Lilting chimes of the bells of Bankey Bihari temple announced the beginning of a new day in the quaint little town of Vrindavan and for Ram, the fifth day of living a lie. The morning market was overcrowded with wagons and vendors shouting their fares. Ram, all of eight with his slight frame could sear across the jostling crowds to be the first customer for the milkman ( it was rumoured that he adulterated milk for customers who reached late). Since his babuji’s sudden death he had matured beyond his years. Ram epitomized his Amma, Radha, white saree clad lady with soulful eyes entrusted with the responsibility of bringing up him and a four-year-old daughter Gudiya.
Amma gave an aana to him every day to get milk for Gudiya in one hand and a dolchi in the other.
One morning the milkman said, “This is what you get for an aana from now on”. The ‘dolchi’ which would be filled up to the brim was now only three-fourths. Mature for his years Ram couldn’t bring himself to see his Amma’s dismayed face and the effort she would put in to earn that extra aana. Thus started his deception. Enroute to home, Ram would add gushing Yamuna river water to the dolchi to the brim as Amma always said that the holy river was the purest form of water. Guilt-laden Ram couldn’t conjure courage to confess to Radha who was neck deep in problems.
Gudiya was his elixir, her charming smile melted his heart. However, she was an ailing child often crying in pain. Her condition had deteriorated in the last six months and finally Radha decided to visit the hospital, Ram too trudged along just to ensure that his secret act was not the cause of Gudiya’s misery.
Ram was a nervous wreck by the time it was their turn. The doctor listened intently to Gudiya’s stomach gurgling sounds. ‘Radha, when does she complain of pain?, he enquired. Radha’s reply buried him in remorse. ‘ After an hour of eating doodh- bhaat ‘. Dr. Misra cleared his throat and addressed Radha “ Observing her pain since a year and it’s increasing frequency, I feel she has developed an intolerance to milk. So no milk and milk products for her at all”
The distant clanking of the temple bells ushered in the good news, Ram heaved a sigh of relief! His mind was babbling to himself “ Now Amma wouldn’t have to spend extra Anna for the milk which could now be added to family savings as all could have dal-rice like Amma. He wouldn’t have to lie any longer.” Indeed, this news was mellifluous to his ears like the tolling evening bells signifying the end of the day.
Ram skipped his way back home with his hand dangling with Gudiya’s. He wondered, wise for his years, that such was the destiny of poverty that adversity often cloaks itself as an opportunity to happiness.
Aana: traditional currency
dolchi: vessel to carry milk
Doodh/bhaat: traditional Indian meal of milk rice
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