Across the Bridge - Chapter 21
Continued from “Thorn in the Side”
Parasu was already working as a patwari for quite some time although just a seasonal. As mentioned earlier, his job was instrumental in getting him the bride he got. One of the villages he had to serve was the same Shia village, which he had visited to witness the fight and the rest. He was spending a day or two per week in that village, some others required only a day per fortnight. During this time, he befriended a number of Muslims, even having tea at their homes. Grandpa wouldn’t eat anything even touched by a Muslim, firangi or anyone other than a higher caste Hindu. Parasu had to do away with such practices, if he was to survive in his profession. One of his Muslim friends, Amir Hussein, was no Amir, owned just a small patch of land. Some years back, he had tried to grow vegetables and sell them in the mandi. The amount of money he made this way was too little to survive, so he tried to sell it in the streets of villages as the traditional gardeners did, carrying a basket of vegetables on his head. He had to announce his arrival in the streets: Potatoes, tomatoes, beans, peas, come get’em. The first time he tried, he bleated like a goat in low voice barely audible beyond a few houses. On top of that, he burst out laughing. Children gathered around in minutes and made fun of him. He didn’t last even an hour and rushed back home. Next day, he tried in another village. His experience was about the same. Quite soon, he realized that he was not cut out to be a street vendor, “You have to be a professional, born in a gardener family, learn from childhood,” he told his wife.
He had to find some way to survive. One day when he was visiting Parasu for something related to his little patch of land, he related his situations.
“What do I do patwari ji, this land is becoming for me like a chhuchhundar in the mouth of a cobra; can’t throw it away but can’t earn a living out of it. If I sell it, the money will just go away.”
Parasu advised him to rent the land to someone, “Even if you don’t get much out of it, it will remain a permanent piece of property and look for a job in Modinagar, which is growing by the day.”
“Who will hire me Pundit ji, I have no contacts.”
“I know a few people from my sugarcane clerk days. Try them, something just might work.”
Parasu wrote a reference note, which was nothing more than just introducing Amir as his friend, and told him to take it to his contacts. Amir wasted no time. He rushed with the letter the very next morning. The first day he came back with just sympathies and advice to check with them a few days later. During his second visit, he did come back with a labor job in a textile factory.
He purchased a bicycle by scrapping the cash he could, even pawned some of his wife’s meager jewelry. Being a labor job in a factory that ran twenty-four hours a day, he was a shift worker, rotated between the morning, afternoon and night shifts. Laborers from several villages went to Modinagar banding together along the way. They timed their departures from home so that they would meet all the others, particularly for the night shift. If someone was earlier than the others, he would wait at the spot where they usually joined him. While returning after their shifts, they would bike together parting as needed to go to their respective villages. They passed their time on the road by telling stories, reciting folk songs and just by chatting and gossiping. Amir had some interest in Urdu poetry, just by listening to its recitals by others, easy to understand poetry, although it could be quite deep at times. His contribution to their entertainment was some sporadic ash’ar, and the stories involving Zinns like the Thief of Baghdad.
Once every month, these laborers were robbed on the road at a standard spot. The robbing spot was between the city and their usual terminal meeting and parting place. Robbers who ‘owned’ the territory including the road took one bike per month. The laborers had decided to rotate the ‘robbed one.’ As the robbers would show up, the one whose turn it was to be robbed that month, just handed his bike to the fellow and the others provided him the necessary transport for the day and the next day to pick a new bike. The transportation system was standard: Carry him on the bike-bar the way Marvun had rode to Kesari Nagar. The newcomer asked the veterans why had they made this arrangement.
“If we don’t give them a bike a month, they’ll take more and beat us up.”
“Why don’t you report to the police?”
“They pay standard bribe to the police every month.”
“Rent a place in the city?”
“Rent comes to more than the value of one bike every few months.”
“Why do they agree to accept just one bike a month?”
“If they take more, renting a place in the city will become more economical and they’ll lose what they get.”
Amir, the newcomer, looked puzzled at this culture of the road.
Someone remarked, “Get used to it my friend, it’s all a business partnership between us, the robbers and the police. Everything is designed to maximize everybody’s profit and minimize the losses.”
“It is pretty new thing to me.”
“Oh such things have taken place throughout the ages my friend,” and he narrated a story from Mahabharata.
When the Pandavas were wandering in the forest following a failed attempt at their lives, the strongest one among the five brothers, Bhima, noticed an old woman crying while she was making gourmet food. He was obviously puzzled. He asked her reason for crying while cooking the kind of food that indicated some festive occasion. She told him that a Rakshasha lived around there that was killing and eating humans and ravaging the region. So, people negotiated a deal with him. According to the deal, one man a day would be sent to the monster with gourmet food. The deal was good for both sides: The region lost only one man per day, less than they were losing before, and the monster got food without having to work. That day, it was the turn of the woman’s family and her son was supposed to go to the monster.
“Brother Amir, there are regular business arrangements made in all parts of the world throughout the ages. It is not a novelty here; so get used to it.”
Amir pondered over the explanation with some amusement for a while. He realized that it would take him longer to digest the whole thing. He decided to amuse himself with the story.
“So the woman sent her son and it continued?”
“Oh no, Bhima volunteered to replace the son that day. He ate the food and waited for the monster. They fought and the monster was killed.”
“We should get a Bhima then,” Amir suggested.
“You are so naive Amir. There is no Bhima around and there is no possibility of disappearance of robbers on the road. If these ones are gotten rid of, others would take their place. They are like the monsters that regenerate more if killed. If not, police will find some to plant here.”
Amir was amused alright, but bewildered also.
During one of his day shifts, Amir asked his wife to take a note to the patwari with some information jotted down pertaining to his chhuchhundar, the patch of land. The wife objected, “I can’t go out alone in the public Miyan ji.”
“Beghum, we are poor, can’t afford to observe such protocols.”
“But the dictate of our Mazahab, Islam, of Allah!”
“Even Allah forgives things done in a bind. I can’t be here and patwari won’t come for a week. If this information is not recorded in time, we may have to go through some hassle. All you have to do is hand over the note to Pundit Parasu Ram ji and take any note he gives you. You’ll be fully covered. If you have any concerns about your fingers, I can pick a pair of glows for you from the city but that will be too late for this time.”
The wife thought for a few moments; then she agreed a little depressed at her poverty. “You don’t have to pick the glows; I’ll pass the note.”
“Are you angry with me Beghum?”
“Oh no, no Miyan ji,” the wife exclaimed, “I was just sad. I understand. We should have courage to do whatever is needed.”
Amir was quite pleased and handed her the note. She for her part went to the yard of the rich landlord where Parasu sat. She stopped suddenly some distance away from the men there. The landlord sent a young boy to her to clear the matter. She handed the note to the boy who in turn handed it to Parasu. Parasu jotted down a note that the information was recorded, which made its journey in reverse. This was the first time for Amir to use his wife to exchange information with the patwari but not the last. Next time, she just walked to Parasu and the exchange took place directly. The landlord, with his hair dyed red with henna and the others sharing a hookah just ignored the presence of a burqa-clad female in the domain of males for those few minutes.
One of those days, there was no one there except the patwari. The Landlord had gone to the kachehari in the Meerut City and the others could not congregate there during an absence of the host. Amir’s begum came and extended the note to Parasu with one hand and lifted her niqab for a few seconds with the other. Parasu froze in his tracks, dazzled not just by her immensely beautiful mischievously smiling face but stunned also by what he discovered: Amir’s begum was the woman who had exposed her face to him on the day of Moharram! He understood her sudden halt at his sight the first day she had come to hand a note, which at the time he had interpreted as the hesitation of a burqa-clad Muslim woman alone in a public place. He recognized her immediately even though he had not observed her features very clearly in the bazaar that evening. He certainly had not realized how strikingly sharp features she had. Her beauty came alive in the bright sun. Nothing was said; there was no need to. Parasu just said that the record would be taken care of. He did ponder over a she’r’ of Ghalib asking that a niqab not be lifted for fear that he might come face to face with the same qatil sanam, the killer lover; interestingly, he had heard the she’r from Amir.
After Amir was settled in his new life, he invited Parasu to his house for a meal as a token of his gratitude for the help he had received in finding his job, “Brother Pundit ji, would you be kind enough to bless my gharib khana, humble dwellings, by partaking the meal cooked by your sister-in-law?”
Parasu smirked at his Lucknowi manner of talking although it was quite common in some circles surviving in the midst of quite rude mannerisms. Parasu agreed. After the meal, which was passed to them through a hole in the wall, he admired her cooking and thanked him for his hospitality although not in the same style as Amir had invited him in but Amir retained the same style in his response, “This is your zarra-nawazi Pundit ji, what this poor man can do who is Amir by name only.”
“Amir Miyan, God always compensates. He has given you a good wife.”
Amir paused for a few seconds. Difficult to say if he was pondering on his wife’s beauty or what; probably both. Then he responded, “Can’t complain in that matter brother Patwari ji, her cooking is a glimpse of...” Amir bit his tongue as he was entering the domain of boastfulness, far from his immensely polite ways.
“It’s alright Amir Brother, it is a glimpse of heaven,” Parasu completed the sentence with an emphasis on ‘is.’
Amir ignored the complement and continued, “Allah has blessed me with plenty Patwari ji; hardworking Beghum, very cooperative and supportive. I could not survive without her sustenance. Much more brother, He has blessed me with good friends.”
In time, Parasu was having frequent tea at Amir’s house. Amir even told his wife to seek help of Parasu in his absence if needed and Parasu was in the village. He allowed her even to talk from behind her burqa. In time, the burqa was gone too but only inside his house. The landlord used to invite Parasu to stay overnight occasionally from the beginning. Amir started doing it occasionally also. Parasu reciprocated by ordering tea and sweets from the bazaar periodically and ordering khasta kachauri meal occasionally. All of this was not as frequent as it may appear due to its compressed time frame here; he was spending only a day or two in a week in that village and that too for six months a year, and such overnight stays were once every couple of months. However, this was sufficient for him to become so much a part of that community that some in Kesari Nagar would call him Muslim in jest and he became so much a part of Amir’s small family that some in the Shia village started suspecting illicit relation between him and Amir’s begum. One day the village Mullah summoned the landlord to the mosque where he found some more people. The landlord suspected some trouble, particularly as the Hindu-Muslim divide had already started to take roots. Muslim League was encouraging Muslims to insist on a separate homeland for the Muslims. Conflict of the old social ties and this divide were playing itself out in all walks of life.
“Jamindar Sahib, I would have come to see you myself at your place but there is a need to keep the matter private,” the Mullah started.
“It’s alright, carry on.”
“The way you and Amir are carrying out with that qafir is not right,” the Mullah continued after a long pause.
“That qafir, eh,” the landlord responded sarcastically.
“He is not a Musalman, so he is a qafir.”
“How many of the Muslims can you trust more than Pundit Parasu Ram ji? How many Muslims are as helpful to us as he is? Don’t you remember Mullah Sahib, the last patwari was a Muslim. He made life hell for everybody in the village, that leech, a blood sucking hound!”
“He was a Sunni.”
“How interesting: He is a Sunni, so his inhuman ways are explained away and since he is a Muslim, he is still acceptable. And Parasu is a Hindu, a Brahman. That makes the difference.”
“If you can persuade him to convert, things will be better,” the Mullah added after a pause.
“Mullah ji,” someone from the gathering prodded the Mullah.
“I will come to that, let me finish with one thing first,” Mullah responded to the fellow and then addressed the landlord again, “If you don’t want to talk to him, I can.”
“You will do no such thing,” the landlord said angrily and got up to leave.
“Wait, there is another thing,” the Mullah stopped him, “but after I am finished with this one.”
“Oh, so you are not finished yet!”
“You are a landlord and I understand that a patwari can benefit you a great deal but that is no reason to compromise our Mazahab, Islam.”
“You are questioning my adherence to Islam, of a namazi Muslim!” and the Landlord got up again to leave.
Several young men in the gathering stood in front of him.
“Oh, so you will stop me!” the landlord said sternly.
The young men just stood staring at him as if saying, “We do what we are told.” Someone from the gathering commented, “We know jamindar sahib, who can survive in water with a crocodile as their enemy.”
“Know it and listen carefully; if any harm comes to Pundit ji, no matter how, from you or anyone else, I will deem you responsible.”
The Mullah came to the other topic, “We won’t talk about it anymore for now but there is one more thing.”
“Blurt it out and get it over with.”
“Closeness between Beghum Nusarat, wife of Miyan Amir Hussein and that qafir cannot be ignored.”
“And what does that mean?”
“You know what it means jamindar sahib. A man and a woman cannot maintain such closeness without succumbing to Satan’s temptation.”
Now they just stared at each other for quite some time. The landlord broke the silence, “And that is punishable by death, one by stoning and the other by beheading?”
“He is not even pak, neither is she now,” the Mullah sighed.
“Would that make any difference? They would die nevertheless, one by stoning, and the other by beheading.”
“At least they would go as paks. Oops, I forget this is not done here. No Shania in this land of qafirs.”
“If your suspicion is true and she is no longer pak, then it is two qafirs succumbing to devil’s temptation and it is no longer your concern.”
“But she can’t abandon Allah.”
“Listen Mullah ji, I can’t keep wasting my time in arguing with you. Whichever way you cut it, it is none of your business. It is entirely the business of three: Beghum Nusarat, Amir Hussein and Pundit Parasu Rama, miyan biwi raji, kya karega kazi. If a man and a woman consent, what can a judge do? In this case, the only other person who matters is Amir Hussein and he is passing no judgment. Besides, it is only your unsubstantiated suspicion. So leave it at that.”
The landlord stormed out of there. This time, only one youth showed some movement but an elder man stopped him. Only a gentle touch on his shoulder was sufficient to give him and the others the message.
After the landlord’s departure, conversation ensued for quite long time.
“The landlord is no Muslim anymore; he has become a qafir himself.”
“Most have brother, most have; just meat eating Musalman, otherwise qafirs.”
“Not surprising in this land of qafirs.”
“We had thought that we could establish the word of Allah here. What has happened is that it is disappearing from us.”
“Landlords are landlords, they have no Iman, no religion, just money and the power that they use to suppress us peasants.”
“Inshallah, Qaed-e-Azam Zanab Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a True Musalman, will get us our Pakistan to live as true Muslims, governed by the word of Allah enshrined in the Holy Quran and Shania.”
Some were not aware of and others ignored the fact that Jinnah drank Scotch whisky regularly and indulged in other activities that are considered haram, prohibited in Islam.
“Son of Gandhi was touched by the noor of Allah, accepted the word of Allah, Maulavi Abdullah, a scholar of Islam and servant of Allah.”
Yet again, they ignored the fact that the son was no scholar of Islam, practiced none of the rites of Islam and was often found drunk lying in gutters.
“Gandhi should see the noor of Allah himself.”
“He never will, brothers, he never will.”
“He is a very clever qafir. He’ll never let us have our Pakistan.”
“He’ll erase whatever of Islam is left here.”
“He acts as a saint but he is no saint.”
“But he is a useful qafir.”
“Not sure brother; he acts nice with Muslims, gets concessions for Muslims. All he is doing is feeding us alcohol, dulling our senses, trying to keep us in the united India; no Pakistan and no Shania.” …..
They knew that they were powerless against a landlord and powerless against a patwari and think what would be the case when both are put together. They dispersed with an assurance from the mullah that he would think of some other way.
Next time the Landlord saw Parasu, he mentioned that some misguided fellows in the village were losing their heads and that he had warned them. So nothing was likely to happen but just in case, being careful would not hurt, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” He himself stopped going to that mosque for his Friday prayers and the mosque lost a big chunk of its donations. Both, the landlord and his donations, started going to a small mosque in another village. As for Parasu, he was so hooked on that village that he had to persuade his boss to assign it to him during his next working six months since a rotation was not uncommon and that village appeared to be slipping away. The landlord had assured him that if he had difficulty getting that village the easy way, he would talk to someone and everyone knew that the landlords had their ways to get their way with the government officials; all it took was a handsome ‘commission.’
Beghum Nusarat was pregnant with her first baby by this time. Even before the baby was born, concerns were expressed by the Mullah and the others about the lineage of the baby, whether Amir had fathered it or Parasu. In Kesari Nagar, comments like, “Parasu Pundit is getting two babies about the same time and they aren’t twins” were making rounds. Parasu and others affected knew that there was no way to stop them, so they ignored them, unless someone would poke. To the poking, Parasu always responded, “Just rumors but what can I do?” That proved nothing to the pokers, “What else do you expect him to say?” In some situations, only one answer is acceptable. In time Nusarat gave birth to a baby girl. She asked Parasu, “What will you call the girl?”
“I am not very familiar with the Muslim names. Besides, Amir and you are the parents of the baby, you should name her.”
“Who said her name has to be a Muslim name,” she said with a smirk, “and is she not lucky to have three parents?”
Parasu thought for a minute, then said, “Alright, she is as pretty as her mother, so she’ll be called her Shehajadi Hasina. This is a Muslim name and I like it.”
“How about just Hasina?”
“That would be fine but I’ll still call her Shehajadi Hasina, Beautiful Princess, that she is.”
Later Amir added Nusarat to the name. So she became Hasina Nusarat.
Beghum Nusarat was about as polite and modest as Amir. This stark contrast with her conduct during their first encounter had puzzled Parasu for some time. One of those days, he managed to express his curiosity, “Nusarat Beghum, you are so modest, so polite and dedicated to your family. I do not understand how you could be so aggressive.” She told him that an urge to play a prank can spur one to do strange things in a place like a fair, “Conversing with my friends, I happened to say that a woman can make about any man follow her,” they dared me to prove it, so I did.
“But being such a devout Muslim!”
“Humans are humans Pundit ji. External embellishments cannot do away with the essence of a human being.”
“Were you not afraid of the possible consequences?”
“When the essential human is operating, such fears dissipate away.”
After a pause she asked, “And why kept you following us?”
“You aroused my curiosity.”
“Were you not afraid that somebody might notice you chasing three burqa-clad women? People could beat you up for that.”
“When the essential human is operating Beghum, such fears dissipate away.”
They both burst out laughing. To conclude, she added, “The way things have developed Pundit ji, it must be providence, the will of Allah. That is how He wanted to introduce us to each other.”
Bhuvan was already in this world by now; conceived at noon hour, born at the stroke of midnight, a few weeks after Hasina. However, he had no claim to the title, ‘Midnight Child’ as the title was not even in existence at that time; it was discovered later and applied to the children born at the stroke of midnight on the fifteenth of August 1947, exactly at the time India gained her independence some years later. It was customary to isolate a new mother for over a month. During that time, she was given complete rest and fed rich foods, which did more harm to her health than good. On the prescribed day, she would emerge with the newborn and the rituals and ceremonies would follow. According to one of the rituals, Patwarun with Bhuvan in her arms was taken to the little mud-temple of the child’s great-grandfather for his blessing by lighting a clay lamp filled with clarified butter. Then there was the concluding feast.
It was not much of a feast as Grandpa hadn’t exactly come out of his poverty just yet. Villagers made sarcastic remarks, “Pundit, your son is a patwari now; start parting with this cheap, stingy, mentality.” Patwarun was already furious for she had wanted an elaborate feast, a feast-feast. She fought with Big Mouth and everybody can guess what would happen in a collision of Patwarun and Big Mouth; collision of Titanics and eruption of volcanoes would be children’s play. Next morning, Patwarun swore never to return until after she had a separate household to be able to do as she pleased and headed straight to her parents’ home. For their part, Big Mouth and the Hookah Walla Uncle conspired to kidnap her son for they thought that Patwarun would not be able to bear separation from her newborn, first one at that, and would come back. So the uncle visited her parents, told them that it was just a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law squabble and it would pass. Then he asked if he could take his nephew around to play with the child. There was really not much for the parents to worry about. For his part, the Uncle headed straight out of the village, through the fields hiding in the crops and behind bushes; he was no fool to take a regular dirt road. Still someone spotted him and rushed to tell Patwarun’s parents who in turn collected a few neighbors and rushed to catch the ‘kidnapper,’ all armed with sticks. However, after a couple of hours, they returned empty handed and decided to wait a few days before trying other ways to get the boy back to his mother.
For his part, Hookah Walla Uncle, taking odd routes came to a huge fast flowing rough canal originating in the Ganges Canal. The canal was smaller than the Ganges Canal but was about as dangerous, even more at some places. Uncle’s zeal to avoid the regular routes got a little out of hand and he tried to cross the canal with Bhuvan in his arms. He went a few meters in the water and then came to his senses but it was a bit too late. He realized that if he stayed put at that spot, he might hold on for a while, but if he tried to move at all either way, he would be swept away together with the boy. So, he just stood in one place, no one knows for how long, until a traveler passed by on the trail through the bushes on the bank. The uncle asked for his help. No asking was really necessary as the traveler himself rushed to the edge of water with his eyes wide open with fear and yelled at the uncle, “You, idiot, you want to die, die; who needs your kind in the world anyway, but why did you have to risk the life of a little child.” Then he took his loincloth off without delay and threw one of its ends to the uncle to hold, “And make sure you hold the baby tight in the other arm or I’ll push you back in the canal myself.” He started pulling the uncle out. No significant pulling was necessary; the support the uncle got was sufficient to help him walk to the shore. The traveler was exposed during all this time, which was not done in that community but this was no time for modesty. In any case, Bhuvan and Hookah Walla Uncle both survived for now.
The uncle was still not going to take any regular route. He took the trail until he came to a bridge, crossed the canal safely and headed towards his village through crops and bushes. When he felt that he was safe, he came out of hiding and walked along a regular dirt road. The child got hungry and started crying. Soon he came to a village along the road. Someone asked him why the boy was crying. The uncle didn’t know. The stranger suggested that the baby may be hungry and took them to his home where he had his wife feed the baby some buffalo milk. The baby stopped crying. During the conversation, the stranger ‘learned’ that the baby’s grandmother was feeling lonely without the newborn, so the boy’s mother allowed the baby to visit his grandmother for a day or two. The stranger commented that even a couple of days away from the mother was not good for so young a baby and suggested the boy be taken back to the mother as soon as possible. “Of course,” Hookah Walla uncle nodded showing his strong agreement with the suggestion; he even added that he would take the boy back to his mother just the next morning. Then he headed home.
Grandpa had a cow and the cow milk is lighter than the buffalo milk, which is better for a baby. So, Bhuvan was fed cow milk. Concept of the baby formula was not even in existence those days around there. Rich people, whose wives did not want to breast feed their babies, hired some poor wet nurse to feed their newborns together with one’s own but Grandpa and Parasu were not in that league. Another alternative was the goat milk but there was no goat in Kesari Nagar. The baby could not digest cow milk and got sick. Big mouth and Hookah Walla Uncle decided to get goat milk for the baby but they would not have a goat in the house as it was a taboo for the Brahmans. Only alternative was to get goat milk from a village with a shepherd in it not so close to Kesari Nagar. Hookah Walla Uncle started travelling to and from that village every day to buy the goat milk. He was completely dedicated to his task.
According to a story, a low caste cattle herder used to strike the head of a statue of Lord Shiva, an idol, seven times each day in a temple across a river from where he used to herd his cattle. He performed his peculiar ritual immediately after a Brahman devotee of Lord Shiva would pour water on the idol in seven pulses after bathing in the river. The cattle herder and the devotee died on the same day and Chitragupta, in-charge of these matters, ordered the cattle herder to be taken to heaven and the devotee to hell. The Brahman was confounded at the decision; so he asked, “My lord, I cannot doubt the wisdom of your decision but I would like to know why is it that I worshipped the Lord and the cattle herder insulted Him in about the worst possible way, every single day; yet I am going to hell and he, to heaven?”
Chitragupta narrated an event from his record book, “Remember the day when the river was flooded; you bathed in the river and threw water seven times in the direction of the idol. Immediately after you departed, the cattle herder jumped into the river risking his life, swam across and hit the statue seven times with his shoe. He was true in his ‘devotion,’ you cared more for your life. It is not what rituals one performs, it is your commitment to it that earns you the merit.”
Hookah Walla Uncle naturally preferred the ways of the cattle-herder. It is another matter what kind of decisions he made but whatever they were, he made full commitment to them. In this case, hell or high water, he would get the goat milk every day. His determination was tested often especially during the monsoon season. There was no umbrella in the house. He used the usual protection prevalent in the community: A jute sack with one corner pushed into the other to form a covering for the head and the back. He would still be soaked by the time he reached the shepherd’s village after which it didn’t matter how much more water fell on him. As for the baby, it was too late; his system had already been damaged, no longer capable of digesting even the goat milk; he started getting sicker and weaker.
Patwarun for her part, headed straight to her maternal grandparents, which is where she stayed after that. Patwarun’s grandfather visited Kesari Nagar several times to take the baby to its mother but did not succeed. Big Mouth supported by the Hookah Walla Uncle was stubborn as the Rock of Gibraltar. Even the persuasions of Grandpa and Parasu failed to budge her, let alone the neighbors’ comments. Her only answer was, “I have raised so many, so I raise one little grandson also” And they were not going to fall for any trick, always made sure that the baby was in the sight of at least one of them. At times, the Uncle would take Bhuvan to the fields with him. Forget about the work, all he would do was to smoke his hookah and look after the boy. If the baby cried, he would lie down on the ground and have the baby suck on his nipples. Obviously the baby wasn`t getting any milk and his nipples were not going to satisfy the baby`s sucking urges either but the baby would release the nipples and become quiet, most likely to get himself out of this nuisance. Big Mouth would also have the baby suckle on her breasts, which was somewhat better than the Uncle`s nipples. As for Patwarun, she was the Patwarun; remained true to her oath. She would not go back on her word, her resolve, to save the World, let alone having closeness with her son.
One day the uncle ventured into the field where Grandpa was working.
“Where is the boy?” Grandpa asked.
“Under the mango tree.”
“Under the mango tree!” said Grandpa sarcastically frozen suddenly in his tracks as he looked piercingly at the delinquent uncle, “so that you could help me in the field, I suppose!”
Grandpa rushed to the mango tree ignoring an embarrassed “yeah” of the Uncle; so did the others working around there including Champa. As they reached the tree, they were frozen at the sight of a cobra shading baby’s head. Grandpa folded his palms and said, “Nag Devata, thank you for blessing the baby.”
Everyone there followed the lead of Grandpa. The cobra for its part, slithered away. As it was slithering, Hookah Walla uncle picked a stick to strike it. Grandpa hollered angrily at him, “Stop.” Then added, “It was no ordinary snake; it was the Kantha Nag of Lord Shiva. Bhole Nath sent it to bless the child. This is a sign that the boy will grow up to be a great man.”
“Alright,” said the frustrated uncle grudgingly as he really wanted to crush the head of the cobra.
As it turned out, grown up Bhuvan would have interpreted the incident as an instinctive reaction of a reptile as it noticed something in its way followed by its bewilderment at a strange behavior of the gathering. It realized that the baby was neither suitable food nor it posed any danger; in addition, the presence of a crowd was dangerous for a cobra; so it slithered away. There are famous people who have gone through such experiences in those fields whose stories get known enforcing the belief that it was a sign of one’s future greatness. Surely there are many beggars, thieves and alcoholics lying in the gutters with such an experience in their pasts but no one ever learns about them.
Parasu and Grandpa started to worry about well-being of the child. It appeared that the baby may not survive even to celebrate his first birthday, let alone becoming a great man sometime later. Parasu talked to Big Mouth.
“Ma, the boy will not live for very long this way.”
“I have raised you, I can raise him.” She didn’t seem to notice that she had raised Parasu on her milk, not a cow’s or a goat’s.
Parasu shook his head; then continued, “Ma, I know a lady who has given birth to a baby recently; she can use some money; I’ll hire her to feed the baby and she can look after the baby in other ways too.”
He would not dare let her know that the lady he had in mind was a Muslim for that would have been the end of it and likely of the baby some time later.
“Away from me!” hollered Big Mouth.
“Ma, I’ll bring the baby home to you once a week.”
Big Mouth posed for a long time. Parasu persisted, “The baby has gotten very weak Ma, if he dies, you’ll lose him forever.”
“Alright, but on one condition,” she said after a pause as Parasu looked in anticipation, “You’ll have to swear on the Holy Ramayana that the baby will not go anywhere else and you understand what I mean. You’ll not pass him to that Patwarun of yours and make sure that none of their trickeries works.”
Parasu took a solemn oath with his hand on a copy of Ramayana.
All settled, he rushed to talk to Nusarat, “Beghum, as you already know, your baby is separated from his mother. He has gotten very weak, frail. I cannot pay you at the going rate but I’ll pay you.”
“I don’t want your money. Hasina can suckle on one of my breasts and Bhuvan on the other.”
“No, no Beghum, you’ll need more food to produce enough milk for two babies, food costs money. Then you will also be looking after him.”
After some back and forth, it was agreed that Parasu would pay for the food and clothing for both of the babies. In the evening, she told her husband about the arrangement. It was fine with him as he considered it his duty to help a friend and that too Parasu. The fact that she made the arrangement without consulting him did not bother him, which would have been unthinkable in a different situation. Thus little Bhuvan experienced his second uprooting within the first six months of his short life, which became a way of life for him later.
Continued to “Cesarean Section”