“India has more than 6,80,000 villages.” The text book announced. He ran his wrinkled finger along each letter making up each word that made up each sentence. He read it out loudly to himself. If he didn’t understand something, he’d scratch his pagadi and make a mental note to ask his tutor the next day.
He closed the textbook and gathered his things up. “Plowing and tilling is much easier than learning,” he told his wife as he collected his little parcel of bhakri and chutney. She smiled.
Pandurang was named after the deity of his region. His name was an opportunity for his parents to take their beloved God’s name again and again. Now, 55 years later, most of the village called him Pandu kaka. ‘Rang’ was lost somewhere.
Pandu kaka was a farmer. He wasn’t a rich farmer but he wasn’t poor either. He grew vegetables on one patch of his land, which were sent to the local market, while he had started growing peanuts on another. When he was younger, his family owned bigger land, but one by one his brothers had gone to the city. He hoped his sons would sow and reap with him, but the city paid them better. So he gave out his cotton fields on rent. Amba kaki had worried that people will talk. “Land is like gold. Why are you giving it away? We don’t need the money,” she pleaded with her husband. “I don’t want to insult mother land by not being able to work hard enough on it. I am old now,” he had said to his wife. She wasn’t going to object. She hadn’t ever objected to anything Pandu kaka did. Like a dutiful wife, she would stand by him… She had stood by him in a drought, a flood and so many other things that had withered their skins…
The farms were doing well, but a lot of their tomatoes would often rot for the lack of takers. Each rotten tomato was a tiny scar on Pandu kaka’s heart. How could he let the “prasad” from his mother earth let rot, he often asked himself. Then on a short visit to his son’s city home made him realize that tomato ketchup was in great demand. Pandu Kaka talked to his son. And soon enough, he was selling the entire surplus produce of the village to a multi-national company.
“Baba, your ability to learn is phenomenal,” his sons always said.
But now, age was catching up. And soon, the family land would have to be sold. Pandu Kaka and Amba Kaki were going to move to the city with their eldest son. “Kashala ataa hai ingrajee?” Amba Kaki asked him as she served him his bhakri. She didn’t know why he needed to learn the language at this age.
He didn’t say much. Pandu kaka had a business idea. He was going to run an organic herb farm. “I have read all about it,” he told his son. No, retirement was not for him. And as he walked around his village after dinner, e allowed himself the ten minute silence by the highway that ran by the village. Cars zipped past him — mere blurred lines. He had watched them each night as every car zipping past sang to him, pleaded him to walk on faster. He was going to miss the highway.