Author – Sanjeev
With the rhythm of the receding train diminishing gradually, as the fiery ember embellished at the back of the last compartment extinguishes, I find myself stranded alone at that devastatingly desolate station. On the whole only a tea stall is all that is there where the tickets are also sold along with the tea and the snacks. With the train leaving after putting out his oil-lamp he too has fallen asleep.
Darkness has drowned the whole world; not a single star in the sky. By lighting my flashlight on the name-slab of the station, I want to be sure of not having gotten down at the wrong station? Paanch Pahaarr (Five Hills)! Going by the name this should be it.
With the turning off of the flashlight, the moss of darkness attaches again. Quietly I start staring at the darkness. Gradually the eyes are getting accustomed. I feel a subtle awareness of the houses, the trees and the shrubs located a short distance away. In the flood of darkness at present all of them are submerged; also blinking like the cat’s eyes the hands of my watch which are indicating that it is four-o’clock.
From this flood, foremost twittering and chirping some birds come out, then the houses, the shops, the huts and the trails….! Rinsing in the crimson light of the rising sun I am inspecting each one – it is this one perhaps….perhaps that….or perhaps that one….!
But none! Then…? Here, except for the once in a while wandering lunatic noone knows any “Bijli sir,” nor any “Sudipta” or “Sudama Prasad.” The bus stand is small and the railway station too rather than being an actual station is merely a halt. The local train from which I got down here and except for one or two other neglected passenger trains of its kind, neither any decent train stops here nor any executive traveler. The halt is called “Paanch Pahaarr” and the region is also known by the same name, yet the actual “Paanch Pahaarr” toward the west of the halt surrounded by five hills, is flying like a monster-like black balloon.
Making a hole in this balloon the forest-department road has left after letting me in; also closing the gate of the clouds behind. Now all around me is a cordon of five hills. Five hills, as if five “Pandavas” living in disguise; in the middle an expanse of a lake accommodating the reflection of all five of them. Don’t know what name Sudipta would have given to this lake – “Kunti” or “Panchali!” Alongside the lake, dotted like the hair are the widespread trees and the shrubs and accompanying them like the embellished gemstones are one or two clay rooftops. This sequence does not continue up to much height. It appears as if the array of the clay rooftops and the trees is exhausted from climbing and climbing up the hills. The forms and the heights of the peaks above the assembly of the clouds are hazy. Perhaps seeing me come here they have somehow wrapped the clouds around themselves. In time the ten-o’clock sun is also enveloped by the clouds just like the mothers who hide their kids who were playing outdoors when the robbers, police or the thugs come. A powerful thunderbolt sounds and the seeping picturesque quietude of the clouds, the hills, the desertedness and the lake attacks, shouting at me. My frightened eyes once again get tired of circulating the clay rooftops, the trees and the hills. In this ensuing darkness like a firefly with folded wings, where are you hiding my friend?
“Soo-soo!” From the dark veil, what is this hissing sound coming out? All of a sudden, the far away trees appear to me like the jostling timid cattle. Is the storm going to come? With the perspective of a helpless observer, I want to fathom the dreadfulness of the whole atmosphere. In time, the storm takes the trees around me in its clutches as well.
“Chharar-chharar!” A rain of pebbles! Inside the circle of the hills the sighing breeze begins to circle round and round and balancing myself like a circus performer I climb up and up the slope toward the clay rooftops on an entangled rope like path.
Under my feet the muddy floodwater like dusty darkness is approaching and swallowing everything. Beneath there is a chilly touch and above there is a rain of pebbles. Losing my temper I look up and the little pyramids like clay rooftops hanging in semi- darkness laughingly mock at me and when I ask the address they with their locked locks indicate that I should continue my upward journey, up, more, still more. I move further. Don’t know, but it is possible that sometime one may find temples and rest houses on hill-tops too. I remember the story of Nirmal Verma – “The Crow and the Black Water.” Who knows, I may find the brother sitting there and practicing asceticism.
Further ahead the ascent is very difficult. Breathing hard I feel a throbbing pain in my whole body from the back of my neck to the feet. While walking I stop to gaze at the clouds that are touching me as they float past me. In front of me are the clouds and behind me is the dark gray mist. The valley is submerged in darkness, the lightning bolts are lashing like a whip and a ghost like voice is cooing intermittently as if some enormous cave is asking – where is this smell of human flesh coming from?
Ahead there indeed is a cave. In the valley the lightning thunders again illuminating the curtains of clouds. In that illuminating flash within a tiny moment I realize that the path actually ends right here – up until this cave. The thought of the pencil flashlight lying in my bag flashes before me. No sooner that I put it on I sense as if a huge rock is lying face down.
The place is fenced by placing stones next to each other. A wooden door is guarding the front exit! It could have been a cave or perhaps not but it is certain that someone lives here. And the very first house on this trip where there is no lock hanging on the front door. I just knock at the door first. When no sound comes from inside I push the door inward. I am bathed in a gust of cigarette smoke and a strange foul smell.
In the thin beam emanating from my flashlight as I was just cursorily glancing at the things inside the mysterious shelter I scream – “Eureka!”
Yes, this has to be his garbage pit – this wooden cot, scattered on the cot these wrinkled and unkempt clothes, creeping like insects on the floor the cigarette butts, burnt matchsticks, tiny bits of paper in the corner and on them his familiar zigzag and crisscrossed writing that by itself gives an introduction into the tensions in his life. It’s him, definitely him! But I can’t see him inside, then where the hell has he gone? Let me come out from inside, maybe he just wandered in the winds and is coming back? But no, it is not safe to stand outside. In whole of the valley a ghost show is going on. Like a pack of wolves wagging their tails, the wind is screaming. The clouds like the hen are flying and tricking each other and running hither and thither. Now there is an icy sensation in the slap of the pebbles – it is hailstorm perhaps; and rain too.
I walk inside and shut the door flap that was making a lot of noise. Complete darkness is suffocating. What can be the life of a flashlight! Soon I would have to incline on another support, but here in this cave can something really be found? The flashlight peeps within itself as if examining the bed made of pebbles and stones in the shallow water. Right behind my back a light flashes. Thank goodness! It is an oil-lamp; at the bottom a circle constructed of a tiny amount of oil merely for the namesake. Nevertheless, with a lighter I ignite it.
The wretchedness of the cave blooms like the Satan’s intestine – a little yellow, a little red, and a bit dark! The place where the lamp is placed that too is just a stone protruding out from the wall. It is as if someone from the crowd of human figures made of stone brought forward their palm in order to move the lamp to the front.
Taking the oil-lamp I walk around but I could find neither a book anywhere nor a box, or any other household item. Of course, there is an open packet of paper in one corner. However there is nothing inside it. This rough wooden cot, an ordinary looking
bed, two pairs of cheap kurta-pyjaama, an oil-lamp, an empty packet of paper and butts of extinguished cigarettes – merely this little accumulated wealth of a lifetime! It is hard to believe. Then…? Has he gone somewhere else? …But these leftover clothes…? Anyhow, his life has always been a riddle for friends like us.
Lighting up a cigarette and using the clothes as a makeshift pillow, exhausted, I fall flat on the cot. One or two puffs later I feel a bit of relief. We will be meeting after such a long time; don’t know if you have grown a beard or something. It would make it difficult for me to recognize you. I wasted so much time looking for you! Chaas, Tata, Dhanbad, Ranchi, Giridih, Dumka and N.T.P.C. of Dokri. I explored all those places that used to be the focus of your fondness, but where could I get you? – Here in the loneliness of this height and here too could you be completely alone…?
Fascination for the movement, the participation and then the ideological shift – I have seen all three of your stages. How I could have known that the path you were treading, slowly also leads toward such isolation! But today…today no excuses will work Sudipta! You will have to return with me again to the same point of departure, from where strand by strand you had started to scatter. In how many forms have we witnessed you! Many- many memories still remain in the mind. But when I churn all the memories, like bubbles the faces of crowd move toward the far corner; left behind is just that point, burning like a particle of radium where we had met for the first time.
“Sahuaa re sahuaa, hamrin ke dele bilvaay….”
That song on a hand-drum and a lute plays in my memory even today.
Many-many intellectuals and leaders of the movement were present there. “Sahuaa” later on molded into “Rajva,” “Saheba,” “Munsia” and “Mukhiya” – the layer over layer story of oppression. I had come for the coverage of a weekly named “Nazar.” After listening to the song and while looking for the singer I had collided with you – medium height, fair complexion, kurta-pyjaama and a thick khadi shawl.
“Your pen has an amazing power. Accept my congratulations!” I had said.
“Your introduction?” You had asked.
“I am Sameer – correspondent for the ‘Nazar’ magazine.”
“We need a few young journalists who can bring out the correct picture of the movement; in contrast to the buttery journalism of the powerful and the rich. The situation over here is….”
In the very first meeting I noticed you used to falter while speaking. It seemed that you were the reserved kind of creature, not really liberated – every moment busy in some reflection or the other, but also utterly self-loving.
“So then, will you come with me?” You asked the question as if returning within yourself and I was tagged along with you.
Yours was a carefree life. You never discussed anything about your family or dear ones, village, town etc. There used to be only two foci of your conversation – politics and literature! Gradually when the conversation steamed into full flow, from then onward you would even forget if the person before you were listening to you or not. To tell the truth, you did bore me at times. In actuality our missions were different. You were drawn to the kind of journalism that could give momentum to the movement and all that I wanted was spicy items that could be sold in the name of the revolution! And only in the search of our own goals we had arrived in the experimental territory of Hansda – Baghmundi.
“Actually the Parasnath mountain range itself has stretched up to here. There are bears in the jungle, tigers too. By the way, the tigers are not that big. The region Baghmundi got its name because of them. Can you see the peak? Its appearance is like the head of a tiger.” You were intentionally pushing me in a wonderland, “When the sight slips down from the summit then the yellow stripes of the whole valley fills the eyes – the yellow paddy of the fields and in between the black rows of yellow lentil on the trees, as if from here to there the tiger’s hide is spread out.”
Pausing a little you checked the effect of your description on my face and felt satisfied.
“Can you see that house? Guess what it is?”
You couldn’t control your laughter at my answer – “It is a school building – the knowledge of the alphabet is compulsory here for everyone, old or young, female or male. Now you may ask where these many teachers come from? So here the tutoring situation is that that whosoever has studied up to whichever level tutors anyone who hasn’t studied up to their level. Most teachers have studied only up to the first or the second level. To learn the alphabet this much is sufficient – isn’t it marvelous? ….You may have noticed one more thing, here no alcohol is sold,” without looking at me the stream of words continued to ooze out from your mouth. Arriving at a small mound you paused, “From this very spot for the first time the tom-tom for an alcohol ban was sounded. From that day, no one consumes any kind of liquor here.”
“Is it so!” my eyes were almost falling out from the sockets in amazement.
Walking ahead we again heard the sound of the tom-tom. I looked at you with curiosity, “What’s this?”
You heard the shout of some man and your eyes lit up, “I was waiting for this. That’s an announcement for the harvesting of the crop to begin. My motive of bringing you here on this occasion was so that you could witness all this with your own eyes.”
You took me to several houses of the tribal people. They were so poor that in the name of the garments all that they were wearing were tattered underwear with even the buttocks showing. Women somehow managed to cover their bodies. Children looked like paupers.
“Look closely at the real owners of the land of Baghmundi. How much does the government care for them!”
“So the crop actually doesn’t belong to them?” I had asked.
Up until, when in the evening in the ashram of Hansda, the boiled rice and the lentils along with mashed potato was served on the Sal leaves the elite inside me had already taken a good beating. After our supper lying down on the hot and sticky bed made of hay, you started telling me about the secret of the harvesting season. “The tribal people have two weak spots – their cultural outlook of looking at the forest and their tradition of festivals! Their culture which is centered round the forest doesn’t let them move toward development and the festivities keep them poor. From the small earthen pots they have to drink liquor and every festival has to be celebrated with full fervor after all. They maintain a safe distance from the modern education. The drinking addiction and lending out to the needy, money and grain on high interest rates, some clever men grabbed the lands of these tribal people. This is called the lehna tradition here. Hansda not only made the primary education compulsory and banned alcohol but he also asked the outsiders who had taken away the lands of the tribal people to return it to them. Why would they agree? They have the backing of the administration and the whole network of power centers – government employees, police and the thugs. After sowing the fields forcibly, now Hansda’s plan is that the crop be harvested by force…” You must have, who knows, talked about many other things but by then I had fallen asleep.
The next morning getting ready hurriedly, we reached the hill. On the boundary a big hand-drum was being beaten and from all directions carrying crossbows and arrows, axes and sickles, dark skinned poor tribal people – women, men, even children; there were one or two guns as well. Standing far away, few comparatively well-off looking people were staring. You told me, grabbing by force the lands of the tribal people, they were the moneylenders. However they did not dare to come close and by afternoon the entire crop was harvested and divided up and gulped in the cracks of the hills.
“It’s a miracle!” I yelled, “A tantric master blowing the mantra of life inside a tiger; will you not take me to meet him?”
“Hansda has actually already left for the other village. The police had come there.”
“Can’t they come here?” “If they come, they come!” You had said that in a very careless
Later the police did come. Arrests were also made but the revolution continued to spread. In my magazine and few other news dailies, I had written about the Hansda’s experiment. The editor himself had sent me specifically to interview Hansda and other such revolutionary leaders. I could not get hold of Hansda, instead you told me about the possibility of arranging a meeting with Manish.
He was a similar kind of creature like you. Leaving a well paid job of an engineer he had become part of the movement. Now he was a member of the legislative assembly; medium height, kurta-pyjaama, high power glasses on the eyes, wearing cheap slippers in the feet. His office in which he was sitting had a clay rooftop. No electricity. Though, yes, there was a phone. On the floor, a printed bedspread was spread on which women-men were sitting – sad, dejected faces. Manish turn by turn would call each one and lend ear to their sufferings. Most of the complaints involved the cruelty of the police and the contractors-land owners; some were related to their dislocation and employment. Then slowly he would give them advice or write something and hand it over to them – give this to that person, then let me know what happens. He noted down all the complaints in his diary. From time to time he would wipe the sweat on his forehead with his towel.
When you took me to meet him, looking from inside his glasses, he looked unhappy, “What will you do by printing my interview? If you do want to print something, why don’t you publish their problems?”
“Sir, all that would also go in the interview.” I used my reasoning to kill two birds with the same arrow.
“Come sometime later! For now these helpless people who have been waiting for long time, how can they be left unattended?”
I was disappointed. While returning I said to you, “Friend, this Manish is not a tribal himself!”
“Bless you! Until now you did not doubt me.” You had started giggling, “See Sameer, you want everything fast but things don’t happen so fast. Journalism is not like photography where a snap is clicked and the job’s done. To gain an understanding of the context one needs time and involvement. With respect to the Hansda’s experimental territory this was where you erred.
“What?” I was a bit surprised.
“The fact that there Hansda is made a hero and the context is missing.” I felt annoyed for some time after hearing your words. You sensed it. “Okay. Let’s get you an interview with Vijay Mahto.”
“You get me to interview Vijay (win) or Parajay (loss), please understand one thing Sudipta, professional magazine has certain requirements. Whatever comes, understand that it has come; if it doesn’t, understand it won’t.”
You were taken aback by my indifference. The lips opened to speak but once they were obstructed they never moved again. Perhaps you thought of me as innocent but I was the exact opposite and cunning compared to your simplicity. As soon as the thought of my work crossed my mind, I changed my direction. I knew if I wished to get in your good books I needed to agree with you and I did the same. After meeting you, from the standpoint of the news- value I collected a lot of stuff and the interviews of Manish and Vijay too; of course before serving adding spices to suit the taste.
At that time the center of your principal deity had also moved from Hansda and Manish to Vijay, “This is a computer. A computer! In this entire belt which piece of land belongs to whom, it has it all memorized. The bigger thing is that it is also a tribal just like Hansda.”
While telling me about Vijay you had brought me to Dokri where for the N.T.P.C. the government was confiscating the lands of the tribal people. Vijay was fighting for the compensation to be offered for the land – “Compensation otherwise employment, if not then leave Dokri.”
“This slogan seems to be given by you.”
“You feel as if all the names, all the slogans and all the literature is an ancestral property of we writers. And the people are just foolish.”
“Anyway, where is your Hansda and Manish nowadays?” “Why? They are on their respective fronts; where else?” “What is it in this front that you found it so special?”
“You know, Jharkhand is a treasure house of mineral resources. New industries are being setup, the footsteps of a new world. If the government sincerely gives them their right, in just one big leap so many goals would already get accomplished – but see the injustice meted out to the tribal people, on whose lands these factories are being erected, they are being totally deprived – they are not just stripped of their partnership in this wealth but also they are disconnected from their lands, the compensation too lands up in the pockets of the officers!”
Once again the same confused crowd, the same crossbows and arrows, spears, axes! In those days you never felt tired of telling me that because of Vijay’s help so many people got their compensations. The subject of employment or the big leap was forgotten by you.
This was the time of your hypnotization. You had finished your B.E. degree but you were so intoxicated by the movement that you didn’t pay any attention to getting a job. On three separate occasions you showed to me three miracles.
But the fourth time…? On the fourth occasion several miracles occurred all at once and on their own. Many years had crawled past during this time. Don’t know if according to your views the tribal people made any leap or not, however using those reports I definitely made a leap. Now I worked as the primary associate editor of the Swades magazine…and you? You too had come to Dokri to work in the National Thermal Power Station and your views had sunk a little.
“Your Madho Hansda, Vijay and Manish, how are they doing?” As soon as we met, I fired a question at you regarding your idols.
“They are on their respective fronts, in their own ways.”
“This ‘their own ways’ development, is it something recent?”
On being caught, you were so agitated, “Actually, I don’t have enough information.”
“It seems you have delinked yourself from the movement?”
You were silent for some time; then taking a deep breath you spoke, “One underground front, the struggle connected to the land, one constitutional, diplomatic and financial front which is external and the third, the cultural front. I weighed myself and found myself not in the first or the second front but the third front.”
“As you wish! You may prove that the egg came first or the hen came first! As far as I am concerned I find all the three fronts joined together.”
You had turned more serious now. Then as if trying to make yourself understand, you just spoke without pause, “I don’t know, different people flowing in the different streams of the movement, who strays when? Whose battery will die out or who will knock at the door of the freedom and who will open that diamond door. First of all these tribal people need to wake up, after waking up they should try to recognize themselves and others, friends and foes, then the path will automatically show up. I do not feel, like many others, that their fight for freedom is in any way any different from the fight of the other depressed class or the poor. On the cultural front this is the under-standing that I want to witness.”
“Anyway, tell me, how is the job of the writer going on?” I asked wanting to lighten up the serious talk.
“Would you ask everything right here and now? Change your clothes; freshen up. In the meantime I will check if there is any tea already prepared in the Pundit’s kitchen or if I will have to prepare it myself.”
“As I was walking back from the bathroom, I found in the room along with the two cups of tea, a tall man standing there, “This time sir if they favor their family members and friends by not availing the tribal reservation quota and instead exhausting the general quota we will not leave them, sir!”
By the time you managed to get rid of him, the tea was already cold. You spoke as if giving a clarification, “Kisan was from a noble family. They are always discriminated against. What should someone in his situation do?
Although you did warm up the tea again, as soon as you brought it out someone named Sadachari who was wearing saffron robes arrived. And on his arrival he started talking about the Christian missionaries and Father Kamil Bulke in an unkind manner, “Sir, please try to convince Manish; his leader Kishna has lost his mind. Lo! Wanting a separate state of Jharkhand is in whose favor – ultimately it will be the Christians who shall rule all of us.”
“Alright, I will tell him. Anything else, Mr. Sadachari?” “I have written a poem or two, sir!” “See, right now I have a friend who is visiting me…”
“Oh! Okay then I will come again, sir. Good bye! Good bye!” He greeted both of us, then as he was leaving he turned back, “And all these Communists are traitors as well, sir.”
I only stayed for a day with you in that visit and in those twenty four hours I met twenty four types of strange people. I couldn’t even say a proper goodbye. Someone called you at that time. As we turned back to look, we saw a man of around fifty years of age, copper colored skin, loose clothing and his face red with anger. He took you to one side and started walking alongside you. Dragging myself I followed. When at the bus-stop he finally left, he also left you with a new worm in your head.
“Sudipta! Do you even do your duty or…?” “What to say…!” “Who was he?”
“He was a member of the Marxist Communist Party. His name is Sukhmaya Babu.”
“Now what’s his problem?”
“There is a neighboring village Mejhiya – in that direction.” You pointed your finger in that direction, “There a woman was pronounced a witch and then she was killed by the tribal people.”
“You will be going?”
“But you were talking about restricting yourself only to the third front, don’t you?
“Don’t be stupid.” You scolded me, “Not just me, you should also come actually.”
“Me? Buddy, if I don’t go today then the new issue of the Swades magazine will not get published.” Then sprinkling cool water on your fiery looking eyes, I said, “This time please excuse me. Yes, do send me the report though.”
“For commercial exploitation…?”
The horn of the bus honked to save me and your voice had choked by then. How could have I told you that the very same day I had to interview some call girls, the news-value of which was much higher than this; also it being comparatively tastier.
Later, whenever I met you I found you from head to toe submerged in the movement. Neither could you pull me in your direction, nor could I. When I think about your entire life, I see you getting old on the same cot – a similar looking cot, when exhausted after reading and writing, you place your diary and the books in the recess next to you and turn the lights off to sleep.
All of a sudden, I remember the words that you wrote in your letter, “If I am not found then…” I look at the oil in the lamp and then decide to leave the idea of adjusting the flame. I switch on my pencil flashlight and begin to explore by disturbing the stones. Surprise! One of the stones is actually moving. I pull it out. From the inside, a bundle of white paper starts peeping. Out of curiosity when I take it out, like the wings of a bird the disordered sheets are scattered all around. Hurriedly I collect them all. In total there should have been forty six pages, which is indicated by the page number that is written on the sheets but there are many missing pages in between. So is this it – your creation…!
For one moment I was elated at my discovery, but the very next moment I felt irritated. After this frantic dance when you come back I will have a nice chat with you. Why did you choose such an insecure den to live in? It’s too much! You spent an entire life under the influence of an obsession.
If you wanted you could have become anything! Like myself an editor, a senior officer, a model householder with mother- father, wife-children, a good leader…but what did you choose – the life of a writer; and the subject of writing not something ordinary but revolution-themed. There is a bitter melon, and then there is a bitter melon climber climbing onto a Neem tree! In the beginning your poems and stories caused a stir. Then you wrote some revolution-themed plays. Then don’t know what happened, you just went into silence and even today you are silent.
Friend, I am amazed at the fact that a writer who is so loved by the people suddenly finds his own suffering so overwhelming and enticing that he chooses to go into solitude?…and the solitude too, not of an ordinary kind. I have begun to sense that you walk down just to fetch drinking water like the early men and rest of the whole day and the whole night you hide in your cavern. For the last five years what has been churning inside you – this nobody knows other than yourself. Whenever I tried to penetrate your outer shell you successfully deflected my advances; but today I have been able to make a hole in that secret. I will see now how you can escape.
I pull out the glasses from my bag and begin looking at the pages in a sequential manner. First page, first sentence…
“I do not understand from where should I begin, from Kali, from Mejhiya, from Mansa, from Gopal or from Hansda…?”
Next a name is scratched over so badly that it can’t be read. After that there is a horizontal line drawn at the bottom indicating that the actual beginning is from the bottom. This section could have been together or maybe not. A song is written in the margin but it is crossed. Anyway let’s begin from the next section –
“Good morning sir! Please bring some sweets. Whatever you have been wanting for all this time has finally happened!” The Pundit peon, with his one hand held up in greeting, the other hand threw a bundle of files on my table and an annoyance began to creep through my ears, nostrils and eyes straight to my brain. The tone in which the Pundit greeted me gave a weather forecast of what was going on in his head. When one is happy the greeting feels good. When one is irritated then it pricks like a thorn. Today the greeting sounded a bit twisted.
After a moment of silence, the Pundit carrying his injured ego turned his face toward the wall, “You ask as if you don’t know! Lo! All I wanted was a job of a peon for my nephew, I didn’t ask for the governorship; but nothing…snatched the bread from our mouth and gave it to the tribal people. You write stories and narrate incidents, if we go to hell so be it, ultimately only those people are going to benefit anyway. We are your and government’s step brothers anyway; they are your real brothers.” The Pundit was grumbling like moist dynamite.
“I can understand your suffering uncle!” I interrupted him in a low voice, “But you told me before that the vacancy fell in the reserved category, so your nephew legally speaking…”
“I know the laws, sir!” The Pundit’s neck straightened like a spring, “I feel exhausted after seeing it every time. ‘A candidate could not be found’ using this line how many recruitments are being made, please tell me…? You may say that the luck was not on my side and I stayed here, otherwise I would have shown how it can’t be done.”
I did not want to continue this conversation with the Pundit. Truly speaking, because of my friendliness people take advantage and utter in front of me whatever pops in their head; in this case the Pundit had an unhealed wound for which I had no medicine. To end the conversation midway I had to say, “Brother, see, in the interview board, you already know I was not there. I do not even know who was selected.”
“Kalicharan Kisku from the Mejhiya village.” The Pundit looked at me with partially closed eyes. “Kalicharan Kisku…Mejhiya” the words almost hammered on my consciousness. My eyes fell on the paper scrap and my hands went to the scar on my forehead as if a video cassette reel unwounded, back, back and still more – mountains, village, huts, buzzing voices slipping back rapidly, women, men, children – the stone coming out from Kalicharan’s hand and the drops of blood dripping from my forehead. It approximately happened five years back…
The story of Mejhiya had to be written in blood. Those were the initial days of my job. I was newly appointed on the post of an engineer at the National Thermal Power Corporation in Dokri. This was that place where at one time I participated in the struggle for the dislocated tribal people. What an irony; today I too found myself compelled to become a cog in the wheel of the same plant. Years back, there used to be two villages here with the names of “Dokri” and “Makra.” Someone just blew air from their mouth and they blew away. Where did those dislocated people go? Like floating dust particles people must have been dispersed here and there!
As the sun set, the plant shone like a majestic God realm filled with trees laden with various kinds of gemstones; its grandeur would fix itself at the eyelids and my eyes would stare at the darkness! In that sea of that vast darkness, during the day the glittering Mejhiya like one or two villages would ripple, in whose destiny there was not even a sliver of light. Their destiny was limited to the poisonous gases that emanated from the chimneys of the plant, and the poisoned water with the plant’s effluents flowing in the Mansa stream like a writhing Karate snake.
Ujjwal Roy was posted in the personnel department in those days. A progress oriented poet-friend and an officer with a Communist bent of mind, finding the company of Ujjwal healed my loneliness a little. For hours we would discuss about the movement, however before we could make any concrete plans, we heard about an unfortunate news that the people of the Mejhiya village pronounced one woman of the same village as a witch and then beat her to death.
Although my senior friend Sukhmaya Babu, a member of the Marxist Communist Party, had only secretly divulged this news to me, however by ten o‘clock this was already a common news. Because of the tribal-contact the label of disrepute had already been slapped on me. Now everyone who met me stared at me with naughty eyes, after all I was the one who was answerable for this shameful incident. In one sense I had been isolated. When I went to Ujjwal’s house I stood outside the door. Inside there was a discussion going on, on the same subject matter.
“So would you go to the Mejhiya village?” Someone asked.
“No.” This was Ujjwal’s voice.
“You are a poet, man!”
“When I write a poem, I put a lock on the door of my being an officer and when I am an officer then on the door of poetry…”
“Perhaps that’s the reason you are successful in both the fields!” “Perhaps not, I’m sure!” “And that Sudama Prasad, what does he write…”
“Sudipta?” “His brain is fractured. Hence his middle door is open. You will see mister; he shall neither become a successful officer nor a successful writer.”
“He will certainly go to the Mejhiya village!”
“And if he urges you to go along with him then…?”
I could not wait more. Opening the door I went inside. On seeing me, Ujjwal and his friends became attentive.
“Come Ujjwal. Let’s go to the Mejhiya village.” Without any introductory lines I found it more appropriate to come straight to the point.
“Today…?” “Sorry Sudipta, the senior manager has asked me to bring a file and report to him on an important policy matter involving the migrants – even more important than going to the Mejhiya village.”
I returned back just the way I had gone.
“A total of five men were present there – a member involved with the Jharkhand movement, a tribal boy from the neighboring village, Sukhmaya Babu and I as the fifth member. The Pundit who was with me even at that time, when he realized that I was a writer he gladly walked alongside me like my bodyguard. I was not at ease in his company, the reason being that it served like a victory celebration for him.
We walked past the posh area of the colony. Now we were walking on the rough stony surface. Like a pitiable handicapped, at the bottom of a mountain lay the Mejhiya village. From this shore of the Mansa stream, from that very spot where the police found the woman’s corpse we began our journey. The tribal boy told that the woman’s name was Mangri. Her house was little ahead from where she had managed to run to this spot, then…! We followed the path traversed by her backward and stood before her deserted hut. On seeing our group, filled with doubt the leftover villagers stood at the doors of their respective houses. Their dark faces had an expressionless flatness and their lips had an un-understandable silence! We were surprised that these helpless looking people could even kill someone. Slowly we went toward them; then I asked, “Where is your village head?”
“Who knows?” A slightly frightened woman replied.
“Did he not go to the police station?”
Sukhmaya Babu tried to inquire about the incident of beating Mangri Devi to death however the same un-understandable silence was the response!
I tried to explain it to them in a sympathetic manner, “Do not fear, we are not police. We just wish to know, what was the problem with that woman?”
The women and the children to whom we put forward this question were responding as if our talk was outside the ambit of their understanding, although we were at times talking in Hindi, in Bengali and sometimes in Santhali.
“See, Sivonga (the local deity) is watching everything. If you want to be saved from his wrath please do not tell lies!” Sukhmaya Babu played his card upon hearing which their heads dropped.
“So you killed her thinking that she was a witch?” A worker asked.
The response was the same silence. A boy lifted his eyes a little. It seemed as if he wanted to say something.
“You tell us…?” “We didn’t kill anyone.” “Then who…?”
Again the same silence greeted us. I realized the question should be fielded from a different angle, “How did you people come to realize that she was a witch?”
“She was a witch.” “Does she have any relative in this village?”
“No. She ate them all.” “Even the children…?” “Yes.” “That’s all.”
“Due to her presence there was disease. The calves died.” “Because of her?” “The exorcist said so.” “Do you think the exorcist knows everything?”
“He knows.” “Can’t even the police catch him?” “He would be released.”
“See, if after the death of that woman, calves don’t die and there is no disease then it’s alright, but if that is not the case then don’t you think that Sivonga will be angry with you for killing a woman from your own village?”
“If tomorrow the exorcist says that you too are a witch, then?” A worker asked an old lady.
“And if the people also kill you like they killed Magri Devi, then?” Amazing, their eyes were still expressionless.
We went there thinking that we would be able to generate public awareness against this evil tradition, but they were finding our talk unpalatable. All of a sudden the noise of “Hit-hit” filled the air and the villagers became violent. We somehow managed to escape and save our lives. While running away a black-skinned young man hurled a stone at me. It felt as if my forehead was chopped off.
The Pundit informed me that that man was named Kalicharan Kisku, and he was a strong disciple of the village exorcist Sudhir Murmu. That exorcist had actually instigated the villagers by calling that woman a witch – he was demanding three hundred rupees and a goat. On being provoked repeatedly by the Pundit I said to him, “Uncle, the fault doesn’t completely lie with them; didn’t we fail to win their trust?” I felt that the Pundit too was not able to understand what I tried to convey. What is this fog of non- acquaintance that had spread all around? The fog ended up becoming denser and on the same day when Sudhir Murmu was arrested by the police, our organization too split from Vijay and Manish Roy’s Red-flag Union to form an independent Jharkhand Workers Union.
“Do you remember, sir?”
Do you remember, sir? – It’s as if this sentence from the story begins to ask me the same question.
In my memory lane, the several year old forgotten sounds start to whistle like the wind. The masks of the various characters crack open. The colors start fading away. I begin to recognize each character and together with it the flowing, cooing and the rumbling outside noises have begun to ring inside me.
My body convulses and I get up. “So you have written your autobiography, Sudipta? But you…?” Anyway as I start reading the pages further I am not reading a story, but you are telling me your life-experience – in your hallmark tone…and with your fine transparent presence I can witness the incidents very clearly –
“Do you remember, sir?” The Pundit asked. “Yes.” “He is standing outside, should I call him?” “Call him.”
“And should I also get you a helmet, sir…?”
I did not give any response to his sarcastic remark. Kisku came inside. Along with a strong smell of the local liquor he greeted me with folded hands. I raised my eyes to check him out from head to toe – long dark face, medium height, body straight as a wire, each part of his body unrestrained, attentive eyes – as if searching for something on my forehead. Kalicharan was peeping from the window of the five year interval. I welcomed him with a smile, then wearing a mask of seriousness I said, “Shouldn’t we be sober in the office?”
Hearing a simple question while expecting a tough one, Kisku was taken aback a little which was clearly visible as he stammered, “Yes-yes, sir!”
“In future keep that in mind. Now go and get training from the Pundit uncle.”
“No!” the Pundit almost screamed; holding his ears he spoke, “Forgive Turf beneath the Feet / 27
me, sir! Please give me permission to leave. From today onward Kisku is your peon. Please you yourself train him.”
Why…you?” “I will be in Sinha Sir’s office.” “But why?”
“That depends on what the management wants!…And sir, if others feel frightened it can be fathomed, but being a tribal sympathetic writer yourself you can’t be frightened by a tribal man…? Win their trust, sir! Good bye!”
The good bye of the Pundit was mocking me. It all had to happen but with such rapid sequence of events without even my consultation was a tad surprising. It is true that I had written a very strong note to the personnel department about discontinuing the usual practice of converting the reserved category jobs into the general category jobs. But of all the tribal people they could only find Kalicharan Kisku? Then it was not just his appointment, but also transferring a wise peon like the Pundit and replacing him with Kisku? So was it that because of my sympathy for the tribal people, everyone had decided to teach me a lesson? On one side was their impotent apathy and on the other hand this insane Kisku. This was a straight challenge directed at my writing and my life. And I accepted the challenge. Later on, as the time passed I realized this challenge was not so easy. In reality Kisku was a young man with a primitive outlook and a free lifestyle. To be jailed in the cage of an office culture was not acceptable to him. Although gradually he was learning to do his job, at the same time he seemed to be honest as well, the problem was his drinking addiction and his uncivilized conduct, which he displayed outside, and this was no small issue. I still remembered the challenge and whenever from inside sharp painful feeling arose, disregarding the hierarchy at work I would call him and try to make him understand, “Kisku, you haven’t yet left drinking…? Why you are so adamant to earn me and for yourself disrepute…?” or, “See Kisku, you come from a society that for ages was neglected. Today whatever tiny sliver of light that has come to people like you because of the government’s kindness or any other source, you should make use of it to transform the life of the people in your society that you come from, but first you need to rid yourself of your bad habits! Why do you think that you are small? Do you know your history? Sidhu, Kanu, Choti Munda, Birsa Munda, Singi Dai, spread from Kaili Dai to Albert Ekka…” In a flurry of emotions I would speak for a long time but the deluge of emotions made no difference to the expressions on his stony face, only the light’s reflection from the stream blinked for sometime before disappearing on the surface. I would get drained out trying to call the human inside him but how can a stone say anything! …and as soon as I would release Kisku, the stone would begin to speak.
Where was the mistake being made…? Sometimes I found myself baffled – Is it his winner’s attitude because of that incident or is it the case that the gulf between us is coming between us? Whatever be the case, perhaps on our own levels we both were experiencing a strange and an obscure tension between us. After some time I felt annoyed at my own reasoning that I wove and then ultra-simplifying it I tried to bring it back on track. In a friendly manner I would ask him about his family, his village, Chota Buru peak and the Mansa stream. I further asked him if both of his kids go to school or if his wife ever stops him from consuming alcohol. This would make his mouth open like the bowl of a hookah. A giggle would bubble and his eyes brighten up. It made me feel that the stone was at last softening a little.
One fine day, when Kisku came I found his face a little tense. In response to my digging, in a sad voice he spoke up, as if a layer of the stone fell off, “Sir, government’s been really kind to us? …this is after all great kindness that for ages my forefathers who would go and fetch wood from the Sal jungle of Chota Buru, now my children and grandchildren will not be able to even get a toothpick?”
“If the forests are preserved, it will be beneficial for all of us; don’t you think?” Thinking of rubbing a soothing balm on his burn I said, “The strictness is perhaps because of this.”
“Huh, to save….and the contractor, the officer who cut down the jungle and load truck after truck, what about that….? What lies in the warehouse of Pritam Singh go and see for yourself.”
“You people can send a joint petition. I can write it for you; the clerk can type it…” I picked up my pen.
“How is that going to help?” He said in a skeptical voice.
I was disappointed, “Then what will help? Are you going to give birth to a revolution?”
“There is no need for a petition or a revolution, sir. You don’t worry. I Turf beneath the Feet / 29
will get this sorted out by the power of the mantras. The exorcist has taught me so many kinds of mantras that…” and from the cloth bag which he kept with him at all times, one by one he took out the items to show me, “What’s this?”
“Who knows!” “The nail of a tiger…and this one?” “A bone.”
“It is not an ordinary piece of bone. I will let you know but first tell me what is this?” As he was pulling out a third item, I scolded him, “Remove them from my desk and go and sit outside!” Insulted, Kisku began to carefully put the things back in his bag. I was disappointed at my outburst. I moved my compassionate eyes upon him – “These castles that you make in thin air is hardly going to be of any help, Kisku! Think, if this tantra and mantra had so much power why would be your guru rotting in a jail for so long? Go and take these files to Sinha Sir’s office. Stop. Don’t go inside…you are drunk. Give it to the Pundit; he can take them inside…understood?”
Without giving any reply, Kisku picked up the files and went out. After he had left, I felt an unknown kind of remorse. For the first time he had opened up a little and I strangled that arising possibility of a conversation with my own hands. Alright, when he returns I will try in some other way to deal with his dejection. But before Kisku could come back, Mr. Sinha phoned, “Mr. Prasad, can’t you mend your tribal son?” And pointing his gun at Kisku he started firing his bullets on all the tribal people. In the other phone conversations, my soft corner for the tribal people, the falling productivity of the plant, the activities of the unions and I don’t know what all I had to hear. I am sure the Pundit must have on purpose taken Kisku to Mr. Sinha’s chamber. I was irritated in my mind by the naivety of Kisku and the Pundits’ tricks. Kisku came back. This time I threatened to suspend him and then tried in various ways to bring some perspective in him. But Kisku was Kisku! Like always he looked the same, the same hookah bowl face, one half of which had sunshine peeping inside from the glass window with the other half shrouded in darkness.
Standing like a statue was Kisku and staring at the engravings of the paperweight, I was still thinking about him while maintaining a little distance from him. How many tribal student leaders and social workers used to come to my bungalow! There was so much eagerness in them trying to construct an identity! I wish Kisku may also have been one of them. In my head I was joining sentences – “Listen, today in the evening come to my bungalow, you will feel happy…!” But apparently I found taking refuge in the invisible road, a better option, “Listen, bring these files to my bungalow at six in the evening.”
Kisku brought the files and also fell in my trap, but instead of enjoying the gathering and participating in the discussion, he felt bored. Although on my signal, Philip and his students did try to bring him aboard, “Which village are you from? In your village, how is the land distributed among its inhabitants? How many of them work outside? How many of them are literate? What is their income and what is their lifestyle?” But everything continued to make Kisku feel out of place.
“Will you work in a play, Kalicharan?” A boy asked, “Your sir has written it.”
Kisku kept quiet.
“Oh, first at least narrate the story to Kali brother.” Someone else quipped.
“The story is set in a hilly tribal village, you can say Mejhiya. There, there are two lovers. Let’s say one is you and the other is your lover. The village is undeveloped in many ways. To fill their stomach people travel long distances to earn their livelihood. Sitting in a truck, your lover is also going. A brick contractor from Uttar Pradesh allured her to go and work with him. On hearing this you come running. Then you sing a song and try to convince your lover to not leave. She also sings a song and conveys her compulsion – with moist eyes. The two lovers are getting separated – who knows forever…”
I looked from the window of the next room, Kisku’s zest returned, “Who is the heroine and who is the villain? Apparently this was all very shallow but the boys balanced the situation, “The villain of course is the oppressive administration, I mean the contractors, behind them the brick factory owner, and behind him the government…as far as the heroine goes choose whoever you want.”
“Sheila Kerketta.” “Sheila…? That nurse who accompanies Kisan sometimes?” “Yes.”
“But would she be willing to work with you in a play?”
“I will tie her with the power of the mantra and bring her.” After this, Kisku found his track. He started proclaiming his great mantra power. I hadn’t seen Sheila before. Perhaps Kisku did bring Sheila with his mantra power, but that I only found out later. That day I didn’t know, in my absence, what all was going to happen.
I walked out carrying my suitcase. As had often happened, I found it appropriate to see the Pundit. The Pundit with his bare upper body and wearing a striped-underwear was sitting, roasting in anger.
“Pundit uncle!” It was as if he didn’t even listen to my greeting. “Did you receive any letter from your home?” Without uttering a word the Pundit just nodded his head in refusal.
How lonely was his life! His wife died very young. He was left childless. In trying to get his nephew the job one of his arguments was also that his nephew’s wife, if she started living in his house, would make him feel less lonely. Freeing himself from the kitchen duty, he could then devote more time to pray to God.
I had sympathy for the Pundit. When I put my hand on his shoulder, he turned his neck a little. Lo! The Pundit was weeping! I stood there for a while. I didn’t know what to say! The pain of dislocation and insecurity was felt by people like him and also the tribal people. Who was he who was playing with the fates of both these people? Who was making these cursed people fight? There was so much similarity between the scantily clad tribal people and the half-naked Pundit. Both were helpless and both did not know who their opponent was!
I peeped at the watch, it was getting late. I stammered, “Pundit uncle, I am going out for ten days.” I was just weighing the words that I was to further speak, when the Pundit mumbled, “What did you decide regarding my matter? …Should I look for some other house?”
“This is your house uncle!”
“So should I open my heart like Hanuman and show you my heart?” I jokingly said.
The Pundit, don’t know thinking what, got up. Then he forcibly took the suitcase from my hands and escorted me to the car.
“Take care!” I said.
“Please go without any worry.” Saying it, he saluted me and then closed the gate.
I remember it was Sunday when I left my eight day tour in the middle and was returning to my residence. From afar I had a feeling as if I was not going to my house but to a battleground. The battle lines were hazy, all that there was, was a loud noise that was rising from two corners and was colliding in the middle.
“Mangal Bhavan Amangal Haari,
Dravahun So Dasarath Ajir Bihari.”
From the Pundit’s quarter, the chapter from Ramcharitmanas was riding the microphone and overtaking some tribal song that was burning like the extra gas in the chimney. The very next moment this fireball was blunted in front of the other fireball that was coming in Chorus from my residence,
“Ho-ho-ho-ho tain Ladanyen, Koyek-koyek tain mokayen Hi re adivasi boyaha Mit ghav ho vadn pe godn lait.”
(I called you and I called again, I was tired of calling you again and again. In time, I was left disappointed. Even then O tribal brother, not even once did you listen to my scream.)
It was a strange and a violent contest. It was as if two groups of dancers were making use of the flame of their torch to burn the kerosene that they had filled in their mouths and then they were spraying out the flames on each other. I was standing like a homeless in my own house which had transformed into a battlefield of music. Suddenly the tribal song stopped. Perhaps the singers saw me. But why would Ramcharitmanas stop? Philip came out filled with anger. He didn’t utter a word. The tribal boys came out and without me asking anything started giving explanation, “Please see, sir, we were rehearsing our play when the Pundit started singing Ramayana. It was alright until that point but then he started using a microphone thus inciting a direct fight.”
“Alright I will talk to the Pundit about it. You guys please stop the rehearsal for now.”
The boys felt that this decision was one-sided. For some time they stood there feeling insulted, then they started collecting their belongings accompanied by hand gestures.
When the Pundit came, he had his own side of the story, “What did you tell me?”
“Did you forget? Oh. Now even deny that you had said that this house belonged to me?”
“Yes. I did say that.” “So can’t I even worship and say my prayers in my house?” “Who is stopping you?”
“Now you are asking who stops me. The people who stop me belong to your own gang. Like a helpless sage Vishwamitra I was just performing holy sacrifice, but these devils of yours Marich, Subahu and that Tadka were busy destroying the holy sacrifice.”
“Marich and Subahu I understand, but who is Tadka….?”
“Oh that nurse what’s her name….yes, Sheila Karkat. Look there.”
This was the first time when my eyes fell on the young lady who clad in white was walking back with the tribal group.
One by one they all went back. The bungalow where not so long ago the battle flag was flying, now had a graveyard like silence, which like a strong breeze was scattered by the Pundit’s intermittent recitation of Ramcharitmanas.
On the rhythm of time the storm of the suppressed nationality was starting to rise; sometimes far, sometimes nearby; sometimes small, sometimes big. The stones like Kisku still didn’t grow wings. Living in my bungalow and busy with my office work every day, I watched from my window the cyclones getting bigger and the axis slipping. The storm could start from anywhere and stop at any point! One day on an anonymous afternoon, I saw a white dove whirling in that cyclone. It seemed as if she herself controlled the speed of the wind. However this was my misconception. I brought my hand forward but she didn’t come along. After being hurled with pebbles, I again was caged within my limits. Sheila Kerketta! The sheet of time had almost split and like patches the days were being stitched together – discolored, dull and tasteless – sticky days!
Keeping aside the papers I am filled with disbelief – no Sudipta, no. Is the truth just this much? Agreed that being a writer, using the incidents you are allowed to construct stories and you may also tweak a few facts around but not when others are made to look like villains and you yourself along with your loved ones run scot-free. Don’t be so ruthless, Sudipta! In the end it is your autobiography. Why don’t you tell the truth that between the tussle of the Pundit and his group reciting Ramayana and the Jharkhand people singing their folk songs, there was one more tussle going on in your head?
You have written that you first saw Sheila only when the Pundit pointed her out. But the way I saw it – In that battle uproar as you were looking at both sides of the army, your eyes suddenly were fixed on Sheila. She even greeted you and after responding in a careless manner, you in a manner of a messiah tried to pacify both the sides. When all the people went away and your words were languishing in a graveyard silence, a new creation was taking birth. Should I tell…? Hiding inside your heart the white dove, or Sheila, she had come out gradually from the cage of your heart, from the cage to the grass in the front, from the grass to your room, from your room to your bed; she flew and kept changing seats. Slowly you followed her and tried catching her but she would fly away.
You could say that this is the language of poetry…but what about your language? You can’t, by spreading the mist of images and symbols, cover up the reality, Sudipta!
Many pages from this point are missing. You still haven’t rid yourself from the habit of covering your own weaknesses and of your near and dear ones. But this is not an incident related to Hansda, Vijay or Manish. This is Sheila; I have been a witness to it. In fact even though I was there as a witness you erased my name for your convenience? But brother Sudipta, you haven’t been able to hide your theft from me? Should I say it…?
Even on that day, you were not able to open up because of my presence. You definitely were remorseful for the tribal people who felt insulted and left out, but you were remorseful for one more thing, in which unaffected by the Pundit’s hoarse Manas recitation, you were strolling from one room to the other to the drawing room in a distressed manner – “I feel sorry, this happened in front of you…the whole mood got ruined…in reality the conflict here is between two cultures, two worlds. They could have complimented and helped each other but unfortunately they are made to stand on opposite sides.” You were speaking the same words, but from where they coming?
“Leave it, friend! Please tell me when are you planning to get married?” I teased you.
I took off my shoes and had lain down on my bed, “Meanwhile you have covered the journey from a cot to a bed. Perhaps when you arrived in your new dwelling you automatically got this luxury. But you see – this is a double-bed?”
“No; please think, where are the tribal people at fault? Helpless and insulted they still left. But these non-tribal people…!”
“Should I ask one thing, Sudipta? Why do you always speak from the manufactured heights of being a messiah? Why don’t you come down to the ground level?” You looked at me with exasperation. To lighten up the atmosphere, I said in a shallow manner, “I want a piece of your story and one piece of my sister- in-law’s. The story should be fresh…sister-in-law can be stale.”
You had smiled half-heartedly.
“I knew, like always you will remain dumb. For last two years you haven’t written even a single story.”
“I am myself living a story.”
“Are you living a story or acting in a play? Oh, by the way what is the name of that play?”
“Oh the same, which is centered on the theme of tribal exploitation and their migration. Its rehearsal is also going on?”
“Des-Pardes (My country – Foreign country)!”
“Yes, Des-Pardes…why don’t you give this itself for our magazine.”
“Take it…but I have just one copy of the script and that is with them…”
“Let’s do this – you stay till the stage show, in the meantime because it is being rehearsed continuously for the final stage test any chinks should also get ironed out.” You spoke with a childlike enthusiasm.
“When is the show?” “Four days from now?” “Okay.”
But the show was four days away and those four days between now and the actual show contained around hundred hours and more than a thousand minutes and seconds. During this time, I was also introduced to those “small and big storms,” to the white dove, and also to the showers being sprayed upon you.
Next day you were a bit normal. You showed me around – your plant, the office and many other things. The same evening we went to a party that was organized for Mr. Sinha’s child – on the occasion of him getting his first haircut and piercing! You were irritated, “These bastards who are proud of their degrees in varied fields of science and engineering and look how they are still participating in the rituals like the first haircut and piercing ceremony! You know, all these wrong traditions – the caste system, Brahmin superiority, various kinds of rituals and superstitions, and dowry – are embedded in them along with the cocktail of modern culture of the big cities.”
I interrupted you once, “Then why are you going?”
You went silent.
At Mr. Sinha’s house people like you were needed to help organize the party. In the party, the various groups of people having conversations, teased you –
– “Why; does Jharkhand also have these issues?” – “Friend, why are you hell bent on ruining our mood?
“Yes brother, when are you getting the tribal people a separate Jharkhand state?”
“Please also keep some space left for me!”
I was not acquainted with any of the officers who spoke.
Mr. Sinha in a very royal style was showing around his collection of black roses – This one is from Jaipur; I brought this one from Ranchi. This batch is from Lucknow and these are from Saudi Arabia!”
“Imported?” An official said trying to butter him up.
However before he could reply he screamed, “Bisun! Kainta…!”
“Yes sir!” Two black faces replied in unison.
We had no idea that among these flowing and fresh garments, the smell of perfume, cigar, alcohol and pan-masala there were these two black faces present as well.
“Where is their display card?”
Now we paid attention – every black rose had a nametag around its neck upon which the name of its family was indicated. Don’t know between them which one was Bisun and which one was Kainta. Both of them looked at the floor and then went toward the bush searching the nametag. We all joined them in their search as if we were invited for this very reason itself. Finally someone found it. The nametag was hanging around a child’s neck which they were holding onto. He was a dark-skinned child. His little face looked frightened on being pulled continuously with utter cruelty. The nametag was hanging around his neck as if it were a garland – “This is your Arabian Black Rose!”
“Whose child is this?” Mr. Sinha was upset.
“Mine, sir!” Saying it, the tribal man slapped the small kid and without showing any mercy pulled out the nametag from the child’s neck and hung it around the Arabian Black Rose. At this incident Mr. Sinha who was not so long ago showcasing his black roses with pride turned red with shame, “Where did this kid come from, here?” As we were returning back, I had asked you the same question.
“He must have accompanied his father in order to take away the leftover food.” You replied very succinctly. You were in a sad state of mind.
In the evening I decided that I will force you to write a story on this incident, but that didn’t happen. Some friends of yours were visiting your house – Mukherjee, Chadda and don’t know who else. On being introduced even though in my mind I was almost abusing them, I smiled and said, “Glad to meet you.”
“Please, sing your song that you used to sing! The thing is that …” A woman said.
“Umm, you will forget about that song if you get to see his new play – ‘Des-Videsh.’” He was most probably that woman’s husband.
“Des-Pardes!” I corrected him.
“Okay?” To whatever extreme that woman could expand her eyes she did that and giggled at the same time. Upon this a voluminous housewife who was wearing Kanjivaram sari, while adjusting her nose ring asked, “Okay Sudama…Aaa…No- no…Sudipta, why didn’t you marry yet?”
“He couldn’t find someone like you.” Her husband made a
“I…? Ch-Ch!! Am I Sheila Kerketta?”
She had won the game. The whole gathering burst into laughter.
I found that you were getting increasingly annoyed.
“Of course she is good – the nurse!”
“Who? I was talking about your nose-ring.” The first woman tried to defeat her this time.
“Anyway leave it. We have bored the guru to death.” Chadda patted on his shoulder, “That too in front of the guest!”
“Well Mr. Editor? Your magazine is published from Bombay, right? What’s its name?” This time, he didn’t even leave me alone.
“Swades.” I replied back annoyingly.
“There are one or two similar magazines that are published from Calcutta but never seen ‘Swades.’”
“You must have not tried to find it.”
“Who reads a magazine anyway? And that too literary one…!”
“Why don’t you people make a movie titled ‘Des-Pardes.’ Everyone likes watching a film.”
“You won’t even understand that.”
Then the discussion veered toward movies, art and commercial cinema etc. Throughout the discussion you remained aloof.
“Hey Sudipta, how do you guys compose stories?” You kept staring on hearing this foolish question. “Let’s say it is ‘Des-Pardes.’”
“He does everything as part of one single mission.” The nose ring of the Kanjivaram sari woman had again started troubling her.
“But Sudipta, you don’t belong to the tribal people?”
“You are not from Zambia, Nigeria or Mozambique?” You were disheartened.
“No.” “Still you contributed in the South Africa Fund.” “Humanitarian ground!”
“When you can support the cause of the blacks against the white tyranny far away, can’t I support the just movements in our own country?”
“You consider the Jharkhand movement to be just?” 40 / Turf beneath the Feet
“Why not? What happened in Mr. Sinha’s party tonight?”
“Oh are you still there? Come on Sudipta, come here on this table!”
“I agree Sudipta! Yes, whatever happened there today was a contest. Anyway leave it, Sudipta. Tell me, what is this Jharkhand movement after all?”
After a slow start when you gained momentum you didn’t stop for a long time, “This is a fight for the rights and honor of the tribal dominated belts which have been neglected for ages. You can see that here itself; count the number of tribal people and non-tribal people that are there in the factory. What do tribal people do, how do they live, and what do they eat? What do non- tribal people do and how do they live, what they eat? A tiny example would be today’s party. You can shed tears on the suppressed nationalities of Africa, Latin America, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Afghanistan but none for the suppression- oppression of this country’s downtrodden classes!” As you were speaking, you became a little aggressive but then gained back control, “Actually movement for a separate state of Jharkhand is not something that was born today. Even before Jaipal Singh’s leadership the roots of the struggle were planted ages ago in the hearts of the hardworking Kol, Munda, Santhal, Auranv, Bauri, Bhuia and other people of this region. Of all such nationalistic movements going on in our country, this one is by far the most nationalistic! Here even the Mughals had to face defeat and the British had a very hard time. Rani Signi Bai, Virsa Munda, Choti Munda, Sidhu-Kanu, and now Albert Ekka, there are many names in that sequence. In the year 1920 itself Chhotanagpur Unnat Samaaj and in Santhal Pargana there were societies like Laveer. If you are disgusted just because they are black, then what do think of yourself in the eyes of the whites? Where’s the difference between you and the white racist African and American sects?”
“They follow the witch custom….” His naughty looks scratched the mark on your forehead.
“You also fall in the same category.” “Black magic….?”
“It is less prevalent in your community? Yesterday at Mr. Sinha’s place, what kind of party was it? I can count not just one but fifty.”
After igniting you, I saw they were now enjoying the expressions on your face.
“Your dedication is solid. Such a big name in the Hindi writing world, when he supports the Jharkhand movement there is no reason for it not to succeed.” I was taken aback by the sudden change in Mr. Mukherjee’s color. On his signal his wife pulled out a paper and showcasing extreme virtuosity said, “Sudipta, can you edit these one or two poems, please! I will give them in the State Language Competition. Mr. Mukherjee will take them tomorrow – Okay! And please do take out time to come to our house…!”
When the Mukherjee couple departed, it was the turn of Mrs. Chadda. This time she didn’t adjust her nose ring. Opening her fat vanity bag she pulled out an envelope from inside, then she moved it toward me, “Can this story…in the Swades magazine…”
“Oh sure!” By this time I had learnt all the tricks of the game.
“Sudipta, why don’t you bring him along and tomorrow come to our bungalow please!”
I didn’t listen to what you said in a low voice. Then you accompanied them to the main gate.
“Is this your friend circle?” “Oh they are just…when they feel the itch they show up.” “I get the feeling that you are sad.” “Not at all!”
The next morning when I woke up, you asked me a very strange question, “You must have never seen a local tribal market?”
“What’s that beast?” I did not really appreciate you waking me up so early.
“Not a beast, but a beauty! Perhaps you may find a spicy report for your magazine. I will go to the factory in the meantime, while you can go there.”
“How far is it?”
“Must be around three-fourth of a kilometer, ask someone at the Mansa stream’s bridge.”
I do not have any interest in such local markets but just to keep you happy I went. The road passed right through the middle of the bungalows. The fresh morning air laden with the smell of blossoms, flowers-like smiling kids, spray of water and the beautiful and healthy jogging children, from some bungalows the melodious morning prayers could be heard – life was so beautiful, simple and pure in this part of the world! However further ahead at Mr. Sinha’s bungalow, it seemed there was something fishy going on. The police constables were standing and Mr. Sinha was pointing toward the lawn and explaining something to them. When I asked the watchman, he told, “At night all the pots containing the black roses were stolen. Bisun has been arrested by the police. Kainta will also be arrested.”
“Are they sure that those two are the thieves?”
“Don’t know, sir!”
His voice was drowned in the sound of the gunshot and Bisun’s weeping.
“Are you going to tell me or not?” Slap on the face! “No please sir, do not hit me! I do not know.” “Tell me rascal.” “No.”
“This mother-fucker will not open his mouth so easily, wait
And with this heart melting nervous petition..Now I had begun to fear the beauty of the colony. A little frightened, I proceeded on my journey.
At the Mansa bridge, just touching the factory’s boundary wall was the local market; lettuce, vegetables, cucumber, earthenware, chicken, goat and sheep. I came to know that on Saturdays there is a market of animals at this very spot. Today was Wednesday…so a smaller bazaar. Here most of the sellers were the tribal women. The young women wore blouse but the middle-aged ones only wrapped sari over their upper bodies. Most buyers were the non-tribal people. At places pots of rice beer and fried dumplings were being sold. In the fair there was a separate crowd of the tribal girls who in their own native style wore extremely tight clothes with silver sticks sticking in their hair-buns. Their carefree merriment made them stand out from the crowd. For them the main attraction in the fair were the shops that sold cheap rice, grains like Jwar and Bajra, common salt, cooking oil and kerosene, talcum powder, braided hair, mirrors, threads, marbles, combs, nail polish, towels, bras, sari and blouse. Here mostly the sellers were from the Diku community.
Other than all these things, there was one more thing being sold – arrows. The seller was a naive looking tribal boy.
“Oh, run! The police have come to arrest Bisun, Kainta…” I couldn’t understand the dialect any further. This was such breaking news that it shook the whole market. The boy selling the arrows quickly collected his items and crying like a calf ran down to the river. The stream was filled with the sound of Chhap- Chhap. Some people took the bridge route.
Out of curiosity, I too went behind the crowd, nervous and a bit hesitant. The crowd was converging around the village which was a kilometer away toward the west of the market. The screams of women could be heard from afar. As I walked forward, I saw them beating their chests and with their scattered hair looking like ghosts, I couldn’t understand what all they were saying. In the middle of the crowd were khaki uniforms and a bareback person; with their heads still and eyes gazing – the black colored men were standing with their bodies shaking from the occasional hiccups. A girl, who perhaps just now returned from the fair, walked closer and then began weeping and cursing loudly. She must have been the daughter of one of them.
Seeing the crowd swell, the sub-inspector said something to the constables. Now they were dragging Bisun and Kainta like captured animals – “Come to the police station!”
Seeing the crowd walking behind them the inspector shouted, “Go away, otherwise I will put each one of you in the jail.” I couldn’t stop laughing, they were just five and the threat they were giving was too heavy. The crowd stopped. But as soon as they walked a little ahead, the crowd again started following behind just like the way pious Savitri had followed the God of Death pleading him not to take away her husband.
Suddenly a group of fifty odd men came.
“Hit these rascals! Today put their pride in their asses.” An angry voice burst out. It was Philip.
“Along with their uniforms, pull out their skin as well.” Someone screamed from behind.
Again the same crowd of crossbows and arrows, sticks, spears, axes and armors. Seeing this crowd the weeping-wailing women and children too found hope. They all became agitated. The shower of kicks and fists, bricks and stones was enough to defeat the constables who were running away for their lives after freeing Bisun and Kainta. The boy who sold arrows went ahead and took the caps of all of those constables and threw them away. Then the crowd pulled off their uniforms thread by thread. With injured pride, they were panicking like monkeys in their underwear. I was just thinking of returning when who knows from where, I saw you. You were heading straight in this direction. Affectionately, you put your hand over Philip’s shoulder. However the crowd’s temper was high. In their eyes you were an outsider – a suspicious character. Oh! What were those fiery eyes of Philip saying! I had felt the same heat in his eyes once when he was staring at the Pundit for interrupting the rehearsal, and now the second time when he was staring at you. At least for you his eyes should have had a friendly respect. I could not focus on Philip for long.
Taking his bag a drunkard looking boy was busy in his own world. Perhaps this was your Kalicharan Kisku. He was having a heated argument with the boy who was selling the arrows earlier, “You guys move back, I will catch the thief.” I don’t know he would mumble something and then move a piece of bone on one side and then a bone to the other side. The women and children, forgetting their not so old worries were smiling now. Where were you in this crowd, Sudipta?
I later found, you were quietly standing against a tree. I wanted to be next to you, but then I thought that it would be more appropriate to leave you alone for some time. As you walked forward, I followed behind you.
When I reached home you were already getting ready to go to the factory.
“You are going so late?”
“I am going for no real work; the workers have anyway called the strike today.”
When you returned back you looked normal again.
“Yes, Mr. Sinha expressed his regret. His plants were found thrown away in the drain.”
“Philip was arrested by the police, but Mr. Sinha has phoned them. They shall leave him.”
“Philip…? Hearing about Philip I again became curious, “Is this Philip the same whom I saw in the rehearsal of your play?”
“Yes…he is a different kind of volcano in himself.”
I was a bit surprised, “Just few hours back Philip was disrespectful toward you, but you still…?”
“Please understand he is an X-ray technician. His mother was a cleaner at the hospital. There were various kinds of unkind stories associated with his name…even about his birth.”
You were extra careful in choosing your words, so as not to cause any harm to Philip’s image – “However his mother didn’t leave hope. She sent Philip to a missionary school. Now he hated anything related to Diku; he says, whenever he encounters someone from the elite class, wherever he directs his eyes that part of him burns away and all that remains is a naked skeleton. If he had the power he would have left most people as semi- skeletons. Philip would have been the world’s most disgusting but also the most realist painter.”
Like a computer image constructed of pixels, Philip’s image appeared part by part and then vanished. “Hey, what happened to your play?” I changed the topic. You took out two invitation cards from your pocket and placed them on the palm of my hand. I looked at the invitation card; the show was scheduled for tomorrow itself. Now I could understand the secret of your happiness.
“As far as the rehearsal is concerned it never took place after that day?”
“You know the purchase officer Mahto, right? It used to be held at his bungalow. Ujjwal Roy has also joined the personnel department and lives in the flat next to Mahto’s bungalow. He is assisting us.
On the evening of the play, I saw for the first time you had dyed your hair and shampooed them as well. The clothes too were nicely fitting and stylish! So this hunter- like appearance to hunt down the white dove of yours! I wanted to say it in front of you but couldn’t say it. In one way, I liked this change in you.
The program was being held in the auditorium. The whole map that I had weaved in my head was unwoven.
The tribal boy who sold the arrows, as he walked past us, he gave us a long fiery stare. On inquiring, the volunteers told us that the boy was intimated several times that only invitation card holders are allowed inside but it was as if the plea never registered in his head. In between several people greeted you; even women. Many people wanted to know the theme of the play; you continued to smile like a V.I.P. To tell you the truth at that time I felt a little envious.
The cultural program opened with the same traditional handing of the garland, the speech overflowing with buttery language. Mr. Sinha inaugurated the program and read the prepared opening message. The announcements were made by Ujjwal. The first dance was going to be a Bhangra – we had no clue about its inclusion in the program schedule.
Your face was turning pale. Thank goodness, the announcement was made shortly, that the next item was your song.
“Dhiri ochok-ochok kate khet ig benav let Veer pakad mak kate khet ig benav let” You were also explaining the lines as you read them. “We made our fields removing one stone at a time Then we sowed the paddy seeds Cutting the crop we brought the crop to our yard And then the moneylender took away the crop On my chest is a mountain standing for a long time How long will this go on, Oh moon god…?”
In the devastating moonlight, like the graveyard were the fields – and in this background I was sad, the anger from shadows to the actual spark, from the flute to the big hand-drum, such is the journey of my song! The stage performance accompanying the song was quite powerful.
When the song was over, there was an announcement, “Now the next performance is from the tribal community, a play named “Apna-Des (My country).” The writer of the play is Miss Sheila Kerketta.
“What is this? From where did ‘Apna-Des’ drop, in place of ‘Des-Pardes?’” I pressed your shoulder but your serious expression didn’t change.
In the next seat Kisan Rajvad had come to sit. I turned toward him, “Did the play got changed?”
“What can I say, sir! Bijli sir’s play couldn’t be prepared. I personally feel extremely sad for this.”
“Can I meet Sheila?”
“Right now…?” He was a bit hesitant, but then unwillingly he replied back, “Come with me.”
On the stage Ujjwal was giving direction to the dancers. Just by looking at them I felt irritated.
Kisan took me to the make-up room, “Sheila!” Giving final touches to her makeup, she turned around her neck, “Meet him, he is Bijli sir’s friend, what’s the name of the magazine – ‘Apna- Des’ he is its editor.”
“Ohhh!” Sheila made a round face and in a special manner stood up. She was slim, wheat colored young lady. From no angle did she look like a tribal girl. She looked very attractive in a pair of jeans and top. It could have been partly due to the makeup too.
“Why did you people suddenly decide to change your plan of performing Sudipta’s play ‘Des-Pardes’?”
“Ohhh!” Sheila’s face became round again. Who knows this “Oh” might have been her habitual expression. Her neck became straight, the head was held high as if touching the sky, her eyelids at first dropped to one direction, then to the other, a slight smile, followed by cold breath, “It was no doubt a good drama, but the trouble lies here that…. sorry….!” Now she painfully started to translate all the lines in Hindi, “No doubt that it was a good play, but the trouble is that in this play the tribal people all of a sudden…. what to say….yes, were shown in a pitiable condition. Their morale would have dropped.”
“So your play will boost their morale?”
“That we do expect.” Her neck was still tight. As if it was a branch of a Harsingaar tree, from which the words were incessantly falling.
A thought arose in my mind that I should ask her – whose morale? That of the likes of Mr. Sinha? Most people like the boy who sold arrows didn’t even come close! But I couldn’t say it.
“You people are scholars; please give us your blessings.” Kisan asked for blessings for her and after giving the blessings I returned back. When the song finished the play “Apna-Des” started.
S.P. Madan Singh the number one hater of the tribal people; his own young daughter Neelam falls in love with a young tribal boy who plays flute outside her bungalow. S.P. tried all the tricks to convince his daughter, but as the flute sounded Neelam would lose control over her senses. And then S.P. fires bullets at a tribal group. When Neelam hears about this incident she runs away with the tribal boy forever to the jungle. This was what was there in that play, isn’t it? Just a vomit of immature human emotions topped with a perfume of filmy romanticism!
You who couldn’t stand any criticism of your writing, why did you remain silent in this manner? Why silent? In the place of “Des-Pardes,” which was suffused with deeper layers of meaning, you even go to the extent of justifying a superficial romantic like “Apna-Des” – this is the limit.
Perhaps you read the ongoing conflict in my mind. In the night without any particular reason you narrated the story of Batal Batkuch, “Mr. Batal was the summit of Santhali music. In the first Hul struggle when Santhali people under the leadership of Sidhu Kanhu stood against the oppressive moneylenders, land- owners and the managers Mr. Batal also couldn’t keep himself away from the struggle. He killed one cruel moneylender Rupsingh Tamoli on one knoll. He was later brought to the Siyudi jail. There he was awarded the death penalty. The jailer was a British – devoid of any kindness, but when his daughter heard Batal’s music in the jail she was mesmerized by it. In the end at her excessive request and plea, not only was he released but after marrying her, the jailor also sent both of them to England. That knoll near Pakud even today is known by Mr. Batal’s name. Years later Batal’s son returned to visit the knoll – his skin was white like an Englishman, no one could recognize him.” When the narration ended you looked at me, “Now put S.P. Madan Singh in the place of the jailor and in place of the British, the Indian- Englishmen. Then it wouldn’t take long for you to tweak the story of ‘Des-Pardes’ using Batal’s example.”
“In support of that play from where did you find all these arguments! First of all Sheila, the way she was brought up, she might not even be aware of the story of Mr. Batal Batkuch. Or perhaps because of Ujjwal, she did come to know about it; nonetheless, this play was in no way in the same league as Mr. Batal’s story. Even if it were in the same league still it was not comparable to your play which had within it a deep understanding of the infrastructure and the social conditioning, the exploitation and the dislocation issues.”
I got up and sat down, you were now silent. For quite long both of us didn’t open our mouths; then finally I broke the silence and asked, “Did you already sleep, Sudipta?”
“No, are you saying something?”
“Yes. I read in one of the Kamleshwar’s stories, I do not remember the exact words, but I do remember the theme that if a man has ten things to talk about he would only tell six things even to his closest pals, the four others he would just hide; and among those there are at least two which he starts hiding even from himself.” This was the same time, when your consciousness was being attacked from so many different quarters and you did touch upon this point very slightly in your writing. On one hand, your songs were spreading into village after village and on the other hand some immature and undeveloped ambitions were encroaching on the movement, raising its head and not listening to you. In my letters whenever I raised my doubts, you kept quoting Lenin that if someone sits idle in the hope that the revolution is going to be ideal, that is utter foolishness. The revolution itself will raise their awareness and help them develop.
In the morning, you came to drop me at the bus stop. We came to know that on the previous night when Kisan and Sheila were returning in an Ambassador car, near the Mansa stream someone murdered Kisan. The corpse was floating in the stream. Sheila was kidnapped too. I saw when you got the news, burning with an agony of separation like the protagonist in your play “Des-Pardes” you were standing there in tears. This was a tragedy of epic proportions.
After reaching Mumbai I wrote a letter to you, “It would have been much better if you were married.”
However you tied yourself by the oath of Bheesma Pitamah to never get married. I had written in one of my next letters, “Sudipta, I think Bheesma Pitamah just covered himself in a veil of alleged greatness, which suffocated all of his desires. On the outside he lied for only six months on the bed of arrows but all his life he was sleeping on the inside on a bed of arrows.
Later, I received a letter from you, “There are no whereabouts of Sheila. On the seventh day the corpse of Ajit Singh was also found in the same rivulet. This Ajit Singh was the son-in-law of the timber contractor Sukhu Singh and Sukhu Singh was the brother of Bhanu Pratap Singh of the Intak. Which means it is a fight between Jharkhand and the Intak, and in a way a struggle between the Diku and the tribal people. How did it all happen – there is only one witness to all of this, the Mansa stream itself, which from the rotting and the mixing of the two corpses has become so polluted that the dividing line between a friend and a foe has turned foggy. With the grain, the worms were also being grinded, the unjustified communal polarization! At Kisan’s death the strike organized by the Red and the Green Flag Unions was extinguished by the Intak. When at Ajit Singh’s murder the Intak tried to go on a strike the Red and the Green Flag Unions, didn’t let them. Let’s see where this tug of war finally stops. I feel sorry that you will now not get your copy of ‘Des-Pardes’. Along with Sheila, know that it too was kidnapped.”
A gust of breeze and the door-flaps make a squeaking noise. With silent footsteps, I go toward the door. Outside, the rain is still falling with the same ferocity. When I return back, I find the chimney of the oil-lamp turning pale. The oil may finish at any point now. “Where are you stuck in this destructive storm, Sudipta? Anyway, leave it. Why don’t you narrate it in your own way?” I again drown myself in the pages…
The sheet of time had almost split open and like patches the days were being stitched together – hot, tasteless and sticky days! With the passage of the spring season, the stony surface had started heating up. The body temperature used to vibrate like the trembling reflection of the Electric Power Plant in the water, whole day long. The productivity was dropping every day. We already used to get numerous complaints from the cities, towns, the coalmines and the railway department and now the threats from the state ministers as well. Whatever explanation was sought from the top, it was sent below in steps but ultimately the management was responsible to give the response to the people sitting above them.
Mr. Sinha often used to be agitated. In the first meeting, he found the armor given by Dr. Bhargava – “More Coal more electricity, more electricity more coal” to be accurate and he rejected all the coal that came from the coalmines, “In the name of coal they sent us gravel and garbage! In fact our whole of the missionary has been morally bankrupt.” In his second meeting, he arrived at the realization, “The real reason is in fact the unions; specially the Red Flag Union and the Jharkhand Union. All of the workers are lazy. Tell me, you get the salary; you draw the benefits and fight for an increase in the salary and the benefits then why don’t you do the work?” The next meeting onward his conclusion was, “The real reason are the tribal people…they don’t care about education or learning any new skills and knowledge or even about the country. All they do is create disturbance. Who says they are helpless? I need workers, workers who can work. I have not come here for the welfare of the tribal people.”
“Actually to consider everyone the same in itself is unjustified. In this transitional phase of action-reaction, there are many things beyond our control. The corruption and the tradition of providing safe haven to the wrong elements, is joined to the whole of the ruling class and the administration in the same way like a newborn is attached to its mother through the navel cord…” I was not able to hurriedly give a proper framework to my words.
“What do you mean…?” Sinha lost his temper at me, “This purchase officer Srikant Mahto and your tribal peon, are they innocent…?
That day Sinha took me to the task. The summary of his long diatribe was that all of the associated problems were because of the encouragement that officers like me give to the workers, tribal people and the unions. Based on this, my promotion to the post of division engineer could have been put on hold, as I didn’t care about the country and that he will keep everyone under check.
Don’t know, but instead of Mahto I was just thinking about Kisku. From that day onward it seemed that he didn’t come to work drunk but the way he used to avoid me there still remained a shred of doubt. Downstairs, from where the road toward the plant germinated, on more occasions than one I found him surrounded by the laborers. They agitated him and then would draw pleasure out of his reactions. Kisku seemed to take pride in it! From far, whatever portions of the conversation I could overhear, they gave me the impression that Kisku talked about his boys, his teacher, his wife or his knowledge in the field of black magic. Sometimes he also talked about the Jharkhand state. He would come running when the bell rang. Don’t know why but I felt that in Sinha’s list the first name would be of Kalicharan Kisku and the second would be of Sudipta. At this thought, I felt a pinch inside. In the years gone by, in a way I had almost exiled the writer inside me. Why did I forget that Kisku was my challenge and I didn’t do anything for him except futile lecturing? I had to remind myself that I did not even marry because of my desire of becoming a devoted writer and a devoted person but what I had instead become – an officer? No! Not now.
What a strange coincidence it was! Next day when after finishing the plant inspection I was heading to the office, I saw Kisku below the staircase, gathering a crowd. He was drunk and the alcohol was ringing aloud in his unsteady gait.
“Kisku, using your power of mantra can you displace a mountain?” A laborer in the crowd teased him.
“Yes! Want to see?” Kisku retorted back.
“If you could displace the small Buru then it would be something!”
“Look there!” And he took out a bone out of his bag and started circling it in the direction of the hill while mumbling something at the same time.
“Yes-yes the hill is moving!” a voice came. “See, it moved?” Kisku was drunk in his pride. “But if you could remove it completely then it would be something….” “Complete….? If I wish then it can disappear completely also, but
“In that village is my in-laws house. It would get crushed under the rubble.” He said in an extra accented voice.
“Oh Kalicharan brother, please arrange a Mejhiya lady for me so that I can become a tribal person as well.”
“I will do that but on one condition, you will have to change your caste.”
“That I already agreed to do!” “But if the Jharkhand people oppose it then?”
“Oh, don’t worry they all are fools. I said to them all – this movement and struggle is all useless, I have two arrows with me which I bought in exchange of gold. I can get the free Jharkhand state just by using them.”
“The seller was clever and so was the buyer.” A laborer chuckled.
From afar a procession of laborers was coming.
He couldn’t have stopped any longer. Kisku was surprised when suddenly his eyes fell on me. The crowd also got dispersed. “Long live, the revolution” the sound of the slogans was moving nearer. By the time I was in my office, the group chanting its slogan passed in front of our building. I looked from my window, outside of Mr. Sinha’s office there were two guards standing, armed with guns. Wanting to call Kisku, I rang the call bell – once, twice and then again the third time….from where the ringing of the bell stopped, from there the call of “Long live, the revolution” blasted like a bomb. The voice appeared to be that of Kisku. I went out in a hurry. I was right; Kisku was holding a bag in his left hand and with his right hand circling a bone, he followed the group, as if he was a band master, or some exorcist who was leading the whole procession pinned on a mantra.
The next day, there was a strike in the plant in support of the Twenty Point demands. The demands were such that it united all the groups. Some of them had been put on the back-burner because of the sluggish management; some of them were totally new and nonsensical.
At night I was absorbed in reflection hence I could not sleep until quite late. At around one o’clock when the mist of sleep had just started to become dense, some noise on the road again made it thin. My bungalow was quite far from the plant which was next to the Mansa stream. It looked as if a few naked shadows were moving toward the bungalow of Mr. Sinha. Finding the armed guards at the door they again turned back toward my house. “Hu- hu” – beastly voices. The Pundit was sleeping in his servant quarter. “Puk” – a sound came. One or two blows on the shrub of flowers and on the roof sheltering the cow, then in a manner of a conqueror the naked shadows making strange sounds went toward the Mansa stream. I remembered, along the same rivulet near the bridge there was a brewery. Slogans, the movement, demands, laborer leadership, the brewery, the tribal people and Kisku – I felt disturbed trying to look for an inner thread that connected them all. I looked at the watch, it was four. I locked my room. Taking out my scooter from the garage I went out. I left the scooter at the outer post. Now I was just walking in the direction of the Mejhiya village.
The dawn was approaching or perhaps a photograph was getting developed. The figures were gradually becoming clearer. On the east the sun was rising and in the glow of its golden red rays, the whole stony surface looked dry like the untimely dried up roses. Just in front of the dirt path, the small Buru hill was approaching and getting bigger like a monster. Coming from the other side, I was once again walking next to the Mansa stream. Across from the rivulet was the Mejhiya village; also the small jungle of Buru. Pausing for a few moments, I gazed at this nature’s beauty.
“What’s up?” Turning back at the voice of Kalicharan, I saw about ten tribal men standing at the edge. The sun was on his back and the forms were appearing like black leafless trees. I looked on the other side, there too eight or ten people, though they were not naked.
“Yooou – ?”
“Yes, but from where are you coming so early in the morning?”
Kisku was confused. The answer came from the other shore from an elderly person, “Bijli sir, he is coming back after treating the disease!”
Bijli sir? – I was surprised at this new name of mine, but more surprised hearing the “treating the disease” bit. Mejhiya community doesn’t have this kind of a tradition, so maybe the Munda or the Ho community’s remedial treatment for me? And who is this elderly man…?
“Are you Majhi Haram, old man?” I asked.
On remembering everything, I smiled, “Come Kalicharan! You were surprised at my sight, don’t you? You came to my bungalow with your borrowed mantras to treat the disease, and the disease meaning I, am still here!”
“No-no, you are not the disease, sir! The disease is at Kalicharan’s door.” The old man said. Then turning toward Kalicharan, he said, “Oh, that factory owner Mr. Singh and the forest guard!”
I looked at Kisku with my eyes partially closed and smiled. Kisku was a bit annoyed, “What happened, why you came here?”
“Is there a reason to fear?” 56 / Turf beneath the Feet
“Did you forget that someone had hit you here?”
“Right here, right?” I pointed my finger to the scar on my forehead, “And that was the place, where the one who hit me was standing on that day?” I pointed to the hill, “I have come down to see if the one who hit me is still standing there or…”
I felt fulfilled to put Kisku in this difficulty. Kisku was puzzled. Majhi Haram’s eyes slanted. After thinking for sometime he said, “When you have come this far then returning back won’t be a good idea. Come to my house?”
I had to give a moment’s thought to this offer. In the atmosphere of mutual hatred and doubt that had precipitated here and there, was Mejhiya’s atmosphere agreeable to me? I hadn’t forgotten the witch-incident’s bitterness yet. Kalicharan was the only one who in spite of what had happened could have been trusted; but he was showing more inflexibility from before.
“Whatever is making you feel frightened, I take its responsibility. Only later did I come to know about you. If I had known earlier, Kalicharan would not have dared hitting you!” While digging the earth with a stick, the old man was giving new meaning to the sounds of the past.
Hesitant, I started walking with them. A broken armed chair was specially brought out for me. Handing me a glass of tea he said. “Couldn’t you cure Kalicharan?”
“I tried a lot.”
The silence again spread its hood. A little while later, he got up. As I was walking beside him, I told him about the factory situation and the activities of the unions. In its reflection, he kept talking about the misfortune of the Mejhiya and the other villages – “Do you know, it’s not just the forest guard, now a person employed by Sukhu Singh comes here too and tries to lure the girls of the village.”
“But doesn’t the Jharkhand group come to the rescue?” “Twice they did come, and noted down his name and address.” “Didn’t they talk about the separate state, or the movement and the
“Everyone talks about the vote.” “Did you put forward your problems?” “They saw it themselves.”
On the way people paused when they caught sight of us. From the holes of the toilets and the doors too, the eyes were sticking out. From the perspective of their free life, this incident was a bit of a surprise. Greater surprise though was looking at their bodies; death like shadows of malnutrition and disease and on top of that bright shining eyes. If someone looked at them at night they would certainly be frightened. I was about to ask about them when Majhi Haram pointed at one house – “This is Kali’s house.” A boy standing there told us that Kalicharan was outside; as if we were one among the people who demanded something from him.
The old man told, “This is Gopal…Kali’s eldest son. The younger one is Pradeep.”
“The name’s changed!” I smiled. “Just the name…” The old man was annoyed. “Do you go to school?” I asked the children.
“Yes.” Gopal replied and then thinking something he brought out a chair. Pradeep told that his father had gone out to catch a hen in the jungle. Kalicharan’s old father also came out; his mother kept staring at me from a little distance.
By that time, I was no more an object of fear for them. They had all come out. Now it was my turn to get frightened. Many boys and girls and the old were looking as if they were suffering from paralysis and on top of it their dark faces with those fiery bright eyes. In broad daylight the shadows of ghosts and witches surrounded me.
“If you don’t mind….” I asked Majhi Haram.
“Oh sir, please leave this ‘don’t mind’ terminology and directly ask what you want to ask,” Majhi Haram said.
“That woman was fined three hundred rupees and yes, also one goat by you?” At his reprimand, hurriedly in one breath everything dropped out from my mouth.
“What can I say? Oh this Kali and Majhi, what all they can’t do? But one has to do the penance for the sin of accompanying a sinner. The disease that spread, it paralyzed one of my daughters also.” The old man had said enough in this short narrative.
“Yes, everyone had gone for the treatment of that disease. There was some Mr. Sinha….?”
“But because of the security, they all came to my bungalow to do their thing.”
“Please tell all these people…..”
“But uncle, this disease is caused due to the Mansa drain. All the dirty water of the power plant flows into it. And even more poisonous is the air. All the poison from the chimneys is continuously being thrown on this side.”
The old man’s eyes slanted. He was perhaps trying to evaluate this new information vis-à-vis the prevailing traditions and in the light of his own experience.
I went to Majhi’s house to see her eighteen year old daughter who was paralyzed. Hands, legs, face were thin and fearful like a rickets patient.
“So why didn’t you bring her to the power plant’s hospital?”
“Who would have listened to us there? I took her there. The doctor shooed us away. From then, mantra and tantra is used for her treatment. Kali said that after he treats her, she will be alright.
“Anyway, whatever works for you!” I walked out. As I exited, I saw a few men and women standing there with folded hands. Majhi Haram told me that two of them, their boys were taken away by a hyena, and the rest are complaining about not getting jobs in lieu of the land that was taken away from them.
“I have already explained the whole narrative regarding the job that was promised in lieu of the land that was taken away for the plant,” I replied.
“Hmm.” Taking a deep breath, the old man turned toward those people, “The jobs have already been taken by your son-in-laws. And when they setup an enquiry the strike was called so as to save your son-in-law and his father’s ass. Make your demands again to get the job, but once more you won’t be the benefactor, again it will be for your son-in-laws, and then keep staring at their faces…!”
“Doesn’t the Jharkhand group do anything in this matter?” My question activated their flat faces a bit and then it died. Majhi Haram except for his tense slanted gaze couldn’t say anything. A bane’s shadow was floating in that silence. It seemed the Jharkhand group too had personal interests to serve first otherwise why wouldn’t they participate in the strike against the enquiry?
“Uncle,” The old man slowly raised his head, “I remember one story. In China there lived two elderly men – one was wise the other one foolish. The foolish old man’s house was surrounded by four hills because of which no breeze or light could reach his house. One day the old man brought an axe from somewhere and started cutting the mountain with it. Seeing this, the wise old man started laughing – “Is this the way to cut a mountain? Even if you die you won’t be able to remove the mountain.” The foolish man replied, “If I die my children will cut the rest of the mountain, when they die their children will try to finish the job. There will eventually come a day when there won’t be any mountain left.” Saying this, the foolish old man again started cutting the hill. On being pleased by his determination and perseverance the god sent his angels who lifted the hills and dumped them in the ocean.”
I paused for a moment and then started speaking again, “So the mountain of suffering and pain that is standing on your chest for so many years, if this could have been removed by tantra, mantra, prayers or rites and rituals then why just Kalicharan Kisku but long before people must have done it. But could it be removed …?” I looked at the root of a tree that stood some distance away where conversing with the son of the exorcist Kalicharan became a little more vigilant.
“But can you move it? Definitely – with perseverance. If we keep digging one generation can be ruined, maybe the next one too, and it’s possible the next one as well…but in the end the mountain will be removed if the digging continues….”
When at five o’clock I was leaving, many people talking about their happiness and sorrow, and various other plans joined me.
“The leaves on the trees that sprouted this spring, too, have turned black in just two months time?” I asked.
In a blink of an eyelid, a young man plucked a leaf from the rose-apple tree and showed it to me, “It has been painted by the smoke from the power plant, sir!”
I removed the layer using my finger. A fresh and bright green surface resurfaced. Having understood my point many of the people present there smiled. “See, this Mansa rivulet; please stop drinking its water. I will see what can be done about digging wells or hand pumps, also night school. Please also change your old ways of farming and use better ways. A doctor will come here to examine you next Sunday. I will also try to get medicines for you. The important thing is that this rivulet must be dammed so that during the summer the upper soil can be used to grow something; and yes, people suffering from paralysis should immediately be taken to the hospital. I will make sure that there is no inconvenience.”
Crossing the rivulet I waved my hand and in return scores of people on the other side also did the same, the hands shrouded in the mist, the eyes as dark as ash, the bright white teeth as if coming out straight from a Chota Buru cave.
When I arrived at the check post it was already dark. I just had one complaint, why didn’t Kalicharan Kisku come to drop me off? But as soon as this thought came, like a genie he himself arrived in person! Wobbling and tripping, he was standing in front of A. S. I. Chauhan – “In a drunken state when I walk like this in the middle of the road, where is my protection? If I die, then what…?” Chauhan stood there unmoved! Instead of deciding what to do with Kisku, on seeing me there, he started complaining to me. Kisku was muttering to himself, “Salute sir! I went to the union meeting. You asked to dig the mountain, right…?” I couldn’t listen more, the reason being the Pundit, who greeted me and began a new conversation after getting down from his bicycle. His complaint was that Kisku not only broke his earthenware worth rupees five but also he brought ghosts in his house.
Above our heads some cranes, crows or sandpipers and bats were flying and making sharp noises and all the words were getting lost in the unknown and husky sounds. In the front, the hundreds and thousands lights of the plant were sparkling. On the other side Chota Buru, Mansa stream and Mejhiya village were shrouded in darkness. I couldn’t say anything, just standing there helplessly I saw my protagonist disappear in that darkness.
The very next day in a meeting of the officers, I put forward a master plan for Mejhiya and the neighboring villages. My argument was that not only were we obliged to do this, but also in order to silence the illegal workers movement it was essential that they were uplifted to form the foundation for a mutually beneficial, healthy and peaceful industrialization.
People termed it as my love for the tribal people. “Then you people control the situation. What is the need to call meetings on the various storms that raise their heads every other day? Instead call the central police force or better the military! And crush anyone who dares to revolt!” When I said this, everyone there was quiet.
Then Mr. Sinha spoke up, “See, there is no point fighting among ourselves. Who is supporting the tribal people and who isn’t; this too is an unnecessary diversion. The main point to be noted here is that this is a government institution and we have to run it using the rules and regulations of the same. Industrial peace is an important issue in a sensitive area like this. We will have to do something, so that tomorrow no one can put us in a questionable position.” He glanced at everyone. Not getting any reaction from anyone, he further said, “Well Sudama, please present your plan.”
I presented the report on the neighboring villages that what was their economic level before the setting up of the plant and what was it now. In the plans that were envisioned earlier, providing electricity in the neighboring villages was one of them. But the power generated was directed to the rail companies, the coal mines, cities and the factories of the rich but the villages were left languishing in darkness.
From the time the plant was setup, the ash and the gases that rise from the chimneys not only increased the pollution but because of it the land too was becoming barren. The farms in the villages couldn’t even produce one- fourth of the crop that was produced earlier. As far as the employment statistics went, the ground reality was that the hope that the local residents would get a job with the setting up of the plant had bitten the dust. No more than two percent local residents could get a job. Some of them were being exploited by the plant contractors, rest of them were without any support. The plant had no control over the exploitation, moneylenders or the liquor sellers. After the water in the wells getting polluted and drying up, the only source of water that remained was the Mansa stream, in which all the colony’s and plant’s waste was dumped. Scores of people were suffering from paralysis. In a nutshell the life in the villages was worse than before, hence the locals didn’t find it friendly but saw it with disgust and with enmity. In this scenario every other day there was some tension or the other affecting the plant’s productivity. To handle this situation, I made the following suggestions –
1. Strictly stop the coal of lower quality.
2. To clean the coal, electrostatic precipitation technique should be 62 / Turf beneath the Feet
used and the exhaust gases should be filtered to stop the air pollution.
3. Before discharging the refuge in the Mansa stream, it should be thoroughly treated. It also makes sense if the responsibility of keeping the Mansa stream clean is taken up by the plant.
4. In the neighboring villages electricity should be supplied and the roads be laid down.
5. The locals should get preference in the jobs, also in various contracts and supplies.
6. The plant should also dutifully take responsibility for the education, cleanliness and health of such villages.
Before I could know the result of my presenting the master plan and the talk with Hansda I was sent to Germany to understand the new technologies used in the thermal power plant.
“No!” I am naturally displeased. On the day you presented your master plan, the very next day I had come to your house and flipped your pages. The pages before the “Before” section are missing. That is why! That was a meeting which you could not have dismissed from the story.
I am trying to recollect, at ten in the morning I entered your room and found you in conversation with a gentleman who had long hair and a beard. At first I thought it was Mr. Sadachari who used to wear the saffron robes. From when did he stop wearing the saffron robes? But then you introduced him, “Please meet, he is the former dynamic leader of the Jharkhand movement Mr. Madho Hansda.” And I was surprised.
“I have heard a lot about you. One time Sudipta also took me to the ‘Cut our Paddy’ operation but the good fortune of meeting you came only today.” I said, and then we discussed the master plan and the local activities spreading it to the whole of the Jharkhand. Hansda looked a bit worried to me, a little doubtful at every level. My third eye had smelled a spicy news piece for my magazine. “Why don’t I take an interview?” I whispered in your ear and then without giving him any chance to think, I started asking him questions – “Mr. Hansda, I have seen your initial work and also the various fights to get justice for the dislocated people.
What do you feel, looking at your present activities do you think you are moving forward or slipping back?”
Hansda’s eyes opened and then closed and dropped along with his head, “I feel that was right.”
“At that time you were influenced by the J.P. ideology?”
“Yes and no, my way was different – the progress of the tribal people on all levels – financial, social and educational.”
“Then why did you leave it?”
“Actually the prime minister himself promised me that the government would definitely take steps in this direction. And they did, but you know the red-tapism and the corruption. The results were not up to the mark.
“Would you again try to start your work?”
“The circumstances have changed a lot. Once the Jharkhand state is formed, then I will think about it.”
“Could you clarify what you mean by the changed circumstances?”
“There the Naxalites have taken hold. The government is also not in total control. In the meantime, a lot of people have joined the movement and they have mostly corrupted it. What can I do, I do not clearly understand.”
“I have heard the Naxalites, too, begin from the grassroots?”
“You have heard it incorrectly. They neither belong to this land nor are their roots attached to this land. Their flag is all different – red and violent. Forming different groups they even kill each other. We have kept a green colored flag. Jharkhand is a land full of trees and plants and green is their symbol not red.”
“Nonetheless, the color of human blood is red, whether it is Jharkhand or it is Diku, Indian or non-Indian.”
For a split second Hansda was a bit flustered, and then annoyingly he said – “Please go and explain it in front of the Diku and Vidina people.”
“I am happy that you hate the people who severed the tribal people from their lands, their self-respect and their identity. It’s quite understandable that you also have the same feelings toward the moneylenders, the brewery owners?”
“So you made sure before joining the Congress party that these elements are not present there?”
“Where should I go – that’s the question?” He again became restless.
“Jharkhand is a question of marginalization and exploitation of a nationality. Do you agree?”
“And the outsiders who have come here to earn their livelihood being exploited – this too?”
“No, a peon or a footpath shopkeeper within two-three years becomes an exploiter. Both at the start and later they continue to rob us.
“Supposedly, they all should be banished?”
Hansda kept quiet.
“A question from my side as well.” This time you interrupted, “What do you think; just getting a separate Jharkhand state can solve all the problems? I hope it won’t be similar to the India’s independence where the selfish and the exploitative people who were well-educated and from well-off families snatched away all the gains and the poor keep languishing just the way they were before? Do you have control over all the various self-centered elements?”
“We were just discussing this very point.”
As we were returning after saying goodbye to Hansda I asked, “After so many days what made him remember you?”
“It’s regarding the Jharkhand movement; there is an attempt to assemble all the students and the intellectuals on one platform. Perhaps then the program of direct action may be taken up.”
“I wish to write a story on this person.” “Okay, then it’s booked for Swades.”
“First I have to write, then only….”
My enthusiasm was pushed in a cold storage, “Do you have any doubts about Mr. Hansda?”
“Many!” Saying that you were lost in your own world, then you whispered, “You took his interview, right?”
“Yes, but…but his work was quite good, you yourself took me there, remember?”
“Yes. I wish Hansda had stayed right there!”
“Perhaps you are right, it was excellent.”
“Later the government intervened – after all it was excellent! The prime minister himself called Hansda and appreciated his work. Then he said, you have shown us the path Guru-ji, now leave it to the government. We want to take necessary steps so as to address all your complaints. For the sake of display some steps were also taken, but then gradually everything sapped! Whosoever they put their hands upon, they lost their backbones. Everything got divided and scattered. Hansda trusting the government kept losing his steam. When he woke up he quit from the Congress party. He searched for his independent identity, but in a nutshell it just became lost in the labyrinths of the legislative assembly. He did point in that direction just now – when he was hibernating, the vacuum was filled by the Naxalite movement which was centered round the same needs. They employed the same methods – looting the crop, but then in the name of the class-enemies some of the elements were being eliminated too. To counter them even Hansda has to take support from the violent elements. The tribal community has been divided and scattered by them. They have countless leaders. If someone could make a big donation even if that person is corrupt, even if he is a Diku it hardly matters, he is their own. Vijay and a few new leaders want to unite everyone in the movement demanding a separate Jharkhand state. Here too Hansda, Vijay, Manish and other leaders have bucketful of doubts. There was a time when you honored Hansda in your report, but now look at your hero today – in this quadrangular fight he is even failing to recognize a friend and a foe. The chameleon-like elements who have been in the various camps are now his followers.”
“This looks like a good plot. Why don’t you start writing then?”
“Is just writing something the end goal?” You pulled in a long breath while cutting my question with your counter- question, “Where on earth is there no difference of opinion! If you even hear Manish and Vijay you would be surprised. However there is also a history of their dedication and the sacrifices that they have made! By my writing, should I also cleave that inheritance of dedication? No, the right time to write about them has not arrived yet. There were differences. That’s why I pulled out of politics and began working on the literary front.”
“Friend, I don’t understand it. What is happening to the various movements in this country? Telengana, Naxalite or Punjab and Jharkhand! There have been a few success stories like Assam, and then in West Bengal and Kerela the formation of the Communist party governments, in many other regions there are sensible governments, the J.P. movement of Bihar, how successful were these? There is a poem of Dushyant –
“Death has captured me like a tiger.
When life touched, it touched maintaining a little distance.”
I remember it was you who used to quote Lenin when I was in any of these doubtful zones, that to sit idle and do nothing in the hope that the revolution would remain pure is foolishness. For a long time, we kept examining the various national issues and movements. During that time I talked about a lot of things, including Sheila, and then when after running around we returned back to literature, you were more relaxed after expressing your frustrations and anger.
“You always complained that I never go to the village, right? Now be happy, I did go back to the village.”
“Yes, and I also gave a copy of my book to my respected father.”
Reacting as if I didn’t know, I asked, “Which one…that award winning one?”
“Oh that…Badadwal asked me to accept it and so….”
You were embarrassed like a priest who is caught near a brothel. I didn’t want to spray more water on the subject of awards; a lot of dirt would have surfaced. I turned the conversation toward endorsement, “Award, foreign trip, rank, organizations, what are all these but the different legs of endorsement! Where most of the writers are hypocrites, the critics are like the schismatic head priests, where the public interest can’t be turned toward literature, there all this is but a play of wild-fig insects; the same caste system, clans, slavery of the capital and opportunism. Do you know, before the French revolution a list of great writers was made, of which the names appearing in the first few lines today no one knows about them and the last names in the list were that of Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau.”
“Here you told something new. These are the advantages of being a journalist.”
“But don’t you give importance to their opinion only?” I teased you.
“No friend, please don’t abuse me. I only give importance to the public opinion…the problem is, that too is plagued by the remains of the feudal system. The village has definitely changed, but what is this change – a strange complex cocktail. For my father I am still useless, reason – I distribute all my money among the people living here. A smuggler and a mafia leader came with me to the village. Oh, what respect was there for him in the eyes of the villagers!”
“And for you?”
“Only pity, the reason I didn’t tell them what I am over here, I just said I am a writer.”
“Didn’t you tell them you also got an award?” I giggled. “Then they would have asked how much was its worth?”
You burst into laughter, “So brother, not only the movement, the Cultural Revolution but the people also need training and this challenge is multifaceted.”
“Only your international socialist movement has no training requirement?”
“What do you say!”
“Listen, in Russia in a book about Indian history the flame of Bhagat Singh has been dimmed and don’t even ask about China – Gulshan Nanda is considered a great writer over there.”
You couldn’t say anything.
“And listen more, do you know which Indian movie did they like the most?”
“Ankur, Manthan, Chokh…?” “No, no, no!” “Then…?”
“Bobby! …and Mithun is their favorite actor, not the one from ‘Mrigya’ but the ‘Disco dance’ one!” I was surprised something that perhaps every other writer knew, you were unaware about it. Was being so puritan and innocent right?
On hearing this, your face turned round with surprise – a little sad too.
I remembered in a flash, this was Sheila’s style. Was it the case that you were being hunted down by her obsession? Sensing my hawk like eye your mouth was shut. To make you come out of your embarrassment I said, “Friend, even the revolutionaries can have weak moments.”
“Don’t tell me their names. Leaving Bhagat Singh, perhaps everyone else was just a Hindu revivalist.”
“There was Bhagat Singh and there is You. There are just these two!”
You again turned your eyes in the other direction. Turf beneath the Feet / 69
Until this point I had controlled myself in spite of losing balance several times but after this in a sudden flash, I made a mistake for which even today I don’t get tired of blaming myself.
I had caught hold of the context by going back, “Yes, you were telling me about giving a copy of your book to your father.”
Your silence still didn’t melt. “Did he write any letter to his son after reading his book?” “Not until now.” “Are you hiding something, he must not have even read it.” “How do you know?” You were disheartened all at once.
“See, is this it, to respected father with regards!” I took out a book eaten by white ants from my bag and placed it in front of you.
You were surprised as if you had seen a scorpion, “Where did you find it?”
“Just where he had put it – in one corner of the ceiling.”
“But how did you find it?”
“It is the same story, the king Bhartrahari gave the fruit of immortality to the queen, the queen gave it to her lover, the lover gave it to the prostitute and the prostitute gave the same fruit back to the king.”
I saw even though you were looking at the copy of your book, worn out by the white ants, you were not looking at it. Pained from the disenchantment, your eyes were spread somewhere else. I was terribly regretting my mistake.
Later commenting on all those contexts, I received your single line letter – “You are a bastard.”
With a feeling of remorse, I again pick up the pages –
I heard about the later events only after returning from Germany. Based on my recommendations a group of directors and welfare officers checked some of the villages. A team of doctors went to Mejhiya after that. Along with Majhi Haram’s daughter another ten serious patients were brought to the plant’s hospital. The mistake was made at one place only. In Mejhiya, the work of building a dam on the Mansa stream was left to the villagers. In that chain Kalicharan Kisku went to Mr. Sinha’s office with an appeal. In principle that appeal should have gone through the personnel department but after consulting his leaders and colleagues, he decided to give that appeal to Mr. Sinha.
Mr. Sinha in those days used to be upset because of the falling productivity of the power plant, the workers movement and giving explanations to his bosses. He felt lonelier when I went to Germany. When Kisku went to him with his appeal he as usual was annoyed, “Go to the personnel office!” Kisku after saluting him went to the personnel office. There after being ignored for many days, wounded, he again went back to Mr. Sinha. Sinha, when in an even more impolite voice than before, suggested him to go back to the personnel department, Kisku was unmoved, “I will not go anywhere sir! I work under you then where else can I go with my appeal?”
“Uff! This is not my domain, this belongs to the personnel.”
“Then also you kindly forward it to them.”
There was one more reason for Kisku’s madness. He had boasted in his friend circle about taming Mr. Sinha using the power of mantra and if he returned empty handed, he could have been proven wrong. Whatever might have been the case, the tension elevated and Mr. Sinha called the Pundit to push him out of the office. There could not have been a better opportunity for the Pundit to get even with his revulsion and the past fights! Not only did he drag him out of the office but he also pushed Kisku down the stairs. His colleagues were watching all the action from afar. Somehow Kisku got up, then collecting the items that fell out from his bag he looked at Mr. Sinha’s chamber with blood thirsty eyes. His sympathizers went near him and sympathizing with Kisku, they started abusing Mr. Sinha. That day with an angry face and wounded from both inside and outside, Kisku returned.
The next day, Kisku came again and went straight to Mr. Sinha’s chamber – “Will you sanction the loan or not?”
“Oh! Pundit! Get this insane man out of my office,” Sinha screamed. But before the Pundit could come out of the washroom and catch him, opening the knot of his closed bag he turned it upside down. Three wild snakes began crawling on the table. Sinha jumped in fright. His rotating chair circled several times.
“Please tell me, sir!” Holding one snake by its neck, he pointed it Turf beneath the Feet / 71
toward Mr. Sinha like a revolver – “The officers make me go from here to there. Am I a dog?”
Sinha’s throat chocked with fear!
In the end all the related officers and the workers from the personnel, the accounting and the cash departments came and Kisku returned carrying the loan in his pocket and putting back the snakes in his bag. Now he was a hero! Every union was ready to own him! Mr. Sinha got exhausted trying his best to get him suspended or transferred. His efforts were in vain in front of the unions. Hence he instead got himself transferred to somewhere else. This victory was also appended with Kisku’s name. Now he was moving from the ‘hero’ status toward superstardom.
Mr. Sinha’s chair kept rotating and rotating; no one was ready to sit on this chair made of thorns. In the end after returning back from Germany, I had to sit in that chair after hopping a few rungs. Again, the Pundit on health grounds shifted to a new department and again I had to work with Kisku.
That chair was in all fairness spinning me. The case of sending slack in the name of coal, the case of falling productivity, the case of general administration, the case of being answerable to ministers and to consumer forums, the case of the unions, case, case, case and yet another case…my days and nights revolved around only one axis, trying to remedy all these cases. The need to go to Mejhiya pricked me, the necessity to read and write pained but each moment of my time was mortgaged. Several times it came to my mind to call Kisku and ask about Mejhiya but the queue of meetings with people and the pile of files didn’t give me any window. Then in this office the relationship between a peon and an officer had changed to just giving tea and opening and closing of the door. Kisku was so close yet had moved so far! Sometimes in my deserted bungalow, lying on my empty bed in between the layers of sleep I would see Kisku.
Gradually the constant appreciation was taking his leftover innocence into the hardened ground of boastfulness, where all the possibilities were left beating their heads. I remembered is this the same Kalicharan who looked like a rock standing near a stream and whose heroics I had accepted as a challenge both on the level of writing and creation?
Gradually Kisku’s face would disappear in the foam of the stream. In the stream, a thousand bubbles were forming and bursting like the smooth soil of time. And slowly, the stream would enter the cave of sleep.
Meanwhile my P.A. informed me on the intercom that the representative body of the various unions wants to meet me with their charter of demands. At that time I was with my steno dictating an important report; I told the P.A. that they should come back tomorrow. But the P.A. said, “They are not in the mood to yield.” I was irritated, “How will they not agree? Tell Kisku to stop them.”
But even before I could complete my sentence, the door opened and a crowd consisting of Mr. Singh from the Intak, Mr. Tiwari from the People’s Labor Union, Mr. Sen from the Red Flag Union and Daniel Kujur from the Jharkhand Union along with some other people barged inside. I lost my temper when Kisku came from behind and stood in the front, “Why did not you stop them?”
“I only called them inside, sir!” Kisku was almost laughing and others too giggled in an uncivilized manner. I shook in helplessness. When until now I had never imposed my authority on others, then why today…?
“This is our charter of demands, sir!” Mr. Singh said.
“Okay. Keep it here. After reading it I will call you.”
“Sir, please read it now. How much time will it take?” Kisku’s solicitation made me burn inside.
“I have an important report to finish…. Okay let’s do this, tell me the important details. In the discussion, the personnel manager should also be present. We will fix a date for meeting him.”
“The most important thing in it is the bonus. This time our demand is twenty percent! Clear this one and we will leave. Rest can be discussed later.” Mr. Sen put his pen on the tenth demand.
“But on this you already know the government order, eight point three three….”
“That we don’t care about…we have not come to you because you are an officer, we have come to a writer who himself is a champion of the common folk.”
They talked on many points, I kept listening to everything.
Later, they had numerous meetings with the chief personnel manager Ujjwal Roy and me. But neither could we move forward a step nor did they agree to withdraw even a little bit. I felt these things should be taken directly to the public forum. One pamphlet was also distributed. However, the laborers kept adamant in their demand.
During that time, two things happened. One this that Sukhmaya Babu met me as a representative of the Red Flag Union and the Jharkhand Union – “Prasad, I want to see who wins between a writer, who was not scared even when he was hit on his forehead or an officer, who is sitting in this chair!” On the other hand an editor friend sent me a letter, “Should it be understood that your writer hung from the knot of your officer’s chair? If not, then as a proof I need a fresh story from you….”
I pause to think, who is this editor friend – I? Anyway let’s move ahead.
In the night when the curtains of sleep were falling on this struggle inside, the doorbell rang. Who can be there at this time? When I opened the door, I found the Pundit standing there.
“What’s the matter?” My voice was a bit annoyed.
“Hello! Namaste sir! You are facing difficulties and you don’t even tell me?”
“What is the matter?”
“Sir! A person should know who is an enemy and who is a friend, right? You already know, whenever the management was in trouble, Mr. Singh and Mr. Tiwari came to the rescue. Several times the strike was called off because of them.”
“So…?” “This time too, with their support you can handle this difficult situation,
“But they came along with Sen and Daniel?”
“That was just for everyone to see. You people don’t consider them anything. Now they too have to save their reputation among the laborers!”
“Then what will I have to do?” I had become almost indifferent.
“They are sitting in my quarter. If you say, I can call them. Sir, these two are the pet dogs of the management. Even now they can agree if….”
I was filled with utmost disgust. I felt as if the Pundit was pointing the snake of “if” at me. I shut the door with a thud. I wrote to the editor friend,
“Right now I am traversing the rough terrain of the story. If I am saved then I will write it on paper….”
What can I write beyond this – I was just thinking when the lights went off and for real, I found myself stranded in a dense jungle. It was pitch- dark. Even outside the window! Meaning…? Is there a breakdown somewhere? I was just about to search for my phone in the dark, when it rang. It was the chief personnel manager – “Hello sir!” His voice was agitated, “I sent Tiwari and Singh to meet you; did you not talk with them?”
“That is why! Sir, you were not so intelligent!” And the phone line was cut. I kept trying for a little while, then putting the phone down I started scratching my forehead – So is it that the higher officers are also involved in this game and I am all alone? When I reached the plant on my scooter and restored the power it was half past one in the night. I fell asleep that night while sitting on the foreman’s chair.
In the morning, when I reached my bungalow my head was heavy. I thought why not at least call a meeting. But before any meeting could be held, a brand new trouble was waiting for me. The P.A. informed, “Kalicharan Kisku has climbed up the chimney – demanding twenty percent bonus. He is drunk, and any moment he may fall down. Leaving their work many laborers have gathered here to further incite him.”
I immediately phoned the safety officer, the fire fighter and the police inspector Chauhan and requested them to come to the actual scene and I myself too started going in that direction.
From afar, I could see the crowd. Kalicharan, hanging on the chimney, looked like a monkey. On seeing me coming there along with the group of officers, he was filled with even greater pride and started to scream like Dharmendra in the movie Sholay, “Villagers, I am Viru, bonus is Basanti and Mausi…?”
“The management.” Many voices from the ground completed his sentence.
“So villagers! Listen, if we don’t get our Basanti I will commit suicide and the management will languish in the jail, making flour!”
A round of applause greeted him from the ground. A microphone was arranged by then. I threatened him from down there, “Kalicharan, this is what I have taught you in all this time? Leave this filmy drama and come down! You must know that bonus can’t be gotten by this blackmail tactic. If you jump first of all you won’t be alive anymore, even if you remain alive somehow you will be handicapped for life. You will lose your job and of course you will be sent to the jail to top it all!”
“Villagers, please make this Mausi understand…!”
Kalicharan’s voice thundered like a bolt and losing my temper, I started climbing up the ladder leading to the chimney.
Kalicharan gave a last warning from the top, “I will count till ten, sir! If you climb the tenth rung, then suicide – one, two, three, four….” I had climbed four rungs. On every rung he kept counting – “five, six, seven, eight, nine, last”…and I couldn’t climb the tenth rung. Like the release needle of the blood pressure measuring machine, one by one I climbed down all the nine rungs. The laborers’ confidence got a big boost on my failure. Applauding, they screamed words of appreciation for Kisku. Kisku while standing at the top, replied by waving his hand. In this sequence of events his shaking leg slipped and he fell down like the brick of this tower of handicapped mentality. Down there, there was a net that was spread out. He did get hurt but he was saved. He had to be discharged from his job and a group of laborers were charge-sheeted. Because of his attempted suicide and his drinking habit first he was kept in a hospital, later in a prison cell.
My mind was completely unsettled. My faith had taken a sound beating. What an irony it was, the tribal people and the laborers for whose upliftment I had spent my entire life; I had to take action against those very people! Where did I err that I couldn’t make my protagonist stand? Kisku had first hit me on the forehead, somehow I digested it with time, but today…? Today he had targeted my faith; will I be able to endure this blow? Uff! This was not Kisku’s fall this was mine, the ruin of the writer inside me. I didn’t even go to the hospital to see him. Only I could phone the doctors to give them vital instructions.
A song from the Pundit’s radio was coming inside from the holes of the window – “Who should I tell? How to tell that today my heart’s situation is a bit strange!” And I was restlessly strolling in my empty room. I was longing for a compassionate shoulder on which I could cry my heart out. There were many – Hansda, Mahto, Sameer, A. M. Roy…but I could only trust two – One was Majhi Haram from the Mejhiya village where in this delicate moment the security officers would not have agreed to let me go, and anyway who knows what shall be their mindset at this point of time. Once when he had come to visit me, I was busy with the team that was touring Poland…and the second Sukhmaya Babu, who criticized the ruling Communist party government in the region that it was being filled by goons, the contractors and the brokers and as a result he was kicked out of the party.
I sat down to write to him. Perhaps this was a way to calm myself down. I kept writing…
Respected Elder Brother,
I don’t know if people like you and me were wrong, who along with the financial independence also emphasized the need to develop the awareness of the tribal people, the dalits, the farmers, the laborers and including women all the downtrodden people. Or them, whose fight is limited to the economic plane only; even if its pursuit involves walking over the country, the society and the community friends, and even if it involves reclining on the support from the enemies of the community. A widespread stench of rottenness is oozing out. Brother, something that was very beautiful and full of possibilities once, is dying and the people who are opposed to it are left stranded in this blind race. You had said that this war is between a writer and an officer. No brother, this war is between a man and a man-eating administration – that administration that is weaving the government in its own favor. First the man should be saved; the writer can be later looked for. Where can he go after all? He must just be wandering here and there, following his characters that have lost control.
After writing this much my heart felt a little less heavy. Searching for the cassette of Ghalib’s songs, I turned on the cassette player.
“A sigh needs one lifetime to show the results
Who lives until the funeral of your hair?
With pain the threads of pain were stretching apart and my heart again became heavy.
We will be finished by the time they realize.”
I could not endure anymore. Stopping the player I started weeping like a baby.
In the morning when I went out to go to the plant, I saw a small crowd at the gate of the bungalow. Who can be there? What can be their motive?
Uhh! Whoever! I wanted to forcibly ignore it when the familiar address “Bijli sir” held my wrist. I looked; it was Majhi Haram.
“Yes…I…I have come here to say something.” Haram’s words were getting entangled in the bushes.
“See, I can’t do anything for Kalicharan anymore.”
“No, not Kalicharan.” He waved both his hands in air and said, “He got the result of his own karma.”
“She is Kali’s mother.” He pointed in the direction of a lady who was standing in the front, whose swollen eyelids were flat like a dead fish, “And he is his son, Gopal. After he went to the jail, his family is as good as finished.”
Gopal was standing in front of me. Same face, same features, same wary eyes! I got emotional. It felt as if the fate is again trying to test me by taking me back to Kalicharan’s yesteryears. Kalicharan couldn’t change. He had grown up, but Gopal was still a kid.
“Alright, I will see.”
Mumbling to myself, I went to the plant – “What can be done?”My mind was not working properly. Should I knock on the door of the chief personnel manager Ujjwal Roy? But I feel drowsy just by uttering his name. The unions…rottenness. Still I will have to do something! I rang Ujjwal, but then doubts emerged in my mind. In such matters it is advisable to talk face to face.
“Y…ou…?” On seeing me, Ujjwal Roy blurted out at once, “What is that…’He came to my house by God’s grace, sometimes I look at him sometimes at my house.’ Please tell me did you forget your way?”
“Mr. Roy, can’t Kalicharan’s son Gopal get a small job somewhere?” I succinctly explained the gravity of the situation.
A smile spread on the Ujjwal Roy’s face, as if saying – that is why, the prey itself walked into the lion’s den!
“Based on the rules of the plant; no.” Ujjwal said, “This is neither a 78 / Turf beneath the Feet
retirement case nor does it belong to the ‘Die in harness’ category, then there are also criminal charges against him…!”
“Those charges are against Kalicharan, not against Gopal.” “But, how? On what basis can we employ him?” “On humanitarian ground.” “What is that?”
I remained quiet.
“If this proposal comes from the side of the unions, only then can we think about it.” Ujjwal Roy began searching something in the phone directory.
“The unions…? If they had to intervene, they would have already done that.”
“That I will manage.”
I returned back from there.
The next day I got a phone call from Ujjwal Roy, “Hello Sudipta! Your work’s done.”
“How?” I was surprised. “Nothing, just some give and take.” “Please, tell me clearly!”
“See, we told them – we are robbers, you too are robbers then why is there so much noise…? We revoke the order to suspend the ten laborers who were suspended during the movement and you shall not make any whispers heard on this reinstatement.”
“So you lifted their suspensions…no…no…they are no less guilty….”
“Their suspension would have been canceled anyway sooner or later, but what would have happened to your son of Kalicharan? The papers are coming on your desk; sign them.”
He put down the phone. I just shivered from inside. Would such a vulgar price be paid for a humanitarian cause? I wish! Uff! How many unfulfilled wishes!
Gopal was given the guard’s job. This way his studies were not hampered. In the beginning, I took out time to enquire about his well-being. Later the frequency reduced. Today some meeting, tomorrow a visit of some
V.I.P., day after tomorrow some check, a day later Delhi-Calcutta flight, and then next something else….
Meanwhile the Jharkhand movement was catching steam in the different regions. At this time a tribal sympathetic, non-tribal person like me was in a sticky situation.
In the meantime, the condition of the plant was such that for the eighth time I had rejected the supply of under-quality coal with forty-five percent dirt, still the people sitting in the material purchase department had just one mission, in the name of modernization buy all the expensive equipments that could be bought. I used to be astonished, from where does in such a poor country so much money comes from?
One day I was taken aback, when in broad daylight the coal handling plant was transformed into the battleground of Panipat. I couldn’t believe for awhile that until yesterday the various unions that fought together on the issue of increase in bonus and the employment against the management, they would fight amongst each other and the rejected coal would be used as a weapon to hurl attacks at each other, and that too in the plant! When I removed the outer shrubs and the bush to go deeper into the ground reality, my mind felt disgusted.
I came to know that one day before the incident in a meeting, one leader Daniel Kujur had shouted while standing in the front that if the tribal people wanted to earn their livelihood they should drag out the Diku people like Singh, Tiwari and Sinha from the factory. Behind this stimulating speech was the material purchase officer Srikant Mahto, on the other hand the situation was given oxygen by the chief personnel manager Mr. Ujjwal Roy, who was convicted of illegally employing people. Mr. Ujjwal Roy and Mr. Mahto’s conspiracy was clear – use the polarization between the tribal community and the non-tribal people to cover up their own ongoing trials. I called both of them in my chamber and gave a stern warning not to indulge in such activities.
Seeing Gopal improving, my self-confidence returned back. Perhaps tutoring him, also made me remember the lessons that I had forgotten. Once again my bungalow used to be filled with Philip and other revolutionaries. The officers were not in control, the plant was not in control either and the movement was also not in control. I felt that I should intervene in all three of them in a meaningful manner.
Below the highlands flowed the dark meandering river. On the high and the low red stony surface, the green trees of Sal, Mahua, Karind and Sihor were scattered far and near – some youthful, others coming out from the ground in the appearance of tiny plants. But on coming closer, I realized that the number of those is much more whose smooth remains of the roots still narrate about their past existence. The forest department’s road made up of pebbles had reached the dense jungle, where only the Sal were standing, with their ears of erected leaves, as if who knows when the axe of a visitor would fall on them.
Next to the trees are the bicycles and one or two motorcycles as well. People are sitting on all the smooth remains of the tress that have been cut – there are students too, in pants and shirts and a few of them in goggles; there are some thirty odd nurses, lady teachers and girl students in saris. The politician-like kurta-pyjaamas are also around. But what pricks the most is the sight of the half naked adults and the old who do not even have shirts to cover their bodies, just dirty cloth wrapped around their waist or wrinkled pants tied around the waist using a rope or threads. Above that is the dry and wrinkled skin glittering like a burning stone…dry colorless faces among the white hair and the white beard and within them the dying fish like eyes.
Philip looked at this scene once, then staring at the horizon he said, as if he was not just addressing that gathering, he was addressing the whole of the stony region, “This land, our land produces gold and we are the destitute sons of this very land. The state earns two-thirds of its income from us and our condition – no cloth which is not torn to cover our bodies, no stomachful of rice in our stomachs, leave aside the talk of medicine and education. The government gave a lot of money – the government doesn’t get tired of announcing new schemes, but we remain just as poor! Someone else is making all the money. We said, leave us to our fates but they don’t leave us. How can a snake sitting on a locked treasure of gold stay away?
“Although we are laborers, we have to think twice before using direct action. The meaning of direct action is straightforward – we will not allow you to take anything away from our Jharkhand – neither coal, nor iron-ore, or zinc, or aluminum, or stones, or wood – nothing at all. This gathering has been called for this very reason. In the whole of Jharkhand, such gatherings are being held. You weigh yourself in every possible manner and then decide. But remember one thing, when you decide – the place where you are sitting right now used to be covered with trees at one time – where have they gone?”
There was not much applause after Philip’s talk; perhaps the hands were searching for their cut off roots. After this a student leader came – Kisan Kumar Besara. Philip’s heartfelt speech was replaced by an emotional slogan, “Among us there is no Hindu, or Christian, no Munda…Oranva or Santal – we are Jharkhandi, only Jharkhandi.”
The students shouted slogans of “Long live Jharkhand, long live Besara.” Among them was the son of Mr. Mahto and also Gopal. Then Mahto and Gopal started pushing each other. At last Mahto stood up, “Here….sorry, here we are talking about direct action and that we are all united – this is also a right statement, but we can’t fight together. Let us pledge today that whosoever is not a tribal, who cut us like a tree, we will not keep any relationship with them. The direct action directly starts from home!”
Philip looked at Mahto with fiery eyes, so that he was forced to put brakes on his aggression.
After this it was my chance to speak. I looked at the crowd that was looking at me. Then very carefully, I started my talk –
“Brothers and sisters, who have been ignored for ages! I have listened to every man and have experienced their pain. My inner wish is that your direct action plan succeeds; hence I consider it my duty to share all my doubts on this matter.
“Whenever people talk about direct action it goes wrong just there. Reason…? The emotions are high but patience and intelligence remain low; and even this emotion is also not high everywhere. That’s why if you want to stop the export of the mineral and natural resources from Jharkhand then the wall of resistance should be constructed using all the unbroken bricks.
“Also the crooked and useless, burnt and uncooked….?” A voice came. “I have talked about only unbroken bricks.” I replied.
The person who interrupted fell silent.
“You speak!” Many voices could be heard.
“At present this is not how it is.” I began speaking – “Few bricks are crooked, few of them are bent, few are burnt, few of them uncooked; and many of the bricks are just scattered around without being put into use. As far as I could remember, after the early days of Hansda no united attempt has ever been made. You recall that the 1857 mutiny was just like this – did it succeed?
I was in the middle of my speech, when the armed guards of the forest became vigilant. The crossbows were readied. A few cars stopped some distance away and the sound of the opening and closing of their doors could be heard.
It felt as if there was a slight thunderbolt in the sky and looking like an angel, she appeared on the scene. The man who accompanied her, he was very tall, strong and handsome. My lips were tied up. Turning my eyes, I tried to keep talking but again when the greedy eyes stealthily turned toward her, my mind went numb. She was not there. Was it all just my hallucination?
(This paragraph is struck off after being written down; still brazenly I join it together to read it. Hmm, the rascal hasn’t even written Sheila’s name. Only “She!”)
The gathering became a little unsettled. I saw along with Hansda, Manish and Vijay, some people arrived and on their arrival many centers were created. Like a magnet the crowd split and gathered around all the different centers. After that, what I said and what I heard, I do not remember except that at the end a chain was made consisting of all kinds of people that were present there. I was also present as one of the links in the chain; Hansda, Manish, Vijay, Philip, Gopal as well. I went to Shalbani to turn the tide in the right direction, but what actually happened? The tide again pushed me back to the shore.
The chain was made, but I could not convince myself whole-heartedly about it. It felt as if both my hands were forcibly stretched out and held. On the basis of my position in the plant, my national duty was to make sure that power is generated and is sent where it should be sent. As a supporter of the movement, my duty was to make sure that it is not sent outside the state. The fate had made me stand at a strange dubious junction where there were two roads going in two different directions.
I used to think all nightlong about what was the reason for my doubtful state of mind? Was it my ego by any chance because I was not heard in Shalbani? But where does the question of ego come in picture in this case? Whatever I had said that was for the movement to succeed! I could not find any fault in myself. I got the proof of that right there, when as soon as Hansda and Vijay arrived it caused the general gathering to split into subgroups. Then many of the villages, even Mejhiya were not taken into confidence. If the foundation itself is weak what point is served by making a chain other than a mere showoff? Before arriving at any conclusion my mind again got stuck in doubts – is there any personal fear behind this doubtful state that I might be suspended? As soon as this thought came, my mind would again become restless.
To handle the situation arising as a result of the direct action, a meeting was held and in spite of my disapproval, Ujjwal Roy called two companies of the central reserve police. Here I couldn’t have done much because the personnel department was not under me. My inner struggle increased even more. In such a situation giving attention to Gopal became almost impossible although here and there, I did see him running around and following Philip and Mahto. I used to weep on my fate with dry eyes. In front of me, Gopal was about to blossom like that bud which was yet not fully nourished. He was turning into a strange kind of a shy fellow, who considered following other people’s orders as the fulfillment of his duties.
On this doorstep of uncertainty blasted the week of direct action. Riding Mahto’s motorcycle, Philip carrying his bitter face and fiery eyes was present at every town entrance! As soon as the motorcycle would stop, Gopal and Mahto would get down and surround the truckers. Bisun Kainta, the boy who sold the arrows and the group that created disturbance were gathered. The trucks stopped and the loaded wagons stood still. All the town entrances were blocked. Paramilitary force and the police constables stood like statues; only when clashes erupted did they move. The army would mock at them. By evening, the whirlpool of clashes was becoming fiercer. Now I was sitting in the plant waiting for the storm. But how could I have known that the storm would cause destruction somewhere else and I would stay safe!
This force was built up in the jungle of Shalbani and then it spread to the wood warehouse of Sardar Pritam Singh. The contractor of the Shalbani jungle was Sukhu Singh. Nobody knew how long the direct action would stretch, thinking in this manner he, by bringing the officers on his side, caused quite a bit of uproar. There was delay in getting the truck and when in the warehouse of Pritam Singh the first truck arrived, Philip stopped it. The wood from the forest was left in Shalbani. In his madness Sukhu Singh called the police. Philip was dragged and taken away like a goat. The blockage was still not broken. As soon as one link moved the other took its place, and the second one was moved the third one. The next day Gopal was arrested along with his young brigade, the third day Bisun Kainta and many other students; on the fourth day women. By midnight of the fifth day itself, the trucks had started moving with the arrest of the Mejhiya group.
The string of releases started from day eight. I myself went with my vehicle to get them released but when I reached there I came to know that they were already freed two hours back. Where did they go – while returning back I was thinking, when the driver said, “Sir, fire!”
“Where?” “In the jungle!” “Fire in Shalbani? Turn toward Shalbani.”
As we were nearing Shalbani, the clouds of smoke became denser. Now the flames could also be seen and the crackling sound of burning as well. Asking my driver to stop the vehicle at the roadside, I was almost running on that road made of pebbles with the burning the Sal trees, some cut down some standing, on one side. The smoke filled the ears, nose, eyes and the mouth. The screaming birds were flying high in the air. I don’t know why I felt that Philip and Gopal should definitely be present here.
My scream and its echo were getting burnt and dying in the blazing flames. On the dance-beats of the smoke and the flames, the shadows were moving here and there. Because of the flames, the body was almost getting burnt. To save myself, I moved to the other side of the road and continued walking ahead through the uncut trees, piles of cut down trees and entangling in the shrubs. Suddenly I noticed – the people who burnt the forest they just burnt it from one side and moved ahead. Perhaps on their return journey, they would light fire on this side too. My doubt was validated. Sprinkling gasoline, Philip was coming from the front.
“Stop Philip, stop!” I screamed, “What is this madness? This forest belongs to you.”
“Please don’t stop me, sir!” Philip was panting in aggression, “If these forests belonged to us then we would have been listened to. If they were really ours then Sukhu Singh won’t have been able to cut them down, or the Sardar won’t have been able to send it outside. If these forests were really ours then when we tried stopping them, why did the police beat us? This whole of Jharkhand is their sanctuary, sir! Sanctuary for these bastards and we are their diets!” He was saying all this and the flames were shining on his ferocious face which was bathed in perspiration looking as if he was burning from inside.
“Calm down, Philip! Are others here too?” My reference to “others” was limited to the people that were arrested in Dokri, however Philip interpreted it differently, “Where are others – this only others would know.” Now he was right in front of me and his agitated face painted in ashes and his perspiration was looking frightening like an earthquake, “Huh! Will make a chain; will use direct action. Please don’t let me open my mouth that who is partying with whom and at the same time screaming from the rooftops about the movement and who else is busy enjoying pulling whose legs. When there was not even this much honesty then who asked them to make huge claims? I have seen everyone’s inner face, everyone’s!”
“Listen to me, Philip!” Pleading him, I moved forward.
“Please, move aside, sir!”
“I will not. I will not let you cause this utter destruction, Philip!’
“Please, move aside, the flames are approaching.” Saying this he pushed me and I fell in the bush.
Philip’s indistinct scream hopped and on this side of the road too, the wave of flames began running. Now on both its sides, the fire was flaring on the corners and he was walking like a divine man through them. As if the fire inside had split in two parts on the outside – one of the friends the other of the foes. Death has such a magnetic quality! What a passion for terror – I knew it on that day itself. In this festival of demolition, the trees appeared to be laden with ruby and pearls. Thousands of fountains of fire were flowing, the sky was full of variegated colors and in between innumerable fireworks and fluttering banners the leaves were flying like golden fowls. For some time, Philip was all alone and kept on burning with a crackling noise like a full grown Sal tree; later he became one with both the sides that were burning.
Flying from Dokri the smoke from the Sal forest reached up to Patna and Delhi. The enquiry had already begun. I was also a witness in the enquiry and a suspicious accused as well.
“How come this anarchy was born?” hopped the first question, but 86 / Turf beneath the Feet
before it could be answered another question, “First answer if you even consider it anarchy?”
“Anarchy it is, but it is the effect, not the cause.”
“Don’t you consider these leaders and officers to be its cause who keep on filling poison in innocent people like Philip?”
“Accepting the partial truth in context of Philip would mean un- acceptance of that bigger truth of exploitation, favorism and wrong policies, all these oppressive actions snatch from them the right to live with honor; this is the reason which pushes them to the extreme.” Saying this I narrated the whole incident as it was and they listened to it with disinterest.
Here the enquiry was going on; there various kinds of rumors were circulating about me behind my back – “Huh! He is just pretending to be a tribal supporter; after all he is a non-tribal himself! Sending the father to the jail and loving his son! On one side he is a government officer, and on the other hand Jharkhand movement! Neither the public is so stupid nor the government. This time his tail has been caught tightly, this colored jackal!”
Surprised, I used to look around to see who is speaking? But I couldn’t see anyone. How could I have seen someone, when the canvassing was exclusively being done by the brokers and the brash officers who were merely loudspeakers? Ujjwal Roy who spoke a lot never did it openly. His personnel department was also independent from us. His organization “Officers’ Guild” too was different from our “Officers’ Association.” Showcasing himself as a true communist and a tribal sympathetic, Ujjwal, with Philip’s death and the direct action failing, how he and his family had become loudmouthed! One day in the club, when he was talking about Sheila and my relationship like a gossip magazine, I couldn’t stop myself. Putting my hand on his shoulder, I said, “Mr. Roy, the way you portray yourself as progressive from the outside, I wish you were the same from the inside!”
I was hoping that Ujjwal would throw his wine glass away and raise his sleeves, but no, it was as if it didn’t touch him, “What I really am – just leave it friend! Come sit! You don’t drink; should I get some divine wine for my body-less, king Janak? As such, this king Janak was really a big player; left hand on the woman’s curves and the right hand doing religious ceremony…!”
A loud laughter jumped from his table and pierced in the chest like a knife. Ujjwal used to be such a good friend of mine, what really happened…?
Why did I even go to him, trying to be his friend? Did I not know about his activities? I felt as if I can’t see things clearly anymore. Every day, I saw myself sinking deeper.
Now I stood alongside with whosoever to talk to, I felt they did not have time for me. Books, cassettes, television, everything was becoming useless, even my writing. Even the people from the association who respectfully listened to me earlier, now argued with me and tried to prove me wrong. An unexpressed irritation was collecting inside, but I was constrained by my old habit. I still felt that people are not bad from inside; we all are after all one! And that day when just like every day, in the association topics like wives, love relationships, politics, film and sports were being discussed, I was wandering from one table to the other like a hungry bear – no one was giving me any attention. I couldn’t even define this hunger. Right from the childhood like the shadow walking in front, this hunger has been pulling me and often becomes a bit icky. Perhaps, I was entangled with Mahto about the coal problem of the plant. Me going to him to make him understand in a friendly way, or perhaps something else; that too was just the frustrated hunger! I realized that it snapped only when, Mahto stood with his inflated snake’s hood reacting to my habitual stubborn reasoning – “Leave idiot, I will see you outside!”
It was raining outside…no, it was acid that was raining – go; you are hungry right from the birth, right? Now go and drink as much as you like! Like a sinking ship, sinking and sinking, I finally foundered.
Recovering a bit in the nursing home, I again tried to convince my mind – what happened in the past that was just a phase of history – like two steps forward, one step back. Now that should be seen, which lies in the front.
First of all, I remembered Gopal. Motherly feeling sprang inside – without me how would he be living? This wicked disease, just like an uninvited guest comes and doesn’t leave. But no, not anymore. Now apart from the office and Gopal, nothing else.
When I returned back to the bungalow, I again felt as if I was not seeing things clearly. Whose bungalow is this, so lonely? Neither there is Gopal nor is there the Pundit uncle. Doubt crept in, but I convinced myself that they must have gone out somewhere, must be coming back. But when even at nine in the night neither of them came, I had to call the guard and ask.
“Don’t you know, sir?” It was as if the guard was astonished at my ignorance.
“Both of them have left. The Pundit told me that he won’t live here anymore, he has rented a new quarter. And Gopal like every day was here with his friends till three o’clock in the afternoon. Then they all had a fight and he took away his bag and left. He said – he won’t come again.”
“What fight…? Which friends…? Why don’t you tell me in detail?”
“See, sir. Just like daily, Gopal came here with his friends. I do not recognize everyone, barring one – that Mahto’s son. He was discussed almost daily…he burnt to death…!”
“Yes, him. Gopal was very sad. They wanted to play the tape recorder. Gopal said no, Philip is dead and sir is in the hospital. However, yesterday they did play the tape. In its noise, I couldn’t hear everything but when they began quarreling the tape was turned off, then I could listen.”
“What did you listen?”
“The Mahto Sir’s son spoke, “Barring him, everyone else is a traitor.” At this Gopal said, “He too is a traitor.” Someone asked, “Say the name?” Gopal said, “The sir who left Philip brother behind.” Mahto’s son said, “Say the name?” Gopal said, “One is you. Because of the fear of your father’s prestige you ran away.” Mahto Sir’s son stood up in anger, “How can you understand what is the Jharkhand movement? My father is part of it from the time when you were not even born.” Gopal said, “Everyone is like a jackal. These Mahto people, from when do they belong to the tribal race, and the Christians, and like this all the people who have money, who have education, those who snatched the lands of the tribal people, those are the ones that will remain in the forefront. Even today the land and all the jobs are with you, what do we have?” At this the Mahto’s son and one other boy started abusing Gopal, “What can you say? The Diku who sent your father to the prison, you lick his feet!”
“Hmmm!” I lost my cool, “Any other thing – do you remember?”
“Yes, first the boys wanted to open their office in the Pundit’s quarter, then Gopal refused saying, ‘Sir won’t agree.’ It may have happened the quarreling began from this point itself.”
When I phoned the plant, I came to know, Gopal didn’t come to work today. My heart felt extremely lonely and sad, so to change my mind I went to the club at nine thirty in the night. But there was no one there. I found out that a meeting of all the officers was going on at Mr. Roy’s bungalow. By morning, even the result of this meeting was known. All the officers were wearing black badges to protest against me. The allegation was that I do not behave with them in a civilized manner. This was perhaps regarding the incident involving Mahto. But in reality he was the one who insulted me and that context too was quite old. This was the first gift that my colleagues gave me when I returned from the hospital and joined my duty. The extent of shamelessness was such that wearing those black badges they were in broad daylight roaming around in the same Honda motorcycles and Maruti cars that were given to them as presents by the suppliers and the contractors.
Fifteen days after this incident, I found a confidential letter from our ministry. What kind of letter it was, it was an open threat that during my tenure the productivity had fallen from the projected goal of four fifty megawatt to two hundred and fifteen megawatt, and that in this duration the dissatisfaction and indiscipline among the workers increased breaking all records; the blame for which goes directly to my business-opposed policies, that give the lazy workers and officers leeway and that are insulting toward the sincere workers and officers, that in a secretive manner I was involved in activities that aggravate the tribal people that are considered treacherous for the country’s interests, and that the minister is seriously weighing these accusations and if fifteen days after receiving the letter no justified and reasonable clarification is given, then he shall be forced to take disciplinarian action against me.
In my clarification, I refuted the charges and along with a copy of the previous report that I had sent to the ministry, I pointed out that the plant had never achieved the target of four hundred and fifty megawatt, when I took the charge then too it was two hundred and fifteen megawatt, the reason was the inherited under-quality coal supply, discontent among the workers and the misconduct of some arrogant people among the officers and the unions, which I time and again pointed out to the government. If this misconduct in the departments such as personnel and material purchase was left unchecked and if they continued to divide the workers for their gains, if the government continued to turn a blind eye toward the cause of Jharkhand then neither the plant could run nor the country.
After writing the letter, I kept staring at it like a fool – like a convict, whom am I giving this clarification to…? One thought did come that I should just tear it, but don’t know why I started putting it in an envelope.
It was quite clear, the time to go had arrived; not years or months, it was just a matter of days – the only thing to be decided was that should I quit myself and go or should I wait for them to send me off. But the fate was creating a third way for me leave – who knew it!
When at eight in the night, I came out of my chamber I couldn’t see things clearly. In the front, up to where my vision could reach, the lights were shining, but there should have been dark out there. Was I losing my mental balance? I don’t know, what was happening. The guard told that Gopal’s mother came there twice asking for me and had returned. But why would she come here…? The guard was definitely mistaken. When I phoned the plant, I came to know that Gopal was there but when I reached there the foreman was tired looking for him, “He was here just a moment back, sir! Don’t know where he went.” A deep restlessness and constantly changing my laying posture were the hallmarks of that deceitful night.
I was dead tired after working like a machine, finishing the work of the plant’s mechanical operation until ten in the morning. On reaching my chamber, my eyes felt heavy. I took a nap and in my dream came Gopal – the background was dark, but even in this darkness, the Mejhiya’s handicapped people and their flat and sad faces were shining every now and then. I put my hands on Gopal’s shoulders, “Gopal, why did you leave without asking me…? You feared that I’d stop you from joining the movement, right? Oh foolish boy, I myself wanted that you leave, yes, but I did want that you be mature in every way before leaving. Preparing you for that day, I used to tell you about Singi Dayi, Sidhu, Kanu, Birsa Munda, from the gallantry award winner Albert Ekka to Rana Pratap, Shivaji, Marx, Lenin, Mao, Bhagat Singh!” I looked at him attentively. He was taking in all my words with faith. I further said, “Listen, I have limited time. Before going, I want to tell you that thing which has been itching to come out all these days but couldn’t say it until this day…half truth also means half lie, Gopal! I am happy to see that you have joined the movement. But tomorrow even if a separate Jharkhand is formed and it continues to be occupied by people like Daniel and our Mahto then in that and today’s situation where people like Ujjwal Roy and Sukhu Singh are strong, there is no real difference. At most just like reservation a new sect will stand up. Then again, you will have to fight against such elements. The history of the struggle for our country’s independence is already with you, the difference between that and this is just of the quality and quantity, similar in other characteristics…. Remember this, this war is a war that every man has to fight at all times outside and inside. From my side, I wanted to prepare a protagonist for all the possibilities.”
All of a sudden with the opening of the door, my day dream was broken. My protagonist was standing in front of me, as if coming out straight from my dream. But what’s this…? Red eyes, shaking legs, strong smell of alcohol. In one hand holding a bag, in the other a paper, “Withdraw this.” In front of me it seemed as if Kalicharan himself was standing.
“Have you consumed alcohol?”
“I will drink. I have drunk with my own money, not your kind donation. Will you withdraw the charge-sheet or not?”
“Gopal!”I became emotional, “Do you know I did not marry or have kids, I treated you like my son…” I began rubbing my forehead, “But you! You must know, I did not issue the charge-sheet.”
“You are bluffing! It was you who sent my father to the prison so that you could meet my mother. Why you used to go to the Mejhiya village, tell me! And that too, what is that scar on your forehead? Withdraw the charge- sheet! Are you going to do it or not…?” Saying this with his shaking hands he opened the knot of the bag and turned it upside down on the table. A scorpion with its sting started crawling on the table. The sting was tied to a thread that was in Gopal’s hand…but in whose hand was the thread of Gopal?
At once, I lost my temper. Crushing the scorpion with the paperweight I stood up in anger. No, not now! Not anymore! Whatever came in hands, using that itself I started beating Gopal.
Uff! That beating….
Although a supporter of reason backed violence, I myself had never used violence against anyone and now I was beating Gopal in this cruel manner, someone who was the center of my aspirations, dreams and resolution. No, I was not beating him; I myself was breaking apart piece by piece like a cracked wall.
I was not beating; part by part I was fracturing. I was not beating; I was the one getting beaten up.
Die, die my aspirations!
Die, die my dreams!
Die, die my resolve!
All of a sudden a thorny shrub like voice showered on me, “Don’t you have any shame?”
I turned around to see, there was a crowd that had gathered outside and was fighting with the security personnel. One group from the crowd went inside from the office door and taking the screaming and weeping Gopal, went out all the while showering a rain of abuses at me. I saw Gopal for the last time like a boat riding on the tide of the crowd, and then he drowned. Outside the slogans for my dismissal were being chanted and the knives of the slogans were shining –
“S. P. sir, down down!” “Down down!!” “Sudama is a murderer!” “He is a murderer!!” “Sudipta is a bluff-master!” “He is a bluff-master!!” “Bluff-master, murderer, resign!” “Resign!!”
The veins of my forehead began to crack. Alright, I will also leave like Mr. Sinha. After all it was certain that I was leaving anyway. I was not sad because of this, the reason for my sadness lied somewhere else and it was entirely personal that to write the story I wasted page after page of my life, today when the season for it to finish had arrived, I could not erect any protagonist.
For all day long, I was fenced in a circle – a circle which was like a knot that was tied round my neck – on the outside as well as on the inside. All contacts severed! The next day at ten in the morning when the police came to my rescue, the resignation was on my table.
Standing on top of the staircase when I looked at the buzzing crowd in Turf beneath the Feet / 93
front, I felt as if my sight was completely blurred, although the day was very clear and the sun so bright to even dazzle the faces. From the garage to the gate and from the gate to the road, on both the sides there were people gathered – slogan chanting crowd! On the walls, row of cartoons depicting my alleged relationship with Sheila, me getting beaten up by Mahto and Gopal being beaten by me! Swinging banners after banners of incriminating words against me! The road was vomiting poison, the walls were vomiting poison and the sky too was vomiting poison. Today, I could feel the depth of Philip’s pain – to save oneself from the foes, one could run toward friends but if along with the foes friends too are igniting fire then what…?
The pages that are numbered end here. Now there is just one folded sheet of paper with no page number written on it. Let me see…?
Years have gone by. When I remember then Dokri, Mejhiya, Hansda, Manish, Vijay, Philip, Kalicharan, Gopal, the Pundit, Sheila and others, all seem like the birds sitting on the power cables. When I go close, they fly away in a hurry. In the sky dotted zigzag and bent lines form and then vanish. Did I spend my life in a mirage…? How could I agree with that? I struggled with myself or perhaps just tried to save myself – don’t really know. Perhaps, I myself am the one striking, I myself am the opponent and I myself am the onlooker. From the blow, the blood starts streaming out from my nose, ear, mouth and the delicate veins, the consciousness begins to merge into emptiness and before the last round of counting – I stand up then one more brick under my feet disappears. What will you call the pain of such a person who wasting away from conscious to unconscious, is wandering night and day, and the way is such that it keeps on extending in further emptiness? Why did my life become a burning ship on an endless stretch of water? Life, I did not live it for myself, it was for my people, but neither could it balance myself nor my people. Paash has said that the most dangerous thing for a man is the death of his dreams. But why the hell did my dreams die? After all, I had put them in the laps with lots of love. Perhaps, just where there was the source of life there itself were the things pertaining to death and the dreams were so delicate that they couldn’t tolerate the heat, they were just martyred! Now what remains the aim of life? – Nothing.
From time to time I think, when in the outside world people are fighting on their respective fronts even if a single soldier is separated how contemptible crime it is! But this sickness and this depression…! A wounded soldier nearing death, what can he do – except for giving his life by being crushed by the horses and soldiers’ feet! Should I call the soldiers arrogant, or call them betrayers…? No! I didn’t realize that earlier but now I feel, God, justice, fate, rebirth etc. so many effective safety valves were constructed by our forefathers! But for someone like me who is a non-believer, I don’t have even that.
I feel like putting my head on someone’s shoulder and crying but here too I am in the same pitiable condition. Not even one shoulder to cry upon! One character from Gorki’s “Those three” in a lonely moonlit night cries under a tree which has been pulled out of the jungle. Chekhov’s one character doesn’t find anyone to share his grief of his son’s loss so he cries with his horse. At least one compassionate tree and one compassionate horse were with them! And I don’t have even that! Only stones – spread far and wide, insensitive dry hard rocks.
Gathering the pages, I become emotional. Is this an ordinary writing or a song of gradually deepening pain which someone sang from behind the curtains and in the end from behind the curtains he slips the dried-up bouquet-like last page? Before I could reach out to that hand it disappears. I open your letter to read it –
You always used to complain that I haven’t written anything for ages. After so many years, I am in that situation that I can fulfill your wish. If you can come, do come! The rest when you come here…
P.S., if you are unable to find me immediately then search the sidewall, you will find it. Although where do I have to go? Wherever I will be, I will come quickly to meet you. Don’t go without meeting me!
After reading the letter, the sheet of depression which spread until now is beginning to crack. Thank goodness, in the midst of the rocks you are still alive and this last page’s dry bouquet – you yourself did not make it part of your original work. The shoulder which you were searching for has arrived, cry to your heart’s content. But where are you now? Perhaps, to save yourself from the rain you must be hiding under some rock. What a coincidence! To drive you crazy there was Sheila and here there is “Shila” (stone) to protect you! The sound of falling water from the nearby hill is coming from the outside. There is now no sound of the teasing air on the front door. I am confident the next knock on the door shall be yours. You will continue to thump the door, “Open it! For goodness sake, open it!”
I will say, “Get lost from here! I will not open it.”
You will plead with me, “I was lost in the chilly storms, for God’s sake open the door!”
“I will not open it.”
Then you will say, “You know, it has been twenty years since I have been calling – twenty years.” I will close my ears. Beseeching like a bird flapping its wings wishing to go to her closed nest. I will say, “I will not open, even if you continue to beg for the next twenty years.”
Huh! “The Wuthering Heights”…the heights eating away the hills! Today the heights are devouring all the hills Sudipta! Regarding the movement, your doubts are about to be proven right. Hansda, Manish, Mahto, Munda, Daniel, Marandi, Besra – each one of them has transformed into shells of the high tide. Perhaps one more Gorkhaland is in the making. Suppose a separate state is indeed created; who will take its possession? – Just like the freedom of our country, everything is getting dwarfed. Why only blame them, when in the name of Marxism and democracy, the people who are in the government are selfish, narrow-minded and they now limit themselves to the politics of keeping their chairs intact. There is a fight to control everything. Falling like the sand in a torn bag the principles – whatever is left, that will be distributed among everyone equally. In my eyes, I hear the sound of the crowd – breaking piece by piece, the tumbling crowd of the heights! I am travelling on the wings of the lighter clouds; below the bubbles are forming and bursting out. My ligaments are becoming numb and the eyes heavy. Coming out of the den of tiredness, the ants of sleep are crawling on my body.
Don’t know for how long I have been sleeping, you didn’t even peep in my dreams. When I wake up, I find the lamp has gone out and the light from the holes of the door like an iron beam is supporting me. Hurriedly I get up and opening the door, I stand there.
Afar in the bowl made up of the mountains, the yellow- reddish morning sunlight fills up. In the corner of the hill in the front, the sun like a giant firework is burning and behind it the rainbow has appeared in the sky. The preparation is quite impressive, completely poetic. Arriving from the other side on this bridge, is that your plan? To welcome you, the green color of the trees has intensified and after being washed the rooftops are bright red.
After roaming around, my eyes look below to find that my telepathy has been proven right. Below some people are staring in my direction. Among those, are you also there – I am not sure. Waving my hand, I call them. Barring one, everyone runs away. What is the matter? No, they stop after running a bit. Now forming a group, they all are coming toward me. Walking in my direction is also a khaki patch and behind him a dotted line of three people. I in astonishment keep looking at them as they approach. When they come near from the stars of his uniform, I guess that the khaki clothed man must be a sub-inspector of police.
“You…?” His voice has some component of surprise and some annoyance.
“Yes indeed. I am Sameer, Mumbai’s Swades magazine’s editor. I came here on receiving a letter from my writer friend Sudipta.” I reply.
The man standing close to him whispers in his ear and the shine in his eyes increase.
“Your identity card?”
I pull it out of my wallet, to show it to him.
He matches the photo with my face, and keeps the card in his hand.
“You will have to come with me to the police station.” Turf beneath the Feet / 97
“Police station…but why? Where is Sudipta?” “When did you arrive here?” “Today morning.” “When did you receive the letter?”
“About seven days back.”
“How are you related to him?”
“I already told you, I am a friend.”
“Does he have parents, brother and sister or any other relative?”
“Tell me what actually happened?”
“Don’t worry, first answer my question.”
“I am not sure about it.”
“I suppose you too don’t know him?”
“No-no, I know him, but that is a long story. Please let me meet Sudipta, wherever he is, in whatever circumstance.”
They are staring at me in a very strange way. I feel a snake’s tongue like instinct rubbing me and telling me that something’s wrong.
“Please come.” The khaki uniform as if called me from the other shore of the thoughts. They climb up one stone at a time from the side of the cave. The peaks are still far – totally naked. Where are they taking me?
After going a little forward they turn to one side and stand right at the roof of the cave. “See this!”
What is this? This is a human skeleton. I stammer, “Who?”
“This is actually your Sudipta.”
I freeze. It was such a dangerous thing to say! He was right on top of my head for so long…I keep gazing at you in disbelief. The tears flow without making any sound. The police inspector narrates –
“We didn’t actually know anything, who all lived here. There was a plan of the forest department people to carry out some plantation. The work was delegated to the people living here itself.
During this rainy season, the plants were to be planted. Then one day…first it was the shepherds who intimated the forest guards about the pungent smell coming from here. Perhaps, something or someone had died. Then the forest guards informed us. When we came close, we saw a corpse. He committed suicide by hitting his forehead with a stone – postmortem report. The letter that we got from the corpse’s pocket says that no one should be held responsible for his suicide. Two wishes were expressed. One that his corpse should not be burnt or buried, but kept here in the open so that the hawks and the crows or some wild animal may eat him, and second that all his papers should be handed to his friend Sameer, the editor of Swades.”
“Did you not investigate the reasons behind his suicidal step?”
“We did, but couldn’t find anything. Apart from some books, there were two other things – some sheets of papers reading which no definite conclusion could be drawn.” Then he remembers something and asks the person standing beside him, “Where were those papers kept?”
“Papers…? Here itself.” That person stammers.
“Idiot!” The space between his eyebrows, crease up. Then to not let his weakness show up in front of me, he says, “There was nothing special, there were some letters; come and you can have a look.”
“I have already seen.” I mumble slowly, “What was the other thing?”
“It was a diary, perhaps a journal…one person is bringing it. Don’t know what all unfathomable stuff was written in it. After reading it, our clerk said, “He must have been crazy.”
“Did you also agree?” I remember at one time even the doctor had diagnosed that he was suffering from M.D.B.
“Why just me, the people who live here say too. Then there was no need to do a lot of investigation anyway, when the dying person didn’t blame anyone!”
The journal arrives. My eyes stop at few lines from his poem– Turf beneath the Feet / 99
In the hope of some reception the eyes kept open
The years passed on, months-weeks, days and seasons.
Peeping again and again the eyes were covered with sadness,
In the forests of the fall, a silence prevailed.
Similar to this some more…
It is simply dark; the rays of the sun are breaking down.
Then there are some beautiful sayings. After turning many pages, on one page I find the following –
For years I was writing only one story. But when the gulf between writing a story and living it disappears then its challenges show up. I have no shame in accepting the fact that I couldn’t even erect one character – neither Kalicharan Kisku, nor Gopal, Hansda, Sukhmaya Babu, Manish, Mahto, Philip, neither Sheila, nor Mejhiya or the N.T.P.C. of Dokri.
Oh! The life that teemed with opportunities and ends like this! Whenever I think about it, I begin to cry. I couldn’t become anything – neither a complete man, nor a complete writer. Who can understand my tragedy, when I am being pushed to play the role of a villain?
Some lines are cut after being written.
Today please let me confess that I was attracted to Sheila. Her big breasts, long neck, intoxicating eyes which she moved slightly to the left and then to the right, sometimes up toward the sky and lifting her head she would say “O…h…h.” As she pulled a deep breath my whole existence would vibrate like the tight cord of a sitar. I kept thinking, where did that woman go? I used to feel, I myself was the contractor of the brick factory from “Des-Pardes.” I myself stole her, and I myself am her separated lover.
This episode brought me so much disrepute! Why in the hell did I fall for her…? And that day she appeared with her elephant like husband in the Shalbani meeting…to expose my real self; how grand was my Narad-like infatuation. Was it not merely a self-woven illusion? Sameer was right – it would have been better if I were married.
Oh, this mighty fall! And on top of it, an organizer of a responsible movement!
Although Sameer did say – “Take it easy. Such things happen, buddy!” He didn’t say anything wrong! But dogs are running after my life. This
Mahatma-like image that I am wearing; the Mahatma is sick. The Mahatma who has been to a nursing home on more occasions than one, his one devotee called him “bastard” and threatened to see him on the street. The Mahatma is outspoken, he is stubborn, rustic; the Mahatma is in a pitiable condition. One side of suffering is personal, the other is collective!
I am thinking – writing a story is so simple but to live a story is so difficult! When you are writing, you are like a sculptor; any character can be molded howsoever you fancy. If you fail, you can just change it or totally wipe off its existence. But living a story…? There you don’t have everything in your control when the characters themselves are treading their own paths.
A corpse of an unfulfilled life will be lying in my cave and what is even sadder is that a corpse of an unsuccessful story will also be scattered everywhere.
The last page contains some verses delving into the existential philosophy. At the very last is a quote from Bhishma from the Stri Parva (the eleventh chapter) of the Mahabharata – All accumulations are destroyed one day; the one who flies high, his coming down definitely occurs. All that one holds dear and is attached to is separated from him. The end of all that is living is death.
“Swoo-swoo” the wind is blowing. The sun is slipping behind the mountains. On the other side of the valley the sound of drums is filling the air. As soon as it reaches the ears, the doors of the past memories open – the crowd demanding compensation, the crowd joining the procession, the crowd cutting the crop, the crowd writing a petition, the crowd chanting slogans – in every crowd the rhythmic slogans, on all sides the crowd! It seems that around the five hills, a knot is tightening – the crowd is gathering, on the waves of each rhythm and beat…and I am in front of it. Bleeding in the last bright flames of the sun, the clouds are transforming into the government officials – “Sudipta, you committed suicide?” I keep questioning the skeleton of Sudipta.
“And you Sameer, you didn’t do it?” Sudipta’s skeleton replies back.
While descending from the hill a person tells me, “Everyone ran away from here out of fear.” Now I realize the real reason behind the uninhabited houses and the locked front-doors.
“Then how did you recognize me?” I ask.
“Here everyone says that he still strolls in the night. The shepherds are all very ill-mannered. They told that today in the daylight when they hesitantly went there and opened the door, on seeing you they ran back frightened! Then they brought along the inspector sir with them.”…
By dusk, we are in the police station. In the light of an oil- lamp by the time we finish all the official rites, it is eight. I put the clothes there for Sudipta’s neighbors. A journal, books, a manuscript and a bank passbook whose three thousand five hundred seventy one rupees won’t ever be withdrawn – while making a list of all his everyday items all of a sudden I remember about the letter that I received from him. Pulling out an envelope from the bag, I begin looking at it with sad eyes – whose message could have been this, the receiver of which has already left the world? Not getting opened, is this its fate? But who is the sender of this letter? And what is his message…?
Tearing the envelope, I take out the folded letter and open it. A crisscross writing lies in front of me. –
Shree Bijli Sir
Namaste, from the inhabitants of the Mejhiya village. Where did you go without intimating us such that we searched for you everywhere but couldn’t find you? Today Gopal brought a new address; I am sending this letter to the same address.
The inhabitants of Mejhiya miss you so much – if you don’t believe it, please come and see for yourself. You resigned from your job, but not from here! There is a function planned on the day of the full moon. Please come when you receive this letter, this is my request. When you come we will give you a wonderful gift. Please understand this as a telegram and not an ordinary letter. If you don’t come then there won’t be any function. May Sivonga keep you happy.
Yours father-like Majhi Haram, Mejhiya
As I finish reading the letter my eyes settle on the moon – “Today is the thirteenth day, right?”
“No fourteenth, but why?”
“If I start today then by tomorrow can I reach Gomo?”
“Yes, there is a local train at ten in the night; it reaches Gomo in the morning. But why are you looking so anxious?”
“From Gomo it is possible to go to the Mejhiya village. Tomorrow is the full moon; I have to reach there before the dusk.” I pick up my bags.
“But there is still some time before the train arrives.”
Without replying back, I start walking. I have to find out the missing link of the story; is it scattered somewhere in Mejhiya?
Again that deserted halt and the same darkness. No, the darkness has become a lot transparent now because of the moonlight, but yesterday this darkness was swollen with the fetus of possibilities and today after the abortion it is hollow. Wherever I stand, in no time I start feeling as if I am standing at the back of the cave. Hurriedly I move away from there. The same thing happens at the next location too. I am getting tired from changing locations. I come to that lonely tea-snacks-cigarette-ticket stall, it’s the same. At last, when at fifteen past ten from afar the fiery ember of the local train shows up, on purchasing my ticket and arriving at the platform, my restlessness calms down a little.
Panting, while making a “Khand Kach Khand Kach…” noise, the train finally arrives. Probably all the bogies are empty of any passengers. After loading me inside, the train sounds its whistle – “Piiiiin Siiiii.” Goodbye, Paanch Pahaarr!
On the outside, the moonlight of the fourteenth day was raining from above. The hills wrapped in the ashes, the shrubs and one or two clouds, they are running backward…no, not the hills, the shrubs and the clouds but the skeletons are running – white skeletons! Inside the bogey the one or two who are lying down or sleeping, they are also there itself. Suddenly the train passes beside a bunch of hills. The curtains from the mountains rise and a skeleton jumps on the train.
Without blinking, I am gazing at you. Then I join you with the dust, with the sky, with the air, with sighs and the tears, with the past and the present. Eyes, nose, hands, legs and all the body parts come out. Now with your head bowed down, you are standing in my convict box.
You were from a well-off family, right? From your childhood you saw your father exploiting the farmers, the shepherds and the laborers. Your mother passed away when you were very small, you had no brothers or sisters, so you had to struggle with your mind all by yourself. Unacceptability and disgust, drop by drop consolidated. Things exploded when one day you grabbed your father’s hand that was beating the laborers. Then your father tied you along with the laborers and beat you as well. You freed your child-marriage wife, left your house – why? The reason was that you did not accept the world created by your father, right? You wanted your own world, made by your own hands. In this process you continued to become more stubborn and tough with the passage of time.
Using your aunt’s money, you finished your B.E. degree from Kharagpur. But the studies were secondary; the freedom of the lower castes came first. Among the dalits, the tribal people were on the top of the list now. And then the job in the Dokri Thermal Power Plant followed. There too, the job was secondary; the movement came first. Word-play and the mediocre literary gatherings, the litterateurs, the political gatherings filled with soda-watery speeches, the officers’ cult like the hippopotamus’ skin, poisonous, smooth and sticky like snakes but alert contractors and the corrupt union leaders, for petty instant benefits the drifting mentality of the deprived class; amid all this you tried to wake up a seer like awareness your whole life. All this penance for what; just to run away from everyone to some silent cavern and then crack open your skull and die.
See; don’t move your eyes away. Answer some important questions of mine.
Just the way you already spoke of in the past, for years you were living a tragedy-filled novel, but why did you leave it unfinished and why are the several starting, the middle and the ending pages missing? Unforgettable characters like your father, Hansda, Manish, Vijay, Philip and Sheila, when they were there, why did you have a special preference for Kalicharan and Gopal? If they were so special how come the Mejhiya village was any less special where you never went back? And above all, where all the names and the places are the same, what compelled you to put masks on many of them?
If your writing was just focused on the movement, then too it should have begun with Hansda. You had also promised earlier that you shall write about him. But for some reason you found him ordinary, not just Hansda but Manish and Vijay as well. Perhaps you didn’t like that the world that was built on the basis of their experiment, scattered. And just like what you did to your father’s world, you again tried to design your own world where you could experiment as you liked. But still the question remains – why a character like Kalicharan Kisku? Your evaluation of the tussle between your preference for the common man and your dislike for the primitive culture? And your denial of the event of Kisku climbing up the chimney, or the uncivilized laborers and the black magic and tantra affecting people’s lives, or the inflexibility and the use of shortcuts?
One more question – broadly speaking Sheila is a hundred percent truth along with being a symbol also – of the misled tribal pride, which infected not just Kalicharan, Gopal, Munda, Hansda, but also Manish and Vijay. This pride that you loved should not become a consort of the regressive forces, isn’t this the central point of your attack?
Whether it was your father or your lover, the movement or the literature, Kalicharan or Gopal, when I look at your life, in truth I find you similar to the thirsty deer that got lost in a mirage and eventually lost its life. How much weariness must have been present in that moment? What all must have been boiling in your solitude? In the journal and in the page that was written separately you have told something – but what about the things that you never shared?
The complexity of the Sheila’s episode, being ignored by the colleagues, the threats and the abuses, and this incurable disease, each one of these dissolved you part by part. The boiling life kept on forming into smoke on a hot plate, and you could never come out till the end point. Oh my Sudipta!
I agree that everyone collectively pulled you down, but you…the first stone was thrown by Kisku and the last one by you…! You yourself are now in the crowd of murderers. Was that incurable mental illness not due to your internal contradictions? In retrospect I remember everything. On many occasions breaking the rope, your mind rushed toward temptations. When you were disappointed from one side then turning back, you looked at your responsibilities and taming the mind you pulled it back. You didn’t like this weakness of yours, even its mere mention. You never let down the mask of greatness. However, how could you convince your own mind?
Nonetheless, this is not a good enough reason to kill oneself. So then everyone whose wishes are not fulfilled, should commit suicide? Who doesn’t have weakness? But in spite of it, the goodness is it any less important? In this world there are many insect-like human beings but very few are able to become Sudama, Sudipta or Bijli sir. Agree that in the annals of the bats, there won’t be any mention of the Sudiptas, but whatever little goodness that there is in this world is because of the efforts of such people and to kill such Sudipta was not a good action – neither for you, nor for the society.
What is this! While pronouncing the verdict, what is happening to me? I feel like sobbing. And a few hiccups later, I begin to cry. Many have committed suicide, Sudipta, you are neither the first one nor the last, but in this sense you are alone that I can understand the pain that you went through.
You were hungry for love. Only love; and that love no one was able to provide you. What is happening to this society that they now fail to recognize a friend and a foe? Becoming monkeys of the exploiters, they dance with their hands on the butt but for Sudiptas not a tiny shadow of affection comes their way. You are not the only one who committed suicide; this whole society is also doing the same. For these very people you spoilt your own life. Oh, remembering everything is so painful but to forget it is also not possible. Will this society be destroyed just like this?
The inaccessible complex of the Dokri Thermal Power Corporation, the smoke coming out of the chimneys, the sparkling roads, the vehicles and the human figures moving on the road – everything is just like before; but there is something that is missing, that which joins everything to me.
After inquiring about the address, I am walking on the dirt road in the Mejhiya village. On both the sides there are pigmy mango trees laden with fruit. In front of me is a narrow stream of water. It must be the Mansa rivulet. And this bridge…it looks temporary, though strong. From the bridge itself, the whole landscape on the slope of the hill of the big and the small farms can be seen. Even in the summer season, the fields are decorated with vegetables of different kinds. Such a well-organized village! Have I by mistake come to some other village which has been adopted by some agency and not Mejhiya?
Let me ask the middle-aged man who is spraying water, “What is the name of this village?”
“Mejhiya…who are you looking for?” “Majhi Haram.” “Go straight, turn right; he should be in the tent.”
In the tent, a boy calls an old man. He must be in his late sixties; tanned skin. With the support of his stick, he arrives in front of me.
“Are you Majhi Haram from Mejhiya?” “Yes sir, you…?” “I am Sameer, a friend of your Bijli sir.” “Are you also a writer?”
“Please come. We are so fortunate that you have come here. Where is Bijli sir?” His whole being is in a joyful state.
“Did you inform him?” I pretend to not know about it.
“I sent Gopal twice to post a letter to him. Once or twice the letter returned, but the last time it didn’t come back.” Then in a loud voice he says to the group of singing women, “Bring at least ten garlands, who knows how many people might come with him!”
The harmony of the song breaks for a moment.
“How many sir?”
The women murmur among themselves, followed by a burst of giggles. Meanwhile, the singing again resumes –
“Olok Padhak Jail Te Alo Pe Menam Nui Do” ……………………
I do not understand the song. Majhi Haram is busily giving instructions to the people to decorate the venue with lights. Some twenty odd people are busy in preparing the stage and the arched gateway. I want to know what the song means. The old man calls out loudly. His face fills with a smile, “Ganesh, explain the meaning of this song to sir.”
A young man leaves his work in between, “Please listen. These ladies are saying that seeing them read and write one should not draw the conclusion that they only know how to read and write, and that they don’t know how to sow the paddy. Look there, the big dam; with our own hands we built it. Look here, we sowed the paddy and now the matured crop waves in the breeze.” After translating the song, he wipes the sweat on his forehead and goes back to his work of hammering the tent-pin.
The old man’s eyes are shining, “Bijli sir wrote it.”
“Do people sing it often?”
“Oh, it’s not the only one!” “Koyak-koyak teyn mokoyen – and there are many others. Here everywhere only his songs are sung.”
“So did Bijli sir visit here often?” 108 / Turf beneath the Feet
“As far as I know, he has come here only twice. Nevertheless, whatever you see here, it is because of his efforts.”
“This line of trees…?” I point to a queue of new trees. “In a way, this too.” “That dam, these fields…?”
“Everything!” Quenching my curiosity, the old man replies, “When he came here first, something unfortunate happened! Poor fellow, he was beaten up. The next time around, the situation was worse! The effluent of the factory made the land barren, the drinking water was polluted too and made people crippled. My daughter too was paralyzed. She is sitting right there. If he hadn’t come she would have died by now. He called the doctor and sent her to the hospital. The effluent processing plant was setup and also to clean the water in the stream. He got us funds for building of the dam, and fighting tooth and nail he got us electricity.”
“And the trees…?”
“I will also tell about that. My daughter has planted these trees, but Bijli sir was the one to give the idea. He also advised us to change our old ways of farming. When my girl returned back after getting cured, she was crazy about him. She said she won’t ever marry. Bijli sir also never got married for the sake of the society, I too will not marry. She said she would surprise him. But just in that duration he left his job and went away. Today, if he can come back he can see with his own eyes. If he doesn’t come how will Gopal be ever forgiven?”
“Did he say he is going to come?”
The old man looked a bit worried, “He must have received the letter; then he should surely come. The first one had returned; our hopes are pinned on the second one.”
“Can you show the first letter please?”
The old man calls her daughter and gives her instruction in local language that I don’t understand.
In a short while an old women brings an envelope. The old man takes the envelope and gives it to me. The address is of Dokri. Without asking I open it –
Shree Bijli Sir
Namaste, from the inhabitants of the Mejhiya village. Where did you go without intimating us? I heard that you suffered a lot. You were very sad when you left. The whole village is mad at Gopal. He himself is surprised how it all happened! You remember, you told us the story of the foolish old man and the hill. But son, if after being disappointed that old man had given up would it have been possible that the hill be removed?
How did you assume that it was not possible to cut the hill? Meaning you yourself don’t believe in what you say. The hill’s getting removed son, it depends on the onlooker’s perspective.
Reading the last line sends a chill down my spine. Oh Sudipta! Why did you break your head in Dokri and Paanch Pahaarr? I wish! Before making your final choice, I wish you had at least once looked in this direction. I wish you had received this letter before. It was not just Hansda who was unsettled from his experiment, you too…it was not just Philip who was covered with this fate, you too…
One time I was dumfounded when on the roof of the cave I saw you in the skeleton avatar, but more than that I am surprised now, when you are alive here in all the particles and on all the branches of the trees. Here wherever I look at, I find you, whatever I hear it’s just you. I am feeling excited. And my eyes are getting moist. A man doesn’t even get to fully understand his own self!
While having my breakfast, I am weighing both the time and the emotions – no, this is not the right time to open the secret. I again start following Majhi Haram, “Do you know grandpa that the talks with the government on the Jharkhand issue are in advanced stage?”
“Bijli sir must be also feeling quite happy at this news?”
“No. He said as long as the downtrodden is not uplifted, everything is just a sham.”
“There is one song of his, ‘Ekra Pe,’ today we will sing it.” Another elderly man says him.
“So are you all prepared that that mistake is not repeated?”
“No not now? But we are preparing.”
“Which one?” Majhi Haram is surprised a little. “That one…” “Do you know its meaning?” Majhi Haram smiles and asks
“Oh! Means that just the way the wolves devoured the freedom struggle, the black British replacing the white ones, our own brothers went with the enemy camp and together both of them deceived us, their own brothers; the same thing should not happen again.”
Everyone starts laughing at this. I want to know about Kali and Gopal, about Philip’s family, but before everyone I remember Sheila, “Alright, there used to be a woman named Sheila Kerketta….” I paused to read the expressions on everyone’s face. Other than curiosity, I do not find any other color there.
“What?” The people try to understand amongst themselves but instantly no shore could be found.
Suddenly, a young man quips, “Oh! Is this the same woman who was kidnapped at the time of Kisan Rajwad’s murder?”
“Oh that…!” Majhi Haram’s eyes light up like an ember. He pulls me by my arm and takes me a little distance away. His eyes slant, then dropping his head and while digging the ground he says, “I have heard about her, I didn’t remember her name…why do you ask about her? I doubt if she even knew Bijli sir’s name! She was a butterfly, a butterfly! Her husband is a big officer; three-four months back she had come here to give a speech – pausing and using fake ascent she would speak. I don’t know if she also participates in the talks with the government. Her sale for the day begins with the perspiration of the poor and the downtrodden. Using the name of the tribal people, they themselves are taking advantage of the tribal people. My heart longs to witness every contest, I wonder if I shall be able to see them all or I will just die before that.”
“That one itself! When in the assembly of the eminent people from the Jharkhand side she…what’s her name…?”
“Yes. And in that contest we will be from this side, but what can I say our commander himself is missing! If he comes, our hard work would succeed.”
How should I say that he will never come back?
I just want to be like the messenger of Renu, Hargovind, and return back without delivering that heart touching message, but the very next moment, doubt arises – will doing this be the right thing? – No, this too is not right, that is not right as well! Then what is right?
They are waiting for me to eat something. No, I won’t be able to eat anything. Hargovind also couldn’t eat?
To avoid the question, I hide behind the cave of sleep.
When I wake up, I find that it is dusk. Hurriedly, I get up and I am frightened to find that all the preparations for the function are almost done, but in expectation of who have they decorated everything, he won’t come here ever. One by one looking at the smiling faces, I become sad. Seeing me awake, Majhi Haram with his walking stick comes toward me, “You slept, you didn’t even eat food?”
“Actually, I was not feeling hungry.”
“We don’t have any information about Bijli sir either.”
“If he can’t make it then…?” After asking the question, I kept gazing into Majhi Haram’s eyes.
“If he could come, our hard work would have succeeded. You freshen up; my heart says that he is coming.”
Now I ask myself a straightforward question – can I hide a deception in my heart and participate in this function? I get an answer – no!
To not spill the beans is now impossible for me. I bow my head down and say – “Grandpa, now he will never come here again!”
“N…o…!” The old man’s mouth opens like that of a bird’s beak.
Supporting him, I take him to the Mansa stream – “This is a letter for you.”
With shaking hands the old man holds the letter, as if holding the corpse of his little kid, as if right in front of his eyes he is witnessing some unfortunate occurrence. When I finished talking, he looks here and there with thief like eyes. When he speaks the feathers of the words become heavy, “Sameer sir, has anyone recognized you here?”
“No.” “You didn’t share this incident with anyone else?” “No.”
“Hmm.” He again starts digging the earth. Then suddenly, he stops digging and speaks, “Can I say one thing? I hope you won’t take it otherwise.”
“Please say it, grandpa!”
“Please leave right now, from here itself.”
“Did I make any mistake?” I am stunned and feel somewhat insulted as well.
“No. But what do you want, whatever you see here you want that it should die of frostbite?” All of a sudden Majhi Haram becomes agitated, then gradually as if searching his way out after getting entangled in the bush – “What will happen to my daughter when she listens to this news? What will happen to everyone else? Everyone would think that these writers and all are just like the tantra and mantra masters, those who don’t even have faith in their own mantras! At least the illusion will remain! The army which is fighting in the battleground should not know that their commander has run away.” His voice becomes heavy, “Sorry son, but you should leave right now, quietly…” Saying this he turns back quickly, as if I am not there. I look at him as he walks away – he loses his balance a little, should I go and help him…? No, he is alright now.
Everything happened so fast that I didn’t get a chance to ask him about anything else; to ask about the rest of the characters swinging between Sudipta’s coming and going, absence and omnipresence? How are the protagonists of Sudipta doing – Kalicharan and Gopal? What are Sukhu Singh and the oppressors like Pritam Singh, and Ujjwal Roy, Mahto and mischievous elements like Daniel Kujur up to these days? And above all, after being burnt down did new plants grow up again in Philip and Shalbani? If they did grow, are they still Sal or have parasites like Eucalyptus taken their place?
In the west, the smoke from the N.T.P.C. is rising, floating on which the balloon like sun is losing its balance and seeking a safe refuge. However, within no time the sun settles on the right shoulder of Majhi Haram. Majhi Haram is walking back, carrying the kid-like sun on his shoulder – in one piece, safe!
I pause for a moment to look at Mejhiya, and then I turn back. Now what is left to be known! Majhi Haram himself is the answer to all the questions.