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


    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.


    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.


    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