MIDWAY: Sentenced to hardship

Kailash Kaka passed away leaving behind his eight-year-old Bikram and a bereaved wife, Sabitri. But even as the ashes of her husband were still smouldering, Sabitri Kaki was more given to worrying about paying off family debts than moaning about the death of her hubby. My late uncle had borrowed heavy sums at exorbitant interest rates during his marriage and then at the time of Bikram’s birth, keeping his house and land as collateral.

Let alone pay off the heavy sum, the family was even hard put to perform the last rites. Thankfully, all the neighbours chipped in. Vermilion on Kaki’s forehead was wiped off, her glass bangles smashed, and her red sari quickly undraped. All the while she lay unconscious. When she finally came, she started wailing in dismay: Who would now pay off the debt

that had now mounted to five times the principal. Little Bikram, who was now fast asleep, would soon understand what it means to be born into poverty, I thought.

It was not long after that he had a rude awakening. After all the post-cremation rituals were completed on the thirteenth day, the creditor arrived at the doorstep of Kaka’s house. His eyes glistening with tears, he expressed his inability to help the family with the last rites as he had been out of town.

He also vowed to assist whenever the mother and son needed help. But soon, he laid bare his true motive. Without the least concern for the sorry family’s hardships, he let fly perhaps the most callous words I’ve ever heard: “Send me your son tomorrow! He’ll work for me and help pay the interest on the loan. The principal, he might pay when he’s able to earn. Otherwise...”

Kaki could do nothing but nod her head in approval for she understood that not sending Bikram meant that the family would have to evacuate the house and the small plot of land, all they had by way of property. From the very next day, Bikram started working in the fields of the creditor. In return, he was given a few pieces of bread and onion every day. This is now the family’s only “income”. Somewhere up there, how Kailash Kaka must be ruing his decision to borrow money at such a high rate of interest, forever sentencing his family to hardship.