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At the Police Station


By Savitri Narayanan

Mitali tried hard to fall back to sleep. She tossed around, shut her eyes tight, repeated the multiplication tables but just couldn’t sleep!

‘What time would it be now?’ she wondered.

The room was dark but in the streetlight filtering through the cracked windows she could see Papaji and Maji in their bed with Tushar snuggling in between. Papaji was snoring mildly.

Try as she might, Mitali couldn’t sleep. Nor could she wish away the feeling of hollowness deep down in the abdomen.

‘Let me drink some water!’ she thought but didn’t feel like getting up. With her eyes tightly shut, Mitali chanted the prayers she knew and finally drifted to sleep.

Soon the eastern sky brightened and turned pinkish gold. The crows along with other birds got noisy to welcome the dawn. Mitali sat up.

‘Is it a holiday today?’ was the first thought that came to her mind.

In her school, the students got breakfast, too. At the double bell before the assembly bell, the children lined up at the kitchen window and received a glass of warm milk and multigrain biscuits.

“Nobody goes hungry in our school,” the headmaster often said, “The brain works only when the stomach is full!”

Maji, what day is today?” asked Mitali from the bathroom as she was brushing her teeth. If it was a week day, the thing to do was to take a shower get into the uniform and be off to school!

“Today is Sunday, no school, bitiya,” replied  Maji from the kitchen, “Tomorrow is also a holiday for Basant Panchmi!”

Mitali’s heart sank at the thought of another hungry day.

It was hard times for the Joshis. There were days when they almost starved! Ramnath Joshi was a labourer willing to do any work anywhere.  There were contractors who had taken charge of construction work or projects. In the mornings the labourers assembled and the contractors hired the required number, the rest went back home. For a while, Ramnath worked for Suresh uncle who was in charge of constructing a building complex near the highway. Early every morning, Ramnath left on his bicycle to come home late in the evening with his earnings. He also brought along bags of groceries and vegetables which he handed over to Maji. Mitali and Tushar rushed through  their homework as the sounds and smells from the kitchen promised a tasty dinner.

Things changed slowly. That project was over. Ramnath bicycled away in the morning but was back home soon as there was no work. Then he went out again in search of work but nothing came up. For the past three days, he had stayed at home.

“What’s the matter?” asked his wife Susheela.

“There are plenty of migrant labourers,” was the answer, “and many are younger and put in more work than I!”

“God is watching over us; something will come up!” said Susheela. Lost in thought she sat down for some time, got up with a sigh and went in to light the evening lamp.


Next morning, Papaji looked cheerful as he put on his work clothes and got ready to go.

“Ask your God to watch over,” he smiled at Susheela as he stepped out with his tool box, “Ramu kaka said there’s a new housing complex coming up near Arshu Bazaar; I’ll surely find work today!”

Then he patted Mitali’s cheeks, “Bitiya, I haven’t forgotten you deserve a treat; in the semester exams you topped the class, isn’t it? I’ll get some laddoos too!”

A sense of hope spread in the room at the thought of Ramnath coming home with money and food and even laddoos!

Soon Tushar woke up and walked into the kitchen.

“Maji, I’m hungry!” he said.

“Have this, bacchon,” said Susheela handing over a glass to each of them, “It’s black tea; milk was over yesterday and we’ve run out of sugar too!”

The children looked unhappy but with a warm smile Susheela held them close in a tight embrace, “You’ll love this tea, it’s sweetened with mother’s love!”

Mitali and Tushar stood there, glowing in their mother’s affection.

If it was a weekday, they would have showered, picked up their bags and gone to school where they would have got milk and biscuits. Soon the mid-day meal time would come when they got their fill of roti, dal, subji and a fruit. There was no question of going hungry! They could manage even without the dinner!

For that matter, over the past few days there was hardly any dinner except for the leftovers that Susheela brought home from the bungalow.

“Maji, tell the truth, are we really poor people?” asked Tushar as he sipped the black tea.

“Not really bacchon, we’re not poor,” said Susheela. “We own this house and we have some land, what we don’t have is cash!”

“Why?” asked Tushar. “Every evening Papaji used to buy fruits and vegetables on the way back home, what happened now?”

“Because the contractors prefer to hire the young migrant labourers,” explained Susheela, “They’re much younger and work harder; so, papaji is not finding work …”

“Why can’t we borrow money?” asked Tushar. “We’ve relatives, neighbours, friends – won’t somebody help us, Maji?”

“When Papaji finds work again we can return it!” Mitali agreed.

“You’re too young to understand! Asking for money is like begging, people look down upon us! They’re also afraid of losing their money as   they know that Papaji is not getting work…”

There was a touch of sadness as she continued, “I know you’re hungry and longing for parathas and pooris. That day will surely come soon but see what we’ll eat this morning!”

Susheela opened the kitchen cupboard and brought out something wrapped in a rug.

“Guess what’s inside?” she asked and slowly opened up the rug. It was a papaya!

“From our backyard,” she said with pride and cheer in her voice. “It’s turning yellowish, must be turning sweet too! It’s our nutritious, healthy breakfast!”

Susheela hummed a tune as she peeled and cut the papaya into pieces. She placed platefuls in front of them and said, “Thank God we’ve a home to live in and something to eat!”

Mitali and Tushar looked at each other and exchanged a question, ‘What’s she talking about when they grew hungrier! They hadn’t had a proper meal since Friday’s mid-day meal at the school!’

At the same time, there was something special about Maji – with her around one felt cheerful and hopeful!

Usually Susheela spent the day in the nearby bungalow taking care of two old women. They were sisters, had no children of their own so their niece had taken them in. She was the executive manager of some office and was away the whole day. Money was plenty. There was a cook, a maid and a gardener who did all the work at the bungalow. Susheela was paid to keep the elders company and generally keep an eye on them. In the evenings, Susheela often returned home with leftover food from the bungalow which turned to be a blessing for the Joshi family!

Susheela’s heart softened at the sight of her children sipping the black tea with no fuss.

“Cheer up children, we’re going somewhere!” she said as she rinsed and put away the glasses.


“To the police station!”

“Why, Maji? Why the police station?” asked Tushar.

“We didn’t commit any crime!” said Mitali, “We’ll go hungry but won’t steal!”

“Don’t be afraid; only the guilty are punished by the police,” Susheela reassured them. “We’re going to seek their help!”

“But why the police?” asked Tushar, his voice reflecting apprehension and anxiety.

“Well, they are there to protect the people,” said Susheela, and then continued to herself, “Keep knocking, a door will surely open!”

The children were excited as they opened the gate to the police station.


“Come in!” said Inspector Gaurav Mehra as there was a knock at the door.

“There’s someone who wants to meet you, Sir!” said the peon.

“Bring them in, Sahdev! What’s the matter?”

Sahdev was the peon at the Tikhapur police station for many years, while Inspector Gaurav had taken charge only a few months ago. Transferred from Delhi, Inspector Gaurav was still getting used to the ways of small towns and villages. He could sense the community bonding and the mutual support systems. He had already built a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian yet caring and approachable for the public.

“Sir, they’re reluctant to come in,” Sahdev was hesitant and respectful as he said, “It will be good if you could meet them outside.”

Inspector Gaurav put on his cap, picked up the baton and stepped outside. He was surprised to see a woman with two children waiting for him.

“Namaste, police sir!” said Mitali and Tushar. There was a mixture of curiosity, fear, excitement and respect as they looked up at the uniformed officer.

The inspector smiled and returned the greetings ruffling their hair before turning to Susheela with the question, “What happened, madam? What brings you to the police station?”

“We’re here seeking your help, sir,” said Susheela. “I don’t know where else to go!” A sob rose in her throat.

The children’s eyes were glued to the canteen.

“Come along, let’s sit down and talk”, he said heading towards the canteen. “I need to understand the facts, the truth!”

There was hardly anybody around except for a constable or two having tea at the far end. The canteen manager rushed to greet the inspector who returned the greeting.

Then he signaled at the children and told the manager, “Ganesh, we’ve important guests today! Give them a treat!”

Then he turned to the children with a wink,

“We, the policemen are so strong thanks to Ganesh uncle’s cooking! Go to that counter and eat as much as you can while I have a talk with your mother!”

The inspector listened attentively as Susheela narrated the delicate situation at home.

At the end of it he said, “Madam, on behalf of this police station I thank you for trusting and coming to us. We assure you of our help, from today nobody in your home will go hungry! We’ll find a way to make sure that the basic requirements are met – may be a way to pay the bills in your provision shop or something like that. Let me consult my staff!”

As if he could read her mind, the inspector said, “No, this is not a publicity affair, we are not looking for public approval. My staff, including myself, is paid to do our duty, which is to help and protect the public. Between 26 of us we could easily support your family.  We owe it to the community. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, the thing to do is find a way out!”

“Ganesh, pack some aloo parathas, for the children to carry home for their lunch, ok? And leave the bill with Sahdev!”

The Inspector glanced at his watch.

“Madam, once again thank you for trusting us! We’ll get back to you,” he said as he got up, picked up the baton and went on his rounds.