By Asif Bilal
Suresh (Name changed) from West Bengal working as cleaner in a Hotel in Srinagar told me an ordeal of his life. “Cleaning is my job as I have opted for it and neither I regret doing it nor I feel disenchanted, but what hurts me when these so called elite knuckleheads (referring to room occupants) humiliate me on one pretext and other. They call shots at me as if I am a slave of an African age. Sometimes they ridicule me for not cleaning the washroom properly and other day they are not satisfied with my washing laundry. Look, they may have grievances, I don’t deny but If they tell me without ridiculing and humiliating, I will correct my work and next time try not to repeat the mistakes”, he told me in a very serious way.
“People treat me like I have no self respect, no value. Anyone can taunt me, slap me for my ineptness and threaten me too. I too have family, what if my wife or daughter sees me getting tauted and rediculed? How will they feel when they get to know I am being treated like insect of a gutter? I have worked in different places, but the treatment for a person like me is same everywhere. Does being rich qualify for respect and attention and being poor invites denigration and taunting? The class system of rich and poor exists. This thinking must change.” He said in a very firm tone.
“Asif bhai. My life is full of irony! my parents died before I could grow up. Neither I know my father nor mother! My maternal uncle (Maama) raised me. He is a Sadhu and often lives in Ashram. Though, he loves me like parents love their children but still I feel a void. when I see a mother loving/caressing her child, my heart feel stabbed. I miss my mother that time, then I go to mandir and cry before Bagwaan. Manytimes, I had slept on the pathways covering myself with sand as I didn’t want to burden my Maama who is a destitute himself and often remains ill. Had my mother seen all this what would have been her reaction? Had she borne my sleeping on foothpath? Mother’s love can never be replaced. My Maama is poor but still he tried to give me whatever I demanded. He even facilitated my marriage and all praise to Almighty I have a family now.
I have two sons, chetan and krish and two daughters, Shali and Suhani. They all go to school. Chetan has fondness for music. When I was home, he demanded fee to learn music, but I cannot pay. It has been more than nine months since I met them. I don’t know how are they? And what are they doing? I haven’t talked to them since a month as I don’t have a mobile phone either? I plead before someone for a mobile phone and then call them for few minutes.
How I landed in Kashmir is also an irony! I had severe depression at home. My wife often remains ill and there was no money to feed the family and arrange medicines. One evening I felt so much dejected that I drank too much. In the same evening, some agent of my locality offered me a job for that I had to travel to Kashmir and my salary would be 12 thousand/month. I without reckoning the repercussions of being too away from home, accepted the job. Without informing my family, as they would never have allowed me, not even saying a goodbye to Suhani my younger daughter, tears welled from his eyes after mentioning his daughter’s name, I landed in Kashmir. I was given job of cleaning in this hotel, that too with a salary of only 6000/month reneging from a promise of 12000.
I am poor, helpless with no contact with anyone, therefore I accepted it. It is a kind of slavery. Asif bhai, who says age of slavery is gone, the poor like me is still enduring the slavery only in a different way” An agency exports labourers to different parts of country from different places and these unscrupulous agents have their own commission in it and sometimes they play fraud with a poor, illiterate labourers like in my case as I was promised to give 12 thousand/month” , He narrated all this while trying to correct the fumbling many times.
After few minutes, he shoved his hand into the pocket of his dirty trousers and tossed before me the phone numbers written in old paper slips and said these are contact numbers of my Maama and wife, however, he didn’t demand me to call them but I sensed his urge of wanting to talk to them. I quickly, shoved my mobile phone from thepocket and dailled his Maama’s number. As soon as his Maama picked up the call, he trembled. When Maama said hello, he tried to control his tears and said in reciprocation a trembling Hello. I was witnessing these emotional scenes. They talked for a long time in Bengali and suresh was contineously addressing his maternal uncle with a loved-filled word ‘Maama’ with teary eyes. Maama, where is Suhani? I construed suresh’s sentence of Bengali.
Hello Suhani beta , said Suresh.
Hello papa, Suhani replied in a thin girlish voice.
After a pause of atleast 30 seconds, suresh cleared the lump in throat and said how are you my bacha? I leapt forward and find suresh’s face and my phone smudged with tears. I behaved like I didn’t notice his sobbing. After talking with everyone in the family for atleast an hour, he hung up the call.
Dada (Bhai in Bengali) after coming here, it was first time talking to my family in a way that satisfied me. I owe you a lot, he said while smiling.
After all these emotional vibes I tried to transform the atmosphere into a jovial one by throwing a small party with Suresh. I ordered kababs, some sweets and my favourite ‘White Forestry Pastry’. We relished it together in my hotel room.
“Suresh! When is the Navratri? Aren’t you fasting?”, I asked him?
“I am a paapi insaan”, he instantly replied with a big laugh.
Later, We watched suresh’s favourite movie ‘Nayak’ wherein Anil Kapoor is a starrer who is trying to fight the elite system and corrupt politicians of country.
Asif Bilal hails from Tral Kashmir and has done Journalism from Kashmir University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.