Chapter 11, Pt 5 of 5

INDIAN VILLAGE LIFE

“How many times have I told you,” he bellowed, “that any daughter of the village is like your own sister to you. Come everybody beat him. Castrate him!” I had to suppress my laugh over that crude expression. The crowd became silent and thoughtful. We all watched Gangu, who was standing there with his head bent in shame taking all the blows and abuses without protest. He looked pathetic and everybody now felt sorry for him.

“Leave him, leave him alone now Santa Siha (that was his father’s name),” they started saying. “He has had enough punishment. Come, all of you, let us go and get on with our work.” So another village storm had abated.

You wouldn’t think we could have an exciting time, while riding on a bullock cart, a painfully slow vehicle, but we did. Mata ji (my mother-in-law) wanted me to go with her to visit some relations in a nearby village about four miles away, and Sirdar Trilok Singh who owned that bullock cart offered to take us there. He made us sit comfortably at the back of that quite spacious but open vehicle and then jumped into the high front seat himself along with two other young men. He held the reins very loosely and told us quite a few village yarns as we jogged along on that bright, crisp morning.

Eventually we came to a rather narrow track and, to our surprise, noticed a tonga, carrying two neatly dressed passengers at the back, coming towards us. It was obvious that one of the Vehicles had to move away from the track to let the other pass. The tonga-walla made a sign to Trilok Singh, asking him to move to one side so that he could pass.

“Why?” he shouted back, waving his stick towards him. Why don’t you get out of my way?”

“I have a Government official in the back of my tonga.”

“You have, have you? Well, who cares! He may be an official in the town but not here.”

“He has got a gun and will shoot.”

“Oh, will he!” Trilok Singh was now properly on the warpath.

“Come on boys,” he said to his comrades, “get the choppers out. We will finish him before he has time to shoot.”

I looked at Vijay’s face, which was full of excitement. He seemed eager for the real fight to begin at once. Mother was very nervous and she started pleading. “Give over Trilok Singh, let them pass, we have plenty of time.” But her small voice was drowned among the shouts of the men, which went on for nearly a quarter of an hour. The official found himself defeated in the end and quietly ordered the tonga-walla to give way. And so we passed them at last among the cheers from our men and abuses from the other party.

Even in the middle of one night the village was roused by noise and bustle. We heard the following words: “Time, to give alms; time to pray. Ram, Hari Ram. Poor moon is caught by the Rahu (demon) give help, hasten its escape sisters. Be charitable. Give away handfuls of grains, of all kinds, now is the time you will be blessed surely.”

I had never seen so many beggars come to our village before. They were parading round our zig-zig lanes and footpaths while repeating those slogans at the top of their voices. A few of them even jingled their bells as they walked past in their scanty attires. Vijay and I were asked to go down and give alms to them. It was lucky to do that we were told.

“Why do they make such a fuss about the eclipse of the moon, Mummy?” It was hard to explain. Of course, most of the villagers were rather credulous and superstitious.

Our stay in Muradpur came to an end all too soon and it was sad to say “Goodbye” to those simple-minded, affectionate, happy-go-lucky village folk.

We were now beginning to get very anxious to return to our home in England. I made several enquiries about our passage from the Government Offices in Delhi but got no satisfactory answer. So we decided to leave for Bombay to be on the spot, ready to take the berths whenever there was a chance.

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