Parameshwaran was keen on going back to his village, primarily for attending the annual festival connected with his family deity. Why his family deity? It was actually their village deity … Veera Aiyyanaar deity for the whole village of Arasaanikuppam. All those who migrated from Arasaanikuppam and those who did not – but well settled in their own village generally would assemble a few days before the grand festival day and perform all rituals meticulously and celebrate the occasion with fanfare. The pomp and grandeur depended on the amount of money they could collect and garner. In good olden days, lots of fun and frolic activities took place adding merry and mirth. But of late, due to failure of monsoons and with fast depleting ground water, their very backbone of economic life which was just agriculture had catapulted. Many villagers had migrated to nearby and far-off towns and cities in search of better livelihood. Parameshwaran was the latest one to join the band wagon.
He was not happy at his new place, Maadurai. He did not get any job to his liking, nor he got along well with those who offered piece-meal jobs. Due to change of place and with an unpleasant mental set-up and depression, he frequently fell ill. He attributed all these negative features to the single factor that he had remained away from his favourite God Aiyyanar. That the annual festival was drawing near, nothing else could stop him.
His wife, Gunasundari, a docile, meek and mild woman followed him, wherever he went, with least resistance. They came back to their native village. As soon as he entered the village, first thing he did was, to visit the temple and offer his best salutations. He sincerely and meekly prayed that the God should show him a way off such that he need not go out of his village and he could visit the temple daily and be at the feet of his favourite God.
It was a matter of few months only, when he had sold off his land. He was not the only one to do so. Quite a few of his village men had decided to dispose of their parched land and migrate to bigger cities. On getting the news of land available at a decent price, a bunch of Sardarjees from Punjab had come to their village and made handsome payment for the outright purchase. Even though it was a distress sale, they did not bargain. They simply offered the amount that was quoted. For those strong, sturdy, tall and burly-built sardarjees, it was a throw-away price. Because, back home in Punjab, they could not imagine to buy or own even a small piece of land for this amount.
They went around the fields they bought and consulted a few agricultural experts and immediately settled down for cultivation. Even though there was no water facility, they started with a borewell and dug a number of small farm ponds. Local people thought these sardarjees were real cracks to dump their money in stone-dry wells. They made fun of these outsiders when they actually went ahead in getting water-tankers for irrigation. What a waste of money! Local farmers were really watching what these people were up-to. When they installed drip irrigation, people started believing that now their brain started working and no wonder, these sardarjees were called real tube lights.
When the saplings of papaya, guava, gooseberry, water-melons and custard apples, they planted with tanker-irrigation, were showing good results, locals had to accept that these hard-core burly men had some magic in their hands. Not only that. When it rained, the small-small farm-ponds got filled up. As they were connected to the borewells, the ground water level also rose up.
Parameshwaran was curious to see the parched fallow land he had sold to one of the Sardarjees. He could not believe his eyes. The barren land he had given away, was now filled with green patches at uniform intervals. The land that refused to blossom in his hands was smiling at him. Paramjeet Singh, the present owner came running to him. He thought this man would demand his land back. Because the land was no more a barren one. Parameshwaran wept visibly and with teary eyes he congratulated him for infusing life into his parched dry land. Paramjeet, though felt sorry, did not how to console the weeping fellow.
“I am a failure. I was a failed farmer here. In Madurai, where I went, there also I was a failure. This Aiyyanaar is simply testing me. I do not know how to cope up with life. Before I am totally broke, I came back. When I see this land sprouting and springing with green shoots, I am very much tempted.”
Paramjeet Singh got alerted. “Sorry Bro for your sad state of life. Don’t ask me to give back the land. It was not an easy task for me to arouse life into this soil. I have simply put in all my blood and sweat and all my family savings into this land. If ‘She’ is smiling today, it is all my blood that I had been shedding every day upon her.”
Parameshwaran immediately caught his two hands and almost begged, “Can you take me as a farm-labourer and allow me to work in my land?” He immediately corrected. “Err … In your land?” He paused. Then continued. “I do not want to go back to Madurai. I am home sick. I want to be grounded here. I need a job. When I see my erstwhile own land, in greeneries, I am filled with hopes of revival. Please help me.”
Paramjeet now got confident that this fellow did not come to usurp. Though he touched sentimental chords, he did not evoke enough confidence or trust in him. Paramjeet had seen lot of bloodshed in the name of land grabbing and so many goons in loggerheads. Of late it was water wars going on. So, Paramjeet did not shew him away in disgust. Instead, he curtly said that he would think it over. At present there was not any thing he could do for him.
As days passed, the village wore a festive look. As per their customs and practices, rituals got started. There was a fair, shandies, musical troupes, folklore artists, nightlong drama, jugglers, rope trickers, snake charmers, firecrackers and what not. On the auspicious day, God Aiyyanar was propitiated with goat-sacrifice and a customary feast-for-all was also arranged. The highlight of village festival was fire walking. Those who had vowed for such offerings, literally treaded on fire bare-footed. Walking on fire barefooted was a custom followed by villagers, for both seeking favours for their future and thanks-giving for the favours already received. Parameshwaran was also a devotee who treaded on fire.
The Sardarjees daily came to witness the village ceremonies. Paramjeet Singh’s uncle, Inderjeet Singh, on seeing all these fanfares got nostalgic feelings and wanted that he should be in his home town celebrating similar festivities as per their practices. The absence of a Gurudwara anywhere nearby was another point which added to his longing to go back to his home town. He had a strong urge to go back. He even suggested that he would call the fellow from whom he got the land and try to re-sell the land back to him.
Paramjeet Singh laughed at his uncle. “Uncle, come on! How can you abandon and go back? These saplings are like your baby and are still under care and nursing. A farmer is more concerned about his young plants coming up than anything else in life. At this stage you say you want Gurudwara! When we came here, saw the fields and decided to take it up for tilling, you were the first one to insist on ‘Come what may! Let us do it and prove to the world.’ Now you say I want to go back. You were more like that fellow – Paramesh who came to me and said that he has come back. He says the village deity beckoned him. You are no different from that fellow. Uncle, you cannot have two minds. You have to be our mentor and leader. If you are wavering, our other brothers of our community also will lose their moral standing. So, enjoy the village fanfares and sit up.”
Yes, my dear. You are right. I was just carried away by the emotional grip of these villagers. As I already told you, I must remind you of my family traits. You know my father-in-law was an ex-service man and was chosen by ex-prime minister Vajpayee for a special task. It was a matter of pride and honour. Mr. Vajpayee called a few ex-servicemen and asked them to go to Kutch, an arid wasteland and convert it into a liveable fertile land. My father-in-law and hundred more ex-servicemen took it upon themselves as a vow. They worked on a war-footing and created a mammoth history of turning a desert like land into a virtual fruit bowl of Gujarat. I need not tell you how much of till and toil they had to put in to convert an otherwise useless land into a versatile land of plenty. After a few years, with a beaming smile and a basket of varieties of fruits, they went back to Mr. Vajpayee and told him that the mission assigned to them was fully accomplished. Even though by then, the prime-ministership had changed hands, Mr. Vajpayee gave these ex-servicemen a royal salute for their gallantry on the arid field. I wish I was with them to see in person. The photo taken on that day is still with my brother-in-law Milka Singh. He keeps boasting often about it as though he did it and made history. But one thing, I had to admit. He took me with him to Kutch area and we both went through his father’s orchards. I had not seen how it was earlier prior to transformation. But the orchard shown to me was fabulous. Rich and fertile, lush green, seasonal flowers and beehives, balls of pomegranates hanging from branches, etc. etc.! All wonderful and etched still fresh in my memory.” He sighed a long breadth of relief. He kept his tempo further and continued the long story.
“It was that mega event still very fresh in my memory that made me to accept this challenge and convert this parched land into a horticulture belt of this district. You see here, I got a chance to show that I am one up above my father-in-law. I am sure I will prove it”.
Paramjeet Singh just wanted to provoke him. “Uncle, then what about your Gurudwara?”
“Oh! That! Let it be at the back of our minds. Once we all settle down here and accomplish our goal of turning this land into a fertile one, we can erect one for our sake, here in this village itself. Okay. By the way, as a gesture of goodwill, take that boy, Parameshu or whatever his name and provide him with work. Let him work in his own soil.”
“Okay, Uncle. I will do that or I will send him to you. It was quite disturbing to see a grown-up man in tears and crying, ‘I am a failure’. A hardworking farmer should not be a failure. We must set him right.”
As promised, Paramjeet Singh offered job and engaged Parameshwaran on fieldwork. Unaware of the kindness of Sardarjees, this fellow went with his wife Gunasundari and offered prayers to Aiyyanar --- Veera Aiyyanar. He somehow strongly believed that his prayers were answered by his favourite God and that was how he continued to stay back in the village. His barefooted walking on fire did not go a waste.
He says this to all his friends that his very life is a live-example of ---
Faith and belief are the two sails which keep the life boat afloat.
If that is so, let it be. We may agree or not. Let us not break his belief.