“Careful,” shouted Suraj keeping his books aside, as he saw that his mother had tripped at the entrance.
She was carrying three pots of water over her head and two pots with her left hand. She walked pretty briskly balancing all the pots
Suraj watched her with amazement whenever she brought water to the house.
“Don’t stare. This is our daily routine,” Shobha said.
“Maa, you see, one day I will bring water in our house taps and you will not have to go so long to fetch these 4-5 pots of water,” an emotional Suraj guaranteed.
“I hope you know what you are talking about. This is not easy. No one is bothered by the plights we face in our daily life. Even if you have such good intentions, you need to grease the palms of Babus at the district administration office, all this is possible only and only if you get permission from the Gram Panchayat,” a dejected Shobha concluded. “You better concentrate on your studies. That’s the best option and my only hope as of now.”
“This is not about you and me only, Maa, the entire village is suffering and only the Sarpanch’s house has the luxury of water reaching without much effort. They have appointed villagers for this activity and poor souls have to ensure that Sarpanch’s house gets their daily quota irrespective of what happens to their own. You know Maa, these elected representatives are public servants but the illiteracy and unemployment in our village, have made these people demi-God. They rule the land on their terms. You see one day, I will teach them a lesson,” Suraj expressed voraciously.
Wiping her tear-filled eyes; Shobha went near the gas stove without saying a word. She was smiling; her pride was brimming on her face. “You talk so well, beta. It is all your father’s blessings. He was also vocal about social issues.”
Suraj’s house was more of a hutment. The bricks on the walls were plastered with mud, occasionally smothered by cow dung. A small curtain-like cloth set the boundaries of the hall and the kitchen. The roof was thatched with grass with bamboos providing support from within. The bathroom was only big enough to accommodate one person at a time. The kitchen had a “mud – chulha” with enough stock of dry dung kept in the corner along with the wood supply ensured two times meal for the duo.
Not having an earning member added to the financial burden. Though Shobha managed other things like grazing their cow, milking it, drying the dung on her own, Suraj contributed to collecting wood for the ‘chulha’ and other activities to the extent possible. The monthly ration was based on a few meagre rupees the mother-son duo received as rent from letting out their farm. Suraj’s father was smart enough to save his land and transfer it to his son’s name when he was alive.
Suraj completed his primary education at the village school. To pursue high school education he used to travel 20km each day by walk, bus or whatever means he could manage on the day. Travelling made him a mature boy. Every villager was proud of him as he was the only student pursuing higher education and progressing in life. Suraj was a motivation to other boys of the village as well. Others stopped their studies after their primary education, many of those even failed to complete the basic education.
Though not a brilliant boy, Suraj had a fair idea about his rights and responsibilities. He raised his voice regularly whenever he found there was an injustice. Suraj was vocal and protested strongly. His belief system, “Whatever is mine cannot be snatched by others, and I will not let it happen.” The lanky fellow with few muscles in the skeleton had one organ which everyone was in awe of, the brain.
Once, the school principal adjudged a trustee’s distant relative as the Winner of a District Drawing Competition. Though Suraj was not in contention for winning, he raised his voice for the wrong favour meted out to the trustee’s son over the genuine winner. The sketches, colouring as well as final product of the village boy was much better than the declared winner.
Suraj was given a firm warning not to indulge in such matters. However, Suraj chose not to ignore the incident and protested till the actual boy was declared the winner officially. A staunch believer in truth as well as revolution, Suraj was a tough nut to crack. At the same time, he was humble enough to accept his mistakes, as and when he committed any mistakes.
At the high school as well as the college, his friends were better in all regards as they belonged to the city. He was the only one who belonged to the remote village. This, however, did not bring any form of inferiority complex in the minds of Suraj.
He was an avid reader and read the history of revolutionaries of India with a lot of interest. His idols were Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Mahatma Gandhi. At times, he found himself at crossroads due to the clash of thoughts between his idols given a similar incident. At personal life, he found a balance to follow the messages delivered by the stalwarts.
His life lessons from Gandhiji were the acts of honesty and self-sacrifice for the upliftment of society. From Bhagat Singh, he learnt to give back in the same coin as he received. He believed and preached, “Rights are to be snatched, if needed and not begged for.”
The upbringing of Suraj was strong enough to make him eligible to face the world and hold the bull by its horns when time demanded.
At home, Suraj inherited the genes of his father for the revolutionary acts while his mother imbibed the basic values of honesty and integrity.
Shobha was born and brought up in a rural village but was a bright girl since childhood. She got top ranks during her schooling and had great dreams in her career as well. However, fate had other plans. After completing his basic education, she was married off as per village traditions. Nobody listened to her voice nor asked for her choice. That day she decided to make her child independent and fight against the social evils. Today, she lived her dreams through Suraj. She was confident Suraj could bring about the ‘Change’ she dreamt of not only in her village but in neighbouring villages as well.
Suraj’s father was a man of discipline and hard work. He worked strenuously in his piece of land but never compromised on values. He fought tooth and nail against the Zamindars of the village, who tried to seize the belongings of the poor farmers. There was also a rumour about his death, wherein speculations were high about the involvement of Zamindars to snatch the farming land. The shrewd couple had already transferred the legal rights in favour of the young Suraj, hence nothing wrong happened to his family.
“Gram Panchayat Elections to be held soon,” read the headlines which caught the attention of Suraj. He purchased the newspaper and read the content thoroughly. He was happy to see his village name as well. While it was a regular article in the newspaper, Suraj’s mind started working overtime.
After a year of graduation, he was eligible to contest the elections and his heart and mind wanted to go for it but something was pulling him back.
“Maa, I wish to enter this election fray, what is your opinion?”
“No way, we are poor people. This is not our cup of tea. I have sacrificed so much for you so that you become independent; you get settled into a good job, have your family and help me have a few relaxed days. Please do not shatter my dreams by doing something else,” replied Shobha emotionally.
“Maa, how can you say these words? You have always taught me to fight for others. I cannot put my guns down even without a trial. What will happen if I lose, that will not be the end of the world. I want to give it a try, either with your blessings or without it,” fumed Suraj and walked away.
He met his school friends and shared his idea of contesting the elections. He explained his vision to make the village a self-sufficient one with basic facilities. While his thoughts were well received, the majority of the crowd demotivated him except, Ram.
They all could not imagine someone contesting against their Sarpanch, who was a powerful Zamindar. They knew the majority of the lands in the village were mortgaged with the Zamindar and contesting elections against him means doomsday for the entire village. They feared the atrocities that would be inflicted upon them post-elections. Though everyone supported Suraj internally, none of them could muster the courage to stand beside him during the election process.
Ram always looked upon Suraj as an inspiration. Both studied in the same school. He was impressed by Suraj from his schooling days and appreciated his activities. Ram was not interested in studies and hence he took over farm work while Suraj went for higher studies. Today, Ram was a farm labourer.
“Suraj, I always respect your views and assure to be your loyal supporter, but I cannot contribute anything beyond that,” clarified Ram in few words.
“That is fine my friend, I just need your support, rest I will manage at my end,” an overwhelmed Suraj responded. He was happy that at least one person in the village believed in his vision.
“Ram, mark my words, all our friends will join us soon. There are a lot of things to be done, I will come back and meet you in a few days. Thank you for all the warmth extended by you and for accepting to fight for the development of our village,” Suraj said and walked away.
The next few days, Suraj spent on reading various books related to civic administration. The policies framed and their execution, the role of Gram Panchayat, the involvement of muscle and money during elections and many other similar articles.
He was confident about the mass support he would garner. The ground level problems of the villagers were the same and the faith in the existing system was more out of compulsion, he knew.
Suraj made relevant notes of the things he read. The do’s and don’ts of the election contest made him confident to give a tough fight. The dates were not yet announced but he started meeting families individually and shared his thoughts of contesting the upcoming elections. To his credit, he got positive vibes from everyone he discussed or shared his ideas. Ram joined in a few of such meetings and things were moving in the right direction.
One afternoon, while Suraj was returning home after one such private meeting, some unknown goons with faces covered with masks caught him unawares. No dialogues were initiated, they beat him blue and black with hands and sticks. Suraj could not understand anything. He tried saving himself from the blows and also yelled but with no one around, the defence fell weak. Within no time, he was overpowered and thrown on the roadside with bruises all over his body and blood oozing out from the head as well.
As soon as Ram got the news, he rushed to the spot. He carried Suraj on his bicycle to the nearest primary health care Centre. The Doctors confirmed there was no major loss to Suraj but warned him to be careful. The Doctor advised Suraj not to get involved with heavyweights of the village as the injury could be graver next time around. Ram had briefed the sequence of events when he brought Suraj in the injured state.
This incident gave a loud and clear message to Suraj. The vested people did not like Suraj’s advancement in the political arena. The names though not clear, the intentions were crystal clear.
Naturally, Shobha was terrified. She got the link of the attacks and decided to stop Suraj from leading a life of his whims and fancies.
“Suraj, you need to stop your activities immediately,” she ordered.
“Maa, you are yourself a daredevil, you are petrified by such cowardly acts,” Suraj mocked.
“It’s not about me being afraid about but we cannot risk your life. Have you ever thought who will take care of me, if something wrong happens?” She cleared her thoughts.
“Rest assured maa, nothing will happen. Remember, Gandhiji’s famous words, First, they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you and then you win. In my case, I had an escalated approach, neither did they ignore me nor ridicule, they directly fought,” chuckled Suraj.
“Stop this nonsense, Suraj. Are you not able to see the writing on the walls? They must have thought you have died and hence they went away else they would have continued hitting you,” Shobha spoke with a lump in the throat.
“I know, I know, Maa, but think had our freedom fighters thought like you, would India be independent even today? Would we have lived our lives in Freedom? No, no. Listen, we sons of India need strong mothers like you, who support us on getting such painful backlashes. Physical pain is nothing for me. Bhagat Singh and his young gang faced harsher physical tortures but they all accepted them gleefully. I value the young Bhagat Singh in my dreams and do not wish to accept defeat meekly. I want to give this fight one try, please do not tell me to stop this, maa” confidence oozed out of each word Suraj spoke.
Shobha broke down. “You have got the genes of your father, even he did not listen to me that time and now you are doing the same thing. They will kill you too, Suraj, please understand. The entire administration system is in the pockets of the Zamindars. They manipulate as they want, and remember, we are peanuts in their comparison,” she solicited.
“Nothing like that will happen. I will be more vigilant and ensure such activity does not repeat. The entire village wants a change and the villagers are unanimously in my favour but they cannot come out in my support due to hard-pressed times,” Suraj convinced.
“Promise me one thing; you will take along Ram everywhere you go. From next time, please ensure there will be no closed-door meetings. I do not believe any villager, anybody can be their spy,” she conditionally consented.
“Do not worry, Maa, I will leave all my work and follow Suraj like his shadow,” ensured Ram.
“This would be your biggest help to me, beta. God bless you. Both of you should be very careful henceforth,” she said with folded hands and tears in her eyes and left.
This first jolt was the least harmful.
Suraj had underestimated the powers of his opponents.
Thereafter, wherever meetings were fixed, the villagers refused to entertain him. This was an indication that the war was declared and the opponents played their cards as well.
Unawares of the maliciousness of the opponents, Suraj tried to behave ethically.
The next week, he learnt that Ram lost his farm job. Naturally, the burden of Ram’s family fell on Suraj’s shoulders.
On one hand, he was unable to manage his expenses and now, he had to manage two houses. Suraj was mentally prepared for this as well. He assured Ram and took charge of their monthly expense as well.
In the following week, Shobha was sent many life-threatening messages through various sources. A few dummy attacks while she fetched water gave a chill down her spine but she was not disturbed. The entire village boycotted Shobha and Suraj except for Ram and his family. The days were very tough. Each passing day was painful to the four of them.
No words were spoken but a strong message was conveyed for raising the flag of opposition. Suraj did not expect such mental games from Willy Zamindar.
The Zamindar, though uneducated, proved to be masters in ground-level politics and each passing day was a litmus test for Suraj in some form.
The next week, Shobha’s house had unexpected guests. The Police Patil armed with a few havaldar barged inside with a Search Warrant. The family members were again caught on the back foot.
All the kitchen utensils were thrown on the ground making rampant noises, the provisions and other eatables mixed with ground dirt, the few books inside being flung around, the police team created ruckus inside. The search was an alarm to the family and neighbouring houses that anyone intending to cross Zamindars has to pay a huge price for the same.
“Better stop thinking about elections, else our visits would be frequent,” the message within the words was loud and clear from the Police Patil.
Suraj nodded his head in negative and smiled at the visiting party and said, “Sir, I have nothing against you in person. My fight is against the evils of this society and in this journey; I’m prepared for many higher sacrifices. Please convey my words to your masters. I’m ready to face stiffer negative actions but I will contest these elections under any given situation.”
The intensity of tortures increases for a few more months. The rationing of the two families was affected badly and there were days when they survived on water only.
“Do we need to suffer this way?” asked Shobha one day.
“These are signs of our victory. The Zamindar knows that I will win this election and that would mark his exit from everywhere. So he is not even allowing me to take a chance. I’m sorry for all the pains, we are suffering but, these days are very few.”
“I know, but remember that Ram and his wife are with us too.”
As soon as Election Codes were implemented, Suraj breathed lighter. He had read that no attacks would be carried out these days as everyone had to set up their campaign.
To safeguard his security, he registered a written complaint with the Election Commission and submitted an undertaking mentioning the atrocities meted out during the past few weeks. The Election Commission assured to take up the issue seriously and as an instant measure allotted police protection to the family.
Education and knowledge of the rights of a citizen helped Suraj get the needed boost of confidence to move ahead. Even Shobha now got the dose of confidence in Suraj and his thought process.
Being locked in the house for some time, Suraj shared his planning with Shobha and she was mighty impressed with the same.
Suraj shared that he had expected the sequence of events to happen in the same manner as he had anticipated. Even Ram was taken into confidence.
Suraj had documented his vision and the actual happening coincided at every stage. Shobha and Ram were like the two mountain slopes between when Suraj rose and shone brightly.
Suraj filed his nomination papers and was all geared up for the elections. The initial meetings he conducted were like the seeds sown before monsoon ready to yield a productive reap. He had a lot of expectations from the villagers as he had promised development to each one against the one vote they cast in his favour.
Suraj, Ram and a few others increased the intensity of meetings. Now, Shobha and Rama’s wife too joined the meeting at the individual level and promised to deliver the best when elected to power.
Minutes turned to hours, hours to days, days to weeks swiftly and before they realized it was Election day. The team was confident of a win with assurances from fellow members of the society. The trust card was played to gain sympathy votes in favour of Suraj.
The Zamindars knew they had real competition this time around and they did not leave any stone unturned to ensure their victory. Being experts in the political arena, they were aware of the anti-incumbency factor as well.
However, they were masters of the election game and knew ground level tricks of the trade to tide over such negativity. Having played their cards silently in the dearth of the previous night, the Zamindar stood smiling and greeting villagers, who came and cast their votes.
As the counting day approached, both the parties were high on hopes. They had played diagonally opposite cards and were expecting the cards to hit the winning combination.
As counting started, the votes were heavily in favour of Zamindars and they won the elections hands down.
Suraj was in a state of shock. He could not believe what he had witnessed.
As a preventive measure, Suraj smartly moved out of the village along with others to the city, where he knew had a few acquaintances during his college days.
The post result survey revealed the reasons for Zamindars’ victory. He played with the emotions of the poor villagers by threatening them to dire consequences and a few of them fell for the financial luring. The night before the day of the elections, the entire scenario changed. The villagers in favour of Suraj decided to change ends unanimously and they failed to understand the power of unity. The fate was sealed for another five years.
Shobha stood strongly with her son as she now believed in his vision. They had to dispose of their land, their cow and every property they had owned during the elections. Suraj was heartbroken but did not shed a tear in front of anyone. He now had to re-erect his family back to basic life and also take care of Ram, his best friend. Also, a few villagers who voted for Suraj were in the line of firing from Zamindars. Suraj’s biggest strength was his mother’s energy and motivational words.
Having tasted heavy loss, Suraj learnt practical lessons of life wherein money controlled the emotions of common people. He wanted to earn money, enter into the system and change it for betterment.
With his close aide Ram, he visiting the Government department regularly and soon made good connections inside. He started applying for tenders and was successful in bagging a few as well. His values of integrity and honesty had to be compromised but the newer vision did not deter him from doing so. In a few months, Suraj rose to the ranks of a Contractor bidding for larger contracts.
He learnt life lessons in harsh conditions. He knew to rise to higher ranks; he needed to be in the good books of the Zamindar as well. Without nurturing his ego too much, Suraj approached Zamindar for a compromise. Seeing his opponent on his knees, Zamindar gave conditional consent. The condition was, “You will never fight elections against me.”
When Suraj accepted the condition, Zamindar consented to support his tender with a few more formal and informal conditions between the two.
Suraj started executing contracts one after another doing all activities against his preaching and took care of Ram as well. He purchased a house in the city, purchased all luxuries that they dreamt of earlier. His mother was not very happy looking at the amount of money brought in by her son. She hinted her displeasure a few times but found it falling on deaf ears.
The struggling days of Suraj seemed over and he was enjoying the sunny days of his life. Money was flowing freely from all sides and he fell for vices as well. Ram hinted at controlling the same but Suraj made strong excuses in his favour.
The Zamindar was champion in his area of operation and the rise of Suraj was pricking his eyes. He laid a trap with a vigilance officer for a bribery case against his prime enemy.
Unfortunately, Ram was caught in the trap. Suraj was cornered; he could not do anything in this operation. Any stand taken by him at that moment could lead to his arrest as well. He decided to remain silent and not react.
This did not go well with Shobha. She was distressed seeing such a feeble act. She felt Suraj forgot all the pains Ram took over himself during the earlier days. Now when Ram was in deep trouble, Suraj was chilling without remorse. She could not hold back.
She took Suraj’s hand in her hand and said, “You have forgotten all too soon, the things you thought you could never get. You forgot the love and the betrayals alike forgot what you whispered and what you screamed for, forgot what you were.”
Shobha stormed out of the house.
Her words felt like the dropping of bombs in his ears. He realized, today, though he was financially well off, he had become very commercial. He had no one around to say his own and the person who followed his words was inside the Jail. These realizations dawned upon Suraj pretty harshly. He was unable to digest the same.
He went to a bar to settle his nerves. The newer way of life – to booze, to sleep and to forget. However, this pain of emotions was higher than the intoxication of alcohol. Suraj could not sleep despite being heavily drunk. Every word of Shobha pierced his heart and broke it consistently. He knew he was the offender but his ego did not permit him to accept. The sleepless night made him recollect himself and his thoughts, the values he once had in life, his vision.
The next day morning, he went to Ram’s house as he knew he would find his mother there only. He sought pardon from his mother as well as Ram’s wife for the irresponsible behaviour over the fortnight since Ram’s arrest. He promised both to mend his ways and try to connect to the old Suraj that he was once upon a time.
A few calls to affluent people in the society, meetings with a few well-known advocates sought the way out for the release of Ram. He profusely cried and sought pardon from his dear friend for the irresponsible behaviour. Ram true to his name, pardoned his friend and promised to be beside him as loyally as before.
Even Ram put a condition, “You must stop living the luxurious life, you are living now, I am ready to be the friend of my school friend Suraj, who lived for the development of society.”
Getting back to roots, Suraj found nothing had changed over the years at his village. It was almost nine years, he had moved to the city but the condition in his village had deteriorated further.
He decided to bring about the change he once dreamt of. He was not financially equipped to carry out his plans.
Initially, the villagers did not entertain him much; especially those who had supported him but a series of meetings, his realizations brought back the needed confidence.
Suraj now had no intentions to contest elections, so even the Zamindar’s son who was now the existing Sarpanch, extended his helping hands for projects Suraj intended to work upon. He assured to use his connections for speedy movement of required permissions at the Government department.
Within no time, Suraj constructed a house for himself, his friend-for-life Ram in the village with all modern amenities. He drew a blueprint for the development of his village and involved every villager.
The villagers were happy to have a transformed Suraj with renewed energies working for them.
The next year saw Suraj grow to a respectable position within the village and all projects he had planned for started gaining firm holdings.
The dearest project he concentrated on was the supply of drinking water to every household in the village. The job was tough as no water pipes were passing nearby to give legal connections.
He had series of meetings with the Tahsildar and other officials and discussed this issue. A special pipeline was sanctioned to pass through the outskirts of the village. This ensured that many more villages’ enroute had the privilege of clean drinking water.
The moment of glory could see its light after consistent follow up for eight months. The villagers danced in joy when the work of digging the lanes was decided.
The top officials of the Government, the Gram Panchayat Samiti and all villagers had assembled that morning. Everyone showered praises Suraj for following up on this project sincerely. Even the Zamindar’s son spoke highly about Suraj. While everyone was surprised by this, many did not know that Suraj had been his companion through higher studies. Both shared a good rapport at the school but outside they behaved like strangers.
When Suraj was handed over the mike to share his views, he said, “Maa, our house will have water in our taps, you need not walk miles to fetch clean drinking water. This pipeline is my tribute to every lady in our village who walked miles to fetch a few pots of water. This will make things easier for them.” With a moist eye, he handed over the mike. There was a standing ovation for the young champ who succeeded in his mission of life.
Reaching home, looking at his mother, Suraj proudly said, “My vision was clear, only the way to achieve it went wrong. Whatever has happened has been a great learning curve. We can serve society either by being in the system or even from outside. What really matters is the intention.”
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