FICTION: English, Bengali & Hindi

Who is to Blame?

I had just got down from the rickshaw near the USIS Library and was paying the rickshaw puller when I heard a faint cry just behind me pleading, 'Sir, please give me two paise'. I had a handful of coins in my hand after paying the rickshaw puller, how could I say 'No'. I thrust a ten paisa coin into the palm of the beggar and hurried on. I was already late for office.

A melody of voices immediately surrounded me from all sides pleading for money. There were at least half a dozen of them of all ages and sizes, destitutes wretchedly dressed in shabby clothes, 'hunger' written all over their lean faces. I felt very annoyed. This is what always happens with beggars. The moment you show sympathy towards one, you will inevitably be pressed by more.

I was determined not to be milked on like this. I resolutely said, 'NO', and walked away. I even raised my hands threateningly at times, to chase away those who followed. Most of them dispersed as I approached the Chowringhee Road crossing save and excepting for one, possibly the youngest and weakest of them all. She was a girl child about five years of age. She had not made a single appeal for money but only ran about on either side of me or at times in front of me tears streaming down her cheeks, imploring me with her dumb looks and stretched hand to give her something. I knew that melting down or softening my stand in the matter in any way would mean inviting another influx of beggars. So, ignoring her completely I resolutely stepped out from the footpath on to the zebra crossing. She however, in a last ditch effort to draw sympathy out of me before I crossed the road, which would mean an end to her hopes, desperately ran on to the road in front of me, her hand still stretched towards me. To my horror I saw the traffic signal turn from 'red to green' and before I could do anything to stop the child who was totally unaware of the change of the traffic signal, a minibus swerving past the traffic signal post came at full speed towards us and crashed on to her with a sickening jolt and screeching of the tyres. In his urgency to pick passengers from this stoppage before the others, the driver of the minibus, possibly had not even noticed the insignificant little child so perilously close to the swerving wheels. However, the damage had already been done. The child had died without even uttering a shriek still resigned to her principle of dumbness. Maybe, she had not the strength to cry out or the courage to shriek to show her resentment to dying so early when she had so much to live for!!

What happened next was only a repetition of what usually happens on such occasions. Crowds gathered. Police arrived. The driver of the minibus was harassed. A wailing scarecrow of a woman came running from somewhere and fell over the mashed flesh and bones of what had been the child retrieved from under the wheels of the bus. She lifted her face and screamed to the heavens saying, 'My child, my Zeenat is dead'.

Her sudden shriek brought me to my senses. I do not know why an inner guilt feeling was pricking me in the heart. Was I in any way responsible for this priceless loss? Though the corpse was now only a paste of mashed flesh, bones and blood, the face and the head surprisingly was without a scratch. The face still had the imploring stare in her eyes as if still wanting to convey to the onlookers the message that people like them are destined to live on the mercy of others. Her lips were parted in a strange smile. It was not anger, nor horror, nor despair, nor shock, nor ridicule. It seemed to indicate a total resignation to her fate as if people like them were born to die in that way. It did not grudge anybody!

'These people are born to die like this. Like cats and dogs they are born on the roads and are made to fend for themselves the moment they are able to walk,' remarked an old babu with annoyance in his voice. He was obviously angry at the delay he was going to suffer due to the sudden suspension of the traffic caused by the accident. 'God knows when the next bus will come this way,' he remarked grudgingly. 'Why can't you take a little more care of your children?' shouted somebody at the wailing mother, with whom such remarks, now, hardly mattered. She had just lost her greatest possession. Was it really her fault that had caused her child's death? True she was nowhere around when her child was trying to earn her days living at this end of the road while she was managing the other end, but then, that possibly, was the daily routine for people with their fortune! 'The traffic police of our country are worthless,' remarked somebody else, from the crowd, 'This only demonstrates yet another area of worthlessness of the police department,' he said. 'Why blame the police?' cut in another, 'don't you see there are more cars on the roads than human beings? There is an influx of rich people to this city.' 'Friends, you all have missed the crux of this entire problem,' remarked yet another, possibly a politician dada, a half leader, who had been waiting all this time to butt in at the opportune moment. 'The carelessness of the police, the audacity of the car owners, the narrow unrepaired roads where accidents are inevitable and, above all, the ever increasing number of such poor people who have made the roads their homes, why my friends? Why? Why should such an unblossomed flower have had to wither away so untimely? Have any of you ever thought of this? Who is responsible for all this? Don't you see brothers that it is the system itself that is responsible for all this - it is the Government. It is the worthlessness of the Government that is slowly but surely bringing the entire middle class society to the brink of starvation. You, me, everybody, everyone who is in the middle strata of the society is facing this debacle. This is the fate that awaits us all in the near future. We are all gradually being pulled down to the roads.'

God knows to what extent the political dada would have stretched his imagination but for the sudden interruption brought about by the arrival of the ambulance to the spot. The Authorities had arranged for transfer of the corpse to some hospital. This was necessary for having the post mortem report and the Death Certificate for facilitating the cremation. The corpse therefore was soon removed. The minibus and its driver were taken to the police station. The wailing woman and her folks all hurried towards the hospital. The crowd dispersed. The traffic soon resumed its usual rush while the sun still shone on with its original glory. Who could imagine that only moments ago yet another precious life had passed away into eternity at this very spot!

I still stood there, dazed and speechless my conscience tearing me to pieces. They had blamed everybody for the accident but me. Why had I been so heartless and mean? Would parting with a small ten paise coin have made me all that poor? I had to do something to compensate the irreparable loss brought about on account of my hard heartedness, if not when the child was alive at least at its death. I might as well bear the cost of the cremation. I did. Which no doubt, is the only consolation. I have from the haunting thoughts of guilt that have ever since haunted me to this day and will possibly haunt me the rest of my life.


© Arked Infotech

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