Mahesh got down from white ambassador car along with another elderly person, Ramayya ran to them wiping his muddy hands.
“Sir what is it? How are you? You could have sent a word to me and I would have come to your place sir.” Ramayya cleared the cot and laid a clean cloth on it for them to sit. “Please sit here” and went inside to fetch water.
“Ramayya, this is Subhash sir. He bought this farm and he is the owner now. Remember? Three months ago he came to see the farm, he liked it and I sold it to him.”
“Sir—“Ramayya started to say something.
“Listen Ramayya, this sir wants you to vacate your hut. He wants to build a farm house in this place.”
“They are going to start the work in two months. You have to vacate the hut and regarding the work on the farm, you may continue. Stay somewhere else and come for work daily both you and your wife.”
“Sir if you say that, where can we go-—“Ramayya could not say anything, just his eyes were tearing up and no words came out of his mouth.
Lakshmi came out from inside the hut, “Master if you say within two months where can we go? Look at my little one; she is just three months old. Sir please, have a heart sir, we need this shelter, and please we beg you.”
“No Lakshmi amma, I have no authority to say anything now. I sold this land to him,” pointing to the person accompanying him. “Whatever he decides, it is his wish.”
Lakshmi fell on this other person’s feet , “Sir you are like my father, please save us, we don’t have anywhere to go, there are no houses nearby and we cannot even pay the rent, Even if we can rent something in the village it is four miles from here. Please allow us to stay here. We work hard and we do a good job. We grow so much, do everything and bring all the vegetables and produce to you. Please allow us to stay on this farm, please sir. We spent whatever we had in building this hut, sir please think of me as your daughter.”
Subhash looked very agitated; He looked as though he has a lump in his throat. He steadied himself and said “Sorry my daughter, I cannot do anything. Find a place by next month. I need to build a cottage.”
Saying this both left to inspect the banana plantation and ordered Ramayya to pick a few vegetables and flowers to take home.
Ramayya wiped his tears with his shirt sleeves and both he and Lakshmi started collecting fresh veggies for their owners.
Ramayya has been the caretaker of that small farm owned by Mahesh’s family. He was thankful for what he has. The soil was a rich, sometimes gave two crops a year. One year they planted peanuts and one year it was cotton or chickpeas or corn or some other. They had two bore wells on the farm so there was no shortage of water. It was a fenced farm with lots of big mature trees and some fruit baring trees, they grew all varieties of vegetables and flowers as well on a corner patch besides the main crop.
Ramayya started working on the farms when he was about fifteen and he became an expert in everything related to plantation. Planting seasons, plant rotation, watering, weeding, applying fertilizers and pesticides he was as good any agricultural science graduate.
He started as a daily laborer and became the sole full time caretaker.
Mahesh’s family was so impressed with his work and skills; they took him as a care taker and allowed him stay on the farm. Besides a small portion of the crop he was paid a paltry salary every month.
Ramayya looked for a nice girl in the neighboring village and married her. Her name was Lakshmi. Ramayya was an expert in farming as Lakshmi was at the house hold things.
Before marriage Ramayya was living on the farm, under the Neem tree, no walls or a roof, just tree branches to tie a plastic sheet was all his shelter.
Even after his marriage with Lakshmi, and she went to live with him, they continued their life under the same plastic sheet tied only more securely to the Neem tree branches never caring the scorching sun or an occasional rain. But when they came to know that they were going to have a baby, they felt the need to build actual home, a sturdy hut.
They brought log posts, mud and dried grass and built compact walls and a leveled floor. With her own hands Lakshmi wove a door with coconut fronds, they cut a few tree branches and twigs for the roof, covered it with jute strands and coconut leaves. Finally their living quarters was ready.
Lakshmi delivered a beautiful little girl and they named her as Sarasvati meaning the goddess of knowledge. They decorated the hut with mango leaves, and drew rangoli patterns on the mud wall with chalk and red soil before they brought the baby into their new home from the hospital. They tied a cloth cradle in the middle of the hut to the roof and both would rock the baby in that cradle by turns.
Besides helping her husband on the farm, Lakshmi cooked delicious food with whatever she found on the farm: it is an eggplant one day; or the fresh greens the next day, on open flame in front of the hut. They made a happy couple. After hard day’s labor both would sit on the rope cot outside the hut and listen to the songs on their prized possession a transistor radio. Life was a happy and they were content with what they had.
They never anticipated this calamity; it was like a sudden storm in the calm ocean. “Why was this to happen? “
“Mahesh sir did not even mention this to me that he was going to sell the farm. May be he is in financial trouble. Why this new owner should think of building a farm house. This place is far from the city. Are they really going to come and live here? Who knows what their plan is?”
“Now what shall we do Lakhmi? Where shall we go? It is rainy season next and we need a pukka hut. If we have to rent it in the village at least it will cost seventy five rupees a month. I don’t know how we can make the ends meet with that kind of rent. Besides, we have to walk all the way to and from morning and evening. And the little one we have to carry with us. It is going to be very tough.” Ramayya was in tears.
Lakshmi held his hand. “Don’t worry so much, what else we can do? There is god and he will take care of us. Now go to sleep. Tomorrow is Nag Panchami festival. I have to go to the temple and Naga snake hill to offer milk. Let’s see tomorrow. God will show us some way.”
“What’s the point in celebrating festival? Which god will come to our rescue?” Ramayya was depressed.
“Don’t say that. Naga god will take care of us. My mother used to tell this story. Once there was a former and a wife. They had two sons and a daughter. Accidentally one of the sons kills the little Naga snake while tilling the land. The mother snake takes revenge on the family by biting everyone and killing them except the daughter of the family. The daughter offers milk to the mother snake and she pardons the farmers family and brings back everybody to life.”
“Believe it she will show us a way out of this.”
“If you say so it is.” Ramayya drifted into sleep.
Early in the morning Lakshmi took a head bath, adorned in bright green sari, and with her little baby on the hip went to the snake hill on the other side of the road. She carried milk, sesame seed sweet made with jaggary, tender tamarind pods, bananas and flowers. She poured milk into the hole and applied turmeric, vermilion and flowers and prayed Naga god for the well being of their little one. Both husband and wife fasted on that day.
In the middle of the night, they woke up to the sparrows around the Neem tree squawking alarmingly.
On the Neem tree in front of Ramayya’s hut a sparrow couple built a nest. Lakshmi used to watch the bird couple relentlessly and meticulously carry little sticks, twigs, dried grass, small feathers and grain chaff in their tiny beaks and built a study nest little by little up in the tree a few weeks ago. Sometimes she would grumble at the birds as they littered her yard in the process of their home building and she had to sweep the floor again and again.
After a while the mother bird laid eggs and the pair was taking care of the little kid sparrows hatched by the mom bird. The parent birdies would bring worm and grain and feed the babies and keep a continuous watch. Whenever anybody walks by the tree in that direction, or a cat or dog looks at the nest, the birds would circle around the nest and squeak at them and create a ruckus.
Now hearing the worried squeaks, Ramayya got out and looked at the tree on which the sparrows were flapping and making a racket.
Both Ramayya and Lakshmi were dumb founded at the sight. It was a big Naga snake.
In that dark they saw a shiny golden five foot snake crawling up the tree trunk. The mother and father birds were circling around the nest and frantically fluttering and crowing in panic.
Ramayya thought he could kill the snake in a minute with the machete if it was not Naga Panchami, “Not today,” no time even to get a stick; he leapt on to the tree and with bare hands caught hold of the snake’s tail, pulled it hard and yanked it away from the tree. The snake disappeared into the bush.
The sparrow couple calmed down. Ramayya and Lakshmi went in, checked on the little one and the surroundings and went back to sleep.
Next day, on the day they were supposed to vacate the hut and move out to the rented hut four miles away in the village, they woke up early, bundled all their possessions, picked up the little one and came out. Lakshmi closed the door with a rope and as she walked with the child. Ramayya balanced the gunny bag with all their pots and pans and clothes on head and the cot on one hand, and the radio on the other, both had tears streaming down their cheeks.
When they came to the front entrance of the farm they saw the car.
The same ambassador car was at the fence. Subhash sir was getting down from the car.
He came closer.
Ramayya said. “We are vacating sir. You may start your work.”
“Ramayya, you don’t have to go anywhere. You can stay here and take care of my farm as long as you want to. I am going away for good to Mumbai to be with my daughter.”
“To Your daughter’s place sir?” Lakshmi was curious.
“Yes Amma, my daughter has been trying to have a baby for almost fifteen years. There is no doctor or specialist left in whole country she did not go to. She was depressed and became sick. We were about to bring her here thinking it would be good for her to stay close to nature. That is why we wanted to build this farm house.”
“Now when all the doctors have given up, miraculously she became pregnant. I and my wife are going to her to help during pregnancy and after the delivery she wants us to take care of the child too. So we are permanently moving to Mumbai.”
“All the farm accounts and stuff Mahesh will take care as before. I handed over all the responsibility to him.”
Ramayya could not believe it. Was it the good karma of saving the sparrows or Naga’s blessing or for sparing Naga’s life?
May be was all of them.
They paid their respect to Subhash, thanked him profusely and went inside their nest happy and grateful.
(In India it is believed that the cobra – Naga is the snake god. Panchami is the fifth day of Sravan month of lunar calendar, Snake festival is celebrated on that day)