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Shelter Within the Peanut Shells


A snooze gently passes through his veins. His mind slips out of the steering. Nap swings Sanooj's wife's head too in the front seat. Their car zigzags. It shatters a roadside wall into pieces. People rush to the spot from all sides. Soon a human fence takes its shape around the car. Sanooj and Chethana lie soaked in blood. His soul flutters. A death rattle echoes in her throat. A flashing red light nears. There is a police jeep also just behind.

"Children are safe in the back seat," a young man points out.

Sub Inspector of the Police breaks the glass and takes the children out. Sarova and her younger brother Menesh shudder with fright. They cannot move their tongues. The ambulance races with its siren wailing to Alpha, a nearby hospital.

Bulbs of memory blinks in the drawing room of Sarova's mind: her mom holds her wrist and helps her cut a cake; her dad takes snaps using a mobile phone camera; April 7th, "Happy Birthday to you, Sarova." Rhythm of rapture resonates within the walls of her heart. Her dad's smiling face slowly vanishes as lava of pain flows out of her eyes. She wipes it out quickly. She clutches Menesh's arm. They are now in a shed, their new shelter.

Sanooj was a clerk under the Education Department of the State. Office files squeezed the juice of life from him. But the words drizzling out of his wife's heart always refreshed him in the evenings. His children gave him back his lost childhood. Sheer joys were let loose during the holidays in the yard of the family. Life's beauty unfolded itself. But Sanooj feared the transience of beauty.

"My children study at Movement English School." Sanooj was puffed up with pride. Movement English School was a prestigious institute in the State. All the noble and the wealthy men sent their kids to this school. Sarova was a very brilliant and industrious student, whereas there was a hump of laziness on Menesh's back.

"Peanuts…peanuts…five rupees for a paper bowl," Sarova called out.

Sanooj was a government employee. He could work in one office only for five years. Then he would be transferred to another office in a distant place. His dream of building a house and settling at a particular place always shunned him. Sanooj and his family shifted from one rented house to another.

Now one week has passed since the demise of Sanooj and his better half. Their house owner's compassion runs out. He demands that the children take their belongings and vacate. He is twisting the knife in their wounds. He takes them to their uncle, who resides five kilometers away. Though they reach their uncle's home on the beach by an auto-rickshaw, a carriage like a tortoise, the uncle is unwilling to take a new burden on his shoulders.

"I've three daughters. I'm merely a coolie. What can I do?" He expresses his helplessness.

Luckily, a fisherman named Aryan, the uncle's neighbor, who seems rough-and-ready, is really the salt of the earth. He opens a shelter. "There's a vacant shed beside my hut. Let the children stay there." Its walls and roof are built of the thatched coconut palm leaves and bamboo poles.

Sarova and Menesh go to the shed, accompanied by Arayathi, the fisherman's wife. They sit on a mat inside. The children share the fisherman's kitchen. They get boiled rice and curry. Often they are satisfied with the rice porridge. Night freezes in silence. Sarova overhears the conversation between Arayan and his life partner.

"They're very obedient children. Oh, two years have passed! How swiftly the time runs!" Arayan says.

"Yes. They are growing up. Nothing to worry about Menesh. But what do you think of Sarova? She's a girl. She will grow up like an ash-gourd vine planted in wet sand," Arayathi says, letting fall her niggling worries. Sarova listens to their talk until she yields to sleep.

A new day rises from the ashes of the last night. Arayan comes near Sarova. His words leap out of his mouth without a veil of formality. "Sarova, you need not waste your time. I hope you will follow my advice."

"What do you want to say, Chacha?" Sarova calls him 'Chacha' with respect.

"So many people come to our beach. You can make some earnings by selling peanuts. It is a simple job."

She really wants to earn a crust, so she readily agrees. "Yes, Chacha, I can do that, she says. Her voice vibrates with energy.

Once she visited the beach, hanging on her mom's hand. She played with the waves. Her dad bought them yummy ice-cream and parched peanuts. They enjoyed the sunset.

A long row of casuarina trees stands like sentinels on the shore. There is a park for kids. A few wooden boats rest on the sugar sand. Fishermen spread net and catch fish in the distance. Sardines and mackerels are the common fishes. Whenever a fishing boat anchors the shore, a small crowd gathers for a noisy auction.

"Peanuts…peanuts…" Sarova's withered call haunts her parents in the dungeon of the grave. She walks holding a bamboo basket, which is full of parched peanuts. Her shawl flutters in the salty wind. Menesh follows the wake that her soft bare feet leave behind on the sand. Their hearts beat within the shelter of peanut shells.

Sister and brother float on the boundless shore, selling peanuts.