Across the Bridge – Chapter 31
Continued from “Behind the Hole in a Wall”
Exams behind them and the school closed, it was time for the kids to enjoy the summer, which included jumping in the canal after lunch and for Ghanto to indulge in her pastime unhindered by the thought of kids listening behind the wall even though that was no deterrent for her. Her children were still little except her eldest son who had started school a couple of years back. While other adults tried to keep their children away from the canal, Ghanto would tell her eldest to go jump in it.
“She has no concern about the well-being of her son, eliminates this little irritant also in the way of her pleasure,” Sanjo remarked during one of her gossip sessions, “I would not endanger the well-being of my children for anything.”
“You have been quite a thing yourself Behan, during your time,” a smirking contemporary of Sanjo remarked, “Did not leave Lallu’s bapu alone even in the fields.”
“I had to deliver his food.”
“Is that all you did?”
“He lived mostly in the fields. You know, he had built a hut there, often slept there. I had to have some time with him and he also needed my company,” Sanjo tried to explain.
“Hmmmm, I wonder why he built a hut in the fields, for company or for getting away from it”.
“Shut up, he loved my company.”
“You have had your time sis, it is their time, let them enjoy.”
“But there should be some limit, getting even her son out of the house to go jump in the canal under the scorching sun to get sick.”
“May be Balla should build a hut in the fields?” a younger participant suggested with a smirk.
“Ghanto will chase him there,” Sanjo quipped, “She’ll have even more opportunity and privacy.” Sanjo immediately bit her tongue but it was too late as was testified by a chorus of hin hins. …
“Haven’t seen Taro for several days. I wonder what happened to her.” Sanjo changed the topic to divert the attention from her.
“What is surprising in that? She is rarely seen around.”
“Yes, but she stopped by me every now and then to chat for a while. It has been too long this time.”
Sanjo ordered a little kid to go check Taro’s room. Several kids that were there rushed to the school and soon after came running shouting, “Taro is dead, Taro is dead, …”
“What are you saying kids, do you even know the difference between a dead person and a living one?”
“I tell you grandma, she is dead, she is lying motionless with her face in her cot. I even called, “Grandma, grandma” several time, she didn’t make a sound, she is not breathing, she is dead.”
“Did you check her breathing?”
The child had no clear answer, “I didn’t hear her breathing grandma.”
“You don’t know anything. I’ll go check myself.”
By the time Sanjo and her gossiping entourage reached Taro’s room, already there was a crowd, kids’ shouting had alerted even the napping ones. People stood crowding the door, likely due to an unpleasant odor in Taro’s room. Initially it was difficult to decide whether she was just sick or dead but then some motion was noticed confirming that she was not yet dead, just sick. Whatever other sickness she may have had, a large sore was clearly visible on her back explaining why she was lying on her tummy. Someone had to check closely to determine her condition. Initially, no one moved but then Suddal stepped forward, “I’ll check, somebody has to do it, she can’t be just left there while the whole village watches.”
Suddal placed the palm of his hand on her forehead. It was burning hot.
“She has very high fever,” he declared.
She needed help. Suddal had already taken a step, he was not in a position to pull back, particularly as nobody else was stepping forward. After Suddal’s charitable and chivalrous act, another vagabond joined him. Two of them together started cleaning the wound, the sight of which proved to be quite potent in thinning the crowd. People were quite generous in donating food and money for her treatment but it was soon decided that her condition was quite hopeless. Some home remedies were used to prepare a paste to apply to her wound and others to treat the fever and aches. The two fellows spent several days with her, even sleeping in the school yard to be available whenever she needed help. Some other villagers also stopped by to check and inquire about her condition. This only delayed her demise by a couple of days. If Sanjo had not sent the kids to check, she might have been out of her misery within a couple of hours.
Her cremation and other last rites were performed with donated material and money. After that, her belongings were also cremated inside her room for they were unsalvageable and fire reduced contamination in the room. A couple of days later, Suddal and his friend demolished the room. Beating the dirt to level the ground was left for the incoming and returning school kids until after the school reopened.
As it always happens, people discovered some nice things to say about Taro. While alive, she was mostly portrayed as an evil woman except for her noble deed of donating her meager property to the school and as everything else, this became a topic of conversation at the Bridge.
“She washed away all her sins by one noble deed.”
“One good deed is not enough, Chitragupta will determine her fate by taking the total sum of her deeds.”
“God is very forgiving. Did you not hear the story of the woman who donated a carrot?”
“No; what is the story?”
Uncle Nakul narrated the story: There was an evil woman; after death, she had to go to hell; she begged Chitragupta to get her out of there.
“I will get you out of there if you tell me even one good deed you did in your life,” Chitragupta said.
The woman thought for a while; then said, “Once I gave a carrot to a beggar.”
Chitragupta checked his register. True enough, she had donated a carrot to a beggar once. Chitragupta held one end of the carrot and asked her to hold on to the other while he pulled her out.
“So you see, donating one carrot was enough to overcome all her sins,” Nakul Uncle concluded.
“Did she get out of the hell?” asked a curious voice.
“No,” Uncle Nakul sighed, “While she was being pulled, someone else grabbed her legs trying to get out together with her but the woman kicked her back, saying, “It is my carrot, I am the only one who can use it. The carrot broke and she fell back.”
“Hope Taro does not make the same mistake.”
“She won’t, she lived her life quite sensibly towards the end of her life.”
“Then why did she suffer so much before death?”
“Oh, that was the penalty for her evil deeds. God made her suffer here so that she does not have to suffer later. You see, the philosophy of Karma has to be kept operating: Every action has an outcome and every outcome is the result of some action.”
“Only deed she takes with her is the donation of her property, that is her carrot.”
“That too for a very noble cause: The cause of education brothers.”
There was silence for a few moments as if to mourn Taro’s passing away. Then the conversation resumed.
“This is yet another benefit of independence.”
“How is that?”
“If there was no independence, there would be no school in our village, no opportunity for Taro to donate her land to the school and no opportunity for her to redeem herself.”
Everybody burst out laughing.