Whenever I visit my village Munshi Premchand’s famous story comes vivid in my mind. The immortal novelist had lost his ‘paradise’, when he revisited the holiest of holy cities, Varanashi. To relive the olden days, the hero of his short story had a wee hour jaunt in the city, believed to be resting on the trident of Lord Shiva. There were few early hour bathers in the Ganga. Nor was the sky renting with devotional chorus sung by hordes of Ganga bathers, ‘hamare prabhu awagun jeet na dharo’ (O Lord! don’t take my follies into your heart).

My predicament was no different when I revisited my village after some 40 years. The village has over-grown in length and breath. The population has almost trebled. Once a tiny hamlet, it has now acquired many a bulge. It has moved east, west or north. The south has shrunk beyond recognition. The mighty river Sone that meanders along the village has eaten up huge chunks of cultivable land. The river is now kissing the toes of the middle school building furiously. The 500-yard gap between the village and river has dwindled to almost zero. This has changed the village’s shape and size, believed to be surviving under tutelage of Dasashishanath Mahadev. Has the Almighty grown angry? Why has this downfall come about? People here muse but there is no answer.

The village has lost the old warmth, hospitalities and fellow feelings. And its aura has gone with the wind. The relationship among the villagers has become a mere formality; it is more formal than even among the town people. Tactical give-and-take syndrome guides the relationship. Not long ago, the village had a working and active cooperative society. Today one can not find even two to three persons to work for a common goal and in one direction. Cultivation of any crop is a matter of united thinking and mutual understanding. One crop has to be grown in neighbouring plots. But, such understanding comes more in violation than adherence. The result is that either plots of land remain fallow or the crop and labour are lost.

I am an early riser, but not as early as my villagers used to leave their beds some two decades back to feed bullocks for a day-long ploughing. Now they don’t have bullocks and ploughs. Tractors are hired to till the plots from other villages. (Now two villagers have bought tractors. It is to be seen if the tractors plough the village land or go out to other areas for commercial uses.) I still treasure the memory of my grand mother beaconing birds to come and eat grains spread for them. The lady, in late sixties, would sweep clean the a-thousand-square-foot courtyard with a broom before the crimson glow of nascent sun peeps through the fleeing darkness in the eastern sky. She believed that morning sunrays must not fall on the un-cleaned courtyards. Once the ‘operation clean’ is over she would bring handfuls of grains and spread them in the courtyard. After that she would shout: ‘awa, awa’ (come, come) and ‘Gauraiya’ birds would descend in hordes and eat the rice grains.

In Hindu pantheon the ‘Gauraiya’ is considered to be incarnation of Lord Vishnu. She is worshipped in every house. It is believed that cholera would not break out in a particular village if this bird lives in. Their fleeing provides a signal for the people to take precautionary measures. It is matter of great concern that the population of this bird along with other birds have dwindled to the minimum in the country. The only system that has survived the tide of time is ‘Sanjhaut’. Elderly woman of the house lights a lantern at the dusk and take it into every room to invoke Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Another system to live on is singing ‘Sanjha-Parata’ during the marriage function (after the sunset and in the mirning before Sun rises) to invite ancestors, both men and women, to come and bless the function. Jhoomer- Jhoomata singing has become a thing of past as the marriage function has shrunk to become a three-four-day affair. Moreover, modern girls, perhaps, consider it below dignity to sing traditional songs and dance.

In summer days my grand mother used to hang an earthen pot filled with water at vantage points for the birds to drink. This benevolence or trait was not exclusive to my house. At that there was nothing exclusive to any family. Living pattern and thinking of all co-villagers were identical. The jackal-ian traits of one ‘huan’ (voice) being responded in chorus ruled supreme. Keeping water for birds in summer days was common practice in every house. Nowadays town people open ‘piaos’ (water kiosks’) for human beings but no body cares for the birds and animals. My grand mother used to give not only alms to beggars but also fed them, with an advice to eschew this practice. Now beggar population has come down appreciably. Government too has banned begging. And, my village has also grown economically poor. Land erosion by the river Sone and lingering droughts or little rains, together with population bulge, have robbed the village of its self-sufficiency. Many sons of the soil have joined the migratory labour force, leaving back-home only old and infirm. As a result, the village has virtually no workforce to cultivate the land plots.

So many memories are itched deep in me. My courtyard had a make-shift dug-well. Locally it is called ‘bhatkuneea.’. It was the marriage time of my elder sister. (The quirk of fate has now made her my cousin.) A Maharashtrian couple had come from Varanashi for this ceremonial occasion. It was for the first time that a radio set had been brought in the village. It was operated on a large Eveready battery. There was no electricity. The man, tuning in the radio in lantern light at the Durra (outhouse), came in the courtyard for his dinner. As he stepped into darkness from light, he, unfortunately, fell in the dug-well but taken out safely. At that time the ‘bhatkuneea’ was not so deep. Water table had not sunk so low at that time. Subsequently that well was made of cement concrete and is now in disuse. A hand pump was installed in 1984 in preparation for the marriage of my eldest daughter, Suniti, now living in the United States of America. The electricity too had been brought in the village during the marriage. Religious movies were projected on the makeshift screen. All top officials of the district had attended that marriage function. It was also for the first time that district’s top civil and police officials participated in any social function in any village. It was a shining example of villager-administration cooperation. Now this interaction is a matter of history.

The incursion of modernity and scientific era has, no doubt, changed the contour of the village. The life style has gone a metamorphosis. It is both sweet and sour. Electricity has brought in many TV sets, some with DTHs. Every house has at least one hand pump for water supply. Some four decades ago drinking water had to be fetched from ‘Sanjha kuan’ (community wells). A few villagers have now installed motor pumps in their ‘Chapakal’ (hand pumps). But water is used mainly to wash buffaloes; not for piped water supply, not even for kitchen gardening to grow vegetables. Many pucca houses have come up. But most of them have no plasters or windowpanes. In certain cases even roofs remain missing for years together.

The rural games of ‘Chikka-kabaddi’ have yielded place to cricket. Even the most popular game of ‘Dhurbaccha’ (played with a handmade ball of cloths) has evaporated in the thin air. There is no ‘Akhaara’, where growing male children used to practice wrestling and do other body-building exercises. They used to revolve around ‘Mudagar’ (weighty wooden club) to generate muscles and trim their body. The ‘DolaPati’ (a type of hide-and-seek game played on tree branches) is now a thing of past as there are no mango orchards nor their outstretched branches beaconing children to play like open arms of mothers. Even the Amarkha hillocks stand as barren as the mountains in Gaya. The Gaya hills lost flora due to a curse by Sits of Ramayan fame and human vagaries robbed the Akarkha hillocks of prized vegetation. Now ganja (marijuana) joints have come to occupy a pivotal place among youths, mainly of so-called backward castes. The game of cards rules supreme now-a-days among young men of all hues. Girls and women are not seen busy in needling flowers, birds and other tantalising images on cloths. Nor they knit ‘Sikki’ wares with straws and wild grasses. Creating mattresses out of date-palm tree leaves is a forgotten art. Very few women now knit woollen vests. Ready to wear vests brought from markets have eclipsed this immortal knitting art and craft.

Ours was a close-knit family. The family ethos were itched by my great grandfather, Bhagwanji Pandey, a centurion. My grand father had died young. It was the elder Pandey who brought up his two grand children, my father, Kamind Kumar and his younger brother Arvind Kumar. Both these brothers were two bodies but one soul. When someone suggested to my uncle (we called him Dadabhaiya) that he should get the house plot bough in Patna registered in his wife’s name, his answer was a firm no. After my father’s death in 1967 someone in the village advised Dadabhaiya to partition the ancestral property. He thundered ‘do you want me to separate Maganji? He is like my son’. In fact, Dadabhaiya had been my mentor. My school-college education was completed under his guidance. It is an irony of fate that certain madcap in the family has lowered the deeds of that great soul into giving alms (‘Tukadha)). Till that time ours remained a closely knit family, with my father cultivating grains for the entire family at Bandu and Patna and Dadabhaiya earning money through employment in a private company.

My younger grand father, who died a year before I was born, was an erudite Ramayan scholar. He had taken command of the family after his father died. This scholar ‘Baba’ (grand father) educated his two nephews. He also was a permanent shelter for poor Brahmin boys studying at Varanashi. The immortal freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad was, among others, under his protective wings. A great visionary and reformist, the Ramayan scholar had suggested to Gandhiji that converted Muslims should be accepted back into the Hindu fold in Kashmir and other parts of the country. ‘If it was not done the Kashmir and Hindu-Muslim problem may dismember the Akhand Bharat’, he had said a decade before India got rid of the British yoke in 1947. He himself had launched ‘Suddhikaran’ (reformist) movement and had brought many back into the Hindu fold. But his vision was not appreciated by certain people in his own village. His family remained outcast for years in the village. But finally he triumphed. The misguided villagers surrendered. Now a few girls of these reformed Hindu families are married with Bandu grooms. It was he who had selected three rhythmic names for the offspring. His son was called Nathan, the eldest child of Dadabhaiya (incidentally a girl child) was named Chhagan and me (the eldest child of my father) is called Magan. Again it was our younger grand father who gave maiden name to the Dadabhaiya’s son as Sampurnanand and me Paripurnanand.

It may be that due to pathetic decline in the moral values (handed down to all in the clan) in the family that certain people now tend to divide the golden heritage and ancestors for petty gains. May be that certain members of the clan do not find themselves worthy of the heritage. And to camouflage their weaknesses they are moving heavens to divide the great souls and consider certain people to be brought up on ‘Tukhadha’. The family has a history of rejecting claim on other’s property and ‘Daan’ (gifts in lieu of certain favours). Beginning with the great grand father, down to my father, each one refused to accept landed property from their ‘sasural’ (father in-law’s place). This value seems to have been lost in the mad race of modernity and affluence.

I have, some what, got nostalgic and strayed into personal history mainly because memories rained in torrents. I may be accused of being a self-appointed saviour. But I am not. Nor have I any intentions to claim myself a messiah. But, I have a mission to carry forward and hand down to the upcoming generations the golden heritage and great moral values. I may or may not succeed in this mission but would continue to strive for preserving the family values. Coming to the village ethos, I still remember vividly how almost entire village elders used to go to cheer up their football team in any match. Age factor was torn asunder in dancing-singing on the team’s victory. It is beside the point that they would fight a physical battle in the field if perchance our team loses the match. It was the question of village’s honour and hegemony! It has to be preserved. Come what may! And now things have taken a u-turn. If a co-villager is beaten outside for right or wrong reasons, they prided in peddling juicy stories to downgrade the victim. Unity is lost. Naxals are brought in to seat on judgement in petty cases of trivial differences. And here the ‘cat and two monkeys’ story is repeated. The end losers are the villagers themselves. But they seem not worried. ‘If one eye is lost to damage other’s two eyes, what is the harm’. This thinking seems to have gripped the village.

The Durga Puja was a great occasion. All collegians would come down to the village from different cities. Idols of the goddess Durga were not installed, as is being done today. But it was a gala time for all villagers. We would enact dramas and skits for three-four nights in a row. Men, women and children would sit glued for whole night. There were no age barriers. On the final day of the dussehra celebrations, all people, high or low, would attire in their best and gather on the bank of Sone in the afternoon. A large Mahaviri Jhanda (flag) hoisted in a long bamboo pole would be carried in a procession to the venue. There youths would perform their martial arts. Some would play ‘Gadaka’, others display their sword skills. The players would not mind wounds in mock ‘lathi’ (stick) clash. The highlight of the performance would be dare-devil display of physical prowess by one and only Sahdeo Dusadh. He would lie down on the earth with face looking skyward. A large wooden plank would be placed on his bare chest. Ten sturdy persons would stand on the plank, five on each end, with their entire prowess. Sahdeo would shout ‘Bajarang Bali ki jai’ and would wriggle out of the ‘death trap’ in a trice. Shouts would greet him. Some would lift him up in air. This man was not a professional wrestler but just plough man. (Sahdeo, unfortunately, ended up as a crippled man in his old days. It is said that he was crumpled in a physical bout he had with a ghost, a supernatural spirit, near the groves of Banyan trees on the hillock of neighbouring Amarakha village). The Dussehra jamboree would end with a ‘darshan’ (glimpse) of NeelKanth, a bird considered to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva.

The decline is almost complete. It was during the marriage of my daughter that the entire village was one in welcoming the marriage party and other guests. Now we pride in picking holes in the arrangements. In case of any death not all persons observe connected rituals albeit all of us belong to the same clan of Chuntiram Baba. Ants (chunti) have one unique quality. All of them move in a straight line. If any one perchance goes astray, soon it returns to the queue. But, we the inheritors of Chuntiram have forgotten this brilliant trait. We all are looking in different directions all the time.

This piece may come jarring on the present and upcoming generations. And every thing is lost in the village. I am pragmatic and not cynical. My intention is not to hurt any one or prove myself superior or of different class. I am of the village, by the village and for the village. My present effort is only to coax the youth force to wake up and catch the bull by its horn. Our generation is like a tree on the eroding bank of a river. The future belongs to you, the present and upcoming generations. You have sufficient potentials to grow and take the village to new heights. A happy synthesis has to be made of the golden heritage and the vision, dreams and infinite potentialities of youth power for a brighter tomorrow. Like Hanuman, new generations have to be reminded of their physical and mental prowess. If a man strayed in morning returns home by evening, he is not considered as lost. This is what a Hindi proverb says. This holds true with youth force of my village Bandu in Bihar’s Rohtas district. But, this generation clash is not confined to any one village. This is the twilight era of golden days and upcoming ‘diamond’ days. The present may be somewhat dim but the future is bright. The Chuntiram spirit will finally triumph. The new generation would have the last laugh. The older generation has strong faith in the new blood. And my mission is to wake them up. I conclude the piece with Robert Frost’s poem. ‘Woods are lovely, dark and deep; But I have promises keep; Miles to go and miles to go before I sleep’.

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