Updated: December 28, 2015 4:25:59 am
The ink on her arm never dried as the rest of her body during an unseasonably chilly December fortnight. She couldn’t read her tattoo but it is what gave her a more dignified journey than others amongst the rats at Kurla railway station that nibbled off bits they wanted to.
The late Laxmibai Gadiwadar, of Wadar Chawl in Kurla West, home to many families from the disputed Belgaum District was the 92nd adult reported missing at Vinoba Bhave Nagar police station this year. For her family, unlike several others, the wait for the worst case scenario to be realised lasted barely a day.
The tattoo — ten numerals in green ink — gave the police officer who responded to the call that a “dead body” had been spotted Saturday – a lucky break. For a police force so dependent on cell phone numbers to begin investigations, the numbers on Laxmibai’s right forearm was no less than a godsend.
When dialled, Inspector Kashinath Chavan of the Kurla railway police station found that it belonged not to a family member but to Laxmibai’s employer.
For at least 20 years, Laxmibai had been cleaning drains all over Mumbai’s central and eastern suburbs every day. The hitch is, Laxmibai never went to school.
“Two years ago, she went to Kurla railway station to get the number tattooed on her hand. She still couldn’t read it, but it helped her contact her employer,” said Gangubai Nalawade, 50, her elder sister.
When she did not know if she has been chosen by the contractor to perform her duties on any given day, Laxmibai would ask strangers to dial the number on her arm or else go to a pay phone booth and ask the operator to make the call. “Then she would know where to go,” Gangubai said.
After a full day, Laxmibai usually walked into the one-room home at 5 pm carrying vegetables, the day’s earnings and an empty glass bottle of country liquor. “Then she would cook for us, even though she was very drunk,” said her nephew, Babu Nalawade, 29.
But they couldn’t get her to eat. “She used a small plate and filled it with a fistful of rice and a little vegetable or dal. That was it. Two times a day. If I told her to eat some more, she would swear at me,” Gangubai said, covering her face with her hands.
Laxmibai’s husband, Hanmanta Bandiwada, died of tuberculosis when their children Raju and Soni, were only babies. She had lived with her sister since then. Now, 20 and freshly bald, Raju wrapped himself in a bedsheet and lay on the lap of his grandmother. “Mereko chalne ki bhi himmat nahi hai (I don’t want have the strength to walk),” he croaked, red-eyed. Like their mother, the children too haven’t studied and while Raju also does daily wage work, Soni lives with an aunt in Mira Road.
The railway police are unsure about what caused Laxmibai’s death and her family even more uncertain of how she ended up at Kurla. In the accidental death register, the area where she had been decomposing, has been described very impersonally as lying 30 meters from the central line fast train track and between pillars 15/40 F and 15/41 A, on a railway track used sparsely and only by goods trains or service coaches. The stretch of track is abound in thick shrubbery and teeming with rats.
“If her body had lain near the local train tracks, it would have been discovered sooner,” Inspector Chavan said. For now, a post mortem examination at
J J Hospital is inconclusive, but it is plain to see that her right hand is missing and that her mouth is wide open in a toothless howl. “She lost her front two teeth many years ago,” Gangubai explained. Once before, Laxmibai had gone missing from home and didn’t return for a month. When she did, there were vague answers of having gone to Pune. Then too, just as now, the family looked for her everywhere.
On December 12, Gangubai recalls, her sister brought home Rs 300 and left home the next day at 9 am. “The last thing that we know is that she went to a liquor shop near Kalpana Talkies (Kurla West). The next day the police opened a bag at Rajawadi Hospital and when I saw her face, I cried. Yeh mari toh bhi aise?,” Gangubai said.
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