Thursday, 11 January 2018

Persona Non Grata: Chotey is wrong

Chotey was unsure of which lane to enter. Though the inspector had explained and written the address on a piece of paper, Chotey was unsure. Since he could not read the address, Chotey had to rely entirely on his memory which was not serving him well at the moment. Perhaps he was tired  from the bus journey. 

But he desperately wanted to find his mother and take her back home with him. He would tell her that he missed her. It would have been a blatant lie, but he wanted to say that. She had left him and his father when Chotey just 15 months old. And had not been seen since. How could he possibly miss her when he barely knew her? But he was determined he would lie to her. He would tell his mother that her husband was no more. He had either died or abandoned Chotey like she had. Like most of their relatives did. 

Chotey's father had gone out on his wheelchair one morning and never come back. That was about 15 days ago. When the alms and free food stopped coming for Chotey after 15 days, he set out to find his mother.

Being unable to find the right lane would not have hurt Chotey as much. He was often wrong. At least that is what his friends told him. His father had often told rebuked him for being wrong. At the tender age of 5, and despite being wise beyond his years, Chotey had simply made peace with the fact that he was wrong. There was no debate, no discussion around it. 

Today, however, he wanted to be right. A lot would depend on that. His back-breaking ride on the roof of the bus would be successful. The five rupees he paid as fare would be worth it. Chotey still had some money left in his pocket. His father had left that money near his pillow before leaving for good. 

Chotey also wanted to find out his mother and give her the little money he was carrying. He was not sure of how to spend or manage wisely this fast depleting resource. In the city, money melted fast and its exchange value was less. His father had often chided him to be economical when Chotey spent the odd one rupee he had saved from grocery shopping on a savoury or sweet.

As he entered the fourth lane running perpendicular to the main street, Chotey realised he was in the wrong place. Here, there were kids double his size who had a wicked look about them. Just like the kids in and around his shanty who told he often he was wrong. Adults like the police inspector were not Chotey's parameter to judge people. The tiny human beings his size were. And the sample of that size human being in front of him did not calm his nerves. 

These kids frittered around like foxes, chasing each other, often falling and getting up. They cussed freely and no one seemed to mind it. Though Chotey also abused his friends now and then, these expletives he had heard only from his father or his friends. And that too when they got excessively drunk on the cheap toddy. 

The last time his father and the neighbouring uncle got drunk, they had come back home with a strange looking lady. She was wearing too much makeup, far more than Chotey had ever seen anyone wear. Not even the young bride who got married a few months ago. He wanted to ask his father if the lady was his mother. But before that, his father growled and asked him to sleep in a neighbouring hut for the night. 

Chotey simply did what was asked of him. 

When the lady was leaving in the morning, he asked her if she needed water. She smiled, said no, and went her way. The recollection of her make up and smile filled him with comfort. He wanted to find her too now. Though he had no idea where she lived, Chotey wanted to find her and ask her how she knew his father and if she could help them.

It was a push and a shove from a kid his size that brought back Chotey to present. The kid looked at him strangely and asked him what he wanted. He also asked Chotey to follow him in the next lane as the kids there would bully and beat him up for being an outsider. They were all orphans, he said, and protected their territory from other orphans of that area very zealously. It was as if a full scale war had been declared.

Chotey told him the address he roughly remembered. The kid at first seemed puzzled and thought for a while. After a while, he told Chotey he had come to the wrong address.

Strange, Chotey thought. Being wrong had not left his side here either. How he wished he was right. Alas! he was not. He was wrong.

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