He loved the new bucket. It was made of stainless steel – by all means better than the plastic one he had had earlier – and shone like a freshly-minted coin.
“Like you know anything about stainless steel.” laughed his mother that morning. “Or wait,” her face grew serious, “don’t tell me you have been getting friendly with that precocious son of the dhobi again.”
“Of course not Ma.” he crossed his fingers behind his back. “I will take the kid with me today.”
The kid – Raju’s sister and rather small for her seven years – chose that very moment to squeal with joy. Raju was glad; the topic was changed. He couldn’t afford to give up his camaraderie with the dhobi’s son. The lucky boy actually went to school and had a brown uniform that his dhobi father washed every Sunday morning. It was courtesy him that he now knew all the letters of the English alphabet and also the English names of several household items.
His mother, rather happy about the proposition of a silent house, filled his new bucket with oil and red paste. Then went in the one who got them their livelihood – Shani Dev. He was deemed an angry God and one couldn’t do enough to keep his anger at bay. But for Raju and his family, he was a God in the real – and noble – interpretation of the term.
Ever since their alcoholic father had bidden goodbye to the world, Shani Dev had taken over and seated himself at the helm of things. Every Saturday, Raju went around the city with his bucket in hand. Traffic signals, shopping streets, restaurant doors, you name it. People usually parted with a fiver. The more generous souls invested in paper currency. Wives persuaded overly rational husbands and the husbands were only too pleased to get both a relieved mind and yet maintain an ‘oh-you-are-so-superstitious-stand’. No one after all, could dare face the wrath of Saturn.
By the end of the day, a perspiring Raju usually had a sum that would see them through the rest of the week. There were of course other ventures – his Mom went in to cook at some homes and he assisted at the Shani temple in the locality. There, he was the boy handing out oil packets to male devotees.
The kid stumbled on a stone and began to howl. Raju made a face. Business had been slow all morning – his target audience seemed to be in for a non-religious Saturday. Moreover, getting the kid along had been one bad idea. She had only garnered two bruises, a few what-a-menace stares from the people in a hotel he had stopped at and a comment about the ever procreating ‘poor people’. He sat down on the pavement – red brick, if you please. His new bucket sat beside him.
The dhobi’s son would now be doing his numbers. He would be writing in a notebook with a lead pencil. It cost, he had been told, a whole ten rupees. Raju’s house would be replete with mosquitoes. No matter what they did, the snobs living behind their slum never failed to litter and the mosquitoes never failed to multiply.
With the evening coming in fast, Raju stood up and decided to make his way back. There was no need to count his earnings – he could easily make out the sum through the translucent oil. The kid grunted; she was hungry. Eying the stainless steel bucket with mounting ferocity, Raju kicked with all his might. The pavement was canonized, bathed in holy oil.
His mother stayed up all night, praying for forgiveness from the God up in the heavens.