Across the Bridge – Chapter 15
Continued from “Fall of a Pagari”
One early afternoon, when Indrajit Singh, the young Landlord in waiting, was going to a bazaar, he passed by a cotton field. Several women of varying ages were busy picking cotton. He stopped to watch.
“Hey traveler, what are you looking at?” one among the cotton pickers asked in an authoritative and suspecting tone.
“Watching the cotton balls Behan ji.”
“Don’t you Behan ji-Vehan ji me. I know your kind. They start with calling a girl ‘sister’ but have their eyes set somewhere else. Get going. Move on, quick.”
The boy rather flushed, resumed his journey.
“You are embarrassing the stranger,” the youngest girl among the women who appeared to have just reached her puberty, remarked in a reprimanding tone, “I like cotton balls myself. That’s why I came with you today, even though it was not easy to persuade Ma to let me come to the fields.”
Then she turned to the boy and said, “You can watch the cotton balls traveler brother.”
It was quite clear that the young girl was landlord’s daughter and the others were servants. The girl who was mostly confined to the interior of her father’s haveli had persuaded her mother to let her go to the fields with the servants on that day. After the boy received permission to watch, he stopped and thanked the girl just by a look into his eyes, no words.
“Where are you going?” the girl asked.
“To the paith, for some shopping.”
“Where are you from?”
The girl smiled for the stature of Kesari Nagar or lack thereof was known to all, even to her.
“What caste?” she asked.
There was only one Jat family in Kesari Nagar. The girl did not have to ask for any more information. She picked a handful of cotton balls and threw in his direction, “Take’em. You can watch’em on your way.”
The boy grabbed a couple of them in the air but a few fell to the ground, which he picked. Then he looked at the servants who were busy picking cotton and realizing, truly or falsely, that they weren’t looking, touched his heart with the cotton balls. The girl blushed, turned around and got busy picking cotton, or pretended to.
“You shouldn’t indulge in strangers Munni ji,” the elder servant mentioned in a subdued voice, “Your stature, daughter of the landlord of Ram Nagar, the biggest landlord in the area!”
“I wasn’t indulging, you embarrassed him, I just eased things a bit.”
Nothing more was said.
Next morning, the girl talked to her mother, “Ma, I had a bad dream last night, a nightmare!”
“What was it beti?”
“Someone came riding a lion in my dream, I couldn’t recognize, looked like a man. I was petrified; couldn’t walk, couldn’t even move, petrified. I tried to scream but couldn’t!”
“I just looked at the lion Ma, then the lion roared: I brought a gift from heaven and you are frightened of me!”
“Where do you live?” I could barely speak, “’Where do the lions live; you, foolish girl?’ the lion said and disappeared, with the rider.”
The mother thought for a few seconds, then said, “I’ll go light a lamp at Durga Mandir. The goddess rides a lion, that should pacify it.”
Mother talked to the father Prithvi Singh while meeting on their bridge. He headed to the village pundit and requested him to decipher the meaning of dream. The pundit listened to the story; pondered; and said, “The lion brought the groom for your daughter, match made in heaven.”
“Where do I find him?” the landlord asked.
“As the lion said, where do lions live?” the pundit remarked and then immediately bit his tongue, “Well Chowdhari, I am not very good at deciphering the dreams. You should consult someone else well versed in the knowledge. There are several in the area, you know.”
“No,” Prithvi Singh stretched the sound, “it makes sense. The rider was riding a lion and lions live in Lion’s Den, Kesari Nagar.”
“But Chowdhari Sahib, the Landlord of Kesari Nagar is not even a landlord, let alone a match for you. There can be nothing there.”
“God hides jewels in unlikely places at times pundit ji, won’t hurt to pay a visit.”
The landlord left, after paying a handsome ‘offering’ for the service, leaving the pundit cursing himself.
Next day, Prithvi Singh headed to Kesari Nagar on his horse with a couple of servants following him. As he entered the village, he spotted a weaver busy preparing the yarn for his loom. The weaver stopped immediately and looked at Prithvi Singh, awe stricken.
“Ram Ram Jamindar Sahib,” the weaver greeted the landlord, “What good karma of Kesari Nagar has blessed its soil with your feet today?”
Everyone knew Prithvi Singh. The weaver was obviously surprised to see him there, “What reason could he possibly have to visit his village?”
“Ram Ram; tell me the way to your landlord’s house,” Prithvi Singh asked.
The weaver pointed to the house, constructed with mud, straw and wood, and rushed ahead of the visitor to tell his Landlord as well as to provide the service that was normally provided by the hired servants at the other landlords’ places. By the time the weaver informed the Landlord of Kesari Nagar, couple of other weavers had also reached there and one of them fetched the Brahman also. As Prithvi Singh dismounted, a weaver took the horse’s rein, took it to the cattle area and served some food. Other weavers got busy with placing the cane chairs for all and one loaded the hookah, which was to be shared between the two landlords. Head seat was reserved for the Brahman. Some milk and sweets were ordered for the visitor, which were kept in the house for occasional visitors, although they were mostly eaten by the family members since hardly anyone ever visited Kesari Nagar.
“What has brought the blessing of a visit of the High Landlord Prithvi Singh upon my humble village and dwelling, Chowdhari Sahib?” the Landlord of Kesari Nagar started.
“I have come just to have a chat,” Prithvi responded casually, “I understand, you have a son.”
“Yes Chowdhari Sahib, Shiva Shankar had blessed me with a son, my firstborn, born well before we settled here.”
“Where is he?”
The boy was just playing or passing time around the weavers. A weaver looked for him and brought him there. The boy folded his palms and greeted the visitor, “Ram Ram Jamindar Sahib.”
“Ram Ram son, come sit here.”
The visitor had a few minutes of chat with the boy, just what his name was and the like. Then the boy was dismissed, “You can go play now or whatever you were doing.”
After the boy was gone, Prithvi Singh started, “Chowdhari, I have a grown up daughter. I am considering your son for her.”
Landlord of Kesari Nagar was awestruck. After regaining his composure, he remarked, “It is an honor for us that you blessed my humble dwellings with your visit; considering your daughter for my son is even more so. But…”
“Let Shiva Shankar Bhole Nath decide the matters, brother Landlord,” the Brahman intervened.
“May I have the horoscope of your son?” Prithvi Singh asked.
While the Landlord was fumbling through a bunch of crumbled papers in a wooden box looking for the horoscope, the Brahman ordered a weaver to rush to his home, “Ask your Brahmani to give you a bhoj patra, my inkpot and pen; and yes, the book.”
“Just say ‘Pundit ji ki Pothi and you’ll have it.”
In the meantime, he conversed with Prithvi.
“What is the name of the beti?”
“Would you happen to remember her birthday?
“How can I forget, my only daughter; I remember the time, as if it happened yesterday!” Prithvi told Brahman the day and time of Ratna’s birth.
The items the Brahman ordered were brought in. The Brahman continued chatting with Prithvi as well as kept glancing on some pages in his Pothi. The horoscope could not be found. Then they remembered that everyone had given the horoscopes to the Brahman for safekeeping. So a weaver had to go back to fetch the box of horoscopes. After the Brahman picked the boy’s horoscope from the box, Prithvi extended his hand but the Brahman did not comply.
“It will be returned to you within a few days,” dismayed Prithvi commented.
“A genuine astrologer needs only the chart Chowdhari brother, he can decipher the details himself, if he is worthy of being called an astrologer. If he cannot, he is not an astrologer. I’ll copy the chart on a bhoj patra.”
After taking a copy of the chart, Prithvi departed and the weavers went back to their chores.
“I am a bit puzzled by your antics pundit ji,” the Landlord addressed the Brahman, “is it Bhole Nath that inspires you or you are just a clever plotter? First you got a bunch of weavers to settle in the middle of nowhere as service to Shankar Bhagwan and now you pulled Prithvi Singh out of your pagari like a magician. As for the coming of Divine Mother Durga, I am still waiting but knowing you, I know She will come. I knew you were up to something when you started sending Indrajit for shopping and telling him to mix and mingle. And why did you advise him to take the longer route to the bazaar by Ram Nagar? Is there really an evil spirit along the straight route? If so, why does it not strike anybody? Everybody takes that trail.”
“Chowdhari brother, even if I am a plotter, all the plotting is done by Shiva Shankar Bhole Nath. I am just an instrument of His will. As for Chowdhari Prithvi Singh is concerned, it is all Bhole Nath’s doing, all I did was to follow His inspiration in advising the boy, which was common sense anyway. And there is nothing hidden in my pagari, which I rarely wear anyway.”
Prithvi Singh returned to Ram Nagar rather confounded. The dream made sense, which directed him to Kesari Nagar and true enough, there was nothing there except a handsome, healthy, well-mannered boy. He went home and talked to his wife that divine or no divine, to send Ratna to Kesari Nagar would be disastrous waste of her life and a shame for life on him. “I brought the boy’s horoscope more for politeness and as a way out either way,” he concluded.
“You should have the horoscopes checked. We can consider other matters in the meantime,” his wife suggested.
“Alright, I’ll go see the astrologer tomorrow,” Prithvi remarked.
In the evening, the mother talked to Ratna, “Jhungi told me that you had indulged with a stranger the other day by the cotton field.”
“She embarrassed a nice traveler. I just apologized for her behavior, in a way.”
“Was the boy from Kesari Nagar?”
The girl was taken aback somewhat, “Yes. How did you know?”
“I was a little girl once, you know.”
“I did have the dream Ma.”
“Yes, you did beti.”
“You believe me, don’t you?”
“More than believe Ratna beti, I know you did have the dream,” the mother assured her daughter. After a brief pause, she added, “First sight, adolescent infatuations wear out in time, you know.”
“Has yours worn out?” the girl could barely speak.
The mother sighed, “No, but I am in comfort here and happy with your father.” She paused again, then continued, “Kesari Nagar is not much of a village; the Landlord has only a mud-cake house, you are used to living in a haveli, with servants and all the comfort. Then there is the prestige of your father.”
“All this suffocates me Ma, its vanity, inhumanity, live in a jail with memories like yours!”
Silence that spoke volumes followed. Then the mother spoke, “Mother Durga has spoken through you Ratna beti. Go play now, be a regular girl.”
The girl got busy with her needle work, which she was learning to keep her busy.
Next day Prithvi Singh went to a well-known astrologer with the horoscopes of Indrajit and his daughter. After studying the charts, the astrologer said, “It is a match made in heaven, no one on earth can stop this marriage,” hoping for a big tip, “Who is the fortunate boy?”
“The son of the Landlord of Kesari Nagar,” Prithvi stated.
The astrologer almost fainted and glanced at the charts again, “I rushed Chowdhari Sahib, I notice a menacing constellation. I must study the charts closely. I may even have to consult other astrologers in the area.”
Prithvi snatched the charts from the astrologer and with “Here is your dakshina pundit ji,” he dropped a big offering on the astrologer’s lap and left. It was the same story everywhere. The one deciphering the dreams changed his stance as soon as he thought of Kesari Nagar, so did the astrologer. Their belief in the divine intervention and guidance as well as in astrology was unshakable. Dreams and unexpected events were believed to carry divine messages and the Brahmans were their connection with divinity, to some extent all Brahmans but certainly the ones that practiced the art and had acquired some reputation. Consulting an astrologer was an essential first step for every act, which although diminished somewhat, still continues, so much so that Chowdhari Charan Singh, the seventh Prime Minister in the late 1970’s refused to take his oath of office before the time determined by his astrologer and thus kept others waiting. More on that later. For now, about the astrologers and interpreters, no one knows, what they saw, if anything. The Brahman of Kesari Nagar appeared to know of ‘everything’ in advance.
Prithvi Singh talked to his wife during their regular meeting on their bridge, “I am confused Chowdharun; Mother Durga has issued Her decree, the charts confirm it, but Kesari Nagar! How am I to throw Ratna there?”
“Human intervention with divine will brings only calamity, Chowdhari Sahib.”
“I know, I would not dare to displease Mother Durga and I cannot alter the alignment of stars, but…”
“Kesari Nagar has done well for what it started with, thanks to their guru, the wise Brahman. They are losing their crops to the bandits; you can correct that. The prestige of the Landlord will increase with you as his relative. He will be accepted in the community in time.”
“But with only six hundred bighas of land, with just three hundred in boy’s share, assuming that he does not get any more brothers, what potential does he have? How much can you push?”
“These things change in time Chowdhari Sahib.”
“But how much will they change during Ratna’s lifetime?”
“You always wanted two sons. You can bring Indrajit to live here. You can transfer some land to Ratna. The Landlord of Kesari Nagar will only be pleased.”
“Then there is the community. How will I explain it to them?”
“You are following the directive of the Divine Mother Durga and the guidance of stars.”
A powerful answer to pacify all, which he used effectively later as needed.
Few days later, Prithvi visited Kesari Nagar again, this time with a number of servants.
“Jamindar brother, the horoscopes match. Your Indrajit and my Ratna are made for each other. I propose their marriage, if you would accept.”
The landlord of Kesari Nagar was overwhelmed, first with Prithvi addressing him as jamindar, landlord, and then at the proposal. He looked to the Brahman.
“Who are we mere mortals to interfere? Bhole Nath had already given me the guidance brother Chowdhari. I knew the outcome would be something like this. The details were known only to Shankar Bhagwan.”
“My Ratna will depart from Ram Nagar with her prestige intact as my daughter. I would like to know any additional wish you may have.”
Everyone looked to the Brahman.
“We like to live by the sweat of our brows Jamindar Sahib, and our land is bountiful. But we starve for lack of guards.”
With the Brahman’s approval, all that was left for both parties to do was to consult their astrologers. After a little more chit-chat, Prithvi departed with, “Let’s consult the astrologers to determine an auspicious day and time for the engagement ceremony.”
After he left, the landlord of Kesari Nagar turned to his Brahman, “Pundit ji, you knew that you had all the horoscopes of the village but let the time pass. You took your time to look at your pothi with girl’s time of birth already under your pagari. Did you really copy the boy’s chart or made one matching with the girl’s?”
“You are beginning to irritate me little brother Landlord. I have told you time and again that I do what Bhole Nath tells me to do and He always does it right. So stop doubting the Lord’s ways. And do you see me wearing a pagari?”
As for the astrologers, they always disagreed on some points but after some wrangling, an auspicious time acceptable to both was always found. To find an auspicious day for the engagement was no exception. In any case, the day was decided upon. On the day, Prithvi Singh’s entourage came to Kesari Nagar for the ceremony with a large amount in gifts including cash.
Continued to “Warriors”