Moulding Minds
Magnificent India

Moulding Minds

Vijay Sanghvi

None of four could escape noticing a 45 year old man dressed in white at the entrance to the Burns Ward in JJ Hospital. They were led to the patient, Santu. Dr. Dastur examined her and expressed his satisfaction at her recovery. He was a known expert in plastic surgery and Dr. Kala Dave and Dr. Gina Sethna, as interns were with him. Amul Desai was part of the group on invitation from Dave who was intrigued by what they learnt from Santu who was brought to Hospital three weeks earlier with severe face burns. The fire was accidentally caused by a diya. The patient had been badly burnt with injuries to her face. she was in dire straits. Her earnings depended on sexual service to her customers.

Dr. Dastur operated on her face four times in three week to restore her beauty to the 45 year old but she refused to allow him to repair her left temple. She wanted to retain it to remind her to keep away from new adventures. Dr. Dave had even asked her how she will support her living in old age as she had spent all her savings on the education of her son in Rajpipla in Gujarat. Santu replied with a bewitching smile but no words.

Gradually Kala had been able to extract her story from her life in Rajpipla to her operations in the hospital. Santu was very good looking. In a small town fame spreads rapidly. She could see the leering glances when she cleaned the streets in the morning.

She did not want to give up her freedom after her marriage to Bharat Solanki of her Dalit caste as she turned 17. In two years she gave birth to her son Prakash. Her husband turned alcoholic and he was a burden to her. The only dream she had ever entertained in her young life was to become a great actress. She also knew unless she reached Bombay it was not possible to attain her dream. When her son was admitted to school, she handed over her son to her mother and took a train to Bombay the same night with her few possessions wrapped in a cloth. She had read films are made in studios but she had no clue how to reach any studio.

One day as she was standing outside the main entrance to Bombay Central station, a taxi driver approached her to gently ask her where she wanted to go? With relief on her face, she asked him to tell her how to reach RK studio. She had seen all the movies of Raj Kapoor and thought only he could make her a star. The driver was looking at a beautiful girl who dreamt of becoming a star. She was a God given gift to him for earn few hundred rupees. He promised to take her to Raj Kapoor. He also assured her she need not pay him any fare. He put her in the front seat and took her to a nice building in Sutar Galli. The third floor flat in a five story building was nice looking and a nicely dressed woman double her age welcomed them.

After talking with taxi driver, the woman asked Santu to take a bath and change and to be ready to welcome Raj Kapoor the same evening. She soon came out wearing a silk dress. She was invited to join the woman for lunch. That was her last memory for she spent a week in a dimly lit room with a bamboo mat and a pillow to rest. On the seventh day the woman introduced her to first customer. Santu was practical enough to understand where her dream had landed her. She was sure she would not be allowed to escape.

She convinced her warden of willingness to be partner only if she was allowed freedom of movement. She was given another flat and freedom in choice of customers. She always entertained with only a diya in her bedroom. In a freak accident her customer had upturned the diya to spread fire all around. The room was full of inflammable material. The fire spread furiously. Her customer could not escape death but she was rushed to JJ hospital in the nick of time.

As Dr. Dastur was leaving, the 50 year old Amul Desai accosted him and asked him to convince Santu to marry him. The doctor was surprised and asked “Do you know what she is? Amul said, “Not only I know what she was doing in Bombay for 15 years but also that she is Dalit woman and I am Anavil Brahmin. But she is great soul. I followed her each month to post office to see her sending money to her mother for the education of her son. If a woman can sell her body to educate her son and yet prefers to remain unknown to him, I am yet to find a nobler soul.”

He further added, “I went to Rajpipla and found her son and her mother are living in comfort with money received but son Umed does not know from where the money comes.”

Dr. Dastur nodded his head; all four went back to Santu and convinced her to adopt a new life as Amul was willing to adopt Umed as his son to free him from social stigma.

Santu asked Dilip to find out the reaction of her son. Three days later Santu was surprised to see a fifteen year boy walking into the ward with Amul’s hands on the shoulder of the young boy. Umed rushed to hug his mother and said, “Ma I have come to attend your marriage to Papa. What a great person you are Ma.”