It was a refreshing day. The sun trying to peak at its zenith. Mercury levels were showing signs of easing. As I walked, the river seemed to reflect much more than the sunlight falling on it. As though it was trying to convey something to me. Almost telling me that this was the right time to strike!
It was after a good bit of thinking that I put it across to Rajiv on his big day. Rajiv, being the landlord's son was having a resounding bash celebrating the silver jubilee of his survival on mother earth.
"It'll be a grand idea man. Trust me on this" - I sounded almost pleading; trying to ebb out every inch of convincing power in me. I had carefully thought out how to put it across to him and as I laid out the plan, I could sense the positive change in his facial expression.
The guy that he was, my powers had the desired effect.
"So, how is the birthday boy doing" - asked Uncle to Rajiv, coming into the house.
"Good Bapu. Was actually going to talk to you about something." - He winked at me.
I knew this was my chance.
"Uncle, you must listen to Rajiv. He seems all set to take off now" - I added, to make sure I create the right mood.
"Whats the matter beta?"
The pot belly looming large, and the long white kurta curving along the sides, only that it was in the opposite direction. The clean shave though not really revealing his age. Uncle was from the zamindar family in the village. His father, Rajiv's grandfather had been a very popular figure in the village. Their family could trace their origin back to almost 10 generations - or so they claimed.
That was however not why I was cozying up with Rajiv for the past few months. We both had grown together until high school when I had to leave my village and go to the nearby town, almost 100 km for my college education. It had been almost three years since I passed out. All I managed in the meantime was a job that required long hours of standing, which did not justify the sum that I got in return. As much as I tried, I couldn't force myself to continue for long. And so before the last monsoons, I packed my bag and returned to the village, much to the dismay of my mother, who was longing to boast about my city job to demand a fitting dowry.
"Bapu, for how long do we keep doing the same thing with our crops? Now Ramu kaka can't be perennially providing us with our grocery no? We need some change. Jai has just got back from the town and he has seen the big change happening there. This is the right time for us. Our village, I am sure will receive this well"
"Rajiv beta, what are you saying? That we stop our food grains from our farms and buy it from the cities?"
"No Bapu. that's not what I am saying. we need not stop our produce. But instead we'll sell it to the bazaar walahs. They'll buy in bulk, package it nicely and make sure it reaches the markets in time. And then we'll buy in bulk from them and sell it in glass shops here"
"See Bapu, all are bored by this store houses that we keep our grains. Very soon mama and Gopi kaka and all will be old. Then who is going to make sure the right ration is provided to all our localities? Who will make sure the grains are given off before it gets rotten? It'll all be a huge problem. When we build these buildings and cover it with glass, we give our people the confidence of looking in. we will be transparent and very welcoming. They can come whenever they want and at their own will. We need not manage these credit records and have them all come at set time"
"It's all going to be a novel concept Bapu. It's only fit that we bring in this change rather than the Dhuggals or Choudhris. We have always been at the forefront in bringing change here. We were the first to introduce motor pumps for irrigation. We also got in the beta varieties. This also has to be us"
Rajiv went on, completely convinced with the model I put forth.
"This had to be it" - I said to myself.
After all that he heard, uncle smiled, and replied in his usual calm and composed manner -
"Beta, you really seem to have thought through all this.But.."
"Why but uncle. Just agree to this." - I found myself almost bursting forth.
"I am not for all these glass houses. You know me. We Rathods have a certain respect in this village. Partly out of love but partly out of our deeds. We needn't do all that you mentioned to help our people. They are more served the way we are doing it now. Besides none of the other families can even dream of doing what we are doing now. Our position, our honour has been passed on from generations. Don't worry about keeping them up with such deep thoughts beta" - he smiled and patted Rajiv on his back.
Sea waves came crashing forth. My plans were being crouched and quashed. I was left with nothing but air in my glass of hope!
That day had perhaps not been that bad. In fact if not for that day, I wouldn't have pushed myself to such limits.
Preparations were on in full swing. The barren land behind the old tile factory. It was unused land and for long the villagers had ditched it as ominous. I had nothing to lose. Pratap ji had been more than willing to part with it for rent or lease or whatever agreement I had put forth. The village banters were on in full swing. The paper boys and postal guys were so intrigued that they began inspecting the area every day on their routines. The monsoons had just receded and it was as if the weather gods were laying open their blessings for me.
"Jai, are you really going to open up your new warehouse here?" - It was Ramu kaka.
"Yes Ramu kaka. I want to bring fresh lease of life to this dead land. I'll have a glass house open right next where everybody can buy their food stock."
"Hmm…" Ramu kaka let out a mixed whiff of air and walked away.
Obviously, news reached one and all. What began quietly quickly began to spread like wild fire. Of course ours was a pretty small village. But my estimates of village populace and their wealth placed me in a very comfortable place for what I intended Apart from the zamindars, most of them were either employed in the fields or they were doing something or the other with the crops. The government babus had their share of income and a good number of people had sizeable income coming in from their city gone progenies, courtesy the post man.
Surprises and admirations were always welcome reactions. But when Rajiv's father called me once to his haveli, I wasn't quite prepared for the proceedings.
"Beta, you are Rajiv's friend and have grown up in our haveli" He began with a gentle yet reprimanding tone.
"If what I hear is right, you are going to set up distribution centres for food stock and other house goods…"
"No uncle. This is not any distribution centres. This is just going to be a small hut like place where people can come and choose to buy if they wish" I explained
"...Call it whatever you want. But this village can't be having another chief distributor. It is our family who has been in charge of the affairs for generations…."
He went on and on like as if he was trying to invoke laws of proprietary and copyrights.
Finally, he asked me who helped me with the capital.
"Dhuggal ji was kind enough.."
"Enough" - He cut me short and with that he dismissed me.
I knew he didn't take kindly to Dhuggals. Rathods always had issues with the Dhuggals. But so much of anger. Well, I decided to stay put.
The expressions of awe at hearing me start something new and the chance for the village to experience a whole new concepts were slowly giving room to an air of dampness in the village. The Rathods somehow felt as though this was a direct assault on their supremacy. It did not help that Rajiv's father learnt of Dhuggals involvement. I went on anyway. Coz I knew what I was doing and my plan was foolproof.
When the tractors came in with the raw materials, the entire stretch of road had onlookers. Some with worrying faces, some with sheer astonishment; somehow the village talk was all about my fate and not of what I was setting up. I was unperturbed. All this I had foreseen; now it was all about being patient and going about my work.
It was the cry of the goats that woke me up first. incessant cries were definitely not the norm. Not that we had any trouble of wolves in our area. Sluggishly, I woke up and went outside. I couldn't see anybody. Dawn was just about to break. Shreds of light were beginning to separate the darkness of the night. I decided to cycle down my street and onto the roads. There I smelt something. An unusual odour accompanied the morning air. As I kept cycling, my senses were picking up the air much more sharply and my doubts were turning into reality. Black fumes was what my eyes saw. charred air was what my nostrils inhaled.
By that time, people had already begun to crowd the place. All my materials had been burnt beyond recognition. The land where I intended the warehouse cum bazaar was reduced to black ask. Smoke and smog. The winter air stung me cold. My feets were numb; head slowly digesting the fact; reality dawning on me with the morning chillness.
From then on, it was exactly as planned. Obviously the local cops were not going to find out who or what caused it. The Rathods had their way whenever they intended anything.
The report said, "It was an unusual activity that spurred out of nowhere"
No person living in the surrounding had a hint of clue as to what had happened. So it was all straight forward for the insurance guys. They came and had the place inspected. Few interviews done and they had to concur with the police report. Rather were forced to.
My claim was to be in the town I had left almost a year back. The scrap that I had collected from the neighbouring village, which all mistook for raw materials had cost me close to nothing. Pratap ji was only happy to lose all connections with the cursed land. No money did he want and when I told him I have to look for livelihood in the city now, he was only happy to see me off.
The morning breeze swept through my hair. I was relaxed in my new house. A sense of satiation filled me, one that is acquired after much hard word. My plan had gone super smooth. Uncle played to my ploy with perfection. Everyone was so co-operative during the Insurance probe too. Ahh, what joy, what peace; puts me in a state of trance! The complete money all to myself.