Saturday, December 17, 2022

Debt-Death Trap


This early, on a North Indian winter morning, only the brave venture out. Or those who must.

He starts from his village at three, just as the priest at the gurduwara wakes up. He reaches the city outskirts as the priest switches on the loud-speaker and starts reciting the morning gurbani.  The village wakes up to gurbani.

The tempo he hired to bring the produce to mandi has threatened to break down multiple times in last one hour. On the empty roads of the morning, it is a wake-up alarm to the sleeping city.

He pays the vehicle entry fee at the gates of the mandi. The driver helps him unload the sacks of produce. He moves them to the auction area. The driver will wait for him. He waits for the traders.

Five months of sweat and toil, five months of caring for the seed and soil. Weather Gods were kind, and the yield is plentiful. The extra cost of high yield seeds and expensive pesticides have been a good decision, even though the interest the money lender would charge is a big worry. Plus, the balance of his earlier loans, costs of the failed summer crop and this year’s rent on his own land, which is pledged with the money lender. All his hopes are on this crop.

One by one more tempos and trolleys arrive for morning mandi. Slowly the auction place is overflowing with produce. It has been a good season all around. His face suddenly has a worried look. Will he get a good price?

As the village priest winds up morning prayers and as his wife goes inside to wake their children, three daughters and a boy, the traders start arriving. The munshis serve their masters steaming hot tea and report the quantity of produce arrived. A good season means a buyers’ market, their market.

By the time the first trader reaches his pile of sacks, he already knows the prices have crashed. Munshi rips the heart of few sacks. The trader pulls out few samples. ‘Daagi hai.’ ‘Keeda hai.’ ‘Daana kamjor hai.’ Traders can afford to be as picky as they want to be today. He listens with bent head, folded hands. The trader makes his bid. He gasps. Its so low, he can’t even pay the due of the seeds and pesticides. One by one other traders give their verdict at his pile. One by one his hopes are shattered.

He does what he has come to do. He sells. The driver knows. He drives back in silence. The stray dogs chase their tempo and them out of the city, out of their city.

He closes his eyes and leans back. Outstanding loan of the money lender, rent of the mortgaged land, his wife’s medicine, the daughters are of age, the boy wants a mobile and a motorcycle, the tubewell needs repairs, dues of kirana shop, money he borrowed from his neighbour, his cycle needs a new tyre, the roof needs repair before the coming rains, seeds and fertiliser for the next crop. His hand grips the pocket and keeps his money safe from his expenses.

The tempo driver drops him at the village square. He pays him his fare.

The village kirana shop is open. The seth is at his seat.

“Aayo Mohan Singh. You had a good crop. Please clear my dues now.”

He pays him. Hesitantly.

There is one currency note left with him. He looks around the shop and at all the things his wife has asked him to bring.

He steps out of the shop. His feet refuse to turn homewards. He stands there, glued to the ground for an eternity. The gurdwara loudspeaker croaks to life - Officers from town are visiting today for enrolments to Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Bima Yojana. The panch made him put his thumb impression on papers last time they were here.

His feet move. He enters the shop, asks for a length of strong nylon rope. He hands the last note to seth and hurriedly walks toward his field.

Dada ji had him plant the tree next to their motor when he was ten. He watered it regularly, protected it from the goats, and grew up with it. The little stem with few tiny leaves turned to a tall trunk and many wide branches, green and laden with fruit. The tree had been his companion.  It is old and withered now, like him, but he knows that one branch, where he put swings for his children, is still strong enough to carry his weight. One last time.

#HWR #FDC10 #prompt4

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