Across the Bridge – Chapter 34
Continued from “Blue-eyed Teacher”
Regular morning rounds were never there in the college; they had been discontinued years back in the elementary school also. The rounds and elaborate celebrations on the national days like the Independence Day and the Republic Day did continue. Projects requiring labor donation had also decreased everywhere except when someone decided to undertake some project and lobbied for it. Many of the ideas became victims of wrangling but a few did succeed every now and then. Village council did indulge in some activities like paving the streets with bricks using some of the grant received for the purpose; some was embezzled by some of those who were in a position to. Most of such activities were conducted using the local brain and expertise with the results quickly revealing its deficiency. A major project undertaken was to pave the dirt roads with bricks; due to lack of adequate ability, the bricks laid on top of the soft ground would sink in time requiring repeated repaving, often several times.
Electricity in the village was still a couple of decades down the road. The village Pradhan acquired first radio in Kesari Nagar with government funds with power supplied by a battery of dry cells. Many villagers would gather in his yard and listen to whatever the radio blurted out, some of it being the news pertaining to politics and governance. The meetings on the Bridge had become quite lively following the independence and the consequent activities like the elections, now they got additional potent fuel as the villagers were getting more informed. Additional information was disseminated by some like Wrestler Boy who would visit places, towns and cities for some personal reasons but would return equipped with new ‘information’ gathered during their interactions in the process and by hearsay; they also made up some stories as they had to impress the villager with the ‘new information.’ They were quite keen at playing the experts and more knowledgeable than the others. Savant of Kesari Nagar had started making more predictions like the one that the worst form of hell was waiting for Jinnah for causing the division of country not knowing that Jinnah had died in 1948. Several of them, Nakul Uncle, Wrestler Boy and Hasnu had become expert political analysts. Marva was often seen sitting and staring in space in some private place. If someone asked him what he was thinking, he would say, “I am worried about the country. How are we going to recover from the colonial mess firangis left us in and restore the old glory of our land.” Someone would remark sarcastically, “Marva has become the President of India!” Someone else would add one’s bit, “Make it the Prime Minister.” It was still a few years before people found out what Marva was really worried about, which became amply clear after he brought Marvun riding his bike-bar, and his meditations ended as now he had more important things to worry about like how to feed her and himself.
There were other men in Kesari Nagar before and after Marva who had hardly any hope left to find brides but did, Kadhelar being among them. Since his mother could not abort him, she and later he, could never hope to get married contrasting with Ghanto’s case. The mother could likely find someone desperate like her son and others but it just did not happen partly because she did not seem to have much interest in finding one. The same applies to the son. It is not clear what his reasons were but him having chosen the life of a recluse may have something to do with it. In any case, he remained alone until a quite advanced age and it appeared that he would be so until he died. However, when Bhuvan was still in a lower grade, during a summer day the recluse came to the village from somewhere with a strange looking younger woman who appeared to be a gypsy. In fact, nobody even noticed when he with his Gypsy sneaked in the village and into his house. The neighbors just noticed some unusual movements in his house and checked it as their right. Immediately, there was chorus among kids, “Kadhelar brought a Gypsy luga-i, Kadhelar brought a Gypsy luga-i, ......” The recluse who was a Jat for his mother was a Jat, declared her to be a Jat girl, now a Jat woman, but she was always called Gypsy who accepted this nickname. Everybody accepted such derogatory nicknames for they had no other choice as people would address them so whether they liked it or not and by accepting them, they diluted the initial impact of the name. Kadhelar and his Gypsy soon produced a son. People immediately started calling the son also ‘Kadhelar.’ Years later, one day Bhuvan remarked that the son was not a bastard as his father was known to everybody who was the one who was a bastard and therefore, should not be addressed so but this had no effect and the name stuck. Even more, the family itself came to be known as the ‘Kadhelar family.” In time, this became somewhat of their family name. Well before that, the couple had another son who was quite deformed at about all of his limbs, which people attributed to his father being too old and called him the ‘Litter of Old Age.” Since the elder son grew normally and was born several years before the younger one, he escaped this title. Unknown to him at this stage, he was to be burdened with the responsibility of his parents in their old age as well as his brother for life. Kadhelar managed to educate him up to the tenth grade. After that, the boy developed a career as a Real Estate Agent and managed to discharge his responsibilities. He also got married and continued the lineage. As for the younger son, he was not only deformed, he also drooled all the time. His drooling was ignored initially but as it continued even as he grew up, he was dubbed the ‘Drooler’ and thus, escaped the earlier title.
As the number of students in the college was increasing, more teachers were being recruited and more grants were flowing in, so were the donations. With this additional money, the college was being renovated and expanded little by little. On one hand, the things appeared to be changing rapidly; on the other, they were just the same: Same style of teaching and same activities. Among things which remained steady were the style of Lapheel Pha-i. As the exams would approach, he would still read his book while walking and other kids would still laugh at him, and he would still respond with, “Whatcha lutin at? …” When Bhuvan, Siddha and his classmates were writing seventh grade exams, He would respond with, “… Thele id nothin in conthructhuns, wait till nexth yeal, you’ll hafta do theolemth, then you’ll know, …..” After passing eighth grade, Lapheel had to choose between the science side and the humanities. He chose humanities as all not so good students did. Next year, Siddha and several others also went to humanities and Bhuvan together with several others went to the science side, which had the courses in languages as well as in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. Humanities did have languages the same but other courses were replaced by economics, political science and the like.
Lapheel was a bit subdued now having accepted his intellectual abilities or lack thereof. However, Lapheel was Lapheel Pha-i and his old ways would still not leave him. While writing his tenth grade exams, which were province-wide, he was noticed examining his fountain pen carefully drawing surprise looks from the other kids for whom a fountain pen was a major luxury, they still used the same old sharpened cane and regular ink. At this, Lapheel responded with an arrogant look, “It is Olympit bland, … Olympit bland.” He with his Olympic brand fountain pen failed and Bhuvan and his classmates caught up with him. During the summer after the exams, Marvun made her grand entry into Kesari Nagar.
Wrestler Boy had always mingled with kids quite a bit. These days, he had developed a new interest: Human reproductive system. He would ask kids the questions that normally little kids ask their parents but instead of receiving the same answerers, he received more honest ones from the school kids. Wrestler Boy learned that it is the male sperm that fertilizes the female egg produced by her ovaries. Then one day. He asked Bhuvan, “How does this radio work? Someone speaking in Delhi and other faraway places but we can hear them clearly here!” Bhuvan as other kids at this level would not know the workings in detail but they had the rudimentary knowledge about such things as they did about the human reproductive system; if they did not, they would ask their teachers and get back to Wrestler Boy. Bhuvan told him that it is the wireless technology that enables one to transmit sound at a distance without any visible connections.
“Would they be able to transmit my pagari at a distance?”
Bhuvan laughed, “I don’t think that they can do that.”
“Well, if they can transmit sound, they should be able to transmit my pagari;” Wrestler Boy retorted in a somewhat irritated tone.
“It is not the same thing uncle.”
“You kids don’t understand anything.”
“Alright; if they can, what good would it do to you?”
Wrestler Boy took a sigh of relief as now he saw some hope for what he was thinking.
“If they can transmit my pagari, they can transmit my sperm and I can send it to meet the egg of Khatku’s step mother,” responded Wrestler Boy drawing a smirk on the face of Bhuvan.
Khatku’s step mother was a very pretty woman and heart throb of many but Wrestler Boy was known to be badly smitten by her for quite long time and he expressed his feelings in not so subtle ways, which elders and many in his own age group considered to be very irresponsible and not only let it be known to him but also verbally reprimanded him. However, he could just have the thought to contend with for life had it not been for yet another surprise event: One day in the late afternoon on a spring day, a car came to the village and stopped in front of the house of the Pradhan because it could go no further for the streets being too narrow. Out of the car came Wrestler Boy and a veiled woman. Now they walked to his house. The usual hoopla together with the kids’ chorus followed. It was common knowledge by the next day’s siesta time that the woman was an immensely pretty young widow. Wrestler Boy and his new bride ‘registered’ their marriage by signing the village register maintained by the Pradhan, which in fact had no legal sanction; so it was just a commitment and announcement.
Gatherings on the Bridge were an omnipresent affair and a new hot topic was Wrestler Boy’s marriage.
“Wrestler Boy is now a very different man,” someone in the gathering started.
“Yes, very private.”
“That is just one of the changes, he has changed in about every way.”
“His wife has transformed an irresponsible delinquent with no etiquette into a mature middle aged man with mannerism suitable for his age.”
“And within just a few months!”
“She must be a remarkable woman, not just a pretty face.”
“Who among us has seen her face?” Suddal asked with a smirk.
“Wipe that smirk off your face, a woman who could transform the likes of Wrestler Boy must be treated with respect.”
Wrestler Boy’s wife was rarely seen out of her house and only some of the younger ones had seen her face. She was entitled not to wear her veil in the presence of anybody younger than Wrestler Boy but she still wore to cover her eyes in the presence of about everybody. Among those who had seen her full face noticed that she always lowered her eyes looking at the ground just in front of her. To everybody’s surprise, she befriended Patwarun and visited her often. This provided Bhuvan more opportunity to see her than others but he too said that she talked only to his mother and never looked in his direction. This was very different from the Gypsy who never wore a veil and was quite loud-mouth in public, foul-mouth at times. “What else can you expect from a gypsy,” someone would remark, “I always ignore her if I run into her in the street.” Marvun did put her veil in the presence of everybody who appeared to be older than Marva but often would talk loudly and rudely from behind her veil and would fight with other women frequently.
One day Bhuvan asked Wrestler Boy if he had found answers to all the questions he used to ask at which the Wrestler Boy responded while walking, “I have found answers to many more of my questions, my little friend.”
Khatku and Birju retired from the army about the same time. Birju came straight home and informed people that Khatku had retired also but had gone somewhere. The only thing Khatku told Birju was that he would be reaching Kesari Nagar in a while. He did come home about a month later with a veiled woman walking behind him. Now people including Birju, learned Khatku’s secret behind his staying behind. After the usual brouhaha, it was time for the village women to check the bride. As they removed her veil, she burst out laughing. It was learned soon that she was from an area in the Himalayas where none of these customs like wearing the veils were followed. Also her ears and nose were not pierced. This all was quite alien to the villagers. She was immediately dubbed Paharan for being from the mountainous region. However, it was suggested during the standard gossips that there was something suspicious about her.
“I say sister, she is not a woman; no hole in ears, no hole in nose, how can she be a woman?” Sanjo’s progeny commented; Sanjo had died a few years back.
“She even laughs like a boy.”
“Khatku has been duped, it is a boy dressed as a girl. Khatku must have paid to get her ….”
“She will collect everything of value and disappear within days.”
They seem not to have noticed that Khatku had nothing to pay and nothing to steal from that empty house, nor did it bother them that it would be impossible to hide the gender in that situation. However, it did provide a point to gossip for a few days, which is all it took to establish that Paharan was a genuine woman and wife to Khatku. Not sure if Khatku’s step mother was happy for Khatku for having a family of his own or sad as she could no longer sleep walk and Khatku could no longer afford to be forgetful when it came to locking his door.
“Mall Road of Meerut Cantt”