The Bulbul's Song

The school building rose high amongst the smaller buildings in its vicinity. Enclosed in the security akin to a prison, it sometimes belied the atmosphere of a place where children gathered to play, make mischief and well, study. The bell rang and the kids reacted with joy, just like Pavlov’s Dogs they were conditioned to expect freedom which was as good as food, after a dreary day at school. Hordes of children began to stream out of all the gates of the building. There is something electric during these few minutes. Pent up energy is being released onto the hapless looking peons and guards. Children bounding with enthusiasm rush to the gate, in spite of their heavy bags, they make a dash. The innocence of childhood is magical, when information hasn’t been overloaded in our minds and every little thing matters. The dash more often ends in the arms of a parent, beaming with pride and relieved to see their child in onepiece as they say. And then after the last child has left, everything goes silent, the building goes off to sleep just like the men who guard it.

That evening, the scene wasn’t any different. Amongst the marathon runners (dream run, of course) ambling on was a little girl. Spectacles balanced on her nose, hair tied in two neat pony tails, her dark brown eyes were calm and she wasn’t running like the other kids. She walked slowly, not dragging her feet like a child on the way to school does, but similar to Buddha's walk. Small steps, observing every little squeal of delight and the mischievous push, she was mindful of the things around without knowing it, without being told. She didn’t even have to look up and spot her mother from far, because she knew that Suman would be standing at the same spot, as everyday. Indira’s mother Suman Dileep Shinde, 30 stood in the corner next to the bright red India Post box that only a few people used nowadays. But it still stood its ground, and next to it stood Suman, dressed in a faded blue saree which in spite of its repetitive usage, made her look elegant. Clutching her mobile phone wrapped in a white handkerchief(with a pink border), her eyes scanned the throng for her little one.

She was easy to spot. She looked up and their eyes met. Identical pair of eyes, same in colour and in emotion. The pain, longing and nostalgia, all were identical. It had been only a few months since Dileep Shinde, doting father and honest Police Sub Inspector of Mumbai Police went missing mysteriously. Only to be found dead in the mangroves of Malad, a few days later. The case was still under investigation but the outcome didn’t matter. He wasn’t around anymore. After his death Suman had resolved not to be thrown off track for the sake of their 8 year old - Indira. With her spectacles, the calm demeanor and composed self, she was all that regular kids were not. She didn’t like to play with them but pored over books and watched Animal Planet at home. After Dileep’s untimely death, she seemed even more withdrawn. After school, she would stand by the window, gazing into the setting sun, watching the birds fly home. Identifying them in her head, just as Baba had taught her. “Pay attention to the beak and look, the red under it’s tail - what is it?” “RedVentedBulbul!” she would reply at once. And the Bulbul would sing her song, acknowledging the little one's admiration.

Precocious she was. But never boastful. Now as she walked to her mother, she had a wry smile on her face. She handed over her backpack, which Suman was glad to take from her. They didn’t discuss the day or what Ms. Shirley had taught. They had stopped doing that since this new phase of their lives had begun. In fact, the silence was mutual, it wasn’t awkward. Suman knew her daughter well. It was more than the eyes that Indira had inherited from her. At thirty, Suman looked younger. A healthy lifestyle had kept her in good shape, and her bare neck invited much unwanted attention since the last few months. Her mangalsutra was conspicuous by its absence and so was the red bindi on her forehead. Men and women were quick to notice these differences and would either be sympathetic or hostile to her, depending upon the situation. She was slowly getting used to it.

As they walked on road number 11, of Nehru Nagar the call of Coppersmith Barbet reverberated through this small lane (which Indira had identified long ago) an Autorickshaw sputtering dark smoke from its exhaust halted right beside them. Unmindful of it, they continued to walk until the driver - a fellow in his 40s asked politely if he could drop them anywhere. Suman turned to say no when she caught the look in his eye, malevolence shown bright and the the wide grin on his face, exposing his paan stained teeth confirmed her doubt. Almost by instinct she grabbed Indira’s hand and started to walk fast. Home wasn’t far and if she kept to the sides, she could reach quickly. Raju alias Gandu as he was known to friends was not to be deterred, he kept up with them and shouted out to Suman “ Chal na! backseat main, beti ko bhi leke aa” He knew, there was no husband to beat him up and the bystanders would only look. He kept making obscene motions with his fist.

Suman continued to ignore him, but Indira was observing all the drama. She didn’t dare look at the auto wallah but she could hear what he was saying. From the tone; if not from the meaning, she knew this was a nasty man troubling Suman. The lane ended and at the junction where the Marwadi brewed his Chai and vehicles zipped past, and they had to wait to cross over onto the other side. Raju running out of patience by now, frustrated and angry crossed his limits. Without thinking for a moment, possessed by lust and the devil within, he reached out to grab Suman’s breast. But before Suman could react and dodge him, Raju withdrew his hand, as if it were approaching fire. Because right then ran through his head ran a pain so intense, it almost threw him off his seat. His hand grabbed his head by the temple and his left hand felt warm dark blood oozing out and smothering his hand. He was shaking by now and a ringing pain was shooting to his brain. Caught completely off guard, there were tears of pain in his eyes. A small stone smeared in blood lay near the brakes of the rickshaw. And next to Suman, stood Indira holding another pebble, just in case the auto wallah reacted to her first attack.


A curious crowd had gathered by now and the Marwadi who happened to notice the incident, came running. Embolden by the crowd he announced to the mob what the auto wallah had tried to do. Upon hearing him speak, the crowd closed in on the auto menacingly while Suman yanked Indira's hand and slipped out. Her heart was beating fast but it also swelled with pride. Bravery, often has little to do with strength and Indira had proven it that evening. As soon as they turned into the gate of their house, two Bulbuls perched on the window sill began to sing their song, they sang for Indira.

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In the wake of the recent uprising against sexual violence towards women, I have realised that no amount of protests or police vigil can be an effective deterrent to the perpetrators of such crimes. It is only when the common public, the aam junta take matters into their own hands and ward off every small attempt that leads to a full blown sexual assault will the mentality change, fear will creep in and things might change.

Comments

Ani said…
Excellent writing. I think there are several (possibly unintended) metaphors that really spring out from this. The tacit collusion of individuals is both, the bane and the solution to raising a red flag against sexual harassment/assault. Great use of imagery!
Saroja said…
Beautiful and sensitive. Needless to say, the story drives home the message.

The apathy of the indifferent crowd is most disgusting. No one there wants to risk rushing to another's help, so they decide to watch the fun instead. So criminals have no fear of masses or of law.
Rohit Jha said…
Beautiful writing and very well said! If not violence necessarily (or all the time), we definitely need to voice our dissent and thwart every 'small'/'petty' attempt of sexual abuse!
Tagat sahab, thanks man! Some of them are definitely deliberate but the rest are just co-incidental. It's a tricky ground there, for the mob violence could lead to fatalities as has been the case many a times. However, if the criminal knows that this possibility exists, then it might be a good enough deterrent.

Saroja, thanks! Us together can definitely fight this off! I think what we lack is initiative.

Rohit, thanks brother! Like I said earlier, mob violence is gruesome and lawless. But a simple gherao could be enough most times!



Deepti said…
Such an amazing and touching post Rushikesh! Very well written, can almost visualise the school, the roads, the scene. The detail (india post box, post hours emptiness of a school bldg, etc) is amazing. But above all the message -truly, what we need is not a new law, no fast track courts - but a public reaction on the scene! Which will create 'fear'.. No law can create that fear!
Hey Deepti, thank you so much for reading! I am glad that 3G supported you! Yes, it is about time that we stand up for ourselves! It's the fact that by masking a clear malicious touch as an 'accidental push' at crowded places, one can get away with it has encouraged a lot more perversion, which needs to be curbed.
Deepti said…
Indeed! There is no 'accidental push' (at most times).. And women of course can sense the vibes. It is truly the 'aam junta' that can make the difference that no law can...

Very well written post!

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