That was the girl

The guests lined up to wish the couple, handed over small gifts, got photographed with the newly-weds and moved over for dinner. When my turn came to wish them, the bride’s father introduced me and told me, ‘This is the girl.’  We exchanged smiles and meaningful glances. No one would have noticed me blessing her twice and holding her hand a little longer. What was so special about her? It was an incident that happened when she was a kid.

About 20 years back, guests who had arrived at my friend’s house were all set to leave. Two taxis, to take them to the railway station, stood in front of the house while the luggage was being loaded. This girl, who was less than two years of age, played on the sand mound, which some building contractor had dumped near the compound wall. The hosts and the guests were engaged in exchanging pleasantries, which carried on for quite sometime.

The taxis finally left and everyone got back into the house. Someone asked as to where the child was and one of them went out to pick up the little one from the sand mound. The baby was not there! They searched inside the house, in the backyard, behind the furniture and all the places where a child could stray or hide. The child was nowhere to be seen.

They searched all along the road, in the neighbours’ houses and in the shops. No one had noticed a small child going about unescorted.The mother who, till now, was sure that the kid would have strayed into a neighbour’s house began to lose nerve. A complaint was lodged immediately at the police station. All India Radio was requested to make an announcement on the radio.

It was evening, a good eight hours since the kid was missing and still there was no trace. The mother became hysterical. All the words of courage the womenfolk gave to the mother had little or no effect. A doctor was called in to give her a sedative. Late in the night every one assembled in the house after a futile search. They decided to look for the baby again the next morning. No one had taken food.

A gloom had descended on the household. On the way back to his house on the dimly lit road, one youngster noticed a beggar woman carrying a blanket bundle awkwardly on her shoulders. In the darkness he could see two small legs protruding from the bundle. Under normal circumstances he would have ignored her but by now it had become a habit with him to look for anything resembling a baby. He went close to her and before he could ask her anything she started running. He chased her and grabbed the bundle from her only to find that it was this little girl! Later it was found that the woman was mentally unbalanced and was habituated in grabbing children from mothers.

After a sumptuous dinner at the wedding house I collected the cocoanut packet and stepped out. Just before getting into the car I looked back once again to catch a glimpse of the couple on the stage who were all smiles. I prayed for their happiness and drove back home.

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