People think of stories of village poverty and make award-winning art films around to enthrall us. Imagine what happened at my hamlet: a “Peepli Live” yesterday.
We are an agricultural village sustained by a lot of migrant labour from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, as is the case with the rest of Punjab, where the indispensable “bhaiyya” who now speaks Punjabi has replaced the native farmer, who has gone either out of business or to till a foreign land.
Yesterday, Uma Kant Chaubey-ji, our Bihari night watchman, sold off his cow for a good amount and repaid his debt. Life for the migrants is a cycle of liability: borrow from Bhaaji (the Punjabi landlord), sell some possessions, settle one loan and then borrow more to remain in the trap.
Chaubey-ji now was so rich that he could maybe afford a cooler, a new sari for wife, and even save for the rainy day. After squaring the debt, he gave the remaining money to the wife for safekeeping.
He had to return to work. His simple wife dropped the cash in a pocket and went showing off her elevated status in the migrant neighbourhood.
Once back, she got busy cooking a special ‘tadka dal’ for him with better-quality rice saved for guests and occasions. Chaubey-ji returned late and asked for the money. It was missing. An ugly domestic spat happened: a lot of abuses, wife-beating, swollen face and knee, and bruises all over her body, but no money and no answer from Mrs Chaubey.
The next morning, a fellow labourer told Chaubey-ji about this soothsayer, who could tell from the tikka (black ash) on the thumb who the thief was; and for just Rs 200. The oracle is a popular young man. He looks into the ash and by magic the “lifter” appears, or is “produced”. It may seem exaggerated but I know for sure that in my little ‘pind’ lies the masala for the next Hindi potboiler or maybe the next Ekta Kapoor soap.
You’re going to laugh, I know, but I’m thinking of making crores of rupees by pitching this story of village poverty to Bollywood producers rather than going back to farming that loses money by the minute.