Open Call , Short Stories -Tarun Kanti Bose


Life as it is

By Tarun Kanti Bose


Tears jerk from the eyes of 45-year old Jessica Ombassa while seeing off her son, Kalama Ombassa at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi for his flight to New Delhi. This is not the first time, she was emotional and her eyes were drenched. Earlier, a few days ago, it was wet when her husband, David had to mortgage his small landholding, for getting a loan for Kalama’s graduation studies in Delhi University.


David mortgaged 1 acre of land on 11.25% per annum to an Indian Gujarati money lender. He got a loan of 7,73, 753 Kenyan Shilling (Indian Rupees 500,000) which was handed over to Kalama for booking his flight ticket to New Delhi, college fees, fees for hostel accommodation and food.


18 year old Kalama Ombassa nurses ambition to be an English writer and journalist. David and Jessica accompany Kalama slowly to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi as they were trying to stall the time. They have to hire a cab from Ngomonga village near Mombasa. Emaciated and thin built Jessica’s torn kanga is defying the opulence of Nairobi International Airport.


While seeing off, Jessica breaks down and she is inconsolable to see her son flying off to thousand kilometres. But David tries to silence her by saying that they should feel happy that son’s education in India would brighten their future. Kalama wipes the tears from mother’s face and assures that he would see that the promise to a better future is nurtured meaningfully by concrete actions. Kalama takes leave of his parents and boards the flight.


Reaches Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi and tries to catch a cab to Delhi University campus but many of the cab drivers refuses seeing the colour of his skin. Kalama is taken aback and shocked to see racism, abuse and rejection as discrimination and segregation practised so blatantly in the Indian capital. He catches a taxi, whose driver agrees to take him to North Delhi Campus if he happens to cough up Rs. 1,000, which is just double the amount of the usual fare.


Kalama reaches the Campus and starts living, sharing a room with his African cousin, Cole Adoyo, who is a post graduate student and lives in International Students House. He assures Kalama for arranging hostel accommodation at Delhi University’s Hansraj College within a week. Till then, Kalama stays with Cole.


Cole introduces Kalama to his male and female friends Adhambo Kilonzo, Imo Musyoka, Adana Kivutu and Jos Mutunga, who are studying in Delhi, either in Delhi University, Jamia Millia University or Jawahar Lal Nehru University (JNU). Adhambo, a Kenyan girl studying History Honours at Indraprastha College (IP College) has come from Kisumu, a lakeside city in Kenya and got hostel accommodation at International Students House for Women at Mukherjee Nagar.


She tries to become friendly to Kalama. But he is reticent and tight lipped, might be due to new surroundings and that too in a new country, thousands kilometres away his native place. Adhambo is quite a contrast in her body language she is extrovert, like a live wire bubbling with energy.


At his hostel room in International Students House, Cole’s invitation and friendly gathering becomes an occasion to sip whisky on the rocks, gin with coconut water and sniff cannabis (hashish). Kalama gets bewildered seeing all them, sipping and gulping alcohol and snorting drugs. Seeing him flummoxed Adhambo plants a kiss on his cheek and persuades him for drinks. He refuses and shows his hesitation. Others also join Adhambo and forces Kalama to drink. He submits and gulps down the whisky, gets the kick...

Around midnight the gathering breaks up as friends take leave to reach their hostels. Couple of days after Kalama is enrolled in Hansraj College and gets a hostel accommodation. He starts attending classes of English Honours and shows keen interest in studying Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, Charles Dickens ‘Hard Times’ and background prose reading. As days passed, the teachers found him taking deep interest in studies. The English professors were quite amazed to see him fully prepared, who had meticulously gone through the lessons and can answer to all their questions.


But Kalama was baffled seeing the scanty knowledge about the African continent among his professors, when they asked him strange questions, ‘are you from Uganda, sorry oh! You are from Congo, no you are from South Africa or you are a Negro from Europe or USA?” He felt insulted and got angry. But he tries to keep his cool.


In the weekends, either Kalama visits Adhambo at International Students House for Women or she makes a trip to Hansraj College Hostel. In the evening, in their hostel, they gulp down some drinks and sublime their emotions. In bigger gathering, they sniff hashish, that too scantly, with caution.


Just thousands kilometres away, in Ngomonga village David and Jessica are struggling hard to pay the interest of the loan mortgaged for Kalama’s studies. Day by day, Ombassa’s are becoming hard-pressed to pay the interest of the loan.


The winter has stepped in Delhi... Clasping the hand of Adhambo, Kalama walks down Bungalow Road after having few drinks with his girlfriend at the Hostel, late in the evening. Totally unconcerned about next day’s semester exams, he and his girl friend, loiter away, both of them enter ‘Subway’ burger outlet and come out munching a burger. Then something strange happens A glance at the emaciated beggar sitting outside pierces through his heart as the teary eyes took him on a nostalgic trip for a second when he was at the Nairobi Airport.


When Kalama was nurturing the idea of taking admission in Delhi University, just 6000 kilometres away in the rural environs of Haryana’s village, Nimoth in Mahendergarh district, Shyam Sunder, a son of farmer was aspiring to be an English Professor. 18 year Shyam Sunder was in jittery hurry tying his shoe laces for his journey to Delhi. He has passed the entrance exam and has been admitted in Hansraj College, Delhi University. He scored 94 percent in 12th Class.


His father Tekchand, a farmer at Nimoth village in Mahendergarh district of Haryana was happy enough to fulfil his son’s desire so he had to sell his wife’s gold ornaments for a shining career of his son. Shyam Sunder didn’t get hostel accommodation and had to get a dormitory accommodation in a private hostel at Kamla Nagar, nearby his college at a rent of Rs. 9,000.


On the same winter evening, Shyam Sunder was busy preparing for next day’s crucial test. His girlfriend, Mitali barged into his room. She snatches his book and serves him a kiss, waving two movie tickets in her hand for night show. Shyam Sunder was able to come to Delhi University after the ornaments worn on her mother’s frail and wrinkled was being taken by his father and sold.


19 year old Laura Rodriguez of South America’s Colombia had applied for Bachelor of International Business & Finance (BIBF) at Jamia Millia Islamia University, a Central University located in South Delhi. She lives in Suesca, a small town on the outskirts of Colombia’s capital, Bogota. Her father Julio Rodriguez, a marginal farmer scouts from place to place to get a loan of 10 million Colombian peso which was equal to Rs. 2, 37,000 for his daughter’s booking his flight ticket to New Delhi, college fees, fees for hostel accommodation and food.


Julio, a coffee farmer, who works with other farmers in partnership with Coffee manufacturing companies and gets a loan with an assurance that he would mobilise other farmers to augment coffee production by enhancing its cultivation.


Accompanied by her father, Laura hires a car and reaches El Dorado International Airport to Bogota, which takes approximately 2 hours to cover 73 kilometres. Seeing Laura leaving for 15,192 kilometres away to New Delhi, Julio couldn’t stop his tears. He is worried how his daughter would live alone in a distant land where everything is different –be it food, culture or language. But he is happy that anyway Laura would study and build up her career away from constant civil strife and illegal drug business eating up the vitals of Colombia.


After over 25 hours journey, Laura flight lands at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, then she takes a cab to Jamia Millia hostels. Seeing her foreigner, the cab driver tried to plunder her in fare. But with her broken English with the mixture of Spanish, after much haggling she somehow managed to part with only Rs. 600 for her destination instead of Rs.2000 insisted by cab driver.


Reaches Jamia Millia Hostels and enquires about Francesco Perez Alonso, a Mexican who is doing Masters in Mass Communication. Francesco was introduced to her by an Indian contact, Maxie Pant working in Indian Embassy in Bogota, Columbia. Francesco was waiting for Laura to welcome her in the hostel. They both introduce and familiarise themselves with each other. Though Francesco had asked for a separate accommodation for Laura but she is scared to live alone. Till she gets a hostel accommodation, Francesco agrees to accommodate Laura in his room.


As the day passes, Laura gets hostel accommodation and Francesco continues to help her to making her familiar with the country, its language, food and people. This consumes majority of their time and life. Slowly, Laura starts bunking/skipping classes as she gets obsessed towards Francesco. She fails in her 1st Semester exams and gets a dressing down by the Head of the Department.


In Suesca, her father is putting 12-14 hours hard toil to repay 10 million Colombian peso taken for her daughter’s education and boasts to his fellow coffee farmers about his daughter’s escalating future. Kalama, Shyam Sunder and Laura had ambition to become writer, professor and business consultant simultaneously, where their poor parents mortgaged land, sold ornaments and took loan for hard labour.


Life has never been cruel to its honest sons and daughters but despair had fallen on their fate. When there is despair and grief abounding the lives of the older generation but there is an undercurrent of bliss emanating from their effort, persistence and perseverance. Youth failed in their exams but the old were successful, but their sons and daughters had gone astray and failed them.


They had everything, which a student requires for higher studies that too in a distant land or which is essentially needed for success- be the institute, resources and support. In that their parents lost everything-their means of sustenance, resources and ultimately support from their progenies. But what made them winner for only one precious thing that’s their integrity. How they tried to concretise their vision and experience into nurturing their children so that they cultivate their dreams. But is that what life taught them when they became its student...


Tarun Kanti Bose is a New Delhi based writing and Editing professional, media trainer. He is developing a band of barefoot journalists in the remotest corner of country and researcher doing in-depth studies on critical issues of importance. Contribute regularly to Village Sqare and has written over thousand features stories, edit pieces for dailies and magazines.


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