Yesterday I got news that really saddened me. No it was not India losing to the mighty Ausies. It wasn’t even the fact that my kaam wali bai was on a leave the whole of the next week and I was to help my mom with household chores. It was news that put things into perspective for me. After the out and out Diwali celebrations life seemed to be full of dry fruits, nankeen of 10,000 varieties, sweets that looked great and tasted even better, clothes that made all of us mundane people look like royalty for a whole week.
The name of Shailesh Pisalkar, a NGO worker in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra, whom I had met this January while on the shoot of my first documentary film, on my cell-phones LCD made me nostalgic instantly. I remembered the jungles; the long unending rides in Sumos, the beautiful sunrises and the sunsets that did justice to what Hindi film writers have been trying to say in numerous songs for decades now.
I remembered the meal that I had so craved for that day while we were shooting since morning and living it up in style on budgeted water because loo facility was not a necessity but a luxury in the remote interiors of Maharashtra where ladies told us that they had to wait for nightfall to do the natural business. The food that we ate that day while the sun was setting on the world in a humble hut of a farmer who had persisted that we lunch at his home was the best meal I have had till date. And I have dined at the best of the best restaurants in Delhi believe you me. The simple meal of bhaat, aaloo subzi and zunka was much more delicious because of the sentiment and the love that it contained. I was later told that they persisted on the whole crew eating at their place because according to Vidarbh tradition if a Khot eats at your place you go to heaven. This was news to me and somewhat embarrassing and a little disconcerting as living in urban India I had never been burdened with such an expectation.
All this and more came to me in a matter of seconds as the phone began to vibrate and gyrate to the tune of Oye bubbly, the Pepsi anthem that sees SRK drinking and endorsing the brand. I picked up the phone with the usual enthusiasm that people have started to associate with me. Shailesh as usual started to speak in Marathi assuming that I had improved my hold on the language by many folds in the past 10 months. I disappointed him and began answering his queries in Hindi. After the usual banter, the lack of food in my tummy since morning reminded me of the sumptuous meal I had had at the house of the humble farmer Rambhau at Karanji village and I asked Shailesh very casually how he and the family were doing, expecting the casual answer that all was well.
Shailesh’s answer brought tears to my eyes. The suicide of farmers in Vidarbh so far had just been a piece of news. It was an issue that I could debate with friends in air-conditioned coffeehouses or be agitated over while heated arguments at office with colleagues ensued. Rambhau’s death was not something I had expected. He had been so generous to us. Had fed us with the best he had to offer. His old aunt had blessed me abundantly and was genuinely worried about my nuptial prospects. I had managed to receive so much of love from complete strangers in a matter of a couple of hours for the first time in my life and presumably the only time. I had begun to associate them with the term abundance. Scarcity was not something that they displayed. They were not flamboyant in terms of resources but the family was the wealthiest of the richest I have interacted with in terms of gestures.
The love that they bestowed upon was all their goodness and did not reflect on me as a person at all. I was just an urban soul who was having one of the best and most enriching trips of my life touring from one village to the other. Suddenly the issue of farmers’ death in Vidarbh became very near to my world.
A person I had met and had eaten food with, a person whose daughter had served me food and very shyly and coyly had complemented my bag, a person whose wife was very proud and mesmerized to see two women in this man’s world doing a job that she did not even imagine could be done, a person who taught me the true sense of the term generosity and abundance. I had received the sad news yesterday that this man was dead.
I pray today, not just by the virtue of being born a Khot, that the man goes to heaven. He had been God sent when he had offered me and the crew food and water when we most needed it. But today i do wonder, maybe he and his family had forgone a weeks meal thence so that we guests at his place could have a stomach full of meal...