Friday, May 18, 2007

One of the worst things about my job is the tears. Grown men and women breaking down.

You can handle kids' crying. They scream their lungs out, they whimper until something distracts them. They sniffle, their faces contort, and all of a sudden, they stop. But how do you handle an old man's tears? How do you handle the crack in an adult voice, sentences disappearing into illogical whimpers of protest?

Weeks after the Varanasi trip, two things have stayed stuck in my head. One, is the weeping of old men and women. At least four of them broke down, without warning, leaving me tongue-tied.

Manni, the grandmother who still climbs trees, braves broken ankles and survives by making pattals. Her legs tremble now, she said. And she wept. Her daughter lost a child to malnutition, but was dry-eyed. In the Musahar hamlet, the women don't have the time enough, tears enough, for buried children; almost all have lost one in its infancy, or two or four. They cannot afford to keep accounts of regret.

Mullain, father of Kanhaiya who is now dead. Former weaver. Father-in-law of Bhagini. Dependent on Bhagini, who makes about Rs 25 a day, washing dishes and sweeping other people's homes. I asked them how they live, and he said, "We live... eat two days, don't eat two days." I made the mistake of asked his opinion on the weavers' situation. His voice trembled. "Think? What should I think? What should I say?"

Nirhu. Sixty-five years old. Former weaver. Lost two young sons... to illness... to weakness... to malnutrition... who knows? The elder one was about thirty-five and a father of three himself. The younger one was about twenty-five, and father of one. Now, Nirhu must support all these children. How? "I dig in the groumd. Work on construction sites. In brick kilns" And his voice trmebled. "My eyes are gone.... Within 8 months, I lost both back has been broken by their going." And after a pause, I asked, "Are you okay?" He said, "Okay? Well, I'm not ill at the moment. I suppose I am okay."

Chamila, Nirhu's wife. Who has lost two young sons. She also goes to work on construction sites and brick kilns. I squat next to her, near the earthen stove. A small fire is lit. A pot is simmering. What is cooking? Potatoes. And what do you eat that with - rice? daal? "There is no daal, no oil, no chillies, no haldi. What daal?" And she started to weep.

I left that village feeling sick at the heart. And then I walked into the other thing that is stuck in my head. A swimming river of stars.


I hadn't seen fire-flies before, not in such glory. Not at such proximity. Here, in this village where there was no electricity, where my own step on wet mud sounded loud, here, I step almost into the centre of a shimmering, invisible web of pin-pointed light. Like restless, warm diamonds. Like crystals of live poetry. Like having the stars laid out in my path, at my feet.


kala kavva said...

should be jugnoo... not jungoo

Jay Sun said...

Reminds each of us that we are indeed lucky to be living the life we have...things could be much much worse for each of us...

Jai_Choorakkot said...

I realize it must be deliberate, but wish you had carved out the jugnoo into a separate post- really incongruous stuck there at the end of the malnutrition and starvation and tears.


smriti said...

these juxtapositions are ironic...ironic too how our mind will retain beauty and brutality with the same vividness...almost making no distinction between one and the other.

Shruti said...

Hi Dear, cam ehere through BLog Street.
Afetr reading your blog, i nerves shiver, just tothink how they are manage to live..

AakASH!!! said...

I loved the way you wrapped it all up, started with tears, and then ended with thw twinkle that reflects in every teardrop. One jugnoo at a time, and yet there is a promise, a glimmer of some hope in the darkness that leads them to go on. Survival depends on scintilla of hope, and there are so many stars on the ground.


D said...

Makes our tears seem so futile!

Prashanth said...

What a post. Tears are a constant in life, aren't they?

sakthi said...

Ur post is like my conscience ...
Whenever i feel let down and brood over not getting my fair share i come back to u to remind me of how lucky i am ...

yesterday was one such day when sleep eluded me in favor of worries n fears ... so here i am and there u are

Annie said...

Erm, excuse my ignorance here, but what IS your job?

And hello from another Annie,.

Annie Zaidi said...

arun: corrected
jay sun: we are
jai: wouldn't have served the purpose. my purpose, that is.
smriti: aye! as usual, your finger touches the essential nerve.

shruti: don't shiver. just think about actions, policies, repurcussions.
aakash: thanks. the thing is, i don't know if the people who live with the jugnoos, even notice. they seemed surprised that i stopped to look.
me: i don't know about that. a very large, complicated question with feet in too many streams.
prashanth: yes, and no. they shouldn't be a contant for some people all the time
sakthi: and there we all are.
annie: i work as a journalist

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