It happened in a place called Kazipet some 80 kilometers from Hyderabad. It’s a small town with a Catholic Church and a convent, a popular Christian Hospital and separate schools for girls and boys. all in a row.
Round the corner at the end of the dirt road was a popular Muslim saint’s Dargah. A lot many Hindu residents would worship at the Dargah during weddings and send their children to the Catholic School. The nuns in the hospital were famed for their loving care of patients. Religions nudged along in Kazipet without friction.
One summer day it rained incessantly – not a regular occurrence. The unpaved road was flooded, and though the rain had let up, people waded in ankle-deep muddy water on their way home from work. I was coaxing my reluctant bicycle through the slush when I heard a woman shout for help, I stopped.
I noticed a female head in a shock of greying bobbed hair above the rushing brown water in the roadside drain. She held on to a tree-trunk, he fat arms with a single gold bangle straining from drifting away in the current. She called for help, by turn, in English, Telugu and local Urdu which passed off for Hindi. All three dialects were spoken in Kazipet; the last two were easily understood by all while English was for Anglo-Indians who lived in the railway colony a couple of kilometres away and nuns who worked in the hospital or taught in the schools. The students in the engineering college nearby spoke another variation of English. We Air Force people who trained NCC cadets in the Engineering college spoke English with a smattering of expletives to balance the sentences.
A small crowd had collected around the woman’s bobbing head with bobbed hair, arguing among each other, but not making a move to rescue her. One asked in Hyderabadi Urdu, “Aunty-ji, how did you get in the khadda? Machi pakadtha, kya? Were you trying to catch fish?”. Others laughed. The woman spat.
I let drop my bicycle and bent over the pit, gave her a hand, then both hands and heaved her up.She was so heavy that I thought I sprained my back. A tree-trunk saved me from sliding down with chunks of mud that gave way.
Her clothes, which must have been white before she fell, were wet and brown. Thick chunks of mud crept down leisurely down her fat legs when she stood up with a slight hunch. Her pink skin showed through the streaks of mud and water.
You could see her teeth chattering, body shuddering as if from fear of death. Kazipet is never cold, and the rain had only cut a couple of degrees from the usual 38 to 40 in summer.
I gave her my handkerchief to wipe her face.
“Thank you, son,” she whispered in a voice that trembled. “I could have died there, but Jesus brought you along. None of these fools, all Hindus, or may be katuas, tried to help me. But you’re a good Christian.”
Katua was a derisive term you’d never expect a lady to use. It referred to Muslims who, it was well known, had a bit of their foreskin sliced off.
She sat down on her haunches, unmindful of the creamy water, her hands on her head, elbows resting on her shaking knees.
The woman, who should have been over sixty , looked up and said, full of pity and genuine concern. I had met her with her daughter at a ball that the Anglo_indians held at the railway colony. They had more girls than boys in the colony , so some of us from the Air Force got to be invited. I recalled that she introduced herself as Mrs. Frankson. Mr. Frankson was too drunk to introduce himself, and too embarrassing for his wife to introduce him.
“I am not a Christian, I’m a Hindu,” I said, more out of defiance than any special pride in the religion I was born into.
“Then you better become one. I will tell Brother Sala to help you. No matter how good you are, if Jesus can’t save you, you will go to hell.”
Brother Sala was a preacher I knew who was de-frocked from becoming Father Sala for the crime of fathering a couple of kids with a pretty Lambadi tribal woman and admitting it. The locals thought of the rolly-polly man with lots of admiration and some amusement.
“Push her back in that pit,” shouted one of the onlookers in that peculiar Nizam’s Urdu, He evidently understood what she had spoken in English, and his Hindu-pride looked wounded: “You’re going to hell anyways.”
The crowd laughed aloud.
I laughed and moved to pick up my bicycle. Alook of sheer terror spread on Mrs. Frankson’s face. She obviously believed I was going to push her back into the pit . She jumped up with a start and ran, her feet splashing water all around. You wouldn’t think , the way she ran, that she was old, heavy , just retrieved from the terror of drowning in muddy water, and clumsy in her wet clothes.
I heard that she went and told her folks how a terrible young Hindu was going to push her into the muddy pit and how Jesus saved her. There was no mention of the same young Hindu saving her from the pit.
The job of saving rested on a man who could not save himself two thousand years ago.
To my lonesome bachelor’s chagrin, I was never again invited to the Railway Colony dance.