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41Tatmanis travel to the land of harvesting

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    PART IV-A : Ramia

    4.1 Tatmanis travel to the land of harvesting

During the months of Kartik and Aghran, the earnings of the Tatma men become somewhat uncertain.

    The gharami jobs fall off but the work of cleaning the wells do not begin by then. This is perhaps the reason why the Tatma women go for harvesting paddy in Aghran; returning towards the end of Pous.

    They travel mainly to the East to the Mayasi, Jamour and Rutva thanas. Earnings are higher in those 1areas, for the „Bangal muluk is nearer; but the higher earnings hardly compensate for the bad water and rampant malaria. Add to it the fact that in those areas the miyans (muslims) predominate. At times 2it is rather difficult to maintain caste and commensal purity in that land of paat and paani. So, most

    of the years, the Tatma women go West to the Kamaldaha, Barhari, Dhokardaha thana areas. These 3are healthy places - „half a ser of sattu get digested in half an hour‟. The problem is you get very 4hungry. The householders, though, are good people. For, they will not employ the majoorni who eat

    less; those „ill and sickly people of the East‟ as they say. What work can you expect from these people who can‟t even digest their food? But the demand for labour is less in the West. So thousands of labourers from the districts of Munger and Bhagalpur, cross the Gangaji and Kosiji, and travel to these parts during harvest. The Tatmanis cannot match their capacity for hard work.

During the harvesting season, barring the women of the Mahato family and Dukhia‟s mother, no

    Tatma women stay in Tatmatuli. Consequently, during these months of Aghran and Pous, the Tatma men do all the household work themselves. The scale of drinking and smoking bhang usually go up

    during this time of the year. When the „gang of harvesters‟ return after a month and a half, they are presented with a detailed list of the misdeeds of the men by Mahato-ginni. The jhotahas, now proprietors of the harvested paddy they have brought in, act proud. And soon, squabbles and loud bickerings light up each household. These two months the heads of the household hang their heads and flatter the jhotahas. As the Tatmatuli women put it „at times the cart is on the boat and at times

    the boat is on the cart. If the men are kings for ten months, so are the women for these two months‟.

    For about a year the Tatmas are having a bad time. It is difficult to get work. The wage, is a mere pittance of four annas; but the blustering of the babubhaiyas when making even this small payment! Rice, at four paisa a ser, may seem inexpensive, but nevertheless one has to pay for it. Where will that four paisa come from ? Do the babubhaiyas care to know? If you want to eat there is nothing to wear and if you want to buy clothes, you have to go without food. While at his job on the pakki, Dhorai notices the daily procession of jute laden carts going back; the stockists of Jirania bazaar do not want 5to buy anymore. The coming and going of the babubhaiyas and marketers to Tatmatuli, after dusk, increase. The Dhangars talk to one another jokingly, of the likelihood of someone selling jasmine 6garlands in gosainthaan. Don‟t you notice the jhotahas are getting their hair oiled these days?

     7The „guruji‟ of the Lower Primary School in Bharsar in the West, lives in the house of the

    babubhaiyas of the village. There he tutors the sons of the babubhaiya, takes his daily meals, runs errands, engages in flattering his patron, attends to court proceedings, writes letters. He had come, along with the babubhaiya of Bharsar, to meet the Chermen sahib of Jirania with the purpose of getting his transfer orders cancelled. The babu is an old client of the Chermen sahib. But the Chermen sahib was out of station. So Babubal chaprasi took them to the kiranibabu‟s (clerk) house. He put

     1 The „Kingdom of Bengal‟ is looked upon as a land of plenty. 2 paat is jute and paani is water. 3 a meal of barley and gram. 4 female majoor (labourer) 5 these and other signs of the setting in of the widespread recession of the 1930s are encountered further on. 6 considered essential for a man on his way to meet his lover. 7 headmaster or teacher

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    down the earthen pot of ghee and the stem of bananas in the courtyard before he called out for kirani sahib. It took no more than a minute to get the 'guruji‟s‟ work done. Babulal cannot contain his inward laughter at the thought of these two „rustics‟ who wanted to meet the Chermen for such petty business.

    The babusahib from Bharsar gave a rupee to Babulal as well. Only one rupee, says Babulal.

    Let the paddy be harvested. Will pay you after selling the crop. At the moment where is the money with us householders?

Babulal is used to hearing such excuses. They don‟t pay you after the work is done; do they?

„Where do you get your harvest labourers from?‟

„Where is the dearth of labourers this time ? They are after us for quite sometime now.‟

„Why not take in labourers from my Tola?‟

    Guruji, realising that the scoundrel might come in handy in future, is unwilling to displease this Chermen sahib‟s chaprasi.

„Well, send us some; about forty of them.‟

Babulal is among the well to do in Tatmatuli. He has earned the right to don the urdi-pagri (uniform

    and cap) by the grace of God. Won‟t he do this bit for the sake of his own community? Must say that in these days of extreme scarcity, it is something of a bountious gift from Ramji! It is nearing the end of Kartik and till date Tatmatuli has received no call for harvesting labourers from anywhere. Do the householders plan to let the paddy remain uncut in the fields? Amidst this gloom, the news of Bharsar, creates a wave of tumultous delight in the village. Babulal is highly praised by all and Dukhia‟s

    mother can hardly contain her feeling of self-importance. Her vanity increases when she finds that, this time, Mahato‟s wife and her lame daughter are accompanying the village women in the harvesting team.

     1While bidding them farewell, Dukhia‟s mother puts some tobacco wrapped in a leaf, in the udukhal 2that Mahato-ginni is carrying on her head; „Gudar-mai, take care and bring them back in good

    health,‟ she says.

Mahato-ginni nearly dies of shame but manages to answer,‟ Yes, of course, that is why I am going

    with them.‟

Ratia chharidar shouts from afar, - „come along, all of you – Oh! these women never seem to finish

    their gossiping !‟

On their way out everyone pay their respects at the gosainthaan.

During the harvesting season, the margins of the lake, take on the looks of a mela (fair) ground. The

    four surrounding villages of Siripur, Bharsar, Sonadeep and Kemoi, all have their paddy fields in one huge low lying area. And what a bumper harvest the stalks are bent with their burden of grains so

    that the ridges demarcating the plots are no where visible. On higher grounds are the golden heaps of the harvested paddy. Around these heaps, arranged in rows, are the small hollow cones of hay, barely big enough to accommodate a single person. It does get cold at night! Even if a whole mound of straw 3is set on fire, the ears never seem to get warm.

     1 wooden mortar for husking paddy 2 Gudar‟s mother 3 AF : For the people of this region, the part of the body worst affected by the cold, are the ears. Hence, covering the ears is a must; whether or not the other parts of the body are covered.

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    This time, two teams of labourers have come to harvest the paddy fields of the babus of Bharsar; one from Tarapur in Munger district and the other from Tatmatuli. Nearly seventy persons in all, of which only ten are males.

     1No sooner has one reached Bharsar, than the paanwala, with his varied offerings strapped to his neck, 2presents himself singing the „tikia-tamaku song‟. They go around these temporary villages of 34hasvesters selling their wares; biri, khaini, tobacco, beetle leaves, arecanut, soap and a host of other

    things. Besides, they have other interests and businesses to transact among these women labourers.

    The paanwalas attract a crowd with their singing before they start selling their wares. But the Tatmas have just arrived; they would have to start work, and only then will they have the money to buy. For the present, he has come just to make their acquaintance.

    ‘Abaki samaiya dheeraja dharani ge beti

    Nahi up jal patua dhan,

    Ki ranga ke karabou beeha dan

    Abaki samaiya dheeraja dharani ge beti.’

    ( This time around, be patient, dear girl. It has been a bad harvest of jute and paddy. How will I bear the expenses of your marriage.)

    The Tatma women sit around the paanwala. It does not take long to get friendly with a person who can sing such songs. In a short while, the paanwala tells them all the stories of this world of paddy fields.

    - this time the resident harvesters of Bharsar, it seems, have all gone to Siripur for work; leaving a few 5daagre ka baingan‟ who remain in Bharsar, working now in this field and now in another. During the paddy transplanting season this year, the Siripur babus gave each one of the labourers both men

    and women either green chillies or onions along with the meals. This prompted the big householders of Bharsar, Sonadeep and Kemoi to call a meeting and discuss the matter. They tried hard to convince the Siripur babus to stop this largesse of onion and chillies the coming generations would curse you

    for this. The householders would be adversely affected; do not go against the established practices, for you do not know these people it will create a preceedence and serving chillies and onions would 6become customary. You can write off the tree which has been colonised by the bagula. But the babus

    of Siripur are a courageous lot a man‟s word like the elephant‟s tusk, is unbending and irrevocable. So it was in anticipation of the Siripur babus‟ largesse of chillies and onions, that all the local men

    and women have gone to work there. And he narrates a lot of other stories; the paanwala, Birju.

    Says Gudar-mai, „I see! So that is the reason why the Bharsar babu paid heed to Babulal chaprasi‟s request. You have heard it all, haven‟t you? And to imagine that this makes Dukhia‟s mother swell with pride!

    These words have the silent consent of all the Tatmanis. Birju paanwala has a discerning eye and knows his client. Mahato-ginni will be an accomplice in his work.

     1 the vendor of beetle leaves. 2 tikia is a small cake of coal-dust used for lighting the tamaku or tobacco. 3 a kind of leaf rolled cigarette. 4 a dry mixture of lime and finely cut tobacco. 5 like a few brinjals in an otherwise empty tray, they roll over now to one side and now to the other. 6 AF : „jis gaach par bagula baithay, jis darbar mey Maihtili paithay’; the tree, for once sat upon by the bagula

    (heron or egret), like the assembly attended by a Maithili (a resident of the region of Mithila), will not take long to degenerate.

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    4.2 Sight of Ramia in the paddy fields

    Strange is this land of harvesting! Every night the margins of the lake, smelling of freshly cut hay and mouldy slime, lie covered with mist. The light of the burning hay is too dim to recognize faces but the shadows thrown on the mounds of harvested paddy, move around. The golden heaps turn into huge black elephants. The call of the paddy foraging ducks is easily mistaken for the cry of a child. To get 1sleep at night, the entire body needs to be buried in the hay. The pan-dubbi ghost move noisily over

    the water at the dead of night and the sound disturbs the sleep. Above the water in the lake the 2rakas ghost holds the light and beckons now here, and the next moment it darts off to the far side

    near the Santaltuli. The gossip around the burning hay become more gripping. All the Tatmas seem to have the same experience when he had gone to the fields to relieve himself at night, a woman had 3beckoned him. A mere glance confirmed that the woman was a sharkhel. When her gesture was not

    responded to, she climbed up that shimul tree to the East. A eerie feeling engulfs the entire group.

    Consider the attraction of the strange atmosphere of this land and add to it the fact that it lies beyond the reach of the Mahato and Nayebs. Here the women breathe an air of freedom.

    On previous ocassions all the bossing would be done by Ratia chharidar‟s wife. This time Mahato-

    ginni has come along, and given the claims of her social status, she becomes the overall commander of the harvester‟s village. Ratia chharidar interacts with outsiders on behalf of the group.

    The rules, customs and codes of conduct for this one month camp, are all too different from what obtains at Tatmatuli. Here, the usual social restrictions and prohibitions are lax; rules for maintaining caste and commensal purity are few; whoever can harvest the maximum amount of paddy is the object of everyone‟s envy; the young among the woman have no dearth of income; the young among the men are worth more to the women; here, all his grave misdeeds are condoned.

    If social prejudices were present, would it have been likely for Mahato-ginni, of all persons, to make the acquaintance of Ramia‟s mother from Tarapur. A good looking girl, this Rampiari Ramia for

    short. Rumours about Ramia‟s mother were first heard by the Tatmatuli group from their Tarapur counterparts. She was the maid-servant of Jhaji‟s household – while uttering the word „maid servant‟

    they had laid undue stress and made as if to smile. Why not for the Tatmas are never known to work

    as maid servants. Her husband was crippled by a paralytic stroke. He died a few years ago. Last year Jhaji died as well.

In such a strange atmosphere pervading the land of harvesting, even this spicy story failes to produce 4a feeling of exultation in Mahato-ginni. Moreover, Ramia-mai is such a good natured person; ever so

    so diffident wearing a feeling of guilt but never too eager to hide anything. Mahato-ginni takes pity on her. Why should the people of Tatmatuli bother themselves so much with the details of her conduct; 56she belongs to same caste but of a different place. The Tarapur team stays only a few yards from the

    the Tatma camp. But Ramia-mai‟s ukhli (mortar) is kept here - with the Tatmas. Every night, as they

    husk the paddy in the ukhli, Ramia-mai and Mahato-ginni exchange many a tale of their moments of sorrow and joy. For both of them the root problem is an unmarried daughter at home.

     1 AF : in these lands, death by drowning, bring into being „pan-dubbi‟ ghosts. These ghosts move noisily over

    the water all night. (TF : pan-dubbi is the Darter or the Snake bird (Anhinga rufa) which is a black cormorant-

    like water bird with a long snake-like neck. 2 AF : will-o‟-the-wisp 3 AF : the name given to a type of female ghost. They call attention of men when they seem them. 4 AF : Ramia‟s mother 5 the reference is to such geographical denominations of the same caste as Mungeria-Tatmas and Tatmatuli-Tatmas. 6 In the text, the word denoting the distance is „rosi’ which means a surveying chain varying in lenth from 55 to

    100 yards.

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„My Ramia may not be crippled, but I still face a problem with her marriage. You can at least blame

    your stars, sister. But I have no such excuses; for I have ruined my own fate.‟

    Having said it, Ramia-mai realizes her mistake in mentioning the crippled feet of Fuljharia. Both of them grow ill-at-ease. It takes a while for the conversation to regain its momentum.

    It was that accursed paanwala who came and brought up the subject of Ramia. Perhaps the Bharsar babu‟s had sent him. I have given him a befitting reply that put him in his place. And in reply he bares his teeth and says I know all your deeds; why act prudish when it comes to your daughter? That bastard! Feel like smashing in his teeth that ugly row of teeth like the dhondhol seeds!

    The ways of Birju paanwala are not unknown to Mahato-ginni. She has already been favoured by that tout with two rupee worth of goods for free. In earlier years this income would accrue to Ratia chharidar‟s wife. There goes Rabia‟s wife and Haria‟s wife, walking towards the lake, at this hour of the night. Has Ramia-mai got wind of what is going on ? She must have; can‟t be missing the obvious.

    The sound of laughter from Ramia and Fuljharia, in the haystack, reaches the ears of the two mothers; the two friends seem to be bursting with laughter. Good that Fuljharia knows how to have a good laugh.

They haven‟t overheard our conversation; have they?

    Unlikely that they would have heard anything, when we could hardly hear our own conversation, in the general din created by the pounding of the mortar.

Fuljharia too likes Ramia a lot. She is so spick and span; her clothes are even cleaner than Dukhia‟s 1mother‟s. Every week they buy soap, worth half a katha of paddy, from Birju paanwala. Following

    on their footsteps, when Fuljharia expresses her wish to get some soap, her mother reprimands her. „You seem to be picking up these Kiristani habits from Ramia. Are you a dancer, that you need to clean your clothes every week? Before you think of buying soap, find out how much grain you manage to gather from the fields everyday. You don‟t have the capacity to sit at a stretch and cut the

    paddy. And while we manage to evade the guards and leave a stalk or two of paddy uncut for you to collect later on and earn your living, you think of buying soap for your cloth. No one is going to look at you, no matter how much soap you apply to your clothes…..‟

    Fuljharia is aware of a reference to her physical disability in all conversations. Even her own mother does not spare her. Her eyes moisten. But in this land of water and muck and mist and fog, the Tatmas have no time to find out whether someone‟s eyes get moistened or not.

    Nevertheless, she likes Ramia a lot. Her features are visibly expressive. Nearly bursts out laughing while she speaks. Songs, limmericks and funny stories, she seems to have at the tip of her tounge. And she does not care a straw for anybody. Not a bit of fear or anxiety ever seem to cross her mind. Everything seems fine about her, but Fuljharia feels that Ramia is a bit solicitous and meddlesome. It could go with the life in a harvester village but back home in one‟s own village it would not conform. Perhaps such is the upbringing in the villages of the West. Her home is so far away in Munger district. Fuljharia has never had the chance to speak to someone hailing from a place so far away. Their accent and the intonation would make one laugh. Absolutely funny, the way she mimics others. Just now she had been mimicking, Ramnewa Singh, the landlord‟s guard - the way he scratches his long side-burns

    and winks suggestively; throws one into violent fits of laughter.

This was the sound of laughter that has reached the mother‟s ears.

     1 a vessel used for measuring grain

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Oray, O, Ramia, don‟t you have to go home tonight?‟

    „A home, indeed‟, says Ramia sarcastically. 1„ Let her stay here tonight, Chachi

    Fuljharia, how can that be.‟ Ramia‟s mother can place her trust on no one. „No, no, no,

    „Come again tomorrow night‟ – says Mahato-ginni when they are about to leave.

    Lying down to sleep with her body tucked inside the pile of hay, Fuljharia is lost in thoughts. She feels rather lonely even amidst so many people. That Dhorai and his earth cutting work! His self esteem would have been hurt had he come for harvesting. He is too obstinate. Perhaps it is good that he did not come. Obstinate that he is, he might even have responded to the „sharkhel‟s‟ beckoning and

    followed her to the shimul tree......Now, what was that sound! Is it some dog scratching the hay ! Fuljharia is alarmed. Or is it Haria‟s wife, tip toeing back and slipping into her bed in the hay stack. That must be it !

    4.3 Death of Ramia’s mother

That night the harvesters of Tatmatuli gathered around Mahato-ginni. For some time now, Ramia‟s

    mother has left this place for Kemoi, one and a half kos away, to harvest the Rajput farmlands of that village. Otherwise it would not have been possible to have Mahato-ginni in their midst at night. At the time of leaving, Ramia‟s mother told Mahato-ginni, holding her hand and in tears Bahin (sister), I

    would not have left you for these remaining days; but Ramnewa Singh and Birju panwala has made life hell for me. I would not be able to save my daughter if I stay on here. The Rajputs of Kemoi, I have heard, are better in this respect.

That left Mahato-ginni with no words to stop Ramia‟s mother. With the end of harvesting, their

    separation was in any case inevitable in a few days.

    .........Bahin, do come over on the weekly market day.

Then holding Ramia‟s cheek she said, „my Fuljharia is going to miss you‟....

    Since that day, Mahato-ginni, gathers around all the Tatmas every night.

    The gossip is that cholera has broken out in Kemoi and thereabouts. 2„ Such strange lands; they must have got scared at night. How else could cholera take root?‟

    They all decide not to get frightened at night. If it gets scary then all would be woken up and made to sit around the fire.

Mahato-ginni has sympathetic thoughts for Ramia‟s mother – the poor dear has no respite anywhere

    and now in Kemoi, where she has gone, there is an outbreak of cholera.

    The matter is passed over for the time being as a new and contentious issue comes up....there is but a single oil lamp that provides for all the Tatmas. It is in great demand but usually Mahato-ginni has an unduly large share. Every day it is someone‟s turn to pay for the oil. Today, Birju panwala has not

    received his payment for the oil. It was Rabia‟s wife‟s turn today. She has made it absolutely clear that she would rather not pay for the oil if the lamp is going to be used by Mahato-ginni; that Mahato-ginni‟s bullying should wait till she gets back to Tatmatuli „ Rabia‟s wife, you are crossing your

    limits. You don‟t seem to realize what is proper in speech.‟

Mahato-ginni realizes that everyone sympathises with Rabia‟s wife and so she cuts short ......achha,

    let her get back to Tatmatuli and we‟ll see what is in store for her. I don‟t let anything out, usually, and that‟s why....

     1 aunt 2 AF : these people believe that cholera is caused by fright at night.

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„ I‟ll pay for the oil, Birju.‟ Birju panwala goes away smiling.

    Suddenly the next day, Ramia comes back alone in the afternoon. Her eyes are swollen; today she does not burst out laughing.

„What‟s up Ramia? Why are you alone? How‟s your mother?

    Ramia cries out loudly. Her mother contacted cholera and died during the night. She now lies dead in the paddy fields of Kemoi. The harvesters there have all fled in fear of cholera. Even the harvested paddy lies unclaimed. How she suffered of thirst before she died! Thirst! All alone through the night. The vultures must be at her by now. Mother told me to go to Fuljharia‟s mother.....

Over her sobs, not all her words are understood.

    The Tatmas are not unduly disturbed by this piece of news. Death, for them, is a very usual state that befall humans. There was, of course, a difference between the death of an animal and that of a human! Thus, if a dog died it would be disposed off by a dom; the dead cow could not be skinned within the

    village boundary; and a feast had to follow a human death. Such were the differences.

    The Tatmas grow annoyed with the girl. Wearing the same clothes which she had on while handling the dead body, she is likely to render ritually impure, all that she touches. Better that she moves off to her mates from Mungeria? On the contrary, Gudar‟s mother, seems to be her near and dear one!

    All of a sudden, the son of the babu of Bharsar, Birju panwala and Ramnewa Singh are all up in arms against the poor girl, lest her message of the outbreak of cholera induces the harvesters to fly in panic. That would mean that half the fields would be left unharvested. As it is the Kemoi Rajputs must have alerted the Distiboad by now. If the needle pushing distiboad cholera-doctors come over all the harvesters would flee.....

    The Guruji of Bharsar is sent on horseback to the distiboad. He would give in writing to the distiboad a report that the Kemoi deaths are due to malarial fever. The Bharsar babu bribes the Kemoi chowkidar and instructs him to report to the thana that the deaths are due to fever....it would indeed be a big relief if the harvesting could be completed without any further delays.

    The harvesters of Tarapur are unwilling to let Ramia stay on with them. As it is they had no sympathy for Ramia‟s mother. As long as Jhaji was alive, she had little regard for anyone; she did not even care to fetch water for her dying husband, not for a single day......no wonder that in death, she suffered so 1much from thirst...came here as one of a team but could not stay on. The „poter bibi‟ had to go over

    to Kemoi with her daughter...

At the end, Ramia stays on with the Tatmas.

    „An orphan child of marriageable age; disowned by her own community.‟

    Mahato-ginni‟s consent gives Ratia chharidar some moral support; for he had spared a lot of thoughts on this girl. They tell Rabia‟s wife, „you keep the girl with you‟. But Rabia‟s wife is a simpleton and she speaks out her mind.

    „ I have no problems keeping her but for her mother‟s kiria-karam (funeral rites) you need to buy 2jaggery and bagnor; the brahmin priest has to be paid. How can I afford all this on my own? Of course, being a female, the expense on account of shaving the head need not be incurred.‟

     1 literally a women such as one depicted in a picture or painting. Someone who is too delicate to undergo hardships. 2 AF: a particular variety of banana which is required as a offering to the Gods. It is also a favourite fruit of the people of Jirania.

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    A mere handful of paddy from everyone is all that is required but none is willing to contribute.

Suddenly, Ramia yells; none dares to face the fury.

„Today you treat me with neglect because I am an orphan. But, for want of kiria-karam (funeral rites)

    if my mother were to turn into a sharkhel, may each one of you virtuous souls be visited by her at

    night. I do not ask for a single grain of paddy from any one of you. Dead souls from the East, that you are! A pack of animals! And to think of being entrusted by her mother to the care of such people! 1How can they be large-hearted, beings from the land of naram pani that they are. Hearts, no larger

    than a betel-nut; if only I could cut it open and reveal its rotten and worm infested state; like the hearts of the Bharsar babus and the Babubhaiyas. They are after all rich people who can button up their weak hearts beneath their clothes. But these animals from the land of naram pani do not even have the

    money to buy buttons, or the strength to work for a living, or the brains to utilise their strength. When 2I was staying here, I had gathered some stalks of ramdana from the edge of the lake and buried them.

    I will use these to pay for the expenses of my mother‟s funeral‟

    Rounding off with a volley of unspeakable invectives, she darts off towards the lake....

    The Tatma speech does not discriminate between what is and what is not vulgar. Speech, without a strong does of vulgarity, especially when it is meant to convey humour or anger, is considered insipid. A medicine without an incisive bite is no medicine at all. But today the quarrelsome girl from Tarapur has silenced these Tatmas.

Only a lone voice seemed to say, „ there she goes after delivering a lecture.‟

     Mahato-ginni speaks up, „ come let us all go. We need to bathe her, don‟t we? O Fuljharia, bring along that shred of cloth wrapped around the pickle container. Or else she would have to be in her wet clothes in this cold weather.‟

    4.4 The Triumphal return of the Harvesters from the West

    A gang of Dhangars are engaged in road repairing work near the Margama milestone. A senior hakim 3(magistrate), on a visit from Patna, has put up in the „circus bungalow‟. A hakim of nearly the same 4stature as the Laatsahib; a blood red face beneath a big hat; a mouth that constantly emits smoke, as from a bonfire. Speaks like a growling tiger. The Coloster sahib trembles like a reed on seeing him. Such a sahib as this will go for a hunting expedition to hunt wild buffaloes in the Bhowa jungle on

    the banks of the Kosi river in Rajdarbhanga. On hearing this the Chermen sahib is completely bewildered. That is why each one of their gang had to come for work. No one is bothered about them, as such; it is only when work gets stuck that engineer-sahib thinks of them. Almost every morning the whole gang is made to work in the overseer-babu‟s garden; but that is something that will surely

    escape the notice of the engineer-sahib. What, then, is the use of wearing gold rimmed spectales? Are we like draught animals; to be harnessed to the yoke at any hour of the day?

    Dhorai adds a wry approval, „ yes, exploit us to the hilt, now that you have us at someone else‟s expense.‟ He has been downcast from the moment the overseer-babu summoned them for work on the 5pakki even on this Muharram day. After all he is a member of Fudi Singh‟s Muharram team. A

     1 Literally „soft water‟; meaning unhealthy and malarious. 2 AF: used for preparing a type of puffed corn. A wild plant that grows on wet lands. These have to be buried unerground and the seeds extracted from the rotten fruits. 3 AF: circuit house 4 Governor 5 The Muslims festival of Muharram commemorates the matyrdom of the third Imam, Hazrat Hussain, in the plains of Karbala. In parts of India, the Hindus are known to participate in the Tazia processions which go

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    depleted side would risk being humiliated by the men of the Wazir Munshi team. Even now he is seething with anger at overseer-babu each time his ears catch the sound of the Muharram drums. He knows too well what Fudi Singh will tell him when they meet today, „ the Tatmas never change their ways. You people never wield the stick or mace and hence I do not request you to come for those 1sporting events. All that is expected is your presence as we go round the town to collect bakshish (tips) from the babubhaiyas. And the greater part of this work we complete during the daytime, the better it is; or else a part of the collection itself would be used up paying for the oil to burn the torches. Moreover the grog shop closes at nine and an hours time would need to be spent there.....‟

But, alas, does it seem probable that this road work would be over by evening?

     2Shala! There seems to be no end to this procession of bullock carts laden with paddy. What for is this road repairing; come one market day in Jirania and it is back to square one. All this hoeing and earth filling as we sweat even in this winter, is undone by the son of a Nawab, the cartman, who goes ha-

    lala-lala, twisting the bullock‟s tail. The chermen sahib is such a powerful man; why can‟t he stop these bullock carts from using the road?

Dhorai laughs inwardly at these foolish remarks; arrey, don‟t you realise that you owe your regular

    employment to these bad roads; that these carts bring the paddy to the Jirania market? What would you eat otherwise? No doubt these Dhangars are really stupid! But there is no denying that the chermen sahib or the coloster sahib, if they so desire, can improve the lot of the Tatmas and the Dhangars. Reduced the price of rice, for instance. How much better would it have been if, in addition to this, they could issue an injunction ordering the babubhaiyas to provide daily employment to the Tatmas in roof-repairing works. But nothing can happen contrary to Ramji‟s wishes. Surely, someday 3He will think of the poor........Gayee bahor garib nebaju / Saral sabal sahib raghuraju.......( Lord

    Rama, simple-hearted and powerful, restores wealth and protects the poor )

Who else but the Lord shall protect the poor....

“ Hallow there, you cart-man! Dozing off in broad daylight! How dare you drive along the pakki?”

    The commotion from the gangmen directs Dhorai‟s attention to the bullock cart. The girl sitting on top of the sacks of paddy loaded on the cart, crawls over to the front and shakes the cart-man, „Get up !

    Been sleeping since we passed Sisia.‟

    “Yes I‟ve been sleeping alright; but how does that hurt anyone? If you think you have reached home why don‟t you just get off the cart?”

“ No, not yet. I‟ll get down a little further off.”

Who is the girl? Everyone stares. Mahato‟s daughter, Fuljharia, smiles disconcertedly – perhaps they

    are thinking of her lame foot.

Says Dhorai, “Back from harvest? How was the crop this time? Where are the rest?”

“Must be reaching Chithria Pir by now. They will be home by sundown.”

    around the town during this festival. The Tazia, a symbolic grave of the martyrs, are usually made of wood on which are pasted brightly coloured pieces of paper and mica. 1 The Tazia procession is led by a brass band with people holding green and black flags. They are followed by Tazias moving at a slow pace and the mourners crying aloud.. In the name of Imam Hussain some members display their skill in the martial arts. 2 Brother-in-law, used here as a swear word. 3 AF: from Tulasidas

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    Fuljharia trying to avoid eye contact, adjusts her sari to cover herself properly and withdraws her legs behind the sacks of paddy. Everything seems to get muddled up whenever she finds herself in the presence of Dhorai.

Dhorai feels sorry for the girl. He smiles, “ Good that you have returned in time for the Muharram 1festivities. The Duldul horse procession is scheduled for tomorrow.”

Fuljharia is pleased beyond words.

    The wheels make deep furrows on the earth freshly laid by the gangmen as the bullock cart. makes its way towards Tatmatuli. The cart-man talkes to himself as he moves along, “ The day is not far away

    when the farmers will actually stop bringing their paddy to the market. The costs of transportation by cart is unaffordable and buyers are few. On the last market day I carried back the paddy. At this rate the farmlands would soon be auctioned off...”.

Never, after all Ramji is there Fuljharia consoles the cart-man.....

    The earth filling work on the road resumes. For Dhorai and his mates there is no respite before Gosain goes down in the west. Or else they would have to work tomorrow which is the day of the Duldul horse mela. Today they are approaching the neighbourhod from the south....

“Hurry up, brothers!” The sun is about to set.

A group of people are seen approaching from a distance. Their tumultous voices are heard. Is that the 2Muharram procession? No, where are the flags. Seem to be carrying a lot of load on their heads and

    shoulders. Dhorai, the harvesters from your tola are returning from their Western conquests. Aha! Ratia Chharidar seems to have put on a pagri.

    The Dhangars put on an act of intent road repairing work, pretending not to have noticed the harvesting team.. Dhorai welcomes them with a smile. Mahatoginni, with a broad grin on her face, steps forward towards him.

    “Didn‟t you meet with Fuljharia alittle while ago? Is everything alright with our people? And what about our old man? Come to our house for some flattened rice made of freshly harvested paddy.”

    Before she leaves, Mahatoginni insists on his coming to her house; a lot of stories, stored up for long, she has to share with the young chap. Meeting the local lad after so many days, all the Tatma women try to exchange some witty remarks with Dhorai; they seem to carry about them, even now, traces of the carefree atmosphere of the harvester‟s camp. Won‟t find anyone at home at this hour, says Dhorai with a smile, they have all gone along with Fudi Singh‟s Muharram team. The fair looking sari-clad

    girl, standing next to Rabia‟s wife, giggles at the witty remarks of the Tatma women. So this must be Dhorai about whom Ramia has heard so much from Fuljharia.

    The girl does not seem familiar to Dhorai. Certainly not from their neighbourhood; does not recollect having seen her anywhere else either. Of slender built and very smart, perhaps smarter than Dukhia‟s mother. Could she be from Margama, on her way to Jirania market? No, there she goes along with the others, towards Tatmatuli. Looks like an angel from Heaven; as lithe as a green bamboo twig. All on a sudden Dhorai is reminded of the silver statuette that adorns the bonnet of Samuer‟s master‟s automobile car. This new girl looks exactly like the figurette; ready to take wings and fly away. A pair of hornbills, fluttering their wings, come home to a hollow of the yonder banyan tree. A pair of fruit bats fly across the sky heading for the guava and sweet-jujube plantations of Lewis sahib.The sky

     1 Imam Hussain‟s horse 2 Muharram processions usually carry black and green flags.

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