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HindustanTimes Thu,18 Dec 2014

The man with white feet

Rajbir Deswal   November 15, 2012
First Published: 19:37 IST(15/11/2012) | Last Updated: 10:17 IST(16/11/2012)

Having to do my own chores in Seattle, I am reminded of some half a dozen people who at different times worked for us back home in India.

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They helped the family undertake strenuous jobs in the fields and on the barn, going into the water channels, working with bullocks and ploughshare, steering the tractor, feeding harvested bunches into threshers, and looking after the cattle.

They were 'sajhees', meaning co-sharers; and  'mehnatis' (labourious ones). They were remarkable people, loyal and incorruptible.

One, Faizuddin "Fijoo", was medium-built man, suave and submissive. In spite of his putting his heart and soul into the jobs he was assigned, things would go wrong, yet he would be the first to point to his mistake. My mother called him the "man with white feet", which in her words meant that no job could be set foot at or completed by him.

Liloo, was a tall, dark hulk. His long limbs helped him in catch fish in the shallow waters. His dentures showed up abundantly, which we thought was a confirmation of his loyalty to my family. Once, the police caught him for moonshining. This was his off-the-field activity, in spite of my father's umpteen warnings to him.

Mohammad Niwaz "Niwaja" stayed with us for more than three decades. The short, broad shouldered excellent ploughman later graduated to be tractor driver. He could repair an engine even better than a German engineer, the yokels believed. His only weakness was the bottle. He married late. Recently, when I went to my village, I was happy to see him a father of three children. He looked at me approvingly, soliciting a couple of drinks of the English whisky. He did bring his glass in the evening and slipped away in darkness.

Phool Singh was a field operative, an expert in tasks to be performed with hands. Once when his food fell short of his hunger, since all the sajhees and mehantis ate at our place, he complained to my sister that even when not being in our service, they were a hungry lot back home. Ramesh "Mesee", his nephew also served us. He was a go-getter with a curious mix of innocence and naughtiness. He has now made it big as a big farmer, holding 9 acres.

Sham, now 50, came from a scavenger family and joined us at the age of 4. For an allowance to stay at our home and getting a stomach full to eat, he stopped going to his own house, and worked as errand boy to my grandfather. When he grew up, my father employed him as a regular.
Gradually, he became so much a confidant that my father could spend his last two years at the village only because of Sham's commitment to the family and dedication to him. He would always know when Bauji needed medicine or massage.

On Bauji's death, we insisted he continued to stay in our home and be in employment as he always was.  He broke down, saying: "I can no more stay in this house without Bauji". We appreciated his sense of loss and assigned him just the maintenance of our house-a home full of masters and servants once.

rajbirdeswal@yahoo.com

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