“Ammu, where are the stars?” asked Kanha walking with Amma.
“They have gone to sleep” Amma replied.
“But it is day time. The sun is out, how they can sleep?” asked Kanha again curiously.
“They sleep in the days, just like the Owls” Amma answered with a smile.
Amma and Kanha were walking towards their home from the school. Amma used to wait for Kanha at the doorsteps at lunch time for Kanha, and when the floating shape of Kanha appeared on the road, Amma used to rush towards him, and close him in her arms and plant kisses all over his face. Then Kanha and Amma used to walk together towards their home, Kanha telling Amma all about the day he has had.
Kanha and his mother lived in a rented house with two rooms. The rooms were dark with no window and electricity either, and they lived in the light of a small earthen lamp. It appeared like a sun in the morose room. His father owned a house and some property in his village but Amma sold the house and the property when his father was ill and moved to the city for better medical care. Kanha could hardly remember his father’s physiognomy. He was mere three years old when he departed the world as we know it. Yet Kanha knew a great deal about his father, constructing a personality from the plot of stories Amma used to tell.
After Baba’s death and even in his last days the responsibility of the whole family fell on Amma. She took a job as a maid in the nearby houses. She however only used to work whenever Kanha was at school. She hardly made enough from the job to support the family but insisted that Kanha will go to a private school instead of a public school and used to do odd jobs with alacrity to make enough money for that.
Amma had no one in the world except Kanha. He was her heart, her smile, and soul. To her, a world without Kanha didn’t exist. How can there be one? When Kanha was a small boy, he used to ask, “Amma, what does my name means, why have you named me Kanha?
Amma then used to sit with Kanha in her lap and tell him, “Kanha is the name of child lord Krishna”. She would tell him the story of Yashoda and Krishna and tell him about the adventures of lord Krishna. Every time she used to tell him a new story or at least the same story in a new way. Kanha always listened to Amma’s succulent stories with great interest and used to fire several questions towards Amma and Amma always tried to satisfy his curiosity.
Amma used to carry Kanha around all day and would never let him get out of her sight. But now Kanha could walk and he used to run hither and thither. Sometimes Kanha used to hide; he used to sneak behind her cover himself with her sari. Amma would know when he sneaked but she would let the game take its course for the sake of laughter and bliss that followed. Amma would pretend to have lost him and search all over the house and Kanha used to follow her behind her. Then she would sit and pretend to cry and all of the sudden Kanha would burst into laughter and would say, “You are so silly Ammo, I am right here”. Amma would turn back slowly and Kanha would peek through the sari like the moon peeking over the shoulder of the sea at the horizon. Then Amma would catch him in her hands and swing and rock him gently. Kanha would smile, giggle and burst into heartfelt laughter.
The livelihood was very difficult, with the limited income of Amma. After the daily expenses, the rent and the school fees, there was hardly any money left for food in the house. There were many nights in the course when the hearth remained cold for the night. But one way or another Amma always ensured that Kanha has enough to eat, even at her own expense. Even after so many years Amma thought that she and Kanha were still connected by that umbilical cord, they shared the same stomach, but this time it was the other way around. Just looking at Kanha eat, made her contempt, and so was the joy in her heart that she used to forget the pain of the crunching stomach. She would sleep with a satisfaction that not even a thousand chappatis would have given.
The small dark house was nothing short of a magical setting and the life of Amma and Kanha was like a fairy tale. They were like two wolves dancing in the moonlight which crept through the door.
Kanha was growing old and jumping into successive classes. His social circle was also pushing its boundaries and increasing. The life which earlier starts at Amma and ended at Amma, now had more subsets. Sometimes some relatively rich students used to taunt him about his appearance and made fun of his extreme poverty. Kanha would come home and tell this to Amma, and Amma will affectionately persuade him to ignore those taunts and would tell him that they are going to be rich once he studies hard and gets a good job. Kanha’s childish mind used to forget about school and the boys and the insult in Amma’s embrace. But with each passing taunt and insult, Kanha had grown more conscious of his dress and appearance and financial status. Certain inferiority has developed in him. One day coming from school, Amma saw Kanha running towards home. Amma came forward as usual to meet Kanha half ways.
“You seem quite happy today. What happened?” asked Amma.
“There is going to be a fancy dress competition in school.”
“What’s that?” asked Amma again.
“You are so silly Ammu; I need to dress like someone famous.”
“I need a new dress,” he said with excitement.
“What are you going to buy me?” asked Kanha pacing towards the house.
“I think it would be better to be a surprise,” Amma said with a smile.
For some days Kanha was noticing that Amma was wearing the same sari every day. Amma had two saris which she used to wear alternately. But the sari with the star-studded odhni was nowhere to be seen. The monotony of dressing was significant enough to notice but was too timid an issue to ask. Days went on, and the day of the fancy dress competition was approaching nearer. Three days before the competition Amma asked Kanha to close his eyes. Kanha tried to keep his eyes shut but was too excited to close them. He had to close his eyes with his hand.
“Here, here is your new dress,” Amma said with a smile.
“But that’s your sari, Ammo,” said Kanha
“No, I made it into a dress, you are going to be Kanha just as you are,” said Amma holding him in her hands.
Kanha said nothing and stood there but Amma pulled him towards her and kissed him on both his cheeks.
Next day Kanha packed his dress into his bag pack went on to the school, excited. In the lunch break teacher instructed everybody to display their costumes.
Everyone went one by one to the teacher. When it was Kanha’s turn, the teacher took the dress from his hands and thundered,
“What is this? This is not a proper dress.”
“I am going to be lord Krishna, My mother ma…….” said Kanha.
“This is old and weary and faded. Even the stitches are loose and it is patched also some places.” grinned the teacher.
“It will not be allowed in the school competition, don’t participate if you can’t afford a decent dress,” said the teacher with disgust.
“Go be Kanha at your own home” he taunted with a smirk.
Kanha wanted to weep and cry and run for he was insulted before all his friends, now everyone knew how poor he was, but he held his tears back and stood there, motionless. After the teacher commanded him to get lost, he collected his dress and went out like a walking stone.
Kanha came home with an expression of disgust, disgust on himself on his family and condition. Amma sat him down, caressed his hair and asked gently what was it? Why was he sad?
Kanha couldn’t take it anymore. All the embarrassment and the disgust found its way through his eyes and poured down in a stream of tears. He narrated the whole episode to Amma with tears and sobs. Amma tried to console him but all went in vain. The following days he refused to go to school and kept to himself. He was withdrawn and ate reluctantly. It had been several days since he had talked to Amma in more than a mono syllable. His eyes seemed red all the time, it seemed like he had cried his eyes dry.
The moon in their life was clouded behind the darkness of poverty and humiliation, and so were gone the dances of the wolves, all that remained was sad frightening howling.
Amma didn’t know what to do. She used to crouch and sob in the somber corner. Dark was her destiny and she had made her tryst with the darkness. She had had a dark poverty-ridden childhood. Her soul mate left her in this disheartening world alone, Now the only sunshine in her life was slowly going far away, a mere silhouette now and still fading, with each passing moment falling into the hands of darkness. She used to ruminate every instant what she did wrong and how her little child was crushed under these dark circumstances by this cruel dark world and the dark tears strode, tracing the contours of her cheeks.
Amma was aging quickly at this time. Her black hairs were turning gray prematurely. Her countenance was deprived of bliss, wrinkles appeared on her face. Kanha felt sorry for Amma but didn’t know what to do. He cursed himself for being so cruel to her.
One day Kanha saw Amma sobbing in the dark. He saw the shimmers of her tears in the fire of hearth. He reached for his bag and after sometime went and stood behind Amma.
“Ammo,” he said.
Amma instantly looked back. It was the first time in days when she had heard that word, ‘Ammo’. She saw Kanha in his competition costume standing beside her. The little stars of the dress were twinkling and above them, his face seemed like the moon in between the glittering stars.
“Won’t you sing your Kanha to sleep? Ammo”
Amma was still crying but she opened her arms. Kanha jumped in her lap. Kanha closed his eyes and Amma began rocking her moon in her lap.
“Like thy come every day to the songs of the crickets,
Come o’er dear Sleep, from the forest of slumbers………..”