Patil’s residence was always thronged by people. His residence was an old, ancient gadhi, almost like a fort, which stood on a height. The gadhi had a security wall all around. At four or five places on the wall there were constructions like a ‘post’ for the guards to keep vigil. Now those posts were lying vacant because there was no more any need for vigil. Today, there was a special meeting at Patil’s residence. To be invited for a meeting in Patil’s gadhi was considered an honor. Only selected villagers were invited to the meeting. But outside, people who were curious to know what transpired in the meeting, sat around Patil’s residence, wherever place was available. Those who went in for the meeting looked down on the people waiting outside and walked with puffed chests. During the meeting when someone, on some pretext, came out, people curious to know what was happening inside surrounded him and the person who had come out, feeling proud, gave information in bits and pieces to them.
When Ganesh sighted Patil’s residence, he looked into his watch to find out whether he was late. Five more minutes remained for the scheduled time. He saw people assembled all around Patil’s residence and his heart missed a beat.
“Did any thing happen before his arrival…
But.. there is still time for the meeting …
Ganesh threw his puzzled glance over the people. Their curious eyes were already looking at him.
He can know once he goes in.
Ganesh hurriedly entered Patil’s house. But to go further in there were a couple of pathways.
Which of the ways should he take to go in?
He began to throw an undecided look all around. Just then Patil’s servant came to his rescue.
“Come this way ..” the servant showed his hand towards a way and asked him to follow him.
Ganesh merely looked and smiled at him. This was the first time that Ganesh was coming to the Patil’s house. On several occasions earlier he had had met Patil, but mainly in his office or at some or the other village function. The servant taking a path that turned and twisted led Ganesh to the top portion of the gadhi. Here, there was a spacious hall called baithak, a sitting lounge. In the hall a couple of respectable villagers were seated. As soon as Ganesh entered they all exchanged greetings and namaskars. Patil, Sarpanch and other were yet to arrive.
Ganesh went and sat in one corner of the hall. Other people were busy in consuming beedis, paan, chillum and tobacco accompanied by chitchatting about village and the agricultural fields. Ganesh did not feel like mingling with anyone. So he sat alone. Next to him, in the corner of the hall, an old villager was seated. The villager put his hand under his shirt and brought out from the pocket stitched on the belly of his vest, the chanchi, a pouch. The pouch was made of khaki cloth. The villager carefully untied the pouch . His movements were extremely slow. After untying the pouch he took out from it a chillum. He carefully cleaned the chillum. There was a tiny round piece at the bottom of the chillum. He cleaned it too, and replaced it at the bottom of the chillum. Perhaps it was meant to stop the tobacco going into the mouth while smoking the chillum. Next, he took out another cloth bundle from the pouch. Ganesh was carefully observing the old villager’s movements. He untied the cloth bundle. He took out tobacco from it and meticulously filled it in the chillum. Now he once again began to look into his pouch. He took out a tiny white pebble from the pouch. The pebble was called ‘gaar’. It was found in plenty in the fields or in the sands on the banks of the village stream. Holding the pebble in his hand, he pulled out something like a key-chain from the pouch. It was little, thick iron scale. On the other side of the scale was tied a silk cocoon container called ‘kosla’. He opened the container. The cocoon was cut in the centre and a container was made out of it. The container of the cocoon contained cotton. Ganesh had once asked someone. It was not the cotton from a cotton plant, it was from Katsheori tree. People called it ‘kaf’. The old villager took out a little cotton from the container and stuck it to the edge of the white pebble in his hand. He then strongly rubbed the white pebble with the iron scale and tried to generate a spark which would light the cotton’. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, at the fourth trial the cotton got ignited. He kept the cotton on the mouth of the chillum and placing a small cloth at the bottom of the chillum he began to inhale. As he drew it in, the tobacco at the mouth of the chillum glowed red. After drawing in a couple of puffs, the old man stylishly let out the smoke from his mouth.
The old man realized that all the while Ganesh was watching him. Second time, taking a couple of puffs and leaving smoke from his mouth, the old villager held out his hand holding the chillum, and asked, “Want to try…”
Ganesh made an unpleasant face and declined with a gesture of his hand.
“Don’t want it? .. oh, this gives a great pleasure …beedi and cigarettes are nowhere compared to it … try it once..” The old villager coaxed Ganesh.
“No..I really don’t feel like trying it” Ganesh said and turning his attention away from the old villager began to look all around.
(to be contd.)
Original Novel by Sunil Doiphode
English Version by Anil Ekbote