Sunday, April 13, 2014



It had been 10 years. 10 long years that had separated him and his village. Manju gazed at the place where Veeranna's tea stall had stood. The tea stall had hosted a hoard of memories for Manju. In its place stood a hotel. Manju hoped it was Veeranna who'd graduated from a tea stall to a hotel. He moved to get a closer look at the man at the cash counter. Clad in a formal suit, the person looked as distant from Veeranna as possible. The last connect for Manju in his village had ended..........

Manju had left the village at the cusp of its transformation. Only, he was too young to fathom its implications at that time. He reached Bangalore, where he completed his engineering. Three years into working at a multinational, a chance to work in the States was imminent. He grabbed the chance, with that fervour of typical Indian middle class. 

The first year had been excellent. The second toned him down a bit. The third year sobered him completely. Manju realised he was missing something. During his second year in the States, his father expired. His responsibility tied him down and he couldn't fly down to India. He accepted the fact. A couple of months later, he felt weird about it. He felt weirder, when his elder brothers didn't question him much on his decision.

A few months later, attention turned to his marriage. Manju always dreamed of marrying a girl from a humble background, ideally from his village. He was not really keen on her being highly qualified, but expected sound value systems in place. His mother and brothers floated profiles of prospective brides all the time. Yet he always felt disconnected. He proceeded to chat with a few of the girls and each time felt his family was not understanding what he wanted.

By the end of the third year, Manju felt completely unsettled. He had the position. He had the money. Yet he had this overwhelming feeling that he did not belong in the States. He consulted a counsellor. The counsellor said he'd been away from home for too long. She added Manju was feeling "Uprooted" - a sense of insecurity of having been away from one's roots for too long. Manju resigned from his job and took the flight back to India.


Bangalore, Manju's home for seven years before he left for the States, held no particular charm anymore. He had witnessed its transformation, from a calm, green city to an IT powerhouse that played host to millions from around the country. IT had afforded people a lifestyle that looked and felt confused. People were neither completely Western nor had they abandoned Indian lifestyle. The average Indian middle class somehow found a harmony which ensured the two lifestyles co-existed in their own ways. Manju had tried that over the years. He knew he couldn't do it anymore. He left for his village.

The first sight of his village, after 10 long years, seemed to bring back to him his lost vigour. Green never failed to enthrall him. The fields of paddy, the shade of the coconut tree, and the canal next to the fields- these were his favorite haunts when he was young. He remembered accompanying his father to the fields from the sowing season to the harvest season. His secret wish had been to be a farmer. It had remained a secret wish. The time had come to probably realise that.

The village had changed drastically. Paved footpaths and tarred roads had replaced mud tracks. Each road had an electricity pole and a street light. He could even see antennae for television on the terrace of a few homes. He smiled. The country was progressing. If each street had lights and the roads were tarred in a remote village such as his, the system was working. Manju was filled with hope.

The cab stopped in front of his home. Manju got down and was received warmly by his whole family. His mother looked as though she had recovered from the loss of her husband. His two elder brothers and their wives looked cheerful. His younger sister looked a little dull. He would enquire about it later. His grandma wasn't around. His two nephews and his niece looked happy. Manju felt completely at ease with himself. He felt he was back where he belonged.

He settled down for a couple of days. "How is that ajji is not around?" he asked, referring to his grandma.  "You tell me her other sons, my uncles, are also dead. She wouldn't go to her daughter's home. So where is she?"
His mother was silent. So were his brothers. His sister volunteered "She is in Bangalore."
"Bangalore? She doesn't have anyone there...does she?" Manju asked.
"She an old-age home" his mother replied.
Manju was distraught. He had particularly fond memories of her. He was rather attached to her. He couldn't believe she was now in an old-age home.
"But why?" he asked.
"She was growing increasingly senile. She stopped remembering names. She would blabber continuously. Put herself in danger. It took a lot to control her" his elder brother said
" She shooed my kids away one evening, not recognising them" his wife added.
"But there are so many of you to restrain her. I mean...she is old...bound to be a little senile. But you can't disown her!" Manju argued.
" We haven't disowned her. We still send the old-age home thousand rupees a month for her care. And Rama visits her every month. One of us go once in three months" his second brother defended.
"Rama is a servant! You send him to enquire about ajji? She took care of all of us for six months when Amma was down with jaundice.......and can't we take care of her when she is old?" Manju looked at his mother expecting some explanation. There was none.


It took some time it to sink in. But it finally did. Manju decided to visit her as soon as possible. A couple of days later, he called Rama and asked him to show around their field. His father had been a model farmer and cultivated paddy and sugarcane. He was revered by other farmers in his village and other villages in the vicinity. If feasible, Manju intended to resume farming again. 

Rama was a little nervous. "Let's go Rama. Let me see our fields. It has been more than 10 years" said Manju. Rama led him to the field. But what presented itself there shocked Manju completely. All he could see there was a godown. Green fields infested with paddy and sugarcane were now replaced by a huge godown and fences around. 
" There is a paper factory in some distance Manjanna." Rama said. "They bought all the land. Including your father's."

"Why was I never told of that? I would never have let that happen......" he asked his brothers.
"That's exactly why we never told you. We were never ready to sweat in the fields like father. So what's the use of the land?" his brother said
"We want our children to go to America as well. Not just you. We want them to be part of high society"his second brother said.
" The paper company offered to buy our lands. They provided a job for both of us there. They built a convent for our children. The paved streets and electricity you see are because of the factory

Manju couldn't speak. It was a conflict of emotions for him. On the one hand, the loss of land was almost a loss of identity for him and his family. They were known as farmers for generations and worshipped land and agriculture. Agriculture had sustained his family and the whole village for centuries. And now suddenly, the present generation in the village had chosen to sever ties with the past. On the other hand, he could understand what his brothers and other people in the village were going through. The mood in the country was aspirational. More so in the villages who were watching what industries, led by IT, were doing to the country. He couldn't blame them for trying to climb up the social ladder. Yet, he couldn't escape the strange feeling of helpnesness as the village tried to dissociate itself from its roots and grow into a tree. Would it sustain....? 


Manju was coming to terms with reality. He had come back to his village with the intention of discovering what he had lost in those precious 10 years he was away from it. But nothing of what he actually wanted existed anymore. He felt a stranger. A stranger in his own town. He never probably felt so "uprooted" -as the counsellor had put- in the States as well.

Then, one day, out of the blue, the elder brother announced the young sister's engagement. Manju asked why he had been kept out of the loop for so long. If it was his sister's marriage, he had a say in selecting the groom. 
"The whole thing had to be arranged quickly, brother" the elder brother said. "The groom is going away to the States in a month's time."
"But who is he?" Manju asked. "Have you sought our sister's approval?"
"It doesn't matter now anyway. He is the son of a GM in the paper company. Educated. Well behaved. Anyways, she always wanted to marry someone who would settle abroad" the brother said and strode away.

Manju's world had turned upside down. Here he was, in his homeland after 10 long years, trying to rediscover his lost roots. Yet his own kith and kin were struggling every moment to cut themselves from those roots and get away. While he perceived his roots as his identity, his people perceived their roots as a chain that bound them from an imminent escape to freedom. The value systems had changed unimaginably in a decade. His mother, who had seen the best of both worlds, chose to remain silent. Was she embracing the change or was she a mute spectator? Manju wondered. His ajji, their land.....two colossal monuments of his upbringing, were no more than remnants now............................ 


Manju went to the village temple. He didn't believe much in God. But the temple had always been a source of peace for him. He remembered the night he had slept in the temple, trying to escape his father who was searching for him after Manju forgot to turn the farm pump off. 

The fact that the temple structure had changed didn't come as a surprise. It was no longer the ancient stone strucure. It was bricks now. He was getting used to changed identities. The priest in the temple was a lot younger than the one he had seen 10 years ago. Must be a son or a nephew. 

Manju sat down against one of the pillars. The peace was no longer there in this structure, Or may be it was just his mindset. Then, he heard a familiar voice. It was the saffron clad Sadhu with whom Manju had a childhood association. The Sadhu had taught Manju his first principles and prayers, before Manju lost belief in God.

Manju stared at the Sadhu. He seemed to recognise Manju and smiled at him. He walked out the temple and sung the prayer he had taught Manju. And as though drawn by his voice, Manju followed him up the hillock.He had found last..............

                                                                                       - 13th April 2014