Chunri watched the sun drift into deep sleep after having colored the skies in orange and pink. The night seemed scary and she turned away from the door and into their hut again. She could not understand what all the chaos around her was about.
Hari, her brother had not stepped out of their hut since five days now. She wondered why Geeta maasi had been taken away by the green-uniform-wearing aunties. Her mother had told her they were good ladies and going to take care of Geeta maasi while she was away. Geeta maasi’s husband and daughter were not allowed to come into their hut since that day.
Life had changed in a span of a week. She could no longer pass her time counting the big red cars that would shine at the traffic signal outside their hut. No young guys were buying roses from Namu chacha’s flower shop for their girlfriends. She missed the sweets he would get for her every evening. Infact, where was Namu chacha?
“Ma, did those aunties take everyone with them? Even Namu chacha?” Chunri asked Surti.
Surti continued to heat the leftover vegetables for their dinner and nodded at her question. She looked in Ranjan’s direction and said, “Rice is over. The wheat flour will last us only for two more days. For now let’s just eat these…”
In a flash, Ranjan got up from the bed and slapped Surti across her face. Surti whined in pain. Chunri winced and began to cry. Ranjan moved in her direction to slap Chunri next, but Surti stopped him inviting his wrath further on her body. The brawl continued for a few minutes with Ranjan hissing out his heart, “Why do you women have to eat so much? What work do you do anyway? You’re finishing everything we have. I have no money now and God knows when this karuna will go. Go beg and get me the food now. I don’t care if you get karuna.“
“Where the hell do I go beg?” Surti wailed. “Do you see anyone outside?” Ranjan hurled a few more slaps at Surti until he was satisfied and walked out of their hut. Surti hugged Chunri and kept weeping. Hari got a glass of water for Surti and sat down next to his sister.
“Who is this karuna? Is she very bad? Why is Baba always hitting you now-a-days, Ma?” Chunri sobbed a mouthful of questions.
Hari walked up to their bed and pulled out a small chocolate from under it, which he had hidden for himself to savour later. He walked back to Chunri and handed it to her. His sister’s eyes gleamed at the sight of the chocolate. “Tomorrow morning, when the sun rises; you pray to Bappa that karuna vanishes from this world. Bappa listens to small children. Yesterday, when I woke up early in the morning and you all were still asleep; I prayed for this chocolate and I got it under my bed this morning.” Chunri looked at the chocolate with her mouth wide open, believing every word Hari had said to her.
Chunri could barely sleep throughout the night. Every few minutes she would look out of the hole in their hut which her father had created for ventilation; to check if there was any light outside. After a long wait, she finally saw a ray of light slide in through the hole into their hut and she got up in her bed at once.
She looked into the direction of a photo of Lord Ganesha that hung on one of the walls of their hut, shut her eyes tightly and bringing her palms together prayed, “Bappa, please finish this karuna, whoever he or she is. Baba was better before, when he would bring gajra for Ma, everyday from Namu chacha’s shop. Now that Namu chacha is also not there, he gets angry and he beats Ma instead. I also don’t like it when Hari has to give up his magic chocolate for me. If karuna goes, Namu chacha will give me sweets anyway. So please Bappa, make karuna go away.”
As the innocent prayer of the little girl awoke her parents, Ranjan looked at Surti and gestured an apology.