The streets of Ramapuram had imprints of Karneshwar’s small foot steps as he took the same path for the past 17 years without any change in the schedule. At height of 3’1”, commonly referred to as ‘chottu uncle’, his size did not stop him from doing things on his own. He always wore cotton shirt and pant above his stomach which was held by a belt designed by his Kontha tailor. The tuft of thick black hair was neatly combed with a partition. He was 34 years old but always showed enthusiasm of a child.
Early in the morning, he would carry his tiny umbrella and walk to Babu’s tea shop. Dusting the small seat to fit his size, he would place his umbrella on one side and pick the daily newspapers. He read the papers with lip sync and to detail that he could talk about any topic under the sun. His favourites were politics and sports; however, he had no one to listen to him. People at the tea shop initially mocked at the small man but as time flew, everyone learnt to mind their business just as he did.
After paying for the tea, he tucked the newspaper in his arms and made his way to the school. His miniature size invoked curiosity and interest but never any interaction from others. The only ones who talked to him freely were the children. This was the reason he taught in a school that stood in ruins in the far end of the village. The school had classes from LKG to fifth and he had taught almost every child who had entered the school.
The smile on Karneshwar’s face was always plastered and infectious. The children would listen to his feeble voice intently and nod at his every pause. He told them stories of bravery and world that was outside the village.
‘Can man fly, chottu uncle?’, a child asked making a shy face.
‘Of course’, he grinned and told them about aeroplanes.
He did not distinguish people even if they did. He smiled at them and greeted them with their names. Some heeded back while most ignored. This didn’t affect him; at least they did not throw their sympathies on him.
His lunch would always include Roti’s and different kinds of chutney. He rolled the Rotis with the chutney and cut them into small pieces. He would then distribute this to the school children who could not afford their own lunch.
It was a normal summer afternoon where dried leaves crunched on the weight of the people. Karneshwar, as usual, was on his way to the school after his morning ritual. Under the scorching sun, people had gathered near the newly dug up earth. The commotion seemed intense and people frowned with worry. Everyone’s attention seemed to focus towards the pit.
Karneshwar moved between the legs to reach to the front. He heard the wail of a child from the pit. The mother of the child was seated close to it crying her heart out. The mud was loose around the pit and fragments were slipping in if anyone took a step towards it, let alone move inside to save the child. It had already been more than hour and no steps to rescue the child were taken.
Everyone was talking frantically and discussing the impossibilities. One suggested that they wait for the rescue team but the roads to village were confusing and time consuming. Some consoled the mother of the worst consequences while other just scratched his head wondering.
But Karneshwar didn’t think much. Placing the umbrella down, he took a deep breathe. He tied the rope around his waist and nudged the man who held the other end. The crowd was in silence. He folded his crisp cotton pants upwards till his knees and gave thumbs up signal. The man with the rope told him the way he should do it. Karneshwar listened in silence and with a smile. The rope around the waist was tightened and he moved towards the pit. He prayed. The crowd prayed.
The rope was let down slowly into the pit. The mud slid and fell over both, Karneshwar and the child.The child began to sob profusely increasing the tension above the hole. Karneshwar was not able to hear the screams of the crowd. He cautiously moved down not wanting to hurt the child any more. When he reached the bottom , he patted and consoled the child. She was not older than 4 years and was breathing deeply due to lack of oxygen.
He noticed that at the end, there was no space in the hole to for both them together. He thought for a while and helped the child slowly on his shoulders. He tied the rope around her waist and tugged it. The villagers got the signal and pulled the rope carefully. As the child moved upwards, the mud began to seep inside. The crowd above was not aware that only the child was being pulled. In the end, they pulled the rope very strongly that all the mud seeped into the hole. When they thought it was the time to rejoice, did they realise that the rope was around child’s waist and Karneshwar was still in the pit. The pit was now filled with the sand. The child hugged the mother while everyone else was digging deep to save Karneshwar. After 15 mins of toil, they pulled him out by his hair. He was covered in mud and there was no sign of life. How much ever the villagers cried and shouted, Karneshwar was just fast asleep. His sleep was for eternal and the smile stuck on his face.