"He argued with the political party workers, and started abusing them. He shouted out that it was his right to earn an honest living. He said he had to work to feed his children, he did not grow fat with dirty bribes. He shouted out that he did not feast and build huge palaces with the public's money.
"They were out of their minds with rage, as he was shouting this out loudly, and people had collected to listen. They told the police to beat him up. The police enjoyed the task.
We wanted to carry him straight to the hospital, but he said he wanted to go home. He is in a bad way."
"He was right not to go to the hospital. Most of the doctors are absent because of the strike. There is such a huge crowd at the clinic."
"No one would have attended to him anyway, because the police would have threatened them and not allowed them to, in case the reporters saw what had been done to him." "Zarina! Zarina!" I screamed.
She had already pushed her way through the crowd. She stood, horrified, weeping and wringing her hands, then ran back home.
Karim was out on duty, and she immediately returned with a bowl of sweetened milk and an old heavily used bed sheet. We tore it into strips and bound up his wound after smearing it with turmeric.
One of the crowd of about a dozen men, who were still standing around sympathetically, brought a narrow plank which he used as a splint to bind Abdur Rehman's obviously broken arm.
My husband opened his eyes and looked with hatred at Zarina as both of us tried to drip some milk down his throat, but his gaze dimmed, and he seemed to sleep, or to have lapsed into unconsciousness.
"We've brought his rickshaw," said two more men entering now, "but those swine smashed it up with sticks and bricks. We are not sure it can be repaired now, or if it would be worth the expense."
Rashid had somehow got the news and rushed home, without as yet having earned anything. He started crying, then sat down on his father's bed, tucking in the blood-stained chadar on both sides and under his neck, and fanning away the flies with his hand.
"Amma, he is not so badly hurt, is he? Amma, say he will get well, Amma, won't he?"
"I do not know what is fated for him, or for us." I was too broken to try to hide the worst from the children.
Abdur Rehman was not responding to his fellow-drivers' repeated anxious queries.
"I shall hunt out those bastard policemen who did this to Abba, and kill each one of them."
"Don't you dare talk that way," I shouted at him terrified. Family feuds and acts of revenge by even little children are common among us. "What would I be able to do if you were also gone?"
Zarina brought over a young medical student, still in the third year of his M.B.B.S. studies.
He unrolled a clean professional bandage and substituted this for our ragged strips, causing acute pain to Abdur Rehman when he pulled off the cloth stuck to the still bleeding wound. He scoffed at the turmeric which, again causing agony to the injured man, he wiped off thoroughly before applying an antibiotic ointment. The arm, he diagnosed, was probably broken. Only an X-ray could tell. He said the rough-and-ready splint would do, till such time as we got a proper one from the hospital.
Thankfully, he charged nothing for his visit or services, and Zarina paid the cost of the ointment and the antibiotic tablets and the painkillers he prescribed. God will reward my sister. Everybody helped.
The naan seller, who like the other residents of our slum area had got the news, sent us free naan every day (generally one fresh, the rest unsold ones from the previous day.)
The other drivers and their wives brought whatever they could afford for our helpless family. Women as poor as ourselves sometimes brought over a bowl of yogurt, sometimes a bunch of black bananas.
They all pitied us, and shook their heads mournfully at the sight of my thin four month old baby.
He did not get any better. We watched him get thin and weak He did not seem to want to eat, almost, I used to imagine, as if he felt ashamed to eat off the earnings of his little child or the charity of strangers.
One day, when Rashid was tenderly placing under the useless arm a greasy pillow provided by a colleague, I saw him open his eyes and look long at his son, and a mist covered his eyes. He looked at me often, silently, with an expression that was mostly anxiety and an immense sadness. He never spoke, except, rarely, in monosyllables, in response to questions about his needs.
He died on a Friday, which people told me would send him straight to Heaven.
Karim was magnanimous enough to finance the funeral and untold accompanying expenses. My father and mother came over from their distant home, as did two dozen relatives. They had all to be fed and housed for two nights. The expense must have been colossal, by any standards.
They all went away, after wailing and weeping and dining and sleeping.
I huddled on the ground with my children, leaving unoccupied the cot on which the man had died. Later, I laid the baby on it.
"Oh, my God," I wept bitterly at night, "How are we now going to manage?"
The tyre shop had sent several messages for their little employee, but left off after finding out about his father's serious condition.
"Don't worry, Amma," consoled my six-year old son. "A boy who is my friend, and lives quite close to our shop told me that they pay six rupees a day to children at the textile factory, and it is very easy work. If you gave something to the assistant manager, he would give you a job."
My little Rashid worked from dawn to dusk, taking with him just a naan to eat, sometimes with a little yogurt. We were able to live.
Seven months later Rashid returned in the middle of the day, weeping as I had not seen him weep ever before.
To be continued...