BREADWINNER AT EIGHT
I had engaged myself, from my seventh year onwards, in certain sundry jobs connected with weaving, out of school
hours. I assisted my Father in preparing the warp, and my mother in reeling off the yam. When schooling ended I started to weaving itself in earnest.
For weaving lungis (colored cloth of chequered patterns) only pit looms serve the purpose. The pit was shoulder high. If I got down into it, only my head was visible from ground level. So I stood on tiptoe and leaped up each time I had to pull the cord and manipulate the tape.
I was at first permitted to learn this only for a limited period each day. Even that was a concession, extended to another side, hidden from view, was the area where food was cooked and served to us.
My Father and my Mother were engaged in talk. That much could gather from where I was. As I turned around, I caught sight of my Mother mopping her tears with the loose end of her sari.
It proved too much for me!
I could not bear the sight!
Until that moment I had never seen my Mother in distress like that!
I climbed out of the pit of the loom, put on my clothes, went straight to where the two were standing and addressed my Mother, tears surging in my own eyes. “Why do you weep, Mother? Tell me, Mother, tell me!” I asked, clasping her legs with my arms.
Holding me in a tight embrace, my Mother said, “We moved earth and heaven with our penance, O my Darling, for securing you as our child. What a heinous sinner indeed I should be, unable to find a cup of broth to appease your hunger today!” With that, she burst out crying.
I too wept,
My Father, on his part, raised my right hand to his lips and kissed it, weeping all the time.
I could see that the two had been starving long. Their shrunk and shriveled abdomens bore witness to that. Just a few minutes sped by in silence like this.
Then my Mother set me down. “Look after the child, please for a while”, she said to my Father, and went out, with a small pewter jug in her hand.
Her return was quick. The jug was now full to the brim with the broth of millet meal. It would have been brought from the third house to our hut where some distant relatives lived.
“Look here, honey”, she said. “You take this now. This evening I shall start my cooking early, and give you rice to
I couldn’t bring myself to taste it in the mood I was in.
“I won’t unless you two eat first. How can I eat, Mother, when both of you are hungry?” I was obstinate. To pacify me, each took a tiny mouthful.
Then I put away what was destined to be an indelible memory for me all my life-the content of that small jug of
I sat next to them now and plied them with questions. “Why is it we don’t have any food?” I asked. How could they explain their poverty in words? Their answers were more or less evasive, meant to satisfy me for
the time being.
Thus it Was that I had an inkling that day of what it meant to be poor.
“What could I do to relieve my parents of want?” That was the trend of my thinking. I fixed my mind on that.
I made a discovery. If I work more, I shall be paid more. That will help me to wipe out poverty, I decided. At that time l knew only one art, that of weaving cloth by handloom.
I worked on my loom day and night. Soon, what others took two days to produce I could do in just one day and do it as well. Work. More work. That seemed to hold the key to my success.