A RARE GESTURE
It left all dumbstruck.
But, as fate would have it, the brakes failed with the result that the vehicle hit the girl, bringing her under the wheels. It all happened in a fraction of a second, stunning everyone around. Little Nandini died on the spot due to serious head injuries. Lalitha was shell-shocked.
The winter morning was chilling. People stirred lazily under the blankets. Akbar woke up with the azan from the local mosque as usual. He finished his morning routine quickly. As he was putting on his khaki dress, his wife, Noorunnisa Begum, brought him tea.
Even as he was sipping the tea, she told him slowly, “Ammijan’s medicines exhausted two days ago. She has been suffering a lot with constant bouts of coughing and breathlessness. The frequency increased in the absence of the medicines. I feel pity for her. I also feel guilty at not being able to provide her with the medicines. I am afraid she may not be able to withstand it any longer, especially due to the severe winter this year, unless she takes the medicines regularly. Please try to get the medicines at least today… somehow.”
The taste of the tea turned bitter in Akbar’s mouth. He meekly nodded.
Ammijan was his mother. She was well over 60. She had been suffering from acute asthma for long. Earlier, she was frequently visiting the government hospital for treatment with no relief. Unable to bear the sight of his mother’s suffering, Akbar took her to a homoeopath a few months ago. The old woman appeared to feel better after taking the medicines prescribed by him. So, she had been continuing the same since then.
Akbar’s father was a pavement-seller of petty things. He died 10 years ago.
Akbar, who was 35, was an autorickshaw driver. He got the vehicle on rental basis from its owner. Even though he worked hard from early morning to late night, his earnings were hardly sufficient even to pay the rental.
Noorunnisa Begum was five years younger than her husband. The couple was married for 10 years now and had four children. The first two offspring were girls, aged eight and six, and the third one was a boy of four years. The fourth child that was born a year ago was again a girl.
Noorunnisa Begum wanted to undergo the
Akbar wondered how five people could sit in the auto. But, two policemen squeezed themselves along with the prisoners in the back seat – positioning themselves on either side, while the third one adjusted himself in the front beside Akbar on the driver’s seat.
family planning operation after the second child was born, but her mother-inlaw did not allow it. Same was the case even after the birth of the boy. The old lady disapproved family planning, saying that it was against Islam. However, after the birth of the fourth child, Noorunnisa Begum underwent the tubectomy operation – secretly, of course – with the consent of her husband.
It had become difficult for Akbar to maintain his large family with meagre earnings. The owner of the auto raised the rentals every year, besides the constant rise in petrol prices. The operational costs too increased while finding passengers became difficult, especially with the advent of the MMTS train services and plying of the shared autos everywhere in the city. He too tried to get into the mode of ‘shared autos’ without success. For it was literally controlled by certain vested interests assuming the proportions of a mafia.
The auto rental was to be paid every day to its owner. Otherwise, he would abuse Akbar in filthy language and seize the vehicle, even if one rupee was found short.
The only silver lining in the life of Akbar was Noorunnisa Begum. It was his luck to have such an understanding and cooperative wife, who managed the family as efficiently as possible within their means. Akbar was aware of that, but for her, his life would have been more miserable.
“The rice and wheat too are exhausted. I could manage yesterday with the small quantity of broken rice by making ganji and giving it to Ammijan and the children. If she does not eat chapatti, Ammijan would not get the stamina to withstand her asthmatic attacks,” said Noorunnisa Begum, taking the empty tea mug from her husband. She felt sorry that she had to bother him with the household problems early in the morning when he was venturing out for the day, upsetting him. All the same, she could not help it. For the sake of her old, sick mother-in-law and the small kids.
Akbar looked at his wife thoughtfully… very fair, slim and tall, Noorunnisa Begum was a beautiful woman. He fell for her beauty instantly, and it was love at first sight for him, when he saw her at a function at some relative’s house. He told his parents about his interest in her, and in turn, they spoke to her parents.
Her father was a tailor and Noorunnisa Begum was the eldest of six children – four of them being girls. The family had a hand-to-mouth existence like that of Akbar’s family.
Akbar, though not very handsome, was known to be a good boy, and was learning driving at that time. Moreover, all the three elder sisters of Akbar were already married and living their own lives. So, Noorunnisa Begum’s parents had no qualms about the proposal and readily agreed to the match. Akbar was on cloud on getting a beautiful wife, to the envy of his friends and relatives.
Now, after a decade of their marriage and with four close pregnancies and the poverty, all her beauty had got eclipsed. Even her attractive physique had become scraggy. The twinkle in her eyes too paled. She became weak. Yet, the enticing smile on her lips never faded. It was that very smile that had been enthusing Akbar to move on, amidst the odds. At times he would feel sorry for her.
“I shall try to get the provisions for cooking lunch,” said Akbar as he walked out.
“And do not forget the medicines,” she reminded him.
He nodded and prayed inside, ‘I wish I could get enough savaaris today.’
Noorunnisa Begum stood on the threshold watching her husband starting the auto and speeding away. She waited there till he was out of sight. Thereafter she heaved a faint sigh and went inside.
The ladies of the Mayuri Residential Complex had formed a Ladies’ Club of their own. They would organise monthly chit funds, kitty parties, periodic fetes, cultural functions on occasions, and pujas on festive days. They would meet once a month at one of the members’ residence, over a high tea. The member concerned would bear the expenses.
The meet would start at 11 in the morning and go on till 3 in the afternoon. They would play tambola, sing and dance and play card games. News and views on various matters would be shared by the members. At the end, the monthly chit would be auctioned, and the successful bidder announced. It would be the turn of that member to host the kitty party the following month.
This month it was the turn of Lalitha to host the kitty party. The party was organised that day.
Lalitha’s four-year-old daughter, Nandini, was studying in UKG in the Little Angels Public School. Her classes would start at 8 in the morning. She would go by the school bus, boarding it on the main road almost a kilometre from her residence. In the mornings, Lalitha’s husband, Yadagiri, dropped the child at the school bus stop, and in the afternoons Lalitha would walk up to the stop to collect her daughter.
This was because the Mayuri Residential Complex was inside an extension area, which was inaccessible to the school bus as it could not negotiate the narrow bylanes to reach the place.
In view of the kitty party
His mind was at home thinking of his starving family and the suffering mother. As he emerged from the bus station, he could readily get a savari. As the destination was a little far- off, he hoped to get substantial fare for it. He pressed the accelerator with renewed enthusiasm.
at her house that day, Lalitha had requested her husband to pick up their daughter from the school bus in the afternoon. He had agreed to do so.
It was party time and the party was progressing well and quite entertaining. There was excitement in the air, and the members joked and laughed.
Even as the high tea was being served to the members, Lalitha looked at the wall clock in the drawing room casually. It was half past one. It had suddenly dawned on her that her daughter was not yet home. The kindergarten section of the school closed at 12.30 pm daily, and the school bus would reach the main road stop by 12.45 pm. It was now 45 minutes since the school bus would have reached the alighting point on the main road, and her daughter had not returned as yet.
A little nervous, Lalitha rang up her husband on his cellphone. He answered the call after a long time. Lalitha enquired whether he had picked up Nandini.
It was then that Yadagiri remembered about Nandini. He confessed that he was awfully busy since morning with his business affairs, and that he had completely forgotten about picking up Nandini from the school bus. He also said that he was presently at a far-off place, and asked her to fetch the child herself.
Lalitha was almost in tears. It was nearly an hour now since the school bus would have arrived at the alighting point on the main road. The child must be stranded there, all alone. Or, whether the crew of the school bus had taken her back to the school, as was done sometimes when the parents did not turn up to receive their wards – if only they cared to find out. She could not hazard a guess. She was a worried mother now. Nevertheless, she tried to compose herself.
She apprised the guests of the situation, and excused herself for a few minutes. Urging them to carry on, she left hurriedly.
Akbar had to wait for three long hours before he could get longdistance passengers. Though he could manage to get a couple of savaris in the meanwhile, the amount fetched from them was very small. Having failed to muster passengers at the auto stands, he moved to the general bus station, where the buses from the districts would arrive. Even there he had to wait for a long time to get passengers since more aggressive ones would snatch them away.
It was already 10.50. Slowly his hopes of getting savaris and buying rations for home and medicines for his mother started fading away.
It was then that a policeman waved to Akbar. A long-distance bus arrived there a short while ago, and three policemen in their uniforms alighted from it, with the guns dangling from their shoulders. Following them were two prisoners, handcuffed to each other’s hands. The policemen were apparently escorting them.
After getting down from the bus, they proceeded to a nearby tea stall and all of them had tea. Thereafter, while looking for an auto, the policemen noticed Akbar’s auto waiting at a distance and summoned it.
Akbar wondered how five people could sit in the auto. But, two policemen squeezed themselves along with the prisoners in the back seat – positioning themselves on either side, while the third one adjusted himself in the front beside Akbar on the driver’s seat.
Akbar had a mind to veto it, but changed his mind. He did not want to have a tiff with the policemen. Muttering to himself he started the vehicle for the destination told by them.
The police party went straight to the sessions court in the city. They were to produce the remand prisoners before the judge for hearing in the criminal case(s) they were involved in. After alighting from the auto, the policemen asked Akbar to wait for them, and entered the court premises along with the prisoners. They disappeared even before Akbar could tell them of his inability to wait. He knew that producing prisoners in the court was time-consuming, as no one was sure as to when the case would come up before the judge. That meant that he would have to wait there indefinitely.
Parking the auto a little away from the parking stand, Akbar entered the court premises in search of the police party. He wanted to explain his problem to them, take the fare, and go away. He peeped into the court hall which was over crowded with the lawyers, policemen and people. He could not locate the police party which had travelled in his vehicle, in the crowd. He could not muster the courage to enter the hall. Disappointed, he returned to his vehicle and sat in it, helpless.
It took at least two hours for the police party to emerge from the court. It was now half past one, and Akbar was unhappy that he could not buy the rations and the medicines. He knew his wife would be eagerly waiting for him, to prepare lunch.
The case concerned having been adjourned to a later date by the court, the prisoners were to be taken back to the sub-jail where they were remanded in judicial custody. As the next bus to their town would be leaving only at 3 pm, there was plenty of time. So, the policemen wanted to have their lunch at a hotel and then proceed to the bus station.
The policemen boarded the auto and asked Akbar to take them to a particular
hotel, which was 2 km away.
Akbar waited outside the hotel, as he had no choice, even as the policemen and the prisoners leisurely took their meals inside. He tried to request the policemen to relieve him, without success.
The five men came out after half an hour. Then, they again boarded the vehicle and asked to be taken to the bus station.
At last Akbar could drop the police party back at the point from where they were picked up earlier. By that time, it was already 1.45.
Akbar looked puzzled as the policemen handed him a ` 100 note as the fare for the auto, for the meter showed at least 3 times more than that. And added to that would be the waiting charges.
He told them about the actual fare, showing the meter reading, and also of the waiting charges. He urged them to pay the full amount.
But the policemen were adamant, and refused to pay beyond what was given to him. As Akbar tried to protest the injustice being meted out to him, they threatened to foist a false case and arrest him. One of them said that the meter reading was wrong and accused Akbar of manipulating it. The latter showed them the seal of the RTO which was intact, and sought to counter their claim. Another policeman even went a step further saying that they found Akbar transporting ganja in his vehicle, and threatened to seize the auto.
Akbar knew that the policemen would get TA and DA from the department for taking the prisoners to the courts of law situated out of the tour. Yet, these men were mean and chose to rob him of his lawful, hard-earned income. He did not know what to do, for, they were powerful and in a position to implicate him in false cases and put him behind bars – if he made it an issue. He meekly accepted the amount and left cursing them bitterly inside.
His mind was at home thinking of his starving family and the suffering mother. As he emerged from the bus station, he could readily get a savari. As the destination was a little far-off, he hoped to get substantial fare for it. He pressed the accelerator with renewed enthusiasm, even though the meanness of the policemen was pricking him and he could not help cursing them for so blatantly cheating him.
It was exactly 12.45 in the afternoon that the school bus of the Little Angels Public School stopped by the side of the busy main road carrying the students of the kindergarten. Parents, who were waiting there for the school bus to arrive, started collecting their wards even as they alighted from the bus. The tiny tots’ faces lit up on seeing their parents and they ran towards them.
Nandini got down from the bus and looked for her mother. She was perplexed at not finding her there. Not knowing why her mother was not already there, she looked around, even as her friends waived her ‘bye’ and started leaving with their parents. She had waited for a long time – she did not know how long – looking for her mother, who was usually there.
When Lalitha reached the place, it was 2 o’clock, she could see her daughter standing alone on the other side of the road in the hot sun, with the school bag dangling on her back. She was greatly relieved, though felt pity for the child, and cursed herself for assigning the duty to her otherwise busy husband. She increased her pace.
Suddenly, Nandini too saw her mother coming. Her face lit up. She called out, “Mummy!” excitedly and ran towards her, across the road, unmindful of the traffic.
Bewildered, Lalitha shouted at her daughter not to come and to stay where she was. But the girl did not stop.
As the little girl started running suddenly across the road, vehicles from both the sides screeched to a halt. Akbar was going that way with the passengers in his auto. He too saw the little one running across. He tried to apply the brake to avoid her. But, as fate would have it, the brakes failed with the result that the vehicle hit the girl, bringing her under the wheels. It all happened in a fraction of a second, stunning everyone around.
Little Nandini died on the spot due to serious head injuries.
Lalitha was shellshocked at the sight and fainted.
Yadagiri was a smalltime realtor. Lalitha was a housewife. Nanidini, their only child, was born after 10 years of their marriage. She was a fair, cute girl. The couple treated her with great love and affection. They wanted to provide her with a good education and dreamt of making her a medical doctor.
Now, their dreams were shattered. The death was so sudden. Lalitha could not forget the sight of her dear daughter dying before her very eyes in such a ghastly manner. No one could console her. Yadagiri was, however, trying his best to maintain his composure. The couple was unable to believe that their beloved daughter was no more. It was too much for them to bear the irreparable loss.
Akbar would usually go home for lunch around midday, unless of course, he went to a far-off place taking a savaari.
Noorunnisa Begum was waiting for her husband since 9 o’clock in the morning. She expected him to bring some wheat or rice and provisions for cooking lunch. But he did not turn up even by 2 pm
Either he could not earn money or he had taken a savaari to a distant place, Noorunnisa Begum thought. So she had been waiting for him patiently, hoping she would be able to cook something to feed the hungry mouths. The old woman and the children too eagerly awaited Akbar.
It was then that the news reached the family. The news of the accident… of the death of a little girl under the wheels of Akbar’s vehicle… and of the consequent arrest of Akbar.
Lalitha stopped for a moment seemingly trying to compose herself and continued, “Your honour, I do not want an innocent person to be punished. That is why I have ventured to come before you to humbly submit the facts.” Even before Akbar could clear his throat, Lalitha stood up suddenly and urged the judge to allow her to speak first. Learning that she was the griefstricken mother of the victim of the accident, the judge obliged her, as a special case, and permitted her to go to the witness box and to make her submissions.
Noorunnisaa Begum collapsed even as the old woman started wailing. The children got frightened, and they too started crying.
It was common for the driver of the vehicle that caused the accident to flee from the spot instantly – to escape the wrath of the people around. But Akbar did not run away. He was shell-shocked at the unexpected mishap, and tried to revive the child with first aid. However, people caught hold of him and thrashed him thoroughly before handing him over to the police.
Noorunnisa Begum visited her husband at the police lock-up. She was heartbroken at the sight of her severely-bruised husband. “Hey, Allah! What have you done to him? Does he deserve this? How could people be so cruel and merciless?” she cried.
Akbar tried to console her. “You are seeing only my external wounds, Noor. But my heart bleeds at the thought of a little girl dying under the wheels of my vehicle,” he said with a trembling and choking voice. The very thought disturbed him enormously. The pain was writ large on his face.
Akbar was charged by the police under section 304 (A) IPC – culpable homicide not amounting to murder – causing death due to negligence by rash driving. His case came up for hearing before the court of law.
Noorunnisa Begum could not engage a lawyer to bail out her husband. She went to the court taking her mother-in-law and the kids, with an agitated mind, on the day of the hearing.
Yadagiri and his wife, Lalitha, too arrived at the court. While entering the court hall, the distraught couple looked at Akbar’s family, as someone pointed them out. The family presented a pathetic picture of grief and hunger. Worry writ large on the faces of Noorunnisa Begum and her mother-in-law. Pricked by the thought that it was the family of the person who was responsible for the death of their beloved daughter, Yadagiri and Lalitha glared at the women.
The din in the court hall died down as the judge arrived and took his seat.
A weak and dishevelled Akbar was presented before the judge, and put in the dock.
Noorunnisa Begum huddled herself in a corner of the hall with the other members of her family. Unable to bear the painful sight of her husband, she wept silently. The children saw their father and tried to call out, “Abbajan…” with excitement. But the mother suppressed their voices by covering their mouths with both hands. The puzzled and frightened kids embraced her tightly.
At the instance of the judge, the assistant public prosecutor (APP) presented the case against the accused in detail. The judge as also the audience in the hall heard him in rapt silence. The judge made notes every now and then. At the end, concluding the prosecution’s case, the APP emphasised that it was due to the deliberately rash and negligent driving by the accused, that the life of a tiny tot – a budding flower – who was the only child of her parents, born after 10 years of their marriage, was snuffed out so abruptly and cruelly… and prayed to the court to award severest of the punishments to the accused, under section 304 (A), 279, 336 and 337 of the IPC, so that it served as a deterrent to the likes of him.
Hearing that, the shaken, old woman – Akbar’s mother – cried out loudly, “Please do not punish my son, huzur! He is a good man. These small kids will become orphans if my son is sent to jail. We will all die of hunger as he is the sole breadwinner of the family.”
“Order! Order!” cautioned the judge, hitting the hammer on the table, and ordered the old woman to be sent out of the court hall.
After Akbar’s mother was taken out, the judge asked the accused if he had anything to submit in the matter.
Even before Akbar could clear his throat, Lalitha stood up suddenly and urged the judge to allow her to speak first.
Learning that she was the grief-stricken mother of the victim of the accident, the judge obliged her, as a special case, and permitted her to go to the witness box and to make her submissions.
Lalitha walked to the witness box slowly and said with a quiet voice, “Thank you, your honour. The accused was not responsible for the death of my little daughter, as the prosecution has alleged.”
There was absolute silence in the hall as everyone including the judge and the APP were taken aback at her statement. Even her husband, Yadagiri, was perplexed at his wife’s unexpected stance, with his mouth agape with awe.
“Could you elaborate your statement, lady?” the judge asked Lalitha.
“Yes, your honour. On that fateful day, I was late to pick up my daughter from the school bus at the place of occurrence. On seeing me coming on the other side of the road, my daughter ran across the road through the busy traffic. I tried to stop her in vain. She suddenly ran across the road unmindful of the vehicular traffic on both sides. On seeing the child, vehicles on both sides stopped abruptly. The accused too applied sudden brake to his vehicle on noticing the child. Unfortunately the brakes failed. He tried to swerve the vehicle to avoid hitting the girl. But, as fate would have it, my daughter herself went and dashed against his autorickshaw, and came under its wheels. As a result she was grievously injured and died on the spot,” narrated Lalitha dispassionately, to the stunned audience.
“Therefore, your honour, it was not the fault of the accused, and surely, he was not responsible for the death of my daughter. That was the reason why he did not flee from the scene, as is the case usually with those causing accidents. On the other hand, he showed a lot of concern for the injured child and tried to save her.”
Lalitha stopped for a moment seemingly trying to compose herself and continued, “Your honour, I do not want an innocent person to be punished. That is why I have ventured to come before you to humbly submit the facts.”
The APP was quite stunned at the turn of the case. Not willing to lose it, he sought the permission of the court to cross-examine Lalitha. The judge accorded permission.
Lalitha could bravely withstand the aggressive crossexamination by the APP, and answered all his queries calmly and to the satisfaction of the judge.
Since the principal, direct witness of the case – the victim’s mother herself – had absolved the accused of the guilt, the judge had no option but to dismiss the criminal case against Akbar, and order to set him free unconditionally.
As Lalitha walked out of the court hall, amidst the commotion, Noorunnisa Begum approached her with her children, and expressed her gratitude with folded hands and tears… Lalitha eyed her for a moment, pressed her hand gently and reassuringly, and moved away. She could hear the blessings mumbled by the old woman from behind.
The couple walked silently to their car. Once they were inside the vehicle, Yadagiri confronted his wife in an exasperated state of mind. “I fail to understand, Lalitha, how you could bail out that bloody fellow who had killed our only child.”
Lalitha answered him calmly, “Sure, we have lost our beloved child. But can we get her back by punishing the poor man? Or, will we be able to overcome our grief by sending him to jail? On the other hand, his family would be in the streets if he goes to jail. I could not withstand the sight of the family – with his mother, wife and the small kids engulfed by worry, hunger, and fright besides insecurity writ large on their faces. Failure of the brakes of the vehicle due to sudden application was certainly not the fault of the man, who tried his best to avert the accident. If Nandini died, it was nothing but destiny. Our beloved’s death should not be a cause of the ruining of a poor family… That is why I gave that statement to the court.” She broke down.
Yadagiri was nonplussed. He could see the logic and sentiment in his wife’s thinking. Whether it was right or wrong, a poor family with small kids should not become destitute on account of Nandini.
He heaved a sigh. “I think you are right, Lalitha. It did not occur to me at all. Hats off to your noble heart.” He said wiping her tears off, and embraced her affectionately. We
As one grows older, one becomes wiser and more foolish.
Akbar looked at his wife thoughtfully… very fair, slim and tall, Noorunnisa Begum was a beautiful woman. He fell for her beauty instantly, and it was love at first sight for him, when he saw her at a function at some relative’s house.