In the cubby holes enclosure, the artisans were engrossed in idol making. Aromas of wet clay in the damp, ill lit lanes were evaporating. It was the dingy locality of potters with rows of cramped workshops. The artisans were giving shapes to soft clay moulds.Ma had sent Munia to bring some money from Baba as Raghu,her five year old brother had been sweltering in the fever.
She entered into the windy lane, the near completed idol were hemmed along the edges of the lanes. They captured her imagination and her pace halted, galvanized on freshly painted wide eyed Goddesses.
The festive occasion of Puja, she always counted the best time of year. At least, for her it was the annual affair to look forward for new cloth, unlike of her destined hand to down cloths of entire year. She looked at her oversize dress. She loved the free spirit of Puja and festivity to roam around and feel the joy of the city.
Realizing the lost time, in gaping the idols, she brisk her pace. She conjured her Mother's foul mood of morning. Leaping the drain of the nartiw lane, she walked towards Sarkar Da’s stall. The smell of raw earth, grease, paints and heaps of straw were floating in the space.
She conjured the festivities falling few days ahead. Though her Baba not a skilled artisans,yet he had been hired by local artisans for odd jobs as an assistant during the peak work season.
At some of the places colorful plastic sheets were spread over the idol to protect them from unexpected rains. The artisans in front of their half sculpted mould were reverently engrossed in their work.
What would she wear on Navami…? Munia, an eleven plus was a lanky frame.Her course, near matted hair was the product of abject scarcity. Her big eyes on malnutriated face had a void but still had yearning to have life of fullest. She had never been to school. Every few month they had to change their settlements, either in search of work or were forced by police. They were the squatters, who would usually dwell in the desolate corners of footpaths or vacant earth beneath a fly over.
With every passing day she had now been getting new insight about the intricacies of life. These days after going through the hardships she would try to comprehend life. Now a days she would weigh the viable options of her life. While walking past the high rises she thought," She could work in those big, high rises." But her disheveled look didn’t allow her to enter in any one of them. "The guards standing there would certainly reprimand me, taking as vagabond." She sighed while looking at the uniformed guards.
At night while family sleep on the pavement she had been getting aware of the night movements. The sights and movements of night would give her more perspiration than the sultry air. At the night, the movements of vehicles and hushed tones of strange faces, near their hoards would frighten her. Few of the girls at the pavements were taken away by them.Afterwards they didn’t return neither sighted by anyone there.
She had listened Ma screams at night and her abhorrence to the way of life of the dwellers. Ma would often clamour,"She didn’t belong to that place so she couldn’t do all this." After a while her hysterical scream that she would return her native place would slow down. Perhaps admitting the fact that she had no place to go.
The panic-stricken vows of Ma to return to her native place, she began to understand and hollowness of her words. She knew Ma screamed for self assurance or just to console herself. It was a sort of self assurance for Ma that there was still a place for her to return. Though she knew they would never return to their native place. As for them, in their native place, there was nothing but a roofless existence wrapped in hunger had been in waiting. It was the place which her mother would refer longingly to others.
To feel supported ,Ma evoked, her native place, a place of her own! A void! An uneven rustic place, with dingy lanes, full of cow dung stinks. There again, they had to repeat, the same story to vacate one place for another. With pangs of hunger, they had to wait for first meal till mid day. She was aware of her rib counted infancy. On the good day she would get a mouth full of left over food of other houses holds.
These days she had been feeling some pressing gapes in the people’s eyes that would make her uncomfortable. Mother would suggest her to walk fast from there. Some times after her bath Ma would tag her along. They would walk to the temple and sit there on the stone under the banyan tree.
She walked to the market,she slowed near the T.V. shops. On the numerous screens same soaps were running. Gaping on one of them she longed to break her vagabond life. On the screen she saw a girl child of her age. She tried to relate her life with the screen child. While watching the soaps on T.V. shops she would long for a house to sleep, to play. She loved to watch a child in comfortable house,a secure life,a peaceful sleep in the bed.
It was her dream- A comfortable one, at least a place of one room , a bed to sleep whenever she felt, food to eat when she felt hunger…," She smiled and prayed for her dream,"no when I feel to have some food or to have some fun!" She conjured a home for the family with four walls.
To entertain and break the monotony of her childhood, till few years back she would play the imitation of normal life. In her play, she would long and would pretend to dislike school. Going to school and imitating the life of a normal child were her precious dream. She would act hurrying for school.Walking in school uniform with backpacks on the shoulder and sulkingly telling something to accompanying Ma. Sometimes she would play these games with vagrant children like her.
While walking the lean frame tried to comprehend her life but could she? Wasn’t a big issue for an eleven year old one?