Submitted into Contest #66 in response to: Write about a contest with life or death stakes.... view prompt


Fiction Inspirational Happy

Rohini with her son Praveen was waiting to cross the road. A long procession was going on. The leading man with a megaphone on his mouth, was shouting slogans of ‘Struggle Ahead. March on. March on’. The followers behind him endorsed the leader by repeating the words ‘March on – March on’. Praveen was quite amused by their slogan shouting. More than that he was very much impressed by their white and white dress code. All of them were in white dhoti and white shirt, popularly known as ‘Vetti-Chattai.’ He had a great fascination for white dress and it sprang up again. He had been asking his mother for a white dress from a long time.

His mother made it very clear that whatever they earned was meant first for fending food, then clothing and shelter, then next it was education, health and if at all anything was left then it was supposed to be kept aside as saving for emergency. The irony was that emergency arose many a times, but savings never happened. They were not rich enough to satisfy all the wishes of all members in the family. Praveen knew his mother well and so he did not ask this time. But his admiration for white dress remained.

As per prevalent practice, if a trade union procession was going on, no one could interrupt the line and break through and cross the road. Pedestrians were expected to wait till the last man in the line had gone. Only then they could proceed and cross. Both mother and son crossed the road and came over to the other side. While crossing the road, Praveen noticed a woman dressed in white saree with a matching blouse and a white cap, was also walking with them. Rohini told him that she was a nurse working in a nearby hospital and white dress was her dress code. Rohini almost dragged him and asked him to walk faster as she was getting late for her work. They were to reach her employer’s house before he and his children were ready for their day. She was a maid servant – cum – helper in that house. Luckily, she reached well in time.

She never brought Praveen with her to this house, but today she brought him. Her master had promised to give away his daughter’s school text books as she had already cleared her examinations and got promoted to higher class. Praveen was waiting for the girl to come down and hand over the books. While his eyes were glued to the staircase, a young man came running down the steps. He was in white and white. He wore white shorts and white tee shirt and was swaying his tennis racket all along. Praveen was awe stunned in seeing a very handsome young man in white through and through. While Praveen was staring the young man, his mother was staring at her son’s admiration and longing for white dress. She decided to buy somehow one set of white dress for him. His long-lost desire for white.

Rohini instructed Praveen to keep waiting for the girl while she went inside to attend to her daily chores. The girl Monisha came down and on seeing Praveen remembered that she had to give him the books. She was getting late for her school. She was already in her uniform. Hold your breath! In white and white! White skirt, white shirt, white socks, white canvas shoes…. A white little fairy.

She told Praveen to come tomorrow as she had not segregated and kept the books aside. She was already late and did not want to sit with this boy on this job. So, she asked him to come next day – of course with due apologies for disappointing him. Her father had ingrained in her that those people below their financial level seeking some assistance should never be degraded or insulted. The financial status could change any day to anybody. The only durable thing was our attitude and character.

That was the reason why Praveen did not feel humiliated, nor Rohini felt insulted.

Rohini at first thought of asking her master for some monitory assistance to get Praveen his cherished desire of getting white and white dresses. But she disliked herself stretching hands for acquiring luxurious items. She was afraid that once she started asking, then it would become a habit. Praveen alone was not the only child, she had to look after. He had a brother and a sister too. Then it would be their turn to demand some of their choices. In this manner it would lead to be a never- ending chain of increasing demands. She need not be an Economics graduate to know this basic human nature of unlimited wants. Her life experience was more than a teacher.

Her master came down for breakfast. Seeing the young boy Praveen, he asked him what he would like to be in future. The boy without even batting his eyes replied instantaneously that anyone requiring to put on white uniform --- like Guard or TTE in railways. The master laughed and said.

I don’t know about the Guard. But uniform for TTEs have changed. So, you too change your ambition. Try for Sailor or naval officer in Indian Navy. They shine in white uniforms. “Men in white” command respect and dignity. When you stand in front of me in your white uniform, even I will salute you.” He laughed out louder.

Praveen got a new idea and a new ambition. ”Yes Uncle. I will be a Navy-man.”

His dreams took a new shape and design. Rohini knew very well that for poor people like them, it was dreams that kept them going. While getting their means were meagre, avenues for spending, were plenty. Fortune never smiled at them. But pity was, misfortunes never came single. When she went home, there was some bad news waiting for her. She lost her brother. His wife and two children had lost their sole breadwinner. In this house, she was sole breadwinner and in that house he was.

When Rohini’s husband deserted her long ago, she first went to him with her three kids and took shelter there. Seeing his condition was equally worse, she did not know what to do. She was heart-broken. He tried to console her, though feebly, “Thank God. All of us have two hands but only one mouth.” She vigorously looked for job. As soon as she got one, she immediately quitted his place and moved away. At least her brother need not worry about feeding four mouths of her family. Now today his family was in doldrums. She brought them to her place and offered shelter.

Praveen was the first one to feel offended. Additional burden to his mother. To that extent their necessities and comforts would be curtailed. His dreams of getting white and white would also be stretched just like a carrot before the horse. He was shedding tears. At first, Rohini thought he was upset and saddened by the tragic loss of his dear uncle. Then she understood that it was his dreams getting smashed which was unbearable to him. Her convincing words that “Thank God. We have two hands but only one mouth” did not soothe him. In order to motivate herself and boost her morale she muttered in low tone and unto herself, “Struggle ahead. March on. March on.”

For her life was always a challenging one. By the time she would deal with one ordeal, two were ready on her head and shoulders.

Her other two children also were not keen on sharing their meagre comforts with their cousins. Day by day it was becoming bitter and bitter. Children crying and quarrelling were a never-ending nuisance. One day Rohini took her sister in law to her master and asked for some help. Help was not in form of monitory assistance but some sort of means of earning through work. Any type any work, welcome. He nodded but needed time to look for.

A few days later, he asked Rohini if she or the other lady (that was her sister in law) was willing to work abroad. They needed one person for baby-sitting cum house attendant. Rohini had no choice. It was a question of survival of all seven. Feeding four plus three mouths. Since her sister in law was a feeble-minded lady, Rohini offered herself for the oversees job – but under a condition that her son Praveen would accompany her and half of her salary should be remitted to her home here for the upkeep of other children. She took it for granted that her sister in law would replace her and take up work in this house.

Initially it was not taken in good spirits that a jobseeker was dictating terms and negotiating salary and perks. But later with the help of her master assuring the overseas master and vouching them about her honesty, zeal and integrity they agreed. She had to take loan for meeting a few things like ---the two of them both herself and Praveen going abroad and immediate needs for her family left behind here. Her overseas job was not an all-expenses-paid one. She had to arrange for payment of each and every item they needed. Earlier she was scared of availing loans as it would lead to a debt-trap. Now she was prepared for anything and everything. Matter of survival. A debt-trap was better than a death-trap. She did mind and got worried about leaving behind her two tender children. A clear case of ‘One cannot eat a cake and take a cake.’ But here, not much to worry for her. They would be under the care of her sister in law.

Praveen was overwhelmed with mixed feelings. He was still cherishing a desire to become a Navy-man. But he was required to go to an unknown country with an uncertain future. He never stayed away from his siblings. Once gone now, he was not sure when he would come back to see them. All his close contacts were getting snatched from him. He felt as though he was left alone in a dark room. Going abroad did not fascinate him. He felt lonely.

Rohini was home with quite a lot of things. Each one got what they wanted to have from a long time and were longing to possess. She had taken note of her niece and nephew and their requirements also. Height of everything was, when Praveen was given a white hat-- A navy cap. He eagerly looked for white dress but it was not there. Rohini categorically told him that the white hat was to induce him to struggle and keep his goal alive. As for white dresses, he should strive hard and get them on his own.

On the day of her journey she took Praveen and went to her master’s place to seek his blessings. As soon as her master came down, Praveen put on the hat and happily addressed,

“Uncle, I am the junior sailor.” Uncle first laughed then readily saluted Praveen.

The boy’s joy knew no bounds. He felt as though he already became a navy-man. Uncle said, “Don’t be over-joyous dear! Nothing is achieved without struggling.” Praveen also replied politely. “Yes Uncle. My mother has taught me this. Struggle ahead. March on. March on. Struggles may be many. But I will keep fighting and will win over them. I will be marching on and on.”

Rohini was happy that Praveen got a hold on his life. She who was earlier oscillating between life and death, could now boldly confront her challenges and stay afloat. When her sister in law and her family came under her care, she was almost broken. It was really a question of life and death for all the seven of them.  Her two hands on one side and seven mouths on the other side! ‘Come what may’ she thought and plunged into this struggle. Her two bold decisions --- to accept a job abroad and avail loan to clear the ground here, were the most challenging ones for her.

She knew well that this was not the end. For her, ‘Life is long and so are the struggles.’ So what? She has a ready mantra to charge herself and motivate. As Praveen put it earlier, she too said to herself, “Let the struggles lay ahead. I will march on.”

She muttered in a low tone to herself her favourite mantra.

Struggle ahead. March on. March on.

November 06, 2020 19:29

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