Across the Bridge – Chapter 29
Continued from “The School of a Madman”
New government led by the feuding leaders with Nehru as the Prime Minister and Patel as the Deputy and Home Minister moved fast; opening schools en masse and mass immunization programs are just two examples. Even before the rural India was transformed with a stroke of Patel’s pen, the states ruled by the Kings and Nawabs who had opted to be part of India as independent states, were integrated into the Indian union; their rulers were compensated in the form of annual payments called the Privy Purses, the amount depending on the state. Some rulers agreed to the arrangement voluntarily, even enthusiastically, some were persuaded and some required ‘persuasion’ by the iron fist of Patel who had been dubbed the Iron Man way back by the British.
The first ones among those who joined the union enthusiastically were the descendants of the Rider of the Blue Horse, a prized Marvari, the kind Grandpa still longed to possess. Rana Pratap, having descended from his fiercely freedom loving ancestors himself had fought the large army of the Mogul Emperor Akbar with his puny four regiments in the gruesome battle of Haldighati to defend his freedom continuing the tradition of his grandfather Rana Sanga who had fought Akbar’s grandfather Babur. Having lost the battle and his Chetak, the Rider preferred to continue fighting for his liberty from the hills of Aravali with meager means at his disposal, faced even starvation. He took a solemn oath that he would not sleep in bed, would not eat from the traditional gold plates and would not rest until he liberated his beloved fort of Chittor. He succeeded in liberating other parts of his beloved Mevar but not Chittor and remained true to his oath. Not just him, some of his subjects who considered his oath, their own oath and remained true to it; they wandered as nomads for centuries eking out living as ironsmiths. By ‘would not rest,’ the Rana meant that he would continue fighting, which he did. wandering ironsmiths lived it literally, not staying at one place for long and of course they did not sleep in beds. As for the gold dishes, they could never afford even as the subjects of Rana Pratap but they did eat from ordinary clay or leaf dishes instead of the metal as did the Rana. Although the zeal of the Rider of the Blue Horse Chetak had diluted with time starting with his son Amar Singh, his descendants and subjects were still unwaveringly freedom loving people. This piece of history served as a powerful persuasion argument.
“Who can be a stauncher defender of one’s freedom than the descendants of Bappa Rawal and Maharana Pratap? They consider themselves free in the United India; why do you think that you would not be?”
Those who required the iron fist were just told to take or leave the Privy Purse, the outcome would be the same as far as the status of their states was concerned.
Something more was required to persuade the wandering ironsmiths. They, together with some others had considered Chittor not truly liberated because of somewhat compromising deal Amar Singh had made with the Mogul emperor to still be able to claim to be the ruler of Mevar. While some others left the kingdom to settle in other parts of the country, wandering ironsmiths took the stand, “No rest until after Chittor is liberated.” They were persuaded some years later by the argument that since the whole of India was now liberated, Chittor was liberated also, and truly.
By the time the school had barely settled in Taro’s former property, well before one large room and an attached storeroom were built, the new constitution was already in place. Mountbattens had gone back to England and Patel had died before the first elections were held. The day of Patel’s death was a day of mourning as was the case with number of other deaths; there was no morning round and no school that day. Things were changing about as rapidly as was the location of school until it found a home in Taro’s home. Prostitution, bribery and lashing in the schools had been outlawed. While some of the new activities did have a profound impact on the lives of people in all walks of life, some had no impact. Prostitution, bribery and the lashing of students continued with slight adjustments to bypass the laws. Teachers were being transferred all the time but all of them had about the same ways of doing things: They all emphasized that the only way to learn and succeed in life was by serving their guru and all lashed the students for whatever reason they saw fit, which they considered a favor to the students. Only change noticed in this respect was when the school inspector came to a school, someone would inform the teacher that the inspector was spotted or someone would notice it before the inspector entered the school. The belief of people that lashing was an essential and useful teaching tool, came in handy for the teacher at such times who believed the same. The teacher would get rid of his lash, a tree branch, immediately, frequently by throwing it on to the roof of the school building or of an adjoining house only to be retrieved later or another tree branch plucked to replace it. Since bribery was outlawed, the salaries were increased somewhat but it had little impact on the way things were done. Some did stop accepting the bribes in their initial nationalistic fervor only to go back to the old ways, particularly as they noticed that they were only short-changing themselves and being called fools by the others who were also displeased for they had to confront occasional stubborn client who would insist that bribe not be expected and cite examples of the honest ones. Unhappy clientele didn’t make their honest ways easy to live with either as many were willing to pay to subvert the system. And yes, Parasu had started receiving some payment as a retainer during his six months of unemployment.
By the time the first elections were held, several political parties had been constituted by the former colleagues in Congress as well as some others. Ignoring Gandhi’s suggestion that Congress be dissolved since it had accomplished its mission, mainstream Congress leaders found it expedient to retain it as a continuing political party but several of their former colleagues constituted their own. They were all united in their quest for independence but differed in their visions of the independent India resulting in the parties of all stripes from far left to far right. So did the vision of participants in the gathering on the Bridge. Thus, who to vote for was an issue debated day after day.
“Congress was instrumental in getting us independence, naturally it deserves to form the government.”
“Leaders of almost all parties come from Congress, they all worked for independence. Congress is taking undue advantage of its name, name of what was a movement. That’s not fair.”
“Congress is led by Nehru.”
“He let India be divided.”
“They all did.”
“He listened to that firangi to create the Kashmir problem, he should have listened to Patel.”
“Patel is dead now, we can’t elect him.”
“There are others like him.”
So on and so forth, until Hasnu interjected, “Listen y’aro, India is independent now, we have democracy, we can choose our own government. We should elect a good government.”
“Congress will give us the best government.”
“Industrialists influence Congress, communists will care for the poor.”
“Communists will divide nothing among all because there is nothing to divide.”
“Yes, firangis cleaned us well.”
“We should elect those who would create something to divide.”
“Generation and division of wealth has to go hand in hand, social democrats will do that.”
“Congress is a social democratic party.” .....
Arguments at the Bridge never knew the meaning of the ‘end.’ They always ended with someone leaving for one reason or the other creating a domino effect. It was quite clear that Congress was going to be a runaway winner regardless of all the arguments.
On the election day, the whole of Kesari Nagar was empty as were many other villages. Their election center was in another village, which was the center for several other villages also. Adults went to vote, others including the children went for entertainment and because adults could not leave them alone. The election booth had large barrels each with a distinct logo and candidate’s name. Voters were handed a paper ballot each, voting required dropping it in the barrel of one’s choice. When returning, they were all asking each other who voted for whom. Lapheel Pha-i asked a one-eyed man with one leg deformed reputed to be half-witted whose wife used the services of a hermit and of some others, “Who did you vote for Talve?” Talva, the name he acquired for everybody wanted to get rid of him, pulled out the ballot paper out of his pocket and said, “I voted for me.” Everybody laughed.
“You wasted your vote.”
“It is my vote, I’ll do what I want with it, I am free.”
“Yes, but it is wasted nevertheless. What will you do with this ballot paper?”
“Whatever I feel like.”
“Like hang it on the horn of my bullock.”
A big laughter, yet again.
“Well, at least he understands that he is free to do what he wants with his vote, he understands that he got the right to vote with full decision making authority vested in him,” Nakul Uncle remarked.
The election not only produced the national parliament and the provincial assemblies, they also produced village councils each headed by a Pradhan. All elections were not held at the same center. Village councils were elected in each village with polls taken by hand count. A village council was a simplified version of the city governments with the Pradhan being a version of the Mayor with much reduced powers. The Pradhan was assigned a paid secretary to do the paper work who knew more about the pertaining regulations than anyone else in the village including the Pradhan.
True enough, there was not much wealth in the country to divide, not just for the schools but for all the other activities as well and the village councils were no exception. To get the work done without payment, people were encouraged to donate their labor to develop the villages. Special activities were organized and supervised by someone from the district government, others were to be organized and carried out by the villagers themselves with the help of little grant they could apply for. The first project in Kesari Nagar undertaken was to enlarge the dirt road connecting it to the village where Bhuvan had started his schooling in the dirt yard. Some villagers participated willingly, even enthusiastically; others were persuaded by various arguments including patriotism and even by shaming them. Children were encouraged, more like forced, to join in. Thus, soon after they finished beating the ground in shape in their school, the students of Kesari Nagar were helping with widening the dirt road for the bullock carts to move conveniently. Between morning rounds and evening adult school with labor donation squeezed in between, whatever time was left was to squeeze some learning in.
Taro was rarely seen anywhere as she lived in one room in a corner of the school in a self-imposed solitary confinement. She did have some very limited contact with the outside World but to the students, the teacher and to many others, she was about non-existent.
Continued to “Behind the Hole in a Wall”