She commences her daily business of mending shoes outside the broken station under the shade of a peepal tree. Not many people disembark at the station. Those who go rarely return. Nobody noticed her and those who did, paid little attention. And why should they, she thought, after all she was an outcast, a chamaar.
She spreads her cloth, in tatters after five years of constant use. The pandit is the first to cross her path. He is a rather plump fellow with a janai around his chest and a saffron cloth printed with "Hey Ram". It marks his hereditary position as priest. She finds the way he holds his dhoti funny. As usual his pace becomes faster as he approaches her.
"Namaste panditji. Going to the mandir I suppose," she says, as if she didn't know.
"Ram, Ram, Ram. You stupid girl," he mutters with frustration clearly marked on his face. "How many times must I tell you not to speak to me. You have spoiled my day."
She laughs at this routine outburst.
The postmaster comes up from behind and remarks, "Panditji, why do you curse her everyday? All she does is greet you."
The holy one replies, "Listen postmaster, it is better you stay away from this and mind your own affairs. My knowledge gives me the right to judge what is wrong and what is not. You are merely a postman. What would you know about religion?"
"I may not know your holy ways, oh panditji, but I do know religion doesn't tell you to ostracise people," the postmaster says calmly.
The priest retorts something about the ignorance of those who don't even come to the temple as he walks away in a huff.
She thanks the postmaster silently in her mind. As the children approach wearing neat white uniforms and carrying their school bags, her heart aches to be among them. She wishes she could read and write, to one day be like the Doctor Memsahib who returned from the city.
"One day, when I grow big, I too will wear a white coat like her," she murmurs to herself.
She tries not to remember how the upper caste villagers beat her parents to death. Money had been stolen and her innocent parents had been found in the vicinity. She was barely seven years old at the time and since then she had been on her own.
Evening crept in. Another day had gone by without any earnings. As she turned the corner she bumped into someone. She asked for pardon without looking up and walked on.
A familiar voice yelled, "What have you done? Ram, Ram, Ram. You have made me impure. How dare you touch me?" The saffron clad pandit was furious and started abusing her, "You dalit, chamaar! I have to wash myself with milk because you have defiled me by your unholy contact."
A crowd gathered quickly and when they were done her tattered clothes were dirtier, her eyes swollen to mere slits and her stomach hurt. With great difficulty she gathered her belongings and walked to her hut on the outskirts of the village. She couldn't even cry as she groaned in pain. Her only solace was the radio. She hoped her life would get better, like the people on her favourite shows, a life that was free and happy.
By her sixteenth year she was still not used to the taunts, abuse and beatings. One month she missed her periods. She was horrified. She had overheard women talking about what that meant. She tried to hide the sign of new life as it grew in her. The milkman found out first, followed by the baniya and then the local mahajan. The news spread and her troubles increased.
People called her a whore and spat on her face. Soon the village Panchayat summoned her, demanding to know the truth.
Someone threw a stone at her from the crowd. She shouted in protest but her cries were drowned out by the angry voices of the mob. The Sarpanch asked everyone to be quiet. In the silence only her sobs could be heard. No one made at attempt to calm her, not even the postmaster. He stood there like a stone. The pleading in her eyes only reflected the helplessness in his.
"So tell me girl, whose child are you carrying?" the Sarpanch questioned.
Though her heart protested she brokenly said, "The panditji."
The mob became hysterical.
Was she certain, she was asked. With tears streaming down her face she replied, "Sarpanch, your community is without compassion and your beliefs are so rigid. I am an untouchable who has been abused by the most respected amongst you, the keeper of your religion, the pandit."
Uproar broke amongst the people but the Sarpanch called for her to continue.
"Why does everyone torment me? Can't a priest have dirty thoughts? Why is your hypocritical society so shocked?" she cried out.
The pandit was sent for. He arrived with his face covered with sweat as he clutched his rudraksh, which swayed in his trembling fingers. He was told of the girl's accusation.
"What? I could never do such a thing. Abuse a chamaar? Ram, Ram, Ram," he coughed out.
The Sarpanch, not surprisingly, thought the same. In view of public opinion he told her to leave the village immediately.
The next morning the milkman found the body of the pandit hanging from the peepal tree. He had left a note admitting to his crime.
By the time the villagers went looking for her she was miles away from the village. Perhaps she would be able to raise her child without it knowing the naked truth.