Arjunpur, a small village...
Arjunpur, a small village on the outskirts of a metropolitan, inhabited by few hundred people, is where I spent my childhood. Lined with houses built of mud, Arjunpur is surrounded by farmlands. The farmlands change colour as the crops change. The green fields of mustard and wheat, turn to yellow and golden hues as the crop ripens. After harvest the fields become a vast sea of land.
People start preparing for cultivation before the arrival of monsoon rains - oxen plow fields, bullock carts carry manure made from cow dung. Skinny farmers sow seeds in the womb of mother earth. Fields are distinguished by their produce - wheat, rice, maize, etc.
I had developed a bond with my village, with the old men who played cards under the neem tree, with the woman who exchanged mangoes for grains, with the shop keeper who used brick as a measure...
As the monsoons recede, farmers prepare for harvest. By October-November all fields are empty, with just leftover dry stems from the last reaping.
Arjunpur - everything was so beautiful about it, everything so special. Unpaved roads that connected small homes roofed with bamboo sticks; small clouds of dust that rose as bulls walked on dusty roads; the smell of evening smoke in the air; the majestic sound of temple-bells ringing in a distant temple... Far in the tillage, somewhere, a stack of dried cow dung was always burning.
There was a well in front of my house and a road right next to it. Across the road was an extension to my home, a barn, which housed a tube well and a few cows.
The other side of the barn had a big wooden door, which opened into a rectangular garden. Just next to the door on the left was a bush of jasmine and a water tank, always full of fresh water supplied from the tube well. It wasn’t a garden in the true sense, being mostly occupied by trees and bushes.
One sunny afternoon while passing through the barn and addressing my cows, as they took a break from masticating cud and gave me a beaming look, I opened this door with a creaking noise and saw my grand father standing under a neem tree.
"How old is this tree, Dadaji ?" I asked.
"Well, my grandfather planted it."
"And how much more will it stay?" I shot another question.
"At least until you become a grandfather," he smiled.
The conversation ended with me wondering about longevity.
There were a few more trees, my favourite were the mango and amla trees for obvious reasons - they gave fruit.
The garden had a mud boundary-wall on three sides. Next to the right wall was a narrow road which overlooked the vast farmlands. There were bamboo bushes along the left wall. The third wall had a small opening, covered with dry branches of prickly babool trees, which pronounced implicitly, 'No Trespassing.'
Beyond this wall there was another well and next to the well was a big banyan tree, decorated with colorful threads and was home for a few idols.
Under a nearby neem tree was a cemented platform, where old men played cards in the afternoon. A few yards from there was the primary school.
Being a parent-less child my grandfather took care of me. He showered me with all his love and I turned out to be a very unpleasant child. I never had friends. So my favourite pastime was to wander around and watch the village folks do their job. I rarely talked to people, but was always inquisitive about what they were doing.
Near the village pond, there was always some one moulding bricks and burning them in a kiln fuelled by wood and dried cow dung. Those kilns were fascinating to children as they burned their mud toys into shape too.
I remember once an elderly person showing me a baby tortoise from this pond.
"How long do they live?" I had asked my favourite question.
"They live for 300 years," replied the old man.
"So they live more than the neem tree," I asked in a surprised tone.
"Yes, they do."
I found myself more inquisitive - may be there was something that lived more than a tortoise.
Near that pond was a tamarind tree, though it never bore fruit its tangy leaves were a treat.
I had developed a bond with my village, with the farmers that drudged the fields, with the women who drew water from the well, with the cows in my barn, with trees in my garden, with old men who played cards under the neem tree, with the woman who exchanged mangoes for grains, with the shop keeper who used brick as a measure, with the mad beggar who wandered unshaved and unclean, with the sound of the bell ringing in the far temple, with the evening air and the rising sun, with hot summers and chilly winters, with everything that came in my contact. I was in love with my village.
I don’t remember when, on one of my ventures I came across a cave. I must have forgotten my way, there was no familiar landmark nearby. The cave had a small mouth. On looking from outside everything was dark inside. It was covered with vines which had crept from adjacent trees. On the ground were deciduous plants, hiding brown mud under their foliage. It was a lonely place. It should have been within the village as I never went very far from my home. I was surprised why no one in the village had talked about it! How could that be possible? I decided to enter the cave. With supreme confidence I entered it. On entering, the cave became wide and bigger. Everything in that den was unpleasant, it seemed such a contrast to the village outside.
I walked a few steps inside and then a few more. It was dark and damp and the whole atmosphere was filled with a foul smell. There seemed no other exit to the cave. Suddenly I saw a figure appear in front of me. It was so sudden that I skipped few heartbeats. He had big, red eyes, full of hatred and anger for me. For a moment I thought I would die of fear. His presence was so menacing that I lost the ability to speak.
Around him were strewn skeletal bones, probably of people from the village. As he stared at me, I anticipated death at the hands of this monster who ruled the den. He moved towards me, his face soaked in blood, ready to tear my flesh off with his big, strong teeth; ready to drink my blood like of many others he had killed.
He moved closer, towards the prey which had been paralyzed by shock. My mind was full of fear and thoughts of my grand father and the village. All of a sudden a trident appeared from nowhere and pierced the devil's head. The monster fell and died in front of me, and I shouted like never before in my life.
It was morning, I had a meeting to attend. Oh! it was such a bad dream. Time had passed since my days in Arjunpur. Before I had realized, hours had turned into days, days into months and months into years. After completing high-school from the village primary school, I had gone to city-life for a college education, and from there to America for higher studies.
Last that I visited my village was when my grandfather had passed away. Many years had passed and I hadn’t even thought about the village I loved so much. Not a single time till this morning. The whole day I was haunted by memories from childhood. I decided to pay a visit to my village.
The following week I travelled to India. All along the journey I reminisced. I landed at the Delhi airport, and then took a bus to my village. A two hour journey took me to my village, Arjunpur. During all this time something from the past kept my eyes wet. After stepping down from bus, I inquired from a man, "Bhaiya, how can I get to Arjunpur?" "This is Arjunpur," he replied.
It wasn't the Arjunpur I had been dying to see. All farmlands were gone. There were no mud-houses left. There were no bullock carts. The sound of temple bells ringing was missing. All I saw was a long concrete structure which walled a big mass of land. And a huge board which read in big letters 'SEZ'.
The monster of my dream had not died, It had just appeared in a different form.