It was a cellphone, that finally pushed Mohit to take the fateful decision. Pavan was in the village for a few days, spending his holidays. He was showing his Samsung Galaxy to him, it was the latest model. Pavan was excitedly describing the features. Mohit appeared to be listening, but inside he was dying with anger and envy, and his mind was finalizing a decision, seeds of which were already there somewhere.
“Mohit, your friends are here”, his mother shouted, “should I send them up there.”
Govind, Rohit, and Vimal soon reached on the roof and joined both of them. They were also in the village for the holidays. They started gossiping about the village, Mohit was their village news anchor whenever they were back in the village. They reminisced about their older adventures. They talked about their adventures on their jobs, few real, mostly made up and exaggerated. Mohit used to become more reserved, whenever they talked about their jobs, flashing fake smiles intermittently.
These five guys were childhood friends. They grew up together and went to school together. During college time, they attended different colleges, but in the village, they used to meet regularly and they maintained their camaraderie. They all were average students, except Mohit, who always got good grades and sometimes topped his class.
After graduation, gradually, thoughts of getting jobs started preoccupying their minds. Cheerful and carefree days gradually became a memory. The only option available before them was a government job, as is the case with the majority of Indians not going to engineering, MBA or medical colleges. They started taking various exams, without any success.
Getting a secure and formal job in India is almost next to impossible. Only 1 out of 100 new jobs in India are in the public sector, this number is also diminishing every year. There are very few good jobs available in private sector either. Only 6 out of 100 employed people are in formal jobs, 3 in public and 3 in the private sector.
Self-employment is the most common way to earn a living everywhere in the world. But, caste sentiments hamper even this in India, which adds to this ever-present job crisis. On one hand, people don’t want to take jobs which are beneath their caste prestige. On the other hand, people don’t want to take up their traditional occupations because of humiliation associated with them, even if they are unemployed, and they can earn good money in traditional occupations.
But, largely unemployment problem in India is an issue of demand and supply (huge population) and corruption (weak labor and tax law enforcement). Perceived job security, prestige (and also for few, the lure of getting bribe as extra income) make government jobs lucrative for people. This all adds up to make the situation such that people even with Engineering or MBA degrees apply for vacancies of sweepers. For any government job, there are a few hundred vacancies and millions of applicants. There is also corruption in recruitment, leaving the actual numbers which are filled fairly, even fewer.
Mohit and his friends’ desperation and frustration grew with each passing day. Snide remarks, mostly imaginary, from relatives, neighbors or family members used to increase their frustrations.
In the second year after they had completed their post-graduation, luck of many of them shone finally. First, Pavan got a job in the health department. Earlier that year, a political party which came to power that year in the state was dominated by people belonging to his caste. Recruitment done by them were marred by high levels of corruption. His father paid huge bribe through one of his relatives, who had deep connections within the government.
Pavan then helped Vimal getting a job in the same department through a similar route. He could not help others as they did not have a graduation degree in biology, which was required for this job.
With each person getting the job, the frustration of those left behind increased. This created some envy and acrimony among them. Though despite all the envy caused by a swing in fortunes, they all tried to maintain their friendship and they met regularly whenever they were in the village.
Rohit’s father was diagnosed with cancer and he died within a few months. He was 59. He had a job in the electricity department, Rohit got the job on the basis of compassionate employment policy. Many relatives and neighbors commented that it was good that cancer was diagnosed before his retirement, he could get the job at least. Rohit also secretly felt relief at this, though he regretted feeling like this and was ashamed of it.
Meanwhile, Govind had found a new route. He was an athlete since his childhood. Indian army recruits on the basis of caste. There are caste-based regiments. Soldiers retire at 35 yrs. of age itself, with lifelong pensions and the later government helps them in getting new jobs also. So, every year, there are a large number of vacancies for people belonging to his caste. There were many soldiers in the area from his caste. Govind was well past the age limit, but he secured a fake 10th class mark sheet and documents which showed his age to be 20. After a few attempts, he became a soldier. Though his family objected, he realized that it was better to get this secure job, even considering risks and hardships associated with the life of a soldier.
This left Mohit only unemployed person in the group, and hence the most frustrated person. Whenever others came to the village for holidays, they used to gather and spend time together, mostly at Mohit’s home. Mohit generally hid his bitterness diplomatically, but sometimes it spilled out.
“I am always thinking about your job, friend. As soon as I see anything, I will immediately tell you.”, Vimal said.
“Yes, if you see any job that is suitable for you, I will use my connections in government and definitely will try to help you”, Pavan added, “We will help in arranging money also if that will be needed.”
Mohit’s mother came up with a plate full of teacups for them. They talked to her for a few minutes then she went back to her chores.
“What about your uncle, is he still like that, unwilling to help”, Govind asked while sipping tea.
“It’s my aunty, who doesn’t want him to provide any help to us. Sadly, he listens to her only. He won’t do anything. It has been years, if he had to do anything, he would have done by now.” Mohit said with a sigh. His uncle was an SP in the police force, and if he wanted, he could have used his connections to bribe and get a job for Mohit, but his aunt did not like Mohit’s mother and didn’t let his uncle provide any help to them.
“Don’t worry Mohit. Keep trying, something will happen. We will also help, wherever it will be needed.” Rohit said and put hands on Mohit’s back. “Moods have become very sullen suddenly here, let’s go to the market and eat something good. I haven’t eaten good chat in months.” Everyone smiled and got up.
Nowadays, Mohit hesitated to go with them. They were employed, it showed up in their cellphones, bikes, and clothes and in their attitude. Mohit used to think that in their company, he looked an outlier and everyone looked at him and thought that he was the brightest guy in the group, now he is the loser of the gang. Sometimes, Mohit felt ashamed in their company. Mohit was a cheerful and friendly person, but for the past few years, he had become more and more brooding and distant. Mohit suppressed his discomfort and also got up to join them.
They gathered daily till the guys were in the village, and gossiped about various things. A few days after they were gone, one relative of Mohit passed away. Mohit and his father were coming back from the last rites. it was around 11 PM. It was dark. Their bus dropped them to the marketplace near the village. They were walking back to the village.
His father was a teacher at a nearby intermediate college. Mohit had two elder sisters, they were married long back. His mother had chronic back pain for the past few years, so she was not able to do household chores well. Father was putting pressure on him to get married for the past few years, but Mohit wanted to get a job first. Their relationship was already stiff like most father-son relationships, it had become more strained in the past few years. In this entire trip, his father had barely talked to him, he kept a blank face and avoided looking at Mohit.
They had to cross a small railway station to reach their village. There was no over bridge. It was dark, with no lights on the platform. Whenever station employees fixed lights present on the platform, some village teenagers used to throw stones and break them, so they had stopped fixing the lights.
A train was coming. They both stood on the platform, to let the train pass. Mohit’s brain started working very fast, seed in his mind quickly became a tree and there was a storm on this tree. Overwhelmed by emotions and fear, his heart started throbbing.
Out of 10 people with government jobs in the village, five had got the job based on a compassionate employment policy. One guy was even a third-generation beneficiary, his father got it from his grandfather, then he got it from his father. Seeds of this were sown in his mind when his friend Rohit got the job through this policy. His father was nearing his retirement, if he is no more, he will get his job. This was a quick chance to make this happen. He was behind his father. The train was now just a few seconds away from them. Trembling, he moved his shaking hands.
He touched his fathers’ shoulders. He looked back, “Yes, what happened.”
“Nothing,” Mohit shook his head. He pulled his hand back.
On the way to their home, for some time they were just walking silently.
“I realize, that I have been very harsh at you, for quite some time.” Probably, that touch had melted something inside him.
“This is mainly because of your refusal to get married. I don’t want to pass away before seeing your kids. Now, I want a full family.,” he laughed dryly.
He was silent for some time, then he went into his teacher mode.
“You know, when I was growing up, very few people had enough to eat daily. I myself used to go hungry many days in a year. Very few people had jobs either. But, people used to live happily with little tension in those days. Because there was no materialism. No one was bothered about what they don’t have or how others thought about them.”
“Now everyone lives for others, they just want to be perceived as better in other’s eyes. Nothing is enough now. No one wants a bike or mobile phone alone, but they want the model that is better than what others have so that they can post it on social media! So, despite being in a much better situation than people in the past, no one is happy now.”
“Gandhiji had said that there is enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed. That is what I see all around now. People living for greed instead of needs.”
“Hmm”, Mohit mumbled, lost deep in thoughts, barely listening. He was ashamed of what he was thinking at the railway station and what he was going to do. He was trying to recover from this shame, praying, asking gods for forgiveness in his mind, and also for the longevity of his father. He wanted to cry, but he was managing to control himself with great difficulty.
“You are my only son. I am earning. I will also get a good pension after retirement. We have farms. There is enough for you, even if you don’t get a job. If you don’t get a job that will not be because of your fault, it will be because there are no jobs. How many people have got jobs in our area, huh?” He gestured with one raised hand. “You will be fine, either way. What are you so worried about all the time? Live the life that is in your hands.”
“If you want to try your hands on business, you have my full support. Don’t think that it is beneath our caste pride.” He laughed. “Just keep trying your best and keep your head straight. As Lord Krishna says in Gita, only trying is in your hands, not the result.”
“Hmm”, Amit mumbled. He kept silent for some time. He was becoming calmer and he was making a resolution. “I am ready to get married.”