Mahesh was a sprightly, energetic twelve year old child of his parents. His elder sister Kumudi used to come to my house every morning to look after our daughter since we were a working couple. Kumudi used to stay the entire day and go back home in the evening. They were a family of four staying in a small colony on the periphery of Kolkata very near to my residence at Salt Lake. Mahesh’s father Ramdulal was a vegetable vendor in the makeshift market, on an unoccupied plot of land, very near to the colony where I stayed. His shop was always well stocked with fresh vegetables and rates were reasonable. His behavior was courteous and as a result he had a steady clientele who would purchase vegetable from him only. In rare case when Ramdulal used to fall sick and would not open his shop these customers would skip purchasing vegetable on that particular day. I was a regular customer of Ramdulal. At times when I could not go to the market, I used to communicate through Kumudi and Ramdulal used to reach me my requirement of Vegetable after closing his shop for the day. This unflinching support of his customers did not go down well with some of his competing vegetable vendors. They used to feel jealous and would often quarrel with Ramdulal on very small issues.

Rajoni, Ramdulal’s wife, was a happy woman. Ramdulal did not have vices. He was a family man. After the day’s work, the family of four would settle down and share the events each one experienced. The family was financially stable and the days passed by peacefully and happily. Rajoni had only one wish. She had heard about Digha. She had heard stories about the ocean, about the waves and had expressed her wish to visit Digha to Ramdulal. The daily grind of selling vegetable and also coping up with envious fellow vegetable vendors, Ramdulal too contemplated of giving a holiday of three to four days to himself and his family. Mahesh and his elder sister Kumudi were also excited. This would be their first outing outside the city limits.

Accordingly Ramdulal started preparations for the trip. His commitment to his customers made him think of ways and means to serve them with their requirement of fresh vegetables during his absence. He confided of his plans to his neighboring shop owner Shankar, who was a fruit vendor. Shankar was friendly with Ramdulal and he readily agreed to look after Ramdulal’s shop during his absence. Ramdulal was also magnanimous and offered to part off with the profits from the sale during his absence. He told Shankar that whatever profit Shankar declares he would readily give away fifty percent based on good faith. After all this is the least that he could do as gratitude to Shankar.

The word of his going on a holiday spread around. The other vendors, who fought with him, became more jealous. The reason for their jealousy was that Ramdulal’s earning was good enough to take off from vending and go for a holiday where as the others had to earn everyday for sustaining.

Ramdulal planned his visit fifteen days in advance. He bought himself and for his family a new set of clothes, new suitcase and also started to inform his regular customers about his family trip to Digha as well as the support he would be getting from Shankar. Day of his trip started to draw near and there was excitement all around. Rajoni told her friends, Kumudi informed her friends, Mahesh was super excited and was dreaming day and night about the trip. The locality where they stayed was abuzz with the news of Ramdulal and his family’s impending trip. Jealousy griped few families while other womenfolk and children started to pester their respective husbands and parents to plan out a trip to Digha. Since Kumudi would not be available for three to four days we also applied for leave from our respective offices to look after our daughter.

Just five days were left for the trip to start when tragedy struck. The municipality decided to demolish the makeshift market where Ramdulal’s shop was located. The news spread around that any night the municipality will come with police force and bulldozers to demolish the market. The shopkeepers started to keep a vigil day and night. Since most of the vendors stayed in the same locality as Ramdulal there was anxiety and suspense all over. If the market is demolished how are they going to earn their daily bread. This time all were united. Those who were jealous of Ramdulal, those who were friends of Ramdulal and those who were not so friendly with him decided to make Ramdulal their leader and represent them. They wrote out a petition and some shopkeepers along with him went to the Municipality office and the local MLA with a hope that their market would be saved from demolition.

However, good fate was not on the side of the vendors. Before their petition could be heard and the local leader could be approached, the municipality had sent the demolition team to the market. All rushed to the spot. There was commotion all over. The vendors and their family members clashed with the police force. The demonstrators’ irrespective of child women or the able bodied men tried to stop the demolition at all cost. In the melee Ramdulal was severely beaten up as he had taken the lead. The brutal lathi charge that the police force restored to injured both the legs of Ramdulal. He was writhing in pain and lying on the ground when a police jeep ran over both his legs injuring him grievously. Ramdulal lost his consciousness. He was removed to the hospital. Kumudi came running to my house late in the evening and informed me about the happening. I rushed to the hospital along with her. The doctors informed that the bones of Ramdulal’s legs had crushed and the only way to save his life would be to amputate both the legs otherwise gangrene would set in. I was shocked and speechless. This cannot be the justice to a person who all along has been courteous, honest and an upright human being. I could not fathom how to convey this news to the family. For a moment I felt like an escapist trying to run away from the bitter truth. In short I was devastated. The bright, cheerful faces of the family members kept hovering in my mind.

Kumudi and Mahesh sensed something was wrong. They looked up to me with anxiety written all over their face. Tears rolling down their cheeks they asked me what the doctor had just opined to me. I gathered courage and told them to call their mother, who was sitting by the side of the unconscious Ramdulal. I wanted to give the devastating news to all at the same time so that I could take care of their emotional outburst. I gathered all my courage and slowly and steadily explained the health situation of Ramdulal to them. I informed them of the inevitable and was surprised the way the entire family accepted the news. Rajoni did breakdown along with her daughter Kumudi however they mentioned that saving Ramdulal’s life was more important than anything else. Nothing else mattered to them more than to see Ramdulal alive.

One person who surprised me the most was Mahesh. These few hours of utter commotion had turned this twelve year old boy into a matured young man. He came up to me. His eyes were totally dry. He looked at me and said that his father has to be saved at all cost, rest he would take care once Ramdulal gets well. Every muscle on this young boys face showed grit and determination. I could see the determination and conviction in his eyes that Ramdulal would be alive. Nothing else mattered to him.

Meanwhile the news of Ramdulal’s injury and hospitalistaion had spread. Shankar with cuts and bruises along with others, who too had some injury or the other, came over to the hospital. Even those vendors who were jealous of him came and started enquiring about Ramdulal. The news of amputation came as a shock to them. All pledged their full support to the family. All were united in this hour of grief.

Ramdulal was rushed to the operation theater and the doctors carried out the amputation the entire night. Early morning he was removed to the bed. I decided to go back home. Purposely I passed by the makeshift market. Vegetables, fruits, chappals, shoes, torn clothes lay scattered all around. There were no vendors. Some customers who were not aware of the previous day’s incident were strolling in but were surprised to see the market in such a condition and were enquiring about the demolition. Few policemen were guarding the plot.

Ramdulal regained consciousness after three to four hours and was immediately administered sedatives by the doctors. I used to visit the hospital on a daily basis. I took on the responsibility of enquiring on the prognosis. I also started to enquire about the availability of prosthetics in Kolkata and if any charitable organisation could donate the prosthetics to Ramdulal. After hectic search I could locate the source of Prosthetics, however could not locate any organisation who could donate. I was dreading the day Ramdulal would regain full consciousness and would realise that two of his limbs were no longer there. I was anxious.

It was well past ten days that the incident of demolition had happened. Ramdulal was recovering slowly. However he was kept on sedatives. The family was by his side for twenty four hours. My visits were only in the evenings after office hours. Doctors assured me that everything was well with Ramdulal and the wound was healing. I had conveyed this news to his family and slight amount of relief was available to them. However Ramdulal was still not aware of the sacrifice he had made for his family and other fellow vendors. I reached hospital on that day and found Ramdulal’s bed surrounded by many and most of them were weeping. My heart beat stopped. I wondered if the inevitable had happened. I inched myself towards the bed. Ramdulal was fully awake and had realized that his legs were amputated. Tears were rolling down his cheeks. The moment he saw me he folded his hands and appealed to save his family from any doom that may befall on them, due to his incapacitation. I consoled him. I promised him in front of his family members and all who were present that I would do my best.

God always smiles and blesses people who are honest and sincere. Ramdulal’s attitude had endeared him to all his customers. During these days of hospitalisation word had spread around. Most of his customers contributed liberally which ensured that his treatment is not hampered. Ramdulal was released from hospital after twenty days.

Mahesh had overnight turned into a matured young man. After his father was discharged from the hospital, his immediate thought was to earn money. He was determined to earn enough money for the family. Mahesh wanted to earn money the honest way after all he was Ramdulal’s son. A month had passed since Ramdulal was discharged from the hospital. Kumudi started to come to my house as per her earlier routine. We had made a makeshift arrangement to take care of our daughter which we stopped. Ramdulal was recovering at home. He started to move around in a pair of crutch.

One day Kumudi along with Mahesh came and informed me that one of their father’s customers had offered his garage to set up a shop. Since the wholesale vegetable market was far away, procuring vegetable like Ramdulal used to on a daily basis was not possible for them as they were too young. They asked for my opinion. I suggested to them to set up a take away Snack Bar. I offered Rupees ten thousand as loan for their working capital. They gladly accepted my offer and went back home cheerfully.

On an auspicious day the snack bar was inaugurated in the presence of Ramdulal and many of his customers. Rajoni was the cook. Kumudi was her helper, Mahesh was the counter salesman and Ramdulal was the cashier. They operated only in the evening. Ramdulal’s behavior and good nature ensured a steady stream of customers once again. Slowly the family started to establish themselves.

Four to five years ago I had applied for a housing board flat at Baruipur, a suburban area beyond South Kolkata. The notice for allotment reached me. I had to take possession of the flat within three months. I completed all formalities and took possession. Time came when I decided to move.

Almost five months had passed since the snack bar had been set up by Mahesh and his sister. Slowly they were establishing themselves. Ramdulal also had reconciled to his fate. The entire family had reconciled to the physical condition that Ramdulal was in. I informed them that I would be shifting to Baruipur to my own flat.

One morning Rajoni and Mahesh both came over and surprised me. They handed over Rupees five thousand to me and expressed their gratitude for the support and help I had extended during their hour of crisis. They took down my new address and promised to return the balance amount soon. I was touched by their honesty. I told them the balance is not required to be returned.

I moved to my new flat. In between on some occasions I did visit Salt Lake to meet my acquaintances there. I also visited the Snack Bar of Mahesh whenever I went there. The Snack Bar had started to flourish. Ramdulal had appointed two helping hands and also had voluntarily started to pay rent to the Landlord.

Four years had passed since I left Salt Lake. My job had become very demanding. I planned a short trip to Digha. Me and my wife along with our daughter reached Digha by car. We checked into a hotel. Early in the morning the next day we went to the beach to witness the sunrise. Sun rays were slowly illuminating the sky line, soft yellow colour was mixing with the dark blue sky. Gentle waves were slowly caressing our feet, light breeze ruffled our hair. The entire atmosphere was serene. I felt someone touching my feet in reverence. Mahesh was standing in front of me. I looked beyond his shoulders and saw Rajoni, Kumudi along with Ramdulal standing on his crutches smiling at me. Mahesh had given a holiday to his parents and his sister. They were wearing new clothes, the same set of clothes that Ramdulal had purchased.

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Abhijit Sen

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