Loc Sungai Babagan
An old man stood before us with a perplexed look in his eyes. He wiped his forehead several times and disappeared into the house. He knew why we were here. Two little girls stared at us dumbfounded and giggled when we introduced ourselves to them. They were his grandchildren — Karishma and Reshma
We heard long wails coming from inside the house. Gayatri was distraught. She refused to come out and fought hard to free herself. Her grandfather held her tight. He dragged her to the courtyard when the men around us yelled all at once, “Ye hi hai woh bachchi jisko bechne ki koshish ki gayi thi.” “Many people come to visit us. She is terrified of cameras,” explained Bheem Setty, the president of the Gram Panchayat. He walked in moments ago asking the women to fetch us a jug of cold water. “When the incident came to light, hordes of cars lined the streets all the way into the forest. Everyone important was here. Ministers, higher officials, and officers – they all came to the village to visit us,” he added.
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He looked at us with weary eyes. Clamped to the centre of the hall were faded photographs on a calendar. Pages fluttered in the breeze. Its corners had worn out. Shyam Rao adjusted his gold-rimmed spectacles and read the newspaper. Like most mornings, his blue slippers hung loosely from his feet. Some days, we spoke in many languages. For, we couldn’t speak his, and he couldn’t speak ours. We sat for hours beside each other stringing words we knew into phrases he understood.
A smile lingered on his face when no one walked these halls. “I have a son. He works as a coolie,” he told us one morning. Horns blared in the heat, and three vehicles came to a screeching halt outside the bungalow. It was 9 am. Some men emerged from one of the rooms reeking of alcohol. “They want your room,” whispered Srinivas to us.
Remorseless grunts led to slurred threats; hoarse whispers turned into a faded whirl of abuses when we heard them pleading with the men. We rang Hampanna and informed him of the situation. He arrived shortly apologising for what had happened. He had informed the nearest police station and officers were on their way to the Inspection Bungalow.
In an hour, we heard a feeble knock on our door. It was thatha. His lips quivered; he bowed his head down as he spoke. “They left,” he said hesitantly, “You can come out now.” “They called me Sulemaga. I am as old as his father, and he called me names,” he said his voice cracking. His ran his fingers across the cracked walls with peeling paint. “That’s what they all do. They are unkind people. They have nothing left in them,” he said rubbing his knees.
He had three daughters, he told us when we drove him to Chincholi that night. It was too late for him to walk alone. “All my girls are married. My son earns Rs 3,000 per month,” he said scratching his forehead, “I have 0.75 acres of land. It was my mother’s farm. I couldn’t grow anything last year. It didn’t rain. We waited but it never happened…”