The Actress

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Madhumita pens a story, based on a real life incident. Babies are rented out, daily, to beggars. Read what happens to one such baby. Here’s a heart-wrenching story on May Day. Even a baby is made to earn, lying listlessly in a beggar woman’s arms. It’s curse to be poor. It’s a curse that forces newborns to earn few coins for the family, almost immediately after birth. Here’s a May Day special of DifferentTruths.

“Hey you! Sit up straight! And hold the baby properly.”

She was jolted from her stupor by the harsh voice.

“Sorry sir, my mistake. I haven’t eaten all day. Very hungry so had fallen asleep.”

“Does a mother sleep? When her child is dying? So what if you are poor. Poor mothers are also mothers. Your acting has to be convincing.”

The man, attired in cheap but glitzy clothes, stood there, towering over her, ire glaring in his bloodshot eyes. She sat upright, cradling the limp baby in her lap.

“I’ll come back soon to check on you,” he hollered and walked away, fidgeting with his cell phone.

She had no name. She faintly remembered being called Buri long back by a woman she called mother. She was not her mother. She didn’t know who her mother was. And it was not necessary to know about a father where she lived. Some children did have fathers who obliged the mothers with their erratic random visits, a night or two of satisfying the starved women and in exchange taking away the money the poor souls earned. Their earnings had no regular pattern. These women sold something or the other. Vegetables, cheap plastic toys, their labour or their body.

Buri lived with one such woman. Till she was fourteen or so. She didn’t of course know her age. She had stayed till she was no longer a child and her body began to weep the tears of womanhood. Her foster mother died one day, soon after, flung aside, like one throws a stone into the pond, by a speeding train as she was crossing the railway tracks with a huge basket of dry twigs on her head, fuel for their week’s meals. Buri did not weep. Rather, was happy to accompany a local man she called ‘big brother’ hoping to be certain of her daily meals. Seven days and she was fed on by the brother and his companions, bitten, chewed, chomped, torn apart and all juices run dry, the desiccated remains sold to an ‘agent’.

The entire stretch under the flyover was her work station. She would not sit at the same place for more than two days. She would wait for the cars to stop at red signals and would approach those with female passengers and ask for alms for her dying baby. On most days she would be lucky and make about a hundred rupees of earning. Half the share would go to ‘sir’ and a quarter as rent for her props, the baby. It was never the same baby for more than seven days. What happened to the babies she wondered.

She had mustered up all her courage to ask one day.

“Why do you give me different babies every time? I quite liked the baby you gave me yesterday. Can I have him back sir?”

“Are you here to be a real mother, you ****?” And he had hurled a few choicest expletives at her.

“Do your job, take your money and be happy with that. One more time you have questions and the same will happen to you as with that baby.”

“What happened to the baby?” Buri couldn’t help herself from asking despite the prior warning.

“Dead,” was the curt reply.

Pic Credit: Soumitra Ghosh

They gave her food during the day. She did not have to go hungry all day. She went back to her shack behind the makeshift market in the evenings and would have a bellyful of water from the roadside tap for dinner before sleeping. Her nights were blissfully peaceful. She knew now how to chase the hounds away. And she had her dreams of having her own place to stay in. Beside the railway tracks, there were many shanties. And some were available on rent. She saved all of the money she earned.

“Please. Ma, give me some money. God will bless you. My baby is dying. I have to take her to the hospital. Please, Ma. Please, Baba. Didi, please… My baby will die.”

She would repeat, everyday, in a well practiced drone, and bringing on tears in her eyes like a seasoned actress, would approach windows of waiting red, blue and white cars, knock on the rolled up glass windows and hold up the limp baby with closed eyes, for them to see.

The babies always slept. A man would hand over a sleeping baby and a bottle to her every morning.

“Give this to him if he wakes up.”

And she did, when the need arose. What the white liquid in the bottle was she did not know, but numbed, the babies slept throughout the day, and she was happy not to be bothered with their cries and whims. It was easy to act the role of a hapless poor mother with a limp baby in her arms.

Buri was used to the sleeping limp babies. She dozed, fed them the white liquid from the bottle when they stirred, and approached cars, never coming back empty-handed. Her days passed on with a familiar regularity. Till one day when it was all very different.

Buri sat stunned. She shook the pale little girl, patted her on the little cheeks, on her bottom. Repeatedly. She put her ear on the thin frail chest and listened. She heard silence. And the street in front of her suddenly became a silent moving picture. Cars passed by, without making a sound; when they stopped, they stood like mute statues; people walked down, moving hands, gesticulating, moving their lips. Buri heard not a sound. The deafening silence sounded like thunderclaps in her head. The baby girl was as limp as a wet rag. The stillness of death passed on from the little body to her skin, her heart, her entire being. She screamed out loud.

“My baby is dead! She is dead! Not sleeping! She is really dead. My baby is dead!!”

Her screams rent the busy rushing world around her. She howled, as tears streamed down her eyes. The cars did not stop. But people gathered around her. Gave her money. All of them. It was more than she usually earned in two weeks.

For once she did not have to act.

Pix from Net.

Professor Dr. Madhumita Ghosh is also a poet and editor. Her poems have been widely published in print, e-books, journals and magazines all over the world. She has authored four poetry books titled For All You Lovely People, Pebbles On The Shore, Flowing with the River and My Poetry My Voice, and also William Blake; A Prophet for Mankind, a critical study on the British poet. Madhumita has presently a novel and a book of short stories are in the pipeline.