Tuesday, 23 October 2007

I saw a Bishnupriya Manipuri Ragpicker ...and I ..

By Ranita Sinha, Kolkata

One fine winter afternoon in Ballygunge, Kolkata, two years back, at around 2 o’ clock, me and my daughter were returning after seeing a doctor. We were walking along the footpath to go to the bus stop. My daughter was insisting for a packet of potato chips. Since she was not well, I, promised her to provide her one the next day. But she was adamant to had one. At that time I saw a rag picker passing us. I all of a sudden told my daughter in Bishnupriya Manipuri language: “ archa bosta alla go, chips khaeile doriya niya jitoiga”( look a rag picker, if you have chips he will take you along with him). Though my daughter cannot speak our language but she understands it very well. So, those words were enough to stop her.

The rag picker was of medium height of age around 35-40 years. His complexion was whitish yet he looked dark because of dart all over him. He wore a torn out black and white stripped trouser and a brown sweater and torn out canvas shoe put by defense personal. He also put a red holy band on his head. He carried a dirty gunny bag on his right shoulder.

When I uttered those words to my daughter, the rag picker looked at me and smiled, as if he knew what I said. His smile made me wonder if he understood my language. Then I came to the conclusion that he might be mentally imbalanced. But he was looking backward again and again at us. I felt a bit awkward and I hurried and passed him. The moment I passed him he uttered a few words which made me feel as if blood oozing out of my nerves. The rag picker said in Bishnupriya Manipuri language: “ ‘o’ emma aine, baat kheik, bokhane moilu”( ‘oh! Dear, come lets have food, I am hungry). Hearing this I could not walk. It seemed as if I loosed all my strength. Because, I always had a strong belief that though our Bishnupriya Manipuri Community is a poor community still we do not have beggars, rickshaw pullers and rag pickers. But his words shattered my belief.

The rag picker passed us and sat on the footpath a few yards away from us. He was still looking at me again and again and smiling. My eyes could not believe what I saw. I was not able to board any bus. I just starred at him and lots of queries were lingering in my thought. I thought of asking him which village he belonged, how come he reached Kolkata, where he stayed in Kolkata. I was about to ask him but all of a sudden a thought crossed my mind. I thought as he seemed mentally ill, what would happen, if, after talking to me he follows us, as my husband was out of town. So, without giving a second thought I boarded a bus.

In the bus I took a seat by the window. I looked out and saw the rag picker looking at me, as if asking me, not to leave him alone. His smiling face all of a sudden became tensed. The bus moved and I looked back and saw the rag picker still looking at me. After some time he was no more visible. But after going a few kilometers away, I felt as if my sense came back. I wondered what I have done. I asked the bus driver to stop the bus and got down in a hurry and took a taxi and went to the place where the rag picker was sitting. But to my surprise he was not there. I searched him here and there for quite sometime but could not find him. Tears rolled down my eyes and I could not stop myself sobbing.

After some time I took another bus and proceeded towards home. I was still thinking about the rag picker. I regretted of not asking him anything, I regretted of not giving him anything to eat, I regretted of not helping a Bishnupriya Manipuri, I regretted of leaving my Bishnupriya Manipuri brother helpless among strangers in an unknown land.

I, till date, regret of my biggest mistake of my life and wish some day the rag picker comes in front of me a bring me out of the sin I committed by ignoring him in an unknown land.

Rishikesh Sinha added: I don't have words to add anything to this post. I am tongue -tied and feeling heavy with emotions thinking about the ragpicker. It is not that he was a ragpicker that is haunting me, but what were the circumstances led him to plunge into this profession and thats also in an alien land which is clotting me from inside.
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