Asangaon was a non-descript village in a remote corner of
Maharashtra where every family made its living tilling the land, and where
everyone was below the World Bank’s poverty line. A village with no schools or
electricity, it could fit into many generalizations regarding poverty,
illiteracy and alcohol addiction.
Inside Kedar’s thatched hut on the village boundary, Kedar’s
wife blew air into a steel pipe. The other end of the foot long pipe pointed to
a chulha, a stove made from bricks on which a pot could be mounted and fire lit
beneath to cook the food. The flame had died and only the wood lay smoldering
creating much smoke which filled the small room. For Kedar’s family, there was
never any flame in their existence. They all lived their lives as inconsequential
as the smoldering wood, which would die down on its own when its time came.
By the wall on one side, lying on a single piece of old worn
out cloth was Kedar’s sick father. The smoke from the chulha made him cough
even more. Once hale and hearty, the old man had tilled land with his son every
day, but now, completely bed ridden, he hardly got to see the light of the day.
Eating only the leftovers that the family gave him, he was only skin and
bones.Either the family had not
bothered to care about any medical treatment for him or he had not bothered to
demand any, lest he become a burden on the family.
Sitting close to his mother was Kedar’s five year old son.
In the dark hut lit only by the flames of the chulha and a small kerosene
lantern the five year old tried to read the only book he had.
‘He kay livlay
[What is this written?]’ he asked his mother, his little finger pointing to
some text on the book.
Busy making rotis (Indian bread), the mother fired back,
‘Gappa bas nahi tar
thobad phodin [Shut up and sit or I’ll break your face].’ After the 10 mile
walk to fetch two pitchers of water and all the cooking and the cleaning, the
last thing she cared about was the written text on the book.
‘Tujha thobad phodla
phije [It’s your face that should be broken]’ Kedar stormed into his hut
totally drunk that evening and abusing his wife.
Pulling his son with one hand Kedar pushed him away towards
the door. The son, clutching the book landed on all fours, but got up and ran
away outside in the pitch darkness. The fear of staying home with a drunken
father was much greater than the fear of the non-violent darkness.
‘Jevan de [Give me food]’ Kedar growled at his wife.
She quickly put a plate in front of him and served him a dry
sabzi made of onions and a hot roti that she had just prepared. There was no
butter or oil to soothe the coarseness of the roti, but they at least had
enough dough for a morsel of food tonight. The hungry husband latched on to the
roti and started eating, making loud sounds while chewing his food. In the
silence of the moment, and in that atmosphere, someone was relishing his food.
The relatively tranquil atmosphere compared to a minute ago
was disturbed by the old man’s violent bout of coughing. Ignoring it at first,
Kedar continued enjoying one more roti, oblivious of the fact that the house
has only so much dough for tonight and three more mouths to feed. As the sound
of the coughing grew, Kedar’s anger exploded and he grabbed the roti on his
plate and slammed it back in shouting furiously at his father,
‘Gappa bas mhatarya
[Shut up you old man]’ he raged in uncontrollable anger, with tiny droplets of
saliva flying around, his nostrils flaring in anger and blood shot eyes staring
into the darkness at his father’s frail figure. Anger becomes an emotion that
requires little trigger for a drunken man. Such was Kedar’s drunken state that
the pain of his father’s cough evoked anger rather than sympathy or
‘Tyana kay sangtay, Hech chalu aahe divas bhar [What are you
shouting at him for, this is going on all day]’ his wife interjected.
The blood shot stare now moved from the far end of the room
to his wife’s face, which was glowing, slightly reflecting the light from the
‘Hoy kay, tula lai tras hotoy na [Is it, looks like it is
bothering you a lot]’ he scorned at her now. What guts she had to talk without
being asked to! She turned her face towards him and her eyes met his. First her
voice and now her face angered him even more. He reached for the steel pipe
lying in front of her and raised his arm above his head, threatening to hit
her. Her gaze didn’t move, this was everyday life for her.
‘Chapati ghal mala ani awaj banda thev, ani najar khali kar
ti [Give me a roti and keep your mouth shut and keep your sight lowered], he
blurted out his orders to her. She would have given him the roti, nonetheless,
and kept her mouth shut and eyes lowered like she had done all along. In this
house abundant with poverty any love was non-existent. No paternal love and no
marital love. Poverty probably was such a force that it displaced away every
other happy emotion with its arrival.
Having had his share to his fill, Kedar stumbled back up on
his feet and made his way out of the hut.
‘Kay mhanto mhatara [How is the old man doing?], questioned
Sada, as he saw Kedar coming out of the hut. Sada was known as the agent in the
village, for he was the most knowledgeable about all the schemes the government
launched for the benefit of the poor. Unfortunately, he used his knowledge only
in the wrong way. Sada stopped by Kedar’s house every day since he had learnt
about his terminally ill father.
‘Aahe aajun jivanta [He is still surviving]’, informed Kedar
while washing his hands.
‘Lakshat aahe na. Mala pahile
sang. Mag me sangto kar karaycha [You remember, right, what I have told you?
First tell me. Then I will tell you what to do], agent Sada smiled at Kedar and
patted his shoulders.
Under the mango tree a few feet away from his hut, Kedar
slept on the only cot the family had. Late after midnight, deep in his sleep,
Kedar felt an arm trying to wake him up. It was his wife. Irritated by looking
at her face, he pushed her arm away. With the amount of alcohol that he had
had, he was still not in his senses. Fearing that her words would anger her husband
once again, she whispered softly this time, ‘Mhataryane kahi aawaj nahi kelay,
khup vel zala [The old man has not made a sound, it’s been a while]
Rising on his fours with the swiftness of a leopard, Kedar
looked around and gestured to his wife to keep quiet. The news that she had
brought killed all his buzz and he went running inside the hut. Coming out
after a few minutes he quickly tip toed towards the village.
Did he go to get the doctor or to get the villagers, his
wife wondered. Scared to go inside the house where the old man lay, probably
dead, she waited at the doorstep. Then as if a bolt of lightning struck her,
she stormed inside the hut and came rushing out with her sleeping son in her
arms. Not wanting to wake him up, she put him on the cot where her husband had
been sleeping. Sweating profusely by now, she waited in fear and agony for her
husband to return.
Tiptoeing silently but swiftly, she saw him coming after a
long twenty minutes, not with the doctors, not with the villagers, but with
agent Sada. Together they went inside the hut and agent Sada tried to check the
old man’s pulse. Not too sure, he put his ear close to the old man’s heart and
tried to hear a heart beat.
‘Gela, Mhatara Gela [The old man is dead]’ agent Sada
confirmed to Kedar.
What could have probably killed the old man who was alive
just a few hours ago? It may have been the disease, which he had been battling
so long, but it could just be that the willingness to live had ended hearing
his son’s harsh words cursing him.
That his father was dead brought tears in his eyes and Kedar
‘Radu nako Kedar, lai paishe miltil tula, bagh atta [Don’t
cry Kedar, you will get a lot of money. Just wait and watch] Agent Sada comforted
Kedar holding the head and the upper part of the body and
Sada other holding the legs, they lifted the body out from the hut and put it
under a tree far from the hut. Agent Sada made a noose out of the rope that he
had carried with him and put it around the body’s neck. Kedar climbed the tree
and pulled the rope and tied it such that the body was hanging mid air with the
noose around the neck.
Silently, the three of them waited inside the hut along with
their sleeping son.
It was the milkman from the neighboring village who saw it
first. He ran his cycle through the village shouting a shrill cry of fear,
‘Aatmahatya… aatmahatya… [Suicide… Suicide…]’
The mornings in the village had never been broken with such
a cry before. The villagers rushed to where the milkman pointed and saw the
horror for themselves.
Agent Sada, Kedar and his wife reached the place too, only
after a small crowd had gathered.
Kedar’s wife shrieked in horror as if she was seeing it for
the first time. She pulled her hair and her loud wailing jolted those in the
village who had still not woken up. On the other side Kedar put on an even
brilliant show by crying profusely, beating his chest wildly and extending his
arms towards the sky,
‘He kay kela baba… paus nahi zala mhanun kay… pik nahi aala
mhanun kay… pora balana sodun jeev dyacha kay… [Why did you do this father… so
what if it didn’t rain… so what if the seeds didn’t germinate… you left your
family and committed suicide...] Kedar wept, crocodile tears flowing freely, unlike
the rain drops which refused to fall.
While some elders tried to console Kedar, some approached
‘Sada, tu saang… kay karaycha atta… [Sada, you say, what
should we do now…?]
Even the elders respected Sada for his expertise in complex
‘He bagha…’ Sada addressed the crowd, ‘Je aakhya
Maharashtrat hotay… te yha gaavat pan zala… Eka shetkaryachi aatmahatya…[Look at this, Sada addressed the crowd, what
is happening all over Maharashtra happened in this village too… A farmer
‘Kedar maza bhava sarkha aahe… apan sarkar kadun tyacha
saathi madat gheu… [Kedar is like my brother… We will ask the government to
help him]. The elders nodded at Sada’s suggestions. Agent Sada had provided
employment to several villagers through the government’s rural employment
program. The government will build a school in the village, he had informed
them, but it had been a year and only the foundation had been laid. Government
matters take time, he had educated the villagers, and they had no other option
but to believe him. Even today, they all looked to Sada just as disciples look
to their Masters for guidance.
By then someone had called the
police and Agent Sada was seen talking to the inspector. When the doctor from
the hospital came after an hour, Agent Sada was seen talking to him too. Three
hours after the break of the dawn and the completion of all medical and police
formalities, the body was put into an ambulance and taken to the hospital for
post mortem. Of course, Agent Sada had gone along.
A month later, Kedar took the state transport bus with Agent
Sada to go to the district collector’s office.
‘Sarkar ni tumhala 2 lakh rupaye dyache tharavle aahe [The
government has decided to give you 0.2 million rupees as compensation], the
district collector was talking directly to Kedar, only because Agent Sada had
‘Teen mahinya nantar ye, mag check milel’[Come after three
months, you will receive a check then] the district collector educated him
‘Teen mahine… check… [Three months… a check] a perplexed
‘Tu baher jaaun thamb ki… [Why don’t you go outside and
wait] Agent Sada intervened and nudged Kedar out of the office.
He came out after a few minutes and informed Kedar that the
money would be there in a week.
‘Sahebanche haat garam kele re… He bagh apan bank madhe
tujha khata ughdu ani check tikde taku… mi aahe ki… kalji kashala… [I had to
please the officer by giving him something… We’ll open the bank account for you
and deposit the check there… I am there for you… Why worry]
He put his hand around Kedar’s shoulder and they walked away
from the premises of the collectors’ office.
Agent Sada whispered to Kedar, ‘Purna varat khanar. Sagla
vaatun tula 25 hazar miltil… chalel tar bol, nahi tar apan nahi karat baba ashi
kaama… [Everyone will have to be given their cut. You will end up getting
25,000. Tell me if it is okay or not, else I don’t do shady things like these.’
‘Panchvis haazar… [Twenty Five
thousand…] Kedar’s eyes twinkled with joy.