by Gaurav Goswami
The soothing fragrance of the wet soil, caused by the overnight rain waffling through the open corridor, greeted Alankar, a forty-year-old man, on his arrival from the bedroom. The pleasant weather brought a serene smile to his face, but one look at the overflowing lush wheat fields and the happy moment turned to concern. Although the overflowing lush wheat fields had filled his heart with happiness, ‘another crop ready for harvest’, he had thought, but the arrival of the seasonal rain ahead of schedule caused a dampener on his plans. The rain that started yesterday afternoon brought an abrupt halt to the work; of cutting down the wheat stalks. Two-huge machines were employed in cutting down the crop, but the rain halted the progress, as the wet fields made it difficult for the machinery to work properly. So Alankar hired some laborers to take down the remaining crop before they got damaged. He instructed the workers to commence work sharp on daybreak. The clock in the courtyard read six thirty, ‘they are not here’, he thought. The thought raised his distress, ‘there are a lot of things to do’, he contemplated. The feeling of anguish took him to a time when he first experienced being torn away from familiar surroundings and thrown into an alien environment.
Alankar washed his face for the third time, but the feeling of cleanliness eluded him. He recently relocated to the big city, his first time venturing out of his place of birth, a prosperous but small town, because of his parent’s wishes; they desired him to further his stuttering career. If someone asked, he would have said that the town possessed all the basic facilities for his educational and recreational requirements. Alankar felt content, never wanting to reach out and go after something his small world failed to provide. But, after completing his engineering in electronic communication from the government college, his family, a family mostly of government employees, felt he needed to move on to have a career, “there is no scope of a government job here in the engineering you have done”, his father once said when the family discussed the best plan of action for him. As a result, Alankar found himself on foreign land, in a rented flat, scrubbing away at his face trying to wipe the big city dirt that got attached to his face as he traveled from one job interview to the other. Two months had passed since he arrived, but the love for the foreign land had not sprouted as yet, ‘I do not get how people are happily settling in big cities. What is there to like about them? All one finds is dirt, crowd, and pollution. Can the pull of money supersede all others?’ he thought. During those tortured moments, he tried discussing the matter with his father, “I do not know what I am doing here anymore?” he asked his father.
“Do not give up so easily. Remember, hard work is the prerequisite for anything good to happen in life”, his father said.
“It is not hard work that I shy away from; it is the motive behind it. Why am I doing all this? To what end?”
“For a better future: a comfortable life and a fulfilling career”.
“That I had back at home also. I had satisfaction with my job. Not only economically, I was content emotionally and creatively also. I just do not get what more a career in the big city can provide”.
“Life in small cities has a ceiling; there is a certain limit to the heights to which one can reach and aspire. But these big cities have no ceiling, you can reach whatever heights you aim for, and there is no limit to what you can do in these worlds”.
“But is it more important than my peace of mind?”
“Peace of mind, what is bothering you?”
“Then, why bring up the subject?”
“It is just that I find the exchange too lopsided in favor of losing my peace of mind at the cost of my career”.
“What do you mean?”
‘When I weigh the difficulties: hours and hours that get spent on the continuous travel, incessant networking, dealing with self-centered people, and being forced to make associations with people who back home I would not even look at – without which I would fail miserably at not securing a job, against the benefits – a well-paying job that keeps me financially happy, I find that the tranquility of my life is at a loss”.
“You are thinking into the esoteric aspects of life’”.
“Is it wrong to think in those terms?”
“It is not a question about right or wrong. It is more a question of – what you have been doing there. Your mother and I have sent you to make a life for yourself: get a decent job, work at it diligently, and hopefully progress in your career, stature, and salary. How hard can that be? And you are talking about happiness and peace of mind. You understand what I am saying?”
“Good, get your head down and work at securing that first job. Do not think of any needless stuff”.
“Good, and let me know if there is something you need”.
“You have money?”
“Do not worry, I will send you more money in a few more days”.
“Do not worry about anything. Remember, we have high hopes for you”.
In the initial phase of moving into the big city, Alankar had many similar conversations with his father during which – he failed to convey his distress about the big city to his father, or his father simply failed to understand his view – whatever it may be, all resulted in him getting confused, and the problem of trusting the big city remained. Things remained the same till a chance encounter with a man, an engineer, and a fellow outsider who had settled comfortably in the big city. The new acquaintance lived in the same building and helped to change his perspective towards the big city, “you are making a mountain out of a mole. Your feeling of being apprehensive and getting scared of the big city and its people is normal. It is nothing out of the ordinary. I also felt the same way when I first shifted to the city ten years ago; it is the first thing that outsiders feel. Generally, newcomers from small towns or villages face these situations the most. So it is nothing to worry about. I give you a tip; with time, it will become easy”, the kind engineer said. The association proved helpful in more ways than one – in addition to the free counseling, he also got data on companies where he could apply for a job, along with references of people and companies that opened gates for him, and more interviews followed. Unaware to Alankar, the more he time spent with the kind engineer, made him accommodating to the changes he needed to make in making himself successful in the big city; became a networking magnet, and in a short period of three months, found himself working for a reputed multinational company as a design engineer. The busy schedule left him with next to no time for venting his disappointment about life in the big city, and with the arrival of friends, his life got pulled in all directions. Alankar got invited to different parties and introduced to varying traditions and customs celebrated by people from various parts of the country. Alankar enjoyed his new life, ‘if I had not relocated to the metro, I would have missed the chance of enriching my life with these contrasting differences. How rich my life experience has become?’ he thought.
A bright glare pierced his eyes and Alankar found himself reclining on an easy chair in the open courtyard. The dark clouds of the early morning were displaced by a shining sun. The glare broke the spell that had taken him deep into the lanes of his past. “Sir, tea”, his servant said. He watched the laborers cutting down the mature wheat stalks with sharp machetes. In one corner of the courtyard, he noticed some laborers piling up the cut wheat stalks onto a large cloth. From experience, Alankar knew that afterward, the laborers would run the wheat heads through their hands to release the wheat berries and then collect them in large buckets. The sip of the tea refreshed him, ‘this is the way to live life; in peace and not run from one deadline to another’, he thought.
His life in the big city had improved. Alankar was able to secure lucrative jobs one after the other and was lucky to get involved with the best projects. That helped him build many close friendships, along with one he had formed, and since maintained, with the kind engineer, their relationship had entered its tenth year. His parents were thrilled with the outcome of relocating him to the big city, “see at yourself; you are a successful man now. You remember what you used to say, father; my peace of mind is troubling me. Do you remember what I used to tell you? You work hard, and with some luck, results will follow”, his father said. His mother was happy beyond words; with her son comfortably settled, she had only one goal in life, “to see you married at the earliest with a good girl”, his mother used to say whenever they conversed. Alankar got carried away in his fame and started to overrule the inner voice, which, from time to time, reminded him of his diminishing happiness. Those moments had a similar pattern, he got worried for no reason, ‘why the weird feeling?’ he questioned himself. He failed to go beneath the surface and overrode his curiosity by remembering his father’s words, “there is nothing to find in the esoteric aspects of life”. And soon, Alankar succeeded in killing his true inner self. During that period, his father remained more or less happy with his life, but his mother remained tense; her reason – he declined all the girls she showed him for marriage. And in her desperation, “I will not okay a girl from another city”, his mother said. His mother’s fear became a reality; he fell in love with a city girl. His mother tried every trick in the book to dissuade him from going ahead with the marriage but failed, as he remained steadfast because the girl possessed all the qualities he looked for in a life partner. The to-and-fro continued till Alankar became serious and desired marriage. Alankar did the best he could think of; he trusted the girl he loved and the love of his mother and let the two women meet. On his next vacation brought the girl to his hometown; his action caused hue-and-cry in his house and among the relatives. But he held firm and kept motivating the girl irrespective of the impasse. During those tough fifteen days, the duration of the visit, his father, who outwardly stuck with his mother, but behind closed doors, supported their relationship and helped them come up with innovative ideas to woo the mother. On the eighth day of the stay, they succeeded in breaching her fortress, “how homely and cultured she is. She takes good care of the house like it is her own family?” his mother said, impressed by the dedication of the girl. The rest followed quickly; with the mother’s open admission of good character, it became easy for Alankar and his father to convince her to see the girl as her future daughter-in-law. The final permission from the mother did not come readily; she contemplated the matter for six months; in the intermission, also visited the girl’s family before giving her blessing for the marriage. After the go-ahead, Alankar and his future wife got busy with their respective careers and left marriage preparations for their families. In the next year and a half, the interval before the marriage, he did feel those esoteric tendencies propping up occasionally and remembered his father’s words, ‘do not think about the esoteric aspects of life’, to suppress the troubling feelings. Two years after their marriage, Alankar became the proud father of a baby boy. Life progressed, the child came of schooling age, and the proud parents admitted the boy to a reputed school. From a distance, his family felt like an ideal family, both the husband and wife did exceedingly well in their careers with huge take-home salaries, and their boy had reached the fifth standard. But, internally, Alankar experienced prolonged episodes where life felt inconsequential, ‘what is the value of all this?’ he often asked himself. In those tense moments, he thought about discussing the matter with his father but did not, ‘I know what father will say’, he thought. Alankar thought of discussing the situation with his wife; but stopped going ahead with the idea. And about the plan of visiting a psychiatrist, he dropped the thought without serious consideration. Alankar kept fighting his inner demons all alone. The inevitable happened, the elastic snapped, and Alankar fell into depression, with the slide so slippery that he found himself experiencing frequent panic attacks, which could occur anytime and for any number of reasons. His job became the first casualty of the disease; at first, the company decided to send him on paid leave, but when, a few months down the line, the company found no betterment in his condition and observed their money wasted, they decided to relieve him of his duties. The company used the safer term, relieve, instead of the commonly used, fire, to escape the social back clash they thought might come their way. Irrespective of the terminology, in the end, he was confined to his house without any career.
“Sir, the laborers are waiting. The job is over”, Alankar’s servant said.
“Good’, he said, breaking out of his afternoon nap, which had once again taken him back to old times. And after paying the laborers their dues, Alankar turned to his servant, “are the wheat barriers kept safely in the store room?” he asked.
“Yes sir”, the servant replied.
“Is the straw kept safely? Remember to mix the straw with the animal feed. Do not do it like last time, and finish the straw in one go”.
“Good, and are the preparations for the dinner going as planned?”
“Good let me know when the chef arrives”,
Getting back on the career proved less daunting; he had contacts in the industry to get a similar-status position and acquired a new job, once the antidepressants started taking effect and the frequency and intensity of his depression became manageable. The fact that his wife worked double, in the office; at her job, and then at home; looking after him and their son, bothered him more, ‘what am I good for? A flower vase adds more value, at least it helps as a storage container for the flower’, he lamented. He knew it was not difficult for her, she had a thriving career and could easily shoulder the expenses of the house, but the situation made him sad, ‘it is my incompetence that is making her take on more than she should’, he thought. After a period, living with depression became second nature; he took regular medications, kept constant vigil for signs of recurring depression, and became mindful of getting checked by the psychiatrist at prescribed times. Another thing bothered him – he wanted to guard the news of his disease, depression, from becoming news, and at first tried keeping it away from his parents, “why to fill them with needless information? Even if they wanted to, how could they help me?” he said, making his wife see the futility of informing his parents. Eventually, his wife’s view prevailed, and his parents were made aware of his condition. His parents increased their frequency of visiting the big city and tried sharing the workload of the family. His fight with depression went on, and for the next four years, he took mandatory leaves when the bouts of depression hindered his ability to perform at optimum. Throughout the period, the kind engineer kept motivating him. For the subsequent eight months, he became completely free of depression, ‘it feels that the disease of depression never touched me’, he thought, felt the nightmare he had to endure happened to someone else. With his mind still and calm, Alankar thought about visiting his hometown, ‘it has been more than six years since I last visited the place. Why not make it a family outing?’ he thought and discussed the matter with his wife, but his wife was busy with work, the boy was attending school, and he was not sure when depression would strike next, so it was decided that he would make the journey alone. The availability of a plane ticket became a problem so Alankar decided to travel by train. He looked up to the train journey experience; it’s been more than ten years since he last traveled by train because since settling in the big city he preferred traveling by airplane. So to lessen the discomfort got himself booked in the first-class compartment of the train. As Alankar sat comfortably on the train berth, his luggage securely fastened, he checked the time, ‘there is still time for the scheduled departure of the train’, he thought. He busied himself by going through the newspaper. A gentle knock on the compartment door broke his concentration, “excuse me”, he heard a voice coming across the partially open door. Putting his newspaper aside, Alankar saw an elderly man enter the compartment pushing along two bags and a suitcase, “berth number two is mine”, the stranger said. Getting his legs out of the way, Alankar let the elderly stranger adjust the baggage, “thank you”, the stranger said and placed some young saplings and plant seedlings on the tabletop alongside the windows of the compartment. One look at the saplings and seedlings germinated in Alankar an idea of growing a plantation on his fifteenth-floor flat in the big city, “you like gardening?” Alankar asked.
“Yes”, the stranger replied and looked at him, “I presume you are also into gardening?” the stranger added.
“No…no, but I am fascinated by it”.
“It is pleasant to meet people of similar taste”.
“I wished to grow plants in my flat, to give it a different dimension, but decided against thinking about the hassles attached to it”.
“What hassles? All they ask is a bit of sunlight, some fertilizers, and water; they take care of the rest”.
“You sound to be an expert on plants”.
“Not an expert, but yeah, I know some things about plants”.
“Please tell me plants I can grow in my flat with minimum maintenance”.
“The snake plant, also known as zero maintenance plant, requires the least care; beware of overwatering that can be harmful. The money plant is another low-maintenance plant that needs watering once every seven to ten days in a hot climate and once every two-three weeks when temperatures are low. Another is the spider plant; it removes about ninety percent of the harmful toxin commonly found in households. The Aloe Vera plant is beautiful to look at, and is also known for its medicinal and ayurvedic benefits”.
“You have a wealth of knowledge”.
“You are embarrassing me”.
“Tell me, how did the liking of gardening come about?”
“It is a long story”.
“We have all the time in the world”.
“I will try to be brief. I belong to a village situated in the North of the country. My father worked as a clerk in the electricity department. His office always had a shortage of staff, so everyone in the department had to take on more work than their job brief entitled. So my father, in addition to his clerical duties, handled complaints from people. Throughout my childhood, I had seen him listen to people’s complaints via phone calls or handwritten letters. His office work started much before the normal office opening hours and ended long after every one of the villagers was safely back with their families. I barely saw him during the weekdays because by the time I woke up for school; he had left the house. It was not that I did not complain, ‘father leave the job, and take another? That way, I will see you more,’ I often complained. But his reply was, ‘son, I cannot do that. I do not have another source of income, and without a monthly salary, we will not be able to sustain the household expenditures and become poor’, my father replied. To my immature mind, the concept of poor did not register. In my eyes, our living standards were on par with that of my best friend’s family. We played similar kinds of games and wore the same kind of clothes. I often questioned, ‘how is my friend able to see his father more? And that too, when his father is in a lower position than my father?’ my innocent question remained unanswered. Maybe my parents did not want to impress upon my young mind the concept of bribes. ‘Your father is a good man’, my mother replied whenever I asked her. Till I reached a certain age and understood on my own the difference between righteous and unrighteous, right and wrong, and honest and corrupt,’ the elderly stranger said, took a breath, and continued.
‘From an early age, I had seen my parents struggle with financial hardships and had observed them limiting their desires so I could have all that I wished. However, there were Sundays when my father took me out to the village fields and showed me how the farmers worked; maybe, my father being the son of a farmer was his reason for taking me there, whatever, it may be, those moments remained my most cherished memories from the childhood because in those moments I had my father’s undivided attention. It was also during those moments that he instilled in me a love for farming. Those were the moments when my father first started teaching me about the fine points of farming. Instilled in me a desire to buy food from a farmer’s market, he also took me to many farmer fairs that showed countless exhibitions, shows, food vendors, equipment displays, and stalls, in addition, he also stopped at various stalls and asked the representatives questions that enhanced my basic farming knowledge. It became almost a custom that we bought some seeds or saplings to grow at our home, and invariably upon reaching home, cooking something or the other we bought at the fair. Life continued, and despite the difficulties, my parents continued my education; once I passed matric, my father took out a loan to complete my higher secondary. And at the time of my college admission, my mother mortgaged some of her jewelry. They took the tough decisions because they saw my education as the way out of poverty. Luckily, their hardships paid off; upon completing graduation I pursued a master’s in business administration in finance. I passed out with good grades and got my first job through campus selection. One thing led to another, and after seven years of slogging, I was able to buy my flat, and the first thing I did was to bring my parents to live with me in the big city and tried to provide them with all the comforts of life”.
“Where is your family?”
“Did I not talk about my father and mother?”
“Wife and kids”.
“I never married, never felt like it”.
“Is your mother happy with your decision?”
“I do not know whether she is happy or not. Many years have passed, and the topic of marriage got dropped along the way”.
“You have an interesting life”.
“You think so”.
“In my opinion, everyone is living an interesting life; it is just that we are unaware of it. So everything passes in a haze”.
“What about your passion for gardening? How did that progress?”
“Sorry for getting sidetracked from the main point. Despite settling into my career and doing well, it still surprised me that my love for farming did not go away. And when the thought became a recurring event, I charted out a detailed plan for what to do at what age. I planned as follows: by my thirtieth birthday, I should have read all the books I could find on farming and plantation; by my forty-fifth birthday, I should have bought a piece of land in some rural area of the country to construct a house, and farming; and by my fiftieth birthday, I should resign from my job and relocate to that rural area, and begin work on my dream”.
“Were you able to follow the plan?”
“Not literally, but I did resign by fifty-five; the money I had estimated for my project took more time than I had planned”.
“Are you traveling to your farm?”
“Yes, I came to the city to buy new kinds of saplings and seeds for my farm”.
“And are they living with you?”
“Yes, my parents are living with me. The construction of the new house took a year. After its completion, we shifted there and have been living there for the last twelve years”.
“You must be happy with all you have accumulated in life”.
“I am at peace with myself”.
That chance encounter with the stranger on the train pushed Alankar’s life in a new direction, and he started forming the desire to own a farmhouse. He always believed that his fight with depression and the big city had a connection, and the discussion on the train helped firm his belief, ‘before relocating to the big city, I never had any problem with depression. Whether anyone believes it or not, I am certain if I had not moved to the big city, then depression would never have arisen’, he thought. So upon reaching his hometown, Alankar read some books on farming and plantation. The books broadened his view and got him hooked on the subject. Books like Azotobacter in sustainable agriculture, Allelopathy in sustainable agriculture and forestry, and sustainable agriculture: a vision for future followed, and he jumped headlong in acquiring knowledge about making a living from the produce of his cultivation.
With a deliberate scan of his head, from left to right, Alankar examined the harvested wheat fields and looked at the green gold barley fields and tall oats fields, ‘they are not ready for harvesting’, he thought.
“Sir the chef is here”, the servant said.
“Okay, you are going to prepare: mutter paneer, fish curry, chilli chicken, sambar, rajma, and bondi curd”, he said, ‘I believe I am not forgetting any of their favorite dishes,’ he thought for a moment, “oh… and gajar ka halwa, my son loves it. You will find all the ingredients in the kitchen if there is any problem”, Alankar said, and gestured towards the servant, “ask him, he is there for your help. Okay, you have any questions”, he added.
When the chef remained silent, “Remember the taste should be similar; everyone loved your food last time. You have a lot of work to do, so get moving. They should be arriving by eight pm”, he said, and checked the wall clock, “you have around five hours to get everything ready”, he added. Alankar took the servant, surveyed the farmhouse, and checked all rooms prepared for the family visit.
After he settled on relocating to a rural area, Alankar looked for property in villages and small towns and made journeys checking the prospective land. His family tried their level best to dissuade him, “his fool hardly plan”, his father termed the idea, and his wife questioned his desire, “have you got tired of us?” she said. It took much patience and many months of detailed discussions from him to make his family understand the virtues of shifting base to a semi-rural area. Five years had passed since he first relocated to the farmhouse, constructed with the servant quarters and the animal shed, but except for a family reunion once a year, the family preferred to stay away from the farmhouse. His father had strong reservations about his plan, but he worked at it with persistence and overcame the hesitation of his father. “Son, I believe your thinking is right, but I cannot go against your mother’s word. And I also believe she is right in sticking with your wife”, his father said. Alankar was happy with his small success, ‘at least, my father is with me’, he thought. As far as his wife was concerned, it was a different matter altogether. With his wife, his son’s studies remained the sticking point. “I do not want to bring up my son in a village. What will become of his studies?” she complained. Several suggestions, from the mundane to innovative, from him, for their son’s education, failed in dissuading his wife from her original path. It had been three years since his wife first agreed for the family to meet for the annual feast, organized at the farm, and he had taken her leniency, as a mark of her trying to bridge the gap between them. And Alankar tried installing the farmhouse with all the latest gadgets, facilities, and comforts that the family was likely to encounter in the big city, ‘once here, they should not feel a lack of anything’, he thought and hoped that one day his family would be willing to shift with him to the farmhouse and the weekend stay, would provide him another chance to change his wife’s view, and convince her to relocate to the farmhouse, ‘till that time comes, I will keep trying’, he thought.
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