Across the Bridge – Chapter 10
Continued from “Gardner’s Daughter”
Sugarcane crop was the main cash crop for the farmers for there was a sugar producing factory in Modinagar, a nearby backwater city. Some years back, an industrialist named Modi, noticed this sugarcane producing area and found it to be a suitable place to start his industry, which he did in the middle of nowhere and named the place after his name. Sugarcane was a cash crop for the farmers before also as they produced juggery, hunky raw sugar, in the villages. Several farmers in a co-op style would rent a sugarcane crusher and other equipment, crush the sugarcanes using their bullocks, boil the juice in metal pans and make hunks of juggery, which they sold mostly in the mandi in Meerut City some distance away but not exclusively as there were some other mandis in the area. With this factory started, a much larger market developed improving the cash value of crops. Cottage industry producing juggery still continued with almost no change, the farmers just started to plant more sugarcane. Modinagar started getting larger as Modi started a number of other factories: Textile, cosmetics, flashlights, lanterns and more. As for the sugarcanes, he built roads from the city to some central locations in the rural areas, hired people who would assign the amount of sugarcanes he would buy from each farmer that year before they planted and to collect the sugarcanes at the harvest time at the central locations. There were job openings and Parasu had turned eighteen, mature enough to be hired in the complex. He managed to obtain a job as a weighing clerk at a nearby sugarcane collection center. The gardener’s daughter had been married when she was still a child but now she was old enough to start living with her husband at her in-laws’ place. So moving away from her village was no loss either. It would not have mattered anyway as the job was more potent than a girl.
The collection center had a weighing machine. Each farmer would drive the bullock cart full of sugarcanes to the platform of machine where it would be weighed. Then the farmer would unload the cart and drive back to the platform to be weighed again. This weight was subtracted from the earlier one to determine the weight of sugarcanes. The machines were usually rigged at the instruction from the ‘higher up’ to cheat the farmers. To escape the government audit, a notice would be placed at the machine in small print that the machine was not accurate and the correction was being made in the receipts issued, which was never done except when the auditor was present. The farmers were illiterate and if someone could read, the notice could hardly be noticed, let alone be read. If someone could ever learn of somehow, complaining wouldn’t have mattered as the manager would have hollered at the farmer and tell him to take his sugarcanes elsewhere and everyone knew that there was no elsewhere around; the region was lucky to get just one elsewhere out of nowhere. Parasu adjusted with the realities of life. He had come a long way from the time when he had objected to his teacher’s help in cheating as a boarding house manager.
The job was seasonal as the clerks were needed at the sugarcane harvest time only. They had to apply anew in every season. However, the experienced ones were given priority over the others except those who did not perform well during the previous season, which was rare. Parasu got renewals a few times. It was then that a finicky British officer addicted to tea stopped by Kesari Nagar. He wanted tea as soon as he arrived. Tea was prepared immediately by boiling water, milk, sugar and tea together with some spices. This is how they always prepared tea, the farmers and landlords alike. The officer didn’t like it. He wanted tea. The cook even dared to ask him how he liked his tea prepared. The officer hollered, “How the hell would I know how to prepare tea, I only drink the damn thing.” Now the cook had no hope of knowing how to make the damn thing.
The Landlord was used to entertaining the British officers and had all that was necessary for the task, the best of everything. He even kept the two and a half leaves, one and a half leaves tea. Top soft leaves constituted of one full leaf and a small leaf, and two full leaves and a small leaf, hence the names. Those leaves were harvested first. The harder leaves were harvested later. Each type was packed in wooden cartons. On average, only one out of three cartons was deemed fit for the high quality tea. The discarded ones were processed and sold at a lower price. The selected soft leaves sold for five to ten times the price compared with the harder leaves. Even the discarded ones of the soft leaves tea sold at higher price than the best of the harder leaves tea. So the Landlord had the best tea available. The other visiting British officers drank the tea those people prepared usually, even enjoyed it, for a variation if not for any other reason. This one didn’t like this tea. He wanted tea. There was panic at Landlord’s place for a displeased British officer could cause them some harm. A conference followed.
These haramjadas firangis destroy everything. They must have found some way to spoil the tea also.”
“Yes, but how do we find out how they spoil the tea?”
Silence followed. Then someone got an idea, “Pundit Parasu Ram has lived in a city. He would know how these bastards spoil the tea.”
They were referring to Parasu having lived in a town for his education. A servant was dispatched to Shambhu’s house with a tea set, tea, sugar, milk and the spices and of course he could ask for anything else he would need to spoil the tea. It was Parasu’s off-season during which he helped his father in the fields. As mentioned earlier, he was not much of a help. He had a healthy looking body. It was just that he went to the town at age seven and hadn’t been seasoned by the rigors of farm work. When the servant reached his home, he had to wait for Parasu to come home from the fields. In the meantime, he started devouring the hunk of gur Big Mouth had given him.
After some time Parasu was spotted trudging towards his parental house. As soon as he entered the house, the servant started speaking nonstop, words without break, sentences as words: “Where did you disappear Pundit Parasu Rama ji, I’ve been waiting for you forever, my legs are giving way, the prestige of Kesari Nagar is in your hands, not to mention this pig’s, er Chowdhari Bhupal Singh’s snoot, er Numberdari, his neck; this firangi bastard will squeeze this bastard’s, er Chowdhari Bhupal Singh’s neck so tight, which he deserves er what has he done to deserve that…”
“Calm down and tell me what you want.”
Parasu tried to get him to the point but he was in no such mood, he was having a field day displaying his art at using the best words in best order to spit out what he wanted to. As for his legs, he was glad to take them away from the Landlord which is where they were in danger of being broken. A squeeze of landlord’s snoot and neck could only please him; it was his own snoot and neck, he was more concerned about, not the prestige of Kesari Nagar. However, he managed to respond to Parasu’s query:
“There is a haramjada firangi in the village, Pundit Parasu Rama ji, and he wants tea. Here is everything you need and ask for more, just spoil the tea…”
“You mean, make tea?”
“Everyone knows how to make tea, these firangis spoil everything but how do they spoil the tea is what nobody knows. You are the only one who can unlock the mystery …”
Parasu managed to glean that they wanted him to make tea and it wasn’t the way everyone in the village made it, it was to be prepared the way the visitor liked it. So Parasu took the paraphernalia and got busy. He couldn’t work in the fields but make tea, he could. The servant was still at it:
“And the bastard doesn’t even know how they spoil the tea or anything else for that matter, how would he know, he only drinks the damn thing; and their ma’ms, how would they know, they are too busy powdering their snoots, er noses for their chauffeurs, who else. I tell you Pundit Parasu Rama ji, this is one of their duties, chauffeurs’, who else, and their reward, both rolled in one. Do these firangis know what their whores, er ma’ms are doing with their chauffeurs, shopping? Oh yeah! Sure they go shopping, but is that all they do? Oh yeah! Pundit ji, you must have heard that one when all the ma’ms went to God and pleaded with him that it wasn’t fair that only mothers had to go through the labor pains during childbirth as well as all the other burdens of child bearing and requested that the fathers should at least suffer the pain, if not the other encumbrances. No, OK, I’ll tell you. A ma’m went in labor and her chauffer started squirming with pain, right in the middle of a road, while driving that firangi whore, er ma’m. Did he get in accident? How would I know? Does that matter? The whores, er ma’ms went back to God asking Him to make things the way they were before, and that’s how they are no, no one can find out, not that easily as with fathers suffering with pain, ….”
The tea was ready. All Parasu did was pour the boiling water in the cattle to warm it, then threw the water away and put tea leaves, poured boiling water over them, mixed one teaspoonful of sugar for the pot, covered the kettle with tea-cozy to keep it warm, placed milk and sugar in pots designed for them, placed everything in the tray and handed it to the servant. Parasu of course had to go with him to finally prepare the tea in a cup to drink.br />
TThe officer at least knew that he took one teaspoonful of sugar in a cup of his tea and also the amount of milk. Then he took a sip.
“Hmmm, that I call tea,” the officer was almost in a state of ecstasy, “What’s your name boy?” Everything had to be translated back and forth of course.
“What do you do?”
“I have a seasonal job at the sugar collection center. In the off season I help my father in the fields, sir.”
“An intelligent boy like you working in the fields! How much education do you have?”
“I have Middle School Diploma, sir.”
“And he topped his class,” someone added.
“It figures,” the officer continued, “give me your name and address.”
Parasu wrote his name and address on a piece of paper; this much English he had learned somehow.
The officer stayed just a few hours but how difficult his stay was, was clear from the sigh of relief everyone breathed at his leaving. About a month later, Parasu received a letter appointing him to the position of a seasonal patwari. This was a big achievement for Parasu for the times. None of the earlier patwaris had Middle High School diploma but the times had changed and were changing rapidly. Some years later, no one could call oneself even educated with just seventh grade schooling and by the sixties one had to have twelve grades completed with an Intermediate diploma to apply for the job of a patwari; High School was at the completion of tenth grade, Intermediate was the intermediate step between the High school and the University. br />
Almost immediately after Parasu received the appointment letter, Parasu metamorphosed into Parasu Rama.
Continued to “Soiled Bank-Notes”