Once upon a time there lived a poor family in the outskirts of the city of Ratlam. The family had four members; Manu, who was the only breadwinner of the family, and his wife, Vidhi, and their twelve years young daughter Riya and their newborn infant son, Shiva. The family lived under a hut made of dried grass, withered wooden and plastic materials found by Manu in his desperate urge to at least have a shelter for his poor family. Their family was so poor that they didn’t even have one meal a day. Manu was an illiterate man. He had lost his mother at a very young age and his father was a poor laborer just like him. His father had died due to typhoid a few years ago. Now Manu was a poor laborer wandering in the vicinity of the streets, looking for work which could earn him some money to feed his family.
As days passed in hunger and severe poverty, Manu became extremely desperate for a job, so he decided to move to the city where he knew a friend who might help him in getting work. He disclosed the news to his family and the next day they all packed the little stuff they had and thereby on foot started their journey to the city of Ratlam. When they reached Ratlam with some stream of hopes in their thoughts of having a better future, they mingled with the other families of the poor laborers. These families lived within huts by the side of a large road in the centre which was visited by many big trade vehicles carrying goods from here and there. Nearby there were colonies of people, and huge mansions of rich people too, but the remote area where these poor people lived was an isolated one, and half of it was surrounded with tall trees and dried grass and plants.
In one of those huts made of trash materials Manu started living with his family. With the help of his friend he did manage to get some work in one of the construction areas which was quite far away from where Manu lived. Every day, Riya, Manu’s daughter waited for her father to return from work with something to eat in his hands. One day he brought a single guava for her which was enough to make her feel happy. Another day, he brought a dry fast food packet in a polythene which was given to him by a woman whose wall he and his co-laborers repaired. But, not every day Manu could manage to bring things for his daughter. This didn’t disappoint Riya for she knew her family’s conditions well enough, moreover if she did feel sad sometimes, her mother was always there to remind her of their poor situations. “We must thank god for at least we can now have food once in a while. One must not get greedy,” says her mother who sits in a corner near the fire of wood, making chapatis. What greed was to this innocent young girl who didn’t even have proper clothes to live her body in, the mother doesn’t understand.
Unlike her mother, Riya neither finds solace in praying to God nor blaming her past-life sins for giving her a miserable life like this. Since she had shifted to this city, Riya had woken early in the morning to see the sun rising from its abode. The place to her was more beautiful than the older one. The difference being was the beautiful morning she could have in here. Every morning Riya would wake up under the twilight not knowing what the time is but knows it’s the morning when the birds will come out from their nests after kissing their babies, and then fly high chirping and singing through the blue skies of dawn. However, every bird will fly to the determined height, keeping with the capacity of their wings. The large trees and dried grass in the surroundings will stir slowly and slowly with the cool air of the early morning. There’ll be the sound of very few vehicles driving towards their routine work. All her family and neighbours, including her little brother who always cries his lungs out every now and then would be at peace, sleeping and breathing the cool air. Their hands would be covering their shoulders as the outcome of the cold air capering around their bodies.
This is the one and only cherishing time Riya have found in her life where her mind and body is at peace, listening and meditating within the dancing and singing of the natural surroundings where the birds are chirping, the insects are busy making their sounds, the wind breezing around making the leaves of the wild plants and trees stir, bringing solace to the dissatisfied, disappointed, and miserable mind of this unprivileged child, Riya. This was the time where Riya wanted to escape forever or say wanted this beautiful time to never pass and last long so that everyone around her would be in their deep sleep and dreamy thoughts and she would stay there, sitting over a large stone listening to the harmonized music of the nature, which for once lets her forget that she is a hungry poor child in a torn gray muddy frock who doesn’t have a single ray of hope for a better future. The least well her future could become by just having twice a meal a day! Just having enough food in her stomach would do, she thinks.
As soon as the soothing morning sleeps behind the blazing hot rays of the sun, Riya is back inside the hut, looking after her little brother and sometimes helping her mother with the chores. Sometimes she would play with the other girls of her age who are in the same condition as her, living their lives in extreme innocence and ignorance. And the rest of the day she will sleep with her empty stomach on the rough ground and waits for her father to return from his work.
One day, when Manu returned in the evening he found Riya trying to make chapatis with her mother. He called to Riya “Look what I have got for you, beti!” he said, happily. Riya ran excitedly to her father as soon as she heard his voice. Manu showed her a thing which looked like a metal black box and had a stick attached to it on the top to Riya. She stared at it curiously with dark black eyes. “What is it, baba?” she said to her father.
“It’s called a radio! You can play music in it whenever you want. My master gave it to me because he thought it’s quality was quite ruined, but when I played it alone, it worked so well. Come on, let’s play it together! I have never touched a thing like this before!” said an excited Manu whose childish innocence enlightened on seeing a radio.
So the three of them, Manu, his wife and Riya sat together on the ground with the radio kept within the centre of them. Riya clapped her hands excitedly and laughingly as Manu started to press his fingers on the small buttons of the radio. A very old song started to play from the radio and as soon as the music started Riya got up on her feet and jumped with happiness. This brought a smile on her parents’ face as finally after such a long time while dealing with poverty and hunger there had come happiness in their family with the arrival of the radio. Everyone including the neighbors came out of their huts and listened to the sound of the music coming from the radio. Manu was too grateful to his master for giving him the radio though the master did it only with the intention to get rid of the radio and not to give it to Manu.
The days went by with radio being the sole entertainer in Manu’s family. Manu listened to the old songs after he returned home from his work, his wife used the radio while she cooked food for the family, and Riya had replaced her morning ritual of listening to the sound of her natural surroundings from the songs which played over the radio. She daily carries the radio along with her in the morning and sits at one place, listening to the radio by her side with great devotion. In a week, music won a unique place in all their hearts for it helped them to keep away their thoughts of problems and worries and anxieties away from their minds for some time.
Finally the day came of which everyone was afraid of. The radio stopped working. It couldn’t play the songs anymore. Riya had burst herself into tears when she poked her fingers on the buttons of the radio but not a sound came from it. “It’s not working! It’s not working!” she cried to her father when he came back in the evening.
“I will sell it to someone. It’s nothing but a piece of trash now,” said Manu, sadly and hopelessly, looking at his wife. He took Riya in his arms and swept away her tears from her face, and whispered to her “Don’t cry, beti. Father will get a new radio for you someday.”
“When?” cried Riya in her childish voice.
“I said someday,” Manu replied, smilingly and kissed his daughter on her cheek. Behind them, her mother who sat turning the hot chapatis with her naked hands, hid her tears silently and stopped them from flowing.
The next day, Riya woke up in the morning to the sound of dogs barking which made her feel so depressed. There was going to be no radio support now, she thought and felt sad. She got up from the ground and walked out of the hut to go back to her morning ritual of listening to the birds singing in the twilight sky, watching the dance of the leaves of plants and trees rustling with the whisking cool breeze which also kissed Riya’s cheeks as though to sooth her face from the last night’s crying that made her face dry and pale. “So, this is where I escape!” she chuckles, sadly.