This incident happened nine years before, during a Holi.
I had recently taken charge as the District Magistrate/Collector in a remote district . Villagers stood in long queues to meet the DM and get their grievances redressed. The powers granted to the post being very significant, the poor and the needy travelled many miles -from far flung villages- to meet the officer holding the position.
There was a small ruckus outside, and I heard someone scolding a woman. ‘ Why do you come every single day? Your letter has already been forwarded,’ the chaprasi/ peon said; trying to stop a woman from moving ahead in the queue. When I enquired about the matter, a woman in advanced state of pregnancy was ushered into the room. She was dressed differently, with the dress and jewellery associated with nomadic tribes. The first thing she did, was to try to touch my feet.
A pregnant woman, bending down to touch my feet? I sat dumbstruck, scalded by that sight. I managed to get her seated by my side with some effort. She burst into tears as I asked her about her problem in my limited Hindi. In her peculiar dialect, she made me understand one thing: ‘ I do not want to give birth to another child, when my first one has been denied to me!’
She told me that every single day for the last few months, she had been travelling from her distant village to meet the officers with her plea. Her little son had been kidnapped.
I felt as if struck by lightning: who had kidnapped her first born? And how come no one understood the burning pain which made this woman- in the last stages of her pregnancy- travel thirty odd kilometres in rickety vehicles to meet the Powers-that-be? How come no one had bothered to listen to her till now?
The office clerk , in charge of grievances, referred his register and updated me on her case. Her application had been marked on such and such a date to the Circle officer in charge. More than thirty copies of the application, to be precise.
When I called up the police officer, he said that the woman belonged to a tribe which was notorious for indulging in bootlegging and thefts. Her husband was in jail in some theft case. The woman’s elder child, hardly three years old, had gone missing a few months before from her house. They were ‘ investigating’ the matter. No case had been filed as yet. And yes, all the marked applications were there in his office; as duly forwarded by the Collectorate staff.
‘ I know the man behind this. He is in jail with my husband. He had a tiff with him, and he got my son kidnapped. I know my child is in his village in Bihar.’ The woman sobbed out her story.
I asked the officer over phone whether he had ever bothered to talk to the mother. He had not.
‘ Madam, these are criminal tribes!’ He said, as if that should let the matters stay.
I lost my cool.
‘The mother who lost her child is a criminal in your eyes? How dare you say that? What relevance does her husband’s deeds have over her agony as a mother? You never even bothered to speak to her after thirty applications?’
I do not know to this day, what came over me- but with all the language skills I could manage, I told him that he should take this case as a personal priority and report the progress directly to me. His success and failure would have significant impact on his career. Well, at least that was what I tried to convey – in my grammatically wrong Hindi, empowered by outrage rather than diction.
I told the woman that she should not harm the unborn baby with her constant travels and that we should give some time for the officer to work out the case.
On the day of Holi, early morning, hardly three weeks later, I woke up to the Police Officer’s phone call from the landline.
‘ Madam, I have retrieved the child! He was in the village in Bihar. The woman was right. I went personally to trace him. Please talk to the mother. She is holding her son.’
I heard what sounded like laughter mixed with a heart rending cry, through the phone. A giggle of a child could also be heard.
‘ Thank you,’ she said, ‘ My blessings with you.’
I hugged my little girl, who was sleeping next to me, speechlessly.
I wrote a personal letter of appreciation for the good officer’s efforts.
When great danger has tried to trip me up, whenever harm has bared its nefarious teeth, from somewhere, would arrive protection. Always, always.
I was only doing my duty as an officer, but I know for sure that the mother had given me a shield/ kavach of her blessings. It has singlehandedly held back many poisoned arrows that came my way often, in my life journey.
If there is a lesson, it is this: never under estimate your power to do good. It will return thousand times, in a circle of blessing, to keep watch by your side. I can vouch for it from my life experiences.
This Holi, as I remember the past, amongst the colours, I can imagine an unseen child- of my young daughter’s age – enjoying Holi with a sister or brother. Anklets jingle nearby, colourful skirts twirl, as a laughing mother sprinkles colours over her children.
It is an honour to listen. It is an honour to serve. It is the greatest honour, to be blessed by grieving hearts.
In case the article comes out as a pride filled boasting of a braggadocio, I beg for forgiveness. It is actually a prayer of gratitude. That He chose me as his instrument at that point of time.