In a small town in the middle of nowhere, there was a sweet young girl living with her loving family. She had a dream once, and her parents were determined to fulfill it. Each family has their own battles to fight for their own reasons. Read on and delve into their simple lives, and find with them unexpected riches in rare niches of their lives.
Ritu woke up a wee bit early today. Her face had an unusual smile. She had just woken up and was happy about something. She knew that her mother would be in the kitchen right now, preparing breakfast. So she dragged herself to the kitchen. Her mother was sitting cross legged on the floor making chapatis on a single burner gas stove. Chanda had just prepared potato curry before serving a glass of black tea to Ritu’s father. She had to finish preparing breakfast so that Bikram could leave for work on time. Then she had to wake Ritu up and help her brush her teeth before feeding her the most important meal of the day. There were many other things to do but she had taken care of those already. She did all this before any conventional office started their working hours. (It is an irony that when asked we say-“No, my mother doesn’t work. She is a housewife.”)
Ritu went to the kitchen and snuck her way to her mother’s lap. Still rubbing her eyes, that lovely smile still intact on her cute face. The sudden intrusion surprised Chanda but soon it was replaced by a smile when she saw her daughter grasping her. She hugged her firmly and placed a tender kiss on her right cheek.
“My baby looks happy. Had a good dream?”, she asked and continued making chapattis.
“Yes Maa, I had a very good dream. I was eating chicken curry and rice in my dream. There was a lot of chicken. So much that we can invite Hemant bhaiya and his family also.” Ritu’s reply was full of enthusiasm.
“Really? Was it tasty?”, asked an equally excited Chanda.
“Of course Maa. You prepared it.”
“Okay, now go brush your teeth and then you can have breakfast with your Papa.” Ritu got up and started to walk out of the kitchen.
“Maa, Can you prepare chicken curry and rice this weekend?” asked Ritu, standing near the kitchen door.
“Yes, babu… why not.” Chanda replied with a wry smile and Ritu left the kitchen in joy.
Chanda and Bikram lived in a small town. Actually, it was more of a village except for one particular area which kind of looked like a small town. The only thing which kept the place running was an Engineering College. Everything else grew around it. One could find all the stalls and shops within 1 Km of the college perimeter. There was a strange contrast in this place. It did not enjoy the festive season and vacations. Every year during the festive season & vacation, students would head out to their homes leaving this place deserted like a robbed village. During this time you could hardly find any open shop/stall. This place had its own festive season every time the college re-opened. There would be some new stalls, some renovated shops. You wouldn’t find any trace of shops which for some reason failed to attract students.
However, this did not affect Bikram’s occupation as a washerman. He had an understanding of the system. He would set off with his family to his native place during the festive season and come back when the classes resumed. This was easy as he had access to the college hostel. He collected the dirty laundry from hostel twice a week and delivered the washed ones on every Sunday evening. This was his main source of income. He had setup the ironing place in the outer part of his room. There was a cardboard wall with a covering of old news papers which divided the room into two parts. The inner part of the room served the purpose of a living/dining/bed room. Bikram was very happy with what he had. In Chanda, he had a loving and caring wife and their little girl meant the world to them. They didn’t have much but they were happier than many.
Ritu’s dream had troubled Chanda for two days now. She had not said anything about this to Bikram yet. She knew that they were on a tight leash financially. But the weekend was nearing and she had to do something about it now. She finally told Bikram about the dream Ritu had had.
“So this is why you were so tensed for the last couple of days?”, Asked Bikram.
“Yes, I mean how are we going to buy that? Even though you don’t tell me anything, I know recently, we are short of funds.” Chanda’s concern was clear from the tone of her voice.
“Recently? We were always short of funds and we will always be. No amount of money is ever enough for anyone.”, Bikram held Chanda’s face with both hands and explained. Chanda witnessed the calm in his eyes.
“Don’t worry about money. I will figure out something.” said Bikram and leaned towards Chanda. His forehead rested against hers. Both had their eyes closed. She looked more relieved with every passing second. At the same time, the smile on Bikram’s face was fading and his forehead furrows were growing deeper. It seemed like not only could they understand each other but also exchange their feelings to some extent. Perhaps this was the actual meaning of completing each other.
It was a slow time for business around the place as the semester end was nearing. Almost all junior year students had left the place. Senior year students were waiting for their project presentation to get over and were on the verge of becoming Engineering graduates. Next few days passed as usual besides Bikram doubling his effort to finish laundry. He thought of making an extra trip to the hostel in this week and see if he can make some extra money. He also focused on the instant paying customers and prioritized his work accordingly. Ritu was growing up and it was time for her join a kindergarten. Bikram and Chanda had saved whatever they could to put Ritu in a private school. They had sworn not to touch that money for any other purpose. So, a cut or burn was being hidden from the other every now and then.
Bikram somehow finished the prioritized work in two days and decided to visit hostel on Wednesday. He would first deliver clean laundry and collect the money. Then go on to collect some more laundry to finish in next two days and deliver by the weekend. A simple but effective plan was in place.
Chanda and Bikram were used to work together. Usually, Chanda would help in washing laundry after finishing her household work. However, Bikram never involved her in ironing stuff. They owned only one iron press and it was a delicate piece of work. It’s not that Chanda couldn’t do it but he was well aware of the other roles she had to play. Besides someone had to look after Ritu.
“Ten… Twenty and Five…Twenty Five..and here is your one rupee.” Bikram handed over the change to one of his instant paying students.
“Atul Bhaiya. where are other students? Chirag bhaiya, Suman Babu?” he inquired.
“Are bhaiya.. today is their departmental fest. They are busy there….You can leave their laundry here in my room. I will tell them to visit your shop and pay or you can collect it on Saturday as usual.”
” Okay… do you have any more laundry you want to get done by this weekend?” Bikram asked.
” Ah..no..wait a sec. I do have some bed-sheets and few shirts to be washed before I leave.” Atul replied.
“Ji bhaiya. I can get it done by the weekend” the plan was working.
Bikram had a mixed outcome of his unscheduled visit to the hostel. As it turned out Atul was the only customer who paid. Others were either unavailable or promised to pay during the next visit. If everything goes as planned, he will have Rs. 130-150 with him by the weekend and that would be enough to fulfill his daughters wish.
Ritu was fast asleep. Chanda had finished rest of the work and was tucking the mosquito net under the mattress she had made using some of her torn saris and Ritu’s old clothes. Some of Bikram’s old shirts which he kept wearing in-spite of Chanda’s multiple warnings and had disappeared mysteriously over the time may have contributed to the making of the sack.
“Children dream and demand all the time. You don’t have to take it seriously every time.” Chanda tried to reason with Bikram.
“I don’t have to but if we start compromising on these small things, she will never be the person we want her to be. You know kids pick these things from their parents. I don’t want our daughter to ever compromise. I want a far better life for her, free from compromises.” Bikram explained in his usual way. For a washer-man, he was arguably intellectual. Perhaps we learn more from life than we do from books.
Chanda responded in a sincere nodding and they went to sleep. The upcoming days were promised with the high work load.
The family had a lot of work to do. Bikram had collected some more dirty laundry from his untimely visit. Lesser priority work during the last load had become a high priority now. Collectively, it summed up to be more than expected work but the down side was the irregularity in payment with these customers. The timely paycheck was not to be presumed this time around.
With the collective effort, the goal of washing was achieved on time. Now, Bikram had a huge pile of clothes to be ironed in the evening prior to the delivery date. He started off and one after another but the pile looked same. Bikram never compromised on the quality of work. Even after having to do so much in so less time, he would never cut corners. Almost after 3-4 hours of continuous work he had completed more than half of his work. Things were falling in place and odds looked to be in favor now. Bikram could almost smell the chicken curry off his plate. Of course, this was Ritu’s dream, but Bikram too had a watery mouth after hearing the detailed narration of the dream from Chanda. Being a father doesn’t mean you can’t crave for a good meal.
“Come…have some tea.” Chanda called out from the kitchen.
“Coming… let me finish ironing this shirt.” Bikram replied.
“It’s getting cold.. you go and have tea, I will finish ironing that shirt.” Chanda was already at the ironing station and almost pushed Bikram aside.
“Be careful..don’t burn your hand” Bikram cautioned her before leaving.
“I have been your wife for last 12 years. I know stuff.” Bikram left for kitchen shaking his head.
Bikram was sipping from the small glass cup which can be found easily on tea stalls. This one is pretty much the official cup to have tea in India. Ritu was inside, which meant the fun time for the father-daughter duo. There were sounds of giggling and some cartoon characters were being mimicked. Bikram got so indulged that he had lost the track of time. They had been playing for more than half an hour and Chanda had finished ironing more than a couple of clothes by then. Lately, this duo did not get enough time together.
“Maa…”, some utensils had fallen in the kitchen and all of a sudden Ritu had started crying. Chanda came running into the room. The tea pot was laying around with boiled tea leaves scattered on the floor. There were broken pieces of the glass and blood was dripping from the Bikram’s elbow. A slim line of blood from his hand through forearm till his elbow was suggesting that he had cut his hand somewhere. Ritu was still crying and soon Chanda realized that it was Ritu who got injured. The blood dripping from Bikram’s elbow came all the way to his forearm and palm as he was trying to hold Ritu’s arm quite firmly in order to minimize the bleeding. He was looking for a piece of clean cloth and Chanda pulled the towel from the wire they had hung parallel to their bed. She wrapped the towel carefully around her arm and they rushed to the nearest chemist.
It was a deep cut but fortunately, stitches were not needed. It was well past 11 and Chanda was trying to start the stove.
“Make something for yourself, I’m not hungry.” said Bikram.
Ritu turned off the stove. Bikram didn’t say anything. She held his shoulder and started tapping slowly with her index finger, “It was not your fault”.
“Yeah. It was nobody’s fault. Sometimes I just don’t know what to do. We do all the hard work we can but still. One second everything is fine and in the next…..” he paused midway.
“It’s okay. The cut is not that deep. It will heal within weeks. Anyway, she will forget about her injury when I ‘ll serve chicken on her plate.” Chanda’s tried to cheer him up. She always knew what to say.
“I don’t see that happening either.” Then Bikram explained. For aid and medicines, the chemist had charged him Rs.150. He only had 50 rupees with him and rest of the amount had be to paid soon. Bikram explained the calculation to Chanda and the forced smile on her face disappeared soon after. The chicken curry looked like a distant dream now. There was one thing which had happened in the midst of all this. Chanda did not know about it.
As soon as Chanda heard the thud, she put the iron press on the bottom rest and ran towards the kitchen. What she did not see was that it fell on the cloth as soon as she left the room. It was only when Bikram saw it while they were rushing Ritu to the chemist. He had then put the iron press on the floor and switched it off but the shirt had burnt by then and it had a triangle like void on it now. Had he not seen this while leaving the house, there would have been a major fire accident. Bikram decided not to tell her about this. Things were now playing on his mind and it drove his sleep away. He will have to pay for the damaged piece of clothing. Even If the customer did not ask for compensation, which was highly unlikely, there were other factors to be analyzed. If everyone paid tomorrow, he will first pay chemist’s dues. After seeing that off the money left would just not be enough. He couldn’t have done any better. He had done everything in his power but… all the hard work went in vain. It’s amazing how people convince themselves that they are in-charge. That they are in complete control. Reality is way different. Bikram had known this for a quite some time now. He knew he had done his part, so he left everything else to the fate. He went to sleep thinking tomorrow will be better than today. Good thinking.
Next day he completed his work and packed his delivery bag. The damaged shirt belonged to Atul. He reached the hostel and started delivering the laundry room by room. To his surprise everyone paid. He was also able to collect the payment due from his last visit. He went to Atul’s room at last and knocked the door. The door opened and he entered the room.
“Bhaiya.. here are the bed-sheets and shirts. There is something…” Bikram was stopped midway.
“Bikram bhaiya. Atul is not here. He went outside.” Atul’s roommate informed.
“Oh..” the thought of stating the truth was now dueling in Bikram’s mind. Should he tell?
“Bhaiya, by mistake I burnt the blue shirt of Atul bhaiya while ironing. I will pay for the damage. Please tell him to come visit me at my shop.” Bikram told without realizing the fact that there was no way he could pay for the damage.
“Okay. I will tell him. Anyway how much does he owe for the laundry?”
“What can I say bhaiya..the shirt…otherwise it would be Rs.32 for the laundry.” Bikram said hesitantly.
Bikram went straight to the chemist after coming from the hostel. He paid the dues and counted rest of the money. He had only 20 rupees left with him now. Buying chicken with twenty rupees was possible at a time when Bikram was a boy. Now with twenty rupees, you could barely buy vegetables for one time meal. Disappointed, he kept the money in his shirt’s front pocket. With twenty rupees and a couple of moist eyes, he swayed away. He was definitely not headed towards his house.
“Where were you bhaiya? Bhabhi is looking all around for you?” Someone from the neighborhood told Bikram. This got him worried and he almost ran towards his house.
“What happened? Is Ritu okay?” Catching up on his breath he asked.
“She is okay and playing inside. Where were you? One student from hostel had come. He was saying something about a burnt shirt. Did his shirt get burnt? How?” Chanda was firing questions like canons.
“I went to the chemist and paid the dues. It was Atul. What did he say? Did he ask for compensation?” It is Bikram’s turn now.
“No, he didn’t. He said something which I did not understand. He told the shirt was his college uniform and he is going to pass out from the college in a few days. So, all his friends would write on it. He told you not to worry about the burnt shirt. He said he will think of it as a memory from you. Strange people naa? And..” Chanda looked confused while explaining.
“Oh… thank god” he was so relieved that he didn’t even hear her out completely.
“At last something good happened but we still don’t have enough money to buy chicken for tomorrow. After paying the dues I have only twenty rupees left.” It was said with a blank expression.
“Arrey.. that is what I was going to say. He also paid for the laundry and I..” positiveness in Chanda’s reply was evident.
“32 rupees… still not enough” Bikram was staring at the ground.
“Would you ever let me complete my sentence?” Chanda faked an angry voice but it turned out to be effective.
“He gave a hundred rupees note and I told him that I don’t have change with me. He asked to keep the change and buy some sweets for our children as he will be leaving the place soon. I was reluctant but he insisted so I accepted it.” Chanda was now chirping like a bird.
“That miser, he keeps looking at you until you return the change, even if it’s two rupees. He left hundred rupees… I can’t believe this.” Bikram was shocked but a hint of smiling was taking over.
He was still in shock and Chanda hugged him. This sudden turn of events had changed all equations. Things obviously did not go according to plan earlier but at the end, everything looked to be falling just in the right place. The occurrence of events always surprise people and nature loves to balance out things. That is why things happen for you when you least expect it. This was a dawn after a dark night, metaphorically speaking but actually, it was still night. And again tomorrow was going to be better than today.
Sunday afternoon, the family was having the most awaited lunch. As usual, Chanda was feeding Ritu but she was holding on to the chicken piece by herself. Motherly love is fine but the chicken was very important. Bikram was eating besides Ritu. He hadn’t had a meal this tasty in a while.
“Yaar Ritu… you should dream more often. See when you dream we get to eat good food.” Bikram elbowed Ritu playfully but she was far too busy to hear. Her hands were covered with the thick gravy and she was completely focused on devouring the meal. She was living chicken curry dream after all.