I Wash My Hand Off This Madness
It was a sunday afternoon back in my school days when my Dad asked me if I would like to go to a place nearby where he has some work. Who would have said no to that! The royal backseat of our (oh! Back then everything we had used to be ours not mine or Dad's) motorcycle, fresh air in countryside and if he was in a good mood then probably some roadside pakoras also. So without even thinking I nodded automatically. Within 5 minutes I was ready and we were out on the roads covered with eucaliptus flowers and wet smell of soil as it was begining of the rainy season.
After about 40 minutes our motorcycle left the pitch road and took an earthen road. Now the ride was getting tougher and I encircled my little arms around Dad's waist; there was coal piled here and there, even on the narrow path sometimes. By that time I had no idea from where these huge heaps of coal actually came. Oh finally we reached a strawshaded mud house, Dad and I stood in front of it and dad called out Bipin!! And a pitch black man emerged from that house and said, “Babu I am Manoj”
-where is Bipin?
-Oh you don't know Babu! He died last month.
-what happened?! There was clear shock in my dad's voice.
-What else! Kala chhati got him.
-how is your mother now? She must be in shock.
-weaps all day; yells and curses the Gods for not taking her instead of Dada.
-then you look after everybody?
-yes Babu, can you wait a bit; Bitiya! bring the mora for the babus!! let me have a bath otherwise chhota babu is getting scared of me.
The guy went inside; bought a gamchha, cotton towel, and went to the canalside. Now I had too many questions for my dad- why is this man so black?
-He is a good man. He works in the coaliary. It is the coal dust that was covering him; let him bathe and he will be like us.
-Baba, what is kala chhati?
-It is called black lungs; if coal dust gets into our lungs then our lungs get bad. Don't talk about it in front of him, he might be offended.
At this point a girl of my age came out with two moras(cane chair) and said “Babuji take yor seat”.
Dad asked her-
What is your name daughter?
-Binita; my Baba calls me Binni.
-Nice name, which class do you read in?
-I don't go to school uncle.
-Why? Matari Primary school is just near the big well.
-If I go to school then who will cook!
I was surprised beyond imaginations! This little girl can cook?! Must be all those burned rotis and dal with no salt!
My dad actually kept his mouth shut; may be in fear of disclosure of another death in front of me.
An well built dark young man approached and my dad started conversing with him in low voice.
On our returned path I started asking again:
-Baba, is coal dust gets into lungs then people should not work in caoliary?
-But someone has to work there?
-otherwise how will we get coal? How will we cook food?
-But we can cook food with wood also.
-how will we get electricity?
-Does it come from coal?
-yes in the plants.
-But if one works he dies!
-They are poor people, if they don't do it what will they eat?
It is a serious problem for me then, I paused my mouth for a second. Really, what can be done? If he does not work he cannot have money, if he does not have money what will he eat, if he can not eat he will die. If he works he will die also. Very perplexing mathematics. But then another question came in to my mind:
-Why did not that monoj un
cle come back from bathe? Is he afraid of you?(My Dad was a policeman huh!)
Dad loughed out load:
-HaHaHa, it was him I was talking to, you didn't recognize him. Haha, what a fool.
Years later I learnt what a power plant is, and how lavishly we consume power. But is it only the currency that we spend for thi
s comfort? Is my hand not stained for killing Binni's mother and uncle? Is there no way this eroson of human society be stopped? But at my flesh and blood I was trapped within this comfort and conveniance like the rest of our neighbours? Then I knew its only a bulb or a fan that Binni and their family needed: a gross power consumption of 200 watts where our house hold used 1000 watts. So we are not only killing them but doing so five times faster. Then someday I learned solar power can be the solution. It does not require coaliry workers to dig up coal; does not need oil spill over indian ocean killing many species, does not increases temperature of the planet. And oh, I forgot to mention; once installed its free: like free in both the ways- freedom and beer.
And even more years later I found a friend eager to leave this planet for Mars. Thank God he didn't qualify after a particular selection round because after that he was the one to start a start up solar power company after completing his PhD. Now I am proud of this person and tell myself in the mirror “I wash my hand off this madness of comfort at the price of other people's blood”.
PhD student at Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Kolkata.
Interested in Mass Education, Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living.
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