Mangamma was ecstatic. She had received the prestigious “Best pourakarmika’ award from none other than the benevolent Lawrinse Lying and his compatriots. She felt that her lifetime dedication to her vocational calling had finally been recognized.
When she was called to give a speech, she could barely speak, in lieu of the emotions that affected her vocal cords.
“Friends’ she cried into the mike ‘from when I was a child, I felt this urge to be a pourakarmika. To sweep your dirt, to carry your feces, to mop your urine – these indeed were the compositions of my happy childhood dreams. What more can I, as a citizen of this nation, want? What better privilege? I worked hard to be the best pourakarmika and I can humbly say that I really do deserve this award. My most wonderful moment was when I read Bapuji’s words which said that my work is honorable. I tell my children everyday – education and food and water are not your path to salvation. Just be a good bhangi. Work hard at it, fine tune it to an art and you will have served your dharma.”
Hearing her words, the savarna audience clapped loudly. ‘Bravo” cried the brahmin, from his pollution free enclosure. “we are proud of you. You are a true citizen of the country. It is a rare bhangi who enjoys her work and takes pride in it. When you clean our feces, you fulfil your dharma. It is indeed a matter of pride to felicitate one such as you.” Thus saying, the brahmin wiped a tear from his eyes. He felt ennobled by the deeds of the bhangi. He thought to himself ‘ if only all of us would take such pride in our own allotted occupations. If I didn’t complain about my job of holding knowledge for the masses, I would be a better brahmin just as Mangamma is a better avarna than most other avarnas.”
Many of the savarna audience were moved to tears by Mangamma’s talk. They felt that it would have been a better country if there were more people like her, who would see the value in their jobs and understand that they fulfilled some larger purpose in their respective karmic locations.
Instead avarnas were trying to move out and occupy spaces that didn’t belong to them – some of them even wanted to study. The brahmins felt aghast at this breakdown of values that had been handed over from generations. They even felt fearful that some great calamity would overcome man (and woman as the case may be) if they did not quickly atone their ways. The award winning Mangamma would hopefully be a role model for future generations of her community.
“Pourakarmikas will have to play a lead role to keep elite residential areas clean. Pourakarmikas should understand what they are up against. They need to know what needs to be done and what their role in the entire process is. Mangamma is one pourakarmika who has received an award. We have developed several innovative projects to encourage a competitive streak among pourakarmikas to keep the streets clean.” said Mr. Murugesh of the Local residents association. He had been instrumental in instituting the award that Mangamma had just received.He felt that instilling a sense of pride in the pourakarmikas about the work they did, was the way forward to clear up the filth in the country.
Mangamma was given a good meal in the servant’s section and sent home. On the way back, she clutched her award close to her, as though afraid that it may be stolen. It was the symbol of her lifetime labour of love to her country. The award was a beautifully crafted piece of art. It showed a woman proudly holding a broom in one hand and a basket in the other. Her posture was however not so proud that it would stake a higher position than was her calling.
Today, Mangamma had asked the contractor for her salary. This was the third month that she hadn’t received her salary. He had smiled at her from a safe distance “Mangamma, get beyond these mundane things atleast on this special day’ he said ‘our bodies are here today and gone tomorrow. It is our work that gives us nobility’. Mangamma had nodded agreeably at him. She would ask her three children to skip dinner today. She was confident that the warm glow of pride that they would feel on seeing her award would make them forget animal urges such as hunger. She had exhausted her limits of taking a loan from her neighbours and the local pawn shop. She had to pay Rs. 6000/- for a meter failing which her water supply would be cut. She had to pay Rs. 2000/- for her older son’s fees and Rs. 1750/- for the younger one’s books. The middle one had dropped out because the social studies teacher kept trying to touch her on her groin every lunch break. She had to repair her leaking roof. The slum landlord wanted Rs. 3000/- and the police goonda wanted Rs. 1500/-. She owed her neighbor Lakshmama Rs. 800/- and the local pawn broker Rs. 600/-. Her ration card had been discontinued since 2 months as they had found that the address she had given didn’t match with their records. She would therefore need to keep some money aside from her imaginary budget for food. The kids had asked for soap as their teacher had said that madiga children should have a regular bath if they wanted to overcome the issue of untouchability that they faced because of their tradional caste occupation. She would have to steal some dettol when the contractor wasn’t looking.
As she waded through the garbage that had been dumped on the street, she saw the life size poster of the newly elected Prime minister and she touched her award to his feet symbolically. With his blessings, she felt renewed and energetic. She hurried home. She had so much work to do for the country. She had to sweep streets, remove excreta, dispose rotting carcasses of animals, clean the public toilets. “So much work and so little time” she sighed to herself as she clutched her lifetime award closer to her heart “If only my children would stop complaining so much and be less greedy. If only they could understand that we have a larger purpose in life beyond food, water, school and bath soaps. I hope that this award will be a constant reminder to me and my children of our duties towards our country and our people. Long long live our nation. Bharat mata ki jai”