The Old Man, Jagat
The Old Man, Jagat14 mins 210 14 mins 210
It was the last summer evening in his earthen house, the thatched roof, the all-around ventilator in form of a gap between the wall and the bamboo frame that bore the hay covering over it. There were overused Sal timbers to support the bamboo frame, the khuntas, senis, baragas, dantias, kandas, ruas, oras, central pillar, and all supporting named woods to which Jagat was intensely looking at. The peripheral boundary of the frame, long rails of palm wood with a rectangular cross-section he once polished and decorated in his own hand when the house was constructed some five decades back. He was a young man of twenty-odd years. It was time-consuming but satisfied with his artistic imagination and crafty hand works.
Last summer evening!
Summer was not bidding fare-well or he was not leaving this world at his approaching eighties. The villagers were being displaced to give their land for national interest through private corporate houses, to make the industrial city of Madhubana. He left his long chair which we could say a bench as well. He at times used this as his bed too. This was his meeting place, where he used to draw someone going on the road and ask his daily affairs. From this chair, he went to give alms to the many numbers of beggars visiting from morning to late afternoon on those days of poverty.
He went inside. It was outside rather. The central open space of the khanjaghara around which all living rooms existed, the room of the elder son, the younger son, of his own, for the guest, for the kids, the place to sit and play cards, the corner to churn curd to bring the cream out of buttermilk, the pillar dedicated to maa Mangala the presiding deity of the house, the storehouse of special make to keep rice grains, the sathighars those were clay designs figured out on walls on the sixth-day function of birth of a child. He always designed for children and grandchildren, he felt nostalgic to look at these. Sad they would leave all. The white skeletons of small sea animals kaudies fixed on these designs used to smile on earlier days looked very dull today, these were grimacing sarcastically. He gazed at the starry sky right from the central open space. The sky he no more would see in this way from tomorrow, he felt sad as if a girl going permanently to the in law's house. Here the difference was once they left they would never return inside crossing the chain of securities of the industrial companies.
He got big acid eructation from his old disease. He called aloud - maa Laxmi! His daughter in law, whom he always addressed as mother of wealth, immediately prepared warm water, a piece of lemon, and the baking soda that the old father in law required to relieve the pain of the acid.
He blessed her.
It was time for his prayer; his prayer was simple, kneeling down on the outer veranda with both forelegs and forearms resting on the ground. He would touch his head on the ground once each for every member of the house praying to overcome a particular problem or ailment which he felt was troublesome. He uttered his prayer with such a loud whisper that one would easily record it on a tape. It looked funny to his grandchildren, his repeated raising and lowering of the head to touch the ground they chided as if a cock was picking grains from ground or Karimchacha was on Namz. Today's prayer was his last in this place. It, as usual, lasted for forty-five minutes.
Jagat, when giving alms to the beggars in the day chatted with them; industries were for all good to alleviate poverty, beggary would not remain anymore. All should be covered by beneficial schemes, what so if people lost their lands and houses.
He spoke so but had a doubt, what actually he would feel the next day leaving everything including his long memories of the village, its picturesque ambiance, and the attachment of the native soil. But he always was on the side of development, he discouraged the anti-displacement movements. He remembered his youth, how the village youth had to leave the place in the spring after the harvesting was over to work in the umbrella manufacturing industries of Kalikata (Kolkata) the great city of joy. They returned finishing the maximum need of the industries before monsoon reached their village at the festival of Raja on the fourteenth of June. Henceforth, people of other states would come to Madhubana to raise their earning, Jagat felt proud of it, he always blessed the powerful politicians of the area with his pro-development mind, unknowingly serving the purpose of the league between the party in power and the industries. The old man although was not a direct freedom fighter but like many of the era of freedom, the movement was sure one’s own benefit should be sacrificed for the nation’s benefit. He sincerely thought the present league was nothing less than that of the association between Mahatma and Jamunalal Bajaj. He was a literate man to understand that much but too illiterate to get the points raised by the anti-displacement minded people. However, all loved this simple man who never forgot to end his daily morning and evening prayer with smaste shantire ruhantu (all maybe blessed peace and happiness). No one dragged him into any controversy.
He, for last fifteen years, was remaining in ill health, there was no disease as such excepting the acidity that he always controlled with his hand made lemon soda but he turned very thin rather a man of the skeleton, he was not going to agricultural fields or any work which he thought was worthy for the family economy. For several years he thought and expressed that he was a load to the house. He had consumed more than his lifetime earnings. He told what he felt, not being angry with him or to please and beg sympathy from his children. He did not value his time spent with grandchildren, teaching them, telling stories. He never considered these as productive work which he did with the most efficiency. There was no preschool facility in the village, the children of neighbors also got the benefit of his method of starting a beginner’s rudimentary education. He told several stories about the city of Kolkata, its people, the staying difficulties of the laborers, the zoo, Ramkrishna-Mission, Vivekananda, Kalighat.
When he got an older listener he narrated the misery and underestimation with which, the Odias worked there. He narrated with mastery as if he still stayed there and he never wanted the younger generation to do that. He believed, their leaving the village would do an end to that.
Now people from other places would come to his village for labor, he was overwhelmed thinking it over and over again.
He was very crafty, so fine in doing work that his jute made thread was thin enough to be used to fly a kite. Throughout the day his routine was to prepare bamboo products, instruments to catch fish, prepare ropes for agricultural use, and produce mats from different fibers. He sewed Kanthas out of old clothes that were to be used as cushion sheets or as blankets. All crafts he did with a superb finish. After all, he was awarded the most skilled worker in his Kolkata days, he was promoted to be a Sardar. All the villagers brought their raw crafts of rope or bamboo or anything else for his final touch which he did out of passion free of cost. He prepared the mehidaudi, the rope used for tying nine bullocks those walked around a pole to crush and harvest rice grains out of the dry plants piled on the open space around that pole. All wanted him to prepare that rope for them that would last for a generation.
His work stopped intermittently. Whenever a beggar was seen, he got up and from a small bamboo bowel, he offered them alms with love, respecting the dignity of the beggar. So many of them came on those days, he knew all of them by name and on which day was their turn. He could know any missing beggar in a week. He became worried about the person’s health or any other issue, asked others about the matter. He waited to see the person next week. He chatted with them in equal terms, as if they are friends; it was so natural to a simple man like him.
If a crow crowed repeatedly he felt a letter from one of his two grandsons serving in the Indian army was coming, he fed the crow. He was the man to receive and read the letters first.
He believed these were routine work of an old man and no big thing. He never succeeded to overcome his internal feeling that he was a useless load to his children’s property. He for last so many years detached himself from saying; he was the owner of the house. He was happy to repeat, his sons were able and his daughters in law were Goddess of wealth.
He essentially was the most ideal old man to anyone’s imagination. Not a single person in the village had to tell anything against him, all loved him.
Now he favored displacement, not at all a small help to the pro-displacement drive.
He went to pujaghara (room of worship) and searched his Kothali in which he kept the sacred beads, the small Bhagwat Gita, and a few other things that every old man needed to offer prayer in the day, after taking his bath just before the lunchtime. He made a parcel of all he wanted to take to the colony of RCC houses where they were to be shifted the next day. He felt a lump in throat with the idea of leaving the village, the one who motivated the villagers to help the authorities for the last several months of pro and anti-development tension.
He looked heavy while he saw all the members were busy in packing.
No one saw him as he went to the cow shade. The big shade looked deserted as all the six bullocks were already disposed of. What was their need when the land was gone? He saw the two cows looked at him differently, did the animals take account of the situation, he was not sure it was true or his own mayhem! He always wore a saffron cloth a big gamuchha of Khurda handloom make, five cubits long and there was another on his shoulder half of its length. There was a thick black thread around his neck, for the unknown reason all old people kept one such thread if he was not of that upper caste who wore a sacred yajnya upabita. He badly wanted to feed the cows. Went to the outskirt from where he brought two logs of hay and fed the cows as if he was doing it for the first time in his life. With his tender touch, the cows started blowing a hamma, and with their animal instinct, they started urinating both at a time. Jagat’s cloth was soiled, he was unmindful. He patted the cows and uttered, ‘badmash’.
This gave him a plea to visit the majestic pond of the village, ‘Kastura’ to wash the cloth. It was now dark, not exactly dark as the benevolent moon though a bit gloomy bestowed its cold glows. There was no one around Kastura whose embankments had thirteen huge pipal or banyan trees; all were with thick leaves of the bygone spring. He once again looked to all directions; being sure of no one watching, he stepped down into Kastura. He forgot he was not in a habit of bathing at this hour. He normally never bathed without massaging mustard oil on his body. He forgot he was running with flu, he forgot what his children and grandchildren should feel seeing he wet at this hour. He was a kid at that time, the kid that rattled this pond, played with friends for hours in its water, fished from its body, watered his plants from this source, fixed swings on the branch of the big pipal tree in every Rajaparba (monsoon festival), Not the ordinary swing but the boat swing that carried four people at a time, made a huge ark as the branch so high.
Kastura the lifeline of his village for years, what would be its fate in the hand of the industry, Jagat exclaimed. He became very emotional about the pond. He forgot his age and started swimming, amazed to see him capable. In the summer evening, it was so enjoyable. He was a little shy. Did anyone see him; he was for a long time in the water. Children must be searching for him. He saw Harekrishna his third grandson standing on the bank and watching him in astonishment. He felt nervous but he suddenly imagined his grandson wanted to play with him. He called him and promised not to tell his father, now they played inside the pond, completely disoriented as regards to time-space and person. On the opposite side, somebody came with a torchlight that made them stop their play.
The next day so many trucks reached the village, shifting started and went on. With every loaded truck passing away, the village lost its village hood, and by evening it was completely lost, deep into the past, nobody knew for how many years it existed.
There stood the priest in the temple to do his last offering, the evening Arati. The last batch of people was playing all sorts of musical instruments, singing all prayers they knew the most emotional tearful devotion for the last time, and once in their lifetime. The representative of the corporate, the pro displacement leader of the village, and the self-proclaimed two atheists were also seen weeping. This went on till late into the evening when the driver of the last truck was ready to take all of the belongings of the temple and with that, the village ceased to exist.
The greenery of the village stood like ghosts. Now they are destitute, with masters and servers gone away. The birds at a time they should rest in the nest were chirping unusually for reasons best known to them.
Why should the writer name the village that died in a single day not out of any physical calamity or a riot but for the development of the nation through a corporate only? The soul of the village, there was no possibility could be shifted to the new colony.
The colony was a new area that shines any tree or pond, the company had done beautiful buildings all planned for modern living. Jagat saw his two sons had two separate houses and he also had one. He exclaimed! Why you did not build a single big house? No one had an answer, they did not work it out were to cook for all or there would be a separate kitchen, no one had any clue. Jagat who dissociated himself from household matters for long years spoke nothing. After the death of his wife, he was just a living respected and loved member with no role to play except his crafts, socializing with ordinary people, and prayers. He searched a puja Ghar, a veranda from which he can give alms to beggars, the two cows, the bamboos, his instruments and tools, ropes, and so on. There was no such agenda in the company’s scheme or government provision. A man who was a cultivator now went to work in the plant as per his skill. What was his skill? Only he was suitable to be a laborer.
The money they got soon was spent on rocket speed. They were not in a habit to handle large money. There were several answers to the situation. No one cared about it much. They had lost their strength that always came from the earth under their feet. That earth they lost with their lost village. This new colony was concrete everywhere would never be a substitute for their village. They were not made prepared for the new situation, the required education, alternate ways to earn, judicious spending, land against the land, Indian joint family requirement, and so on. All these things were running in the mind of the elder son of Jagat. Like his father, he also consoled himself that for national interest one should sacrifice.
Those who sacrificed were now tagged as beneficiaries, this pained him. The donor is the beneficiary and the receiver is a philanthropist, giving money, job, and some more help, so funny. Was it benefit enough, was it secure enough to replace the mother’s lap, to replace the unending renewable source of employment for generation after generation? A helpless person prays for help, why should they become helpless in the first place. He was not talking about himself because his two sons were employed in the Indian army, he spoke this in general.
Both his sons returned home from the armed forces on their annual two months leave, they saw their grandfather as a real old man sitting idle, with no work, and no facility for his crafts. The useful man who always felt himself as useless shouted, “Bring my tools, bring me jute, bring me my Dhira, I will prepare thread, my grandsons have returned, they should make kites to fly”. He went on repeating. The two grandsons felt something abnormal; the old man was in a spell of delirium, he was running with high fever and the company sent the ambulance to shift him to hospital.
No hope, the doctor whispered. He waited for his two grandson’s arrival to bid this world farewell, forever, otherwise, he was dead the day he left his village the name of which was already dead.
Jagat was taken to Puri Swargdwar the sacred crematorium of the state not that anybody wanted it or he had wished it but that in the new colony land for crematorium was not yet demarcated!
(The cover photograph is that of Late Sri Jagat Senapati the hero of the story; my grandfather.)