< A Fall
During the winter months when rivers and lakes go dry and intense farming activities cannot be pursued, many men from the villages in Gujarat go to cities like Baroda, Baruch, Surat, and Ahmedabad to work as contract labourers in factories and construction sites.
Nagin Ratwa has a small shop under the neem tree at the crossroad just outside Tejgadh. His shop stocks just about everything the village needs - grains, pulses, tea leaves, sugar, vegetables and fruits. He keeps his shop open till the last bus from Baroda passes the village at about ten o’clock in the night.
Mangala sat with Nagin in the shop watching the village fall silent, a farmer was taking home his cow from the pasture land outside the village. A young woman from the village came to buy a bottle of vegetable oil. Nagin reached for the weights that were stacked in the corner of the coarse wooden counter.
Mangala had seen weights used on balance scales and pan balances, when he accompanied his mother to the weekly market in the town to sell their farm produce, like eggs, corn and potatoes. But in the small shop in his village, the shopkeeper used as weights polished stones picked from the river bed of Orsang. His mother complained that the shopkeeper cheated the villagers; she haggled with him and demanded more sugar, jaggery and oil for the money she paid. She refused at times to buy provisions at the village shop and took a long and tiresome journey to the town to buy her supply of wheat flour and pulses which she needed in large quantity to feed her three boys and aged parents-in-law. Mangala took the weights and considered them closely. They carried a musty smell; they were smooth to touch and shone with use.
It is Mangala’s fifth trip to Tejgadh since his mother started a small shop in the village in an enclosure adjacent to their cattle shed. He carries from Nagin supplies like sugar, jaggery, tea leaves, cooking oil, and wheat flour in bulk, which his mother sells in the village at a fair price. This time he is carrying extra supplies required for his family, his father is returning home after completing his contract job at Baruch with a construction company.
Mangala looks out of the jeep, the fog that hung heavily as the jeep left Tejgadh, has lifted. Feeling light and happy all of a sudden, he smiles at the boy sitting next to him and says, “Holi Hai, it is the festival of Holi.”
(Holi, the spring festival of colours marks the end of dry winter, when the tender warmth of the sun enables men and women to work in their fields, prepare the soil for another cycle of sowing, tending and reaping.)
published 4 April 2012