By Siddharth Tripathy
Theirs was a group of three; Sablam Manku, Podiyum Ganga and Dilip – all around 12 years old. Students of Balak Ashram, Dornapal, the three were proud of their of die hard friendship.
That day they had decided to take a day off from school to visit their parents in the camp. In a while they were before the hostel warden with their applications. Mr. Sarfe, the warden, put up a stern face while reading their applications and then laughed heartily. In the process of copying Manku’s application the other two had also signed with his initials. Mr. Sarfe made them sign their names before granting a day’s leave.
Approaching the camp, Dilip could see his sister and mother walking to the hand pump. His steps paced up. He wanted to tell mother about his days at the school. The new lessons he learnt, his books and most importantly the proposed tour to the state capital – Raipur.
Rejoicing in a typical holiday spirit, the three of them separated at the camp to reach their homes. At home, Manku enjoyed his mother’s cooking. A change from the monotonous hostel menu raised his appetite. What did it matter that he was not served as much as in school, home food always tasted better.
Podiyum Ganga discovered he had a new member in the family. His sister had given birth to a baby girl and the family was celebrating with wine and dance.
Dilip however had the quietest lunch among the three. With father off to work and mother sick, he had to serve for himself. On one side of the stifling one roomed house, grandfather lay asleep, exhaling the acrid vapours of mahua – a country liquor. Grandma sat at the threshold, combing thin streaks of her grey hair. After finishing his food, Dilip suddenly realized that no one had asked him to wash his hands before eating.
In the evening, Manku asked his friends to visit at his home. His mother was apprehensive about their upcoming tour to Raipur. She wanted to clarify a few things with his friends. They answered her questions but nothing could appease the mother’s anxiety. “Why are they going to Raipur…who will escort them…where do they stay and how long…” questions but natural for a woman who had lost all her family in a landmine blast. It was Manku’s maternal uncle who eventually convinced mother of the tour being a safe one. The boy was then tipped off with a two rupee coin.
Off went the boys, running to the nearest grocery store. With a handful of sweet candies Manku, Ganga and Dilip watched the night slowly descend in Dornapal.