Friday, May 14, 2010

Plot Nr 240

Humare buzurg humein batate the ki Dilli kai bar bas chuki thi, Dilli kai bar ujaar chuki
thi. Haan ji, humare buzurg yeh batate the. – Malkhan

Plot Nr 240

Ek kapaas hoti hai. Usko khet mein bote hain, khet mein bone se voh itna bara per ho jata. Usmein itna bara bara goolar aata, ek per mein pachaas-sau goolar aaenge. Phir usmein goolar se voh phut jaega. Uske andar se voh kapaas niklegi, usko phir machine se nikalvaenge. Tab rui banegi.

The first time it happened, it was pitch-black night. There were muffled voices, the dim flicker of oil lamps, and an agreement. And there was that sound—the sound of the namaaz prayer, normally a soothing melody signaling the end of the day, now a shrill siren snaking through the galis, coming closer and closer to the five men sitting in a circle, staring solemnly at a tiny white seed. Humare bade-budde batate the, ki Aurangzeb ka samay mein, jab Mohammedan Hindu ko zabardasti Mohammedan banana chahate the, apni jati bachane ke liye, humne apna kaam badal diye. Humare logon ne kisi koi kam kar liya, kisi ne koi kam kar liya, taki voh Mohammedan nahin ban payein. It is difficult to say how the decision was finalized—perhaps there was a simple form, perhaps a note was scrawled in the records, but most likely not a single note was made. It was an unspoken decision about a never-written law. Is vaqt itna pada-likha zamana nahin tha, kagaz-patr vagarah nahin tha. Unhone ek kameti banayi, humare buzurg, aur kaha ki ab hum yeh kam karenge, aur apni jati ka naam badlakarke apna kaam chupchap chalte rahe. That was the first demolition—silent, unrecorded, and final. Humare buzurg ne yeh kam kiya, humare pita ji ne yeh kam kiya, aur humne yeh kam kiya. Rui – yeh hai humari jati ka naam.

Malkhan grew up in a small village about thirty kilometers east of Delhi. His family owned no land, but the air was so clean that the flock of pigeons Malkhan would set free every morning could be seen from miles and miles away—din mein kabootar ko dekhne se mujhe tarah ka nazaar aata tha—and the ghee was so pure that not even a chamar could touch it. Cotton work—washing cotton, filling mattresses and quilts—would take up the winter months, and the remaining seven to eight months would be spent doing whatever work his family could find, from tending to crops and buffaloes to odd jobs. After the schoolday was over, Malkhan would rush to his elders’ baithak and listen to their stories of epic battles, courageous heroes of the Ramayan and Mahabharata, and why things were the way they were. Humare buzurg shaam ka taim baithkar bat karte the aur hum sunti the unki baton. Saath-paanch buzurg hookah pite the aapas mein baatein karte the, sab tarah ki batein karte the, aur hum unki baton sunti thi, unse sare details nikalte the. When he got older and they began teaching him how to sew, they told him stories about that great beast of a city, Delhi, how it was surrounded by the thickest, untamed jungles that previous empires had built to fend off enemies, how the bridges that had been built during the British Raj were so strong they would last 100 years, and the many times Delhi was destroyed and rebuilt from scratch. When he turned 16 in 1958, it happened again. Malkhan’s father was old and sick, his brother’s newborn child had died suddenly, and food was scarce. He had dropped out of school after fifth grade, there was no work in the village, and he had an uncle doing cotton work in Delhi. From his village, he walked 16 kilometers by foot until he reached Loni station, where he boarded a tiny train for 25 paisa to Delhi Railway Station. The minute he left his village, his name was erased, crossed-out, torn-out or just removed from the village vote list, and then there was the in-between time, during his journey to Delhi, when he had no name—those six, seven hours when he didn’t exist. And then, all of a sudden, there was that moment when, getting off at the crowded Delhi Railway Station, his name reappeared, this time in a sea of the names of the thousands of other migrants. And just as his name was wedged into the jammed voter list of Delhi, he squeezed into a tiny jhuggi in Daryaganj and, armed with a Delhi ration card, began his second life in that fortress of a city, buffered by its British-made flyovers around the Yamuna River (they were built to last 100 years, those flyovers, every one of them) and thick, untamed jungles. That was the second demolition.

Main Dilli apni mazboori se aaya, ghar mein pareshani thi. Apne ghar chodne ke baad pareshani to uthani parti hai. Hath se khana banana hai, din mein kam karna hai. Paise ke liye aadmi dur dur jata hai, desh videsh jata. Jab hum yahan paise kamane lage aur roti milne lage, tab humein Dilli acchi lagne lage.

When he first came to Delhi, it never crossed Malkhan’s mind to purchase land—and so he moved from one unauthorized slum to the next. Shru mein Daryaganj aaya, Ghatta Masjid ke paas, vahan pey bhens hi bhens thi, to vahan ek jhuggi dal di. Phir mein Tihar Gaon chali gayi, is taim mein dhai kilo aata ek rupee ka tha, vahan jhuggi dal di, 6 saal rehte the, phir Kotla aaya, char saal ke liye kaam kiya, phir Bengali colony aaya, 6 mahine ke liye vahan reha.

The third time it happened, there were bulldozers. There were the towering bulldozers that bulldozed his jhuggi to the ground, its dirt-cement masala crumbling into tiny pieces, crushing—Nahin, is taim mein bulldozers nahin aaya. Kyaa torna, kacchi kacchi jhuggi mein? Humari colony mein sirf chaalis-pachaas jhuggiyon thi. Hum to aisi khali karti thi, apne inth nikalke le aaye yahan pey. No, the bulldozers were elsewhere, razing and leveling that century-old barrier to outside attacks, the thick, untamed jungle surrounding Delhi, to carve out 10x20 spaces of dignity for the slum-dwellers of the city. As the last crumbling chunks of their jhuggis dropped to the ground, the unauthorized residents of Bengali Colony were told to grab the little stuff they had—utensils, clothes, cots, goats—and get in a truck that would take them to their new home. Quickly, now, quickly! The drive took only 15 minutes, after which the truck dropped them off in front of a camp in what seemed like the end of the world—utter wilderness. No one knew how Indira Gandhi had acquired this untamed land—perhaps she forcefully seized it from the marauding villagers, the looting gujjars from the surrounding villages, or maybe she simply signed a contract and purchased it, or taken out a loan. No one knew exactly what wars had been fought over the plots of land they received that day, but everyone was sure it had taken great strength. That day everyone cooked dinner out in the open, sitting outside of the temps the government had set up for them. Sab alag alag chula jalaya. Mujhe aisa lag raha tha ki log ganga snan karne ke liye jate the, nahane ke liye jate, aisa mujhe lag raha tha, charon taraf log the. On that day, Malkhan received his first plot card and became Malkhan Singh, owner of Plot Nr 240, Block Number 6.

Yeh colony humein Indira Gandhi ne di thi, unhone humein plot di, jismein likha hua, 100 saalon ke liye. Indira ne kaha, voh garib aadmi jhuggiyon mein kab tak rehenge, aur unke bal-bacche kaise par lenge? Unhone Dakshinpuri basaya. Jab humein parchi mili, sarkar ne humse teen photos khinchvaya. Unke paas ek hai aur mere paas ek hai, aur ek parchi ka photo unke paas hai. Jab sarkar house tax lene aaye the, unhone mera parchi dekha, aur dekha ki uska photo aur mera photo milai, phir unhone pata chala, ki yeh mera plot hai. Aadmi ka chehere se unko pata chalta ki kis plot kiska hai. Humare pura record unke paas hai. Unke paas proof hai, aur mere paas proof hai.
Gradually, the vast jungle turned into a colony with many amenities. Malkhan’s ration card and plot card enabled him to get a water connection, then an electricity connection, and later still a sewer line. He built a small jhuggi, using the bricks from his old jhuggi and bricks he purchased—170 rupees for 2.5 kilograms—some sticks and cots. That was the third demolition—a demolition to end all demolitions; a birth certificate for a new life.

Shortly after Malkhan received his plot in Dakshinpuri, there was another kind of demolition sweeping the country—they were calling it family planning. It was similar in many ways to the third demolition—there were camps erected all over the city, there was a list of names, and there was great fear. But this time, no one wanted their name to be on that list. Indira ne kaha ki san nabbe mein itni aabadi hogi ki per rakhne ke liye jagah nahin hogi. Isiliye unhone nasbandi ki. At the time, Malkhan was stuffing cotton in Chirag Delhi, but would sometimes have to travel to different parts of the city for odd jobs. He would usually cycle to work, but his bicycle had been stolen and so he had to walk to work every day. He ran back home from work everyday, scared to death that his name would make it on that list. All over the city, men—at first it was unmarried, but after a while they stopped discriminating—were being kidnapped and forced to undergo those terrible operations. Camps ke paas itni shanti thi, mujhe bahut dar laga. They would come out of the camps with two- or three-hundred rupees—sometimes even a plot card—but they would look ashen-faced, as if they had been robbed.

The fourth time it happened was five years ago, and Dakshinpuri had four-lane roads and five-story buildings, and was now snugly tucked into the bustling center of Delhi. It was a simple application—please state reason for inclusion of your caste in OBC category—and after a few years of processing time, the kandera-karan cotton-washing caste went slid up from the backward, tribal status to Other Backward Classes—a government category entitled to reservations—and the shame of that first name-change, centuries and centuries ago, was finally undone. Malkhan felt it was time that his caste got a higher status—he had stopped washing and stuffing cotton years ago, opened a tailor’s shop in the neighboring posh colony Greater Kailash-1, his children are educated and working as tailors and sweet-sellers, and his grandchildren want to be doctors. Malkhan keeps the revised list of OBC castes in a big storage room where he has stored all important documents over the years—his first plot card, his first electricity bill, and the receipt of his first TV.

Jahan hum baithe hai, yeh hai Dilli. Yahan koi aaadmi bahar se aa jao, voh bhuk se nahin mar sakta, kam karnevale hona chahiye. Voh humari rajdhani hai, yahan rozgar bahut hai, yahan koi nahin bhuk se marta.

Malkhan sits cross-legged on his sewing machine table on his roof, which he has turned into a sewing workshop, with threads and measuring sticks hanging from the walls. Our country has come so far, he reflects, now the clothing that we make is sold all over the world, we have machines to wash cotton, we have a fridge, a TV, multiple-story-houses, and real bulldozers. Aaj ke zamaane kitne aage bad gaye. Humara desh kahan se kahan tak pahunch gaye. But, his demeanor turns dark, this is the Age of Kalyug. Pandav ne kaha ki ab kalyug hoga, aur dekh lo ki kalyug kahan fail ho jata. The old traditions are being broken, girls and boys are running off together, the ties of community are being torn. Indira kehti thi ki san nabbe mein, ek feet ka zameen nahin bachegi, Dilli mein itni public hogi, aur aisa ho gaya. In 60 years, Dakshinpuri will be nearing its 100-year-limit, and it will get more and more crowded until there is no space to walk, no space to breathe, and it will burst, at which point it will be demolished again, razed, and its residents shifted elsewhere.

Ek kapaas hoti hai. Usko khet mein bote hain, khet mein bone se voh itna bara per ho jata. Usmein itna bara bara goolar aata, ek per mein pachaas-sau goolar aaenge. Phir usmein goolar se voh phut jaega. Uske andar se voh kapaas niklegi, usko phir machine se nikalvaenge. Tab rui banegi.

1 comment:

  1. Bahut acha laga dakshinpuri ka blog dekhker.
    kisi jagah ka banna, uski yaad me hi nahi basa hota balki wo aane wale kal ko dekh pane ki koshish me hota hai..

    koshish kijiyega ki hum us jagah ko kese dekh skte hai jo apne yaad or atit ko bhulane ke liye jiti hai?