When Karma knocks the door of the hut he lives, it is already past midnight. It is late but he has brought some meals for his mother and siblings. His two younger sisters and baby brother looks excited. He hands his mother the two black plastic bags and goes to play with his siblings. His mother returns with food taken from the plastics and hands them over to the children. As the children take the plates, they run their eyes over the content of the food. There were rice, some fried dry beef, fried cheese and some big pieces of pork. As they eat, Karma’s mother looks at him. He immediately takes out some wet currency notes from his pocket and hands it over to her. She counts. It is one hundred and five ngultrum. “ You just got this much?” she squirms.
“There were lot of big boys today,” he says as if to apologize. His mother doesn’t say anything . She folds the money and inserts it in between the belt and her big belly and returns to the kitchen to bring back some biscuits and juices Karma had brought home.
As they sit down to relish, Karma tells them of the number of people who had come and visited the family of the deceased in the cremation ground. The story of crying of the relatives is a joke for them to imitate. Their interest were whether the dead person had rich relatives or poor and how many dead bodies had been cremated in a day. If the dead people were poor like them, there was nothing to be happy about it because Karma could not bring home anything.
Now people may wonder what did this little boy of twelve years do and why his family should be concerned when some people died? Karma and his friends scavenged the cremation grounds in a hope of getting anything from food, money, beer, vegetable, meat and even clothes. His father who worked as a security guard in one of the government offices had to quit when he could not attend duty in time. Even otherwise, there was nothing to cherish in his being a father because every time he came home, he would either beat their mother or the children. So the children dreaded him coming home. It was five months now and they had no news of their father and they didn’t bother to look for them either. They were happier without him.
Since his father never talked about sending him to school, he never showed any interest either. When he was around nine, he would go out with his friends looking for iron and metal scraps everywhere to sell. Whenever they were hungry, they would knock at the door of the nearest house and ask for food. If the occupant of the house they knocked were kind, they would get something to eat or else, they would go hungry until they could find some metals and sell it.
One day, when they were playing near the river, they happened to see some money floating towards them. Those who could swim, jumped into the strong current and took the money. It was a lucky day for them. Those weak ones like Karma went upstream hoping that there would be some money for him too along the bank of the river. It didn’t take long for him to realize where the money that his friend recovered came from. The relatives of those dead and cremated people threw money into the river amidst some religious rites with ashes and wishes. After that day, he didn’t have to look for metals. He just had to see if there were many people assembled in the cremation ground. If they were there, he just had to be there. The relatives of the deceased people fed them with good food and beverages and often sent them on errands to buy doma pani or other things.
However, not all people are generous. Karma ’s luck depended upon the generosity of person who took care of the stores and provision at the place of cremation and also of those who served people coming to pay condolences and his sibling’s luck depended upon him. His luck also depended upon other things too like the presence of other similar children like him who waited in expectation outside for people’s generosity. The presence of other older children meant that he very often had to fight with them.
It was always important that he takes home some money because his mother expected money from him to pay rent for run down hut and to buy other things. To get the money he had to wait until the last when ashes of the cremated people were thrown into the river with wishes and prayers. Most prayers and wishes are made by family and relatives with money inside the folded hands . It is believed that throwing of ashes into the river would complete reunion the departed soul with the original creative forces and therefore the act of throwing the ashes is important for the family and the relatives of the departed. However, it is important for people like Karma too because it is the only time they can get money. The cold water and strong current do not deter their focus. Few dozen children wait downstream to catch the money flowing towards them.
Most people who believes in drib, make a point that they do not enter their house without cleansing with sang and sur. And they would not take edible things for the family from the cremation ground but Karma and his friends’ families sustain on it. They grow there like the scavengers praying and wishing someone with wealth dies everyday. If astrologers forbid cremation of body during certain days because they consider it a bad day, it is a bad day for Karma because he cannot take home any money and food for his family.
Emotion is for people who lose their near ones but for Karma, he has forgotten how many people has come and gone except the death of one young man on whose death he got three five hundred notes in a day.