Night

As the day began to bleed into the night, he dragged his feet back to the place he now called his home. He didn’t know what was more tired, his body or his mind. All he knew was that he needed sleep; today, more than ever. It was just one of those days. But since sleep had been elusive to him for years now, he knew it was going to be a long night; longer than most.

Working with families of laborers and tenant farmers took its toll on him. And until now, he thought he’d gotten used to it. He crashed into his bed as soon as he entered his dimly lit room on the terrace of a two storied building. “What a mess!” he thought to himself. He looked around the room; a stack of food trays lay in one corner, too lazy to walk to the empty dustbin just outside, while a pile of magically increasing clothes lay in other.

Sigh. He closed his eyes, hoping that it was all just a dream. It wasn’t.

He was back there now. Sitting on a chair in a house that hadn’t seen much light. In front of him sat a little girl, sobbing. An old man, her grandfather, pulled her harshly and growled at her “Stop crying you monster! Answer what he’s saying…he’ll think you’re stupid.” This had continued for the last 30 minutes now, while he sat there quietly. It wasn’t his job to intervene. He was clearly instructed to do nothing more than observe. So that’s what he did. The berating and belittling continued the entire time he was there, while the girl’s grandmother fed biscuits to a little boy, her brother maybe. The questions he was asking were supposed to be answered by the grandparents by the way. But they had politely, or what can be considered polite in comparison, declined by saying “Hum to anpadh hain jee, humein kuchh nahi pata iska..isko hi poochho kya karti hai…ghoomti rehti hai bahar saara din.” And with that had begun a string of verbal and physical abuse towards the kid.

Now, it’s not like he hadn’t seen or heard worse before. What hit him the most now was his inability to react. Even if he did stop them now, it wasn’t the first time they did this and definitely not the last. He was helpless in the moment. And he hated that feeling. That combined with the helplessness he’d been feeling for years now; of being where he doesn’t belong; of living a lie, crippled him. So, he couldn’t have left faster when the questions ended. He dropped the little girl at her aanganwadi, told the karyakarta what had happened, and left. His work for the day was done. Thankfully.

He opened his eyes and rolled on to one side of his bed. The incident had revived emotions that he was running away from. It was like someone buried him in sand, and the grains had slowly filled up his nostrils and choked him.

No matter how sunny the days were, it always rained at night. And it was a long night…even longer than he had anticipated.

Harsh Chauhan

2016 fellow, placed with Centre For Learning Resources in Raipur, Chattisgarh as part of his fellowship. Working on strengthening of the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) program of the government for early childcare and development through field research and capacity building.

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