Across the Bridge – Chapter 12
Continued from “Soiled Bank-Notes”
“Don’t worry, he will become a continuing one soon;” Dharmu said with emphasis, “Where was I? Yes, Parasu is a patwari and Mahipal seems to have disappeared as have all the others in the darkness of their holes like defanged cobras, the worms. That is what is left of a cobra after it has lost its fangs.”
“It is not difficult to get them out of their holes Baba ji,” Bhuvan, who was listening to the conversation quietly but intently until now, interjected addressing the patwari.
“And how do you get a cobra out of its hole son?”
Bhuvan described with glee how all the kids get together after supper and quietly sneak close to the house of Chhatru. They didn’t go near the place of Mahipal as it was difficult to retreat from there with his servants chasing. It is easy with Chhatru who was a small landlord with only a couple of day servants who too wouldn’t care much even if they were available. So the children would sneak near his house, all of them together and would shout in chorus:
“Land lordship is gone; the old system is gone; the way firangis are gone, is the way landlords are gone; what’s left will be gone; new order is in; peasants are in; landlords are out.” And then they would loudly shout the slogans “Sardar Patel ki jaya; Pundit Nehru ki jaya; Mahatma Gandhi ki jaya;” flowed by Long Live Sardar Patel, and all the others.
By that time, the landlord would come out trying to chase the kids away, which was a pathetic sight as Chhatru was old and frail, needed the support of a stick even to walk. Just a few days back while trying to chase the kids away, he fell to the ground and got hurt. Children helped him get up and led him to his house. After that, they stopped teasing Chhatru. When Bhuvan narrated this story, the children were in the process of devising some other amusement.
“Hmmm,” hummed the patwari, “you have the genes of your father. Shambhu, did you tell him how Parasu received money from that firangi for calling him “A red-assed monkey?”
It was when Parasu was less than ten years old that a British officer visited Kesari Nagar. He was taken to the fields to see the peasants toiling. It was lunch time and Shambhu had just sat down to eat his meager lunch: Two corn chapatis with a preparation of mustard leaves on them. The British, puzzled at the sight of that strange food, asked the translator, “What this food is made with?” touching the chapattis. Shambhu of course would not eat the food touched by a “mlechchha.” The fact that this was his first meal after whole morning of back-breaking work and a similar afternoon ahead was of no concern to him. So he suggested that instead of throwing the food away, this firangi might as well eat it. The translator told him that the peasant was offering his food to a guest in the spirit of legendary Indian hospitality. The officer tasted it, just the rapini after which the food had only one use: Feed it to the bullocks. Following his visit to the fields, the officer returned to the village.
While in the street near Bhumiya, the Bhurakh Mandir, Parasu spotted him and yelled, “Red-assed monkey, Red-assed monkey....”
“What this boy is saying?” the officer asked the translator.
“Rulers of India, masters of universe,” came the reply.
The officer took a coin out of his pocket to give to Parasu. Parasu puzzled and afraid would not go close to him. The translator prodded, “You can take the money.” Then he did go close, still careful. After he got his money, Parasu told all the children that if you call this firangi a “Red-assed monkey, he gives you money.” Within minutes, there was a crowd of kids yelling, “Red-assed monkey, Red-assed monkey....” The officer took a banknote out of his pocket and handed to the servant, “Get some candy for these nice kids.” Candies were not popular in the villages; so he got some peanuts and distributed among the kids.
The patwari continued: “Very clever boy. I tell you Shambhu brother, raise him well, as you have raised Parasu. I hear he is doing well in school….”
“By the grace of Bhole Nath brother, by the grace of Bhole Nath.”
“Yes, at least there is a school now only a couple of miles away, a bona fide accredited school; so it will be much easier to educate him. This is your another good luck brother, birth of Bhuvan; thank your stars.”
“Yes brother, Bhuvan is a blessing from Lord Shiva Shankar.”
By the time Parasu received an appointment as a seasonal patwari, he was already twenty years old with two brothers and two sisters. All his peers were married and some even had children but they weren’t educated and the only career they could have was to work in the fields, which they had started at fourteen or fifteen. By this time, the right age to marry had risen to about sixteen and even eighteen. Shambhu had been concerned about it but Parasu kept on delaying it, “Let me find a job first.”
“You have a job; you are a clerk. Things will improve.”
“Nah, a real job.”
Normally no parents cared to consult the children, boys or girls. If the father wanted to arrange a marriage, he would as his prerogative but in case of Parasu, it was different, he was educated. However, after he became a patwari, he became as interested in getting married as Shambhu. So Shambhu spread the word, “Your boy has agreed to get married now brother.” There was no shortage of offers; a patwari, even just with his foot in the door was a hot commodity.
Whenever a prospective bride was seriously considered, Parasu would sneak into her village and check the girl out. He refused to get married with a couple of them. If Shambhu tried to persuade him, Big Mouth would take Parasu’s side and the matter would be dropped. This was doubly unusual as in that community those days, if a boy did sneak into the girl’s village to check her out, he would get a good thrashing. Somehow, things were different for Parasu. Shambhu started to get worried, “Will he ever like a girl?” Whatever the case, he had to keep working at it. The next serious proposal and Parasu of course sneaked into her village, talked to someone in the neighborhood who told him that she would be coming to the water-well close by to fetch water soon and allowed him to wait at his place.
The girl did come to fetch the water and Parasu immediately rushed to the well pretending to be a traveler. “Would you be kind enough to give a thirsty traveler a drink of water?” he asked the girl. There was no question about it; this was done all the time. So the girl fetched the water. Parasu joined his palms in a bowl-like formation with the part close to his wrist touching his lips. The girl started pouring water on the palm-bowl. That was normal way to drink water if no glass or bowl was available. In case of Parasu however, his eyes were glued to the face of girl and water was falling onto the ground. Soon the girl noticed that he was no thirsty traveler, he was a mischievous fellow interested in staring at girls with lewd intent. She hit Parasu on head with the pail and of course water poured on him; then she ran to her house and told her father. The father and her brother immediately grabbed their sticks and rushed to teach the boy a lesson, which meant to give him a good licking. The boy was no fool; he had disappeared already. But they were not going to let him get away so easily. They asked the neighbor which way the culprit had gone. The neighbor replied, “Calm down Pundit ji, it was just your son-in-law to be.”
“Oh, it’s alright then;” they said and went back to their house; explained to the girl and everything was fine.
Parasu did consent to become the son-in-law of the father immediately and the girl got nicknamed Patwarun equally immediately. Later she came to be known as the Hot-Headed Patwarun.
As the preparations for wedding began, Shambhu, Parasu and Big Mouth realized that the ‘pile of money’ they had, was no pile, it started disappearing like meat in a vulture’s nest. New clothes had to be acquired for everybody, a horse for the groom and the vehicles had to be rented and the band players had to be hired. Then the groom needed some suitable clothes and there had to be gifts for the bride, which included jewelry. As a result, Shambhu could make quite modest arrangements in every way. Modest people in bride’s village kept their civil composure but there were many who smirked and even made remarks when the gifts were displayed on the day of wedding. There was similar reaction earlier as the horse was more like a pony and the groom’s attire as well as other things weren’t very gratifying either. Some of Patwarun’s friends also poked light-hearted and not so light hearted pun at her.
The Patwarun responded to all this just before the marriage ceremony in her own way. In spite of all the insistence of her parents and others, “These clothes don’t look nice on a bride,” she refused to get married in any sari and other clothes than what she had received from her in-laws to be. Someone remarked, “That patwari will find out what a patwarun he got on his hands.” Later she refused to go to her in-law’s place in any clothes other than what she wore for the ceremony.
As was the custom, she stayed only for a few days at her in-laws’ place during her first visit. Parasu was not supposed to meet her at that time. However, an exception was made in this case; there had been some exceptions before any way.
“I have a personal gift for you,” Parasu said to his wife with a smile.
“What is it?” she asked.
He pointed to a corner in the room in his parental mud-cake house. There was a small replica of water fetching pail. She picked it, smiled and after examining asked,
“Is it made of silver?”
“No,” Parasu said somewhat embarrassed, “it is made of brass but I got it silver-plated in Modinagar, genuine silver, not chrome.”
After a pause he asked, “Do you have a personal gift for me?”
Patwarun smiled a mischievous smile. “Yes,” she said with a stretched sound. Then filled the pail with water and hit Parasu on his head and of course the water poured on him. Everyone found out the treatment he received at the hands of his bride and joked. It was not unusual for the brides to poke fun at their husbands; in fact, some mischievous pun was expected; even a part of the ceremonies required the bride and groom to indulge in harmless practical jokes, which everyone enjoyed.
The day was still for the ceremonies and the evening, for partying and no party was complete without Ghanto participating in it anymore. The next day, all men had gone to the fields. Shambhu had his turn to use water from the canal for the whole day. Parasu never did much work in the fields; at this time, he got even more reprieve. His only duty was to deliver the food at lunchtime. After delivering the food, he rushed back home. One of his younger brothers sensed something unusual in Parasu’s behavior. He sneaked away from the fields and followed Parasu without being noticed. Big Mouth and his sister had gone to a neighbor’s house for the summer noon-hour gossip and smoking with their gossiping buddies leaving Patwarun alone in the house. She was sitting on the ground covered with a spread in the verandah with rooms in back and an enclosed yard in front. Parasu had noticed it and wanted to exploit the opportunity. He locked the front door and after a brief preamble, he was on top of his bride. Since all had to be done in a hurry, he could not afford the luxury of getting to bed in a private room; even taking the clothes off would have consumed a part of the precious time. His younger brother climbed the wall and found a hiding place where he could watch it all from. After finishing and convinced that nobody had known of his exploit, Parasu came out of the house wearing a broad smile of contentment and conquest. Well, as soon as he was in the street, he discovered that everyone knew it. Didn’t matter much except for some jokes; in fact, Parasu felt rather complemented. The next day, Patwarun’s brothers came to take her back. They stayed two nights according to the custom and on the third day, Patwarun and her brothers were gone.
Few months later, Patwarun’s brother came to visit Kesari Nagar. He informed Shambhu that his sister was pregnant. It was not respectable that the bride had slept with the groom during her first visit; they should have waited until the second visit. At least it was well established that the child was legitimate; so there was not much adverse impact on the respectability of all involved, except some comments that this was not right even though they were married and Parasu was quite old. Ghanto’s case of course was abhorrent. There were cases when the child could not have been conceived during the first or second visit; such cases were also quite abhorrent but not as much as that of Ghanto. In any case, Patwarun was brought to Kesari Nagar well before the birth of child, a boy. The baby wore a homespun, weaved by a village weaver and home-dyed, red colored garment. Shambhu immediately became the Grandpa and one of the delinquents he had under his wings, became the Hookah Walla Uncle, of everybody and forever. The other informally adopted one became Nakul Uncle. He acquired the name for his way of describing the events from history and concepts from the religious texts, often wrong, and for his know it all attitude. Most of his ‘knowledge’ came from hearsay in the akhara, which he attended to learn the martial art of stick fighting for which he showed natural talent. The name was given in sarcasm as Nakul was one of the five brothers in Mahabharata, renowned for his scholarly abilities. Nobody called him Bhima, one of the five brothers who was a skilled mace fighter, which would have been a better fit for his superb stick fighting skills but it would not have been sarcastic and therefore, not acceptable. Goes without saying that Hookah Walla Uncle had acquired his name for being an avid hookah smoker.
Grandpa was involved in a court case at that time. The Landlord tried to cheat Shambhu out of some land, just a large field. The village patwari advised him, “Pundit ji, Mahipal has paid me to alter the records; I can’t say no but I cannot do this to a pious man like you; if you file a complaint in the district office immediately, I’ll have an excuse not to do it; my neck will be saved and your rights will be preserved. I’ll give you all the advice you’d need, free of course.”
Shambhu rushed to the kachehari and contacted the fellow suggested by the village patwari who took care of the matters, free of charge. Being a pious man with moral fabric paid material dividends to Grandpa frequently. Case filed, the village patwari told the Landlord that it was too late for him to alter the books and his only recourse was to have a lawyer argue his case in the court on the existing grounds.
“How the hell this Pundit got this much shit in his head! Someone must have backstabbed me,” Mahipal grinded his teeth.
“Oh no, these peasants have become quite clever these days Chowdhari Sahib,” the patwari commented, “You see, they have been swindled so many times, that has taught them something, besides they share whatever knowledge they have with each other.”
Whatever the case, the Landlord was resigned to failure in this case. He did hire a lawyer and gave it a last try. On the day of hearing, Grandpa took first garment of the newborn with him hidden in his pocket for good luck, as the superstition had it. In the court, the Landlord was represented by a lawyer but Grandpa was all by himself.
“Are you pleading your case yourself?” the judge asked Shambhu.
“I am a poor peasant judge sahib, cannot afford a lawyer. All I know is that I have cultivated this land for a long time. Now Chowdhari Sahib wants to take from. This is not right. I don’t know the law, but I know what is right and what is wrong Judge Sahib.” The judge stared at Shambhu in amazement impressed by his simple reasoning.
Sure enough, this wasn’t right. The lawyer did argue the case against Shambhu. The judge was smirking all the time, he already had the patwari’s record in front of him. After that, he wrote his decision immediately: Shambhu was entitled to keep the land. As soon as Grandpa reached home, he named his newborn grandson ‘Bhuvan Prakash.’ Although the name means ‘Light of the World,’ but he meant ‘Light of the Land’ for playing a part in saving Grandpa’s land. Khaira did something better some years later.
Parasu was spotted coming sluggishly towards the field where Shambhu and Dharmu were chatting. Upon arrival, he took the banknotes from his pocket and extended his hand towards his father, who asked him, “Give’em to your uncle.”
Parasu gave the money to Dharmu patwari who took and pocketed it. Normally, patwaris counted the money and almost always haggled for more.
“Shouldn’t you count it brother patwari?” Grandpa commented.
“And insult an honorable man like you! I know, you would do it right with me.”
After that, there was not much for the patwari to do there. Before leaving, he managed to point out, “Not only this pig Mahipal but the whole village is obligated to your family. It was your ancestor who built this village and this pig’s ancestor; the tradition continued generation after generation.”
Continued to “By a Pond in a Forest”