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Phulo

About Puja Roy

Puja is an avid reader who loves to explore life's various facets and bring them out through her short stories. A Copywriter by profession, she also blogs at speakometer.wordpress.com.

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Prologue

I had met Phulo for the first time few years back when I had just started working in Churchgate, Mumbai. Everyday, during lunch-breaks I and my colleagues would come down from our office building to take an after-lunch stroll in the adjacent Marine Drive area. Being new to the city, this c-shaped long and wide road with its perfectly lined palm trees enthralled me completely and its wonderful walkway became the regular escapade that allowed me the much desired mental comfort to beat the monotony of office work. It was here that I saw her for the first time.

She would always be around there, begging from the fellow by-walkers. Yes, she was a beggar. We often see beggars around us. Despite several Yojanas and social welfare programs since time immemorial, nothing changes. But, I can say without a doubt that she hardly looked like one. This young girl was strikingly different. With the salty breeze from the Arabian Sea washing her face, her curly hair let lose in the air, she would listlessly go about begging irrespective of everything else around her.

While others indulged in the same old discussions over the recent office politics, my eyes would be held at her. I watched how she ran with her team of two-three other kids, duty-bound after men and women alike. They had a few common tactics though. Sometimes, they would work, sometimes, they won’t. Young couples in their thrill of newly found love would give them few coins. This, they knew. More often than not, this logic worked. While other two kids were still very young, Phulo, probably a teenager then was the oldest among them. Clad into an old salwar kurta, disheveled curly thick hair, red and green bangles in her slender arms, Phulo had that glint in her eyes which made me look for her every day during our lunch breaks. Her features were sharp, she was dark, but her large eyes, they had it all.

 

Part I

After few months, one day when she was passing by in search of a prospective benevolent soul, I called out to her. She stared back at me. I saw her up and close, who would say that this girl was a beggar?

I pulled out my wallet from my trousers. I was aware that she was wondering  how many coins I would give her. I placed a 10 rupee note on her raised palms. She was delighted.
“Thank you Saab”, she smiled at me and ran away.
I asked her raising my voice, “What’s your name?”
“Phuloooo”, she shouted back from a distance, with the 10 rupee note in her hand and a big smile on her lips.

I felt real happiness that day. This girl, whom I didn’t know strangely made me feel happy, I was unable to understand why and how. I regularly kept seeing her on the Marine Drive walkway running after people for money.

I called out to her again another day, she came running and raised her right palm in anticipation of the money, her eyes fixated at my wallet. I said, “Phulo, if you speak to me, I will give you the money. Will you?”
“Are you from police, Saab?”
“Police? No I am not, why?”
Arre saab, my uncle died the other day and police came to our basti (slum). They kept asking so many questions. That policeman also told me that if I know anything I should tell him, and he will give me money.”
“So, what did you say?”
“I wanted money. I told him that I had seen my uncle and a man with a knife walk together towards a bush outside our basti. Maybe that person had killed him.”
“Did you see that man?”
“Oh no Saab, not at all. I have not seen my uncle for so many days now, leave alone another man with him.”
“Then why did you lie?”
Saab, we are poor people, we don’t get into motor cars or eat biryani everyday like you. We don’t have money that is why begging na. How does it matter, if money is coming through truth or lie?”
I was both surprised and amused at this girl’s honest confession. She wasn’t that naive as I thought her to be. These street children, they grow up so soon, much before their age actually. Life teaches them survival tactics quite early.
I gave her the 10 rupees which I was holding in my hand. I also told her that we don’t eat biryani everyday, to which she exclaimed, “Come on Saab, so much money you have, you should eat na. If I had money I would eat chicken, mutton, paya, kabab everyday.” She collected her money and left.

 

 

Part II

These are the children who might have gone without food for days on end, who knows. That way their life was quite straight and simple. It was all about mere survival, it was all about food. Someone has rightly said that when we do not have food, we have one problem – the lack of it. But when we have enough food, we have thousand other problems running in our heads.

I kept meeting her for few more days. Slowly it became a routine. Whenever she saw me, she would come and we would have a good chat of sorts. She would talk about her mother who died last monsoon and her younger brother, Dhaniya, also begged like her. “On days when you earn more,” I asked her, “What do you do with the money?”

“Biryani saab. I eat biryani. Its mine and Dhaniya’s favourite. We get it from Rahim chacha’s hotel. One plate each. He takes less from us. My mother used to wash dishes in that hotel na, that’s why.” The very thought of her favourite food brought a wide smile on her face.

Days became weeks, weeks became months.

I asked her one day, “Phulo, what is the meaning of your name?”
“My name is not Phulo saab”, she said. “My name is Phulbanti, my amma called me phulo. Short of phulbanti. Then everybody started calling me so.”
After saying this she looked at me expectantly. There was some question in her eyes, which she was unable to ask.
“Do you want to say something Phulo?”
“No saab, I mean, saab, please don’t mind, what is your name?” she said it all in one breath. Her expression was such that she would drown in some ditch for the fear of facing the consequences of having asked the question running in her mind, finally.
I gave a hearty smile, “Why should I mind? My name is Vinod. Vinod Parashar.”
Saab, Vinod Saab, you are very nice.”
“OK, how come?”
“You give me 10 rupees every day, sometimes you give me 50 rupees also, no one gives saab.” She smiled.
“What do you do with this money? Eat Biryani everyday or what?”
“No no Saab, I am saving the money. I don’t use anything. I go back to our room, cook khichri for me and Dhaniya and keep all the rest of the money safely in a place.”
“Phulo, I will leave now. Take care and don’t spend too much money on Biryani, ok?”
“Ok saab”.

The next day, as soon as I got down the stairs of my office building, I saw her standing at the building gate. She didn’t notice me, but I did. What is she doing here?
I went up to her.
Saab, I was waiting for you saab. This watchman said that all good people come out only after 1 o’ clock. I was waiting for many hours saab.”
“Why were you waiting here for me? What happened Phulo?

She lowered her gaze, as if to hide some inner emotion.
I thought she was hungry and needed money. I quickly gave her a 50 rupees note.
With tears in her eyes, she looked at me. She took the money and was pressing it with her fingers within her palms. Her whole body was shivering, tears rolled down her cheeks. What was it that she was trying to speak, which her lips couldn’t say but her whole body was exerting itself to throw up?
“Come, let’s go there. My office people are looking at you crying.” I walked ahead, trying to avert the curious gazes of my office folks. She followed me.
“Now tell me, what happened? First stop crying.”
Saab, I don’t want money from you. Can you please take me home with you?” she burst out.
Her sudden plea sounded like a bolt from the blue. What was she saying? Does she even understand what it implies? Did I show her any signs of attachment unknowingly? I thought to myself.
“Phulo, I am sorry, probably you have misunderstood my gestures. I never meant to give you any wrong signals. I am a bachelor, living alone in this city. I am already engaged to a girl from my native. I will marry her very soon. What will you do with me? How will I take you home? Even if I take you, what will people say?”
Saab, I will do all your household work. When you will marry, memsaab won’t have to work at all. I can do all kinds of work Saab. Cooking, washing utensil and clothes, everything and when you will have a munna, I will take care of him also. Please take me away from these people Saab.” She started growling and hid her face with her dupatta.

My colleagues were stealing furtive glances at me by now. I told her to come and wait in the same place in the evening and that I will speak to her after office hours. After much cajoling, she acquiesced to it. I quickly left the spot noticing quite a few eyeballs still pointed at me.
Back in my office desk I couldn’t concentrate on my work at all. What was she talking about? Which people are doing what to her? Was she being forced to do something? How can I help her in anyway? Probably I shouldn’t have spoken to her in the first place. But then, I just spoke normally, giving her money whenever we met, trying to help a poor orphan girl. I spent those few hours with lots of anxiety and questions wheezing my mind. Sharp at 6.30 pm I rushed to the spot where I had asked her to wait.

The sun was setting in the western sky slowly. Young couples were walking hand-in-hand, oldies arrived for their evening walk by now, office lovers had also taken their seats on the benches, hawkers and beggars alike are were doing their rounds.
Where was Phulo? She was nowhere in sight. I had waited till 8.30 pm for her. Phulo had not come that day.

I never saw her on the Marine Drive walkway anymore. Where did she go? Did beggars also shift base? What happened to that girl? Fearing the worst, I hoped she was alive atleast. I silently prayed for her, as her helpless stare while I quickly left the scene that day flashed by my mind repeatedly.

I don’t know what Phulo was going through around that time, but something felt very negative. The following couple of days and weeks were tough for me, I was anxious almost all the time. Unable to contain the dilemma within, in a fretful moment I spoke about Phulo to few of my childhood friends. Much to my dismay, none of them understood me. Being an introvert from my childhood, probably I too couldn’t explain what exactly was troubling me. My friends thought that it was high time that I got married. They concluded that I was so sex-deprived that a beggar girl’s memories were bothering me. No one came to my rescue, they thought I was eager to sleep with a ‘dirty street girl’, whereas the truth was far from it. I was genuinely concerned about her and was panicking each moment thinking what might have happened to her.
Her unreasonable plea and my inability to do anything about it was clawing me constantly within.

I got married a year later. My wife, a very understanding and kind person otherwise, got flared up at the mention of Phulo. “How could you speak to such nasty girls of the street? Do you keep meeting her even now? I thought you were a nice guy from a decent family.” The conversation went on to a different tangent altogether. Only god knows what a tough time I had tackling that situation. Prabha, my wife was almost leaving for her father’s house. I learnt the biggest lesson of my life that day. No matter what, a man cannot say everything to his wife, especially matters of the heart. Even I didn’t know what emotions I had for her and why. Not every feeling in this world has a name nor does everything have a meaning attached to it. I cut the crap there itself and never spoke about Phulo to anyone.

 

 

Part III

5 years went by. I had changed my company by then, so didn’t go to Churchgate anymore. However, during weekends my wife would insist going to the Colaba area as she was very fond of street shopping. Colaba being few minutes’ walk from Churchgate, I secretly hoped to get a glimpse of Phulo every time I went there, but to no avail. God knows what happened to that hapless girl.

Few days back, on a Saturday, I had to accompany my wife to her favourite shopping destination – Colaba Causeway. She kept our 3 year old son at her mother’s place in Andheri and planned a day out with her busy husband. Busy I was by now, touring 15 days a month.
With her shopping done, I was just about to take a turn in my car when I was stopped by the red signal. 110 seconds, it read. With huge traffic before me, I knew, I was trapped into the great Mumbai traffic once again. It would be one of those frustratingly hopeless minutes ahead, sitting inside the car, waiting for the traffic to clear, doing nothing. My wife volunteered at this point. Instead of wasting time inside, she offered to get down and do some more quick-shopping and join me straight at the road ahead, since there was space for parking. She went back to the Colaba Causeway road. I was inside the car, listening to some random radio station when my eyes spotted her all of a sudden. Phulo it was!

Good lord, she had changed so much. From the lovely teenager, she had aged so rapidly, so different she looked from what I saw her last. She was wearing a saree now, her hair had lost its curly waves, she looked exhausted, haggard. With a huge tummy, she was banging on random window shades of the cars that were securely rolled up to avoid the likes her at traffic signals.
I checked for my wife, she wasn’t in the vicinity. Phulo was standing two cars ahead of me diagonally. I quickly came outside the car and called out to Phullo. She looked at me blankly. It seemed she couldn’t recognize me for sometime. “Phulo it’s me, didn’t you recognize me?” I shouted. I wanted to say that I was looking for her all these days, but I couldn’t say all that. After staring at me for some moments, she smiled and came closer.
Saab, how are you? You still remember me Saab?”
“Phulo, where were you all this while” I slightly glanced at her bulging out tummy. I felt great hesitation but I didn’t have the time to hesitate. I forced myself to asking her the barrage of questions that were running in my mind. “You will become a mother it seems, when you did you marry, where is your husband?”
I looked at the signal; it was further delayed by few more minutes. Each moment counted for me now.
Phulo replied, “Saab, so many questions you ask. Saab, remember that day I asked you to take me to your home? After my mother’s death, the leader of the basti, he is a goon, he was like a custodian to me and my brother. He sold me to a Seth who sold me again to a brothel house. I was there for a few years. I ran away from their Saab.”
My heart melted at the sorry state of the girl, though I had guessed something similar for her. I trembled at the thought of what might have happened to her at the brothel house.
“How did you escape from their Phulo?” knowing how difficult it is to escape from brothel houses, I was curious to know how she managed it.
“Ismail helped me saab. He also worked there. He said he loved me, so we married and escaped that place.”
Years of pent-up burden of not being able to help the poor thing was gnawing me within. I was finally relieved hearing this.
“But this Ismail also turned out to be a harami, Saab. He gave this baccha to me and ran away with someone else.”
I was intently listening to her unbelievable story. My heart sunk to its lowest pit once again. I had read about people like them having such lives, but here I was witnessing it in person. It shook me hard.
“My customers were better than this harami Ismail, atleast they didn’t give me a child. He told me that we both will work and will live a good life. He said that I will never have to beg. But see Saab, I am begging now. Nothing changed for me. I have no money and my health is also not well most of the time, Where will I keep this child Saab? ” Phulo’s eyes welled up again. Just like last time, I was a mere spectator. She had asked for help last time, time taught her that we lesser mortals are of no use to such people, that we can only stand and watch. She didn’t ask for any help this time, she was just silently shedding tears, while I stood there, watching.
The signal turned yellow now. I knew I had to leave. I quickly pulled out two 2000 rupee notes from my wallet and gave it to her. She stared at me blankly.
Perhaps I wanted to say something to her, but couldn’t articulate.
I got into the car and rode off.

I could see my wife standing in the road ahead. She spotted the car and waved at me vigorously with a wide smile.
My mind was reeling now. What there any need for this beautiful life to have suffered this way? Why did she have to live this life? Would it have changed her life if I had given her refuge years back when she had requested me to?
The questions were many. I couldn’t find their answers.

I reached the spot. My wife got into the car. Being a Saturday evening, she suggested that we eat out, and then watch a night show, giving the day a perfect ending. “Cool, so what would you like to eat?” I asked.
“Biryani!” She quipped. “I didn’t eat it for a long time. I know its quiet fattening, but then we don’t eat it every day, do we?” she replied.
Her choice of food touched a raw nerve inside me. As I drove ahead, my was reeling with the thought of that beggar girl, about whom, decent guys like me are not supposed to think. The young girl who years ago had told me that she loves Biryani of all foods, will she eat it tonight with the money that I gave her?
Who knows? Who cares for such filthy people?

With a heavy heart and an equally heavy mind, I took the turn towards the ‘Royal Biryani house’.

I had met Phulo for the first time few years back when I had just started working in Churchgate, Mumbai. Everyday, during lunch-breaks I and my colleagues would come down from our office building to take an after-lunch stroll in the adjacent Marine Drive area. Being new to the city, this C-shaped long and wide road with its perfectly lined palm trees enthralled me completely and its wonderful walkway became the regular escapade that allowed me the much desired mental comfort to beat the monotony of office work. It was here that I saw her for the first time.

She would always be around there, begging from the fellow by-walkers. Yes, she was a beggar. We often see beggars around us. Despite several Yojanas and social welfare programs since time immemorial, nothing changes. But, I can say without a doubt that she hardly looked like one. This young girl was strikingly different. With the salty breeze from the Arabian Sea washing her face, her curly hair let lose in the air, she would listlessly go about begging irrespective of everything else around her.

While others indulged in the same old discussions over the recent office politics, my eyes would be held at her. I watched how she ran with her team of two-three other kids, duty-bound after men and women alike. They had a few common tactics though. Sometimes, they would work, sometimes, they won’t. Young couples in their thrill of newly found love would give them few coins. This, they knew. More often than not, this logic worked. While other two kids were still very young, Phulo, probably a teenager then was the oldest among them. Clad into an old salwar kurta, disheveled curly thick hair, red and green bangles in her slender arms, Phulo had that glint in her eyes which made me look for her every day during our lunch breaks. Her features were sharp, she was dark, but her large eyes, they had it all.

After few months, one day when she was passing by in search of a prospective benevolent soul, I called out to her. She stared back at me. I saw her up and close, who would say that this girl was a beggar?

I pulled out my wallet from my trousers. I was aware that she was wondering  how many coins I would give her. I placed a 10 rupee note on her raised palms. She was delighted.
“Thank you Saab”, she smiled at me and ran away.
I asked her raising my voice, “What’s your name?”
“Phuloooo”, she shouted back from a distance, with the 10 rupee note in her hand and a big smile on her lips.

I felt real happiness that day. This girl, whom I didn’t know strangely made me feel happy, I was unable to understand why and how. I regularly kept seeing her on the Marine Drive walkway running after people for money.

I called out to her again another day, she came running and raised her right palm in anticipation of the money, her eyes fixated at my wallet. I said, “Phulo, if you speak to me, I will give you the money. Will you?”
“Are you from police, Saab?”
“Police? No I am not, why?”
Arre saab, my uncle died the other day and police came to our basti (slum). They kept asking so many questions. That policeman also told me that if I know anything I should tell him, and he will give me money.”
“So, what did you say?”
“I wanted money. I told him that I had seen my uncle and a man with a knife walk together towards a bush outside our basti. Maybe that person had killed him.”
“Did you see that man?”
“Oh no Saab, not at all. I have not seen my uncle for so many days now, leave alone another man with him.”
“Then why did you lie?”
Saab, we are poor people, we don’t get into motor cars or eat biryani everyday like you. We don’t have money that is why begging na. How does it matter, if money is coming through truth or lie?”
I was both surprised and amused at this girl’s honest confession. She wasn’t that naive as I thought her to be. These street children, they grow up so soon, much before their age actually. Life teaches them survival tactics quite early.
I gave her the 10 rupees which I was holding in my hand. I also told her that we don’t eat biryani everyday, to which she exclaimed, “Come on Saab, so much money you have, you should eat na. If I had money I would eat chicken, mutton, paya, kabab everyday.” She collected her money and left.

Continued in Part II

These are the children who might have gone without food for days on end, who knows. That way their life was quite straight and simple. It was all about mere survival, it was all about food. Someone has rightly said that when we do not have food, we have one problem – the lack of it. But when we have enough food, we have thousand other problems running in our heads.

I kept meeting her for few more days. Slowly it became a routine. Whenever she saw me, she would come and we would have a good chat of sorts. She would talk about her mother who died last monsoon and her younger brother, Dhaniya, also begged like her. “On days when you earn more,” I asked her, “What do you do with the money?”

“Biryani saab. I eat biryani. Its mine and Dhaniya’s favourite. We get it from Rahim chacha’s hotel. One plate each. He takes less from us. My mother used to wash dishes in that hotel na, that’s why.” The very thought of her favourite food brought a wide smile on her face.

Days became weeks, weeks became months.

I asked her one day, “Phulo, what is the meaning of your name?”
“My name is not Phulo saab”, she said. “My name is Phulbanti, my amma called me phulo. Short of phulbanti. Then everybody started calling me so.”
After saying this she looked at me expectantly. There was some question in her eyes, which she was unable to ask.
“Do you want to say something Phulo?”
“No saab, I mean, saab, please don’t mind, what is your name?” she said it all in one breath. Her expression was such that she would drown in some ditch for the fear of facing the consequences of having asked the question running in her mind, finally.
I gave a hearty smile, “Why should I mind? My name is Vinod. Vinod Parashar.”
Saab, Vinod Saab, you are very nice.”
“OK, how come?”
“You give me 10 rupees every day, sometimes you give me 50 rupees also, no one gives saab.” She smiled.
“What do you do with this money? Eat Biryani everyday or what?”
“No no Saab, I am saving the money. I don’t use anything. I go back to our room, cook khichri for me and Dhaniya and keep all the rest of the money safely in a place.”
“Phulo, I will leave now. Take care and don’t spend too much money on Biryani, ok?”
“Ok saab”.

The next day, as soon as I got down the stairs of my office building, I saw her standing at the building gate. She didn’t notice me, but I did. What is she doing here?
I went up to her.
Saab, I was waiting for you saab. This watchman said that all good people come out only after 1 o’ clock. I was waiting for many hours saab.”
“Why were you waiting here for me? What happened Phulo?

She lowered her gaze, as if to hide some inner emotion.
I thought she was hungry and needed money. I quickly gave her a 50 rupees note.
With tears in her eyes, she looked at me. She took the money and was pressing it with her fingers within her palms. Her whole body was shivering, tears rolled down her cheeks. What was it that she was trying to speak, which her lips couldn’t say but her whole body was exerting itself to throw up?
“Come, let’s go there. My office people are looking at you crying.” I walked ahead, trying to avert the curious gazes of my office folks. She followed me.
“Now tell me, what happened? First stop crying.”
Saab, I don’t want money from you. Can you please take me home with you?” she burst out.
Her sudden plea sounded like a bolt from the blue. What was she saying? Does she even understand what it implies? Did I show her any signs of attachment unknowingly? I thought to myself.
“Phulo, I am sorry, probably you have misunderstood my gestures. I never meant to give you any wrong signals. I am a bachelor, living alone in this city. I am already engaged to a girl from my native. I will marry her very soon. What will you do with me? How will I take you home? Even if I take you, what will people say?”
Saab, I will do all your household work. When you will marry, memsaab won’t have to work at all. I can do all kinds of work Saab. Cooking, washing utensil and clothes, everything and when you will have a munna, I will take care of him also. Please take me away from these people Saab.” She started growling and hid her face with her dupatta.

My colleagues were stealing furtive glances at me by now. I told her to come and wait in the same place in the evening and that I will speak to her after office hours. After much cajoling, she acquiesced to it. I quickly left the spot noticing quite a few eyeballs still pointed at me.
Back in my office desk I couldn’t concentrate on my work at all. What was she talking about? Which people are doing what to her? Was she being forced to do something? How can I help her in anyway? Probably I shouldn’t have spoken to her in the first place. But then, I just spoke normally, giving her money whenever we met, trying to help a poor orphan girl. I spent those few hours with lots of anxiety and questions wheezing my mind. Sharp at 6.30 pm I rushed to the spot where I had asked her to wait.

The sun was setting in the western sky slowly. Young couples were walking hand-in-hand, oldies arrived for their evening walk by now, office lovers had also taken their seats on the benches, hawkers and beggars alike are were doing their rounds.
Where was Phulo? She was nowhere in sight. I had waited till 8.30 pm for her. Phulo had not come that day.

I never saw her on the Marine Drive walkway anymore. Where did she go? Did beggars also shift base? What happened to that girl? Fearing the worst, I hoped she was alive atleast. I silently prayed for her, as her helpless stare while I quickly left the scene that day flashed by my mind repeatedly.

I don’t know what Phulo was going through around that time, but something felt very negative. The following couple of days and weeks were tough for me, I was anxious almost all the time. Unable to contain the dilemma within, in a fretful moment I spoke about Phulo to few of my childhood friends. Much to my dismay, none of them understood me. Being an introvert from my childhood, probably I too couldn’t explain what exactly was troubling me. My friends thought that it was high time that I got married. They concluded that I was so sex-deprived that a beggar girl’s memories were bothering me. No one came to my rescue, they thought I was eager to sleep with a ‘dirty street girl’, whereas the truth was far from it. I was genuinely concerned about her and was panicking each moment thinking what might have happened to her.
Her unreasonable plea and my inability to do anything about it was clawing me constantly within.

I got married a year later. My wife, a very understanding and kind person otherwise, got flared up at the mention of Phulo. “How could you speak to such nasty girls of the street? Do you keep meeting her even now? I thought you were a nice guy from a decent family.” The conversation went on to a different tangent altogether. Only god knows what a tough time I had tackling that situation. Prabha, my wife was almost leaving for her father’s house. I learnt the biggest lesson of my life that day. No matter what, a man cannot say everything to his wife, especially matters of the heart. Even I didn’t know what emotions I had for her and why. Not every feeling in this world has a name nor does everything have a meaning attached to it. I cut the crap there itself and never spoke about Phulo to anyone.

Continued in Part III…

5 years went by. I had changed my company by then, so didn’t go to Churchgate anymore. However, during weekends my wife would insist going to the Colaba area as she was very fond of street shopping. Colaba being few minutes’ walk from Churchgate, I secretly hoped to get a glimpse of Phulo every time I went there, but to no avail. God knows what happened to that hapless girl.

Few days back, on a Saturday, I had to accompany my wife to her favourite shopping destination – Colaba Causeway. She kept our 3 year old son at her mother’s place in Andheri and planned a day out with her busy husband. Busy I was by now, touring 15 days a month.
With her shopping done, I was just about to take a turn in my car when I was stopped by the red signal. 110 seconds, it read. With huge traffic before me, I knew, I was trapped into the great Mumbai traffic once again. It would be one of those frustratingly hopeless minutes ahead, sitting inside the car, waiting for the traffic to clear, doing nothing. My wife volunteered at this point. Instead of wasting time inside, she offered to get down and do some more quick-shopping and join me straight at the road ahead, since there was space for parking. She went back to the Colaba Causeway road. I was inside the car, listening to some random radio station when my eyes spotted her all of a sudden. Phulo it was!

Good lord, she had changed so much. From the lovely teenager, she had aged so rapidly, so different she looked from what I saw her last. She was wearing a saree now, her hair had lost its curly waves, she looked exhausted, haggard. With a huge tummy, she was banging on random window shades of the cars that were securely rolled up to avoid the likes her at traffic signals.
I checked for my wife, she wasn’t in the vicinity. Phulo was standing two cars ahead of me diagonally. I quickly came outside the car and called out to Phullo. She looked at me blankly. It seemed she couldn’t recognize me for sometime. “Phulo it’s me, didn’t you recognize me?” I shouted. I wanted to say that I was looking for her all these days, but I couldn’t say all that. After staring at me for some moments, she smiled and came closer.
Saab, how are you? You still remember me Saab?”
“Phulo, where were you all this while” I slightly glanced at her bulging out tummy. I felt great hesitation but I didn’t have the time to hesitate. I forced myself to asking her the barrage of questions that were running in my mind. “You will become a mother it seems, when you did you marry, where is your husband?”
I looked at the signal; it was further delayed by few more minutes. Each moment counted for me now.
Phulo replied, “Saab, so many questions you ask. Saab, remember that day I asked you to take me to your home? After my mother’s death, the leader of the basti, he is a goon, he was like a custodian to me and my brother. He sold me to a Seth who sold me again to a brothel house. I was there for a few years. I ran away from their Saab.”
My heart melted at the sorry state of the girl, though I had guessed something similar for her. I trembled at the thought of what might have happened to her at the brothel house.
“How did you escape from their Phulo?” knowing how difficult it is to escape from brothel houses, I was curious to know how she managed it.
“Ismail helped me saab. He also worked there. He said he loved me, so we married and escaped that place.”
Years of pent-up burden of not being able to help the poor thing was gnawing me within. I was finally relieved hearing this.
“But this Ismail also turned out to be a harami, Saab. He gave this baccha to me and ran away with someone else.”
I was intently listening to her unbelievable story. My heart sunk to its lowest pit once again. I had read about people like them having such lives, but here I was witnessing it in person. It shook me hard.
“My customers were better than this harami Ismail, atleast they didn’t give me a child. He told me that we both will work and will live a good life. He said that I will never have to beg. But see Saab, I am begging now. Nothing changed for me. I have no money and my health is also not well most of the time, Where will I keep this child Saab? ” Phulo’s eyes welled up again. Just like last time, I was a mere spectator. She had asked for help last time, time taught her that we lesser mortals are of no use to such people, that we can only stand and watch. She didn’t ask for any help this time, she was just silently shedding tears, while I stood there, watching.
The signal turned yellow now. I knew I had to leave. I quickly pulled out two 2000 rupee notes from my wallet and gave it to her. She stared at me blankly.
Perhaps I wanted to say something to her, but couldn’t articulate.
I got into the car and rode off.

I could see my wife standing in the road ahead. She spotted the car and waved at me vigorously with a wide smile.
My mind was reeling now. What there any need for this beautiful life to have suffered this way? Why did she have to live this life? Would it have changed her life if I had given her refuge years back when she had requested me to?
The questions were many. I couldn’t find their answers.

I reached the spot. My wife got into the car. Being a Saturday evening, she suggested that we eat out, and then watch a night show, giving the day a perfect ending. “Cool, so what would you like to eat?” I asked.
“Biryani!” She quipped. “I didn’t eat it for a long time. I know its quiet fattening, but then we don’t eat it every day, do we?” she replied.
Her choice of food touched a raw nerve inside me. As I drove ahead, my was reeling with the thought of that beggar girl, about whom, decent guys like me are not supposed to think. The young girl who years ago had told me that she loves Biryani of all foods, will she eat it tonight with the money that I gave her?
Who knows? Who cares for such filthy people?

With a heavy heart and an equally heavy mind, I took the turn towards the ‘Royal Biryani house’.

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2 Response Comments

  • Chirasree20/04/2018 at 4:01 PM

    A very touching story! Very realistic and hard-hitting! Kudos to the author 🙂

  • Kavita Iyer07/05/2018 at 10:29 AM

    such an awesome write up, just loved it, very touchy and so true. But for such people we can hardly do anything for them other than shelling a few rupees, isnt it?

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