Sunday, October 25, 2009

Enjoy my fishing tales but don't emulate me

BY NALIN VERMA

Rohu fishes are selling at Rs 260 per kilogram in Patna marts. The draught has caused short supply of fishes this year. Normally, the lakes and ponds stay filled with waters during October and November, heralding the winter season. But this season got scanty rainfall which failed to fill these reservoirs in which the fresh water fishes grow.


Understandably, the rohu which is a delicacy in Indian states of Bihar, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh is selling at spiraling prices. It is tough time for fish lovers, especially for those living on salary. The salary amount has a tendency to dwindle with each passing day as the full moon dwindles with each passing evening till he vanishes at the end of the fortnight.

I am a professional, living on salary. A fish lover, I long for fishes. It is hard time for me too.

While buying the fish, the other day, my mind traveled to my ‘fishing days’. I recounted my halcyon years as a toddler out with fishing poles near the ponds in one of the remotest of Bihar villages I was born and brought up at.

Dasrath and I reached out to the pond with our fishing poles. Holding the poles, we stood on the pond’s bank in clever silence. The pole on its other end had a string attached to it. A dainty hook knotted with the string’s end rested inside the water. Before releasing it in the water, we would coat the hook in tightly kneaded dough or small piece of crab’s meet to lure the gullible denizens of the deep. A light piece of wood latched to string would float on the water’s surface giving the signal about the fish’s pursuit with the illusory ‘eatable’ inside. The floating wood was a perfect indictor. It would swiftly sink when the fish gobbled up the ‘tasty’ hook. I would sharply pull out the pole, fetching the catch with its jaws tangled in the hook. The fish then would be untangled and removed in a pot. We would make homeward journey with several fishes-big and small- in the fading light of the setting sun.

My father was a village based primary school teacher. He abhorred me going out to the ponds with Dasrath and other school dropouts. He thought that I would be spoiled in company of my ‘rustic’ peers. He wanted me to study hard and move out to the city for better education and job.

In my late teens in 1970’s, I could not think of living without my fishing poles, Dasrath and many other unlettered pals. I got pleasure in fishing, playing, shepherding our cows with them. They helped me learn fishing and swimming. They rallied round me.

Dasrath, other friends and I would gather around a bone-fire lit with dried cow dung cakes, woods and hays. We roasted the fishes in the bonfire while warming ourselves up in the winter evenings. Then we peeled off the fishes, removed their bones and mash them. We mixed the concoction of mustard oil, chopped garlic, green chilies and red chili pickles with the roasted fishes. My father made face at our ‘indiscreet’ acts but my generous mother provided the ingredients to make our preparation delicious. We ate the preparation either with chapatee (roti) or rice and lentil before dispersing and going to sleep.

Many times, my mother cooked the fishes in curry made up of mustard, dried red chili, oil, salt and other spices. But I loved eating the catch in the company of friends.

In my 40’s now I am settled down in Bihar capital as a scribe on the staff of a reputed English newspaper. I am living the life an ‘elite’ pen-pusher.

But I, at times, miss the taste and flavour of the fish that I caught, roasted and ate while sharing the fish trapping tales with my childhood pals. I long for that flavour and that distinct milieu. I long for my carefree friends who were full with time for me. They always accompanied me at fishing and playing the games which I have never seen in the city.

“Why do you go to school? What will the school give you,” Dasrath used to tell me. He would advice, “If you give up the school we will have enough time to play together, shepherd our cows, laugh our heart out and go for fishing. The school is full with boring teachers pestering the children to cram ‘ka, kha, ga, gha (Hindi alphabets). ” In the heart of my heart I agreed to Dasrath.

But we indulged in these talks away from my father’s ears and eyes. Firm to get me educated, he admonished me for ruining myself in company of the ‘idyllic’ friends. My friends had no reason to study. Education had no meaning to their unlettered parents too. For instance, Dasrath’s father- a farm tool maker- had no objection to his son perfecting the skill of fishing and shepherding the cattle.

The village had no link to road and trains. It was devoid of motor vehicles. It was surrounded by ponds, lakes, trees and many other villages. We traveled on feet. There was no electricity. We lit lantern after the sunset. Some elderly villagers told us the long stories through the night to entertain us.

My father cajoled me, “Son! I do not want you to end up as a poor man like me. I too used to spend time in fishing during my childhood. I did not study well for I had no means. That is why I am a lowly paid teacher. I want you to study well and go out to the cities for higher education and decent employment”.

He would argue that my obsession with fishing and friends would not let me concentrate on the study that he had set as my ‘primary’ vocation. “You will have enough money to buy fishes and things of your choice once you complete your studies and land in good job”, he would plead.

It was hard for me at that stage to even think of buying the fishes. The village had no fish market. The villagers always caught their fishes from the ponds, paddy fields and water streams. Still, I could not have rejected what my father suggested me. After all, living a frugal existence, he spent more on my books and stationeries.

My father had his own idea of “decent life”. He had his relatively “fortunate” brothers working in the railways in various Indian cities. Though they were ordinary railway officials, they came attired in fancy shirts and pants in the holidays. They would bring fancy pens, cloths and the toys which we had not seen in the village. He wanted me, at least, to become like my uncles.

My father loved me more than he cared for himself. He observed a “promising” boy in me for the reason best known to him. He wanted me to pass the secondary school examination as soon as possible and switch over to a city college. I was the only village boy going to a high school, three miles away from our village. I would go to school on feet. The long and lonely journey to school was a nightmare. I missed my pals on the forlorn path. But I never wanted to hurt my father’s sentiment. I would study and learn my lessons for his satisfaction.


* * *                  * * *                                  * * *



I did my homework fast to get free for fishing and friends. My school got only four out of 100 students passing out the matriculation exams conducted by the Bihar School Secondary Examination Board in 1976. I was one of the four.

My father was at cloud nine to see me successful. He instantly got me admitted to a college in Patna. The college had majority of the students wearing fancy shoes, trousers and shirts. Most of them were drawn from the convent schools and conversed in the lingo downright alien to me.

I had never put on shoes in my school days. My teachers too came bare-footed. I wore loose fitting kurta and pyjama in my school days. My school mates too wore similar cloths.

My father got some cash by selling sugar cane to buy me two pairs of pant and shirt and a pair of shoes before sending me to college. Reluctantly, I wore the new cloths to attend the college classes full with smart looking students.

I missed my friends, village, ponds and fishes. Confined to my hostel room, I sobbed silently.

But I had no way to escape. Gradually, I started adjusting to the company of my new friends who spoke better English and were quite nice to me. Away in an ‘alien’ milieu, I had no work other than concentrating on my books and spending time with my new found friends who talked more on terrorism in Punjab and Kashmir, operation blue star and Indira Gandhi’s assassination at the hands of her own guards, the newspaper reports and editorials besides the novels, new cinemas, competitive examinations and jobs.

I too started taking interest in these topics to get going with them. Slowly but surely I started feeling better in studying in the glow of electric lights. Days passed into months and months into years. While doing MA I had picked up the language to understand English novels. One of my hostel friends gave me ‘Old Man and the Sea’- an Earnest Hemingway creation. I enjoyed it most for its story revolved round fishing. I identified myself with the boy who pegged the old man to go for fishing.

My college days virtually morphed my life and thought process. I had spent only six years in college and university’s campus. But those six years overhauled me thoroughly. At the time of leaving the college hostel, I was more like my peers pursuing careers. The idea of going back to the village had vanished from my mind. I landed in journalism in the quest to earn my living.

I don’t know how it has happened. My editors rate me as a good reporter and powerful politicians respect me. I move out in car and work on computers. I am aware of using internet, blogs and twitter.

Had my father been alive he would have been extremely satisfied to see his son “scaling the great heights”. I may be an ordinary journalist. But my father who was cold shouldered by school inspectors would have been overjoyed to see me rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty on the land.

In a way, I have started idolizing my father. Despite his educational limitations and village existence, he was forward looking in the sense that he grasped well in advance that I would end up like a frog in the well if I was allowed to carry on with my adolescent obsessions.

Musing over my childhood days is not bad for it gives an enchanting account which the generation next may enjoy the way they enjoy Ferry Tales and Panchtantra stories. In fact, I will be delighted to find the generation next enjoying my tale. But I will never like the generation next that I love to the hilt to idolize my past.


I ponder what would have Subhas Chandra Bose done had he been alive. In his time he waged a war against the colonial rule. He would surely have organized the generation next whose concern is not being addressed by the present day leaders. He would have fought for the schools capable of producing world class students in India. He would have fought for ensuring the say of the generation next in governance. After all, this generation is full with talent, energy and skill to take the country forward. Still they have no say in the policies made to take the country forward. He would surely have tapped the vast potential of the Indian youths who have been competing with and even scoring over their peers across the globe. His ‘Azad Hind Fauj’ must have comprised the youth brigades which produce soft wires with felicity, which moves out in fancy cars on their own earning and which dominate the positions of the top companies’ high paid CEOs to guide the political course of India.

Still I think that it is easy to become writer from a fisher boy. But from here it is foolish to think of going back to the fishing days. We always undergo the process of evolution which can not be rolled back. Much water has flown down the Ganga. My past can throw enchanting tales. But I can not re-live it. In fact, the very idea of re-living it is downright wrong. It is foolhardy to think of going back to our Neanderthal existence.

So, enjoy my story. But never emulate me.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Selling Mirror Among Blind People


An old friend called on me today after a long time. He asked me, "What are you doing these days?" I replied, "I am selling mirror in the city of blind people". He "affectionately" abused me, "Salaa....even in your 40's your are a downright lire. You are as non-serious as you were during our college days". He repeated his query, "Tell me seriously what are you doing?"



Then I told him with serious disposition on my face, "Look! I am a writer/ journalist. In my 40's, I have got more bylines than Shakespeare, Earnest Hemingway and Wordsworth got together in their entire life. I have written more than what these so called famous writers authored together in their lifetime. But the people are so full of jealousy these days that they still rate Hemigways and Wordsworths as writers of more worth than me". He laughed telling, "Seriousness and you are antonyms. You were quite careless even during your student days. That's why you can never become like Hemingway and Shakespeare".

I think most of my readers will agree to my friend's observation about me. But a writer committed to my readers I am sharing my friend's conversation with you. My pleasure lies in your laugh at me.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Same Sex Marriage


By Nalin Verma



Lajvanti raised Malhar with care and sacrifice. In her early 30’s Lajvanti looked more like a mother than a young woman attracting peering eyes.

The loss of husband early in life, probably, robbed her off the exuberance that is usually natural to women of her age. Moreover, the values of the high caste Brahmin family she was born and married in, coupled with the responsibility to raise her son had made her look more elderly.

A government employee, her husband died in boat mishap while rescuing the marooned people in an Indian state of Bihar village. Lajvanti fell on the ground slipping in coma as she heard about the end of her man. Life was a smooth affair so far with a caring partner and giggling toddler.

The suddenness of the event which robbed her off her spouse-the most precious thing in archetypal Indian woman’s life- blanked her. With helping neighbours around, she regained her senses to find the four year old crying. She was weighed down by the very idea of living and raising the son without her man.

But then time is a great heeler. Lajvanti who was a higher secondary passed out got teacher’s job in a school on the compassionate ground. The Indian government service code ensures the widow a job befitting to her qualification if she loses husband on duty. She lived in Patna-capital of Bihar.

Days passed into months and months into years. Lajvanti moulded herself into the role of a dutiful teacher and dedicated mother. Malhar, growing as a jolly and smart lad brought smile back on her lips. After all, Malhar symbolized a reason and also an inspiration for her to live, work and nurse rosy hopes.

It was late 1970’s and Malhar had become old enough to engage her mother in gossip and laughter. The mother too tried to be playful to the son. Usual to mother-son relationship, they broke into friendly banters at times.

“Look son, you will marry a girl of our caste when you grow old enough to become a groom”, Lajvanti radiating a winsome smile on her lips told Malhar.

Malhar retorted, “Oh mom. I am too young. What is the use of talking about my wedding? I will obey your wish when the time comes”.

And ordinary woman born and brought up in the upper caste, Lajvanti adhered to the family values she had been raised in. She wished her son scale great heights in his career but stay stuck to the ‘divine’ values.

Still in class IX, Malhar was as naughty as bright at studies. He made her mother proud by always topping in his class. But he invariably came with his toes and fingers wounded at clash with his peers. The mom shouted at him and he laughed as if the clash and bruises were just a part of life at his stage.

Lajvanti got up early in the morning to dress him up, feed him breakfast and leave him at the school bus stop. Then she would take bath, offer prayer and cover her frail frame in simple attire from head to toe to leave for her school.


            *             *                    *              *

Malhar secured over 95 per cent marks in his plus-II examinations. Sharp in science subjects, Malhar then cracked the joint entrance examination to get to the Indian Institute of Technology-the top notch engineering institution famous as IIT in India.

In next four years, Malhar cleared the IIT with flying colours to land in job with a multi national company in USA.

It was in late 1980’s when Malhar was about to leave for USA. The mother was somber at her son leaving her for far away land. But she was proud of Malhar going to what was the prime destination of the Indian techie. By doing so well, Malhar had added to her sense of achievement. After all, Lajvanti had devoted whatever she had for Malhar. She lived for Malhar.

“Malhar! You are going abroad. It is OK. But do not marry a foreign girl. You will marry only to an Indian girl”, Lajvanti commanded.

Malhar giggled. “Mom! I simply get intrigued at your silly talks. I am not going to USA in search of a bride. I am going there to do a job. I will marry according to your wishes”, he equipped, making her mom smile and mutter, “After all he is my son…the piece of my heart. My son will never go wayward”.

Despite all his naughtiness and vivacity Malhar was a doting son. Behind the veneer of boyish gusto was the awareness of how his mother had smilingly sacrificed whatever she had to raise him. He abhorred any sign of gloom on her face. He cracked jokes to smirk her.

With Malhar away in USA, Lajvanti spent time reading newspapers and watching TV channels. She was unable to comprehend how a female and can marry a female and a man can marry a man when an Indian court of law ruled that marriage in same sex was just and legal.

“What type of court it is? How can matrimony take place in same sex? How can a child be born if a female marries a female and a male marries a male? How will the generation grow? Why are the law and courts preaching something not ordained by Mother Nature?” These questions haunted her. Even-though he was thousands of miles away, Malhar always flowed through her breath and through her thought process. She did not express her anxiety about her son to others. But in the back of her mind she was worried about the son’s response to the legal promotion of the “grubby” idea of coition in same sex at the time when he was living in an alien milieu far away from her.

Gaining in glaze on his face, Malhar returned to her mom on a leave after working for a year in the US. While offering food to Malhar one day, the mom mumbled, “Malhar! I will like you to marry a female only”.

Malhar retorted, “Mom, first you asked me marry only in caste. Then you advised me to wed only an Indian girl. Now you are advising me to marry a girl only”.

“I have another idea”, the son full with pranks went on to say, “I have got a nice friend. If you agree I will marry him. You will be happy in the sense that you will get two sons instead of a son and a daughter in law who seldom goes well with mother in law”.

Lajvanti felt the earth slipping away from beneath her feat. Shocked, she fell silent, looking blankly at his son. “Did I raise you to see this day”, she feebly muttered before breaking into sobs and hiccups.

Malhar soon sensed how his pranks had a convulsed his mother.

He naughtily submitted, “First get your mind stable about my future spouse. I will marry the girl you approve. But be sure you will not change your wish next year”. Smile was back on Lajvanti’s lips. With a sigh of relief she mumbled, “My son…the piece of my heart… I know my son will never go wayward”.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sting in the tale


Sting in the tale


TWO VILLAGE WOMEN. BOTH ATTACKED BY SNAKES. WHAT CAUSED ONLY ONE TO LIVE TO TELL THE STORY? NALIN VERMA REPORTS

The scene is a rainy night in Chutupalu village in Jharkhand. Chamni, a 34-year-old tribal woman, lies sleeping on the bare floor of her hut, exhausted after a day of planting saplings in the paddy fields. Alongside her are her husband Manuwa Oraon and their small children. Enter, a snake. It crawls towards the reclining form of Chamni. As she stretches out her arm in her sleep, the alarmed reptile sinks its fangs into her fingers. Manuwa, woken by his wife’s screams, spots the snake in the dim light of an earthen lamp and quickly traps it in a jute-lined basket. Local superstition in this village 25 kilometres from Ranchi has it that a snake which has bitten someone should not be killed till its victim recovers.

Nothing new about that story, you’d say, and you’d be right. It happens all the time in rural India. What is unusual is the denouement. Chamni was not left on the ground to die an agonising death. Nor was she put through the doubtful ministrations of a witch doctor. Instead, Manuwa placed her in a three-wheeler which was plying on the Patna-Ranchi highway on which their village was happily situated, and rushed her to hospital.

It took 45 minutes to reach the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) in Ranchi, but Chamni got there alive, snake in tow. Her face had turned blue by then, but a quick shot of the anti-venom serum that the hospital orders from Chennai sorted that out. To the relief of her husband and two children Chamni was able to go home in a few days (the snake didn’t make the return journey — hospital staff had long released it in the wild).

Standing at the hospital gate as I was, I was happy to see them go. They represented to me the greater number of villagers who were now learning to trust science.

“Though still illiterate and mired in deep poverty, the scheduled tribes in Jharkhand are not as superstitious as they were a decade ago,” remarked an RIMS doctor. “Had a cobra bitten someone a few years ago,” he added, “the family would have called in a witch doctor rather than approach a hospital. We are aware that snakebite used to cause numerous deaths in the rural areas mainly because the people had no faith in medical treatment. In the past, they relied on the charms of sorcerers and ended up dying. Fortunately, now they are aware enough to come to the hospital.”

During the rainy season, said the director of RIMS, A.K. Dube, “the hospital treats on an average two people daily for snakebite”.

The story was quite different in the days of my childhood in the late Seventies. I remember Kalavati, who died of snakebite. That happened in my ancestral Daraily Mathia village in Siwan district of Bihar. The village, 300 kilometres from Ranchi, resembles Chutupalu in terms of backwardness, illiteracy and poverty. Only three or four families own land. The rest are poor and landless tribals who live on manual work like ploughing fields of landed people, selling datoon and firewood, or brewing and selling the local liquor hadia. Like Chamni, Kalavati too, worked hard for a living. The only difference in their lives lay in the fact that the generations that divided them had different attitudes to modern medicine and magic.

I remember Kalavati as the very young and pretty wife of middle-aged Hariprit, a farm worker. She was fair, with chiselled features and wore with pride the silver anklets her father had given her. The thought of her being wedded to the 45-year-old Hariprit, who looked much older, grizzled as he was right down to the hair on his chest, and with legs like withered stumps, frankly appalled me. Kalavati was 22 years old when her father married her off to Hariprit. She was the younger sister of his first wife by whom Hariprit had four children. “Don’t worry,” his father-in-law had consoled him at his wife’s funeral, “my younger daughter will go as your wife to take care of the kids.”

One night, Kalavati was fast asleep with the four children on a mat spread on the damp floor of her shack, when a cobra sneaked in and bit her on her toe. Her husband, who was sleeping with his cattle in the adjacent shack, heard her cries, as did other villagers who rallied forth with torches and lanterns, frantically searching for the cobra. With them was the sorcerer Phulena, known for his power of curing victims of snakebite, though I don’t personally remember anyone he saved.

I saw Phulena sketching a circle on the ground with a piece of stone around the unconscious Kalavati. He then whispered some words into her ear and blew air through his lips at the place where she had been bitten. He also tied a red cloth around her neck. Kalavati grew feebler every minute and by morning, was dead. “She had the curse of Lord Shiva on her,” said Phulena, as if in explanation. “The lord of snakes rejected my call to cure her.”

And I saw poor Hariprit, with tears rolling down his cheeks arranging the bamboo, sandal and mango wood for the final rites of his second wife. Hindus cremate their dead. Those who die of snakebite in our village are immersed in the river. If Kalavati had been born 25 years later, hers would have been a very different fate. Daraily Mathia too now has a referral hospital at Done, only at a distance of 10 kilometres from what was once her home. People suffering from snakebite now go there.

It seems the job of the witch doctor of the village is going a-begging. Phulena, who had inherited his dubious craft from his father Diljar Mia, died five years ago. His son Idris has refused to step into his shoes — he’s perfectly happy working in a men’s hairdressing salon.

And should Idris or his fellow villagers ever be bitten by a snake, it’ll be a doctor they will turn to.

ILLUSTRATION BY SUMAN CHOUDHURY
(This story had first appeared in The Telegraph on August 29,2004)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Winning a wife




By Nalin Verma

I called on Nand Lal, my childhood friend, on a visit to my ancestral village recently. He is in his 40s now, showing signs of ageing with his hair graying rapidly. But he looked delightful when I met him.

“You are looking quite jovial”, I said. “Yes! I am, because, I have married my daughter to an employed boy”.

Member of a lowly caste, Nand Lal runs a small grocery shop to earn his living. “Hand to mouth’’ is the apt phrase to describe his status. Thus, finding a salaried groom in this era of dowry is no mean achievement.

Nand Lal and I had grown up together playing on the streets of our village in a remote corner of Indian state of Bihar. Kalavaty knew about our friendship ever since she became Nand Lal’s wife. Looking at her, Nand Lal quipped: “See, who has come! Bring laddoo and paani for him”.

Kalavaty wore a crumpled sari and a few stained bangles in her wrists. But she too looked joyful. Taking leave of the goat she was milking, she brought two big laddoos in a clay pot and a heavy brass tumbler full of water. “Had you forgotten us?’’ she asked.

It was a dull day with the sun missing in the grey clouds hovering lazily in the sky. But I felt refreshed in the couple’s warmth. Nand Lal and Kalavaty are made for each other. Living together for years, they have learnt the art of smiling and enjoying life even in scarcity.

Helping myself to the laddoos, I remembered how young Nand Lal had dodged his father to meet his wife after their marriage. He had married Kalavaty when he was barely 16. Kalavaty might have been even younger.

Nand Lal had wisps of thin hair on his upper lips. His father, Lekha Teli, took this as the sign of marriageable age and got desperate to get him married. He was not wrong for others in the village, rooted to pastoral lifestyle and far away from roads, towns and modernity, thought the same way. Similarly, girls were to get married before attaining puberty.

Lekha was on cloud nine when Kalavaty’s father came, offering his daughter for Nand Lal. He accepted the offer right away.

Nand Lal boarded a palanquin and we rode bullock carts, the only means of conveyance, to reach the bride’s village through muddy fields.

Nand Lal and Kalavaty were tied in nuptial knots as the baratis enjoyed the nightlong conviviality and feast. The following day, the bride was brought to Nand Lal’s home in the palanquin.

Now Nand Lal was eager to meet his wife. “I want to kiss her, taste her. I want to sleep with her”, Nand Lal told his friends.

But Nand Lal couldn’t have said so to his father who was dead against the idea of his son sleeping with the bride at such a tender age. “Marriage is fine. But coition at an early age means loss of health. Avoid sex early in life to become robust”, Lekha Teli said. Other elderly villagers had the same idea.

Lekha slept right at the bride’s door at night to prevent his son from entering the room.

Nand Lal found the separation unbearable. “My father says I shouldn’t sleep with my wife till I am 20. It’s cruel”, Nand Lal fumed before his friends. But he was not supposed to show his despair to his father.

Dying to meet her, he asked us for some clues to reach Kalavaty. A friend suggested: “It’s simple. Dig with a shovel a big hole in the rear wall of Kalavaty’s room and sneak inside when your father is asleep”.

“Wow! What an idea”, Nand Lal screamed mirthfully. It was easy to use a shovel in the thatch and mud house. Nand Lal executed the plan with perfection after it was dark. Lekha Teli, fast asleep at the door, was oblivious of his son’s juvenile antics.

Lekha saw the hole only when he woke up early next morning and went in the backyard to feed his cattle. He first thought of thieves and forced his way inside.
But to his shock, he found Nand Lal and Kalavaty sleeping in each other’s arms, oblivious of the old man’s presence. Enraged, he picked up a baton to punish the boy for “ruining” his health.

The commotion broke Nand Lal’s sleep. Sensing the danger ahead he fled, barefoot and half-naked.

Others gathered around to calm Lekha Teli. “Be normal, the heavens haven’t fallen”, I heard my father telling him. Lekha couldn’t have punished the bride for he was not supposed to beat a daughter-in-law.

Kalavaty blushed when I reminded her of how we helped Nand Lal meet her. “Does Nand Lal love you as intensely as he did when he married you”, I asked. She blushed and then covered her face with her sari.

I asked Nand Lal: “Are you sure your son-in-law’s father won’t prevent his son from meeting your daughter. “Times have changed”, Nand Lal said with a smile.

(The story had first appeared in The Statesman in 2002)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Letter from a dead snake



Dear Saloni,

You saw how your neighbours barged into your house raining batons on me. I was helpless before them. I had no clue to understand why was that six fit tall man was hitting on my frail back so cruelly. And others were chucking sticks heavy on my hood

I am no longer alive. I have turned into a soul that every mortal turns into after its death. Still, I am pondering about the sin I committed to suffer such a catastrophic assault that ended my life at your home that day.

As you watched, I had coiled myself beneath an empty cooking gas cylinder, lying in an isolated corner near your kitchen and was silently consuming a rodent. That rodent in my jaws’ pincer grip was creaking feebly while I was chewing it and trying to gulp it down to fill my hungry belly. After all, rodents are our food. And being a krait, I am fond of rodents, frogs and lizards.

While moving out in search of rodents, lizards and frogs in the dark corners of your home, the other day, I discovered that you too were scared of lizards, frogs and rodents. I heard you screaming loudly at the sight of a lizard in your reading room. You got back to normal only after your mom chased the reptile away. I noticed that you were scared of rodents and frogs too.

Your mom first heard the rodent between my jaws creaking and then peered through the hole at the bottom of the cylinder to find me quietly feasting on it. Soon, her face turned red and she jumped commanding you get on to your bed. Then she ran out on the streets crying madly as if your home was under attack of your ferocious enemies.

Scared, you stayed confined to your bed till your baton holding neighbours came in, killed me and scooped me out of your home. You were stone faced. You showed no mercy to me despite the fact that I was getting killed while eating the rodent that scared you. Do you remember me ever scaring you? Ever biting you?

I am sorry to tell you that you have relatives and friends who habitually reel of false tales about us. A krait, I do have poison in my fangs. But the false story tellers have poisoned your mind more than me. Do you know anyone around you dying of my bite? You don’t have. But think on the stories fed to you about me.

You have learnt how venomous I am and how you should keep yourself safe from my invasion. These false and fabricated stories have made you believe that I am your biggest enemy. You abhor me.

I am telling you my true story. You can verify it from your grandma. Even otherwise, I can not tell a lie for few living beings other than the human beings possess the skill to tell lies.

Your dynasty worships 13 gods and goddesses. I am one of your family gods. Your forefathers worshiped me. Your grandma still worships me. Your ancestors offered me food on an auspicious day of the year.

I am enlightening you on your great grandfather whom you have not seen.

You were born and brought up at Patna, capital of Indian state of Bihar. You live in the city with your parents and friends. Your grandpa lived with your great grandma and your grandfather in a village, far away from Patna in the same state. The state has hot and humid climatic condition.

Your great grandpa's village had only farmers, farm lands, trees, bushes and ponds. The village had no road and no buses, trucks and taxis to ply on. Your great grandpa wore wood sandals. He used to sleep on a charpoy in an open field adjacent to a big pool. There was a dense labyrinth of bushes made up of turmeric, flowers, thorns and several other green plants around the place he slept under the canopy of the heaven.

Many others of our race and I lived in the bushes fed by the dampness of the pond. The place was also rich with squirrels, frogs and rodents. We are primarily a nocturnal creature. After your great grandpa falling asleep, we roamed around eating rodents and frogs of our taste in hush and dark hours.

Your grandpa used to get up and go to urinate while holding a sick in one hand and a lighted torch in another. We silently got out of his way to the pool’s bank to attend the nature’s call. He too changed his way if he happened the encounter us. His stick was his permanent companion. But he seldom used it to hit us.

Your grandma, great grandma and several other women decorated their homes’ walls with our sketches and offered us milk and popcorn once in a year. You can verify this story even with your dad. He lived in the village when he was of your age.

This is not to tell you that your dynasty and we always lived at peace with each other. We did hurt each other at times. But it was more due to accident rather than the design. One of us dug its fangs in a man’s feet after it found itself crushed under his hobnailed shoes. The man died of the snake’s bite. But the snake which had got its back broken too died.

But such incidents took place very rarely. Your race possesses precautionary skills, defense mechanism and better protection gears which we lack in. Believe me; I am always scared of meeting you. I flee whenever I see you. I am more scared of you than you are scared of me. I am more vulnerable to you and you are to me.

You are still a kid. I have tried to tell you my true story. I will never enter your home for I am no longer alive. But I hope my story will help you grow as a woman of better understanding than the false story tellers and the cruel ones who murdered me before you.

I have a small suggestion to give you. Your race has many snake charmers who catch and confine us in their baskets. They display us door to door to earn their living. In the process, they pester us and cause us immense sufferings. You should not pay them and suggest them to opt for another vocation which does not involve hunting the snakes and making them live a taxing life.

Lastly, if you can not love us please don’t hate us. Don’t get scared of us. Your panic may eventually lead us to death. We too are the part of the nature and have right to live. I hope you will respect and protect our right.

Yours truly,

Dead Snake

Friday, August 7, 2009

About a Good Samaritan and a tough cop

Vineet Vinayak taking over as the senior superintendent of police, Patna coincides with raids on Bihar capital’s gambling dens. The state’s political establishment has its share of gamblers masquerading as leaders of the people. These dens served as the rendezvous to many of these politicos who were used to the lifestyle of wining, dining and gambling after the sunset. Needless to say that several police officials served more as the protectors to these dens housing their political masters than the guardians of law bound by the norms of duty to smash them.

Vinayak is an IPS officer of Sikkim cadre of Indian state of Bihar. I had seen his human face from very close quarters in course of my sojourn to Sikkim with family and friends about six years ago when Vinayak was posted at Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital. Then I had thought that Vinayak was fitter in the role of a Good Samaritan rather than a tough cop. It was really heartening for me to learn the police team under Vinayak’s stewardship raiding those gambling dens and catching the politicians luxuriating there by their scruff. Few people had thought that the police would ever dare to carry out raids on these high profile gambling dens and closing the liquor shop near the Patna junction railway station which stayed opened till almost whole of the night to sever these dens.

The Patna denizens have now seen their tough cop. I am reproducing here my story of how Vinayak had saved the life of Patna based woman in distress in far away Gangatok. The story had first appeared in The Statesman which I was employed with then.


Human face of the mountains
To escape the heat and humidity of the plains of Bihar, we headed for the snow-capped mountains. The cool breeze lifted our spirits as the taxi meandered past the river Teesta and took the road to Sikkim.
Dark clouds played hide and seek with the mountains and children snug in cardigans and mufflers made their way to school on a road below. Gangtok offered what we were looking for: wintry weather, liquor shops in every nook and corner of the city and friendly people ready to cooperate with visitors.
Curled under quilts in our hotel room, we chalked out plans to visit Chhangu Lake, Nathula Pass, Rumtek Monastery and other places of tourist interest. It was at this stage that tragedy struck in a land which was, for all practical purposes, unknown to us. Sushma, the wife of my Motihari-based engineer friend, Vijay Kumar, began writhing in severe stomach pain.
Initially, we thought she was suffering from journey fatigue and gave her some painkillers. We were wrong, as we were to find out later. Some of her organs had ruptured and they were bleeding. We did not know where to find adoctor or a hospital.
I took a chance and telephoned Vineet (Dhumal) Vinayak, an IPS officer from Bihar posted in Gangtok as Commandant of the Sikkim Armed Police.It was then that we realised how kind strangers could be. The officer was away at an important meeting. His father and Patna-based senior advocate, Abhay Kumar Singh, was spending his holidays with his son in Gangtok. He picked up the telephone. I panicked when I heard his son was not at home.
But Mr Singh said reassuringly: “Don’t worry, I will immediately contact my son.”Soon, the young officer rang me up, saying: “Don’t lose patience. Don’t worry. I am sending a vehicle with a local driver who knows where the hospitals and the doctors are. Take the ailing lady to hospital quickly and keep in touch with me.”
Sonam, a young Bhutiya driver in police uniform, came knocking. He helped us carry Sushma to his jeep and we sped off to a government hospital.
It was a Saturday. Most of the important departments of the hospital were closed, Saturday being a holiday in Sikkim.The very thought of a government hospital compounded our agony. The attitude of doctors in the government hospitals of Bihar and West Bengal fill us with forebodings. We thought the condition of Gangtok’s government hospital – near the taxi stand in the heart of the city – would be pretty much the same. But we had no option. Sushma’s condition was deteriorating.
We took her to the emergency ward, which was open. To our surprise, the doctor and the nurses – all local residents – were like god-sent good samaritans. The doctor realised the gravity of Sushma’s ailment and asked us to get an ultrasound done at a diagnostic centre nearby. The report showed a rupture of some organs and profuse bleeding inside her abdomen.She was required to undergo a major surgery in the next half an hour. But specialist surgeons don’t come to the hospital on Saturdays. Four bottles of blood were needed for the surgery. We were filled with anxiety.
Again, Vineet Vinayak swung into action and contacted a surgeon. The doctor on emergency duty and the nurses were constantly beside Sushma, giving her all emergency aids and at the same time asking her husband to keep his cool.
“You are like a family member, don’t worry. Nothing bad will happen...we will try our best to save the patient,” they whispered. These words of consolation in an alien land left an indelible mark on me.
We would not even expect such treatment from government hospital staff on a holiday in our part of the country.While the doctor and nurses on emergency duty were busy taking care of Sushma and her nervous husband, a surgeon was briefing the Commandant over telephone: “Sushma stands 50 per cent chance of surviving if she undergoes the operation but if she does not, she has no chance of surviving.”
In Bihar, the men in khaki are hardly known for serving the sick and those in distress. They are known more for their brutality. Mr Vinayak, with his kindness, seemed to make up for all the misdeeds of the police force back home. He asked the doctors to go ahead with the operation.Four bottles of blood! How do we arrange for that? Four people with a blood group matching the patient’s had to be found. Again, the Lepchas, Bhutiyas and Nepalese living in Gangtok came to the patient’s rescue.
Mr Vinayak had many Lepcha, Bhutiya and Nepalese youths undergoing constables’ training in his command.He requested four of them with the matching blood group to donate their blood. The trainees came running to give their blood to a stranger.
The surgeons, nurses and assistants accompanied Sushma to the operation theatre. She underwent the operation. Her life was saved.
“Sushma; be easy...don’t stretch your legs...you are alright,” these caring words of a petite Bhutiya sister nursing Sushma in the post-operation ward were music to my ears.She is well now and capable of taking care of her two children and husband, thanks to the service rendered by the IPS officer and his men, the doctor, the nurses – all unknown to her in an alien place.
Though it was a government referral hospital, its wards were clean. The doctors and nurses on duty very attentive. This hospital in Gangtok was not home to stray canines, unlike the government hospital in the Shashtrinagar area of Patna. Sweepers were keeping the place clean and dust-free.“I come all the way from Patna to get my aging teeth repaired by Dr (Mrs) Hammal,” said Abhay Kumar Singh, Mr Vinayak’s father, by way of introduction to the lady standing beside him on the hospital campus.“Can’t you find dentists in Patna to get your teeth repaired,” I asked. The advocate replied: “There are good doctors in Patna. But it is impossible to get in Patna the care with which Dr Hammal repairs my teeth so skillfully.”
We were so busy attending to Sushma in hospital that there was no time to go sight-seeing. But we saw the human face of the mountains.
“Yes, you will always find the people here more simple, friendly and helpful,” said Mr Vinayak. “I enjoy working with these people.”
Sushma sends her blessings from Patna to the lovely people of a lovely state. And officers like Vineet Vinayak are always an asset for the Pawan Chamling government in Sikkim.

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