After the fine dust and smoke settled down Ganesh looked around. He took out a kerchief from his pocket and wiped his face. With his fingers he tried to brush his hair in place and attempted to flick dust away from his clothes. In the shade of a tree that stood outside a cowshed a few people were sitting on an old log of wood. Some of them were smoking beedis and others were inhaling chillums. All stared at him as though he had landed from an alien planet. Perhaps a neat person wearing a shirt and trousers was a rarity here. Ganesh walked towards them. He stood near a villager who was crushing a bit of tobacco on his palm. With his right hand the villager gently clapped on the tobacco crushed on his left palm and then blew off the fine tobacco particles. Next, he picked a pinch from the remaining crushed tobacco and pulling in one of his cheeks carefully placed the pinch of tobacco between his teeth and inside of the cheek.
“Where is Sarpanch’s house?” Ganesh asked the villager.
The villager got up from the old log of wood and stood up. Ganesh waited for his reply. But instead of answering him, the villager began to make vigorous signs with his hands. Just like a dumb person. Finally, shoving Ganesh a little aside, he spat out the juice of the tobacco that had filled his mouth and said
“A guest of the Sarpanch?”
“Yes,” Ganesh nodded in reply.
The villager quickly snatched the bag from Ganesh’s hands and said, “Follow me”.
What a helpful person....
I ask him to show the way and here he is carrying my bag and leading me to the destination....
Ganesh thought and began to walk behind him.
“You have come from the taluka, haven’t you?’ holding his dhoti up with his other hand, the villager asked.
“Yes,” Ganesh said.
Has the Sarpanch sent him to receive me?...
“Did the Sarpanch send you to receive me?” Ganesh could not help asking.
“No. But Sarpanch’s guest is the guest of our village,” grasping the reason behind Ganesh’s asking, he answered.
“Our Sarpanch is the pride of our village… whatever development has taken place here … it is because of the Sarpanch…. Earlier even bhoormal did not come here.”
“Bhoormal?” Ganesh didn’t know what it was.
“Oh, that means…. , your bus,” he said letting out a hearty laugh.
He continued to talk further. “Once a similar thing happened…. My aunt’s nephew brought a bride from the city… they were decent people… they performed the marriage with great pomp and show…. Even the groom’s people were impressed…They had also invited me to the wedding… The entire lot of people sat together for meals. Poor bride, she began to serve. As she was serving the liquid saar to her husband, he said, “Bas”.. the new bride turned pale and began to look here and there for the ‘bus’ which her husband had mentioned. However, she had not stopped pouring the liquid saar into her husband’s plate. My uncle’s son is short tempered… he shouted at her… “Bas..Bas”. The poor girl got scared. She thought her husband was asking her to sit and obeying him she sat down, right in front of him.
Ganesh burst into a loud laughter. The villager also joined him.
“If you see her now … you won’t believe that she had come as a bride from the city … My aunt’s nephew has trained her well .. Now she happily goes to the field.. to water or to pluck… “ he turned to Ganesh and said.
Ganesh looked at him and smiled.
“Your talk is very interesting. But, Oh, I forgot to ask your name.”
“Sada. My name is Sada.”
“Sada? Meaning always? You must be always chatting like this that is why they must have named you Sada,” Ganesh said jocularly.
“Why do you make fun of this poor man, Sir?” he said blushing.
While walking they began to cross a vast open ground.
“The village has its bazaar here. On bastarwars.”
“Meaning, on Thursdays” he said with a smile.
“I see,” Ganesh said glancing at the vast ground. Bastarwar? … Could be the corrupt form of Brihaspatiwar, that is Thursday,” he thought.
Then Sada began to lead Ganesh
Through a couple of narrow lanes and by lanes. At one place they came across Hanuman’s platform.
The platform was well raised. There was a huge banyan tree near it and near the tree there was a water sump erected by the Water Supply Division.
“This is our village’s platform, Sir. The banyan tree gives a good cool shade. Not only people but also dogs, cats and cattle rest here.. in the shade of the banyan.”
“Looks like your village has got water taps,” Ganesh said looking at the water sump.
A couple of naughty boys had climbed the water sump and were playing on it.
“No, not taps, Sir. … Just a sump. At times, during summer, they fill it with water attracting a huge crowd.”
Just then a large red fruit fell from the tree. A couple of children ran for it. One of them quickly laid his hand on the red fruit and began to make faces at other children. The boy then partly opened the fruit, cleared it of the numerous little insects, and before anyone else could snatch it away, stuffed it in his mouth. Seeing it Ganesh felt nauseated.
“It tastes very good, Sir. You must also try it once,” Sada said noticing Ganesh’s displeasure.
Sada skirted the platform leading Ganesh further. The lane now had become much narrower than the earlier one. On either side, the narrow lane was flanked by mud houses that were swept clean with cow-dung. Among them was a small provision shop. On both sides of the shop there were raised platforms made of slabs of stones. Several groups of men sat on them. Some were smoking beedis, some were preparing chillums while others were merely chatting. As Sada led Ganesh everyone began to look at him. Ganesh also looked back at them. While looking at them Ganesh saw a person sitting at the cash counter of the shop who took him by total surprise. She was a young, pretty woman. He was surprised that such a young and pretty woman should sit behind the cash counter of a provision store, that too, in such an underdeveloped village. Now he could understand what had made people flock to the shop as bees would towards a honeycomb. The getup of the woman managing the cash counter would have put even a city girl to shame. Her fair golden skin, long hair, natural-pink lips, as if she had applied lipstick, and her well powdered face. Only the three dots tattooed on her chin seemed a little out of place. She wore a pink sari and a blouse with alluring short sleeves. The short sleeves instantly drew attention to her fleshy and fair arms. Ganesh could not resist the temptation of pausing and giving her another look. The woman looked like a rose blooming in a jungle of cacti. But one thing he couldn’t help noticing was that at least from the way people sitting on the platform watched him, she, too, ought to have glanced at him. But she was wholly engaged in attending to the customers and giving instructions to the servant. Perhaps she was merely pretending to do so. There was a charming indifference in her behaviour. However, as a man, Ganesh did not like that a woman should ignore him. That, too, when he was looking at her. His male ego was hurt. Frankly, Ganesh was quite handsome. Though married for five years, several pretty women still fell for him. Gathering himself he began to walk behind Sada. The two walked further. Ganesh tried to brush off his thoughts. But he felt insulted and a strange restlessness filled his mind.
(to be contd.)
Original Novel by Sunil Doiphode
English Version by Anil Ekbote