The Untouchable at Narbada Ghats

Written By

Mamata Kolte

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This happened in the late 90’s. Something that is still fresh in Rani’s memories; not because she has a good memory but because she keeps seeing incidents like this.

Rani and Kunal are cousins. Their mothers are sisters; Santoshi is Rani’s Mother and Meena, the eldest, is Kunal’s Mother. They lived in a village not very far from the holy river Narbada. But what made them special (as believed by the society) was that they were brahmins.

They grew up playing on the Ghats of Narbada along with the children of ‘Navik’s’, who were considered low caste or untouchables. The Navik’s spend all their lives around the river swimming, taking people from one ghat to another. One of them was Mahesh. In any condition, the Navik children were not allowed at the Brahmin’s home even for playing. Kunal’s and Rani’s nani was a very strict woman and she made sure that she keep her grandchildren ‘pure’. Since the children bathed together in the Holy river, it was okay to be together. But, only till the Ghats.

As time passed, both the families moved to cities and life continued there, changing the ways they lived, their thoughts, but only for the children. Kunal lived very near to Rani’s house and kept visiting frequently. Whenever his family had to go to village for the matters of their Haveli’s or fields, Meena would keep her children at Santoshi’s house.

It was late winter afternoon one day, when Kunal was returning from his coaching that he saw Mahesh. Mahesh had also moved to the same city and was living in a government hostel as he now was a national level swimmer. Kunal was extremely happy to know about Mahesh’s achievements. They both sat together and remembered the time they spent together at the Narbada Ghats. Kunal invited him home but Mahesh hesitated reminding Kunal that he is still the same untouchable boy. Kunal tried convincing him that things have changed but Mahesh did not agree. Since Kunal was insisting, Mahesh said that he would come only if Kunal’s family would allow him.

Kunal was at Rani’s home that week as his family had to go to village for some property matters. When he returned he found out that his nani was present at Rani’s house. Kunal knew that convincing Santoshi would not be hard but he did not know how to tell this to his nani. At dinner, Kunal told his masi and nani about Mahesh’s achievements and asked if he could bring him home. He was not sure if his nani would agree to this, but to his surprise, she agreed immediately.

Mahesh came to Rani’s house to meet Kunal and his family the next evening. To Kunal’s surprise, his grandmother was very friendly with the boy and was insisted for dinner. “Dinner?” Kunal said. “Its 5:30. Who eats at this time?” But his grandmother was adamant. She had already prepared chapattis and vegetables stew. Santoshi cooked rice and dal and started cutting salad. Kunal was confused. Not only this was unusual for her, but also it was no time for dinner. Maybe Mahesh’s achievements have mellowed grandmother’s superstition, he thought.

Mahesh was in a dilemma. He knew that he was in a brahmin household and also that he was not hungry at all. He did not want to eat and tried hard to slip from the situation, but nani was not the one to back out. She kept insisting.

Seeing that Mahesh is shying away she leaded Kunal and made him sit on the floor and served two plates. Mahesh had to sit down. They both ate in silence. Only the grandmother was not quiet. She kept calling her daughter Santoshi and kept filling Mahesh’s plate. Poor Mahesh had no choice but to eat. After a few minutes, judging by the look on Mahesh’s face, Kunal finally stood up and said, “Enough. Let’s keep the remaining love of yours for his next visit nani.” Mahesh stood up too. He was exhilarated. His friend’s family, who had never allowed him in their house when they were in the village, not only allowed him to sit on their sofa but also fed him. He was indebted. The change that Kunal mentioned was real.

As soon as he stood up, Santoshi bent and took Kunal’s plate inside the kitchen, leaving Mahesh’s plate at its place. Kunal, struck for a moment, understanding what is happening, immediately bent down to take Mahesh’s plate. But nani held his hand, looked at Mahesh and said, “You can wash your plate at the tap outside the door.” The colour on Mahesh’s face changed. He bent, took his plate and started moving towards the main door. Kunal gave an angry look to his nani for a second and then ran after Mahesh and tried to take the plate from him.

Mahesh said nothing but did not allow Kunal to take his plate. He silently washed his plate, kept it tilted at the wall and left without saying anything.

Kunal saw him leave with red eyes and as Mahesh left, he stormed inside and shouted,” What have you done? Why? What was the need of even feeding him when he had refused out of his own will while you kept on insisting? Why? What was the need for this humiliation?”

Nani ignored him and instructed Santoshi to clean the floor and sprinkle some cow urine around.

Then she said, “Arre, don’t you know? Feeding an untouchable is considered sacred. We all will go to heaven. It is so hard to find them here in cities.” She looked at the small wooden temple built in the kitchen and paid her respects to the deity within.

Angry tears rolled down Kunal’s face. He retorted, “Are you sure that by doing this you two have reserved seats in heaven?”

He slammed the door on the way out.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mamata is an energetic, optimistic person who believes that anyone can do anything if one wants to. She loves to travel, write poems, watch movies, cook, garden and sing. Mamata follows her heart in anything that she does and thus can not do any thing just for the sake of doing it.

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