Growing up Motherless

When the girl was in class seven her mother died. This was a shock for her because she had no idea how to handle the situation. During the first two – three days there were many relatives to perform rituals and provide solace. Then one by one they went away. The young girl, her father and one brother remained in the family. She was not able to bring water from the well as she did not know how to pull the water by the use of the Shadoof or local water fetching system. She had to do the cleaning of the mud house also. Somehow she managed to do the house hold work and started firing the wood stove and cooking the food for all of them. After one week she again began to go to school and the teachers paid her sympathy saying that she faced a very bad situation in life. She used to sit quietly some days in the school giving a lot of time to rethinking her new lifestyle so as to be normal like all human beings. She began studying as a student and simultaneously running the house as a woman without thinking that she was a child who wanted to play and enjoy like her friends. Her neighbours used to teach her, to keep the house clean, arrange the things properly and wash the utensil regularly. This work was more difficult than bearing the sorrow of her mother’s death. No one used to share her feelings of sorrow or sympathise with the fact that she was still a child, as they were more concerned about her cleaning the house and washing the utensils. Whenever she was seen free, there were only one question, have you cleaned, washed and cooked? Then she had to immediately finish the work that remained. Sometimes she used to forget the house hold work. Always there was some work that remained as she was not habituated to doing the house hold work. She was doing all the work that people were expecting from her but she wanted to be alone when she remembered her mother. So she moved to find out solitary places where she could be by herself. Those moments were more unbearable for her – the realisation that there was no mother and she would not come again in her life. She used to ask herself – would Mom really not come any more? Slowly she accepted the reality of the situation and tried to lead her motherless life. Her father was quite concerned about her and he did not stop her from going to school saying that given their poverty, schooling was the only way to climb out of it. Although she failed in two subjects in the class seven examinations, nevertheless her teacher gave her a chance to give the exam again and she passed out. She was at the sensitive age of thirteen and she was growing very fast. Physically and mentally immense changes were taking place. One day, she went for plucking the Tendu leaves in the jungle and while coming back she saw ripe Tendu fruits on a tree and decided to collect them. So she brought her basket down from her head, which was very heavy as it was full of Tendu leaves, kept it on one side of the Tendu tree and then she climbed it. First she plucked two or three ripe Tendu fruits and ate them. Then she began to shake the branches one by one. She shook all the branches which were nearest to her. After shaking the branches, she looked at the ground to see whether there were sufficient fruits or not. As she saw there were lots of Tendu fruits lying on the ground, she stopped shaking the branches. Then she realised that in her eagerness to collect the fruit she had reached the top of the tree and she got frightened and started trembling. She began wondering how she would come down as the height was that of a two storey building. She immediately looked around for help but there was no one around to help her. Around ten minutes, she stood on the top of the tree fearing she would not be able to come down. Then she picked up the courage to come down as otherwise people would make fun of her. There was considerable prestige in her climbing and coming down safely from the tree. Therefore, she slowly began to come down and confidently came down safely from the tree. She breathed a deep breath and then started gathering the fruits. Her basket was already full, so somehow she made space to keep the Tendu fruits in the middle of the basket but it became too heavy to be carried by her. She was unable to lift the basket in order to put it on her head. She gathered a few rocks and made a platform for keeping the basket and subsequently she tried to put the basket on her head as she kneeled down and somehow put the basket on her head but unfortunately the supporting headgear called chomal slipped off her head, which in turn led to pain caused by the sharp bamboo strips of the basket on her head. It was not possible to carry the basket without the chomal. Then she tried to lift the chomal by the help of her right leg and brought it up to the right hand and she lifted the basket in a slanting manner so as to place the chomal beneath the basket again. She then placed it correctly by shaking the basket a little bit and then the basket was perfectly resting on the chomal. After reaching home she finished the house hold work and after cooking and eating, she started tying the Tendu leaves into bundles with her father with the help of rope made from the bark of the Palash tree. Around six o’ clock, she finished the bundling and then she counted them. There were only a hundred, so she took all of them to the selling contractor. There was big crowd waiting to sell Tendu leaf bundles. Some people, most of them women, were in a queue to count their bundles. Children were helping their parents by taking the bundles for drying. Many people were coming to the contractor’s place with their baskets of bundles. The ground was full of the villagers who had come to sell their Tendu leaf bundles. The girl also joined the queue to sell her bundles alone, with no one to help her but happy to earn money, all of five rupees for a hundred bundles. After counting, she put the bundles again in the basket and took them to the place for drying far from the counting spot. She did not know how to put the bundles to dry so that the binding Palash bark rope is not eaten by white ants. So she watched others doing it and learnt the technique. Finally she came home in the dark happy with her day’s work.

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