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NOBODY LIGHTS A CANDLE
Nitesh had once told him that handling such small ego problems is of prime significance in rural areas.
He heard the ASI tell the villager in the dirty white dhoti, “Tauji, you know, don’t you, you know everything. I am only doing my duty. You will have to bring these boys to the thana to record the statement”.
“We will take a call on that. The boys have already told you what they had to. We don’t want thana kachahari,” said another sulky faced old man in a pajama.
“What have we done? We have already told you what we saw, is that a crime?” said a young man in a soiled white shirt and a pajama bottom the strings of which hung out. “We can’t do this thana kachahari.”
“Pradhanji, you know that paper work has to be done. You have so many registers to fill in your panchayat, don’t you?” A police officer was pleading with a man who for all he knew could be the murderer himself, thought Adhirath. Well, that is how things work, the man who first sees the dead body is always the first suspect even though later he may turn out to be a completely innocent bystander.
There was a sizeable crowd inside the gate. Some had gamchas on their shoulders, some were in kurta pajama, some in shirt pants and some in banian pajamas. Some wore dhotis but most were in pajamas. A woman tore through the crowd to reach the ASI.
“You talk to me, I am a member of the Panchayat. I have won the elections here,” she said.
“Arre, am I not handling it? Let me handle this,” said the man in the dhoti. He seemed annoyed by her interference.
“Sarpanchjee, you are now an ex sarpanch, that is why these people are not listening to you,” the woman did not seem to be the type who would be easily silenced. “Listen, it is like this that in our village nobody has ever gone to a police station. Just understand this. Murder has been done, in a faramhouse. No villager ever comes here. We have never set foot in the faramhouse till now. These people will come and spread filth in the village and we will go to the thana? Whoever heard such rubbish? Where does this rule come from?”
The man in the dhoti got truly angry at this. Ticking her off he told her that she had better go home and cook, there was no need for her to come dragging her foot into men’s business, had he forgotten how to behave like a sarpanch only because he was now an ex sarpanch? He could still fill in the details of all the forty registers of the panchayat even today with closed eyes, and women had better not talk about the filth being spread in the village, had she seen any filth?
Voices were being raised. Standing alone on the fringes of the crowd Adhirath began to feel lonely. Nitesh should not have scooted like this leaving his subordinates to handle such touchy villagers. After all, does the in-charge of the case have some accountability or not?
The ASI raised both his hands and begged for peace and silence. “We all know that Pradhanji called the police. We have to record that. He has also signed on the panchnama...I only request that you just give me a statement that you saw the dead body...”
“We did not see the body,” said the man in the dhoti who had exploded in anger when told by the woman that he was a former sarpanch. “We heard, and we told you what we heard. “
The Pradhanji standing next to him uttered a loud “haan” in agreement and stared at the ASI. Then turning to the woman he said, “Now you see what happens when you interfere? You will truly throw the village in the pits. I had told you that we don’t need you here at all, there is no need for you to come here.”
“Won’t people ask me what you were doing when such a big kaand happened in the village? They have voted for me so they will definitely ask,” she began to protest loudly. “Listen inspector, nobody from our village is involve, so why will they go to police station? Just see what will happen to if you dare touch anyone from the village, I dare you.”
Some boys laughed. One of them said, “Why, chahchi, won’t you grab their hair and push them out of the village?”
“Actually, chachi was right when she said we should not call the police, those people who own the faram, it is their headache so let them deal with it,” someone said loudly.
“She has fought elections, she knows everything,” another mocked at her.
They were arguing now. Adhirath knew what it was. The usual confrontation between the police and the people, the people refusing to part with information and the police refusing to budge. Except this ASI was actually being nice, he had a whining tone, he was pleading, his head bowed a little, not threatening to tie them all up and drag them to the thana because the village was one entity you did not touch here. Even in cases of murder. He had heard of such things, this is the first time he was watching it happen.
The ASI mounted his motorcycle. The crowd parted. Within minutes the crowd had vanished as though they had been swallowed by the earth. In one second they were all here, in kurtas and banians, pants and pajamas and the moment the policemen rode away they were all gone. Melting away into the fields. Within minutes there was nobody. It was like magic. Here they were one minute, the entire village population of young and old males, in their rumpled pajamas and shirts and the next minute there was nobody.
Only the pradhanji addressed earlier as tauji, the former sarpanch and three young men remained who had presumably found the dead woman.
“Ka ho Pradhan ji, jaanaa padega?” one of them asked.
“Why would you have to go? They need the statement, they will come here, those dogs,” Pradhanji’s anger showed no signs of abating. “Is it not enough that bitches choose to be killed in our blameless village? Are we to now do thana kachahari also for them?”
Adhirath lit a cigarette instantly attracting attention. “Hey, are you one of the police? A jasoos?” asked one of the young men in a striped pajama and blue shirt.
Adhirath was about to tell them who he was when he changed his mind at the threatening look of the young men.
“I came this way for some other work. Actually I was passing by and I saw this,” he said gesturing at the gate, “and stopped. Just like that.” Then presenting the pack of cigarettes to the old men he said, “Ram Ram, Tauji.”
Nobody took the proffered cigarette. The men glared at him. Adhirath shrugged and went back to his mobike and to prove that his intention was not suspect, he was only a passerby, he kick started it and sped away in the direction ahead of Chandola village. In the middle of the village with houses on both sides of the road he found three potholes, one a particularly large one and filled with dirty water. But the moment he crossed the village he once again saw the gleaming road, leading into nowhere. It looked as if the straight and flat road had been lying there waiting for a vehicle to tread it. Who can refuse such an invitation? He kept driving tracing the gentle curves the road took for nearly three kilometres. Not a shop. No tea vendor. Not even a cigarette and paan kiosk. He knew he should have gone back towards Jhandapur village. That had had a little market. It was close to the station and there he would definitely have found some tea and a bite to put in his mouth.
But the attraction of the silent fields around him would not let go. He stopped the motorcycle, leaned it against a tree and walked to the shade of another tree. Fields on both sides. Mustard pods were ripening in the sun. Nitesh must be sitting in the morgue by now. He would not be able to meet his friend now. In some farms he could see small beds of rows of vegetables, with gaps in between where some of the vegetables had been pulled out. He looked around. He wished there was someone he could ask for a radish. So late in the season he did not know which one was still tender enough to eat and which ones were past the eat-by date. If only someone would come this way and give him a radish. Or a carrot, juicy and red nourished by the earth. How nice would it be to rub the soil from the vegetables, polish them with some leaves, who knows the villager would have given him some water to wash them. It would be so refreshing to eat such fresh vegetables still smelling of the soil. He was tempted to lie in the shade of the tree and take a nap.
He stood by the road and stared around. There was nobody on the road. A crow pecked at something on the heap of dung close by from which stuck out empty packets of chips, blue and red and yellow and many bags of thin polythene that he knew would be hard put to carry the weight of even a kilo of onions and sometimes split on the road.
It was so silent he began to feel guilty about the roar his bike would make. But he had to return. Crows were hopping around in a pile of dung nearby stuffed with packets of chips, blue, green, yellow, and the crows were pecking at them to find crumbs to fill their stomachs with. He started driving back. If he saw those threatening villagers again he would simply drive past belching some smoke in their faces.
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Anjali Deshpande Books
English Social Stories
Total Episodes : 46
by Anjali Deshpande
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