The Price of Compassion

  • Ramu wiped the sweat from his brow as he pedalled the rickshaw through the dusty roads, dodging potholes, dogs and the occasional car. His thoughts were occupied with the pressing problem of sending money back to his home in a far flung, impoverished village. His fields had not seen rain in over three years, his parched lands refusing to grow even a blade of grass now. It had been months since he'd had enough money to go home to see his wife and baby. Till a year back, he'd had a decent enough living as a vegetable vendor in the Big City. But his stall, like many others, had been snatched away in a "development drive". And he'd now been reduced to pedalling his way to save peddling himself away instead. Bitterness filled his heart, and he cursed his fate.


    "Bhaiya, do you have change for a fifty", his sawari, a petite girl with kind eyes and a high, lilting voice, asked him. Ramu grunted, in a mixture of refusal and incredulity. "Where will I get change for fifty from?I have barely enough to pay the rent for this damned rickshaw and fill my stomach." The girl looked at him with sadness in his eyes, and genuine sympathy filled her voice, "I'm sorry. Why don't you keep this note. It seems like you need it more than I do." She opened her purse, and selected a fifty rupee note from a bundle of notes within. She handed it to him with a smile, and walked towards an alley, presumably a short-cut to her room on the other side.

    Ramu looked incredulously at the note. It was the most he'd earned in one go since he'd started plying his rickshaw, and he was touched by the girl's gesture. But even as his heart filled with gratitude, his mind filled with the vision of a purse full of crisp notes - those notes could get him home, back to his impoverished village and family, they could give him a second chance at life... a chance he needed desperately. His fields were beckoning him, his wife and child had a future to look forward to... He might just be able to wrangle a bit of his land back from the zamindar he was indebted to and start work on them again...he'd heard of a new scheme to get water to his village, something the local neta had promised them the last time he'd gone home. He might just be able to coax some life out of the parched soil.. he could see his crop stirring in the wind, the barley rippling like gold...

    His hunger gnawed at his insides, his utter dejection and hopelessness given a spark of light, his whole being yearned to be free of the abject poverty of his freedom, mind and soul as much as his basic needs of food, shelter and clothing.

    His desperation had now reached a fever pitch. He looked wildly at the girl, walking away from him. He crept off his rickshaw, and ran blindly behind her. He saw the fright in her eyes as he snatched her purse from her hands. She started to scream for help, but he caught her throat before that, her flailing hands spurring him to tighten his grip on her neck. Her fight for life, pitched against his very fibre of survival, stood no chance at all. She went limp in his hands, and as he ran away from her, he could see the marks on her neck where hid fingers had cruelly bit into her flesh...

    He ducked and darted across dark alleys and narrow sideroads, avoiding the light as much as he could. He chose a secluded garbage dump to count his pickings from the purse. He opened it to find a bunch of notes, a picture of a family of four, some loose change and a perfumed handkerchief. As he allowed himself to catch his breath, his eyes wandered to the photo. His eyes picked out hissawari, her mother who looked remarkably like her, her little sister in pigtails, and her father. Her mother had the same compassionate eyes as her, and as he looked closely, he recognised her as the woman who'd delivered his baby last year....

    He was shocked by the discovery of a link between him and the girl he'd murdered. He had taken the life of the child of the woman who'd helped bring his own child to the world. All at once, he smelt the sweet perfume of the girl wafting on a gentle breeze. He sat up, looking left and right, as if she would jump out at him from behind a rotting dump pile. Her gentle eyes seemed to mock him from the photo, and in a rage he tore it up into little pieces. The tattered bits flew all over the place in the breeze, and made him madder.

    By now, he had realised the enormity of what he'd done, and his conscience was tearing him apart. What had seemed like a new lease to life, had now become a blood soaked noose which was making it difficult for him to breathe. His eyes filled with tears, as his desperation gave way to a futile regret. He could not believe what he'd done, and yet the crisp notes clutched in his hands were evidence of his crime...

    Ramu stood on the bridge. He could see the murky waters of the Yamuna flowing below. The rains had been good enough here at least, if not in his village, and the river was ebbing and rising ominously. He thought about his bit of land, his wife, his child..and the girl whose life he'd ended to start his own. He opened his fist, and the wind picked the money off his palm immediately. As he fell, welcoming his death, he saw her gentle eyes, forgiving him.

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