Book Excerpt: Who Wants to Marry a Mamma’s Boy and Other stories by Manjula Pal
A glimpse from the ‘slice of life’ stories penned by Manjula Pal from her book Who wants to marry a mamma’s boy and other stories. (Published by Rupa Publications, 2019)
When Krishna Came to My House
Delhi experienced its first monsoon showers. It came as a big relief after days of sweltering heat.
It was evening. Streets that had been deserted were now abuzz with people coming out of their homes, seeking the fresh air, much relieved after their claustrophobic, air-conditioned confinement. The smoky smell of freshly picked soft corns roasting over charcoal and smeared with salt and lime, filled the air. Right from children to the adults, everyone was enjoying the roasted corn pods. The hawkers selling corns on pavements and on pulling carts were doing good business.
My two children, my twelve-year-old daughter and six-year-old son were getting ready to come to the market with me to buy a few things. Suddenly, I heard the sound of a boy crying loudly, and intermittently shrieking. It seemed to be coming from outside the gate of my house. I asked my son to go out and see what the matter was. When he returned, he told me that a small boy was crying as he stood next to his mother who was roasting and selling corns sitting on the pavement in front of our house. When I came out, I too saw the small child, about four years old, crying incessantly. I scolded the woman for not attending to her child.
She replied, ‘This is not my child. He lives in the jhuggi adjacent to mine. His mother passed away only two days ago. He only has his father to take care of him. The father is an alcoholic. He has left the child with me and asked me to take care of him and assured me he would be back within an hour. Now 4 to 5 hours have passed. He must be lying in a gutter after getting drunk. I have to work here. I can’t sit idle. The poor fellow has been crying a lot since his mother died.’
I took pity on the child and called him near me. He came sobbing. I brought him inside my house and requested my children to wait till I arranged to feed the child something. I then called my maid and asked her to get a glass of milk and make him drink the whole thing before I returned from the market.
At the market, I kept thinking of the poor child and his alcoholic father. Alcoholism has ruined so many lives. Poor women toil tirelessly to earn a living that will enable them to run their homes, paying for the daily dose of their husbands’ addiction, only to be beaten as a reward. Why don’t these wives leave their husbands and throw them out of their house, I often wondered? On the other hand, how easy it was for a husband to throw out his wife for any perceived ‘wrong behaviour’ on her part.
We returned home. On our way back, I enquired with the woman outside my gate whether the child’s father had come back. ‘No,’ she said. ‘I will soon be winding up and going home. Don’t worry, I will take him with me.’ I looked at the child. He was soiled from the top of his head to the toes of his little feet. He must not have taken a bath since his mother had died. He was sitting quietly in a corner. I told the woman on the street not to bother about the child, as we would take care of him at least for today and would figure out what could be done tomorrow. I asked my maid to give him a good bath and went to pull out some of my son’s old clothes. After the bath and in clean clothes, the boy looked very different. He appeared to be a very charming, non-fussy and fairly disciplined child. He was the type who would get attention without asking for it. It was so easy to fall in love with that adorable child. If he had been born in a well-to-do family, he would have been spoiled rotten and doted on.
I asked him his name.
‘Krishna,’ he replied.
Krishna? Did he say Krishna? Suddenly something struck me. I gave him a good look. He had curly hair, doe eyes, chubby cheeks, petal-shaped lips and shiny skin. ‘Oh my God!’ I thought to myself. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He was an exact replica of the popular child god, Sri Krishna’s.
A photo print that we commonly see everywhere. I had a table calendar with different forms of Krishna printed on its leaves, including images of Him as a toddler, holding a flute, dancing with friends, riding a chariot, and so on. My eyes were fixed on the toddler print of Krishna and I was astonished to find the resemblance with this little boy, His namesake. The only missing thing was the headband with a small peacock feather at one side. I am a devotee of God Krishna and became very emotional to see the similarity of features between the two. Was it possible that Bal Krishna himself was actually in my house? I was overwhelmed with the rather fanciful thought. He looked straight into my eyes. I pulled his head near my bosom. I could not let my gaze move away from him and kept on admiring his face.
Krishna disengaged himself, caressed my face with his tiny hands and said, ‘Ma, you are like my ma who has gone to God to ask him to cure my father of his drinking habit. She will come back to me, after God grants her wish.’
I was touched. I kissed the child on his hands. I had already almost fallen in love with him. ‘Your mother has asked me to take care of you till she comes back,’ I replied.
I called my maid and instructed her to give him food and prepare whatever he wanted to eat and gave her a rug for him to sleep on. Next morning, I told my family about the incident, and also about the uncanny resemblance of the child with the Bal Krishna print. My husband, children, everyone liked him and agreed with my decision that we would provide a house for the child till some proper, more permanent arrangements could be made. We also decided to send him to school and if need be, bring him up as best as we could, in case he ended up living with us forever.
As far as his father was concerned, we assumed he would be more than happy to be rid of the responsibility of bringing up Krishna. We would assure him of our good intentions and our decision to give him a secure environment. He could visit him whenever he wanted, but we decided that we would not leave the child with him. Four days passed. Krishna was a no-nonsense child. He did not bother anyone. My son had given him a colouring book and some crayons. He would giggle often, paint and play with his toys. It seemed as if he had been living with us for a long time. I had started seeing this child playing in our house, spreading happiness all over, as an incarnate of God. I imagined myself really blessed.
Excerpted from Who wants to marry a mamma’s boy and other stories by Manjula Pal. Published by Rupa Publications, 2019.
About the Author
A regular columnist in a national daily, Manjula Pal has won two prestigious story-writing contests and has also written a storybook for children in Hindi. She has done reporting for the different magazines of Delhi Press and worked as a research scientist at AIIMS, New Delhi. She is a Delhi-based grandmother.