Kusum pumped the well faster while scouring the last remnants of aluminum pots with coal ash and a wet piece of brown coir. Sunday lunch was over and the elders were sound asleep in the inner sanctums, sedated by a hearty meal of biriyani and mutton curry. Kusum scoured the soot as the coarse coconut fiber loosened the sticky mess. Kusum’s mother was fanning herself with a newspaper in the corridor while watching a rerun of ancient epics on satellite TV.
The youngsters were playing in the shades of a neem tree. Some swinging on an old car tire suspended from a branch by a thick rope, while a group of nine year olds were busy playing marbles. It was almost three in the afternoon and the Gram Sabha was at five PM.
It was an important meeting and all village elders were summoned. Unmarried boys and girls were not allowed to attend. Kusum’s heart was racing. She was in love with Badri a handsome craftsman in the neighboring village. Was
it something about young couples ?
Manohar Lal woke up from his siesta stretching his arms in protest. “The tea is not ready yet ? I will be late!” Kusum’s mother Tara Devi hurried to the kitchen and removed the steaming kettle from the slowly dying hearth using her aanchal. The keys tied to the end of her saree jingled as she heaped tea leaves and added milk to the water with some crushed ginger. Finally a big brass tumbler of tea was ready. Manohar gave clear instructions on tasks to be carried out in his short absence. “Tell the youngsters to wash their hand and feet and settle down with their books after they finish ten verses of the Hanuman Chalisa each.” “Kusum, stop looking in the mirror too often and instead focus on your upcoming exams. Make sure you put flowers on the altar and light the agarbattis precisely at dusk.” “Kusum’s mother, stop complaining about gout and pack the mangoes in the courtyard into the wooden crates. Last week we lost a cartful of mangoes before they were shipped off to the buyer.” Finally, Manohar adjusted his turban and was off to the Gram Sabha.
Brij Lal the mukhia was full of fire and brimstone at the meeting. With each proclamation the congregation rustled as the peepal leaves overhead fluttered in the cool evening breeze. The huge canopy of the giant tree was the popular venue of Gram Sabhas on hot summer evenings. The march of technology had encroached the morals of the village
elders in this remote hamlet. “Mobile phones are a danger to the community.” They were to be safeguarded and distributed with great insight and oversight. Eight girls from the village had eloped and married without their family’s consent. Two were found and justice carried out in a swift manner by the male members of the clan thereby preserving the family name and honor of those involved. The other six were on the run but surely would be found and would not escape the wages of their sins.
Death was unpredictable and painful. A can of petrol doused on the sleeping soul with a quick strike of the match.
In the other instance, a quick grab of the ankles at the lonely well and the scream of a falling debauch onto the cold dark death below.
Finally a decision was reached. Only unmarried sons could use mobile phones under strict parental guidance. Unmarried daughters were to be kept away from mobile monsters at all cost. The meeting was adjourned as Manohar started his journey back home.
Manohar crossed the courtyard entering his living room and bolted the door from inside. “Kusum, I heard you talk while you are alone. Where is the mobile phone?” “No, Baba I do not have any mobile phone” Kusum protested. It was a grave issue and could bring serious consequences if discovered. Manohar explained patiently, “Beti, the sabha has decreed strict measures and even a death sentence for unmarried girls with mobile phones.” Kusum was not impressed, “Those with phones will die. Why should I worry? I have no phones.” Finally Manohar lost his patience and locked Kusum in a room. “No food and water for you until I have the mobile phone.” Kusum was locked in her room, a big Nav Tal lock dangling outside.
Monday was a busy day as the youngsters trudged off to school and Kusum’s mother was busy in the kitchen. Kusum woke up late that day. Fasting is good for the body and soul, it brings over introspection and a sense of calm while also making one feel weak. There was no rush in waking up. Kusum walked to the window slowly and parted the blinds.
It was almost noon and the bright rays of sun fell harshly on her face. Then she looked through the other window and screamed. Manohar was clutching his chest and slumping over the chair. His face had a tinge of blue and he staggered as he tried to stand on his legs.
There was no time to lose. Kusum dug deep into the jar of rice and took out her phone. “Brij, get the doctor quick. Baba is having a heart attack …. Dil ka daura” Within a few minutes Brij arrived with the doctor in his bicycle bumping over paddy fields with a punctured tire. The doctor an UNICEF veteran opened his leather case and put a pill of nitroglycerin under Manohar’s tongue while pumping in vial full of injections. Brij and the Doctor then heaved Manohar into Keshav’s three wheeled tempo and carted Manohar away to the Government Hospital.
Kusum’s mother returned home and opened the Nav Tal lock. Together they went to the hospital and sat in the waiting room. Finally, they were allowed in and sat by Manohar’s bed. The Doctor and Brij Lal mukhia was in a deep conversation. Then Brij asked, “Who called the Doctor?” Doctor Tiwari an informed hand knew the consequences of the wrong answer. He looked at the startled faces of Kusum and her mother, and then at the pleading face of Manohar. Then he cleared his throat and looked at Brij Lal, “Lucky you must say, just met him in the market last week and thought I would drop by.” Brij Lal was relieved, “ Ah, the Hand of God.” “Ah, the Hand of God” exclaimed Manohar and Kusum in unision as tears welled in their eyes. Tara Devi a devout and pious woman had no clue to the underlying subtext as she started reciting the Hanuman Chalisa. Mukhia Brij joined in. Soon the whole ward was singing. Jai Bajrang Bali!