Shishir (Winter) 2019, Short Stories - Satish Pendharkar



I Will Survive

By Satish Pendharkar


Getting down from the taxi, I stood before the window of the left rear-door. Mr Turner who was sitting on the rear-seat gave me a little smile before passing the back of his right palm over his forehead to wipe the beads of perspiration that had formed there. He sighed and shook his head. I understood. And laughed. After all, Mumbai’s heat and humidity took a toll on its own citizens what to speak of the effect it had on someone from Toronto! He then fished out his wallet from his hip-pocket. He handed me thirty dollars and on noticing the frown on my face gave me another ten dollars.


Thanking me with a nod of the head, he instructed the driver to take him to his hotel on the Colaba Causeway. Thrilled, I waved him goodbye and made my way to the imposing structure of the Gateway of India. For, it was not often that I got compensated in such a handsome manner for acting as a tourist guide. After all, I had only shown him around two places: the world’s largest open air laundry at Mahalakshmi Dhobi Ghat and the Macchimar Nagar or Fishermen’s Colony at Cuffe Parade. I admit that I did cadge that extra ten dollars from him.


But then I do not have any compunction swindling foreigners who are well off. I consider it legitimate for a needy, fourteen-year old like me who does not have a single relative in this megalopolis.

Perhaps it was written in my destiny that I would land up in Mumbai. How else could a boy then studying in the seventh standard in a municipal school in Jaunpur suddenly end up in the city of dreams? I was leading a normal life. I had two brothers and a sister, a doting mother and a father who worked as a farm labourer by day and by night got drunk and unleashed his pent-up fury on us. It was my mother who bore this brunt most of the time for the moment my father started beating us, she would intervene. One day, father came back from work at the usual time and demanded that he be served dinner immediately.


My brothers and sister had gone out to play and I was in the house with my mother. My mother did not seek any clarification from my father as to why he wanted dinner so early but began to serving him hot chappatis. However, when he took the first bite, he flew into a rage. “There’s no salt in the bloody bhendi”, he yelled. My shocked mother tried defending herself but her whispers were inaudible. Calling her a whore, my father flung the steel plate at her. It hit her


on the right temple and she started bleeding. I tried to rush to her aid but was held back by my father. I glowered at him. “Don’t you dare stare at me like that!” he thundered. This was too much for me to bear. I freed myself from his grasp and picking up the rolling pin hit him on the head with it. He screamed clutching his head in agony. My mother- jolted out of her dazed state – crawled towards him. Before she reached him, he had fainted. Blood was gushing out of my mother’s wound yet she was panicking as to the condition of father. Some neighbours knocked at our door to ascertain what was going on.


She shooed them away and then proceeded to bandage herself. While we were taking father to the dispensary I suggested to mother that we abandon father. After all, I told her, had she spent a single happy day with him? She was aghast at my suggestion and reminded me that when she had married father she had taken sacred vows in front of Agni. She however said she feared for my safety. She knew that the moment father recovered, he would take revenge on me. That night, when the whole house was asleep, I departed. I left a note for my mother that I would return once I had succeeded in life.


Mumbai may be referred to as the city of dreams. But nightmares were all I saw in the first few days even when I was wide awake. I slept on pavements and on railway platforms. I did whatever work came my way. To stave off hunger, I occasionally rummaged through garbage-heaps at times competing with a stray dog to locate discarded food. But my sense of self-pride bolstered by the feeling of absolute freedom ensured that hunger or exhaustion did not get the better of me.


One day, I was caught in the process of trying to pickpocket a foreigner. I thought that this was it. He would hand me over to the police and they would beat me up, put me in a remand home and try to locate my parents. But to my surprise, he did no such thing. He asked me a lot of questions such as how much I earned and where I was staying.


At the end of it he surprised me by saying, “Suraj, from now onwards, you are under my care”.


He was an Englishman named Edwin Nurse and he offered me shelter at a place he called “Blue Heaven”. There were five other boys there, all about the same age as me and all having run away from their homes. That night, Edwin Nurse threw a party in my honour. I had never seen so much food in my life. I ate like a pig. I also - on the insistence of my benefactor – tasted liquor for the first time in my life and was enamoured by the empowerment it provided a village bumpkin like me.


That night Edwin Nurse violated me. In my drunken state I was not fully aware of what was going on but afterwards as I lay down on my bed I felt a sense of shame consume my senses. I wanted to share my pain with my fellow-boarders but they had turned their faces away from me and were either fast asleep or pretending to be so. I spent the night tossing and turning in my bed.


I would at times fall off to sleep for fifteen or twenty minutes and then wake up swimming in the pool of my sweat. For the first time in Mumbai I had a comfortable bed to sleep on but for the first time I did not get sound sleep. The next morning when the caretaker of the place came to serve breakfast, I threw a fit. He did not respond and weathered the storm of my outburst with the insouciance of a thick-skinned, deaf lout.


Later that day Edwin Nurse met me. When I confronted him, he said that I must not feel guilty about activities of this type which are natural and part of the learning process. Not convinced, I threatened him that I would report the matter to the police. He caught hold of my collar and told me that if I did, he would mention the incident of attempted pick pocketing to the cops. Over the next few months I was to learn that the other boys tolerated the frequent abuses for various reasons.


One of them named Bhanu told me that he had been repeatedly abused by his mother’s brother causing him to finally flee his home. Here, though he was subject to violations, at least he did not go hungry. Edwin Nurse made sure that he gifted us with goodies now and then – sunglasses, new clothes and one-day outings to Lonavala and Alibag. To a lot of us - who had not received any sort of love from our fathers – his affection seemed genuine.


I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop. For, though well-fed and well-looked after, I felt awfully empty inside. When I went outdoors for a stroll, I often felt like leaping into the Arabian Sea or jumping off a multi-storey building. One day, when I was walking on a street, I saw a taxi- driver pass some snide remarks at a girl in school-uniform. Enraged, I began beating him.


A crowd soon gathered. He was forced to apologize to the girl. The girl thanked me profusely. Her name was Jaya and she was the daughter of a domestic help who lived in the Servant Quarters of a nearby building. Strangely, I found it difficult to communicate with her. I felt terribly inadequate. We would run into each other occasionally. She would ask me why I had stopped studying or chide me for smoking. With the passage of time I found it easier to converse with her. She was the first girl I took a fancy to.


Edwin Nurse continued exploiting us with gay abandon. On several occasions he would make us strip and then photograph us. Once in a month some foreign tourists would drop by and after showering us with gifts, extract their pound of flesh.


One day, Prakash, my closest friend reported the story of the sordid goings-on at Blue Heaven to the police. The Police raided the place. I was not there at the time. They arrested Edwin Nurse and the caretaker. They took charge of the four other boys and after recording their statements, sent them to a children’s home run by the Government where Prakash too was now staying. I had the option of requesting that I too be admitted to a children’s home but I chose to rough it out on the streets.


A couple of days’ later, I read that Edwin Nurse and the caretaker had been let off on bail. However, Edwin Nurse had to now stay at Blue Heaven since the Parsi gentleman who owned the apartment where he was staying had thrown him out. I knew that it would take some time to nail Edwin Nurse since he had some of the police in his pockets. Besides, the boys could be allured into changing their original statements or even saying good things about Edwin Nurse and the caretaker at a court hearing.


I was eating a vada-pav at a street-corner near the Bombay Stock Exchange when out of the blue, Prakash bumped into me. He looked haggard as a result of both exhaustion and worry. He told me that he had been searching for me for days – ever since he had escaped from the children’s home in fact. He confided that he had feared for his life in the children’s home. Besides, he said he was fed up of been questioned repeatedly.


He told me that he had an extremely important thing to hand over to me – a photo album which contained evidence of the events that had taken place at Blue Heaven. He said though he had handed over other material, he had kept this with him. He was apprehensive that the police may destroy it if he delivered it to them. He was requesting me to take charge of it and hand it over to the police at an appropriate time. I was reluctant to soil my hands but agreed to do so for friendship’s sake and having regard to his pitiable condition.


He handed over the album at a secret place the next day. That was to be our last meeting. After two days I read that his body had been found on the railway tracks at Mahim station. Had he taken his own life or had someone taken his? Now the onus was on me to undertake the task he had given me so that his soul could rest in peace. But I dreaded going to the police and thereby exposing myself to countless rounds of interrogation not to mention the risk of being bumped off in a remote corner of this pulsating yet desolate city.


I carefully made some plans and then phoned Edwin Nurse. Speaking in an assumed voice I told him that if he came to the apartment where he was staying earlier at 5 PM that evening, he could retrieve a photo album from therein. Minutes later, from another telephone booth I phoned the DCP of the particular zone.


At 4.30 PM I went to the apartment and removed the lock from the latch of the door. This would facilitate Edwin Nurse opening the lock of the main door to which he already had a key. I had told him the Parsi gentleman would be away at that time for an hour. In fact, the Parsi gentleman had gone to Pune and would be back only tomorrow evening. I then took my position on the staircase about two floors above from where I could see the passage leading to the apartment.


It was an old four-storey building which did not have an elevator. I had to ensure that no one saw me and if they did, I would have to pretend to be looking for someone’s apartment. I could also not afford to let the police sight me. For they possibly would recognize me from photos as the boy who got away during the raid on Blue Heaven. I had to leave the place as soon as I was satisfied that things were proceeding on the right track.


On the dot of five, I saw Edwin Nurse entering the passage gingerly. I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. Not wanting to be seen, I crouched and heard the click of the door being opened. Immediately thereafter, I heard the door being closed softly. I got up slowly and looked towards the door.


Two people, having entered the passage were now nearing the door. I recognized one of them as a cop in the Colaba Police Station. They were both in plainclothes. One of them rang the bell. I carefully, yet swiftly made my way downstairs. I had done my bit. Now, with some luck from God, the mission would be successful.


I had barely stepped out into the street when it started raining. Now, I had neither an umbrella nor a care in the world. So I started dancing. Seconds later, I spotted Jaya taking shelter under the awning of a grocery shop. I called out to her to join me. She refused, shaking her head and also suggested that I had gone nuts. I laughed saying I had and begged her to join me. Surprisingly, she did. Dancing, I led her away from there – far away from lurking danger.



Satish Pendharkar lives in Mumbai and writes in his leisure. His short stories have appeared in New Asian Writing, Savvy, Flash etc. Satish has also published a novella titled "The Backrush of Memory". Satish's poems have appeared in Indian Literature, Agave Magazine, Maverick, etc. He has published a poetry book titled "Nocturnal Nomad".


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