In the afternoon, Ganesh and Sarpanch took meals and started from the house. One of the Sarpanch’s servants followed them. “First of all you must make some arrangement for your stay and food here. Regularly travelling up and down would not suit you… “
“Yes, I too felt the same way. At least as long as I am here, it would be nice if I can get a room.”
“You can easily have one. …. We have a house here. No one lives in it, But we use it to store farming tools such as plough, sickles, axes, chains, ropes and reins for the bullocks. We can let you use the front room.”
“Yes, that way our tools can also be under guard,” the Sarpanch’s servant unexpectedly interrupted them.
Sarpanch gave the servant an angry glare and asked him to keep quiet.
These stupid servants .. they have no sense to know what to speak and when....
What would Ganeshrao think? That we are letting him the house to keep an eye on the tools?...
“But Sarpanchji, I won’t be able to pay much towards rent”
“Don’t worry about the rent. What rent can I take from you?” Sarpanch slapped Ganeshrao’s back and said.
“How can that be? Whatever is the rent you should let me know, frankly.”
“Ganeshrao is this city to charge rent? If I take rent from you the entire village will begin talking about it and I would be put to shame.”
Ganesh realised that he was going the same way by which he had come from the bus station.
“This was the way we had come from the bus station.”
“Yes… Our house is also on this street. Possibly you might have passed it on your way.”
The three of them came near the provision store that Ganesh had seen before.
The beautiful woman was still at the cash counter. Looking at her, for some strange reason, Ganesh again felt enchanted. He felt his heart beat faster. Even now she did not take any notice of him. But Ganesh thought her agile and confident movements are eye catching.
“That’s Madhurani’s shop,” Sarpanch said noticing that Ganesh was looking at it.
“Is it?” Ganesh said without showing much interest.
“Look, our house is just opposite her shop” Sarpanch stood in front of a house that was opposite the provision store. It was not clear whether his voice was really mischievous or not, but at least Ganesh suspected that it was so.
The house comprised 3-4 rooms built from brick and mud. The rooms were covered with sloping tins that were fastened with nuts and bolts giving rise to several small hollows all over.
Sarpanch gave the keys to the servant and asked him to open the house. The servant hastily took the keys from Sarpanch’s hand and opened the door.
Just then Ganesh was startled by some movement very close to him. Madhurani had come and was now standing beside him.
“Good Afternoon Sarpanchji,” Madhurani’s sweet voice fell on his ears.
What a sweet and friendly voice.
“Good Afternoon ” Sarpanch turned and reciprocated her namaskar.
“You have come here after a long time… are you thinking of white-washing the house? If so, let me know… lots of paint is available in my store.”
Standing close to her Ganesh watched her body language and took in the way of her talking. When she talked, the opening and closing of her wet pink lips and her teeth that seemed like a row of white grains of rice held him enchanted. Mesmerised, Ganesh kept staring at her.
“No, nothing like that. … This is Ganeshrao. ..He is the new Gramsevak of our village. ..I wanted to give him a room to live in.”
“Aggabai?! Is that so? Seems to be from city. I didn’t notice at all. I thought he was one of your new guests.”
Now she moved a little away from him. Ganesh’s heart sank. He had liked the warm closeness of her body. But his heart once again soared as she looked directly into his eyes with her deep, mysterious and sad gaze captivating his heart.
Looking at her Ganesh gave a gentle smile.
“You are going to live here … that makes you my neighbour… I am sure we’d both get along very well,” she commented.
By this time, Sarpanch’s servant had opened the door and stepped in.
“Ganeshrao, I would suggest that you take this front room.”
“Okey Sarpanchji, I’ll get along” Madhurani said and began walking towards her shop.
Sarpanch nodded. While going she threw a glance at Ganesh and gave him a smile. Ganesh returned her smile.
After she went away, Sarpanch and Ganesh followed the servant into the room. The servant, looking here and there, had begun to search for something.
“You fool. First switch on the light. These servants are such great idiots,” an annoyed Sarpanch grumbled.
The servant traced his steps back to the door and turned on the switch. A yellow stream of light flooded the room.
In the room farm implements, such as plough, were lying scattered. They were all covered with fine dust. There were also a few bundles tied in gunny bags.
“The room is fine, isn’t it? … Hey you, remove all things from here and place them inside. Clean the room for him. He is going to live here from today.”
“Yes, Sir” the servant replied.
“And yes, the bathroom is inside,”
“Yes, you can indeed call it a bathroom,” Sarpanch said with a smile.
Ganesh went in and had a look at the bathroom. While coming out he softly muttered, “And the toilet? I didn’t see any”
“Ganeshrao, this is village Ujni. So far there is not a single latrine here. Everyone is used to sitting in the open. Once, the government had built 3-4 latrines. But no one used them. Finally they pulled them down. They ought to have left at least one. It would have come handy for people like you.”
Ganesh was thoroughly embarrassed. Trying to hide his disappointment he said,
“The room seems alright. Of course, I won’t be staying here for long … maybe, three days in a week”
“Hey you, there’s another work for you. Whenever he is here you must bring and store water for him,” he instructed the servant.
“Water?” Ganesh asked in surprise.
“Now, don’t ask me where the tap is?” Sarpanch asked mischievously.
Ganesh gave an awkward smile.
“The servant will get water for you from the well over there,” Sarpanch said.
“Come, let us go to the office in the bazaar. Meanwhile, you clean the room and keep it ready” Sarpanch instructed the servant who immediately got engaged in the task.
Sarpanch and Ganesh came out of the room and began to walk towards the office. While on the way, though Ganesh tried hard he could not help throwing a glance at Madhurani’s cash counter.
(to be contd.)
Original Novel by Sunil Doiphode
English Version by Anil Ekbote