“Social Beans” is a pleasant eatery that opened some one and a half years back near our house. We went there one evening, to have fish starters and lasagne (chicken). We found the owner, one of the partners who was running the place, a strapping young man with a warm smile. His name is Probir and he is from Arrah district from Bihar originally. He’d been several times to Ranchi, Probir said, bringing memories of Ranchi to my mind, thick and fast. After all, my growing years were spent there. I also was working in the city in CCL (Central Coalfields Limited) till I got married there itself.
It was the year 1966 and I was 9 years old in standard 4. There was some function in my school Loreto Convent, in which I had danced. By the time I packed my things and came out after the function, I realised I had missed my bus. In fact, most of the bus students had got into their respective buses and were gone. I found a classmate, Farzana, waiting for her car, who casually suggested that I take a rickshaw home. Now this girl’s house is near the school and she went home in a rickshaw sometimes. Cycle rickshaws run by men were a common scene in those days. I was quite oblivious of the fact that I lived about 12 to 13 kilometres away, far from the town and there were risks involved. I actually went and approached a rickshaw-wala. He could not make out where I wanted to go. I assured him that I will show him the way. Though reluctant at first, he finally agreed. My dress was a yellow zari border sari blouse and my school skirt.
Hopping on to the rick with my bags, we started off. The man asked me how far we would go, to which, of course, I could answer nothing concrete. We left the town area and went on to the long and lonely highway. Very few vehicles would be seen there in those days, Ranchi being such a small town comparatively. The poor man was sweating and panting and after a while stopped and got down to take a break. Till that distance, they would charge Rs. 4/- usually, he informed. I was alarmed to hear the figure!
Retrospectively, I must have made a pretty picture, sitting there all by myself, as I imagine today. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. In today’s date when we hear of so many instances of child abuse and rape, my scene at the time was all set for a crime to happen. My rickshaw-wala, however, was as good as gold and had no such evil intention in his mind. Here we were, midway to home on a lonely road with large green meadows on both sides, as lone witnesses. I sat patiently, till he chilled for a while, and then resumed the journey.
Finally home was in sight. Ma was anxious and worried till now, but was relieved to see me alive and well. When I told her how I came home, she was aghast. She shouted at the poor man: how did you do such a thing by listening to an unknowing child, to make this long and strenuous journey? The man left with his money, without further argument.
Everyone at home was waiting with bated breath for Baba to come, as he would be furious to hear the whole story. When he came home finally, we were surprised that he was only too happy to see me. He was not angry at all. “Sher ka bachcha sher hota hai!” he declared, to the utter disappointment of my sisters, who were looking forward to an ugly scene between us. Baba, wherever you are, I love you, for how you handled the situation that evening.