It was Five in the morning ..bitterly cold and I was up was because I couldn't take the mosquito bites any more… Four hours of blood fest amidst my clapping and they still didn't have their fill. I zipped my jacket, borrowed shawl (quilts) from my sleeping mother and came out of our ancestral house.
I decided to take a long walk and went to the adjacent Muhalla (Locality) to Bundelkhand which houses equal proportion of Rajputs and Bhumihars with few houses of muslims as well. Rajputs are the warrior Hindu clan and Bhumihars proclaim themselves as Brahmins. Rajputs have their reservations about them and think as the name states they are nothing but land grabbers (Bhumi = land; Har=grab).
I bought a pack of cigarettes and made for a dimly lit tea stall. A couple of locals wrapped in Shawl were warming their hands by the hearth. The Chaiwallah (tea Vendor) sat on his haunches with his eyes fixed on the saucepan.
After greeting them with Jai Ram Ji Ki (victory to Lord Rama) and ordering my chai I also sat with them to light my cigarettes and warm my hands. Soon I realized of the three, two were farmers and the third one owned a small general store nearby. They were discussing about the bad winter crop harvest due to lack of rain that summer.
I jumped in “Do you talk with Government officials – they should have some scheme?” The General store guy spit his ‘Khaini’ (tobacco) and replied “if government schemes could produce rain, we would have a flood instead”.
“So, what are you going to do about it?”. No one answered; my question stayed in midair between the Laxmi goddess photo hanging on the wall and the steaming saucepan below...
Two milkmen alighted from their bicycles and joined our small discussion by stating their own plight –‘ E thand mein 6 kilometer paidal maarke gaand mein ched hui jaat hai bhaiya’ (Pedaling 6km in this cold drills a hole in our ass brother). The store guy poked him “then why don’t you mix water at each of your customers house rather than mixing at your house and carrying the load’.
Other milkmen didn’t like it all retorted ‘Paikat doodh kaunsa gaiyya ka choochi se bharta hai..usme to jane kaunchi milata hai’ (which packet milk is filled from cow’s nipples –who knows what they mix there). ‘Hum na honge to gaiyya jayegi kasiyya ke paas aur miyan bhai ko hoga faida… phir machine ka doodh peejeyega aur usi ke saamne ghanti bajaiega’ (If we are not there then cows will go to botcher and muslims will benefit –then you can drink milk from machine and ring your prayer bells around it).
The yadav’s drank their tea and rode off on their cycle. The rattle of their milk cans faded away in the dark. Once again it was the chaiwallah and four of us in the yellow circle of light of the lantern and the amber glow of the fire.
“These people have a hard life now with packet milk available everywhere” I said. “You know what these Mehto’s are! Cattle thieves!” replied the shopkeeper. “They loaf about all day while their buffaloes graze in other people’s lands”.
Both the farmers cussed and nodded their head in agreement “all they do is milk their cattle and sell it. Irrespective of how much milk is there they will stop at the river and fill the dirty water till the brim.”
Suddenly the chaiwallah jumped up and went inside his small store cum bedroom while the three of them started shifting still sitting on their haunches to make more space. Chaiwallah came out with a chair, I turned around to see Imamsahib (Muslim priest) from our Muhalla mosque wobbling our way! This was a surprise indeed…
I hid the cigarette in my folded palm and slid bit behind, knowing he is very old and short sighted he might not notice me. Everyone greeted him with a salaam and he blessed them all. To my surprise the Imamsahib took out his own cigarette and the store keeper bent forward to light it for him.
Topic shifted to Imamsahibs health and arthritis pain in his ankle, storekeeper took out a polythene bag with ayurvedic medicines and requested Imamsahib to continue with the dosage and Allah will fix him up.
Some thought was brewing in my mind and I couldn’t exactly understand what. Anyway, I had to wait till Imamsahib left.
While on my way back I lighted another cigarette and the thought came back to me. Probably Imamsahib was not much different than me to walk such a long distance for his chai and cigarette. I leave you here to ponder on why sometime we step out of our defined ‘boundaries’ to find comfort and moment of peace.