One bigha landSeptember 1, 2013
Anurag Chakraborty is a hard-working man. He knows the value of hard work and thus, the value of hard earned money. Often it is imagined that a hard-working man works hard to make up for the lack of talent which would not require him to work as hard because talent always makes way for itself. Well, it is true but not always. Not in the case of Anurag Chakraborty at least. He is a talented man. A painter by profession. He paints bill boards for advertising companies. He is a talented painter, a meticulous artist. No detail escapes his eagle eye. His works show this careful attribute of his. In fact, he had been a much sought-after artist in his heydays when film posters were still hand painted by artists such as him and the film’s success depended on the posters. Those were the days when the electronic media had not taken up the gear as today. Then, print media was the major medium of advertisement to appeal a consumer’s visual senses.
He loved those days very much and being fond of some adda, he often narrates his heyday tales to his young neighbours. He does not like to narrate his tales to old men or even middle-aged men because the twinkle of admiration and wonder and awe that he witnessed in the eyes of the young, were replaced by a mechanical vacuum in the eyes of the old and middle-aged men. He never considers himself old and gets angry if anyone calls him dadu. One is as old as in one’s heart, he decided and he is not old in his heart most definitely.
Being a Brahmin, he begins his days with the utmost spirituality: he wakes up before the sun rise and bathe elaborately, does his Surya-namaskar and chant innumerable prayers. This had been his way of life for the past twenty years when he was introduced to a Swamiji who preached the necessities of a Brahmin and gave him some books written in his mother tongue so that he could read and understand the texts rightly. He always makes it a point to bring the topic of the necessities of a Brahmin for the common welfare of the society in almost all of his conversations.
The non-Brahmin listeners complain irritably, “Chakraborty da, you left meat for spiritualism but we cannot. Life is to live now. Moreover, Brahmins have seen the welfare of the society long enough and we all know the consequences, so it is better if you don’t go on about a Brahmin’s duties.”
Anurag Chakraborty gets angry on such comments and tries very hard to argue his opinions. Even though he likes to talk much more than over just one cup of tea, people like him generally because he has always been a helpful man. His talents are not only limited to painting, but he is sort of a jack-of-all-trades and whenever a sewing machine or a fan breaks down in his neighbours’ houses, he is called upon and he gladly does it for free. His only vice is procrastination. All those who know him well enough to notice this quality in him, sigh over this whenever they gather together and discuss about him in his absence as is customary in every social gathering of any kind whatsoever. True enough, it was procrastination that led to his downfall.
About fifteen years back while he was renting two rooms in Srinagar lane in the city, the ardent desire to have a land of his own often nudged him to dream of his own house with a small farming patch beside the house and maybe a small pond even if God be willing. To buy a land with area enough for the wished-for luxuries required buying at least one bigha land. Moreover, buying such a land in the city would cost terribly high. A mere painter with below average income and having two children to educate in a city life cost highly, and when on top of that the necessity to buy his own plot of land cropped up, the need to save money became more than ever. When he shared his dream of having his own land with his wife, she could only reply with a mocking insensibility. After that he never discussed it with her but the determination to have his own land only grew stronger and he decided to start saving little by little so that within the next few years he could buy a land and build his own house. He had repetitively calculated over and over in his mind regarding the money needed to buy a land. He even imagined that if he would hear of any land for sell, he could take a loan from his sister’s husband and repay him over the period of two or three years at the most. He went so far as to imagine that after buying the land he would not immediately build a house because of course it would require a huge amount of money, so he would use the land to farm whatever vegetables he could and sell them and with the money pay off the debts. He had planned out everything in his mind. But alas! it was not as easy as he had imagined.
When he enquired about the current prices of land in the city, his dream received a reality check but he did not cease dreaming, and so he continued saving for two years because he did not want to loan the entire money required for buying the land. His landlord had a brother, Robi Sen, who visited the place with his family during his children’s vacations. Robi Sen, during his annual trips from across the other part of the city, took a fascination to Chakraborty da, as he called him. The source of this fascination rose from their mutual look out for a plot of land. Robi Sen had discussed with Anurag Chakraborty in the most candid manner, as was his nature, that he had seen several plots of land over the course of the year but had not come across a suitable one. This conversation opened and led Chakraborty to confess his desire of buying a land for himself too. So the two of them decided to search for an appropriate land not far from the city and the land should not be too small because both of them wanted a house with open space around it.
Two summer vacations passed when Chakraborty went over Sen’s house across the city to inform him that Babul Gupta, a dalal dealing in land sales, told him of a plot in the outskirts of the city in an area called Jyotikuchi. It was not very far from Sen’s brother’s house and was big enough for both of them. It was a little more than one bigha. Chakraborty was so excited while describing the situation that he could hardly speak properly. He told Sen to think it over and let him know whether he would like to see the plot. Sen did not wait a minute before saying that he would go that Sunday itself to see the plot. They decided that Sen was to go over his brother’s house on Sunday and from there they would go to see the plot in the afternoon.
Two months later they were congratulating each other. Sen’s words were filled with genuine happiness as he spoke, “Ah! Chakraborty da, at last the deal has been made. It is quite a huge plot even for our two families together” and he twirled his moustache as a satisfied man is prone to do. Chakraborty’s happiness too knew no bounds that day. His conversation rate grew even more than usual, as did the number of cups of tea which he consumed during his conversations. The only thought disturbing his happiness was that as he had borrowed the four lakh rupees from his sister’s husband, so he had to tell them about the plot and he had forgotten to caution them against saying anything to his wife because he was certain that she would only dig a mountain out of a molehill.
During the next few weeks Sen forcibly took Babul Gupta along with him for obtaining the official documents of the plot. Babul Gupta’s connections made it easier for them to get their job done and it took half the time it would have otherwise taken had Sen gone alone. While going for these official documents, Sen had asked Chakraborty to go with them but his free help had detained him. Moreover, he was of the opinion that it was quite early to run for such documents. After all, they had just got the deal and it was already theirs. Even so, when he heard about the plot officially under their names, he did feel a deep relief which he could not admit to himself even, let alone Sen. He remembered Sen having told him of instances when many people lost their plots because they did not have any proper documents, although they had paid for their lands. Therefore, their plot and money went to waste. Sen was very careful about such matters and that is why he got over with the official documents as soon as he could.
Mrs Chakraborty never liked the prospect of living in a flat. According to her, a house must have a garden and be open instead of being confined like a flat. But she never confessed this to her husband. There were innumerable reasons that were only reasonable to her but utterly absurd when shared with her husband. When he had told her of buying a land few years back, she had almost rebuked him because it was not the time to buy a land but to prepare for the future of their children. But without heeding to her advice he had bought a land of which she had come to know just the earlier week. She feared that using up all the saved up money and even borrowing from a relative that too, were signs of trouble. She feared it might get too much to maintain along with the costly education of their children, the elder one being a girl of whose marriage they had to consider too as she was nearing the marriageable age.
He was just too relaxed to think through these things and also ignored thinking about issues which required his immediate consideration. As for then, a very important situation owed his attention but he was simply not willing to give his attention to that. It had been five years supposedly since he bought the land as told by Mira, his sister. Yet he had not thought of constructing a boundary wall on their plot. Since the moment she had come to know about the buying of the land, she had been coaxing him to give out the details but true to his nature, it was fruitless. It was Mira who had given her scrapes of information about the land such as that he had even taken a loan from Mira’s husband and it was only because of Sen da that they had the official documents or else if left to him then it would not have been done yet. Mira had also gone to see the land with her husband and told her that it was acres and acres of farmland all around and it was not possible to easily recognise one plot from another. She began to calculate the reasons in her mind as to why it was important to build a boundary wall. She suspected that he did not know anyone in that area who would look over their plot. Five years is a long time to leave one’s plot abandoned in a colossal farmland with no neighbouring population. Marking out one’s territory was extremely important in such situations. Had the plot been in a residential area, then it would not have been such a worry because the people there would know them as owners of the plot. But in such lone areas there was no one to protect the plot for them. Such concerns hung at the back of Mrs Chakraborty’s mind constantly like an unwanted guest ruining a family gathering!
In the meantime, Chakraborty and Sen did not get the chance to meet as often as before. Even their annual visits over the vacations did not take place owing to Chakraborty’s change of address. He had rented another house few lanes after Srinagar Lane. It was about nine months after their moving to the new house that one fine day Chakraborty arrived at Sen’s rented house at an unwelcome hour. “He has not yet returned from the office. He will arrive shortly. And how is the new house? The landlord is better than dada I suppose. Dada has the habit of splitting hairs.” Mrs Sen was continuing this one-sided conversation unwillingly as she ushered Chakraborty into their drawing room which was their bedroom and study room too. Her secret displeasure at Chakraborty’s arrival was due to the fact that it was Guddi’s study time and whenever any guest arrived during the study hours in the evening, Mrs Sen would welcome them only half-heartedly because when conversations went on then Guddi couldn’t concentrate on her studies as they had only one room and it wasn’t possible to study in the tiny crammed kitchen obviously. She was aware of Chakraborty da’s taking a new rented house because of her brother-in-law’s attitude which was enough to irritate anyone over such silly matters as why wasn’t the veranda broomed or why did the tenants put their buckets along theirs.
“Never mind those things… I have important news…”
These words broke Mrs Sen’s thought process and turning over at his face she saw the tensed facial expressions and her heart all of a sudden began beating at hundred times per minute as if! She knew it must be something related to their plot and she could only utter the words “What? About the plot…?” and a series of hurried knocks broke her questions which was characteristic of Sen’s knocking style. She went to open the door quickly.
Sen entered the room and seeing Chakraborty, began “Chakraborty da, after such a long time. When did you come? Good. Good. It’s been a long time. What happened? Why such a long face?” Ten minutes into the conversation and Sen grew all heated up saying “How can they do this? This is not legal. Did you not look over regularly? You did not hear anything about it before? How can it be? I just don’t understand…”
The next few months passed in the most hectic manner. The entire time was spent running to and fro numerous police stations, dalals, neighbourhood gang leaders, and anyone ready to advise them. Sometimes they sensed hope when they met new people who promised to help them with their plot, but the hopes soon turned sour. This continued for about three years ceaselessly and then their dalal, Babul Gupta, introduced them to another new person, Shantanu. He was quite a confident fellow. Nobody could say for sure whether he was entirely good or bad, with the law or against the law but one thing seemed quite certain that money makes even the dumb speak.
During these three years both Sen and Chakraborty used up all the money that was left with them and even had to borrow from relations to get back their rightful property which they had earned in the right manner with the right documents while abiding the law. Shantanu’s commission was quite higher than the last sources, but he guaranteed success and so they agreed to entrust him with their money, trust and property. Sen and Chakraborty divided the commissions to be paid and other expenses between themselves every time, although since the last year Chakraborty borrowed the commission fees from Sen and then paid his part of the commission. So was the case while paying Shantanu’s commission.
“The man is looting you and nothing else. Already our condition is deplorable and on top of that vultures are hovering above us to loot as much as they can with false promises. It’s been three years now. Had you listened to me earlier then such a situation would never have risen. And I don’t understand Chakraborty da. At least he should understand our condition, but… Actually I can’t blame him when you are willing to let people take advantage of you. He has so many siblings but whenever he needs money, he comes to you. You are already in debts and now he is borrowing from you. What’s the use of pretending to divide the expenses then??”
Mrs Sen had been patient long enough and now she couldn’t contain the seething anger within her anymore. She knew her husband would never heed to her advice but do just the opposite of what she suggested. She had suggested him to build a thatched house in their plot and give a fence and let someone stay there but he did not listen to her. She hoped against hope that he would understand now. But Sen only barked out, “Will you shut up? That man’s condition is far worse than us. And, I earn the money in this family, not you, so I will decide what to do with it. I didn’t take money from your parents that you will lecture me what to do. Better keep quiet before I say anything that you will regret.” Mrs Sen’s replies were the low sobs with which she went into the kitchen.
Shantanu’s idea was to construct a boundary wall around the plot. When this was suggested, both Sen and Chakraborty remembered their respective wives’ advises but their male ego intentionally chose to re-ignore this and instead they thanked Shantanu for his help. Immediately they constructed the wall next day breaking the fence that the other party had erected. Shantanu even said some threatening things to the labourers residing there in the thatched house.
“This is their plot and you have no right to be here. They have all the original documents. Leave right now without making any scene.”
But these words met a practised reply by one of the labourers, “It’s not our land, babu. Our malik let us stay here and he told us he bought it with full twenty lakh rupees from Behari Lal. We cannot leave until and unless our malik says us.” Shantanu got into a heated argument with those labourers but Sen and Chakraborty convinced him not to argue anymore because they had already given the boundary wall and advised him to calm down while Sen asked the labourer who was speaking for the group that how did he know about Behari Lal and about the money paid by his malik. The labour replied, “Our malik told us.” Sen again asked, “Are you sure he bought from Behari Lal, because we also bought from him and we have the documents even. How did he sell the same plot twice? If only we could get hold of him somehow and ask about this…” The labour interrupted, “We don’t know so much. We only told what our malik told us to say.” While leaving after the talk, Shantanu said Chakraborty to visit the plot every two-three days to make his ownership over the plot felt and if possible then to scare off the labourers and by that time he would think of further means but all that would be unnecessary as they had given the wall and the labourers will leave most probably.
Four days later Chakraborty called in at one of Sen’s neighbour’s telephone to inform him that their boundary wall was broken down. Hearing this Sen was trembling almost. Chakraborty continued speaking over the phone saying he would go to Shantanu that day itself and take him to the plot to sort out the matter and do something. Hearing Shantanu’s name, Sen felt a sense of relief for there was still hope. Days passed and it was a week already but Chakraborty hadn’t called yet. Mr and Mrs Sen were worrying about this in their own consciousness without discussing anything. Sen did not have any phone number even through which he could contact Chakraborty. Then another week later Chakraborty called and informed that he had been unable to get hold of Shantanu. He went over Shantanu’s place every day religiously but never met him. He asked Sen to go over his house together so that Shantanu would say something for the least. Accordingly, Sen went over Chakraborty’s place and then they went to Shantanu’s place together. They waited two hours on a bench in the veranda of the house. Whenever the servant came out to the gate for any work, they would ask for his master and the servant said that he was busy in meetings and it would take a lot of time. Nevertheless, they waited until the meetings got over until all the people began to leave in small groups. At last Shantanu himself emerged and seeing them apologised for keeping them waiting. As soon as they entered the room that worked as his office, Shantanu began, “I have been thinking over your matter. It’s become quite serious now. I discussed it with some other people too and they suggested an elaborate plan… But it will require some time…and more money because now more people are involved. Not much, just ten thousand rupees. That’s all.”
“What is the plan?” asked Sen.
“Well, now that they broke the boundary wall it’s clear that they know you are no men of influence and so they are not at all overwhelmed. So, the only option left is that of power of attorney…”
“What? This is too risky, isn’t it?”
“No no, not at all. You will hand over the power over to a lawyer who’s a very dear friend of mine… Arrey arrey, don’t get so scared. Don’t you trust me? I told you I will get it done means it will get done.”
About fifteen months and thirty thousand rupees later, the situation remained the same as before. Sen had grown excessively restless by then and gave up all hopes of ever getting back their hard-earned plot. Chakraborty still had hope. All by himself he got rid of the power of attorney. Both of them decided at last that they would try to sell off the plot to some party if they got any and would be happy to get even ten lakhs which they would divide amongst themselves. The hunt for a party who might take away this burden from them is still in motion. I asked my father the other day, “Chakraborty kaku is running to the court now-a-days, no? For the Jyotikuchi plot?” and he replied, “Yes, he still has hope. I have no more hope at all. His running is all restless. We lost lots and lots of money in this entire affair. The cost of the plot and the expenses of running after various sources and what not… It’s just no use…”
Whereas, when I asked Chakraborty he said, “I will try my best. It was my hard earned money. You know, I would paint advertisement posters in sweltering heat and broke my limbs even couple of times earning the money to save for the plot and now it’s all gone… I can’t let it be gone. Your father is least bothered about it, but I shall try as I am trying now. I assure you that I will try until my last breath.” I ask again, “But why suffer such hassles repetitively? Pankaj da is earning good money now and very soon he will buy a flat, and then leave all this trouble…” He interrupts me and only says, “That he will do for himself. He will buy a flat with his own hard-earned money, but what about me? If I don’t get this plot then what will I have left behind for my children? There would be no concrete footsteps left after my body is cremated. I can’t let that happen. This is my struggle. I will fight it with all my strength until my last breath…”
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Thank you very very much for publishing my short story. I hope people will like it. Happy reading!