Across the Bridge – Chapter 13
Continued from “A Pail of Water”
After Dharmu Patwari left, Bhuvan asked his grandfather, “Baba, what did patwari baba mean that our ancestor built this village?”
Grandpa of course had work to do in the field, so he suggested, “Come help me and I’ll tell you.”
Bhuvan was not much of a help but he tagged along doing whatever he could to listen to the story.
Some hundred fifty years ago, there were three brothers, sons of a modest landlord in a village out west. After their father died, there were squabbles related to the division of property. Two older brothers were united against the youngest one who felt short-changed and bullied. East India Company was already well entrenched having reduced the former rulers of kingdoms to subordinate roles and had instituted early form of their administration including district offices and the police force. Having noticed some unused land, the new administration was offering it to anybody who wanted to cultivate and pay taxes. The younger brother had heard that there were areas of unclaimed land in the east. They had some idea of the whereabouts of such areas just by the word of mouth. So, he thought he could find some suitable farmland somewhere and try to build a more respectable life than he could expect with his brothers around. He loaded whatever he had in a bullock cart and headed east together with his wife and a son. He persuaded a son of their family Brahman to accompany him together with his wife, whose things were loaded in one bullock cart. Two brothers made a half-hearted effort to dissuade him but in fact, they were downright pleased to see him go; so were the brothers of the Brahman. More in material wealth and less in troubles was left for them.
The carts traveled for a few days camping along the way. They had a rough idea of where they were heading but the rest was left to their ingenuity and destiny, whichever way one wants to think. They did encounter some unclaimed land along the way, which did not appeal to them. So they kept on going. One of those days, the Brahman spotted a forest thick with trees and bushes at a distance. From what he had heard, he suspected that this was likely the forest where some good land was available. He then noticed a passerby on a trail.
“Ram Ram brother,” Brahman greeted the passerby as he had been doing frequently during the journey.
“Ram Ram traveling brothers,” came the response.
“What is this large forest doing in the middle of these villages?”
“This is unclaimed, government land.”
“Surely there must be plenty of poor people in the villages who can use the land.”
“Yes, but who has the money to pay the fees and to invest to make it good enough for cultivation? And then one has to live and pay taxes even before the land starts producing.”
The travelers had enough money for some of the things. They had made sure of that before leaving.
“As you would know, farmers at times resign even from perfectly good farming land because of the difficulties in paying these high taxes. Some landlords do have their eyes on it if they can manage the land they already have and spare some money to invest and pay taxes;” the man on the trail added.
“How good is this land?”
“You can’t find any better land than this in this area, which is about the best farmland in the planes of the Ganges and Yamuna, brother. You can figure it out yourselves from the crops you are seeing around and the lush forest itself.”
They spotted birds landing and taking off in an area of the forest. They figured that there must be water there, so they decided to check it for themselves. They headed towards the spot making their way into the forest turning the carts wherever they could take them creating a serpentine track along the way. It took some effort but finally they found the spot. Sure enough, there was a pond with not so dirty water. The Brahman selected a spot close by and remarked, “This is where we shall settle down.” The son of the landlord had to follow the advice of his priest and de facto vizier. There was not much to disagree with anyway. The next day they travelled to the district kachehari and signed up for whatever land they could have. The landlord signed for about six hundred bighas and the Brahman, for about three hundred, which covered about whole of the forest. Brahmans were not supposed to have much property. Also, each had to work within his means. Besides, he would be busy running the affairs of the village to be, leaving little time to attend to his land. This extra work would increase his income; he did not have to depend on the land for all his earnings. The son of a landlord, now became a landlord himself. Both of them eyed their new property.
“What shall be the name of our village Pundit ji?” the Landlord inquired.
“Kesari Nagar,” meaning, the City of Lions or Lions’ Den, the Brahman announced with a feeling of immense satisfaction.
They knew their immediate needs. So they had brought whatever food items, tools and the weapons they could. They immediately hid their money in clay pots in well-camouflaged holes under several trees. Initially they camped. Food items they had brought and acquired along the way, together with what was naturally available on their land, was sufficient to keep them going. Major problem was the drinking water. The water in the pond was reasonable for the bullocks but not for humans. They would travel to a nearby village and fill the clay pots with clean water from a well. One trip every few days was sufficient. There were a number of problems, too many to mention here, but they improvised and managed. Within a few days, they also managed to build more stable dwellings with wood logs, mud and other building material available on the land. Most of the time, both of them were busy clearing the land. Wherever they found food items like fruits, berries, roots etc., they would clear the land around it and make a patch. No one took much note of them in the middle of nowhere far from any pathway or village, hidden in the bushes; even the cobras slithered away. The Landlord tried to kill the first cobra he saw but the Brahman stopped him, “Let it live its life; it has to live through it as an assignment for its deeds in its previous life; killing it would be interfering in the order created for the universe brother.”
“But it is dangerous; one sting and the one who gets it would be dead, be it human or animal.”
“Who does not die brother?”
“But not in this way, sudden untimely death!”
“Everything happens at its prescribed time.”
By that time, the cobra was nowhere in sight. After that the landlord would just let the cobras slither away with a smirk. Monkeys jumped from trees to trees away from these intruding humans, somewhat bewildered.
While settling down was still continuing, the Landlord mentioned, “Pundit ji, we have managed to get going but how long can we survive like this? We can’t even clear all the land, let alone cultivate it.”
“My first worry is the robbers. We have been lucky so far but sooner or later, some of them are going to notice us,” the Brahman remarked.
“What have we got? All our money is hidden where no one but we can find.”
“We have the bullocks.”
“You know these bullocks Pundit ji. Anyone, except us approaching them will be impaled on their horns.”
“Humans have a way of controlling all beasts brother,” the Brahman remarked with sobriety, “even other humans, the most difficult beast of them all!”
“Given our skill at fighting with sticks and spears, we could ward off a few.”
“If we ward off the first attack, next time there will a bigger gang.”
The Landlord had no answer for this one. In spite of having reasoned against, he did realize that depending just on themselves was quite risky. After a long pause, he asked, “What are we to do?”
“Let me think about it,” and the Brahman retired in his dwelling.
Next morning the Brahman applied a tilak on his forehead, and attired himself in the traditional Brahman outfit. He then approached the Landlord who was struck with the transformation of usually casually dressed Brahman undistinguished from a regular farmer.
“Are you going to visit a temple?” the landlord asked.
“Kind of; Shiv Shankar Bhole Nath, the Lord of the Meek, Weak and Righteous, has bestowed an inspiration upon me in my dream last night. So let me go do his work. You may rest for the day. I’ll be back by the afternoon.” and he departed.
The Brahman walked to a village at some distance. As he was passing by, a weaver was trying to manage cleaning of yarn stretched between two poles.
“Panva lagun Pundit ji,” the weaver showed respect to the Brahman. Touching the feet was not necessary, just saying so was enough.
“May Shankar Bhagwan bless you my brother.”
“Much obliged Pundit ji. I can use some blessing.”
“Why, what’s the matter?”
“You see pundit ji, it is very difficult to do all the chores required in making a cloth out of yarn in this little cramped place. The poles have to be far apart to work a reasonable amount of yarn. I work hard but the ends are difficult to meet.”
“Hmmm,” the Brahman paused for a moment. In fact, he had gone looking for such an opportunity.
“I may be able to earn some punya, some merit points to please my Lord Shiva. Come see me in the morning. I’ll talk to the Landlord. Let me see what I can do. But don’t tell anybody. The Landlord wouldn’t want to be swarmed by a crowd, everybody looking for free land to live and work on,” the Brahman added after a pause.
He had done the work of his Lord Shiva. So he headed home.
Early in the morning, the weaver with his wife and son walked to Kesari Nagar following the bullock cart tracks keeping an eye on the birds landing and flying off as the Brahman had instructed. As he spotted the Brahman sitting on a log, he rushed and bent down to touch his feet, this time really, and ordered his wife and son with a gesture of his index finger to do the same. They obliged immediately.
“May Bhole Nath bestow happiness upon you,” the Brahman blessed the family.
“You are my gateway to Shankar Bhagwan Pundit ji. Your blessing is Bhole Nath’s blessing.”
The weaver stretched his hand to his wife. She handed him a piece of fine cloth.
“Your humble weaver brought this little piece of cloth as an offering to Shankar Bhagwan,” and the weaver placed the piece of cloth in the lap of the Brahman.
“This was not necessary.”
“Pundit ji, your weaver’s wife would not let me come to seek the blessing of Shankar Bhagwan empty handed.”
“Hmmm,” the Brahman hummed, “Take it to your Brahmani.”
The weaver handed the piece of cloth to his wife who knew what to do. She entered the hut and the ritual of touching the feet and offering of the piece of cloth followed. Outside, the Brahman showed him a patch of land and told him to settle down there.
“Remember, this is the land of the Landlord, for your use at his pleasure. And you know well that you have to help him build this village. This work is in the service of Bhole Nath.”
“Anything required of me and more Pundit ji, and my family will forever be grateful to you and the Landlord.”
“Not to the Landlord, not to me, to Shiva Shankar.”
“To Shankar Bhole Nath, Pundit ji.”
The weaver started to put a few things he had brought along to stake his claim to the patch and the Brahman returned to his log. As soon as he sat down, a platoon of weavers came out of the bushes and rushed to touch his feet. “The trick worked,” the Brahman mused in his mind, but outwardly, he showed some anger at the first weaver, “I had asked you not to whisper to anyone.”
“I swear Pundit ji, I didn’t.”
“Then why am I seeing this crowd? How am I to convince the Landlord to accommodate the whole army?”
“He didn’t Pundit ji,” one of the others remarked, “I just wondered where he was going with his family and followed.”
Others claimed they saw the others. The Brahman did not ask why their wives, each with a piece of cloth, were there. Uncovering the truth was not his purpose; he knew it; he had wanted it to be so.
“This is my problem; can’t say no to anyone in need of help.” The Brahman paused and then added, “Let me talk to the Landlord.”
He walked to the Landlord some distance away clearing a patch of land behind the bushes where they had noticed some shakarkand vines with edible sweet roots.
“Congratulations Chowdhari brother, you are now the Landlord of a village of twenty-seven weaver families, and add two of ours.”
“How did you manage that Pundit, big brother!” the Landlord was surprised.
The Brahman in fact was younger than the Landlord, but a Brahman was always elder to others occupying a position of reverence.
“All with the blessings of my Lord and yours. You will build a temple, won’t you?
“Of course big brother, in time.”
“In time of course.”
He proceeded to move and then stopped suddenly, “Brother Landlord, we also got twenty-seven pieces of cloths. You can have fourteen, make it sixteen; you are three in the family.”
“Oh no, they are the offerings to Lord Shiva, only a Brahman can have them. I can’t dare to be burdened with such a papa, sin.”
“I have the assurance of Bhole Nath. Those rules are suspended for the time being.”
By the time the Brahman returned to the weavers, all pieces of cloth had been transferred to his wife. The weavers looked at him in suspense.
“It wasn’t easy but your Landlord is a very kind hearted man, can’t see the suffering of week and needy. Now you know what to do for whoever does good to you.”
“Of course Pundit ji, he will be our Landlord and you our revered Pundit ji”
The Brahman allotted the patches of land to the weavers and they rushed to stake their claims. They understood the purpose of the Brahman well but they also knew that if not them, he would have found others. The only difference would have been that Kesari Nagar may have started out as a village of cobblers, carpenters or some other type of artisans, most likely a mix of many, as it was destined to develop in time anyway. In fact, they had anticipated that if they did not act quickly, the Brahman would select a few of each type, likely from several villages, instead of a herd of one type from one village. Thus, they knew that their need was greater than his and they were lucky to be in a position to seize the opportunity. They still had to please him, otherwise they could be expelled and others found.br />
The initial task was to make a village-like entity there. First the weavers made huts for themselves. Then the priority was to dig two wells, one for themselves and one for the Brahman and the Landlord who could not have water from the well-used by the lowly weavers. This was a time consuming task. Managing the affairs was left to the Brahman. As for the Landlord, he did what he was told, which was to do less demanding and more responsible chores than the weavers. Brahman mostly stayed in the village and the Landlord did out of the village work such as to go for shopping to the nearest town or even the city. On the way back, he would fill their clay pots with water. One of the days, he was instructed to contact a lumber company in the city. There were many trees which a lumber company could be interested in. A company’s representative assessed the trees and bought them. Company’s workers would chop the trees down and saw the trunks to make planks before transporting them to the city. The trees and bushes, which the lumber company did not want, were left there for the time being. After the wells, the weavers built two relatively respectable houses for the Brahman and the Landlord with tree logs and mud and then modest houses for themselves. Kesari Nagar began to look like a village, albeit a small village, of about hundred individuals counting children.
With initial task out of the way, the weavers had to catch up on their weaving. They got their business in the neighboring villages as before. It was to get yarn from the households, prepare the cloth, deliver and collect the fee. It was a family task with wives and children helping all the time. They still managed to spare some time to help the Brahman and the Landlord who were trying to clear some patches. After the patches were cleared, the weavers receded, which was expected. The other two ploughed the land and put some seeds in.
BBrahman’s next task was to find some peasants but that was not as easy as to find the weavers. He talked to the weavers, “Brothers, sooner or later we will need some peasants to cultivate this land but we would like to have only the nice people. You are all nice, I am glad to have you.”
“Pundit ji, there are peasants in need of land,” one of them remarked.
“They are eager,” some of the others corrected him.
However, a couple of weavers informed them and the Brahman that they had already talked to a few and that the peasants were toiling on the land they already had; clearing the additional patches in a forest would take a great deal of time as well as labor. In the meantime, they expected the Landlord to demand taxes.
“Hmmm,” the Brahman hummed as usual, then added, “I’ll talk to the Landlord. I’ll see what I can do.”
The next morning, the Brahman asked the weavers to tell a couple of nice peasants to see him, “I can start with only a few. No trick this time like the one played on me the last time. Managing the affairs of land is not as easy as to allot patches of land to some weavers.”
They understood this very well.
After the usual formalities, the Brahman allotted a patch in the forest on the periphery to the first peasant that showed up; the allotted land was closer to the village he lived in. The peasant could take his time in clearing the patch. During that time, the firewood that would result would be taken for taxes.
“But do your best. If you do, I’ll let you keep some of the wood for yourself too,” the Brahman added.
“Much obliged Pundit ji.”
On these terms, he could have a herd of peasants but he genuinely wanted to keep it controlled, and wanted to make sure that he was not taking trouble on his hands. So he started with three peasants, two for the Landlord and one for himself. They were given land away from the village while the Brahman kept the land near the village for himself and the Landlord.
Bhuvan’s curiosity and interest in learning the history of Kesari Nagar was aroused. He started to tag along with Grandpa, so much so that frequently he would do his homework under a tree by the field and would start ‘helping’ him whenever he felt like or had no more homework or just wanted a break. He did not restrict his questions just to the history of Kesari Nagar, there were many others like “What is beyond all the stars? When did the universe begin? What was before that? ...” Answers like “Nothing;” “It continues;” did not satisfy him as they satisfy nobody. When grandpa would get tired of unanswerable questions like “What was before then?” “What is beyond all the stars?” he would respond, “Donkey’s tail.” However, there were many questions that Grandpa could answer, one of them was to tell him about the history of Kesari Nagar.
Continued to “Fall of a Pagari”