Book excerpt: The legend of Bhooray chacha, the great brawler of Badaun
In her new book Bijnis Woman, film-maker Tanuja Chandra shares intriguing tales from small-town Uttar Pradesh.books Updated: Jul 20, 2017 11:50 IST
The voices of my mausis, buas, chachas, phupaas and cousins, the sound of their laughter — these are the sounds of my childhood. We would get together once a year. Some summers, the whole lot of us would go to Srinagar. My eldest mausaji was in the army, and he’d plan—with the precision of a military operation — two months of eating, trekking, shikara-riding and, of course, laughter. My extended family, brimming with painters, would sit out with canvases, what better place than this to paint, while sharing qissas, funny and strange?
Or we’d go to Lucknow. The families would descend upon another mausi’s house, usually in winter, to lie on khaats in the sun and tell stories. Or, we’d go to Badaun, where my father’s side of the family lived. Here, too, my buas would tell us stories as we ate imarti and kachori, and lay back on chataayis in the baithak during lazy afternoons. My mother and father would both defend the legends of their individual birthplaces; Sapnawat, she’d say, came from the ancient name ‘Swapnwat’—‘like a dream’; Badaun, he’d counter, was once ‘Vedamahu’, a great hub of learning. Needless to say, each smirked at the other.
The stories I heard during these vacations stayed with me. There was something different about these odd tales, something unusual about the experiences of my rishtedaars, their neighbourhoods and communities. There was something unique, in fact, about the people of Uttar Pradesh…
Uttar Pradesh, in my experience, is filled with such stories of great ambition and greater failure. Stories bursting at the seams with urgent longings and intense desires, alongside an abject inability to fulfil them. For this reason, I’ve felt great affection for the people in these stories: for the lazy daughter-in-law with a bizarre ailment; for the court clerk who loved eating chaat more than all else; for the cousins who were inseparable till death; the blind teacher who fell in love with a neighbour blessed with large eyes; and other such wild tales from Hathras, Lucknow, Allahabad, Badaun, Sapnawat, Pilibhit, places big and small. These chronicles have acquired the status of folklore in my family. Some of these stories are likely to make you exclaim, ‘This couldn’t have happened!’ but I swear they’re true. At least the tellers of the tales swore they were true. Besides, you know as well as I do — anything is possible in UP.
These stories are old, but they aren’t older than the history of human relationships. And relationships, though they change, remain as always a web of emotion, tapestries of love and sorrow, registers of desire, anger, jealousy, greed and lust, generosity and sacrifice. For me, it was extremely important to write these stories down before they were lost forever, because they form a history as important as the histories of kings and queens, of fortresses and palaces, of freedom struggles and wars. These stories are a record of ordinary people who lived through their own unique times and circumstances. Their tales might intrigue us, surprise us, make us laugh and make us sad, and leave us enriched with the taste of a world close to us in lifetimes, but already so far away.
The Final Insult
Bhooray chacha was a small man with a formidable reputation. It was famously said about him that he was the only Sessions Court peon in Badaun who earned seventeen rupees per month but ate chaat worth twenty. His chatorapan had in fact brought him hushed admiration in a town known for its fondness for jalebi, imarti, kachori and kabab, for there were few so committed to this pleasure. Later in life, when Bhooray chacha would teach himself Satnarayan ki katha and begin conducting poojas in people’s homes so that inflation and his meagre earnings wouldn’t deprive him of his beloved pastime, the admiration would turn into awe. For Badaun loved a man who loved eating more than all else.
Bhooray chacha also loved romance. He was the first man in possibly all of UP to have a live-in partner. A schoolteacher for whom he would run off to neighbouring Bareilly every week, where he stayed with her in a home they shared. If there was furtive whispering about his amoral ways, Bhooray chacha couldn’t give a damn. Eating and loving, these were his twin passions.
But then, there was also fighting. Bhooray chacha was a prominent brawler. He was a master of the five-minute scuffle. On the slightest pretext, he would pick a fight at a street corner and even before people had the chance to gather, abuses would fly, and in seconds, a blow or two would be exchanged. The unsuspecting opponent—who was probably just going on his way before he bumped into Bhooray chacha—would find himself being pulled away, Bhooray chacha’s arms flailing at him, and the show would be over almost as soon as it had started. What was the point, one might well ask. Well, a quick shot of adrenaline had been injected into the everyday, ordinary lives of Badaunwallahs and, more significantly, one more badge of distinction had been pinned to Bhooray chacha’s coat of renown. For greatness is an arduous road; greatness isn’t born overnight.
It was just a matter of time when a scrap would give Bhooray chacha the legendary status he had craved for most of his adult life; in fact, it was just around the corner.
Gopal bhaiya was a junior lawyer at the kachehri, who had always been intrigued by Bhooray chacha’s celebrity. He couldn’t for the life of him fathom how this short, unattractive, semi-literate man, with a complete disregard for manners and a lowly chapraasi’s job, could have the imposing reputation that he did. When Bhooray chacha wasn’t stuffing his mouth with fried food, he was shooting it off. Why was this idiot such a kingpin on the streets?
So, Gopal bhaiya did what any man from UP worth his salt would do. He picked a fight. Now, he could’ve chosen to slight Bhooray chacha about his keenness for chaat–pakodey, indeed, he could’ve made jibes about his pathological need to argue or his hoodlum ways, but no, unfortunately for him, he chose the one thing that was likely to wind Bhooray chacha up. Gopal bhaiya insulted his live-in lady.
It had recently become known that the lady in question had delivered a baby. A general wave of shock had rippled through Badaun, but it hadn’t bothered Bhooray chacha, who relished being spoken of in absentia. No one said a word in front of him for fear of being punched in public. Except Gopal bhaiya. He questioned the child’s paternity right to Bhooray chacha’s face.
The stage was set. For days there was anxious anticipation on the kachehri premises. Uncharacteristically, Bhooray chacha remained silent. But one afternoon, he suddenly appeared from behind Gopal bhaiya outside the gates of the kachehri and whispered in his ear, ‘Ek din tujhe goo khilaaunga, saale.’ It was an odd threat, the kind one makes in school. ‘Eat shit, you donkey.’ It was such a disappointingly lame outcome of the build-up of the tension over the past several days that all it elicited was a peculiar half-giggle from Gopal, who ambled away. Bystanders were taken aback by Bhooray chacha’s timidity. Perhaps the notorious court peon’s bad-boy days were behind him.
Months passed and people grew tired of imagining a great denouement to this quarrel. It became a forgotten episode. Until that fateful day when Gopal bhaiya, freshly puffed up after scoring consecutive victories in court, happened to pass through Chaubey Mohalla, Bhoora chacha’s neck of the woods. He was alone. He was—of course—sighted by a Bhooray chamcha. A word was murmured here, a nudge was given there. Someone sprinted down a galli, hopped over a naala and reached Bhooray chacha’s house. Instructions were given, swift and sharp.
Gopal bhaiya was grabbed by his arms. At first, he was too surprised to react, and by the time he began shouting abuses, the boys had dragged him into a lane where Bhooray chacha was waiting for him. It took Gopal a minute to understand what had happened. Bhooray chacha shook his head at one of his boys. The boy scurried off. Gopal let out a nervous laugh. What would they do to him? They wouldn’t dare kill him off; people were still scared of the law in this town!
A couple of minutes later, the boy came skipping out of a house holding an iron baalti in his hand. What? Were they going to beat him with a dumb bucket! The boy put it down next to Bhooray chacha, who picked it up and stepped up to the confounded lawyer. He yanked Gopal by the hair. Gopal yelped. One of the boys shut his mouth with his hand. Gopal struggled to break free but they held him tight. Then, Bhooray chacha shoved his head into the baalti.
Gopal’s involuntary reaction was to open his mouth to breathe inside the bucket. He shouldn’t have done that. Bhoora chacha’s boys locked their arms around him as their boss jostled his face in the faeces which had been ladled into the bucket. Human faeces of course, far more putrid than animal waste, infinitely more disgusting than snot or vomit. Probably belonging to multiple generators because going by the weight of the waste matter in grams, it would be too much for one individual, even one with a healthy digestive system.
Gopal’s screams were soon muffled, which means he had the good sense to shut his mouth. But Bhooray chacha kept turning the hapless man’s face left and right, rubbing it well and deep inside the bucket. As he had promised (because, if anything, Bhooray chacha was good for his word), he made Gopal bhaiya eat shit.
Police help was sought; a petition was filed in court. It came to be known as ‘The Goo Case’, but was dismissed because not a single witness could be found in Chaubey Mohalla who would testify that such an incident involving Bhooray chacha ever took place.
Bijnis Woman; Stories of Uttar Pradesh Told by My Mausis, Buas, Chachas
By Tanuja Chandra
Price: Rs 299