Murugan was frantically looking for some helpers. In another ten days his vast rice field would be ready for harvest. If could not arrange for people to harvest, the entire labour spent in these last five months would be a total loss. What about the monetary loss! How was he going to repay the loan taken from the bank? More than anything else, just to be a silent witness for the terrible loss occurring right in front of him would be a mental torture. He was not ready for it. He must do something than helplessly watching it perish. He just could not forget how it was in the previous year. What a great time!
Every year --- why every year --- after every harvest, Murugan would facilitate and honour all the labourers with rich dividends. It was apart from their wages and agreed terms of benefits. They never hesitated to put in their best efforts and bring out the best results. On two earlier occasions, he was given the best performer award for having brought out the highest yield in the state. So, he never hesitated and was never stingy about spending. As for him, the cost of labourers too was part of his inputs.
The best part of the irony was that he wanted to commemorate this year’s harvest in a big way. Once the harvest would be over and if it happened to be a bumper harvest, then he would have a grand celebration as though it was a communal festival. But look at the grim reality! No labourer, no outsider, not even one single helper. At home also, he and his family members had to fend on themselves. What a devastation! The corona pandemic had virtually killed the society. At least he had some stock of grains and groceries for few more months. But that was not the case with others who worked under him. He felt sorry for them. The pathetic migrant labourers’ miserable conditions could not be expressed in ordinary words. They had to walk miles and miles to reach their hometown. That also only to stay away from family and be quarantined. He shook his head to shirk of worrying about others.
Worrying about others was in no way going to help him in getting his problem solved. How was he going to get his field laden with ripe grains harvested in time? He stared at the old photo when he was felicitated with an award. There some of his friends who stood second and third were also there. He went back to his diary and looked for their contact numbers. Yes. He could get one. He called Ganeshan, another farmer who got third prize in production. He recollected Ganeshan was an easy-go-lucky-fellow. Not taking any problem seriously to heart. Surely, he must be having a solution. For a minute he thought, “I hope he has not given up farming – just because no labour force can be hired now.”
Ganeshan picked up and answered. “Oh! You, Murugan Sir, my humble Namaskarams.” After exchange of pleasantries, Murugan broke open his problem and wanted to know how Ganeshan was putting up. He expected him to lament upon his losses and cry out loudly. To his utter surprise, he heard Ganeshan laugh aloud. He proudly told him that in spite of present pandemic situations, he was assured of getting a good yield. He also added, “Who knows I may be rated second or third, this time also!”
“How did you manage?”
“Simple. I hired machines. I went in harvester combine. Looking at me, others in my village also followed. No doubt it was a costly affair. But I could save my crops. I will ask the agent to contact you. You too can try the same thing. Let me also share one secret… Machines are more reliable than men. Manpower is not predictable and trustworthy. Machines do not cheat us.”
“Okay. Ganeshan. But how did you get this idea of using a machine for harvesting. I have never done it… though of course, I had heard about it.”
“Simple. My wife advised me. In fact, she advised her good-for-nothing brother --- my brother-in-law, to go for taking up this agency. Hiring out harvesting machines. Not only this, she told him to get even other agricultural implements, power tillers, direct planting of seeds, transplanters --- in fact all sorts of machines available for facilitating agriculture. Custom hiring has become a good busines for that fellow. He is very busy now. She is telling me that she anticipated this situation. Because Lockdown had completely cut off all men and women from helping each other. Strict obedience to social distance had prohibited anyone mixing with any other person. For many people, this pandemic had ruined their lives. But in my family, it had opened new channels of fortunes.”
Ganeshan continued his success story. In fact, it was the success story of his wife and he was a beneficiary of her presence of mind. He said, “She forced my sister’s husband to take up internet related devices, like modem, increased broadband width, dongle, hi-fi gadgets, earphones, etc. From the time schools have been shut and now on-lines classes have become a daily affair, these things are very much needed. Earlier every now and then he would send his wife, that is my sister, to get some favours from me and if possible, some hand loan also. Now with this new business opportunity, he has no time to send her to me. I am happy that his nuisance of seeking favours has stopped. Wonder of wonders! You will not believe. He had opened a new mobile shop in her name. Look at him. Lady luck is smiling on him. Whenever I see anyone having a phone and using it, I see my sister’s business flourishing in it.”
Murugan could not contain himself. “Don’t you think this pandemic has clamped on us as a bitter curse? All of us are praying for our good old healthy days to come back. But you are telling me, as though some flood gates have been opened. Are you harping on others difficulties? Are you enjoying at the cost of other miserable souls in town? You are lucky and spared of current issues. But you should be sympathetic to other fellow beings.”
Ganeshan replied. “I am happy to tell you about all activities which we are doing here. But it will sound as though we are boasting about ourselves. Let me tell you. I am ardent fan of cinema actor Sonu Sood. I have taken him as my role model. In these hard days of Covid-19, his service to migrant labourers and other hard-hit villagers, is really great. Highly commendable. We too try to emulate him in a humble way. Both me and my wife are doing our mite. My wife has learnt many things. She is conducting webinars, zoom meetings and show the latest techniques available in farming, switching over to organic farming, recharging ground water and water management and so on. She has been helping people to sell the products on-line in a profitable manner. All contactless only. Strictly no physical contact with anyone. Only on phone and internet. Payment also through digital modes only. One more thing! In fact, she had mesmerised my mother by taking her on e-tours of temples and holy places. I am shamelessly admitting to you that I am dumbfounded on knowing more and more about my wife. When and from where she picked up all these latest advanced information and techniques I do not know. But I am happy. She is helping many. You said this pandemic is a bitter curse. Yes, it was. But not now. We have learnt to be independent. We are not content in keeping our knowledge to ourselves. We are helping our fellow men also to learn a lot and adopt to this new digital living.”
Murugan interrupted. “I thought you are going to say, ‘Hail the Pandemic.’ Luckily, you did not say that.”
“No. No. You are mistaken, Murugan Sir. We took this Corona as a challenge and we applied our minds on how best we could overcome. That’s all. One last thing let me share with you. Many of us in this village prepare extra food and keep it at the long corridor of Bhavani Amman temple. Those in need of food can come and have it. There is one cash box also. Whoever wants to pay can do that also. No one goes hungry. No one need to feel losing his self-respect, as he is paying what he can. Because of Lockdown, those in service lines are badly hit. No one needs an autorickshaw, a cab-driver, cart-puller, a tailor and so on. We take care of them and their family members in this manner.”
“It is very nice talking to you, Ganeshan. I am inspired. Particularly what you said now. Problems are not bitter curses. Accept them as challenges and look for solutions. A lesson for life. Please send contact number of your brother-in-law. My field is almost ready for harvesting. I shall also advise my other fellow farmers here in my village. No one need to be worried abut corona. I shall tell them that Corona is certainly a killer disease, but if you handle it with care, it can be kept at bay.”
Murugan understood clearly that Problems were not bitter curses. They are mere challenges waiting for solutions.
Killer disease Corona Pandemic is no exception.