Across the Bridge - Chapter 14
Continued from “By a Pond in a Forest”
Few peasants the Brahman started with cleared the forest whenever they had time. Their women and children would help as they did in all the other work. Still they were quite slow due to their other productive land in their own villages. The Landlord and the Brahman would work whenever they could. By the planting season, there was some land ready to plant some crops. All of this land belonged to the Brahman and the Landlord; peasants were still toiling to clear the forest in their allotted land. The Brahman and the Landlord planted their first crops with immense joy and satisfaction of an achievement. For irrigation, they had to rely on the rain for now; in time, they dug wells and used bullocks to pull water out using water wheels but that was to be a number of years later. The land turned out to be very fertile, so much so that it became the envy of the landlords and peasants alike in other villages. All the land in the planes of the Ganges and Yamuna was already very fertile for the rivers had deposited minerals and natural fertilizers that they carried from the Himalayas over thousands of years. On top of that, the land of Kesari Nagar was never cultivated, had been in an eco-balanced state forever, rich with organic material. As a result, the first yield per bigha was estimated to be significantly higher than the yield in the neighboring villages. Whole of Kesari Nagar was overjoyed at the prospects, so much so that the peasants started working harder at their allotted land anticipating greater income than the land in their villages.
The crop was ready to be harvested. Usually the farmers let it dry as well as they could without letting the grain fall to the ground for ease of thrashing, which they did by walking the bullocks on it. It could be harvested some days earlier if one was prepared to scatter it on the ground and turning over until it dried requiring additional work. Few days before the crop was dry for safe and convenient harvesting, a group of men armed with swords, spears, and one archer showed up outside the village. The leader issued a challenge, “Listen you people of Kesari Nagar, we are here to take your crops; come out and defend it.”
There was panic in the village. Everyone rushed to the house of Brahman, “What do we do now Pundit ji?”
“Let them take the crops.”
“What! Are we to be cowards?” the Landlord remarked.
“Yes,” replied the Brahman calmly and nodded his head in affirmative at the same time. Everyone looked dismayed.
The Brahman added, “Live to fight the battles worth fighting some other day; you will encounter many... and you will discover many.”
“But our crops are worth fighting for.”
“Yes, but not worth dying for.”
“We can take on them; you and I are fighters with exceptional skills.”
“We can fight too,” the weavers supported the Landlord.
The Brahman paused for a moment; then spoke in a calm voice, “I admire your courage and gallantry brother Landlord, and yours too brother weavers, but they are heavily armed over a dozen seasoned warriors. All we have is two fighters with some skill. Gallantry of better fighting Rajputs was largely responsible for handing over India to the foreign invaders. As for our brave weavers, remember, Dara Shikoh’s army of barbers, washer men, cooks, and the like? It was slaughtered by Aurangzeb’s soldiers; Dara was humiliated and beheaded later. So brothers, I admire your courage but stay quiet and let them take the crops.”
Everyone just sat down on the ground at the Brahman’s house.
The invaders were getting impatient.
“How long will it take you to come out you cowards? Calling your collection of pigpens inhabited by jackals, Lion’s Den! Start calling it Geedar Darba. We’ll give you a couple of more minutes, then issue the third and final warning. After that, consider your crops gone.”
“Can’t tolerate it big brother,” the Landlord said almost in tears, “Death is better than humiliation.”
“Sit quiet or I’ll have you tied to a tree,” the Brahman said angrily.
There was nothing more to be said or done. Third and final warning was issued but the outcome was a foregone conclusion. The invaders had brought laborers and bullock carts with them. The leader ordered the top, grain pat. Of the crops removed and loaded; some was left deliberately for them to survive with difficulty to allow them to be able to grow crops in the coming year. Then they left with a comment to the vanquished by default, “Starve you cowards; only brave men deserve to enjoy the fruits of land. Make sure you work hard to get better crops next year for us.”
Obviously something had to be done but what? Nobody knew much about the new system of administration, let alone the system of justice. There were police stations here and there but police were there more to help the landlords collect exorbitant taxes from the peasants. Police was distrusted and feared so much so that if a policeman was spotted near a village, peasants would run to the fields and hide. If anything was reported to them, no good came out of it, just more bribes for the police. Only the landlords used police and the administrative services. Besides, the Landlord of Kesari Nagar was no landlord for having so little land, working with his hands and still considered an alien. Even worse, the robbers were acting on behalf of the landlords in other villages. The leader himself was a son of a landlord in a nearby village; among others, some were the family members of the landlords and the remaining ones were the guards employed by the landlords. Thus, if the incident was reported to the police, the supporting landlords would just bribe the police and administrative officers to get the Landlord of Kesari Nagar and others in even more trouble. The robbers were no petty thieves or robbers, they thought of themselves the warriors and what they took as their deserved bounty for their valor.
The Brahman decided to take the matter to the council of landlords, which even the landlords were using to settle various disputes among themselves. Only the landlords could attend the council meetings and the Landlord of Kesari Nagar had not yet been accepted as a bona fide landlord. But he had sufficient claim to being a lower level landlord and his case could be pleaded by a bona fide landlord, who could likely persuade the council to allow him to be present in the meeting and even provide necessary information. The Brahman found a landlord in a nearby village sympathetic to the plight of Kesari Nagar, or unsympathetic to the landlords supporting the robbery.
“Chowdhari brother, we should take the matter to the council of landlords,” the Brahman advised the Landlord.
“But I won’t be allowed to attend. If you had let me fight to protect our crop, then I would have had some ground to be allowed to argue my case having established my claim to the fruits of land even if defeated.”
“Then neither you nor I may have been here to lay claim to the fruits of land.”
“Nobody was going to kill anybody Pundit ji, it was going to be a test of bravery and strength; if someone was killed, someone was going to be hanged.”
“You are so naive little brother Chowdhari! ... I have already talked to Vir Singh, the chief landlord of Raj Nagar. He has agreed to plead your case.”
Vir Singh requested for a meeting of the council. There was some objection to a meeting to discuss the case of ‘some odd fellow from Kesari Nagar who thinks he is a landlord.’
“He has settled in the area, he is not going anywhere, we have to learn to live together,” Vir Singh argued.
“But he is just a farmer, working the land himself.”
“Even a farmer has right to justice. Besides, there is no valor in robbing somebody.”
After some back and forth, agreement was reached to convene a meeting, “Let us hear what he has to say.”
Before the meeting, the Brahman had a few discussions with Vir Singh to help him prepare the case and coached his own Landlord for the meeting. On the day of the meeting, the Landlord of Kesari Nagar walked to Raj Nagar where he was treated as a genuine landlord, something like a country recognizing a newly formed country, which was not yet recognized by the others. Then Vir Singh mounted his horse and they proceeded to the meeting place in another village, the Landlord of Kesari Nagar walked behind the horse. As they came out of the village, they passed under a tree. Pagari of Vir Singh tangled in a low branch and fell off his head. The Landlord of Kesari Nagar turned back immediately and headed home. Astonished, the Brahman asked, “What happened brother Landlord?”
“Pagari of Vir Singh fell off his head, a bad omen. He no longer has his prestige, his stature. How can he plead our case?”
The Brahman hummed. He knew how deeply attached the landlords were to their pagaris and hookahs, which they considered the embodiments of their prestige, stature and their very beings.
“Let me think about it. We may be able to find someone else.”
The Brahman tried but no one was willing to help out even if sympathetic to the cause. News of the fallen pagari of Vir Singh had spread like wildfire as every other news in the area. His stature had suffered a blow in the community and in the council of landlords. Some saw it as an omen that even an association with the so called landlord of Kesari Nagar was to result in a reduction in one’s own stature. No one wanted to take the chance.
Having exhausted all avenues and seeing no hope in sight, the Brahman sought the last recourse: His Shiva Shankar Bhole Nath. He dressed as a genuine pundit with tilak on his forehead and headed to the Maha Pura Shiva Mandir some miles away.
“What job has Bhole Nath given you this time Pundit brother?” the Landlord joked with a touch of friendly sarcasm as he saw the Brahman, “You think you can pull out some trick this time again the kind you did to get the weavers?”
“Nah, this time I have to ask Shankar Bhagwan to do something for us, help us out.”
“But you always say that gods are not supposed to do things for humans, Lord Krishna did not lift a weapon in the great war of Mahabharata, just worked as the charioteer of Arjuna.”
“Yes, humans are supposed to fight the battles but the gods’ guidance can be sought; Lord Krishna did take the warrior where he wanted to go, provided advice, guidance, even in the matters of battle tactics, and averted a disastrous defeat, which was certain without his advice.”
“But you tell me that God who incorporates all gods, its manifestations, is in one’s heart, within one’s self. You tell me that is why you don’t go to the temples regularly.”
“Yes, brother Landlord, but I am not that realized sage, that steadfast in my thinking. I veer off often, I need help of external symbols at times to steady my course.”
The Brahman did go to the Shiva Mandir straight this time. After bathing in the nearby river and ritual of an offering of water and flowers, he rested his forehead on the ground close to the base of Shiva Lingam, and prayed, mentally:
“Lord of the Weak and Meek, Lord of my soul, man has done all he could, now your direct intervention is needed, the battle is being lost to demons. Show me the way, take my chariot where it should be, show me the battle I should fight.”
He stayed in that position for a few minutes; then headed back to Kesari Nagar.
The Brahman would go to the temple for his prayers every now and then, no regular pattern. Things were proceeding the same way as usual. The Landlord wasn’t very sure if Lord Shiva would do something; not that he did not believe in God and gods, far from it, he believed that God is who was running all and everything but he did not believe that in this age of Kaliyuga one of the gods would come and slay the invaders while they watched. And if it was not going to be so, how the gods were going to help them? This guidance business was not comprehensible to him. However, to interfere with the Brahman’s ways was unfathomable to him and he had no option but to rely on his ingenuity in which he had more confidence than gods’ guidance. In any case, the Brahman would do what he wanted, whether anyone approved or not. Occasionally the Landlord would ask the Brahman if Lord Shiva gave him any inspiration.
“Needs a little more work brother Landlord,” came the answer, always.
One day, as the Brahman returned after his prayers at the temple, all weavers gathered around him.
“Pundit ji, we have collected some money. Our Landlord has no horse, that is insulting to our village, our Landlord,” the weavers said and placed a small bag at the feet of the Brahman.
The Brahman counted: The bag had thirteen silver Rupee coins and a half Rupee coin in it.
“This must not have been that easy for you to manage, half a Rupee per family.”
“It was difficult but we did all we could Pundit ji.”
The Brahman dismissed the weavers and called the Landlord.
“Here are fourteen Rupees, thirteen and a half from the weavers and I have put a half, you add one, fifteen Rupees. Go buy a horse.”
“What kind of a horse this will get Pundit ji,” the Landlord said almost in pain, “a donkey?”
“I know it is not going to get you a Marvari; get the best you can, anything that looks like a horse will do for now.”
The Landlord turned back and walked with his head bowed. He had gone only a few steps when he heard the Brahman say, “Oh, I was forgetting. Lord Shiva has bestowed his blessings upon us. Mother Durga will slay demons but no slacking, continue the work with full dedication.”
The Landlord returned to the Brahman, astonished. “You mean Durga Bhavani will come riding her lion with spear, sword and other weapons in her sixteen hands and slay the bandits?”
“You are still so naive little brother. This is not how gods work. I have told you many times that they work through humans, their spirit guides the warrior’s chariot.”
“But you never prayed to Mother Durga, your deity is Shiva.”
“Yet again brother Landlord. You connect with God, Ishwara, through any of His manifestations, that suits you; this way you are connected to all of his manifestations and Him.”
“Did Lord Shiva appear to tell you that Mother Durga will help us?”
The Brahman shook his head.
“Brother, gods are within you, their spirit awakens in you to tell you what it wants to. Now go buy your horse and before you leave, send your son to me.”
The young boy had reached his puberty. He showed up at Brahman’s place, touched his feet and waited for him to speak.
“Sit beside me son” instructed the Brahman by placing his palm on the cot beside him.
“I sit beside a Brahman!”
“That’s fine. Those rules are suspended for now.” The boy complied hesitatingly. The Brahman began:
“You are a grown up young man now, young landlord in waiting. You have to start getting ready to inherit your father’s mantle.” He added after a pause, “Start with going for shopping to the bazaars. There are open air bazaars two days a week in the area in different villages as you’d already know. That will occupy you for a few days a week. And get to know people in the area, you will have to deal with them all your life. You’ll make friends and enemies, make as few enemies as you can and keep the enmity level low. There will be degrees of friendship, good friends will only be a handful in your lifetime.”
The Brahman gave him lesson in etiquette and whatever else he could. Then he dismissed the boy with “And I’ll tell your father that I have assigned some responsibilities to you.”
The Landlord had just gone to some people he knew who could tell him if someone was selling a horse. For that money there was nothing he could find. About a month later there was a cattle bazaar at a faraway place, which was held once a year. They waited for that time. The Landlord and the Brahman both went to the bazaar; and yes, they did come back with a ‘horse,’ which looked more like a pony than a horse. Not sure if that horse added to the prestige of Kesari Nagar or not but it gave the other landlords one more thing to laugh at Kesari Nagar for and its landlord. However, the inhabitants of Kesari Nagar were very proud of their new acquisition.
As for the boy, he started going to the bazaars to buy whatever he was instructed to. On his way he would meet others going the same way and they would start chatting. He didn’t have to put any extra effort as this is the way it was there. Slowly he started developing his likes and dislikes for people. He kept his distance from those whom he did not like much and got closer to those whom he liked. At times, one of his new friends would invite him to his house for a visit and a glass of milk. He had not adopted the snobbish ways of the landlords. He would associate with whomsoever he liked. Given his temperament, the Brahman’s advice was not really necessary. He also started helping his father in the fields.
Continued to “Magic of Cotton-Balls”