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Survival of The Fittest

About Kathakali Mukherjee

Kathakali Mukherjee, born 1971, was a student of Sanskrit – Epigraphy and ancient Indian history. But her interest in language and literary studies led her learning another couple of European languages as well.
She worked for media libraries in Kolkata; also spent several years as technical translator, process and team manager with German and Indian software companies in Bangalore. Currently staying in Gurugram or Kolkata, she is engaged with reading and writing.
Apart from experimenting with short stories, she works on literary translation of fable and fairy tales as well as historical fictions. She is exploring the treasure trove left by esteemed Bengali and German authors between 18th-19th centuries these days.
She writes poems during her busy days when time does not permit her to sit at the writing desk.
Her blog: https://medium.com/@KathakaliM and https://www.indiblogger.in/kathakalim
Her self-published works:
"You and me" is a collection of poems https://www.amazon.in/dp/B01NCSMHK9/
And her effort of translating a selection of articles from Lokrahasya “Secrets of the Humankind – Satiric Articles by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay,”: https://pothi.com/pothi/book/ebook-kathakali-mukherjee-secrets-humankind

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Introduction :

 

“Get up Bikash, we have to start early.” – Bijan cried in a broken voice. The day was not sunny, neither his mood. Cloudy sky was quite unreasonable in the month of March, but when does the climate follow reason? The farmers are familiar with mood-swings of the weather-god. Most of the times they are able to cope with that mood swing, but if they fail, they have lean scope of survival.

 

Bikash, Bijan’s eight year old son remembered the urgency in his father’s voice he had heard one year back. Last year they were in a hurry to catch the bus to Bardhaman. This time they need to go back to Majhergram. His grandfather went missing few days back. He got up hastily. His parent’s anxiety infused in him.

 

Part 1

 

Last year too he had got up in haste, accompanied with the excitement of moving to Bardhaman. He had heard the name of the city. His father had told him that the roads in Bardhaman are all made of pitch. He had seen asphalt roads on the way to Hiringram where his father took him during Durgapuja every year, but could not imagine a place where all roads are mud-free; where buses and cars move on all roads stretched like a net covering the entire city. In the village, they had to walk almost an hour to reach the spot from where they’d catch a bus. Pukka roads in his village mean brick built roads for pedestrians and bicycles.

 

That day Bikash had heard his grandfather shouting at his father for deserting the family. He saw his father’s grim face, also noticed his mother, aunt and grandmother’s tearful faces lamenting their departure but could not associate himself with their grief. He did not understand why everyone was so unhappy about their leaving the dull village. Why didn’t everyone come together to stay in the city? Why all the family members needed to engage themselves in farming? If grandfather was not so angry, and the family members not so depressed, he would have requested everyone to leave the village together. What could be better option to avoid those bank people who made his grandfather’s life miserable? Last year’s incidents flashed in his mind one after another as he sat in the bus towards his village. He remembered how rows of questions had hit his mind as he sat in the bamboo-grove – the open toilet-area for village-children behind their large mud-built home that day.

***

 

“Is Gokulbabu at home?” – The loud query from the co-operative bank people became routine since couple of years. They came again on the evening before Bijan’s departure. This time they shouted: “What are your young sons doing? Don’t tell us you are feeding two good-for-nothing sons who don’t help you. How come they sit peacefully at home when you are in such trouble? Bank doesn’t support idle farmland holders, Gokulbabu! We cannot wait longer – keep at least half the amount ready by next month. We will see you in court otherwise.”  – They left giving a stern warning.

 

Bijan’s eyes were itching. True he was young and strong – but does youth and strength help in earning a handsome amount in a remote village? Almost all four hundred homes in the village depend on agriculture and livestock farming for livelihood. The few homes of potters and fishermen and ironsmiths survive with the help of BPL cards. Both Bijan and his brother Bipin had completed tenth standard, even though going to school meant five kilometers of walking though the paddy fields which become abode of poisonous snakes in rainy season. The stubbornness of their father not allowing them to leave home or work independently did hurt Bijan once. However he could not blame his father for dreaming of expanding the family’s territory, taking support of his sons. Which well-to-do farmer having fifteen bighas of land would let his sons become slaves of outsiders?

 

Part 2

 

Bijan did not expect those moneylenders to go deep into their mundane struggle. Still, their merciless yelling left him tattered. He stood like a stupor, fully aware of his family’s vulnerability – he had already decided to move to Bardhaman with his wife and son.  One village acquaintance, now a vegetable seller in the city would help him to take up a rickshaw puller’s job there. If god wants, even his wife would find some work. He knew all his family needed was more cash to get rid of the humiliation. At the same time he also knew that their sixteen hours of toil a day in the city would not be enough to repay even half of the five lakhs of loan amount within a month. He stood straight, looking at the floor – his square jaws tightened.

 

The night turned out to be a night of bitter domestic quarrel. The two brother’s wives were serving rice and dal to men and children for night’s meal when Bijan’s mother began accusing his father for being stupid: “You were always stubborn. Who told you to get my daughters married when we were already having trouble with repaying loan?”

Gokul shouted at her, “You stupid woman! You mean keeping the girls sit at home would help us when we are struggling to make both ends meet?”

“We could still retain those five bighas of land if you didn’t sell that for their marriage!”

“How much your father paid me that I would be able to get my daughters married without selling land? Consider yourself lucky that their in-laws didn’t ask for a heftier dowry.” – Gokul thought he had given a befitting reply.

But instead of being ashamed of her father’s incapability, Gokul’s wife Tarala intensified her attack. Even though village roads were still in primitive condition, and not all parts of Majhergram had electricity, Mondols were proud owners of a television set at home. The city girl’s work-life portrayed in television stories and advertisements enchanted the farmer’s wife in her fifties.

“You old man – don’t bother about children’s happiness. You could repay the loan selling five bighas now – my daughters could live independent anyway.”

“What does your happiness demands? Sending daughters to work in rice mill? What independence you housewives talk about? Do you have any idea how the world outside looks like? Good that women are kept at home; your kind of greedy mother could ruin the life of children otherwise.”

Bijan’s younger brother Bipin intervened: “True ma, we are contented knowing that our sisters are happy in their in-law’s home. They would have suffered along with us if they were not married by now.”

Tarala stopped, but angry Gokul went on muttering: “Dumb women, only women can be so dumb, reason they cannot fit themselves in a dhoti…”

 

 

*****

 

Gokul Mondol, Bijan’s father owned fifteen bighas of ancestral land few years back. As a farmer owning bulls and ploughs, Mondol family was then considered moderate farmers among the householders in Majhergram. The proud father of two sons and two daughters, Gokul aspired to a brighter future. He had plans to purchase more cultivable lands, distribute his lands among the sons as well as use new technology for better farming. As farmhands became too costly, he decided to purchase mechanical devices. There was no reason the village co-operative bank’s not issuing him Rs. two lakhs loan for a large Kirloskar power tiller.  Village politics did not hurt him much – amicable Gokul had friends in both of the leading political parties in his village. Aminul, the Panchayet head did not mind recommending his name for the bank loan on condition of his not casting vote for opponent political party in the upcoming assembly election. Gokul promised, “How can I vote for the others forgetting your help? I am not a traitor!”

Aminul said, “I know, but our party doesn’t know you, right? Do one thing – do not move towards polling booth on election-day. We will manage your vote.”

“Whatever you wish, sir! I am obliged for your help!”  – Gokul wanted to stop discussing the issue fast. He was interested only in loan, not in the country’s political fate. In fact none of the Mondols except the young Bipin was interested in testing his own political freedom by casting a vote. Being first time voter, motivated Bipin somehow sneaked out of home and arrived at polling booth. Angry Aminul’s group locked their new ploughing machine for a month in retaliation. Anyway Gokul didn’t need to pay more than five thousand to unlock it again – winning party was not in a mood to do a big harm to the farmers.

 

 

 

 

 

Part 3

 

Neither his bulls and plough, nor the new power-tiller did bring him good luck. Those days potato was doing well in the market. Gokul had confirmed information of potato selling at Rs.900 hundred a quintal previous year in Katwa Bazaar. In fact potato had been doing so well that not only farmers, also the traders and middlemen were intrigued by its success story. He decided to plant potato. What’s more, Gokul Mondol began having a bigger dream of making an arrangement with a Katwa cold storage through Aminul so that he could retain his crop for at least six months before selling. Profit in agriculture comes from timely trading, not by selling crops directly from field. It took hard toil as well as hefty investment to convert ten bighas of paddy-field into potato-friendly one. The prospect of the rotational cultivation of potato, mustard, and paddy in the same field carried the promise of good return. No hard working farmer steps back when it comes to adding extra effort to produce more crops. The experienced and hard-working Gokul too had belief on his own strength; however did not have an idea of the weather god’s plan.

 

In an evening of the month of December came the forecast of the tropical storm. The storm brought along a two day long rain – and by the time the rain stopped, all sown plants in entire fifteen bighas were destroyed. Gokul and his sons were not lazy. Cleaning the field and arranging seeds again took only few weeks despite the fact that they had to take more loans – this time from a private loan-giver.

Village Goddess Rakshakali helps those who help themselves. There was no rain again. Only the potato crop had done so well in the whole state that its price plummeted. Exporting potato out of the state was prohibited as per wish of another powerful god named government – none knew the reason why. Gokul tried to retain his sacks with over sixty tons of potato at home with the hope of little recovery in price within two months, but the price fell further. Getting space in the cold storage competing with the political-party affiliated desperate farmers turned impossible. Old patron Aminul transformed into a rude neighbor. “I can’t help you in this situation, Gokul! I have to look after my own people first.” – was his final response to Gokul’s prayer for help.

At some point of time his sons politely communicated their disagreement about keeping distance from politics: “You know baba, avoiding Powerful People’s Party is foolishness these days. See how PPP members reserved stacks in Katwa cold storages. We should have joined them long before.”

Adamant Gokul replied, “In exchange of assuring those hoodlums a safe hide-out in my field? No, and never!”

Bipin sounded feeble even though he tried to convince him, “Not always, sometimes they expect us only to join their processions, nothing much.”

– “And that means walking on the city roads carrying party flags on the days when you should work in the fields!”

His sons gave up. The savior party’s time to time insisting for joining their processions, especially during harvest-season already became an annoying demand to common farmers in Majhergram.

The crop had to be sold at half of the price anticipated. They couldn’t even recover their investment.

 

In next few months there was no rain. After potato, he sowed Sesame. Hiring a pump set became inevitable; also taking more loans for equipment and fuel. His cultivation cost augmented but his effort of pumping groundwater did not yield much. Six months without rain halved the production. One year passed, none of the crops gave return to save enough to repay the debt. Gokul became a defaulter to the Grameen co-operative bank. His once friends in the village panchayet could not provide a solution. Gokul realized he would need long to come out of the debt-trap accumulated to almost five lakhs with interest. A responsible father of two daughters, he thought of saving them first. He found grooms for both, sold five bighas of his land to collect money for the dowry and heaved a deep sigh of relief as the daughters left his home to stay with their in-laws. Anyway he could not find complete relief. Reminders from banks piled up – the future of Gokul’s family became obscure.

 

Bumper production of potato and failure of paddy consecutively for two years brought their financial status from moderate to poor. Hardship became common practice though the team of old Gokul and his two young sons did not lose hope of recovering. Selling the much desired power-tiller seemed the only option to purchase seed and fertilizer. Bijan decided to leave home in search of an alternative profession after realizing the threat bumper crop carries; when crop yields like that, its price comes down to a level where only lose incurs, not profit.

 

 

Part 4

 

On the day before Bijan set out for Bardhaman, his father took shelter under the open sky of the field in the middle of the night, long before family members woke up. Despite of own hardship and Bijan’s assurance of sending money from the city, Gokul could not approve his eldest son’s parting. He did not want to give them a chance to meet him before leaving. Bijan understood his father’s emotion – departed with a heavy heart.

 

Nevertheless his monetary support helped to repay some amount within a year – seventy thousand instead of five lakhs. Bijan was uncertain whether that meager amount convinced the bank-employees of his father’s capability of doing profitable farming. Only thing he knew was that the amount would restrain them from dragging his father to court for few months more. The profession of a rickshaw-puller in the city brought him freedom that he didn’t have even as a prospective owner of fifteen bighas of land in the village. Though not specifically proud of his wife’s cooking skill, he felt happy when her basic skill of cooking helped her to get a cook’s job in a girl’s hostel nearby. Life did not remain same for him, but the change brought stability of earning.

 

The unimaginable news of his father’s disappearance from home carried a tormenting burden of memories. Bijan was clueless about what might have happened during his absence; hence imagined the worst.

 

His mother was sitting before her hut in their mud-built house; broke into tears aloud seeing Bijan. His wife rushed to console her. Grandfather’s disappearance shocked Bikash, seeing grandmother rolling on the ground deepened his grief. He realized he needed to grow up fast. If he was a grown up man, he could also join the discussion with his father and uncles instead of watching crying womenfolk helplessly. The puzzled eight-year old heard the senior male members saying:

– “Police could not tell anything.”

– “They are useless. We the family members have to search for him.”

-“Baba was a strong man. Why do you suspect that he committed suicide?” One neighbor threw a question to Bipin.

Bipin didn’t really have an answer. Near ones fears the worst when one in the family disappears all on a sudden; his reason of worry was not based on a proof. He fumbled, “Baba was worried. Patal Santra committed suicide consuming pesticide last year. But he looked disturbed after Budha Mondol hanged himself last month. He could not eat properly for days.”

-“That doesn’t mean he too committed suicide.” – Prakash, one of their brother-in-laws said in dissentient voice. He came to assist them to find out his father-in-law in the middle of the harvest season; became impatient not finding any trace even after three days.

 

Frantic search went on – most of the villagers began searching for the lifeless body of Gokul Mondol while acquaintances in Katwa, Bardhaman and other locations were hoping for his sudden appearance one day on the city roads or in the wholesale market. Bikash had empty hours to imagine things far beyond what the rational mind can comprehend. His lonely hours were being spent in visualizing how his grandfather’s dead body would look like. Someone told him he would look like a big balloon. Would he be recognizable? He had heard dead human bodies emit an unbearable stench. Will it be worse than the fertilizers or the dead rats? The boy was aware of the impracticality of expressing curiosity in front of the adults. Questions bubbled in him like water boiling in a covered pot.

 

 

Part 5

 

Couple of weeks passed. Family members, neighbors and acquaintances were almost certain of Gokul’s suicide. His son-in-laws went back home without having success in tracing him. The turbulent waves of overwhelming grief reduced to ripples of pain. They were more baffled than sad seeing their frantic search going in vain. Police told them that even death of a person needs a proof. Abandoning the search for Gokul’s dead body was not possible for the same reason. The family was slowly sinking in deep fatigue.

 

It was a tranquil pre-summer evening. The sky was overcast with cloud. Sitting in the courtyard, the family was remembering the devastating stormy nights they experienced in past. Bijan expressed desire to go back to Bardhaman; staying longer in the village would push them to starvation in the city. None of the family members opposed – they got accustomed with his and his wife’s status of city dwelling laborers. Even in the state of sheer confusion about their father’s whereabouts, the brothers took care of harvest and stacked crops – this time carrots in sacks in their home. Bipin suddenly felt the heaviness of the responsibility of selling the sacks of crops alone.

 

They heard someone knocking at the outside door. The sound seemed very much known to Tarala. Her confident eyes pierced Bijan. Bijan rushed to open the door.

 

Gokul stepped into the courtyard; his face full of mirth as he felt everyone’s eyes gazing at him. “You thought I had committed suicide?” – He sounded amused, “Everyone I met on the road today was shocked seeing me. Now I see the same in my own home.”

– “Where were you?” – Bipin somehow threw the question. Everyone else was still in awe.

– “I am not a coward like Patal Santra or Budho! I will survive. I sold the land.”

– “You sold…!” Threatened Bipin could not complete his sentence.

– “Aminul arranged it all. I didn’t tell anyone in fear of facing resistance. He too told not to reveal the news before everything is done. He brought a buyer. I had to stay in Bardhaman till the paperwork was done. Don’t worry – I got the money deposited in my bank.” – He finished all in one breath.

Aminul arranged the selling of land before his daughters’ marriage too. The Panchayet head doesn’t cheat villagers after all, especially in terms of money. Tarala heaved a sigh of relief.

Gokul had more to tell: “I’ve got twenty lakhs this time – will have enough left to buy a small residential plot in Katwa after repaying the debt. They told they will get work for both Bipin and me in Katwa wholesale market. Those workers are richer than us. Isn’t the arrangement better than committing suicide?”

Before anyone could understand whether his last sentence came out of wrath or resentment, he changed the topic, “Get me some food, I am hungry!”

Bikash seemed only person satisfied with grandfather’s explanation though he did not like his decision of shifting to Katwa instead of Bardhaman.

 

Tarala hurried to the kitchen to get some puffed rice and jaggery. Entering the mud-built kitchen where she first entered thirty years back after her marriage with Gokul, she felt weak in her knees. The luxuries of city life in the television shows grabbed her attention, but she was never acquainted with the reality. Being exposed to the reality of losing identity of a farming family all on a sudden rattled her. It’s been sheer hard work that had carried her to the role of a responsible farmer’s wife. She felt she was abruptly thrown to a fathomless ocean she didn’t know how to swim in. An inexplicable numbness crept in her body. Kneeling down before the sack of the puffed rice, she burst into tears. Only people she could blame for the undesirable condition were the thirty three crore gods she had always prayed to – who she believed to be in charge of keeping all the world safe and sound.

 

We all know the rest of the story.

“Get up Bikash, we have to start early.” – Bijan cried in a broken voice. The day was not sunny, neither his mood. Cloudy sky was quite unreasonable in the month of March, but when does the climate follow reason? The farmers are familiar with mood-swings of the weather-god. Most of the times they are able to cope with that mood swing, but if they fail, they have lean scope of survival.

Bikash, Bijan’s eight year old son remembered the urgency in his father’s voice he had heard one year back. Last year they were in a hurry to catch the bus to Bardhaman. This time they need to go back to Majhergram. His grandfather went missing few days back. He got up hastily. His parent’s anxiety infused in him.

Last year too he had got up in haste, accompanied with the excitement of moving to Bardhaman. He had heard the name of the city. His father had told him that the roads in Bardhaman are all made of pitch. He had seen asphalt roads on the way to Hiringram where his father took him during Durgapuja every year, but could not imagine a place where all roads are mud-free; where buses and cars move on all roads stretched like a net covering the entire city. In the village, they had to walk almost an hour to reach the spot from where they’d catch a bus. Pukka roads in his village mean brick built roads for pedestrians and bicycles.

That day Bikash had heard his grandfather shouting at his father for deserting the family. He saw his father’s grim face, also noticed his mother, aunt and grandmother’s tearful faces lamenting their departure but could not associate himself with their grief. He did not understand why everyone was so unhappy about their leaving the dull village. Why didn’t everyone come together to stay in the city? Why all the family members needed to engage themselves in farming? If grandfather was not so angry, and the family members not so depressed, he would have requested everyone to leave the village together. What could be better option to avoid those bank people who made his grandfather’s life miserable? Last year’s incidents flashed in his mind one after another as he sat in the bus towards his village. He remembered how rows of questions had hit his mind as he sat in the bamboo-grove – the open toilet-area for village-children behind their large mud-built home that day.

***

“Is Gokulbabu at home?” – The loud query from the co-operative bank people became routine since couple of years. They came again on the evening before Bijan’s departure. This time they shouted: “What are your young sons doing? Don’t tell us you are feeding two good-for-nothing sons who don’t help you. How come they sit peacefully at home when you are in such trouble? Bank doesn’t support idle farmland holders, Gokulbabu! We cannot wait longer – keep at least half the amount ready by next month. We will see you in court otherwise.”  – They left giving a stern warning.

Bijan’s eyes were itching. True he was young and strong – but does youth and strength help in earning a handsome amount in a remote village? Almost all four hundred homes in the village depend on agriculture and livestock farming for livelihood. The few homes of potters and fishermen and ironsmiths survive with the help of BPL cards. Both Bijan and his brother Bipin had completed tenth standard, even though going to school meant five kilometers of walking though the paddy fields which become abode of poisonous snakes in rainy season. The stubbornness of their father not allowing them to leave home or work independently did hurt Bijan once. However he could not blame his father for dreaming of expanding the family’s territory, taking support of his sons. Which well-to-do farmer having fifteen bighas of land would let his sons become slaves of outsiders?

To Be Continued in Part 2…..

Bijan did not expect those moneylenders to go deep into their mundane struggle. Still, their merciless yelling left him tattered. He stood like a stupor, fully aware of his family’s vulnerability – he had already decided to move to Bardhaman with his wife and son.  One village acquaintance, now a vegetable seller in the city would help him to take up a rickshaw puller’s job there. If god wants, even his wife would find some work. He knew all his family needed was more cash to get rid of the humiliation. At the same time he also knew that their sixteen hours of toil a day in the city would not be enough to repay even half of the five lakhs of loan amount within a month. He stood straight, looking at the floor – his square jaws tightened.

The night turned out to be a night of bitter domestic quarrel. The two brother’s wives were serving rice and dal to men and children for night’s meal when Bijan’s mother began accusing his father for being stupid: “You were always stubborn. Who told you to get my daughters married when we were already having trouble with repaying loan?”

Gokul shouted at her, “You stupid woman! You mean keeping the girls sit at home would help us when we are struggling to make both ends meet?”

“We could still retain those five bighas of land if you didn’t sell that for their marriage!”

“How much your father paid me that I would be able to get my daughters married without selling land? Consider yourself lucky that their in-laws didn’t ask for a heftier dowry.” – Gokul thought he had given a befitting reply.

But instead of being ashamed of her father’s incapability, Gokul’s wife Tarala intensified her attack. Even though village roads were still in primitive condition, and not all parts of Majhergram had electricity, Mondols were proud owners of a television set at home. The city girl’s work-life portrayed in television stories and advertisements enchanted the farmer’s wife in her fifties.

“You old man – don’t bother about children’s happiness. You could repay the loan selling five bighas now – my daughters could live independent anyway.”

“What does your happiness demands? Sending daughters to work in rice mill? What independence you housewives talk about? Do you have any idea how the world outside looks like? Good that women are kept at home; your kind of greedy mother could ruin the life of children otherwise.”

Bijan’s younger brother Bipin intervened: “True ma, we are contented knowing that our sisters are happy in their in-law’s home. They would have suffered along with us if they were not married by now.”

Tarala stopped, but angry Gokul went on muttering: “Dumb women, only women can be so dumb, reason they cannot fit themselves in a dhoti…”

*****

Gokul Mondol, Bijan’s father owned fifteen bighas of ancestral land few years back. As a farmer owning bulls and ploughs, Mondol family was then considered moderate farmers among the householders in Majhergram. The proud father of two sons and two daughters, Gokul aspired to a brighter future. He had plans to purchase more cultivable lands, distribute his lands among the sons as well as use new technology for better farming. As farmhands became too costly, he decided to purchase mechanical devices. There was no reason the village co-operative bank’s not issuing him Rs. two lakhs loan for a large Kirloskar power tiller.  Village politics did not hurt him much – amicable Gokul had friends in both of the leading political parties in his village. Aminul, the Panchayet head did not mind recommending his name for the bank loan on condition of his not casting vote for opponent political party in the upcoming assembly election. Gokul promised, “How can I vote for the others forgetting your help? I am not a traitor!”

Aminul said, “I know, but our party doesn’t know you, right? Do one thing – do not move towards polling booth on election-day. We will manage your vote.”

“Whatever you wish, sir! I am obliged for your help!”  – Gokul wanted to stop discussing the issue fast. He was interested only in loan, not in the country’s political fate. In fact none of the Mondols except the young Bipin was interested in testing his own political freedom by casting a vote. Being first time voter, motivated Bipin somehow sneaked out of home and arrived at polling booth. Angry Aminul’s group locked their new ploughing machine for a month in retaliation. Anyway Gokul didn’t need to pay more than five thousand to unlock it again – winning party was not in a mood to do a big harm to the farmers.

To Be Continued in Part 3….

Neither his bulls and plough, nor the new power-tiller did bring him good luck. Those days potato was doing well in the market. Gokul had confirmed information of potato selling at Rs.900 hundred a quintal previous year in Katwa Bazaar. In fact potato had been doing so well that not only farmers, also the traders and middlemen were intrigued by its success story. He decided to plant potato. What’s more, Gokul Mondol began having a bigger dream of making an arrangement with a Katwa cold storage through Aminul so that he could retain his crop for at least six months before selling. Profit in agriculture comes from timely trading, not by selling crops directly from field. It took hard toil as well as hefty investment to convert ten bighas of paddy-field into potato-friendly one. The prospect of the rotational cultivation of potato, mustard, and paddy in the same field carried the promise of good return. No hard working farmer steps back when it comes to adding extra effort to produce more crops. The experienced and hard-working Gokul too had belief on his own strength; however did not have an idea of the weather god’s plan.

In an evening of the month of December came the forecast of the tropical storm. The storm brought along a two day long rain – and by the time the rain stopped, all sown plants in entire fifteen bighas were destroyed. Gokul and his sons were not lazy. Cleaning the field and arranging seeds again took only few weeks despite the fact that they had to take more loans – this time from a private loan-giver.

Village Goddess Rakshakali helps those who help themselves. There was no rain again. Only the potato crop had done so well in the whole state that its price plummeted. Exporting potato out of the state was prohibited as per wish of another powerful god named government – none knew the reason why. Gokul tried to retain his sacks with over sixty tons of potato at home with the hope of little recovery in price within two months, but the price fell further. Getting space in the cold storage competing with the political-party affiliated desperate farmers turned impossible. Old patron Aminul transformed into a rude neighbor. “I can’t help you in this situation, Gokul! I have to look after my own people first.” – was his final response to Gokul’s prayer for help.

At some point of time his sons politely communicated their disagreement about keeping distance from politics: “You know baba, avoiding Powerful People’s Party is foolishness these days. See how PPP members reserved stacks in Katwa cold storages. We should have joined them long before.”

Adamant Gokul replied, “In exchange of assuring those hoodlums a safe hide-out in my field? No, and never!”

Bipin sounded feeble even though he tried to convince him, “Not always, sometimes they expect us only to join their processions, nothing much.”

– “And that means walking on the city roads carrying party flags on the days when you should work in the fields!”

His sons gave up. The savior party’s time to time insisting for joining their processions, especially during harvest-season already became an annoying demand to common farmers in Majhergram.

The crop had to be sold at half of the price anticipated. They couldn’t even recover their investment.

In next few months there was no rain. After potato, he sowed Sesame. Hiring a pump set became inevitable; also taking more loans for equipment and fuel. His cultivation cost augmented but his effort of pumping groundwater did not yield much. Six months without rain halved the production. One year passed, none of the crops gave return to save enough to repay the debt. Gokul became a defaulter to the Grameen co-operative bank. His once friends in the village panchayet could not provide a solution. Gokul realized he would need long to come out of the debt-trap accumulated to almost five lakhs with interest. A responsible father of two daughters, he thought of saving them first. He found grooms for both, sold five bighas of his land to collect money for the dowry and heaved a deep sigh of relief as the daughters left his home to stay with their in-laws. Anyway he could not find complete relief. Reminders from banks piled up – the future of Gokul’s family became obscure.

Bumper production of potato and failure of paddy consecutively for two years brought their financial status from moderate to poor. Hardship became common practice though the team of old Gokul and his two young sons did not lose hope of recovering. Selling the much desired power-tiller seemed the only option to purchase seed and fertilizer. Bijan decided to leave home in search of an alternative profession after realizing the threat bumper crop carries; when crop yields like that, its price comes down to a level where only lose incurs, not profit.

To Be Continued in Part 4….

On the day before Bijan set out for Bardhaman, his father took shelter under the open sky of the field in the middle of the night, long before family members woke up. Despite of own hardship and Bijan’s assurance of sending money from the city, Gokul could not approve his eldest son’s parting. He did not want to give them a chance to meet him before leaving. Bijan understood his father’s emotion – departed with a heavy heart.

Nevertheless his monetary support helped to repay some amount within a year – seventy thousand instead of five lakhs. Bijan was uncertain whether that meager amount convinced the bank-employees of his father’s capability of doing profitable farming. Only thing he knew was that the amount would restrain them from dragging his father to court for few months more. The profession of a rickshaw-puller in the city brought him freedom that he didn’t have even as a prospective owner of fifteen bighas of land in the village. Though not specifically proud of his wife’s cooking skill, he felt happy when her basic skill of cooking helped her to get a cook’s job in a girl’s hostel nearby. Life did not remain same for him, but the change brought stability of earning.

The unimaginable news of his father’s disappearance from home carried a tormenting burden of memories. Bijan was clueless about what might have happened during his absence; hence imagined the worst.

His mother was sitting before her hut in their mud-built house; broke into tears aloud seeing Bijan. His wife rushed to console her. Grandfather’s disappearance shocked Bikash, seeing grandmother rolling on the ground deepened his grief. He realized he needed to grow up fast. If he was a grown up man, he could also join the discussion with his father and uncles instead of watching crying womenfolk helplessly. The puzzled eight-year old heard the senior male members saying:

– “Police could not tell anything.”

– “They are useless. We the family members have to search for him.”

-“Baba was a strong man. Why do you suspect that he committed suicide?” One neighbor threw a question to Bipin.

Bipin didn’t really have an answer. Near ones fears the worst when one in the family disappears all on a sudden; his reason of worry was not based on a proof. He fumbled, “Baba was worried. Patal Santra committed suicide consuming pesticide last year. But he looked disturbed after Budha Mondol hanged himself last month. He could not eat properly for days.”

-“That doesn’t mean he too committed suicide.” – Prakash, one of their brother-in-laws said in dissentient voice. He came to assist them to find out his father-in-law in the middle of the harvest season; became impatient not finding any trace even after three days.

Frantic search went on – most of the villagers began searching for the lifeless body of Gokul Mondol while acquaintances in Katwa, Bardhaman and other locations were hoping for his sudden appearance one day on the city roads or in the wholesale market. Bikash had empty hours to imagine things far beyond what the rational mind can comprehend. His lonely hours were being spent in visualizing how his grandfather’s dead body would look like. Someone told him he would look like a big balloon. Would he be recognizable? He had heard dead human bodies emit an unbearable stench. Will it be worse than the fertilizers or the dead rats? The boy was aware of the impracticality of expressing curiosity in front of the adults. Questions bubbled in him like water boiling in a covered pot.

To Be Continued in Part 5….

Couple of weeks passed. Family members, neighbors and acquaintances were almost certain of Gokul’s suicide. His son-in-laws went back home without having success in tracing him. The turbulent waves of overwhelming grief reduced to ripples of pain. They were more baffled than sad seeing their frantic search going in vain. Police told them that even death of a person needs a proof. Abandoning the search for Gokul’s dead body was not possible for the same reason. The family was slowly sinking in deep fatigue.

It was a tranquil pre-summer evening. The sky was overcast with cloud. Sitting in the courtyard, the family was remembering the devastating stormy nights they experienced in past. Bijan expressed desire to go back to Bardhaman; staying longer in the village would push them to starvation in the city. None of the family members opposed – they got accustomed with his and his wife’s status of city dwelling laborers. Even in the state of sheer confusion about their father’s whereabouts, the brothers took care of harvest and stacked crops – this time carrots in sacks in their home. Bipin suddenly felt the heaviness of the responsibility of selling the sacks of crops alone.

They heard someone knocking at the outside door. The sound seemed very much known to Tarala. Her confident eyes pierced Bijan. Bijan rushed to open the door.

Gokul stepped into the courtyard; his face full of mirth as he felt everyone’s eyes gazing at him. “You thought I had committed suicide?” – He sounded amused, “Everyone I met on the road today was shocked seeing me. Now I see the same in my own home.”

– “Where were you?” – Bipin somehow threw the question. Everyone else was still in awe.

– “I am not a coward like Patal Santra or Budho! I will survive. I sold the land.”

– “You sold…!” Threatened Bipin could not complete his sentence.

– “Aminul arranged it all. I didn’t tell anyone in fear of facing resistance. He too told not to reveal the news before everything is done. He brought a buyer. I had to stay in Bardhaman till the paperwork was done. Don’t worry – I got the money deposited in my bank.” – He finished all in one breath.

Aminul arranged the selling of land before his daughters’ marriage too. The Panchayet head doesn’t cheat villagers after all, especially in terms of money. Tarala heaved a sigh of relief.

Gokul had more to tell: “I’ve got twenty lakhs this time – will have enough left to buy a small residential plot in Katwa after repaying the debt. They told they will get work for both Bipin and me in Katwa wholesale market. Those workers are richer than us. Isn’t the arrangement better than committing suicide?”

Before anyone could understand whether his last sentence came out of wrath or resentment, he changed the topic, “Get me some food, I am hungry!”

Bikash seemed only person satisfied with grandfather’s explanation though he did not like his decision of shifting to Katwa instead of Bardhaman.

Tarala hurried to the kitchen to get some puffed rice and jaggery. Entering the mud-built kitchen where she first entered thirty years back after her marriage with Gokul, she felt weak in her knees. The luxuries of city life in the television shows grabbed her attention, but she was never acquainted with the reality. Being exposed to the reality of losing identity of a farming family all on a sudden rattled her. It’s been sheer hard work that had carried her to the role of a responsible farmer’s wife. She felt she was abruptly thrown to a fathomless ocean she didn’t know how to swim in. An inexplicable numbness crept in her body. Kneeling down before the sack of the puffed rice, she burst into tears. Only people she could blame for the undesirable condition were the thirty three crore gods she had always prayed to – who she believed to be in charge of keeping all the world safe and sound.

We all know the rest of the story.

 

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2 Response Comments

  • Kheya Baidya18/04/2019 at 11:40 AM

    Like the keen observations from the perspective of a child. I liked the theme of the story. Waiting …

    • Kathakali Mukherjee19/04/2019 at 9:08 AM

      Thank you 🙂 . I am not one of the people I was talking about. While writing I felt like a child seeing the entire incident with childlike detachment. Hence thought of incorporating my child-view adding the role of Bikash who can only see, feel things own way but cannot help to overcome the crisis.

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