The Untouchable – The paper cup

Rani’s father died of cancer. It was the coldest winter she had ever seen. But being the eldest sibling present at the house she had to be responsible. People kept visiting her house, relatives, friends, neighbours, people from the village, neighbours from there and many more whom she did not even recognize. Like a robot she would place glasses filled with water and tea on the trays and keep walking to the living room and back to the kitchen. All of them spoke less about the well being of the family and more about the property of the family. Everyone had their eyes on the huge property.

This irritated Rani who was in no hope of finding any sympathetic ear, of finding anyone who could just sit and listen to their tears instead of inquiring about the property. Every relative had plans to take over the family responsibilities, off course financially. Some of them eyeing the property even asked her about her future plans and then talked about the qualities of their boys. She was so young. Hearing this she was getting frightened. She might not be able to complete her school. She had just turned 15.  “You must now get your girls married off quickly”, everyone said to her mother who was in no state to listen to anything. Some even inquired on how much dowry the family gave off on their eldest daughter’s marriage. Everyone was trying hard to convince her mother to consider their proposal.

Her father was a known man. He was a homeopathy doctor and cured many for free. He also owned huge properties at the village. Their Haveli was the biggest in the village; huge fields surrounded one side of it where mangoes were grown. This was just one small piece of land which they owned.

One day the new elected village Sarpanch came to visit the grieving family. The Sarpanch was an elderly man in his sixties and belonged to a “low” caste, an untouchable. Since he was now the Sarpanch of the village, the family did not object his visit.  The aunts were still uncomfortable. He sat outside the house.

Rani did not know him. As her routine, she filled the steel glass with water and poured tea in the china mugs. But before she could take it out her aunt came in and said,” Girl, why are you not using the paper glasses which are remaining after the “teravi”? Then we will not have to wash so many glasses. Isn’t it?” Rani then pulled a plastic bag from behind the fridge and replaced the china and steel glasses with the paper ones.

The aunt went back to the bedroom and Rani took the tray to the Sarpanch and got ready for another irritating enquiry about the property and her future plans. “He is the Sarpanch. He must have a longer list of bachelors than anyone else”, she thought.

The Sarpanch waved his hand conveying her to keep the tray down. He then said, “Child, how are you?” Rani looked at this strange man and tilted her neck conveying “fine”.

He then asked, “How is your mother dear? Is she fine? Do not hesitate to ask anything ever if you need anything from me” he said. “And don’t worry about anything back in the village. I’ll take care of everything. Nothing will happen. I won’t let anything happen. Your dad was a good man. We have had a great loss. I pray that he rest in peace and his family finds some strength after him”. Rani kept standing there.

He then held her hand and made her sit. “Speak child. Do you need anything?” Suddenly Rani started crying loudly leaning forward on her thighs. Her aunts came running from inside. The man then pulled her and held her palm tight till she calmed down. “It’s OK dear. The time is hard. But don’t worry. I am with you. Your mother is not in a state of mind to talk to anyone. The responsibility is on you. Pay attention to your studies. Be strong. Cry all you want to today.” Rani kept sobbing. Her aunts were uneasy.

The tea in the paper glass was untouched and got cold. Rani stood up and started moving to the kitchen to make some more tea but her aunt came rushing after her and shouted. “You stupid girl, go to the bathroom and have a bath first and then only go to the kitchen. Don’t you understand why we gave paper glass to this man?”

Rani understood. She went to the bathroom, locked the door, splashed some water on the floor but nothing on her and came out in changed clothes. She did not want the warmth to leave her so early. The cold tea in the paper glass was lying as is. The untouchable man was gone. One of the aunts shouted from the bedroom, “Someone please boil the tea and bring it to me. HE HAS NOT TOUCHED IT”.