Every now and then, city dwellers feel the need to get away from the pandemonium of their fast-paced lives and search out quiet spots to unwind.
Four of us did just that and booked ourselves into a guest house situated on the outskirts of a famous tourist city. The brochure had pictures of the place taken from different angles and it looked peaceful from each one of them. The name of the city and the guest house is irrelevant because there are many such places in India.
As it turned out, the brochure had not done justice to the guest house. The place was far more beautiful than we imagined. It was located 50 km from the city, atop a hill and overlooked a reservoir of water, which was bordered by more hills on the other side. Looking at the placid waters and hills in the distance, I felt like “Alice in a picture postcard”. The surrounding area had been developed into a terraced garden and was properly fenced in with barbed wire as a result of which stray animals were absent.
Having unpacked, we entered the garden to sit and sip some refreshing iced-tea. About half an hour later, we heard sounds of an auto rickshaw, which presently came into view as it laboured up the winding hill towards us. It stopped in the porch and a six-foot foreigner got out. After him, came a thin Indian teenage girl who barely reached his waist. They had no luggage. The man paid the driver who drove away. The pair went inside towards the reception and we turned back to our drinks. We were just about to go in for lunch when another auto came up and this time it brought a stout middle-aged Indian with another frail girl with him. They too disappeared inside.
It was only the four of us in the dining hall for lunch. We took a leisurely two hours to finish it. A nap was next on our agenda. As I put in the key to unlock my door, I saw another foreigner walking ahead of me in the corridor. He unlocked a room, three doors away. With him was a small Indian boy of about twelve. Things started falling into place and I realised that this guest house was a haven for paedophiles.
I was too disturbed to sleep and there was no television in the room to distract me from my uneasiness. I decided to go out and take a walk in the garden by myself. My friends were resting and I did not bother them. After two hours outside, I had made up my mind. I was going to shift from there to a hotel in the city. I informed my friends about my decision. They tried to talk me out of it. “This happens everywhere. Why are you reacting this way? It’s not as if by leaving you are going to be able to change anything?” were some of their arguments.
“You can stay on. I am leaving.”
Finally, it was agreed upon that we would all leave but, the next morning.
Dinner was a quiet affair. It was again the four of us. There was no sign of anyone else. We finished eating and decided to take a walk. It really was beautiful outside. But I could not enjoy it.
The sound of an auto made us stop. It was empty. Presently, the foreigner with the little boy came out of the guesthouse and the two of them sat in the vehicle, which took them away. I was reaching the end of my tether and I excused myself to go to my room.
The night was quiet. I stepped out onto the balcony. The huge mass of water could only be felt but not seen because of the darkness. Neither were the distant hills visible. It was eerie.
We had been told that wild elephants occupied the jungles around the hills. Suddenly a shrill screech reached me from the distance. The sound did not scare me. It was the sound of an animal free to express itself unlike the children who were taking being abused so quietly.
I remembered my sheltered childhood and a carefree teenage. The fairy stories wherein the princes and the princesses always lived happily ever after. The romantic novels with their tall, dark, handsome heroes wooing the virgin heroines.
That world seemed so distant. My mind went over the hue and cry over actresses giving kisses on the silver screen and the protests over item girls and their skimpy clothes and their gyrations. And here were countless children accepting a life of molestation without a murmur.
No one can hear the silent screams of these children because we have important issues like the romantic liaisons of the rich and famous to keep track of. We are a celebrity-struck, entertainment obsessed nation, which is so busy trying to keep up with the West that a large section of our society is left to fend for itself by any means that it can.
Progress, if not shared with all classes, ultimately gives rise to large groups of people who could corrode our society from inside. It is just the kind of neglect that has created the Naxalites and the Maoists.
The abuse of their women and children, the lack of employment opportunities, the lack of educational and medical facilities for their people has forced them to think of themselves as a separate group rather than as Indians.
Just as every part of the body is connected to the brain and pain in any one place disturbs the entire body, any section of people suffering will ultimately tell on the health of the nation. Protecting the borders and neglecting the interiors hardly appears to be a formula for success. Fighting infiltrating terrorists form across the borders and simultaneously creating rebellious radicals of our own could cost us very dearly in the coming years. The number of millionaires in our country may double soon but the increase in the number of people with no hope of a decent, respectable life is going to be exponential.
Children who are put through abuse to sustain their families cannot be expected to care for a country, which doesn’t give a damn about them!
Jyoti Jadwani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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