A pale yellow morning,
a dark-skinned girl was roaming around a crematorium looking for her father.
It was her 15th day here, 2nd in this month.
Roshmon frequented this crematorium. Her father was one of the Dom here.
Dom, a person who is entrusted with the burning procedure of a funeral pyre.
Theirs was a story of life amongst the dead.
While her parents remained busy with funeral work Roshmon spent her day roaming around the crematorium befriending odd characters. Sometimes it was ‘Alice’ from the Wonderland. While at others it was ‘Swami And His Friends’ from Malgudi.
Roshmon was 12, going to be 13 next month. Quite a grown-up lady she was – or so she believed. The young and naïve child behaved like a grown-up middle-aged woman with an air of wisdom and philosophy. A close association with the living dead and the heartbeats of the dead have made her accustomed to certain realities of our strange world.
Hence, she valued both – life and death. The latter to a greater extent. She fiercely protected her animal friends – even the dead ones. Squirrels, rats, cats, dogs, sparrows – anything that inhabited the crematorium were her friends. Anyone causing any harm to them whether dead or living came under her wrath.
Her friend’s in school took advantage of this. They bullied her by calling her ‘Maa Kali’ – the Goddess of Death. Even the local workers of the crematorium affectionately called her their ‘Resident Little Evil Goddess’. But whenever you ask her and you will get to know who she actually is.
‘I am the protector of the dead. I am the death-eater’, pat came her reply.
Indeed she was the death-eater. Protecting both the living and the non-living from death.
To her, death resembled those houses. Houses which stand-alone desolated –inhabited but without a heartbeat. As if the people came back only to stain those walls and not to converse with them. She decided to be a designer of houses. A house which wasn’t stagnant like death.
An architect of houses with a heartbeat that would be her profession.
Little Roshmon living and dreaming of an ideal land of heartbeat didn’t have any idea what the future had in store for her.
Her birth month December came and so did the news of the disaster. Her father had lost his job at the crematorium. They have taken new people in his place – people with knowledge of machines. Unable to bear the expenses of the school, her parents withdrew her from school.
‘I want to go to school. When will I go back?’ she demanded to know.
Her parents remained silent.
Day after day they silenced her with one excuse or the other.
Sometimes, it was ‘let the rain settle down’ and at others, it was ‘ next month you’ll go to a bigger school’. 3 months passed like this, Roshmon was increasingly becoming reckless. Her playmates began taunting by calling her ‘The Vagabond Goddess’.
Then one day, the truth revealed itself unexpectedly. It was on the eve of her 15th visit to the crematorium. As usual, she came there looking for her father but instead she overheard a conversation. Rakesh and Shamu, 2 of her father’s subordinates were busy conversing. They didn’t notice the child roaming nearby.
‘Ah! These machines, they are taking up all our jobs,’ said Shamu.
‘I don’t know what will happen next!’ said Rakesh anxiously.
‘Already, people like Danny Kaka have been replaced’ said Shamu. (Danny Kaka, Danny Ruth is Roshmon’s father).
‘What can he do? He is an old haggard. Unable to cope up with modern techniques. Electrical funeral pyre is the latest trend’ said Rakesh.
‘But what about the rituals and the mantras? Will they replace them with recorded versions of it?’ asked Shamu.
‘Who knows? I have even heard about televised funeral rites system’ said Rakesh.
‘ Funeral Rites on Television!’ exclaimed Shamu.
‘Yes, They call it video calling. The friends and relatives of the dead burn a paper or straw in their name while his body is burnt here and the whole thing is visible on T.V.’ said Rakesh.
‘What a tragedy to die like this! I pity those machine led people’ said Shamu disgustingly.
Roshmon ran away after hearing all this. She cried inconsolably that day. Nobody informed her of those dreadful machines. The wretched little devils that ate up her father’s job and left them to a life of uncertainty.
“I will work. I will gather all the books and read up myself. I will win that scholarship’ thought, Roshmon.
“Life may not be easy but I’ll overcome the odds. I will pass this exam” resolved, Roshmon.
She began working as a cleaner and sweeper in the local library. The clever little girl that she was. She knew when and how to manage time, and how to acquire knowledge. She worked all through the day and borrowed books from the library in return for her daily wages. During the day she cleaned the dust gathered on the books and at night the books came to clean up her future. She tried hard to ace in her studies. She burnt the midnight oil to win that scholarship.
Months of hard work paid off and she passed the entrance test!
But alas! God had something else planned for her. She was struck by another blow.
The School incurred a loss and decided to discontinue the scholarship program.
All hell broke onto her. She was at her wit’s end.
Life wasn’t that easy after all. It was an unexpected expectation. An unlikely set of examinations.
‘Life is an exam where the syllabus is unknown and question papers are not set. But I can pass this exam’ she thought.
She passed the entrance exam but failed in the exam of life.
‘Or perhaps this is an exam by itself?’
‘God is testing me. He is making me strong for something better’, thought Roshmon.
Determined, she started looking for other such scholarships.
‘There has to be some school who will accept me’ thought she.
Indeed there was. It only needs to be searched and God helps those who help themselves.
She started gathering information. The machines helped her in this process. She picked up some names from television commercials that run on a store nearby. Every day she visited that store till she gathered enough information.
But this wasn’t enough. She required more information in order to prepare for the day.
These schools were bigger and better. International Schools with bigger opportunities. They require more hard work but she knew that she could achieve this. It is her last chance to be the architect of houses with a heartbeat.
‘It seems tough but not impossible’, Roshmon said to herself.
She required some help. Roshmon gathered the courage to confront her friends. Some of them ridiculed her while other discouraged her but few stood by her. With the help of these trusted friends, she gathered all the information about those big schools.
She started working hard. She worked more to gather the necessary books for her studies. Thus started a long drawn battle. While her parents tried to restore their lost livelihood, she went on working and studying hard.
One year passed by, Roshmon took the scholarship test for 6th Standard. She should have been in the 8th standard today if all had gone well that day. But time had something else in store for her. She stood through the test of time and won the race. She has not only passed the examination but has topped it.
She came through with flying colours. Not only did she get in but she became the star student of her class.
Closer home, her family was reeling under pressure. Roshmon took charge here as well. She befriended the machine this time. She took on the task of teaching the life of machines to her parents.
The vitality and essentiality of modern technologies and machines weren’t unknown to her. She was herself a product of it.
Soon her parents realized the essence of the machine. They became aware of the beneficial aspects of the electrical funeral pyre. They understood it was there to ease out their dreadful work.
It’s not Man or Machine.
It is Man and Machine.
Thus, they started learning the new ways of life and went back to their job. Gradually, they made peace with the machine. Proper training and understanding made it a boon for them. The things they were cursing as devils soon became their messiah.
Seeing them working peacefully, many others started to return to their previous work. It was no longer the story of one Danny Ruth and Roshmon. Several Shambhu, Dinanath, Dinesh, Omprakash, Danny,Victor was waiting to return. Not just in the crematoriums but to the jute mills, factories, and warehouses. It was the story of every working class people.
So life returned to its natural form. In the end, it wasn’t the syllabus we desired to learn but the syllabus we need to learn that matters. Life’s syllabus was that. It was all planned.
Both in death and in life, machines are the friends we seek. The Almighty has made us that way.
Man and Machine.
Ours is an inevitable friendship.
An unperturbed companionship.