In a country which boasts of chronic poverty, it is hard to be defined poor. This is, if one is aware of the government’s latest rule to separate the wheat from the chaff, that is to separate the poor from the rich in a society. However, for me as a poor farmer from the rural highlands of Rampur, I would say it is a method to separate the poor from the non-poor. It is laughable that the government considers people who can afford three square meals a day, to be not a part of the deserving poor.
The recent squabble over the optimum poverty estimates had me laughing not on politicians but on myself. I laughed at myself for being poor yet not poor enough to deserve my due share in my country. As the clouds conquered the blue sky and rain announced its arrival through resounding thunder and a drop of water landed in the glass of tea that my wife just bought for me, I ran with it inside my house before the rains could take from me this tiny luxury that I had the opportunity to experience just twice a day. This year was yet another that experienced late monsoons. I hope even though late, these monsoons do not disappoint us by running away too early. Yet another day goes to waste! I thought of how, unlike more fortunate people I was reminded of the arrival of the monsoon season by the sight of my dripping roof. As if this wasn’t enough the road in front of my shanty would be filled with water, cutting us from the main road for a good four to five days.
As my wife frantically ran across the house searching for almost anything that could be used as a shield to protect things from the rain water that seeped into our house through the roof, while simultaneously shouting orders to my daughter and son, I asked myself, why is it that even after completing forty decades of my life was I like this. What had I done to deserve this? Bad Karma? No, I said to myself assertively, after all I was very pious and the last year’s bath in the holy Sangam at the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad coupled with my generous offerings to the nearby temple every Tuesday should have done away with any reminiscences of the previous births. Maybe I was poor because I was born poor. Again my mind got the better of me, and I rejected this reason. There is nothing wrong with being poor; there were so many luminaries who had battled poverty only to shine at the various echelons of the world. You see, I was born to an alcoholic father and a pious mother. My father left my mother and departed for the holy abode when I was thirteen, and my mother tried to pay for his sins with her piousness and service to God. Barely able to register what had happened, suddenly I had to leave school and work with my mother in the fields to supplement the family’s meager income. By and by, as I grew I moved from strength to strength and learnt the nitty-gritty of farming.
When I got married at twenty, there was yet another mouth to feed in the family. I look at my wife and wonder does she share my curiosity? I can’t source anything to this present state of things. Then my I move my gaze to my children, my daughter who is nineteen and goes to college and then my son who is like any other fifteen year old, in his final years at school. As my gaze drifts to my feet, I once again ponder whether my children also remain this way or will they achieve something for themselves, something that I haven’t been able to give them? Will my legacy to them be a never ending curse of poverty? I wish I had an answer. Just then breaking my train of thoughts, was my wife’s shrill voice calling me a sloth and asking me to come and help her with a chore. I apologetically obeyed her command and simultaneously laughed inwardly a cynical laugh, thinking that I was so poor that I cannot even lament my own misfortunes.
The government says that I am not poor as I can afford my own meals and even send my children to school without foregoing on necessary amenities. Sure if that is the parameter of measuring poverty then I am rich. But then again, if I am rich, why is it that I have to trade off my wife’s arthritis medicines for my daughter’s fees? Poor woman has to go through excruciating pain during winters. Why is it that I and my wife have give up our lunch to fund our children’s tiffin boxes? Maybe it is destiny. As I ruminate, I see Hari, the village outcaste make his way through the water to reach his house. As soon as the people see him coming they immediately stick to the sides of the road and make way for him. However, he walks on without a care in this world. What has he done to deserve this inhuman treatment? Just because my caste is a shade higher than his, does he really deserve to not live next to my house but only at the other end of the village, where only dogs go about doing their business? People say the society has moved forward, why don’t I see that revolution reach the rural areas? The government says that it has done its duty by rolling out dozens of schemes that provide poor with freebies.
The newspapers are filled with the new schemes that government announces everyday. Yes, it might surprise you that I can read a newspaper and only four other people can do so in the entire village. Further, my children are also part of this elite group. It fills me with immense pride when people come to me to write letters to their kith and kin.
Despite my highly prized ability to read, I haven’t read a newspaper in a week, mainly because I can’t afford it. The only time I get to read one is when I visit my rich landlord’s house, who never lets me forget that I am reading it for free, as I sit on his marble footsteps for free and while I enjoy the cool air of a fan, that too for free of cost. I do feel thankful to him for his generosity but not only for these small things but for more life changing things, like for exploiting me and my past generations for his own vested interests, for making sure that he got more than his due share of profits at the expense of my and my family’s future, only because I was helpless. I have heard people from big cities say that the our government is dedicated solely towards the benefit of the poor and then they rattle off the names of countless schemes doled out by the regime. While I listen to them gloat on us villagers, I wonder how come none of these schemes actually benefitted the targeted audience. Be it the NRHM or the MNREGA, what has it done for us? Don’t our well educated urban counterparts know about the widespread malaise of corruption that mars the government offices.
I laugh at their ignorance, only to be looked upon in ridicule by them. While I am lost in this conundrum, my daughter rudely shakes me out of my dreamy haze by handing me over my lunch, consisting of two chapattis and an onion. She complains about the rains and how they prevented them from stealing a few vegetables from the landlord’s farm. I smile at her disappointment. She is nineteen; I must marry her off soon. Otherwise if she grows any older then I would have to marry her with a huge dowry. The sooner the better it is. And then I go back to the joys that she had given me. I was satisfied that the least I had done for her was give her an education, a tool that can spearhead many journeys of life. Further, as I munched on my lunch, I hoped that she would not end up poor and unhappy like her parents. I hope that the vicious circle of poverty ended just right here. My daughter was a student of Economics, you see, at her college. It was she who explained to me this concept of how poverty begets poverty. I had many a times boasted about this concept to impress my uneducated fellow villagers and gained leverage over them.
Finishing my lunch I see the dismal state of the household and sadly lamented about my legacy, namely my children. I spent the next two hours thinking a way out of this quandary, when my daughter suddenly announced that she had volunteered as a teacher at the local school. My wife slapped her as she was enraged at the thought of teaching for free when she could easily devote that time at home, helping her out with the daily chores. Tearfully, she answered brazenly, that she didn’t want other children to end up like her parents. It was then that I realized that maybe the reason because I was poor was that I was not educated. My meager education was not of any real use. As I wasn’t aware about what was happening around me, I wasn’t aware of the options that I had at my disposal. While being uneducated out of necessity was another matter, being uneducated out of choice was foolishness.
Education arms one with a formidable tool that can help anyone cross any bridge. Be it the rigid caste system or the cancerous corruption that ails the government framework of our village, the need of the hour is to educate myself and everyone around me to leave by an impressive and impactful example. The society which had suffered centuries of exploitation cannot be woken out of this slumber of oppression in a matter of few months or by virtue of a few welfare schemes that run dry of funds before they reach the people for whom they are meant for. As I lay, my face became resplendent with a glow that my family had ever seen.
I knew this because it was exactly then when my son asked ne why was I smiling to myself. I nonchalantly told my wife to not wait for me and my daughter for dinner. Puzzled, she asked me the reason for coming home late, I told her quietly “I am going to the night school”.