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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 22 page 06

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Bapu goes out to work. He is busy pulling his handcart filled with sacks of grain. His head bent down, he is not aware of anything else. He does not follow traffic rules. Anyway, no one follows traffic rules.

Meanwhile, Sheth Dharamdas, who owns a large wholesale food grains trading business, slips over to his concubine’s flat, stays there an hour, then drives back. He also drinks heavily. Yes, he is drunk and cannot see the road clearly. Anyway, the traffic is so dense that no one can see the road clearly.

Sheth Dharamdas tries to slide past a truck. Instead, he slams into the rear of Bapu’s cart.

The impact is not much, just a graze, a few sacks tumble down, a few packs of soap spill open, the cart is not damaged.

The impact is enough, however, to knock Bapu off his balance. He falls to the ground. He is not hurt. He stands up again, cursing at the fool who dashed against his cart. But he goes silent when he sees the Sheth climbing out of the car. He knows that the Sheth is powerful and not to be messed with. He knows the Sheth’s clout.

Quickly Bapu falls on the ground and starts screaming. “Oh my leg! My leg! It is broken! My back! My back! It is broken!”

The Sheth is incensed. He knows this Bapu as a whining scoundrel who pulls less load than other cart pullers.

“My shoulder, my shoulder,” Bapu screams, “It is broken.”

“Get up, you cur,” the Sheth shouts angrily. “I know you are not hurt.”

Bapu groans and stands limply on one foot.

“Ha, you see,” gloats the Sheth. “A minute back, you were limping on the left leg. Now you limp on the right leg.”

Bapu immediately shifts to the other leg and keeps groaning.

A crowd gathers, many of them idlers. Mumbai is full of such people, crawling up from all corners when there is an accident, a fight, or when a wife fights with her husband. It is free entertainment for them. Naturally, they support Bapu.

Now, this pot-bellied Sheth Dharmadas is arrogant, exploitive, manipulative, extortive, a cheater, an adulterator, and many other things. He is a short weigher, meaning that he hollows out the weights used for weighing grains. So, when you buy 10 kilograms of wheat, it is actually 9.5 kilograms. However, people are scared of the Sheth, they fear him and give respect.

But today they gather around Bapu who groans and asks for water. The anonymity of the crowd gives them courage.

“Ye Sheth, why did you hit this poor cart puller?” one person says.

“You rogue! You take out your anger against the poor!” somebody else accuses.

“Catch him before he runs!”

“Thrash him! The fat dog!”

It so happened that a TV News channel van was passing by searching for stories.

Ms. Naveena, a journalist with a regional channel, hops out of the van, dragging her cameraman with her.

She speaks with Bapu, who groans even louder for the camera. She speaks to Sheth and senses he is drunk.

The camera shows Sheth Dharmdas, his potbelly, his silk dhoti and kurta, his Mercedes car, then pans to show the cart with wobbly wheels, the spilled grain sack, and the groaning Bapu, in his dirty dhoti and torn shirt.

Ms. Naveena props up the crying Bapu, holds him by the scruff of his neck, and looks into the camera. “This poor cart puller Bapu was pulling his cart when this vile drunk Sheth hit his cart with his car, severely injuring the poor cart puller. What will be the fate of poor Bapu? Will his children have to beg? Will they be pushed into the flesh trade? Is there anybody in this city who cares for this poor daily wage earner?”

She wipes tears from her eyes, and sobs into her scarf.

By late afternoon, footage of the crying Bapu, his cart, the fat Sheth and his Mercedes are shown repeatedly on TV.

The slum dwellers are amazed! “What?” they say, “That dog Bapu is on TV?”

Ms. Naveena wants to get full mileage out of this story. She immediately launches a #justiceforBapu campaign and announces it on TV and asks for donations.

Sheth agrees to pay an undisclosed amount to the news channel, to keep his face from TV. He also gives an undisclosed amount to Bapu.

Bapu rides home in a car, wearing pants, shirt and coat that an apparel retailer donates. He carries gift parcels of chocolates, dresses and foods for his brood. The neighbours are mad with envy.


—♦—


It is Saturday night and as the neighbours gather in front of Bapu’s door, they hear the familiar voices.

“Eat, eat, the nice juicy Kebabs.”

“Drink the spicy soup.”

But this time the feasters eat real food.