Thursday, January 19, 2006

Bastards of Paradise - A short Story

The sun gleaming on his face, and little drops of perspiration forming on his forehead made him open his eyes. It was a bright day. He crawled out of his make-do cot. It was a pile of cardboard, paper and garbage. They called it a slum. It was his home. With so many others quite like him.

Another long day awaited him. The quest for feeding an impoverished body. The quest for satisfying a darting mind. His thoughts stretched from this end of the world to that, when he picked up his torn plastic bag. Not that his world was as big as ours. Not that he thought of New York and Paris. His New York was somewhere near Juhu. His Paris near Marine Drive. His bag had no mystery in it, just stale bread.

He was born in a beautiful land. With the seashores and the mountains. With the beauty of high rise buildings! With the silence of forests and high lands. He was born to people unknown. He knew not from where he came.

It was nothing strange for him. It was just normal. Just like his friends who lived and moved on with life. Maybe people with parents were abnormal. They were in the free laps of paradise. They were the bastards of paradise. They walked bare foot on the bodies of Mother Earth for that is the only mother they really know of! They collected garbage, sold garbage for money and ate garbage for food. Everyday when the sunshine hits his cot, he hits the road. With the little plastic bags by his side he sets up to gather his daily bread!

It was just another day for him. Along the road, with the cars and buses brazenly moving across the roads. With the men and women bolting all over the place. To work, to home and to family. He curiously watched all of it and walked along the pavement. Eyes set on piles of garbage. On 'good' days he managed to gather enough garbage to get him 10 to 15 rupees. He could eat on those days. On the rest of the days he had his 'daily bread'.

His gray shirt reflected the gray shades of the world around him. His torn trousers, the grace of some old lady from Hyderabad, hung over his bare feet. His big eyes contrasted his feeble frame. He looked like some wretched kid. He was a wretched kid!

The feeble feet, the burning earth, the walk across the streets,
The fumbling steps, the eyes all set, a dream of satin sheets...

There was a huge pile of garbage by the residential block around the corner. The high rises looked like monsters towering the landscape. Looking down at the lesser mortals walking on the roads. Not looking at the lesser mortals collecting garbage. The pile of plastic bags, litter, papers and what not? He looked around for something valuable. A fortune. Like a broken watch. "Wow! That would be so great. A watch.". He found some plastic boxes. Lots of paper sheets. A few worthless pens. No watch.

He sat down by the road. The sun was shining hard. It was a hot day. His shirt, contrasted with the colorful plastic bags lying around. Just like he contrasted with the colorful world around him. His eyes fell upon a torn up plastic bag of potato chips. A crushed can of Coke. The foods of the people of a world unknown!

There was much to be done. He still hadn't gathered enough of garbage. His stomach was on fire. Hunger initiating the flow of vicious acids into him. A red car zoomed across his vision. "Who needs to move that fast?". He did! Or else it would be another hungry day. He couldn't do with that. He needed some food. He took out the last piece of the stale bread and ate it. Was it bad? Nauseating?. No, it was manna! It didn't help his hunger though. He drank some water from a roadside tap. The heat was too much. The water eased him a bit.

He continued his walk to the next block of apartments. And the next...

A day in the life of a garbage collector can usually be very monotonous at best, but who cares about monotony? There is hunger to be satisfied. There is garbage to be collected. Not much of a space to think of trivial things as monotony!

There was another boy collecting some litter paper at one of the blocks. No point sharing a block's garbage. He moved on in another direction.

Another long day. Some garbage. Maybe 9-10 rupees. No watch. No fortune!

He was tired and sad. He carried his load to the buyer. His garbage was weighed. Everything at a go. Precious plastic boxes, separated out. No other valuables were to be found in his loot! He was handed a 10 rupees note. "Get lost boy." "But, What about the plastic boxes?" "Don't you want the money?" "Good night sir!"

He slumbered back to his house. The sun had set. The lights of the city shone all over. He could hear the see and listen to the voices in his head. "Get lost boy". "Go Away"... The hunger was unbearable. He dreamed of sitting by the sea and eating some food!

There was a roadside food vendor on his way back home. Good food. Rs. 15 only! "Costly food". "Maybe he will give some to me for Rs. 10 if I plead". "Maybe he is in good mood today and give me more". Ah! Dreams... How can they fly?”

The boy whom he saw earlier that day. The other garbage collector. He saw him, eating away the lovely food. He had found a broken watch on that block!

He turned his eyes back to food vendor and looked at the 10 rupees note. He would give it a try. He stepped down the pavement to cross the street. His eyes were fixed on the food vendor shop. His hunger was too much now. He could not walk. He stumbled on the road.

He sighted a speeding truck. It hit him, and passed on. No one noticed. He writhed in pain. Too much of blood flowing from his head. He wanted to cry out aloud. He could not speak. He could breathe no more.

Another rag picker...

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