON temple. Beside her, stood the man of her life who had made this seraphic moment possible. With folded hands, she only had one prayer-cognizance of her identity.
Her reverie was broken by her companion’s dulcet voice, “Lord has answered your prayers, I am all yours.” She only smiled back as she wore her slippers and started walking towards the beach that adjoined this palace of illusions. For a long time, they sat watching the waves that crashed on the boulders, symbolic of their own alliance. However high they maybe in love today, yet when it came to approval from the society, the tide would die down. He held her hand and probed into her eyes, “Will you marry me?”
Was the nip in the air that demanded this warmth or was it just destined, she fell into his arms. Sheila cried as if the sea was short of its own salty waters and looked up to her for generosity. She was tongue tied due to the high tide of sudden overwhelming emotions. The crimson sky was showing blotches of darkness. The sun was setting over her. If today she doesn’t answered, it would be never again. But how was it possible? Without completing the half painted landscape, she rushed to the empty streets with a hope of finding a ride back home. Sunil allowed this straying away of the moment. He knew there would be a new day tomorrow.
Patram pushpam phalam toyam yo mey bhaktyaa prayachhati tadaham bhaktyu-pahrtam-ashnaamiprayataatmanaha
If one offers me a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or a little water, with devotion and a heart that is pure, I will accept that gift of love.
If these were her thoughts always, today when the time had come, why had she walked with the tail in her legs? When the Lord himself had sent a dictum, why was she turning her face? Maybe the mushroom now loved its decayed, rotten bed. Maybe it was used to living under shadows of mighty trees, at the mercy of abandonment.
“The Supreme Court answers in the favour of the LGBT community. It paves way for amendments to section 377.”
Today Sheila herself read the TOI on her stall. Indeed , it was a new day, a day for the trapped souls to be freed. Their own Independence Day, for sure, she beamed with happiness. All this was still ok. But where was her crusader; her companion? These days he made sure he would drop by the stall before joining his duties. The punctual he is, today he was a little late. From a public booth, she called his office number to inquire about his whereabouts. The reply was abrupt and brisk, “He is not keeping well, his parents called.” The call ended before she could even say a hmm. Closing her stall, she mustered courage to walk up to his residence in a nearby lane.
“I beg of you, I haven’t done it purposefully! This is the way I recognise myself.” Sunil’s cries could be heard at a distance. Nearing the entrance of his building, she received the shock of her life. Sunil was pleading, fallen on the road with few men kicking and punching him mercilessly.
Kam,dham,dand, bhed….Sheila ran to rescue her crusader. Holding each man with an iron grip she showed her wild side. Her bloodshot eyes and clenched fist evoked ferociousness. Every blow in the face of the offenders was directed to every mean comment or abuse hurled by her ecosystem. Years of suppressed boil was now exploding. Her Lord had answered her prayers, how she could let this answer be wiped off? Her loose mane flickered like the diminishing flame in the hostile winds. Her cries echoed an impending doom. She was the Harihar avatar, the tandva of which continued till she lost consciousness. Time and space now seemed to be only metaphysical entities. The storm had wiped off the realms of today and now. The end was nearing; of whom and what only time could tell.
Sunil sat by Sheila’s bedside tending to her deep injuries and old scars. His presence was symbolic of a society and family he had left behind.
He spoke with one hand on Sheila’s forehead and one on his heart, “I truly love you,” he sobbed. He had ended the notion of real men don’t cry. “I want to spend my entire life with you without inhibitions and approvals.” He had ended the fear with agitation and made a decision with determination. “Will you be mine, forever?” His anguish had not ended. Madly that she was in love with him, Sheila ended his turmoil with a smile.
Sunil moved in with Sheila at her kholi at Sidhivinayak chawl and now it was no more a shell but a vast sky of endless possibilities. The norm; marriage is the only way a couple in love can stay together, was broken by them. There were eternal lazims beating for them in the internals of their non-stop thudding heart. The fireflies now did a merry go round around the Surya outside ‘THEIR’ kholi. The Gita sessions on the bridge had ended; only to be reignited, but where?
Get a copy of the TOI from Sheila’s stand,
“Transgender couple delivers Gita sermons at the ISKCON.”
Monopoly over God had ended.
Kholi-room; lazim-a musical instrument; kurukshetra-battlefield; chawl-old form of building; TOI-Times of India; ISKCON- a community following and preaching the teachings of Bhagvat Gita; Bhagvat Gita-religious text of the Hindus
May maro pan maushi jago- an idiom in Marathi which says, even if mother dies the aunt should survive for she is an equivalent to mother.
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