"Papa used to wake up me when he came home every night and make me have milk and roti before I slept. I miss him very much," says Ashish, son of Harsh Bahadur Singh, a taxi driver who died in the Zaveri Bazar bomb blast on August 25, 2003.
Harsh Bahadur was the only earning member of his family. After him, his family fell on hard times. But his wife Sailkumari fought against the odds and decided to stay in Mumbai so that her children could finish their studies. This was her husband's dream.
Her elder son Vipin studies in Class XI at the Thakur college in Kandivli, northwestern Mumbai. Swapna and Ashish are in the sixth and fourth standard respectively at the Thakur Shyamnarayan High School. Their annual fee last year was paid by Jitendra Singh, a trustee of both institutions.
After Harsh Bahadur's death his parents asked Sailkumari to sell their one room shack in Mumbai and return to their village in Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh. But she decided to stay on, and called her younger brother from the village, to live with them.
"On the 25th of every month I remember my papa very much because that's the date he died," says Ashish.
"He loved Ashish very much," adds his mother, "Ashish is smart, confident and very good in studies. Many times we cried remembering his father but Ashish wouldn't. He used to tell us he also missed his papa very much, but didn't want to show his sorrow to anyone."
Since Vipin is in college, his mother bought him a set of clothes. "I only bought him clothes because he is in college and demands many things. Our economic condition is not good, so we have to make many compromises. It is very difficult to make the children understand this."
The government deposited Rs 170,000 as compensation in the post office after Harsh Bahadur's death, which Sailkumari will be entitled to after six years. The family receives Rs 1,133 as interest every month.
On the advice of some relatives, she borrowed some money and invested Rs 65,000 in repairing her husband's badly damaged taxi and rented it out to another driver. Every day, she gets Rs 200 from the taxi driver who has rented it.
Then there are the debts of the past. Sailkumari pays Rs 3,240 every month for the Rs 50,000 her husband borrowed for his sister's wedding two month before he died. In all, she has to repay Rs 77,760 in 24 months. A year's payment has been completed. Another long year remains ahead.
Sailkumari and her children have put their lives together and are moving on -- slowly. The compromises, they hope, will be over soon and better days will be here.
Ashish no longer has the luxury of drinking milk before going to bed. "We buy half a litre of milk every day for tea. We cannot afford more," says his mother.
Text and Photograph: Vijay Singh
Also See: Lest We Forget...