The Victim – a short story by Avinash Dolas

Avinash Dolas was a thinker and activist of Dalit Buddhist Movement in Maharashtra. He was also a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction related to the movement.

Here is one of his stories The Victim translated into English and published in Indian Literature, a journal by Sahitya Akademi, in its March-April 1985 issue.

For reading convenience, I converted the story into an ebook that can be downloaded freely from here: epub mobi PDF

The Victim by Avinash Dolas

IT is the fifth day today. I have developed an unbearable backache because of continuous attendance at the bedside of my mother. Our eyes that streamed with tears on the first day have gone dry now. It has been indeed beyond our forbearance to see her writhe in pain. For the past five days in succession we have been awaiting her last moment from dawn to dusk. Her piteous groaning today does not move us as we have grown immune to pain and emotion. She tries to move her tongue over her dry lips intermittently, indicating the dryness in her mouth. She can just suck a small quantity of water that is fed into her mouth. And like a lump of flesh she is lying motionless on the ground. Men and women attending on her have no other work than merely sit by her side. Tired of this monotonous duty, Bahi sits whiling away his time with a bidi in his mouth outside the hut. Meanwhile, one or two villagers casually drop in at the hut to see what stage the ailing mother has reached and they go back thinking that they have to wait for some more time before the inevitable happens. And nothing more!

To mother, Sumi is the dearest of all her children. On the first day, Sumi wept and wailed aloud. She did not take her food and vowed not to touch it unless mother took it. But all that was in vain as none cared to persuade her to take food, nor was anyone in a mood to do so. Sumi wept and wept till she fell exhausted and lay down on the ground beside mother. Father, who rivetted himself at her feet, saw her piteously writhe and groan. Whenever he felt drowsy, he just lit a bidi and exhaled smoke through his nostrils to keep himself awake. Last night we neither ate nor slept. Now everyone is awaiting mother’s last moment.

All this physical strain and mental fatigue have rendered me unfit to sit beside mother any longer. Mother’s room has gone damp and is stinking with the stench of her half-burnt body. Except for a torn dhoti of father, there is no cover over her ailing body. She cannot bear even the light weight of a blanket or a quilt as her skin has become highly sensitive to any covering. Whenever some covering is spread over her body, it extracts a lump of burnt flesh. She makes only a slow movement of her neck and legs. Otherwise she is as good as dead.

Like earthworms writhing in mud, our innards have now started convulsing with hunger. For the past five days, our hearth has been cold. Nevertheless, we could get a few cups of tea offered by our neighbours. That’s all. Nothing else to eat or drink. For the last couple of days, Sumi is sitting outside and Bahi is trying to quench the fire of his hunger with the smoke of the bidis. Now he is unable to bear the smell of mother’s body. Actually, he is trying to swallow open air under the excuse of smoking bidis. Everyone is dying of hunger.

Once, seeing mother try to move her legs, I went near her and saw that there was little trace of skin on her legs. It was all half-burnt pulp of flesh with flies hovering over it. Father came near her and I moved away a bit to the back as I could not face him. My eyes had lost their retentive power and were too weak to see anything. All the while, my conscience pricked me as mother was confined to deathbed mainly on my account. My heart was torn like a worn-out cloth.

As we could not send word to uncle and aunt, we felt guilty over it. The guilt was all the more as we could not send a message to Shanta at a time when mother was counting her last moments. Even the village dogs have gone dumb ever since the horrible incident took place five days back. Further, as we could not remove ailing mother to the hospital for treatment, it has been pricking our conscience all the more. At the time of the incident, her body, swallowed by flames, was actually dragged out of the hut. However, the residue of the gutted hut was thrown away into the river by Yesaji, the village chairman. We appealed to the villagers, prayed to them, prostrated at their feet, but they did not show even an iota of mercy on us. They burnt up mother and hut and all our belongings.

As a result of this, the rebel in us is also turned to ashes. We are all burning with anger, but are weak, meek and helpless. We are lifeless skeletons. Every day, the State Transport bus passes our village several times. Hundreds of villagers come and go, but none opens his mouth to talk of the dreadful incident. Everyone was to witness to the tragedy, but none cares to make a courtesy call on us. None wants to speak out the fact that our mother sustained burns and our hut was set on fire.

One day, remembering Shanta, accompanied by Kachru Baba, I myself approached Baburao, the foul-mouthed village boss. Kachru Baba imploringly appealed to him:

“Sirkar, now everything is over. Let Shanta see the face of her ailing mother at least in the last moment of her life.”

“Kachrya!” the boss roared.

“Yes, Sirkar,” said Kachru.

“Don’t you know what I told your father?”

“I quite know IL But, Sirkar…”

“Shut up. Don’t utter a word more.”

“No, Sirkar. Please be kind enough to allow Shanta to see her mother.”

“No, not at all. They have eaten dung. They have trespassed on our status and power. Let them go to the dogs.”

“Let me apologise for their offence, Sirkar.”

“You people wanted to call the police. Didn’t you?”

“Kindly forget it and forgive us, Sirkar!”

“Nothing doing! It is no loss if one Mahar woman died?”

On hearing this, we were crestfallen and returned home dumbfounded. Here at home all are impatiently waiting for mother’s last moment. Everyone wants her to breathe her last. If she does not die now, all will go mad. The watering-place will be forgotten within a short time. Henceforth there will be no resentment on that account. The rebel in me will die a premature death. It was mother who led the agitation for drawing water from the Panchayat well and setting the watering-place there. Father, being a damper, was of no use then as now. As he wants to befriend all, he never opens his mouth to give vent to our grievances and hence avoids all trials and tribulations.

I still remember how my militant mother, in contrast to my gutless father, was pitched against Chairman Baburao who was opposed by Aawloo in the Panchayat elections. On the day of polling, the Chairman called and brainwashed me at lnamdar’s house and threatened to crush me if I voted against him. The police had to intervene then. All this still lingers with photographic vividness before my eyes. Tired of sitting beside mother, I just stretched myself on the ground and saw whitish fluid trickling from her body. The foul smell of her body became all the more nauseating now. I tried to stand up, but very nearly collapsed on her body.

“What’s the matter?’ asked father.

“Nothing,” I said.

“If you are tired, lie down for a while,” he advised.

“No, no, I don’t want to relax,” I said.

However, I just reclined slightly on the pile of sacks for a few minutes, shook my hand and found that a lump of the burnt-up flesh of mother’s body was struck to my elbow. I was stunned. My tongue went dry.

Soma and Chimi quietly entered the hut. Soma sat speechless beside father and Chima started sobbing fast. Mother was seen struggling to open her mouth to speak out something, but in vain. When I started weeping loudly, she said in an indistinct voice:

“Don’t weep… Some day or the other, everyone has to bid good-bye to this world. Now, no use crying over what happened.”

She could speak no more. Father looked at me and said: “You bastard, you wanted to be an agitator, a leader. Didn’t you? Now see the consequences of your agitation. You did not listen to my advice then. Now, no use crying over spilt milk.”

Father wanted to say more, but his tongue did not cooperate with him. On Aawloo’s getting elected to the Panchayat, we had resolved to open the watering-place near the Panchayat well. The entire Mahar-Mang colony stood by us then, except father who is a coward of the first water. The villagers led by Salu Mali, Ganpat Teli and the Chairman were pitched against us. The two parties armed with sticks and lathis were arrayed on either side and the village had turned into a battleground. I still remember how one afternoon we started to offer Satyagraha for drawing water from the Panchayat well and how at about four o’clock we saw the police jeep descend on the village heath when the resistance was in full swing. The lathis of the police fell on our heads till we bled. The well turned red with blood. The police arrested the sarpanch and Ganapat Teli, and placed them behind the bars. They were released from the jail after a week.

The routine life of the village began afresh, as usual. All kept mum over the bloody incident. In this way, two months elapsed. Residents of the Mahar-Mang colony did not utter a word of protest. All over the village, there was a total lull. But, all of a sudden, to our surprise and shock, one night our huts were set on fire and burnt down. Everything went to rack and ruin. Mother, encircled by flames, was dragged out from the hut. She could not be removed to the hospital and treated for her burns. Sitya, who went to call the police was found dead in the river, with his backbone broken. All roads were blocked.

Five days have elapsed since this fatal incident. My mother became a victim of my ego and the brutalities of the villagers. Though she has been on her deathbed for the last five days, she said to me in an emaciated voice:

“Don’t be silly, son. Don’t kill your hunger, eat something. You have neither eaten nor slept for five days.”

Ignoring her advice, I just lay down by her side with my ears, eyes and entrails all burning with anger and agony. I heard something drop down. I strained my eyes and saw that the stinking hand of mother had fallen on my body. Whitish fluid started trickling from her mouth. I held my hand over her nostrils to feel her breath and found that she had breathed her last. Our eyes went dry with sorrow. My mother was an unwept and unsung victim!


Tr. from Marathi by V.D. KATAMBLE

[epub mobi PDF]

Tags: , , , , ,

What are you thinking?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: