A Girl Wth A Basket

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A Girl With A Basket

Written by -William C. Douglas

               I had left New Delhi for the Himalayas. I was going as far as (तक) Bareilly by train and then by car to Ranikhet-an old British army hill station located (स्थित) on a 6,000-foot ridge (किनारा) opposite (विपरीत/सामने) a 120-mile stretch (विस्तार) of snow capped (ढंके) Himalayas. The train was slow; and it stopped at all the way stations. At every stop I swung (घुमाकर) open the door of my compartment, and walked the platform.

                The platforms were packed (भरे थे) with people- Sikhs, Moslems, Hindus; soldiers, merchants (व्यापारी/सौदागर), priests (पुजारी), porters (कुली), beggars (भिखारी), hawkers (फेरीवाले). Almost everyone was barefoot and dressed in loose white garments. I would ask at least (कम से कम) three people before I could find one who spoke English. We would talk world affairs (मामले) and every major topic the news of the day produced. In this way I was trying to get a feel of the pulse (अच्छी तरह से परिचित होना) of the nation (लोगो की), checking opinion against official (आधिकारिक) attitudes (दृष्टिकोण) and reports.

               The route (रास्ता) lay (गया था) through (से होकर, के रास्ते) one of the richest (सबसे ज्यादा उपजाऊ) of India's agricultural (कृषि) areas (क्षेत्र). This was the plain (मैदान) of the upper Ganga River, a thousand feet above sea level but tropical (उष्णकटीबांधिए). The Ganga was brown (भूरी/मटमैला) silt (तलछट), swollen(उफनाई हुई) with flood waters, its overflow (बाढ़,सैलाब) inundating (प्लावित करते हुए) thousands of acres of rice. To the north were jungles great expanses of grass higher than a man's head and unbroken (निरंतर,लगातार) except for an occasional (छिट-पुट, यदा-कदा) clump of trees- the home of tigers, elephants, pythons (अजगर), and cobras (काला नाग). Everywhere else      there was flat land running to the horizon (क्षितिज). But dotted (चिन्हित, धब्बे दार) here and there by the sacred banyan tree of by rows of pakar trees. Shaped like elms (एम्स बृक्ष) and having thick      twisted (भींचे हुए,लपेटे हुए) trunks. Hot humid (नम) air was moving in from the south-west. Monkeys- some of them mothers with babies clinging (चिपकाये हुए) to them and riding underneath (पेट के नीचे) -swung off (झूल कर, लटक कर) trees at the stations looking for food. The villages we passed had walls made of mud mixed with water and cow-dung (गाय का गोबर). Their peaked (चोटी नुमा) roofs were thatched-bundles (घास की गट्टा, पुलिंदा) of grass tied to bamboo (बांस) poles stretched across the rafters (बंड़ेंर). That day the pumpkin (कद्दू) vines (लताएँ) that grew over them were in bloom (बिल्कुल हरी-भरी). Trailing streaks (धारियां) of yellow over drab (गन्दा, भद्दा) walls.

               At one station my routine (सिलसिला) of talking with the people was interrupted (बाधित हुआ) . As soon as (जैसे ही, ज्यों ही) I alighted (उतरा) a group of young children gathered (इकट्ठा हो गए) around me. they were selling basket- hand- woven (हाथ से बुनी), reed (कच्चा) baskets with simple designs (आकार-प्रकार) and patterns (तौर-तरीके). They held the baskets high, shouting words I did not know but conveying (व्यक्त करते हुए) unmistakably (साफ-साफ) their desire.

               These were refugee (शरणार्थी) children. When partition between India and Pakistan was decreed (घोंसित हुआ, फैसला सुनाया गया), hundreds of thousands (लाखों) of people pulled up (निकाल दिए गए, भगा दिए गए) their roots (जमीन) and changed their residences (निवास-स्थान). Nine million people left Pakistan and came to India, driven (की वजह से) by the fear of religious fanaticism (कट्टरता). They were poor people to start with; they were poorer as they began their long trek; for all they could carry was a bit of food and a few belongings (सामान). Soon they were out of food. A few days after they started, they began to fall by the way-side from the weakness of hunger and died where they fell.

               The children selling basket were sons and daughters of these refugees. They or their parents or relatives had gathered in the cities, setting up stalls (दुकान), manufacturing (उत्पादन करते हुए) simple articles (वस्तुएं), trying to make a living in markets already overcrowded (खचा-खच भीड़). They lived in cloth and grass sheds (छप्पर) that lined (पंक्ति बद्ध) the streets. The peasants (किसान) among these refugees, had been accustomed (आदी हो गए) to little all their lives for the annual (वार्षिक) income of an agricultural family does not exceed (ज्यादा होना) on an average one hundred dollars a year. The average unskilled (अकुशल) labourer makes thirty cents a day or less than two dollars a week. There is one meal a day - an onion, a piece of bread , a bowl of pulse (दाल) with milk , perhaps (शायद) a bit of goat cheese. No tea, no coffee, no fat (वसा), no sweets, no meat. One hundred dollars a year is not two dollars a week, yet even that small amount is hard to earn (कमाना) by selling baskets to people too poor to buy them. That no doubt is the reason these little children descended (टूट पड़े) on me like locusts (टिड्डियाँ). I an American, was doubtless (बेशक, निःसंदेह) the most promising (आशा जनक, भरोसेमंद) market they had seen.

               I bought one tiny (छोटी) basket for a few annas , another fruit basket for a bit more , a beautiful waste paper basket for a rupee, a lovely sewing (सिलाई की) basket for a rupee, a few fans for an anna or two a piece. My arms were filled and I had not spent fifty cents. The children passed in, shouting their wares (माल,सामान). I was a prisoner (कैदी) completely surrounded (घिरा हुआ), unable to move, The most diligent (मेहनती,परिश्रमी), aggressive (आक्रामक) vendor (विक्रेता) was a beautiful girl of nine right in front of me She had a lovely basket with handle; and she wanted a rupee and a half for it or about thirty cents, She was an earnest pleader (लगन से अपनी पक्ष रखने वाली), There were tears in her eyes. She pleaded (वकालत की) and begged (विनती की) in tones (आवाज) that would wring (द्रवित,विदित) any heart.

               My arms were full. I had no room (जगह), let along any need , for another basket. Balancing (व्यवस्थित करते हुए) my baskets and fans on my left arm, I reached (हाथ डाला) into my right coat pocket and got a handful (मुट्ठी भर) of change- perhaps fifteen cents in all- which I deposited (रख दिया) in the basket that the young girl held imploringly (विनय से) before me. I tried to explain that I could not buy the basket but extended (बढाया) the gratuity (उपहार, दान) as a substitute (के स्थान पर, स्थानापन्न). I realized (समझ गया) at once what offence (अपराध) I had given. This child of nine, dressed in rags (चीथड़े) and on the edge of starvation (भुखमरी) raised (उठाई) her chin, reached into the basket , and with all the pride (गरिमा) and graciousness (शान) of a lady handed the money back to me. There was only one thing I could do. I bought the basket . She wiped (पोंछी) her eyes, smiled and dashed down the platform, headed (के तरफ) for some grass hut that would have at least      thirty cents that night. I told this story to Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. I told him it was one reason I had fallen in love with India.

               The people I saw in India those in the villages as well as those in high office- have both pride and a lively (जीवंत) sense (भाव) of decency (सज्जनता, शराफत) and citizenship (नागरिकता) They also have a passion for independence. This beautiful child- born in squalor (गंदगी) and poverty, uneducated (अनभिज्ञ, अनजान) in both grammar and manners (तौर-तरीके, सलीका) had given me a glimpse (झलक) of the warm soul of India.