This short story demonstrates the struggles of people struck with poverty in India. I tried to show how difficult it is to make a living, and when you do, how easily it goes away. I have also tried to explain the tragedy of human lives living in poverty. We do not even realise how blessed we are.
The Sun has been rising way too early off late, Rajesh thought, summer is near.
Rajesh, a street side ice-cream seller, was not ready for summer. The schools will be closed, the parks will be hot and there will be no children around, which means he won’t be earning much for the next two months, not that he made any money now. The Rs.200 a day he makes is spent towards the daily sustenance of his wife, three children and the daily medications of his paralysed father.
He had to come up with a plan to survive the Delhi heat. He was planning on making a make shift umbrella on his ice-cream trolley to protect himself from the sun and carry a bottle of water from home. He could eat his own ice-cream if he got too hot, he figured.
But first, he needs to cash in on the ‘summer vacation’ excitement at as many schools as possible to amass as much cash as he can. Toiling through the month of April Rajesh amassed quite a bit of cash. He headed to meet his contractor who supplies him with the ice lollies and ice-creams. Rajesh’s plan was to ask for lesser stock for the fear of the stock melting and going to waste. Rajesh reckoned he could do odd jobs during the evenings to compensate for the subtracted earnings. At the contractor’s office, to Rajesh’s surprise, more stock than normal was given to him. When he objected, the contractor said he had signed up for this and showed him papers that he remembered signing. Rajesh realised, his illiteracy has again caused him to suffer and he ended up paying the contractor the entire amount he had saved. He now, in fact, owed the contractor Rs.1000.
Rajesh worried how he would pay this back along with other several debts he had incurred. Unlike his friends, Rajesh did not drink, did not smoke, and did not indulge in women. He only worried about the well-being of his family. He did not love his wife but he liked sex, which is why he has three children with another on the way at the age of twenty four. Some educated people once stopped over his ice-cream truck to talk about condoms. They said he could have sex without having children, it sounded interesting but he was upset with them for not buying his ice-cream while talking to him. They had wasted his precious time and had driven away customers. Since this incident, Rajesh stayed away from the topic of condoms and from the item itself. It’s not his fault he thought, he could just not afford to buy condoms, rice and dal were more important.
The month of May was here, the worst month of a Delhi summer. There were no children around and he would have to wait outside the parks during sunset to find gullible little customers. This year, he could only see joggers with arm bands of some sort running in the park; they wouldn’t even give him a second look.
He made Rs.200 after a full week of toil now and his children were dehydrated with the heat.
It was mid-May; his wife woke him up earlier than usual as his youngest child, a daughter of three years old, had vomited over the shabby mattress he slept on. Upset at being awoken, he slapped the crying child demanding silence. After a while, he felt horrid about his actions and to make amends Rajesh let the child have an ice-cream from his trolley.
He decided to park himself at the Delhi Zoo today; he hoped to see children and young students there. When 1PM struck, Rajesh had spent five hours selling two ice lollies for a meagre price of Rs.5 each. He was fatigued; he had run out of water. Rajesh had been standing for the whole five hours and his legs had begun to cramp. The surface of his ice-cream trolley suddenly seemed an inviting spot to take a nap. On an impulse Rajesh did just that. He took off his shirt and lay down on the trolley with the make shift umbrella protecting him from the Sun.
Rajesh woke up to the sound of his brother’s voice. The Sun had started to set and he cursed himself for having fallen asleep for almost an entire day. When consciousness returned and he looked at his brother’s face he knew instinctively something was wrong. His brother’s presence at the Zoo itself was an ominous sign. “It is Deepa” his brother said as an answer to Rajesh’s enquiring glance. Deepa, his youngest daughter, Deepa, the sick child he had slapped in the morning.
As he rushed home, he could barely see where he was going, his mind was clouded and he was sick with worry. He found Deepa laid out on the shabby mattress, her face decorated like a child goddess with incense sticks burning near her forehead. She also had a garland of marigold around her neck.
“The ice-cream killed her”, his wife whispered. She just sat there eyes glazed not moving but shedding silent tears of agony. A silent scream shattered his heart as his eyes welled up with tears, obstructing his final vision of Deepa.