Across the Bridge – Chapter 37
Continued from “Khatku’s Battles”
The time for the first five-year plan was nearing its end. Quite a few things had been done but lot more had to be done. Several dams were built for electricity generation and to channel water in the desired ways that helped irrigate the farmland. Consequently, arid land that produced very little food before, started producing bumper crops. It was believed that the British industry had flourished at the expense of the Indian industry, which was engineered by slapping big tariffs and even atrocious means. Re-industrialization was necessary and technology had advanced a great deal in the meantime altering the meaning of industry. Industrialization in new form was taking place quite rapidly. Development was taking place on all fronts. However, due to an improved medical help, population was increasing equally rapidly. Consequently, in spite of quite a bit of development on all fronts, people’s lot was not improving proportionately. A government commercial described the situation by showing a man running on a belt moving in the opposite direction: Man was running hard but remained at the same place relative to the ground. Such educational material was having some effect but not much due to old cultural attitudes. Development of the country was no easy task due to its immensity and lack of capital. Much of the work was done with Foreign Aid but any Foreign Aid always comes with strings attached, which were severely encumbering the country. Maintaining a neutral, Non-Allied, position in its Foreign Policy in a World polarized between American and Russian camps was no easy task, particularly for a weak country like India, economically and militarily, both. One of the strings attached to the Foreign Aid was a pull on India to tilt towards the camp of the aid provider. Also, Pakistan was firmly entrenched in the American Camp and its Foreign Policy was mostly Indo-centric. As a result, large amount of economic and military aid was flowing its way from US. A large part of this aid was used to line up the pockets of people in power and most of the rest was used to create difficulties for India; there were other points of contention but Kashmir was a permanent point of conflict. So, the task of development was quite tough but there was no other way than to develop.
Kesari Nagar was changing with the country. Some development was showing all around. Some of the dirt pathways in the village had been paved with bricks and of course the village Pradhan took his cut quietly. Not long ago, water was being pulled from the wells. In the neighborhood of Bhuvan, the well was the same one which his ancestors had built. By now, number of houses had hand pumps. Some mud-cake houses had been replaced with the brick houses. Parasu Ram, being among the well to do ones in the village had built a decent brick house for the males together with a hand pump; the female house had to wait some more years to go through the transformation. In that brick house, Parasu Ram had built a study room equipped with a table and couple of chairs for Bhuvan and the children to follow him. The only other house in the village that had a study room was the Landlord’s house. Until not long ago, Bhuvan, as most kids in the village, used a cot for chair, a bucket turned upside down for the table and a kerosene lantern for light. The table and chairs in a separate study room together with a decent lamp, still kerosene, was a luxury not many in the village could afford.
Wrestler Boy, the former all-around expert on the domestic and foreign politics, no longer had much interest in politics and the affairs of country except for occasional comments; his participation in the discussions at the Bridge had decreased proportionately. Also, he was rarely seen chatting with all those who he chatted with before often and from what one can tell, nothing could be more remote from his mind than to remotely transmit his sperm to the womb of Khatku’s stepmother. He spent some of his time in the fields but mostly remained at home. Soon he had his firstborn, a boy, which surprised many for his wife was not seen often and thus, people had not noticed that she was pregnant.
“Now we know what he was so busy with, he was trying to transmit his sperm to the womb of his little wife in the traditional way,” someone commented at the Bridge drawing some chuckles.
“It is nice that Wrestler Boy got an heir, otherwise people would have fought for his property after his death.”
“Hope the boy does not turn out to be like his father.”
There was a burst of laughter at the Bridge. Those who did not understand the reason for this, particularly the younger ones, expressed curiosity; in response, Uncle Nakul was more than pleased to narrate the story how Wrestler Boy had earned his name.
“And poor Kundu is still scrapping the beards!”
In fact, Kundu was beginning to look quite old, likely as a result of his rather deprived and harsh life and was not all that capable of scrapping beards anymore but scrap them he had to as there was no other means of sustenance. “May be I should have accepted the offer of the Landlord,” he would think aloud at times, “But we think in very different terms when we are young.”
Election season was around the corner when a hermit with his couple of disciples lodged in an orchard just outside Kesari Nagar with loudspeakers blazing Alha, an epic describing the great battles fought by Alha and Udal, two legendary warrior brothers. Somehow the word spread that the hermit was Neta ji Subhash Chandra Bose in disguise. Such ‘appearances’ were taking place every now and then and usually the word was leaked by the protagonists themselves through their assistants. Bose was supposed to have been dead in 1945 in a plane crash over Taiwan but no convincing evidence was available. Official commission reports to investigate the matter were inconclusive and not made fully public. This provided a fertile ground for rumors and theories and of course they had to be discussed at the Bridge.
“He fell in the Russian hands who sent him to Gulag in Siberia.”
“No, the Russians handed him over to the Chinese.”
“He was in China in the first place.”
“Chinese handed him over to the Russians.”
“Listen to me y’aro, he is in nobody’s hands, he is in our hands, right here in the mango orchard,” Hasnu concluded.
“Why does he not announce it then?”
“India has an agreement with the Allies to hand him over to them if he is found before the end of 1957 to be tried as a war criminal, he does not want that, so he is in hiding.”
“That is soon after the elections, it is not far, Neta ji will appear soon.”
“Nehru will find a way to keep him out of sight.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Do you think Nehru stands a chance with Neta ji in our midst?”
“How would he do that?”
“He will put his machinery to work to declare him an impostor.”
“Such impostors are planted by the opponents of Congress, to hurt it. Don’t you see, elections are about here. So, this fellow in the mango orchard is an impostor planted by the opponents of the congress.”
“No, no, he is real Neta ji but Nehru would declare him an impostor. It is he who has been suppressing the information related to Neta ji.”
“Why don’t they make the files public?”
“They will show that Nehru blocked return of Neta ji.”
“Ask the hermit if he is Subhash.”
“People have asked; he just waves them away or denies half-heartedly.”
“That is a ‘Yes’ brothers!” …………..
People from several villages were flocking to see the hermit, to catch a glimpse of ‘Neta ji.’ Hookah Walla Uncle, almost hysterical, grabbed his infant nephew as he remarked, “Glimpse of Subhash is a glimpse of God son;” placed the infant on his shoulder and rushed to the orchard so that the child does not miss this one in a lifetime opportunity.
Election season came with jeeps running and loudspeakers blazing slogans around the villages almost nonstop during the days. In the evenings, children played mimicking the politicians and shouting slogans. There were too many parties and contestants to count but the outcome was about certain from the beginning. Neta ji or no Neta ji, there was no credible alternative to the Congress now dominated by Nehru even more although there were parliamentarians getting ever so bold engaging in heated debates. During one of the group tours of High School students to the parliament, Bhuvan and others were rather amused to see how some of the female parliamentarians could continue knitting while engaged in debates. This is a skill girls acquired at a young age: They could continue kitting while indulged in a variety of activities like studying, travelling and what not, but it was always rather amusing. During the elections, the school activities were disrupted as the teachers were also gripped in the election fever and they pulled the students in it as until recently they were being pulled into donating their labor. After the brouhaha of the election was over, things returned to what they were before as if nothing had happened. As for the hermit, he turned out to be an ordinary sadhu supporter of a local candidate who still lost to the local Congress candidate.
After the summer break, Bhuvan and his classmates started their tenth grade education. This was the first year for them to face the province-wide exams involving more stringent testing and requirements. As a result, the passing rate used to be quite low. Passing this exam resulted in the award of the student’s first diploma named High School, also called Matriculation. During this year, the students studied harder than in the earlier grades or pretended to as the study habits rarely changed.
The school year passed quickly and the tenth grade exams were upon Bhuvan, Siddha and Lapheel Pha-i of course. This time Lapheel’s hauteur had gone but he was still spotted examining his Olympic brand pen and commenting, “Olympit brand, Olympit brand,” while all the others had their regular pens, except that some had acquired a holder pen also. Lapheel did pass this year but this was the end of his education as was for some others. His parents also arranged his marriage with a girl even younger than him. When his father and uncle were discussing the matter with the father of the prospective bride, Lapheel went outside the village and sat on a mango branch to show his reluctance, a formality all prospective grooms observed although Lapheel’s way was rather strange way. Some other kids also got married about the same time. It was quite customary to get the boys married after they wrote their exams but before the results were out since failure would reduce the eligibility of the boy. During the fights, mother-in-law and sister-in-law’s could also blame the bride for bringing bad luck causing the failure but she would never get the credit if he passed. A classmate of Bhuvan whom he came to name “Oh Captain, My Captain” a couple of years later, confided in him, “I was going to fail this year anyway, now the blame will be placed on my poor wife to be. How could she possibly be responsible for my failure? She wasn’t even here.” Being traditional, these marriages were nowhere near as spectacular as those of Kadhelar, Marva and Wrestler Boy. For some, this was the terminal point of their education; for the others, it was summer fun for a while but after that they had the same old college to go to with yet other new challenges. Oh yes, Oh Captain, My Captain did pass and continued his schooling for yet another couple of years, otherwise Bhuvan would not have had the opportunity to nickname him.
Some of the children, who had discontinued their schooling before or after their tenth grade, started helping their parents in their vocations, mostly farmers but not exclusively. Some others started acquiring skills that could earn them a better living. Some joined the police force, military, took labor jobs and the like; if some waiting was required to reach suitable age, they helped their parental families in the meantime. Due to the increased young population, more schools and teachers were needed. As a consequence, elementary school teaching developed into a viable profession. Some waited to get through the twelfth grade before going a similar route. For those who could not find anything else, there was no option but to go into their parental profession. Thus farmers were increasing, which was decreasing the land per farmer. In case of Bhuvan, it was already decided that he was going to university couple of years down the road. These two years to earn the Intermediate diploma were a little different at the school. The students were not treated as children anymore; they were treated as mature adolescents on their way to adulthood. Students had also become more assertive raising their voice against the policies of the School Administration and participating in the school activities like sports and the students’ union.
Two years passed quickly and the exam time was upon them. The school where the exams were conducted was different from where Bhuvan was enrolled. This school was designated to conduct twelfth grade exams of the students from all the schools in that area. His own school was designated to conduct the tenth grade exams. There were only two students from Kesari Nagar writing the twelfth grade exams. Bhuvan and the other student biked together to the exam center. On the day of the English exam, Bhuvan was following the other student who asked on their way, “Bhuvan, can you guess which poem will appear in the paper for translation and comments.”
“No,” said Bhuvan.
“I can. In fact, I am sure that this will be the poem.”
“It doesn’t matter at this time but tell me anyway, let’s see how good your guess is.”
The other boy lifted his hands from the handle up into the air, removed his feet from the paddles and spread them wide open sideways as he yelled, “Oh Captain, My Captain.” He fell immediately in a thorny bush by the trail they were taking and Bhuvan’s bike collided with his from behind meeting the same fate. The other boy got up and started moaning trying to soothe his palms, “So many thorns in my palms, they are hurting, how will I write the exam now? I am going to fail. my poor wife will be blamed, my arms hit hard ground, may be my bone is broken, ………” cooing “ooon, ooon…” through his moaning. Bhuvan ignored his own hurt and tried to console the other fellow who now had earned his name: Oh Captain My Captain.
While returning after the exam, Oh Captain My Captain asked Bhuvan, “Bhuvan, did you get hurt?”
“Of course I did.”
“Did you get thorns in your palms?”
“Yes, I will need somebody’s help to pry them out of my palms.”
“Did your palms and arms hit the hard surface?”
“Yes, they did.”
“Are they hurting?”
“Very much; in fact, there is some swelling on them now.”
After biking another about half a kilometer, Oh Captain; My Captain said, “I want to tell you something but you must promise not to get angry with me.”
“What is it? I won’t get angry with you,” Bhuvan said in a hurry too curious to learn that ‘something.’
“Well, this morning, I didn’t really get hurt all that badly but I was afraid that you would get angry with me for causing the accident and getting you hurt, so I put up an act.”
“You promised, you won’t get angry.”
Later in the village, Bhuvan noticed a wooden pole and lifted it to hit Oh Captain My Captain with, but he had a very strong defense, “You promised, you won’t get angry.”
Later Oh Captain My Captain confided in Bhuvan, “There was some truth also in that act.”
“Oh really? What was it?”
“I am going to flunk.”
Yet again Oh Captain My Captain passed and his wife escaped any blame; she did not get any credit either even though Oh Captain My Captain was passing each time while he believed that he was not going to. In any case, that was the end of his education and he joined the herd trying to settle down. Bhuvan on the other hand, went to what was known as the Big College in Meerut City after the summer of fun. By this time, Marva had set up his separate household in a rented place and opened a vegetable shop to eke out a living for himself and his wife, and the Wrestler Boy had pumped out yet another two sons out of his wife.
One day Hasnu ran into Grandpa.
“You brought your Parasu Ram to a point Grandpa, the journey continues with your next generation.”
“This is a never ending journey brother Hasnu.”
“But you realize Grandpa, your boy has crossed the Bridge now.”
“Those who cross the Bridge always come back Hasnu.”
“Not if one crosses the way your boy has Grandpa, he has really crossed the Bridge, to go to the other land. You should reconcile with the eventuality. He is not coming back; I mean Back to the village.”
“Allure of Kesari Nagar will never leave him Hasnu, he’ll come back.” After a pause, Grandpa added, “You can take a boy of Kesari Nagar out of Kesari Nagar but you can never take Kesari Nagar out of a boy of Kesari Nagar.”
Time proved them both right.
Continued to “Shifting Sands”