- story by Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar
She looked weary and tired. I took a long look at her from the window of my wagonR. I do that every day and then for the next ten minutes keep brooding about the purpose of her sitting at the bus stop opposite to the entrance arch of my residential complex. I do not see her when I come back from work and thus never think of her till I see her again in the morning.
It was a winter day and I was in no mood to go to work but I had to as there was an important in-person meeting. I was trying to keep myself upbeat with a Punjabi beat on FM but my eyes went searching for the woman at the bus stop. She was not there. I took the U-turn slowly and passed by the bus stop even slower – only to look for her. I spent the entire trip to the office thinking about her. At office I felt restless and packed after having the aforesaid meeting that mattered. It was about 3 in the afternoon when I reached the bus stop opposite to my residential complex. I parked the car at a convenient location and started making enquiries at the shops nearby.
After a good bit of toil I only got to know that she takes the bus every morning at around 8am and comes back by the same at around 8pm.
I was intrigued. Why? I couldn’t say. I tried to recall – the woman was very ordinarily dressed in a saree with a bag hanging from her shoulder. She sat at the bus stop with drooping shoulders and looked weary and tired but her eyes had a sort of glint in them that caught my fancy. Her face was not exactly attractive but it had the kind of charm that captivated my attention. She had a narrow frame and though I always saw her sitting I felt she was tall. Her hands were quite thin.
The next day I found myself all set to become a spy. I dressed inconspicuously and walked down to the bus-stand well before 8am. To my relief she came! I had really really wanted her to come cause I had taken a leave for the sole purpose of unraveling her story, little did I know that it would turn out to be an extraordinary one and I would find my ‘Hero!’
She came near me and smiled. “No office today?” She said in a mellifluous voice with such ease as if we had known each other for ever. My career as a spy got over even before I could get started, she had taken note of me too – eyeing her every morning as I drove past. “You didn’t come yesterday.” I said with childlike simplicity. The words just poured out of my mouth. “So you got worried? How blessed I am!” She caught my hand and gave a light squeeze.
The bus came and we boarded it. The hour long ride seemed to end quickly – I needed more time. To talk about me! I had not unraveled a single thing about her – cause she asked and I kept on blabbering and it felt good. We walked for some time, ten minutes may be – who cared, then got into another bus. This was definitely a very short ride – but the watch said a half hour.
By now I had only managed to get her name – Mrs Koshy. A cycle van resembling a vegetable vendor’s cart was waiting by the road side a little after the bus stand. The van driver flashed a huge set of teeth and Mrs Koshy nodded. She sat on one side and asked me to sit on the other. After about 15 or 20 mnts we reached a place that looked like a shack and a moment later a hoard of children came out of it and encircled us.
They were talking all at once and I could only catch Madam Koshy and one or two animated words as the dialect was quite different. Madam Koshy resonated with their exuberance. Then they all went inside the shack. I peeped through the window or rather a whole. Madam Koshy was teaching them geometry. After about an hour we departed from the place amidst fond goodbyes.
We perched up the cart and went to another shack and then another and then another – all three around 20 mnts apart from each other. Similar events followed. I was getting used to the pattern and my happiness quotient was on its all time high. So many children – laughing aloud in reality not the LOL onscreen. The quiet of a sleepy hamlet broken only by their cacophony was more refreshing than those breaks I had ever taken in my life.
Wrapping up madam Koshy announced that its lunch time – and man I was hungry! We had lunch at a small joint – simple rice lentils and a vegetable curry. I was skeptical about having carbs on a weekday but madam Koshy said, “Eat without guilt – it’s the guilt that gets converted into fat – and she gave me a wink.”
I ate without guilt, actually hogged – the simple food was so delicious that I could not control myself – it was as though I was storing it so that the taste remains with me forever. May be I will never get this food again. After lunch we visited 2 more shacks and finally the van-cart dropped us back at the bus – stand by 6pm. We reached the bus – stand opposite to my residential complex around 8pm and I was totally exhausted.
As we were about to part madam Koshy who by now knew all about my past and present and even my future aspiration, invited me home. “Tomorrow is Saturday; it is off for you and also for me, why don’t you come along with me, have dinner and then we girls have a sleepover.” She said very amicably. I was hesitant thinking would her home be any better than those shacks? Would I be able to manage – even a night? Then I thought – well it is just a night!
There is a lane right after the bus stand where I had parked my car the other day. We walked till the lane and I saw a huge car parked there. I am not a car enthusiast like some of my friends who would look at a curve and state what car it is – even from a distance! But it was a huuuuuuuuuuuuuge car. I recognized the Mercedes symbol when we go a little closer. It was dark in the alley.
Madam Koshy nudged me to the car as I stood there frozen. I did not speak in the car neither did she; maybe she was giving me time to get over my shock. My logical brain deduced this must be an offering from a generous person in lieu of the charitable work that she does, just as me, the person might have come to know about it and was trying to help by dropping her home.
My jaws dropped when the car entered the mansion. We got down at the portico and madam Koshy started entering through the huge main door whereas I expected us to go towards the back where I presumed the servant’s quarter would be. I stood there frozen again. She pulled me and we went inside. I had never seen a mansion like that from inside, it was no less than a palace. A couple of well dressed girls were standing to be instructed. Madam Koshy called one of them and asked her to show me one of the guest rooms. I followed her wide eyed taking in the entire splendor.
Never had I thought even in my wildest of dreams when I decided to follow the lady that she was so full of surprises. Her stature in life, her work – I was overblown by the magnitude of the difference and decided that I had to know the story behind it.
At dinner she said answering my pestering enquiry, “It is a very simple story. The places that we visited are all under my father in law’s estate. My husband passed away in an unfortunate accident merely within 2 years of our marriage. I had thought of going back to my parent’s house. But my father in law had a massive cerebral attack and got paralyzed. So I became the sole owner of these estates. I had to visit them from time to time along with an entourage though.
Slowly I got interested in their lives but found that as a landlady I cannot get close. So I started going there as an ordinary person and tired to understand their sorrows and joys, wants and desires. Finally I identified that apart from the help I can do financially I can also get involved in teaching the kids unconventionally, make them ready for conventional school or any walk of like they choose to pursue. After toiling for many years and trying out many ways I could get the folks out there and the kids to warm up to me. Those shacks are build by the kids and they keep improving them year on year. We do not allow any grown up or former kids to help either physically or financially. It is the pride of the kids – their own and I am their guide.”
I took time to digest all this and had more queries. She answered with her gentle smile and finally added. “Do not think that I do this only for them, I was lonely and without a purpose. I was left with so much money that even if I didn’t do anything I would be living a life of luxury. But what is a life without purpose. These people are my family. These kids are my life. Their wellbeing is the purpose of my life.”
We used to meet at the same bus-stand off and on and I would travel with her. One cold December day she didn’t arrive at the bus stand well after 9am, I called but she didn’t pick up so I decided to visit her home. By then I had become a frequent visitor to her mansion – I even had a room there with a closet – where I kept some of my cloths, in case I decided to stay over for the night – which was often.
I sensed the gloom as soon as I entered. Kruti, one of the hand maids hugged me – she had tears in her eyes. I ran to madam Koshi’s room. She was lying on her bed peaceful as ever. She had fulfilled her purpose on earth and gone away. Leaving me! I suddenly felt so lonely and started crying. Now I travel alone though not in the bus – I take my car, anyway it is a small one – till that van/cart puller. Then he takes me from shack to shack, amidst the lively kids I no longer feel lonely – along with everything else Madam Koshy bequeathed the purpose of her life to me!