A week in the life of…

In a sort of Future Shock mode, stories tumbled over one another, around Aadi 18, a couple of weeks ago.

On Friday morning, Perumal came for work, and said that he would have to visit his kaadu, once in a while during the day. Shanthi had gone off to Melthukuli: A relative of hers, a boy studying in Class 10 at the Manniarpalayam school had been found dead in some bushes. The parents and other ooru-kara had blamed the schoolmaster, beaten him up, and called in the police.

Later, when Perumal went off for lunch, he told me about a Gundiyapattu boy who was hacking our trees, “down below”. I went down, saw someone up a silver oak, and yelled out. He immediately yelled out,”I am just trimming your branches, saar“. It turned out to be Murugan, son of Saamikannu, whom I have seen since he was a baby. I brought him up to take a photo to mark the occasion (How do we respond, is the eternal question Sonati and I ask ourselves).

murugan

It transpired that he, too, studies at the Manniarpalayam school in Class 9. He had seen the body and said that it had Knife marks and nails hammered in. He said that it was the handiwork of classmates of the victim. Gruesome in the extreme.

I extracted a promise from him (for whatever that is worth) not to trespass on our land, and sent him off.

Post lunch, Rasiamma came by to see if Perumal had had his lunch. Her story (heard in Karumandurai, where she had gone for work) was that the murdered boy was a very good student, and that the others (who were from Kallakurichi, not Malaivasis) had killed him out of envy: “Poraamai” she said.

Horrifying. The acme of competition: eliminate all competitors.

On Sunday, Aadi 18, I go to Karumandurai to pick up Badri who was returning from his Bangalore trip on the Kariakovil ATC. I sat at the bus stand and watched boys as young as or younger than Badri Baba step behind to the TASMAC shop and buy themselves a couple of bottles of booze, emerge and roar off three-on-a-bike. I heard someone come by and ask,”Yenna da? Beer-a, quarter-a, Oine-a?” A great line, that. It is incredibly scary to think that these young kids have money to burn, and that they are going to be drunk-driving.

When I returned with Badri Baba, I saw evidence of “meeting-u“s all over the place, complete with (cell phone or car-stereo) music blaring. There was an enormous pile of (broken and unbroken) bottles outside Perumal’s shop, and what seemed to be a meeting-u in progress at our corner-kaadu.

When we got home, Sonati told me she had heard what seemed to have been a bike accident at the turn. We later found out that Mylesaami s/o (Rogue) Ramasaami had dislocated his knee while speeding at the turn and not quite making it (the turn). I said, He broke his own leg, bloody, but what if he had taken a couple of others to hospital with him? To which everyone agreed with much shaking of heads about the younger generation. The only one who spoke up for him was Perumal, who came for work the next day. He said that Mylesaami’s in-law’s had extracted a promise from him before marriage, and that he never drank. As far as I am concerned, the jury is out on that one. And, in any case, rash driving while not drunk is as bad in my book as drunk-driving. I said that they should also have extracted a promise from him not to speed on bikes.

So, I ask, where do these youngsters get the money from? Well, some get it from pulling kuchchi (and it is kuchchi season now, though there is no rain); but many get it from Sandalwood smuggling (and now that all the sandalwood has been smuggled, from Red Sanders-smuggling). Gangs of youngsters go from our villages to the Tirupati forests. Last year, Perumal himself was in jail in Andhra Pradesh for 3 or 4 weeks, and Shanthi had to up-down to-from foreign Police stations. He came back after his sojourn, not chastened at all. He told us that the “owner-u” (a catch-all word meaning the boss of the operation) had paid Rs 30,000 per person to secure their release.

For those who want the details, you can smuggle Red Sanders for an owner-u or as a freelancer. And much as anywhere else, the rewards are greater for freelancers, but so are the risks. The “owner-u“s have contacts with the local Forest Departments, Police stations and so on. If you go as freelancer, then not only are the Foresters and Police pitted against you, so is the conglomerate of “owner-u“s! A racket well run.

Anyway, Perumal came back, but the lure of the lottery proved too much, and he was back to the Forests pretty soon. This time he came back and described in great detail how he had got away by leaping over some logs and running in an unexpected direction and making it out of the immediate vicinity on a bus.

All this was too much for Shanthi, and Sonati and I blame her subsequent miscarriage on this physical and psychological stress during her pregnancy. She is pregnant again now, and Perumal hasn’t gone this year to the forests. Thankfully. He claims that a shooting order is in effect. There is a smuggler’s grapevine which knows about such things. I have read on and off about Red Sanders in the Hindu, and one article was a particularly gory one about a Forest Guard being stoned to death. When I tell Perumal about this, he says that the smugglers had probably taken fright, and in their trying to get away, they must have thrown rocks at the Foresters. Which is probably true, but the situation is fraught with violent possibilities. As we find out the next day itself:

Monday morning, Arunachalam does not come for work, and I assume that it is a post-pathinettu hangover.
However when he comes for work on Tuesday morning, he tells me that Chinnamma and others in the family have gone off to Velanur because a relative has been shot by Forest Guards while caught stealing Red sanders near Tirupati. A large gang had gone from the Sittilingi valley; and five are dead and some thirty under arrest. The stories are hearsay from those that got away. There is no body for closure, and there may never be.
Arunachalam says that if the shooting happens in Tamil Nadu, then the body is returned but not if it happens in Andhra Pradesh. But the lure of the lottery continues to draw youngsters to this “trade”.

In all this, I wonder if you have realised that Arunachalam got away without explaining his absence by spinning out this story 🙂

So there it is. The lure of the lottery, be it the school lottery or the Red Sanders lottery drives the youth away from their responsibilities to their families and communities.

Writing about Urban America in the early 60’s, Paul Goodman wrote, “We can hardly expect a youth to have a sense of responsibility to his community when every force in modern urban life tends to destroy community sentiment and community functioning”. This is so true about rural India today as to be uncanny. For example, (and each of the examples merits its own blog post), walking and talking has disappeared with the advent of roads, bikes and vandis of all sorts. It is only when Sonati and I are walking on paths, and meet others doing the same, do we realise that something so elementary has all but disappeared.

Old age, from being a stage of life has become a condition: The very old are referred to as OAP (Old Age Pension) cases. Disputes which can easily be settled in the village community by the elders are no longer resolved that way. Disputes travel to the Police station and the Law courts.

Mechanisation means that bullocks are no longer a part of the family. Youngsters are not needed at home to graze them. So they are sent off to Boarding schools in the hope that they will “crack” the school lottery. But for every one who does, a hundred become misfits in their own culture, unwilling and unable to farm their land.

And Monetisation of the economy means that what were Gender Differences have become Gender Inequalities, for the young man of the house is the one who has the cash and calls the shots. It is he who will have the cell phone and ride the bike.

However you look at it, there has been an Urbanisation of the mind. And any solution to any problem is acceptable only if it is acceptable to this Urbanised Mindset.

Oldies here talk about their youth when they used to walk down to Pappanaickenpatti, about 15 km away, with sacks of their cash crop (kaddukai) on their backs, and return with salt and matches, once in six months. Everything else was locally produced.
From this degree of self-sufficiency, the culture here has changed to one of cash-based mini-towns in the 40 years since the road from Salem was built. And it continues to change dramatically in front of our eyes.

Furture Shock indeed!

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3 Responses to “A week in the life of…”

  1. santosh Says:

    Reading all that you have written makes me go heavy in my heart. Abhi Hum Kya Karen? there are no clear answers for this.

  2. Anjuli Says:

    Life has always been complex. The changes you describe – the cash culture, the school lottery, the changes in responses to community – have already happened. We are definitely the poorer for it. Our personal choices, to live otherwise, may not change the world, but we know why we live as we do. Hopefully, we remain a challenge to the “Urbanised Mindset”, which, I believe, is also changing for the better while it simultaneously degenerates. A contradiction? Maybe. I know of urban youth who have returned to the land to regenerate community living. I have heard of those who are supporting more sustainable living. There are protests and brave actions that are making a few ripples. Not yet a splash. But then, maybe the world does end with a whimper and not a bang.

  3. Arun Prathap Says:

    Shocking to hear still such acts exists.. Could you provide or contact me.. As am looking for some information in Velamur village which you had mentioned..

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