Note: I am in Raipur tonight to attend Mr. Chaveendra Karma's wedding reception, and will return to Tala tomorrow morning. Presented below are excerpts from my Village Diary. Before I part, I would like to share with the Reader the following hana (folk-saying):
Char godh ké Chappo (Four-footed Chappo)
Tekhar upar Nippo (Above, Nippo)
Aa gayé Gappo (Came Gappo)
Lé gayé Nippo (Took Nippo)
Baacché Chappo Chappo (Remains only Chappo Chappo)
The above hana makes so much more sense once we know that 'Chappo' stands for Mother Earth; 'Nippo' refers to Mankind; and 'Gappo' is Death. Makes one think, doesn't it?
June 21-22, 2007
Mr. Kuber Yadu, a longtime family associate handpicked by Papa & SNT principally due to his incontrovertible ‘Chhattisgarhi’ credentials, accompanies me to Tala; enroute, we halt at his village, Marrakona on the banks of the river Seonath. At Mr. Yadu’s farm, I am given a crash course in the three kinds of sowing prevalent in the region: khurra (dry-sowing, before rainfall); batar (after rainfall); and ropa (wet-sowing, i.e., transplanting of saplings raised in a nursery, tharra). He insists on my paying obeisance to the local deity, Mawli Mata.
After crossing the river Maniyari, a tributary of the Seonath, we arrive at our destination, Tala (aka Ameri-Kapa). Well, not Tala per sé. My host, Mr. Siyaram Kaushik, who is also the local MLA, has lodged me in one of the rooms of a newly constructed temple-complex adjacent to the historic- and only one of its kind- statue of Rudra-Siva (more about this later; photo above). To my disappointment, he has had a rather noisy water cooler fitted in it. Happily though, for ablutions I must, like the rest of the village folk, rely on the Great Wide Open. Or, as the locals refer to it: bahi-dahar (literally: out of the way, or outskirt). It is well past midnight by the time dinner is cooked: it comprises a simple but fulfilling meal of rice, dal and beans (sémee) with a relish of raw onions.
My desire to sleep outside is summarily dismissed citing snakes: the ghodi-karayat variety, which is small, jet-black and deadly poisonous, is more fearsome than the asadhiya, which is long, fair and has the cumulative effect of a shot of marijuana (weed). Mr. Yadu fondly recollects that this reptilian analogy was used by his late father, the freedom fighter Mr. Parasram Yadu, to compare my father with his rival, Vidya Charan Shukla.
I wake up at 5:30 a.m. Bravely, I venture out into the unknown for my morning ablutions; with a little help from Mr. Yadu, I find a nice little spot to defecate. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I remain constipated for the rest of the day. After a quick bath at the local bored-well, right in the front of the historic Siva statue, we head off to the nearby fields: here, I try my hand at the Nagar, the neolithic plough still in vogue. It is pulled by two bullocks: to make a right-turn, shout Arra to the bull on the right; for left, it’s Tatta to the bull on the left; and to stop, Ho-ho. If they don’t obey, simply use the stick (tutari). For a first-timer, I do OK.
I also learn a little bit about how farmland is divided. Apparently, the revenue department has got it all wrong. Instead of the patwari’s maps (khasra), villagers prefer to follow the rule of the incline (slope): water flows downwards from the pakhar to the ghansa; accordingly, the field on the side of pakhar (upland) is called pakhar-bhata; likewise for ghansa. The problem, really, pertains to ownership of the raised piece of land that separates the fields, called med. According to the law, all owners have equitable rights over the med. This is easier said than done, and quite naturally, becomes a major cause of disputes: who, for instance, owns the mango tree growing on the med? Now, according to the custom of chanda-munara, each farmer has rights to two of the four meds, one of pakhar and the other of ghansa. This example illustrates the precedence custom- or common law- has over formalistic (land revenue) regulations.
In the evening, we take a bullockcart (bailagadi) ride to the village to participate in the evening ritual called ‘gudi ke goth’ (literally, talks of the village square). The commands Arr-Tatta-Hoho apply equally to the Nagar as well as the bailagadi. At the gudi, where I sit cross-legged on the ground with the rest of the village folk, the entire atmosphere is marked by a refreshing frankness: more than the men, it’s the women who do the talking. The politest way of starting a conversation is to ask: “ka saag rangath has?” (what’s cooking?) Soon, I am in the midst of a culinary class. The staple, basi, or left-over rice from last night soaked in water, is also the favorite: it tastes absolutely marvelous with a jojo (fried-chutney) of tomato, red-chillies or (as Papa likes it) garlic, a bhaaji (sautéed green leafy vegetable) and some curd. As a rule, womenfolk are expected to carry a batki of basi on their heads along with these condiments to the menfolk, who are working hard at their fields, at precisely twelve ’o clock. This hour of midday rest is called thad ki béra (ironically, thad means to stand upright, no doubt an allusion to the sun's perpendicular position).
The womenfolk, comprising all castes, gather around the choura (sacred platform), to dance to the Sua. From the lyrics, it appears that Suas are intensely religious songs, not very different in content from the monastic evensong:
Ayodhya mein Ram khélé hori (Ram plays holi in Ayodhya)
Mati mangalé, Choura bandhalé (Get the mud, Build the Choura)
Ayodhya mein Ram...
Chaanti bechara dohara mati (Even the poor ants bring mud)
Ayodhya mein Ram...
Jahan bajé nagada dason jodi (Where drums resound is ten-pairs)
Ayodhya mein Ram...
As we walk back to the temple-complex, a distance of a kilometer and a half, we stop at a house. Here, we are given a demonstration of three household implements found in almost every village home, by the family’s venerable ‘mayaru bhouji’ (beloved eldest sister-in-law): the jata (used for grinding flour); the déki with its iron-pounder called musar (used to dehusk paddy); and the konéta jata (mud grinder used for dehusking the relatively softer kodo, an excellent diabetic-substitute for rice). There is also the gorsi, an earthen vessel in which cowdung cakes are burnt, to roast rotis, or simply to keep warm during winters. All these implements are made at home by the ladies. On the road, we are crossed by the dreaded ghodi-karat. As with every other omen, this is interpreted as a sign of good luck.
Tomorrow, we intend going fishing with the Kevats & Dhevars. The prospective catch, comprising of Tengna and Kokhiya, promises to be appetizing. Naturally, I am rather looking forward to it.
June 23, 2007
It’s almost four p.m., and there’s no sign of the boatman: the geriatric sarpanch, it appears, has bungled gloriously and wishes to makeup with extra-doses of ‘Chhattisgarhi’ lessons, which I am understandably in no mood for.
Consequently, I spent much of the forenoon with the daily-wage laborers, beneficiaries of the REGS, constructing the embankment. The female laborers are called reja. It is their job to carry an iron-basket called dhamela filled with the mortar on their heads; the headrest- a piece of rolled-up cotton scarf- is called gurri. They are paid Rs. 60 per day. Hardly adequate compensation, I should think, for them to afford the anthi (a silver bracelet, less thick than the harayya), the Rupayya (a necklace of silver coins) and the four-beaded (ladi) kardhani (silver waistband), with which they are all adorned. Indeed, I am in no doubt that they are better economists than the chaps sitting in the Finance Ministry.
The rains prompt a group of young girls to play Fugri. The game begins with a song that ends with one of them asking the question: tor beti ké ka naav hé? (what is the name of your daughter?). The answer- Shree Kajar Mati- initiates the next phase, where the squatting girls quickly start to move their legs, one by one, in a fast kicking motion; and the one who does this the longest wins. Mr. Kaushik very wisely informs me that games such as these help prepare pubescent women for natural child-births.
The boatman arrives at 5; his oar- kirwar- is located by 5:30. The boat called Donga, part of the state government’s Nava Anjor doleout, is large; it is also extremely leaky. “The wood,” the dongahar or boatman explains, “dried up in the summer.” At considerable risk, then, we ride upstream to the old dolomite overbridge below the national highway. Unlike the donga, this relic of the Raj is in excellent shape. All of us are quite wet, not because of the rain (which has momentarily stopped) but because of the copious amount of water in the boat. Under the circumstances, it is only natural that our conversation turns to Alhan, or mishaps. An alhan, if not stopped, turns to Karlai, or tragedy. In a karlai, the appropriate lingo is: “jeev kalla gé” (soul is shaken). By the time we set anchor (after a nearly-missed alhan with an unseen rock), I am thankful that this truly soul-shaking excursion has finally ended.
June 28, 2007
I have been truant, dillydallying confiding my sojourns to the Diary. Given the rigors, mostly physical, of rural life, it’s no wonder that most villagers don’t bother keeping one. There are times, like when we made an excursion to see the ancient Chaturbhuja Vishnu statue excavated on the banks of the Arpa at Mangala-Matiyari, when I wish they did: the keeper of that temple professes to be 122 years old (I couldn’t help wondering that he was born in the same year as when that Mandarin, Alan Octavian Hume founded the Congress); he lives all by himself, and complains of having been abandoned by all but his deity, whom he serves relentlessly. I must mention that the banks of the rivers Arpa, Seonath and Manihari, all of which crisscross this constituency, are a hidden repository of untold treasures- entire archaeologies of long lost civilizations, now buried under the sands of time- that demand to be excavated, restored and preserved for posterity; if nothing is done, then we- those who live in this Age- are alone to blame.
But I am getting ahead of myself: the narrative must recommence from where I left it: a visit to Matku Deep, a riverine island on the Seonath with an area of about 40 hectares. For reasons I haven’t been able to decipher, it is now the site of an annual Christian Méla (fete). To get to it, we have to ride a dongi (a two-seater donga). The ride itself is somewhat precarious, as the hon’ble MLA discovered much to his chagrin, when the dongi overturned and he very nearly drowned: the correct expression is, he got choro-boro. Thankfully, the water was only waist-deep (kaniya-bhar); and yet another alhan was avoided. Later, after lunch comprising of bankukuri (jungle-hen), we explored the ruins of the haveli of the local zamindar, Akbar Khan, at his capital at Sargaon. As it happened, we scared a bunch of village-alvain (miscreants) busy gambling in one of its several rooms. It was to one of Akbar Khan’s descendants that the Congress turned to, to defeat the formidable Barrister Chedilal, who (if the memoirs of DP Mishra are to be believed) was tricked-out of the state’s chief ministership by Pandit Ravi Shankar Shukla. The other piece of trivia that is worth reporting concerns the christening of the sole railway station of this area: Dagori. The story goes that Akbar Khan challenged the British that his horse, Gauri, was faster than any rail-engine. Our British overlords accepted his challenge, and lost. However, true to form they did name the station after Akbar Khan’s legendary equerry, and in time, “The Gauri” became “Dagori”.
Pradeep (Choubey) Uncle took charge from Mr. Yadu on the 24th. Unlike the latter, Pradeep Uncle insisted that my rural-education must be caste-blind. I am thus instructed to ignore all Hanas (village sayings) with casteistic undertones. Here, I beg to dissent. Hanas, after all, provide an invaluable insight into the dynamics of village-life: how people see, and interact, with each other; what divides and unites them? Also, unlike Mr. Yadu, Pradeep Uncle’s primary language is Hindi and it was not uncommon for him to ‘slip’ into Hindi at the slightest instance. However, his knowledge of Hindu culture made him an informed guide during our visit to two temples (on the 25th), one of which- the Chaturbhuja alluded to above- is of vast historical importance. The other is a rock that has jettisoned out of a field at Belbhata, which the villagers worship as a Shivlinga.
On the 26th, we journeyed to the village of Bamu, some seven kilometers downstream from the dam at Kutaghat (Mummy’s constituency). Although this wasn’t exactly part of our initial itinerary, the fact that Mr. Ramesh Kaushik, the newly-elected chairman of the district Cooperative Bank, is possibly the only farmer in this region to have already begun ropa plantation (transplanting of saplings, alluded to before) on his fifty-acre farm made his invitation irresistible. Most others will do so only later next month, with the onset of Sawan (when the monsoon peaks). His reasons, I believe, are twofold: first, unlike others, he doesn’t believe in the efficacy of consulting the deva-panchanga (the traditional Hindu calendar)- with its not always arbitrary emphasis on the Anjoriya (bright) and Andhiyar (dark) paksha (side) of everything- on matters of agriculture; two, his farms proximity to the dam and the more than ten tube-wells he has dug here ensure a constant supply of standing-water, necessary for this sort of cultivation. I use this opportunity to plant tharras (grown saplings from the nursery) with my feet knee-deep (madhi-bhar) in the slushy water; and also learn to plow and level (jotai-matai) the field using a tractor. Compared to the nagar, which has only one nasa, the contemporary tractor comes with nine. It took me less than half an hour to plow the field with the tractor; I could manage only two kuds with a nagar in that time. But it is a lot trickier to plow the tractor in a slushy, water-filled field- indeed, there are instances when tractors have overturned, fatally wounding its driver. (see below)
However, the greatest danger facing the farmers here is the monkey-plague. The rumor whose veracity I cannot verify is that monkeys (bendra) from all over the nation are being packed off to Chhattisgarh by the trainloads. Apparently, there isn’t much one can do although my advice to domesticate (pausayya) a red-faced monkey to drive off a pack of black-faced ones- something I learnt at Delhi, where a similar plague threatens the workings of North and South Blocks, the twin-epicenters of India’s Government- went down rather well with the villagers. For their sake and mine, I hope it works.
27th being the date of (a friend) Sanju Thakur's wedding, I debunk to Bilaspur; Pradeep Uncle, after three days of chaperoning me, returned to his farmland at Saja. His observation that it is becoming increasingly difficult to hire daily-wage farm laborers (banihars) even at increased wages is both good and bad: good because banihars now get higher remuneration for their labor; bad because they have to leave the state, go to the metros and work in the construction sector under mostly inhuman conditions in order to do so. A lot of the rural educated youth that I’ve come across don’t care to work the fields, not even their own, because education, like the Biblical forbidden fruit, has apparently taught them that plowing the nagar is beneath them. At every village I visit, groups of young men can be seen flocking around the local paan and booze shops, in various stages of drunkenness. Infact, the plight of the contemporary rural youth is an issue that I intend returning to later. Curiously, booze itself is referred to as ‘Amolak Singh’, after the notorious liquor contractor who controls the country liquor shops in this region, and indeed all of Chhattisgarh.
This afternoon, I went fishing. I am told that until they open the gates of the dam at Gangrel, our chances of catching fish in the Maniyari- or the Seonath- aren’t very good; so we head with our fishing gear, comprising garis (fishing rods made of bamboo sticks) and gangarvas (earthworms used as bait), to the fishing-tarayyas (ponds) of Kapa, a neighboring village. Putting the squishy-gangarvas into the hook is considered ‘dirty’, and so most castes, apart from the Kevats and the Dhevars, avoid ‘playing’ gari (apparently, this caste-restriction doesn’t seem to apply to the kids, who seem to love it). Akhil, who has accompanied me from Bilaspur, catches a rather juicy tengna (the tastier but smaller kotari, beloved of Papa, are harder to catch). As for me, while I manage to bait 13 times, I don’t catch even one tiny fish. The villagers console me that feeding fish (which is precisely what I did although I had rather hoped that it would be vice-versa) augurs a significant blessing from the lake deity, who is worshipped in the form of a wooden pillar at the centre of the pond.
Armed with such a blessing, we head to Chunchuniya, to see the do-mohan or the confluence of the Seonath with its tributary, Maniyari, on the opposite bank of our temple-complex. The majhis (fishermen-boatmen) here have much better luck with their soukhis (fishing nets); ergo, we won’t starve for dinner.
The tribal headman of Chunchuniya regales us with Karma- or Gond devotional- music, and a song he has composed to commemorate my stay. His repertoire of musical instruments comprises a Mandar and a pair of Tabla-dubki, made exclusively of goat-skin and baked clay. An almost primordial sound is produced by beating the goat-skin (chavni) on either sides of the instrument. The number of gotis (circles) in the kharvan- a blackened circle at the centre of the chavni- determine the tonality and range of the instrument’s acoustics. A quartet that impressed me particularly goes something like this:
Kan kan ma sabké tain rahité (You dwell in every grain of everyone)
Sabké ghat-ghat chhayé (You give shade to everyone's heart)
Gondiyan ké purkha kahilayé (You are called the Ancestor of all Gonds)
Sada kal lé aayé (You come from time immemorial)
On our way back, we witness a burial: a rather somber affair sans ceremony of any sort. It’s a lot cheaper than lighting a funeral-pyre.
June 29, 2007
It’s been raining cats and dogs all day; consequently we while away time listening to a Satnami gentleman called Mr. Indal from the village Darua-Kapa, who had previously floored us with his vast treasure trove of folksongs during our visit to Matku Deep. His songs- both their content and rendition- deserve a separate commentary, which I shall undertake once I’ve been able to decipher my quickly-scribbled notes.
In the evening, we visited the village Godhi, where I dined on angakar, a local delicacy of flattened rice-flour dough wrapped between parsa leaves and gently baked over cowdung fire in an earthen gorsi: it tastes best with patal (tomato) chutney. For now, it’s late and thanks to Dr. Raman Singh, there is no sign of electricity; best then to sleep.