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Sometimes, we are quick to judge. But what lies behind the superficial ‘truth’ that we think we know?
Barkha was sitting in her balcony, engrossed in some thoughts when a hand touched her shoulder. “Aaahhhh!” she exclaimed and turned back in shock.
“Raghav, how many times have I told you not to creep on me like this. My heart skipped a beat and I could have died in that second.” Raghav burst out laughing looking at her scared face.
“Next time when you come home please ring the bell or at least make some noise, so that I know you have come home” saying this Barkha punched him hard. “A penny for your thoughts madam, you were so deeply engrossed in them. I should rephrase it ‘A diamond for those thoughts’. I was standing behind you for more than 5 minutes and I coughed once or twice to distract you, looked like you were in some trance.” Saying this Raghav touched his ears to say sorry.
“Oh is it? I’m so sorry for getting mad at you Raghav. I’ll make some refreshing lemon tea for you. Do you want something to eat too?” Barkha tried to compensate for her behaviour and distract Raghav from the topic. “Aap puche aur hum na kahe, aisa bhi kabhi hua hai!” (you ask and I refuse your offer, has this ever happened before)… Raghav was in a very romantic mood today.
The duo had tea and snacks in the balcony, while the radio played some old romantic numbers in the background………Abhi Na Jao Chodkar Ke Dil Abhi Bhara Nahi…. The songs on the radio were also completely aligned with Raghav’s mood today.
The sky was scattered with dark clouds and everyone hoped them to burst into showers and relieve the city from the terrible heat. The cool breeze was a welcome guest that evening as Raghav was in full mood of spending a good romantic evening with Barkha. But he sensed there was something troubling her, she was not in the best of her moods today and was trying her best to cover it up with her nonsensical chat.
“Is something wrong Barkha? You look disturbed.” He finally asked her
“Raghav… I did not want to tell you, but before you came I was sitting in the balcony and I happened to notice that the couple who stay in the flat opposite our balcony, were beating up this little girl.” She shared the reason behind her thoughts with him.
“Barkha, when children misbehave their parents often punish them in such a way. It was considered to be the best method when we were young. Remember how our teachers used to beat us for petty reasons” Raghav tried to reason with her by telling her some similar beatings he had received from his parent in his childhood.
“No, Raghav this child did not look like their own. The couple is quite old and I think the girl must be like 10 years old. Her clothes looked dirty and her hair were also unkempt. She looked frightened to me. The man in that house was beating her with his slippers and the small girl was crying loudly, while taking the beating. I could not hear what they were speaking, but their faces looked ferocious and any small little child would be scared just by looking at such ugly faces.” Barkha blurted out all her thoughts and fears finally.
“So what do you propose to do now?” His voice sounded irritated. The poor guy had come home with the thoughts of spending a romantic evening with his young and beautiful wife and here she was also worked up, because some child was getting beaten. He left her brooding on her thoughts to watch some breaking news on the television.
Next day Barkha woke up determined to talk about it with the Bhats, their neighbours. After Raghav left for office, she went to the neighbours flat to ask for their opinion on the subject matter.
“Beta to tell you the truth, I’ve also often noticed the plight of this poor girl from the opposite flat. Though their flat is not very properly visible from our balcony, but I had witnessed the treatment meted out to this girl on the playground once.” Mr. Bhat relayed how the man from the opposite flat was shouting at her because she sat on the swing in the garden located in the complex.
“Barkha, I know this lady, her name is Shamita Singh, she runs an NGO somewhere. This little girl is someone she has brought from their village I think” Mrs. Bhat gave out the information she had about the flat owners.
“But aunty shouldn’t we do something for the poor girl? I am sure they keep her hungry and make her do all the work at home. This is child labour and it’s illegal. The couple will be jailed for using her as a domestic help and also for treating her badly.” Barkha sounded angrier and irritated thinking about the poor little girl.
“What can we do? It’s their internal matter. They will not like our interference and feeling insulted they might take out their anger on the poor child,” Mrs. Bhat said with a sigh.
Barkha came back from Bhat’s residence with great disappointment. Raghav had also given her a similar suggestion when she spoke to him about helping the poor little girl from the opposite flat.
The next few days went by without any action or news from the opposite flat. Barkha could not think of any plan to help out the little girl. She often thought of lodging a complaint at the nearby police station but dropped it for some reason. Every day she would sit and think of some plan to either enter the flat and beat up the old couple or even abduct the little girl from her tormentors. Empty mind devil’s workshop was what Raghav would say listening to her plans of helping the little girl.
One morning while Barkha was strolling in her balcony she noticed the little girl from the opposite flat. She waved to her with a smile. The girl looked at her with a confused expression and quickly ran inside the house. Now every morning Barkha would go and stand in her balcony and wave out to the little girl. After some days the girl found enough courage to wave back, before running in. Every day Barkha and the little girl would play this game of wave and peekaboo. She noticed the girl would now give a broad smile before running away. Her smile was a big solace to Barkha, she felt happy thinking of bringing some happy moments in the little girls otherwise horrible life.
Slowly the two odd friends started looking forward to their morning play and it sort of became a morning ritual for Barkha, before she entered her kitchen for the daily chores.
Barkha’s next plan was to get acquainted with the couple staying in the opposite flat. Very soon she got this opportunity to interact with the couple because of a social gathering organized by the society. She got herself invited to their house on the pretense of donating some old clothes and utensils to the NGO.
She collected some of her old dresses and some old utensils that Raghav had brought in his bachelor days and which were of no use in her kitchen to give away. The Singh’s house was a decently decorated flat, with not much thought given to the decorations. The drawing room was sparsely furnished with a three seater sofa and a few chairs. There was a computer table in one corner of the room, which was overtly crowded with lots of files and papers. The couple welcomed her with a broad smile and a friendly attitude.
She purposely settled herself on the sofa which gave her a good view of the other rooms. Very soon the little girl came in with a glass of water. Barkha gave her a big smile and asked her name.
“Chanda” the girl replied meekly. “Oh what a beautiful name you have Chanda. Do you know the meaning of your name?” she desperately wanted to strike up a conversation. The girl gave a confused look and ran back inside without answering her question. Barkha took the opportunity and said “Oh Mrs. Singh your daughter is so beautiful. I am glad to see that you’ve trained her so well at such a young age. In my mother’s house I was not allowed to even touch the glasses when I was her age”
Mrs. Singh gave a big fake smile and said “No, she’s not my daughter. Her parents were our neighbors in our home town. They could not survive the massive earthquake our village was stuck with a few years back. The girl had no other relatives and so we brought her back with us. You see, we do not have a child and we thought that in this way we both could fulfill our needs by taking care of each other”
Before Barkha could say anything about how rudely she felt they treated the girl, Mrs. Singh continued, “In fact we want to give her good education and send her to the best of school we can afford. But his girl just does not want to go to school. In fact, she was in the school when the tragedy happened. They could not even find bodies of her parents in all the rubble. Maybe that has left a deep impact against school in her mind. We have tried every way to persuade her to go to school. We tried bribing her with good clothes & toys, we tried counseling her to remove her fears. You know that day Mr. Singh got so angry with her stubbornness that he beat her up. But this girl just doesn’t want to go to school.”
Barkha was shocked to hear the other side of the story relayed by Mrs. Singh. She could not believe what she heard. She was about to ask why she was not allowed to play in the garden, when Mr. Singh added to the story. “Chanda injured her legs in the earthquake, when the walls of her school collapsed. She had to go through multiple surgeries. They had to insert rods in her thighs so that she could walk properly. Owing to her young age the doctors said if she heals soon they might be able to remove the rods in future. But for that we have to take care and see that she does not injure herself again. We have to keep a continuous watch on her activities so that she does get injured. She’s very young and energetic, she does not understand the graveness of the situation.” Barkha remembered how Mr. Bhat had told her about the incident in the garden, and why Chanda was not allowed to sit on the swing that day.
After saying good bye to Chanda and her parents, Barkha happened to meet a few ladies in the lift. She casually mentioned Chanda to them and they all had said that Mr. & Mrs. Singh were a great couple. Chanda was lucky to have them as foster parents, said one lady. They talked of how the couple took care of her when she was hospitalized after the trauma of losing her parents. A lady in the group said “You know often people misjudge them for being harsh with the child without knowing the real reason behind it.”
“Thank God the Singhs told you their story before you blurted out your thought about their behaviour or the treatment of little Chanda.” Raghav said with a heavy sigh after listening to the facts from Barkha. She also told him how she happened to meet some ladies in the lift and the opinion they shared about the old couple.
“Barkha, have you heard the phrase that says, ‘Don’t trust everything you see. Even the salt looks like sugar.’ Mr. Bhat said and lovingly placed his hand on her head.
“I am happy to see that you had enough courage to go and check your doubts. There might be so many like us who would be cursing the kind old couple for their tough behavior, without knowing the truth.” Mrs. Bhat said and gently hugged her.
“Barkha I am so happy and proud to see that today’s young generation not only cares for others but has courage to take action against any injustice they witness. Today we need more and more people like you who can fight for freedom of expression and also behave responsibly.”
Before leaving Barkha promised the Bhats that next time she’ll try to know the other side of the story before judging someone. She had often heard the phrase ‘Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective not the truth’, today she had actually experienced it.
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