They both stopped in front of a house. It wasn’t an ordinary house. It was a palatial mansion. The mansion had a huge old door that had turned black due to frequent polishing. The area on which the mansion stood was also very large; at least it seemed so from outside. To the left of the mansion and attached to it was a large cattle shed. It was empty at the moment. Perhaps Sarpanch’s cattle had gone to the forest in the morning for grazing. Sada led Ganesh through the huge door and made him sit in the drawing room. It was a room built at a little higher level and furnished with comfortable beds and long cushions. Ganesh entered the drawing room taking it in all over. Sada went inside. Perhaps to inform the Sarrpanch. The walls of the drawing room carried several photo frames. Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Mahatma Gandhi. Looking at them Ganesh sat on a bed. His attention was caught by the photo of a man wearing a rich headgear and having an impressively long thick moustache. Perhaps he was Sarpanch’s father, or grandfather. Just then Sada came out carrying a bucket of water.
“Come, Sir. Wash your hands and feet. The long journey must have made you tired.”
“Hmm” Ganesh said and walked to the outer platform. Taking out water from the bucket in a small round pot called ‘lota’ Ganesh washed his hands and feet and took water in his mouth to gargle. After a while, he began to look around for a place where he could spit the water out.
“Spit there itself, Sir,”
Feeling uncomfortable Ganesh spit a little aside even as Sada smiled to himself.
“Sarpanch Saheb is at his pooja. He’ll join you after finishing it. Meanwhile you can relax in this drawing room. I’ll arrange for some tea.” Sada said and handed a cloth to Ganesh for wiping his hands.
Ganesh began to wipe his hands while Sada hurried inside. After washing hands and feet, Ganesh felt refreshed. During the bus journey his face was completely covered with dust and sweat. After wiping his face he kept the cloth aside and, leaning against a long thick cushion, he stretched his legs. To overcome his tiredness he also stretched his arms and loosened his joints. Just then Sada brought water to drink. The manner of serving drinking water here seemed a little different. Sada handed him a small brass round pot called lota filled with drinking water. A brass cup was kept on the mouth of the pot. He had seen such manner of serving water in the Baramati region. One poured required quantity of water into the brass cup and drank it. After drinking the water, the brass cup was replaced on the round pot. Somehow, even earlier, when he had seen this way of serving water, he had not liked it. He was apprehensive that water from the replaced brass cup would trickle back into the pot.
But this was his way of looking at it. In the Baramati region all top people drank water in the same manner. Moreover Ganesh’s throat was parched. He had not had even a sip of water since leaving home early morning. He tilted the round pot above his opened mouth and drank some water. Only after emptying the pot did he keep it down and gave a sigh of satisfaction.
“You seem to be very thirsty, Sir. Shall I get you some more water?” Sada asked.
Ganesh shook his head and declined the offer.
Having finished his pooja, the daily routine morning worship, the Sarpanch calmly walked into the drawing room. He wore a sparkling white dhoti and, above it, a white vest made of cloth. On his forehead he sported a vertical mark of wet red vermillion. He had taken a bath just before his pooja. As such his oiled wet salt-pepper hair and his face were gleaming with freshness. On the whole his figure looked spiritual. Ganesh had already met the Sarpanch in the taluka town. As soon as the Sarpanch entered the drawing room, Ganesh sat upright.
“Good morning, Ganeshrao”
”Good morning sir”
The Sarpanch sat next to Ganesh reclining against a thick long cushion.
He gently slapped Ganesh on his back and asked, “So, was the journey tiresome?”
Ganesh was in a dilemma. He could not decide whether to agree that it was tiresome or not.
Seeing his dilemma, the Sarpanch said, “In the beginning it always is tiresome… to come all the way to this village on a bumpy road in a bus. But you will soon get used to it.”
Unlike the language of other villagers, the Sarpanch’s language, except for a word here and there, was not at all rustic.
Just then Sada came in with tea.
“Only tea?... Go, also get some snacks,”
Sada had brought two cups of tea in both his hands. Hearing Sarpanch’s new instruction he fumbled in the doorway.
“Let it be, Sarpanchji. I already had snacks before starting. I am in the habit of having breakfast as soon as I get up.”
“How can you not have anything? You are coming here for the first time and going without eating anything…?”
“No, Sarpanchji, I really don’t feel like having anything now.”
“Alright ..alright. But Sada, tell inside to arrange for his lunch and dinner.”
With a smile Sada nodded and with cups of tea in both hands stood before them. He handed each a cup and hurriedly went inside.
“Seems quite a helpful person,” Ganesh exclaimed looking in the direction in which Sada went.
The Sarpanch gave a startled look and asked, “Did he bring you here?”
“Oh God,” he said in exasperation.
“Why? What’s wrong?”
When the Sarpanch did not elaborate and went back to sipping tea Ganesh further said,
“Though he did not know me, he carried my suitcase all the way from the bus station to here…. Besides, he nicely entertained me with his talk. Truly such selfless and good people can be found only in villages. That too, only a handful of them.”
“Selfless and good? Who? Sada?’ Sarpanch exclaimed in surprise.
“Why isn’t he so?.... At least that’s the impression I got.”
“You’ll learn about him soon.” Sarpanch said and changed the topic.
“What would you like to do today? I mean would you like to take some rest and immediately start your work, or ….”
Ganesh realised that the Sarpanch had deliberately ceased talking about Sada. But he did not feel it proper to carry the subject further. He was tired after the tedious 3-4 hour journey and, as such, wasn’t very keen to start his work immediately. He fell into thinking.
“What must I do?”
“Start the work immediately?”
“Or rest for a while and then… “
The Sarpanch guessed the direction of his thinking.
“Alright. First, you lie down and take some rest. Meals will soon be ready. We can have our meals and then start the work.”
“Yes, that would be fine,” Ganesh said and tried to stretch his tired legs.
“Now, relax and take rest... I’ll ask Sada to shut the door,” the Sarpanch said and left the drawing room.
(to be contd.)
Original Novel by Sunil Doiphode
English Version by Anil Ekbote