Wednesday, 2 March 2011

A Step of Faith

Fiction
By RK Rishikesh Sinha

It was a confusing moment for him. Many appointment letters were scattered on the table in front of him. Not only the appointment letter to join the Army was in his hand, but five other appointment letters that includes one from HydroCarbon was also with him. Fetching a job in HydroCarbon India limited located near the village Puthimora where he and his wife Jaspreet had been staying for three years was the only dream that the villagers live with. They will go to any extent to reserve few seats for their wards in the public sector undertaking. They can’t compromise on it at any cost. Every home in the village talk about those lucky few of their village who are in HydroCarbon and preach the progress they have made. Each and every boys of employable age carries a dream to be part of this folktale.

Puthimora was not a common village. Villagers sustained themselves by renting their residence to Hindi-speaking defence personnel. The whole economy of Puthimora ran on meeting the needs of the defence personnel from many central forces located in the area. It was said that every landlord had in its rent three to four defence families. The local people didn’t have any problem with them since they got rent on time and leave their bhara-ghar staying for 6-7 months. Besides rent, people were getting lot of other benefits like admission of children in the nearby Kendriya Vidyalaya School, and drawing household goods at much cheaper price from defence canteen. Their lives revolved around celebrating Bihu and taking part in the programmes organized on Raising Days of forces stationed at Puthimora. Men, women and children would participate in the programmes and they used to wait whole year to occur again.

The tranquility of the peaceful Puthimora had got disturbed that year. Members of a prominent student body in Assam had taken steps to deter any candidates from Bihar and North Indian States to appear in Group C and Group D posts in Northeast Frontier Railway. They had been demanding 100 per cent reservations of local candidates in these two Groups. The whole Assam as well as India saw the cruelty in the name of reservation politics imparted on the candidates. Candidates were bitten red and blue by the active members of the student organization. The incident instantly divided the local and non-local peaceful citizens of the State. It was followed with news of riot and loot pouring from all over Assam. Guwahati Railway station and Inter-state bus terminus were packed with Hindi-speaking people eager to leave the place where they had been peacefully leaving for decades. For them the same place had become dangerous to stay for a minute. They were eager to leave. Army and paramilitary forces were put on duty. They were patrolling roads and lanes. Police were doing half-hearted duty telling people to detect Hindi-manu (people). As soon as it was dark, roads and lanes gave a dreary look with no human activity. The fire of mistrust, hate and suspicion of the people had also gripped Puthimora.

Three years ago Shailender decided to come back with his Christian Punjabi wife Jaspreet to Puthimora, the place of his father’s retirement from Indian Army. The village was the only place where they could stay calmly from his nagging mother and sisters who didn’t support their union. One dead night both decided to leave his parental home in Bihar.

“Let us leave for Puthimora. Papa has arranged our traveling and has assured giving us Rs 5000.” Shailender said. “With this money we will do something for our living”.

Deep inside Shailender promised himself that he would fructify his dream of becoming an Army Officer. They came and started staying in a dingy Assam-type home. For a living he started taking tuition to nearby students. He would earn not more than Rs 1500 which was the only income for them. From this paltry sum they had to pay the rent, food and clothes, and even manage the cost of the competitive exam books. Except the time of tuitions, he religiously devoted preparing for the all India competitive exams. His daily routine was strict and he followed meticulously. Early morning at 5 a.m., he would go for 5 k.m. running and physical exercise, after coming from there he would take bath and breakfast and sat for the preparation. It would continue till lunch; he would take a short nap and later would go for tuitions. Night till 11 p.m., he devoured to studies.

In this way, weeks turned to months, and months to years and they both struggled in penury to live with dreams. For the villagers, their efforts were seemed unpractical and many old people even suggested Shailender to take up some petty private jobs. Not giving dent to their suggestions, he went on with his sole objective: To become an Army Officer.

Three years passed, an iota of change didn’t take place in their life nor in the lives of the villagers. Life went on with Bihu and celebration of Raising Day. In their stay, Shailender and Jaspreet never felt the fear as such before the news of arson and loot of Hindi-speaking people came to the village. They felt vulnerable and abject to their situation as they can’t go anywhere. They had no communication with their parents in Bihar and Punjab. For them they have died.

He was more worrisome with the thought that one or the other day the villagers would come to know that he is the lone candidate from the Puthimora who has been selected in the HydroCarbon. For him, the job letters  which would end his misery and hardship had come in an inappropriate time since Puthimora is now divided with Assamese and non-Assamese sentiments. Both were not rejoicing it, but were engulfed in fear. They enclosed themselves inside the room discussing the choices left with them. “I am joining HydroCarbon.” Shailender said to Jaspreet. "What if they would come to know?" She asked.

"I trust the people and the place." Shailender said. 
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