The stars are not so far

by Tania Banerjee (India)

The last thing I expected India


Darkness had already descended and it was time for me to change from outdoor shoes to indoor slippers. Gopal was barefoot when he returned from the well fetching a pail of water. So did his mother and sister. I was lying on a cot outside the hut gazing at the twinkling stars. The prominent Milky Way looked like a stone’s throw away. The silence and absence of electricity was boon for my noise-thrashed ears and city-lights blinded eyes. It was bane for Keya, Gopal’s sister. The lighted wicker fuelled by kerosene is Keya’s only chance to a bright future. The blaring of the radio is her only source of news. Electric supply had arrived in the village a few years back, but this household is yet to afford the luxury. Gopal’s mother, a lithe woman, was busy preparing meals for us- rice, lentil soup and crispy deep-fried spiced lentils. I was happy to give my junk-food rich diet a break and eat something simple. For Gopal’s family it was a lavish meal. Deep frying involves extensive use of oil. They cannot afford to waste so much oil for one meal. But, that night they had a guest in me, that night was special. The current population of Bamnia village of West Bengal are principally Brahmins- the exploiters of the caste system which plagued India. Gopal narrated how Bamnia village was populated by tribes before their arrival. During the heyday of the Brahmins they tortured and finally drove away the tribal from their own land. The villagers now denote the ex-tribal population of the village as the ‘Hui people’. Thankfully, the violence of the previous generation was replaced by an open-minded approach of the current generation. Next morning at 6AM the village was wearing a cloak of mist, a usual event in winter mornings. Soft rays of the rising Sun illuminated the eastern sky. The villagers were already on the dirt path, walking to their farmlands. They are hard-working people. In an hour I will bid adieu to the village. The postmaster rang his bicycle bell. A tensed Gopal received the envelope. Sweat beads dazzled on his forehead in a chilly morning. The corner of his eyes crinkled. Now he was smiling. Tears of joy appeared. The mother and sister sensed the good news and overwhelmed with happiness they thanked the various Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Gopal, a post-graduate student in the nearest university got a white collar job with one of the leading multi-national giants.