The patriarchal business forced Sharad to work on the ferry to earn his living and for the family. It was transferred to him as, his father suffered from a chronic disease called tuberculosis due to excessive smoking, the unfiltered brown stick (Biri) lead to vomit red with the cough. Doctors advised him to take complete rest, so he now sits on the banks of the river Ganga, under the secondary shelter on the wooden planks. His love for the river makes him to sit near it from dawn to dusk.
His rich experience is of worth now and his advice to me during the ride, how to oars in the downstream and upstream with loaded passengers, how to make turns against the wind, and how to use the wind during sailing. My father propelled all along his life with the long bamboo oars. He also used to row the small boats, as he loves fishing. With his small earnings, he managed to renovate the ancestral thatch house into a brick one with galvanized sheets. He tried hard to give us both, my brother and me the education, as he doesn’t want us to repeat the same patriarchal work. Father sudden ailment forced me to give up my studies and take the whole responsibility of everything on my shoulder. My father never forced my mother to work in the fields or anything for extra income. He wants her to nurture their sons, so that they can pursue good education and be a good man. The fate doesn’t want this and I took up the responsibility with ease and want myself that my brother should continue his studies.
As there is no school is on the other side of the riverbank, my brother Sanjay who brings our tiffin daily during his visit to school. My mother used to pack hot rice with dal and fish fry tied in cloth. The river is ours so the fish too. That’s what we are levied free of cost. I turned fourteen, crossing the age of puberty. Rowing makes the growing muscle to take its shape and size. Besides moving the passengers from one end to another there was a special dedicated time to the schoolfellows and the children loves to ride on the boat as I used to sing and make them laugh during the ride. I used to wait for this dedicated time firstly my brother who brings the food and secondly for the girl whom I love but never let her know.
Sulochana, who used to be my classmate when we were studying together. She always asks me to continue my education but I point my finger towards my father who is sitting under the temporary shelter.
” Look his gleaming eyes Sulochana, his expectations from me and my brother. He always curses himself as he thinks that I’m holding the oars because of him. I don’t want to let that down, his expectation and dim the gleam in his eyes. He knows the statistics are not good for poor’s but no one lose hope. Success doesn’t know class, creed or any other factor, If it clicks and if you work hard than definitely the reward will be on your way, what we called as Success.”
The days and the sail were smooth, talking to her while rowing gave me the power to work hard, and her smiles make my day. Besides these, there were other glimpses, not daily, the transferring of herds to the cattle markets, the corpses to the cremation Ghats and sometimes during the marriage season they used to book the whole boat where the bride and groom along with the band party and other member of the family with the Petromax light on their hand used to enjoy a lot. That’s the night when my boats feel that she still exists, and she swings, dance, and sail smoothly on the wet surface.
My friends and me sometimes jump on the river towards upstream to make a race or somersaulting from the boat. The immersion of goddess Durga and Kali and local festivals was real highlights for my boat and me. It just makes me feel that we both are made for each other. The days were sweet and sour but it enriched happiness and that’s what I love.
One day when I was sixteen, I propose Sulochana on the boat, she didn’t reply to it. The next few days she was absent to school. When she resumes, she distracts herself from me. Didn’t ask her anything but the curiosity of mine forced me to ask, during her returning from school that was it me why she was absent.? She immediately says” No! My parents ask me to stay at home, as someone will be visiting us for my marriage proposal. Sharad, I too had the same feeling for you but you are late.”
She feels sorry for me as I guess from her expressions and steps out of the boat with a dim face and make mine dull too. This is the second time my fate is not with me. I was born as an ill fate.
Sometimes I pulled my hair hard and regret, if I have done it earlier it would have been different. Once her father was on the ferry, he was exultant and asked me to be present at her daughter marriage in due course of time, as the date is not finalized. It will inform to you shortly. The declaration makes the oars to slip from my hand and I sit on the edge of the boat, it starts tumbling due to low tides, and diverts from its destination. Everyone on the ferry starts screaming and scolded me hard after gaining control of it.
Next day everything was same, not my mind. The dawn always encourages me to get sync with the river but today I felt I’m helpless. She is still on my boat on her way to school. She is in her final days of school and after that, she will create a vacuum on my boat as well as my heart. Few days after, she got married and left all her memories on the banks of both the river and my heart. It was the same like sweet and sour, pain for few days but her memories relieved my pain.
As the time progresses I kept her memories on one corner of my brain but the major concern is the growing competition and it progresses with couple of new boats on the Ghats. I didn’t find the competition as experience counts but it starts affecting my daily income. The competition intensifies when someone introduces the jet engines and it really broke me down. Permanent customers of mine denied traveling on my ferry as it takes more time than the jets. The irritation and the envy crippled many times in me to earn more. Invisible worriedness in form of wrinkles on my father forehead and his ailment, as he never speaks on this but I understand his concern.
After a deep conversation with my soul and without consulting anyone for the first time, I just moved to the Gramin bank for a loan, I get the refusal, due to lack of documents and especially no mortgage to get the loan for the jet engine, which is required for the competition, and for the survival. The only option left is the moneylender, which everyone opts at end. The villager’s experience with him while they discussed during the ride was not so good. He is a cunning man who only knows about his money and charge a lifetime interest until you become a slave under him. He also acquires the land or jewelry of the deceased farmers, peasants and many more if you didn’t repay him.
It was a Sunday morning and I use the dedicated time to visit the moneylender. The gorgeous architecture lying calm in front of me, not a single soul to be seen anywhere except the guard who stood like an effigy. The man from a distance called me and asked what did I want? ‘I want to meet sahib’ I said. The man asked me to be seated under a tree, as no visitor is allowed to meet the lender without prior permission. The shade is just cooling me off and I heard some nagging sound coming with the wind from the big house. After few minutes, the same man with a big black umbrella; under it, the moneylender is advancing towards me. They both stop after covering some distance and the man with the umbrella called me near him.
The moneylender bears the same character from his gesture, what I had heard before. The red face with a groan voice asks me with politeness, what I have not expected. “What do you want”?
I asked him to lend me some money so that I can buy a jet engine, which will be fitted, in my boat for my earning and compete with the competitors’. I will repay you within one year. He agrees with a condition that i have to mortgage something.
“I have nothing to mortgage Babu, No land, No house, or any jewelry.”
Then you may leave and don’t waste my time, he said and turned backwards and starting to leave. Immediately I fall on his feet and urged him to keep my boat as mortgage. Inside his specs, the moneylender makes a tour from toe to head of my physique and nod to the man beside him. The man takes me to a room and signed all the legal documents (made by the moneylender not by any authority). I didn’t read it as there is nothing written on it. I just signed it and preparing to return than all of a sudden the screaming and crying sound of a woman, it must be the moneylender wife. We both ran towards the sound and found that the son of the moneylender is lying in a pool of blood. The moneylender with a wooden stick stands beside the boy with a ferocious look and wheezing. Mother of the boy is howling by striking her head on the wall.
The throng of servant standing all over the room had no idea what to do next. Then I immediately ran on to the boy and check, the pulse ‘he is dead’! I said. The moneylender with his sign language instructed something to his loyalist. They leave the place and after half an hour, the police came and the moneylender framed the false allegation against me that I have killed his son. The police immediately handcuffed me, I tried to prove my innocence to everyone over there even the mother of the boy, but I fail. They took me with them and put me behind the bars.
My family was informed, and they tried their best to release me. The police asked for money and that too a huge amount. My father who was ready to sell the only boat of his but I opposed it heavily with a strong reason that if they sold it than everyone in the family will be on the streets and die in hunger. Sanjay is ready to take the responsibility of the boat, and he will manage both the family and his education that’s what he promised me. The money power wins thou you are innocent and again the poor lose.
The court sentenced me for fourteen year of imprisonment and I don’t know how far I am from my home. The three walls and the iron bars with a small window at the top is my new home. New friend of mine is the moon who is visible only in the night. She is free to roam and takes leave on special days. Once while describing my memoir to her and expressed that I wish I could turn back the clock, and bring the wheels of time to a stop. I want to return to my boat days, where the life is enjoyable even if you have nothing.