Tuesday, 10 June 2008


As I swept the floor this morning, out from under a couch rolled a single orange bead.

It was a cheap plastic number but it set my mind back.

The bead was one of the sack-full of beads which were in Mr. Zacheus' 'store-front' home. A tiny room right on the main road of a neighbouring slum, where the door was a metal shutter that opened up or shut the street to the room and vice-versa. Mr Zacheus, wasting away on his bed, was looked after by his illiterate wife while his four children played around him.

The beads were a small way of making some money. The mother and kids would sit on the floor and string them. Cheap orange things. For each 'necklace' they would earn a few paisa. A day's work did not get them much. But it did get them something. And it meant they could do it in their little room - and when they wanted to. Paid by the piece.

On one of our last visited to this home, Mrs. Zacheus had given a few beads to Asha. The one that rolled out from underneath the cot must be one of the last survivors.

Where are you Mrs. Zacheus? You left in sorrow after your husband died. You went off to the village in far-off Uttar Pradesh saying you would return. But other after a few calls we have not heard from you. We pray for you - occasionally - and know that you will need medication for your own HIV disease - which will continue to eat away your health.

And what of the kids? How big they must be by now? Are you able to nurture them? What do they remember of their father? What do they remember of their early years in urban Thane? Who do they call themselves now?

Mr. Zacheus has gone to a better place. No platitudes here. Facts.

Mrs. Zacheus? Where has she gone? Is she still alive? Does anyone know?

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