A better life for Sanjiva

A better life for Sanjiva

Mahesha was a permanent fixture in the apartment as an efficient 'car wash'.

Things never really got any better for Mahesha. I saw Mahesha for the first time on the day I was moving into my new apartment. His thin form bent double as he washed a behemoth of a Toyota sports utility van vigorously with a rag and soapy water.

Since the apartment building did not have the facility of basement parking,  residents parked their vehicles in the cemented yard around the compound.

Naturally the automobiles collected a lot of dust, leaves, flower-petals and bird-droppings on their roof tops in no time. So, Mahesha had become an indispensable fixture in the apartment complex as an efficient “car wash”.

No doubt a long plastic hosepipe would have added to Mahesha’s efficiency besides easing the strain on his reedy limbs, but soon I was to hear about the politics of cooperation among residents in such matters. Some of the apartment owners attached self-serving “riders” and “conditions” to their bit of contribution towards purchasing the hose.

As he pulled and pushed the vehicles this way and that way in the course of washing them, Mahesha gradually learnt the skill of driving them around. Soon, with his careful and quiet efficiency, he also became a good driver. This was a small advance from being a “car wash” to a “car driver”. Although self-taught, he kept all the rules on the road.

One of the resident families engaged him as their part-time driver. Soon, he could also take up a job as a regular driver for another office vehicle. But still the money he made was simply not enough to live with his wife Lakshmi and two-year-old son Sanjiva.

Emaciated as he was, the irregular hours of his life as a driver covered with heat and dust made him ill even before he was 30-years-old. He steadily lost weight but his loyal spirit remained the same as he turned up each day to work. His squeaky voice chatting with a friend who also worked in the apartment complex became a recognisable sound and remained a familiar part of the daily sounds of my apartment existence.

But there came a day when Mahesha did not appear on the premises to wash the cars. Several days went by and no news. The cars parked under the trees turned dirty with rotting flowers and bird droppings on them. One of Mahesha’s roomies went to his house to check.

A few mornings ago, as Mahesha was getting up he had suddenly collapsed on the bed. He had curled up like a corkscrew with acute stomach-pain and had been rushed to the hospital. The following appendix surgery was too much to bear for Mahesha. His weak muscle failed to recover with medication. The hospital bills mounted up to the ceiling. Mahesha gave up his life one afternoon.

Some of his fellow workers rallied ar-ound for help. A few of the residents for whom he had served “Man-Friday” willingly contributed to a fund that could be handed over to his wife Lakshmi. There was also a suggestion that the amount could be kept in a bank account in the name of his little toddler Sanjiva. The circle of Mahesha’s bitter life had ended when he was hardly 30!

Now, when I wake up in the mornings I miss the music playing on his transistor-radio. I don’t hear his squeaky voice telling the watchman why he left the village: “There are no jobs there and we don’t own any land. What could I do in such a place?” As for Lakshmi and Sanjiva, they could only go back to the village to live with her parents. Amidst all these ill-fortunes, can anyone dare to hope that there will be a better life for Sanjiva?

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