Redevelopment

Many years ago; during my internship days, I went to visit Late Shri Narayan Desai’s Vedchhi Ashram, Dr Abhay Bang was also there and he patiently answered all my questions and he told me one very important thing ” never go for community work with your pre-set ideas that “I want to do this, I want to change this, etc” Live with them, learn about them and their culture, their customs and then think how best can you help them to make their life better.At that time I could not understand completely, now I realise what he meant by that.
It’s actually a real life incident, which kept me thinking for a long time, and so I created a story around it! So , here it is.

Redevelopment

slum380

 

Dagdu spent his whole life in a small two room house on the ground floor, also enjoyed luxury of having a small room on the first floor. Blessed with a daughter and a son , more importantly a very good wife, he hardly went to work. Though his house was close to  the nearby slums, it never bothered him ! His wife Savitri worked for a rich household and a large family, for many years.She used to travel by train to go to work , worked really hard morning till late evening. The rewards were many ..from toys , cloths , sweets , leftover food to even old furniture and mattresses also. As she started getting older travelling to work was becoming more and more difficult. Her son was like his father, didn’t complete schooling and after that never went for a stable job. If someone helped him with a job he never obliged by sticking to that job. Savitri’s daughter contracted TB at very young age , treatment got delayed and was incomplete. She finally received proper medical care but it was too late.Her physical growth remained stunted , she always looked ill and pale.She also started working at very young age and like her mother; soon she became indispensable for the household she worked for.
Dagdu and his son enjoyed sitting at home doing nothing !! Savitri’s employers had given her television and fridge, what more they could have asked for?!
Sayali , Savitri’s daughter knew she was never going to get married by her father, as this was very convenient arrangement for him. She was a simple girl and happy with whatever she earned and could spend on her simple indulgences. Her father started spending on his drinking as more money was available at hand.
One day when Savitri was coming back from her work, as she got delayed than usual. .she took a train which was too crowded and while getting down she was pushed and fell on the platform, injured..more frightened due to her increasing age…someone from her neighbourhood recognised her and took her home,tried informing her son , who was nowhere to be found. Called Sayali at her workplace, she came rushing and took her to the hospital. Savitri had fractured her leg..more so her confidence to travel on her own. After a month she started going to her work , now by bus…still shaking while getting on and off the bus.Once again she fell down, this time with swollen eye and injured face. Sayali decided that her mother should not go to work so far….Savitri aged so fast , ten-twenty years earlier than her friends. Her eyesight was getting worse and her fractured leg never became fully functional.
The suburbs they were living in, had a good political leader. He started many redevelopment and reconstruction projects for the slum dwellers. Sayali’s family was not willing to leave their house. All of their old neighbours left one by one to rented places .They were promised a brand new flat in an under construction building. They found nearby places to shift to so that their job, children’s school, etc gets least affected, in that arrangement they required to pay extra amount of money , over and above what builder had been providing them. Sayali now being the only earning member in her family , could not dream of new house or shifting, who will arrange for extra money, was her biggest worry, so she kept postponing; until a day came when her entire lane was being demolished for redevelopment. Now Sayali was left with no other option but to leave her home, where she will go with her family???

An old acquaintance had received two flats in exchange of his four rooms in a chawl. He gave that extra flat to Sayali’s family on rent, agreeing on the amount that builder was giving.
It took hardly a day’s time to shift her belongings to a new flat, which was on thirteenth floor! Sayali was excited to be in a high-rise with two lifts !And a home with an attached toilet…!! It was airy , separate place for everything what more; some of her neighbours were also there in the same building.Also the building was close to her place of work.
Her excitement and happiness ended sooner than she had thought.She had to wait for the lift for endless time and on failing to do so she ended up getting exhausted climbing up and down stairs often!Her friends were also on different floors so going to meet them was also a task!!Water was a big issue, when she was on ground floor house getting a bucket or two from nearby pump was easy, thirteenth floor, was making that impossible.Her parents now old and dependent, became totally restricted to their house.Her father Dagadu was most unhappy about this restriction, he used to go down whenever Sayali went for work and used to sit on ground floor bench for hours.His eyes were weak now, he could not hear also and worst his brain functions also had started deteriorating.He could not remember name of the building he was residing, nor on which floor he was.He went into different houses every time and soon became well-known in entire building. Coming weekend was a “Dahi-Handi ” day and he insisted on going to watch it, not ready to listen to any advice; any kind of warning !Two lanes aways some political party had arranged for the very high “Dahi-Handi” and a prize money was two lacs! Everyone in that locality were very keen to watch and there were bets which group of Govinda would win this. Sayali’s brother was unemployed so his maternal uncle had asked him to stay with him at his native village, so he was away.On the day of “Dahi-Handi”, as usual Sayali went to work after lunch, warning her mother not to allow his father to go out alone. Dagadu started quarrelling with his wife , poor Savitri could hardly convince him otherwise, and this time Dagadu was at his stubborn best, he left immediately after Sayali left, in hope that he would get the best place to watch.

Dahi-Handi festival in Mumbai
Dahi-Handi festival in Mumbai

The whole area was too crowded, as more and more groups of Govinda started pouring in, the excitement kept on increasing. The crowd was cheering them loud and all eyes were on “The Handi”.Finally “Navyuvak Mitra Mandal” was well-trained in the art and had many young brave boys with them.They broke “The Handi”, the crowd was mad with joy, loud music was continuously being played and small children were dancing on filmi songs,there was hardly any place left to stand or walk.As the function got over ,crowd started dispersing fast.It was like ocean of people pulling everybody in their waves. Dagadu soon lost his sense of direction and disappeared among rushing and running people.
Sayali came back from work, not seeing her father around immediately realised that her father had remained irresponsible as always.Savitri and Sayali finished their dinner silently, hoping Dagadu would be coming back anytime. As night passed , Sayali asked her mother whether her father carried any money with him. Savitri said that he was not even dressed properly.Now Sayali got really worried , what she could do at such an hour? decided to wait till morning,still hoping that her father must have slept outside any closed shop.In the morning she started panicking, her mother did not sleep at all and crying, she told her friends to help find her father, immediately they all were searching the area around the place where “Dahi Handi” took place last evening. Fearing the worst they looked for Dagadu around adjacent suburbs. whole day passed in searching, Sayali could not go to work, she called back her brother from village.Next day they both went to police station and lodged complain about their missing father. Police inspector on hearing the description of their father advised them to look for him in all nearby municipal hospitals. Whole day they went from one to the other hospital hoping to find Dagadu injured lying on one of the emergency beds,but he was as if vanished in thin air!Everyone who had ever seen him were wondering how on earth that weak , old fellow managed to walk in the first place and that to getting lost in the crowd requires some physical effort on his part, which was least expected of him.Second day was also over and now Savitri started imagining the worst, will she ever get to see him alive again, all her life he never had been her support, his existence was only name sake still she wished to see him alive !! She cursed the builder because of him they had to leave their house, this high-rise was so alienating for she was feeling choked on the thirteenth floor. This redevelopment of slums had proved disastrous for her.

OldMan

 

On the third day, one of Sayali’s brother’s friend informed them that someone spotted their father or may be somebody like him , in next suburb. On hearing that Sayali and her brother immediately went to the indicated area. In a narrow lane, with small houses on both the sides, they saw him, dragging his weak body, wearing a  shirt and a dhoti ! When he left home he was wearing a vest and a towel below!! They couldn’t  believe their eyes, catching his hand from behind,Sayali called him; “Baba,let’s go home.”
On reaching home, he kept on muttering ” where have you brought me ?” “Our house is not here.I have been searching for it, for a long time.” Savitri was crying and told him that their home was in this building, and nowhere else. Dagdu was given cloths and food by people who saw him roaming on the streets, thinking that this old man was deserted by his children, what a hard time! How could anyone leave their ageing parents begging on roads?!!
Their friends and neighbours were also relieved to see him alive, still wondering how he survived for three days on a street? How could he kept on walking for these many days to land up in a such a distant lane?
That still remains a mystery !!
– Nehal

Author: nehal

Physician by profession, I like to spend my spare time reading literature and philosophy, getting to know different cultures and exploring various forms of creative expressions,..paintings,music, photography, cinema, theatre, sculpture and of course poetry. I usually write in my mother tongue Gujarati and sometimes in Hindi and English. Nehal’s world is at the crossroads of my inner and outer worlds, hope you like the journey…

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