Rasmai could well be my own private Ramgarh, the perfect rustic backdrop to a lesser known Sholay. There was the deadly family feud, which involved multiple murders, avenging one's honour, wiping out an entire family, trials, life imprisonment and subsequent revenge. The warring sides, famous for their high standards of extreme treachery and debauchery, live in a house near the maidan - a wide expanse of land lying fallow because its owners are serving time in jail. The house itself is a yellow monstrosity, built more like a fort than a house. It's mean little windows set high on the jaundiced walls look like the filthy eyes of a wicked old man, peering upon us passersby with ill-concealed loathing. In those days of a carefree childhood, those windows were my fodder for nightmares. Over the years, the maidan that lay in front, has serviced the entire village in several ways. It is the undisputed cricket ground, a place to dig up mud for free to put a lep (fresh coating) in the courtyard or to fill a now defunct well. It is a meadow for the shepherds, a venue for an impromptu meeting.
As I walked along the patri, I was passed by a man on a horse. Regal and straight-backed, he'd lost a son in the feud. That he was a distant relative of mine in the way most of the village was somebody's someone was too convoluted a thought for me to follow. Through the ugly family war, he'd managed to retain his love for horses though and road bareback, sometimes a canter sometimes a spirited trot. The buffaloes were walking back from their evening swim - their black backs glistening like polished leather, they smelt of dung and milk, water and hay.
Rasmai has had its share of mystery, adventure and gossip. The young girl who was kidnapped and kept in a kothari in a mango orchard. The lady who complained of acute pain after delivering a healthy child and was later discovered to have a scissor in her stomach, left behind by a preoccupied doctor. The man who bought his bride from Bengal, a practice made necessary because female infanticide had skewed the gender ratio to alarming figures. The bride subsequently ran away. The trend of a large number of homeless cattle chomping through the crops could be traced back to Rajasthan where their owners would abandon them once they were unproductive. The strange tale of the Kafkaesque Satyanarayan ki Katha. The fungal disease that wiped away all the Sheesham and Babool trees a few years ago.
A little ahead I saw a cricket match in progress. Instead of a cloth ball, a leather ball was being thrown. Some boys were even wearing elbow, wrist and wherever-else-you-wear-them bands! Many wore track-pants with the familiar white stripes running along the sides of the legs - four instead of the usual three. The economic dividends of a 'Shining India' had touched my Rasmai with its gold-dusted (?) fingers. I saw it in the newly installed pump-sets, the white Fiat Punto that whizzed passed me, kicking up a dusty ruckus on a road where once a bullock cart was a rare luxury. I saw it in the tractors ploughing the dhencha (Sesbaina aculeata) - a rich source of nitrogen and biomass for the upcoming demanding crop of potato. I saw it in the women and their fancy new saris. Almost all had footwear now. And yet as the tube wells increased, the stories of a plummeting water table were louder. A 180 feet now! The trees once lining the patri - that adorable grove of Bel trees where squirrels were always chattering, was there no longer. The bamba (village canal) where we had once floated (and capsized) in our big red inflatable boat, was a dry memory of its former self.
And yet there was more silver lining than cloud. For a village where electricity was a luxury unheard of till a few years ago, the many televisions and DVD players told a changing story. Everyone had a mobile phone now. Of course they were used mostly for giving those very important things called missed calls. A private school had opened, complete with computer facilities. Yes, the kids were caned often but last year one child had topped the district results from the school. Potato cultivation had brought prosperity like nothing else. Big companies like Pepsi, Haldiram and Frito Lays were courting the farmers, eliminating the middle man, if only somewhat. MNREGA was equally abhorred and adored. The dust still flew in torrid swirls every summer. Janmashthmi was still celebrated with almost unsettling fervour in this land of Krishna.
Just as I was returning, S let out his characteristic wolverine howl at a passing stray. The pokhar mirrored the evening sky - blushing an indecent orange as it prepared for another inky night. The smell of chulahs lighting up for the last meal were distinct. And I yearned for it to stay this way. I wanted to be blind to the impending changes. People from the city, however well-meaning and honourable, often romanticise rustic charm to a fault. Spending a while with a villager almost always assures that change is the only constant we all look forward to.
And as I got back home in time to meet the departing maid, I looked at her worn face break into a smile. Closing the gate behind her, this 50 year old who had never been out of the village, had always stayed in purdah in front of the men and did not utter a word in their presence, looked at me and said confidently: Bye. Not her usual Ram Ram but a long, if somewhat laboured bye! Then she laughed and walked away, her purpose of surprising me, elegantly fulfilled.