DREAM CHRONICLES OF THE DEAD CITY
Have you ever seen the city at night? The traffic signals lazily blink yellow when the hustle bustle settles down for a brief period. The crowded streets are empty with the stray dogs sleeping or hunting in the bins. The overflowing garbage discarded in the bins is getting scattered in the footpaths & the edges of the road awaiting for the garbage truck to pick them up the next morning. Tireless moths keep fluttering around the glowing streetlights. The sly and shrewd geckos are patiently waiting to pounce on them. Few of the streetlights have themselves taken rest and created an aura of light and shadows. Few street lights continue flickering before dying down. The thin cats and the fat rats all are feasting with the overflowing garbage platter discarded by the nearby restaurant sometime back. The otherwise crowded bus stop is empty barring two homeless fellows sleeping covering themselves with a rag. Few taxis, autos and garbage disposing vans are parked adjacent to the footpath. They maintain a cautious distance from few clean private vehicles parked on the other side of the road. A drunk man is lying face down on the edge of the footpath. Some saliva and puss is oozing out of his mouth & the vigilant flies are feasting on it with their familiar buzz. The yellowish hue of the sodium lamps is bathing the streets of the city missing all the cacophony of the day. It is these hours of the night that even the lanes of a busy city sleeps for a brief time.
Mohan & Bhola were waiting patiently for the last half an hour watching the events of the night. Safina had called two hours back promising to wrap up her work by next one hour and meet them by 12 at the Chowk. It is 1:00 AM now. There was no sign of Safina. Bhola kept yawning impatiently for the third time and continued scratching his groin. Mohan was more poised and patient. But this habit of Bhola always irritated him.
“Stop scratching, will you?” said Mohan in an irritated voice. “Now you will touch the food without washing your hands.”
“Sorry dada!! What to do? Safina is still not here. I am starving” replied Bhola cutting in between a yawn. “I will use the ‘satelliter’ to clean my hands. Safina has one”
“It’s not satelliter you fool, it’s a sanitizer” chuckled Mohan.” You always want kebabs from Safina and now you can’t wait?”
“She gets awesome food every time whenever she goes during the night. She is really skilful to arrange such costly food in such quantities from her clients. She is a clever cunt..” Bhola had uttered the word without caution and was greeted by a stern gaze from Mohan. He wanted to take back the words and erase its memory itself but it was too late.
“Shame on you Bhola” Mohan nodded his head in disgust. Mohan never talks much but his expressions tell a lot more than his words can. This expression of his had landed the heaviest bolder of guilt on Bhola’ s head and he was finding it very tough to discard. Being a simpleton Bhola found it very tough to understand Mohan at times. Since Bhola had come to Mumbai from the Ara district of Bihar, Mohan was probably the only person he could call his friend. He was cheated and robbed by many people time and again. He tried various errands and often found it difficult to manage two meals a day. Then one day he met Mohan. Mohan drives an auto rickshaw. When Mohan found Bhola, he was almost dying out of starvation. Mohan took him to his “kholi” (a small hut) and fed him. He recovered in 2-3 days and since then Mohan is his friend, philosopher and guide. Thanks to Mohan, now Bhola has got a full time job at the butcher’s shop for a monthly salary of 5000/- and a lunch meal. Since lunch is sorted the only worry Bhola has is, his dinner.
Mohan does not own an auto rickshaw. He drives it on contract. Talking of his educational qualification he could have owned a lot of things including a government job but in India often life is not meant to be easy for the poor. He had completed graduation but could not manage a job. He tried desperately and tirelessly for many exams but lady luck never smiled on him. To add to it his high ethics and values never allowed him to take any short cuts for the jobs. Not that he could afford a hefty bribe for the jobs, but even if he could he never would have. His father was a clerk and he died when he was 15. Life had always being a struggle for Mohan post that with his ailing mother. The final blow came when he had to sell off his auto rickshaw which he had purchased after lot of efforts for treating his mother. Unfortunately his mother passed away within the next three months leaving Mohan nothing more than memories. But the best thing with Mohan is that he never gives up. However unkind life has been with him, he was ever optimistic. Perhaps he believed in the political jargon of “Acche-Din” (good days) from the core of his heart and he always had a plan ready for it. This was one more reason besides his educational qualification that both Safina and Bhola respected him and looked up to him. “Keep Dreaming-If you don’t believe in your dreams who else will?” That’s what Mohan always used to say.
Safina was a call girl. To rephrase she is still one. She was sold by her uncle when she was 13. From that innocent age she had witnessed the ugliest side of men raging in lust. Initially their advances used to scar her mentally but with age the scars in the body started healing and the mental scars starting deepening so much so that she almost became numb to them. She was slender and looked decent. Though her built was of fragile nature but her life experience had moulded her into a lady of iron will. Initially she was in a red light area, then she was arrested in case related to drugs. She served a jail term of 6 months and a series of rapes from the jailers over the entire period of her tenure. Probably her cooperation to the advances of the jail authorities earned her an early release from jail. Post that she became a freelancer. She got a place for herself in a slum which she shared with two girls of the same profession. As they say in flesh trade there are no recessions. In fact history bears testimony that the hit of recessions had actually increased the traffic in flesh trade. Safina now takes the most possible advantage of her clients. From bargaining for a hefty tip to pick pocketing petty cash and asking for food, she does it all. The best part is she does it in a very seducing style which further confuses the client. As the popular television commercial says “men will be men”, men more than often fall victim to her bag of tricks. But today was bit different.
Today she was summoned by an elderly man around 60s around 10PM in the night to a small hotel. Considering his age and the amount of alcohol he was consuming she forecasted it will be a brief affair and she committed her friends to join by midnight. But things turned out gross. The old man was a raging wolf and had a number of sexual fetishes largely driven by porn. As he paid extra for each act Safina never complained. But then he was joined by a young man around 30s who was supposedly his son. Then both of them took turns to rape her. Technically may be the word rape is inappropriate in this context as she got paid, the gore element in the act involving a father and his son as if brought back her dry scars back to life. They were so rough that she had red scratch marks and bite bruises all over her body. Her legs were such frantically stretched there was an unbearable pain in her groin that made her limp. But the worst part was that her memories of her uncle raping her one night when she was 13 came back to haunt her. Though she got paid more than usual she hated taking the money. Tonight after long she felt like dying. Usually she had got over this feeling for quite some time. But tonight her dry scars were dug yet again. She wanted to puke but she could not in an empty stomach. As a part of her tricks she ordered parcels for her dinner before she sleeps with her client. The food parcel was in her hands and wanted to throw it in the dustbin. But then she remembered of Bhola. Bhola craves for food like a hog. Whatever she gets from her clients she usually shares with Bhola and Mohan. Though at times she found Bhola lecherous but then ignored his advances for Mohan. Why blame a poor uneducated simpleton when the educated elite city people don’t miss a chance or glance on her. Safina admired Mohan greatly. It was one night she was drunk and too drunk to even walk. She crept into Mohan’s auto and started puking. Any other auto driver would have kicked her out, hurling all the curse words they knew. Few others would have taken their chance on the drunk whore in the dark of the night. But Mohan was different. He cleaned the auto, gave her water and a roti and dropped her when she felt little better. Safina did not even ask Mohan’s name by then, but the very next day she met Mohan and got introduced formally. From then on they are dinner buddies. Often Mohan used to pick her up and then they would have dinner together. Bhola joined them in a few days. Another poor soul at the mercy of Mohan. This was the only time of the day perhaps when all three of them would keep aside their sorrows and laugh out at life. Perhaps this was the only time they recharged their batteries for the bitter struggles of the next day.
The silence of the night was disturbed by the vrooming sound of a yellow black auto rickshaw. This disturbance had awoken the two strays and they barked twice to voice their protest before settling down on the other side of the road. The Yellow-black signified that it was run on diesel and not on gas. The eco-friendly ones are green-yellow which do not fart the deep black ball of smoke like the yellow black one. Safina climbed out of the auto and limped across the road bathing in yellow sodium light towards the other side. On her way she had cross the drunk yard and a bitch with her litter of 5 puppies. She nonchalantly cursed the drunk man and sympathetically patted the puppies. The bitch snarled at her and she hastily moved away from the litter with another curse word. She was dressed in a tight jeans and tight t-shirt which was seemingly uncomfortable for her. Seeing the bitch snarl at her Bhola broke into a foolish laughter which further irritated her.
“Take it you ass” Safina angrily passed the food parcel to Bhola.
“Are you hurt? You seem limping” Mohan asked gently. But immediately realized it was not a very appropriate question to ask her considering they all knew what she did. Immediately Mohan started feeling bad about.
Safina broke into a dry tired laughter. ”The same usual stuff that men are up to. When they have lust in their minds they often forget that my body too is flesh and blood and not rubber or elastic. Nothing serious, same old stuff.” Spoke Safina.
Though there was an air of awkwardness created by Mohan’s query, it seemed to have no impact on Bhola. He had already started walking with the parcel in his hands to their meeting place. It was a disputed under construction building. The walls were broken at places and there was one room used for storage of cement and bricks. This room was usually their spot for a candle light dinner. Bhola waved his hands instructing Safina & Mohan to rush to their spot or else it might get occupied by someone else. Mohan & Safina looked at each other and with a smile followed Bhola.
Both Mohan and Bhola had chapatis aloo sabji for dinner wrapped in a newspaper with a tinge of mango pickle. Now this was reserved for Safina as it was her favourite. On the other hand Safina had some fried rice and chilly chicken in her parcel along with few chicken drumstick.
“How do you manage so much food from your customers? You don’t eat half of that” asked Mohan after lighting the candle dusting the place.
“When men are ready with erect dicks to plough you then these little demands don’t matter. As I get exploited, I do my part.” Safina replied with a sarcastic laugh. The gaze in Mohan’s eyes intensified and there was another spell of awkward silence.
Mohan and Bhola placed their “chappals” (Indian version of slippers. Though the word slippers would have been too posh a word for the chappals that Mohan and Bhola used) for temporary sitting arrangements. It was always their habit to sit on their chappals to avoid gets their pants dusty. Safina also took of her heels and then looked at them in disgust.
“I don’t want my ass to get pricked by these bloody heels” saying this she softly threw the heels on the ground and walked towards Bhola on bare foot. “Hey Butcher, you are already filthy, there is no point in keeping your pants filled with blood and chicken shit clean. Give me your chappals. At least that’s the least you should do for all that I feed you.” Safina said.
Bhola did not complain. Instead he gave his chappals with wide grin on his lips to Safina and thudded on the floor. A puff of dust flew up as he sat down. His reaction made both Safina and Mohan break into a laughter.
Mohan cleared his throat. “Friends I have a gift for you” he said. Before they could ask what, Mohan placed a bottle of country liquor on the floor.”Daaru Wow!!” both Safina and Bhola exclaimed in joy. “Yes lets party, today I got tipped by a foreigner and so I thought lets celebrate.” Replied Mohan
“Yes lets party! Now days whenever I see my clients drunk, I too get drunk. Not to enjoy but to bear the pain and disgusting odour from their bare bodies. It helps to forget the wretched life for some time” said Safina solicitously. Then rubbing her face to drive off some cheap make up stuff of her face she spoke in a jovial voice, ”but this is different party with friends. Let’s get comfortable, drunk and enjoy” telling this she slipped her hands inside her T-shirt and unhooked the padded bras clinging to her small breasts. As the metallic grip loosened on her breasts she took a deep breath, pulling out the bra and placed it beside her. Then she looked at Bhola & spoke.
“Please keep your eyes to yourself butcher! See that’s why I call men pigs. Even when they are not around we have to bear this pain for their liking.”
Bhola was seemingly hurt by this jib of Safina. He had taken a chicken piece, but immediately placed it back on the paper and turned on the other side. This was his old habit. Being a simpleton from a village still he could not get used to the city trends. It was very common of him to get hurt.
Safina looked at Mohan and there a smile on his lips. She too felt bad for Bhola and knew well it would take some time to console him. “So Bhola wont drink?” asked Safina mischievously. “No” replied Bhola with a grudgingly. “Not even chicken fried rice & chilly chicken?”. “No” replied Bhola turning his back to Safina.
“Ok then, let the ghosts have it” saying this Safina playfully blew off the candle and darkness plunged in the room. The thin glow of the sodium street lights were creating shadows enough to freak a simpleton like Bhola. Bhola jumped up and frantically started running cursing Safina. Safina playfully ran across the room and started poking him from the back giggling. Mohan stood in silence laughing and watching Safina and Bhola run around the room like small kids. Finally Mohan spoke to calm them.
“Hey guys look there are two fireflies. Look how beautiful they are. Just like hope and belief. In the darkest times still flickering and giving light. See Bhola it is driving ghosts too”
They continued laughing and giggling for some time. Then they drank and ate. For an hour they chatted, laughed shared stupid jokes, danced until finally the country liquor kicked in and they were visibly tired.
It was almost 3 in the night and dawn was about to kick in. The empty country liquor bottle was rolling on the floor. Few small pieces of bones was only what was left in the parcel packet which now was feasted by flies. The heat of the day had died down and there was a light soothing breeze. Mohan rested against a bag of cement and looked up at the night sky and said softly “What are your Dreams?”
“I wanted to be dancer like Madhuri Dixit” giggled Safina.
“Then I want to a hero like Sanju Baba” replied an intoxicated Bhola.
“Have you ever looked at your pot belly and black face butcher? Sanjay Dutt Huh” replied Safina.
“And you look like a maid and you ll be Madhuri” A fight was about to break as Mohan raised his hands and stepped in.
“Dreams are not what you see in your sleep, its something that does not let you sleep guys. Somethings you believed you can do. You still believe you can do. Now tell me what your dream is.”
Safina was resting against a pillar. She pushed herself back to her feet. Then looked vacantly looked at the night sky. ”I just want to get out of this business. To stop scavengers eat my body daily by turns. I dream of a simple life where I will have a loving husband, 2 kids and I will cook tasty meals for them regularly. Biryani, Chinese and all recipes from you tube. I am not educated as you are Mohan dada I don’t know what to dream. That’s how misfortunate I am.” Safina’s voice choked again in the end. Mohan gently took her hands and pressed them in consolation.
“All of us have dreams within us. Only thing is often we stop believing in them. Irrespective of the dreams coming true when we stop believing in dreams life becomes an intolerable burden for us” Mohan replied.
“In that case my dream is to get good food every day three times. I am a farmer’s son I can do any labour but I am too bad at maths so people cheat me.” Said Bhola in a single breathe.
“You’re an ever starving hog!! Shut up. What are your dreams Mohan da?” Safina asked dreamily.
“No no don’t ignore Bhola’s dreams. He is pretty clear with what he wants. Same with you Safina. And talking of me I always had made my dreams flexible so that if when one dream is not fulfilled, I can switch to the next then to the other. It started with my father wanting me to be a doctor which died its untimely death with him. Then I wanted to be clerk or teacher which later modified to any job but I was not lucky enough. The dream of being an independent auto driver followed which was dead with my mother’s health. Then I wished I could treat my mother and it ended with her dead.” Mohan chocked in between his words.
This was not common for Mohan and Safina softly laid her hands on his shoulder. Mohan looked up at her, sucked in some air to gulp the lump in his throat and smiled sheepishly. “But I still have a dream. In fact many dreams. This dream is not mine alone, its for all of us.”
“For Us?” Bhola surprisingly gazed at Mohan.
“Yes for us! Safina wants to end this horrible life and cook for her husband. I can’t guarantee the husband part but she will cook. I know she is a great cook. Bhola is good at butcher’s job and hard labour. So he will get things for the market and help Safina in cooking. He is an expert in cutting kebab pieces. I will guarantee he gets good food & he will not have to do calculations to get cheated. I will be in charge overall, I will attend customers and handle the billing and cash” said Mohan almost in a single breathe.
Both Safina and Bhola gawked at him as kids keep gazing at the magician about to pull out a pigeon from him hat.
“We are going to open a restaurant!” said Mohan passionately.
“What?” “How?” Both Bhola and Safina asked in unison with their mouth and eyes wide open.
Mohan took a deep breath and spoke slowly, “I read somewhere a dream is not what you see while sleeping rather something that does not let you sleep. Let this be our dream. To start with we need at least around 50000 rupees in Mumbai to get a place and start it. According to my plan it will be hard working two months but then it will ease.”
“ I have 7562 rupees now and another 5000 salary in next 10 days. I will give that.” Bhola stood up raising his hands. He then moved and hugged Mohan tightly.
Mohan looked at Safina. She was quiet but the tears rolling down her cheeks had a lot to say. She wanted to say but she was not finding the voice. Mohan walked to her and placed his hands on her head gently. This gesture broke the dams of resistance in Safina. She took his hand and placed buried her face in his hands and started sobbing.
“I will manage 20000 and whatever jewellery I have can get another 10000. I will give all Mohan dada. But please take me out of this hell. I am tired of letting people rape me day in and day out.” She continued whimpering like a kid.
“Hey Safoo don’t cry. We are all together in it. Equal partners. I will arrange another 20000 somehow and we will be fine. Your jewellery will stay as a reserve. So guys what will we name our restaurant?” asked Mohan.
“Yaaro” replied Safina.
At this Bhola came and hugged her tightly. Mohan too joined in the huddle. Emotions were free flowing within the huddle and for the first time Mohan was no longer trying to conceal his own emotions. For Safina it was time for redemption, to get a normal life. Bhola was happy to be with his friends as he was sure that he will not be cheated. And for Mohan it was yet another bold statement to life that he had not given up. His dreams were not that weak to get defeated by the conspiracies of this dead city. Just like a phoenix rises from the ashes his dreams too refused to die.
Mr. Gokul Nanda had woken up early this morning. He wanted to ensure that no traces of his adventure last night were left for his wife and daughter returning home from their relative’s place. He had suspected that his son Govind used to get call girls for himself but somehow he could never bring it up to him. But last night’s booze broke this boundary between the father and the son and they both enjoyed together. Now the cover up needs to be perfect. Both father and son were together in it. It was after long that Gokul had sex with a young woman and he still could not get over it. The whore last night was good.
He took a cup of coffee and switched on the morning news channel. It time to get updated about the city. As he opened the news channel he could hear the news bulletin-
“In other news poisoned country liquor kills three youth in an under construction building near Vikroli. One of them was a local auto driver and the other a day labour working in a butcher shop. There was a girl in mid-twenties who is suspected to be involved in prostitution in the neighbouring area. This is seventh death in last 6 months over poisoned country liquor. The police is investigating on the case and few raids are expected to crack down trade of country liquor in Maharashtra”
Gokul Nanda impatiently fidgeted with the remote and making an irritated sound switched the channel. It was time for religious music in the morning than all these stale, stinking news. It spoils the mood for the entire day if you start the day with this sort of a news. Let the day start with the pious blessings of Jagadambe maata.
“Jay Jagadambe Maata.” The bhajan started playing in the television and Gokul Nanda started praying with his folded palms.