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The Affluence

by Inder Krishen Koul (Talib Kashmiri)

Author's Note:  The story is original and unpublished except in Urdu in my own book 'Shanakht-e-Gul'.

Thirty years back when Kailash Patti purchased a piece of land measuring seven marlas (1 marla equivalent to 272 s ft.) from the local peasant Mool Raj at Manjhpatti located far away even from the periphery of the city as it existed then, he had not even the faintest idea that during the coming three decades the land prices would go up about a hundred times. At times he would feel astonished that the escalation in real estate prices and   the downfall of human values was perhaps going on at the same speed and in the same proportion, because thirty years ago if somebody died about five to six hundred people would invariably be seen joining the funeral procession, but now a days hardly five or six persons found time to accompany the bereaved members in the last journey of their deceased kin up to the cremation ground. Notwithstanding the fact that during the present times prices of immovable property had skyrocketed beyond ones imagination, but even thirty years ago Kailash Patti wouldn’t have been in a position to purchase such a small piece of land, had his father Uma Patti during his lifetime not given an interest free loan of ten thousand rupees returnable   in easy installments to Mool Raj to defray expenses on the marriage of his daughter. Even after four years of his daughter’s marriage during which she became the mother of two and Uma Patti also expired, Mool Raj had repaid not a single penny to Kailash Patti perhaps because he still lacked resources to clear the debt.      On his part Kailash Patti too, despite the limited income earned by him in his capacity as a primary school teacher and a large encumbrance to sustain, had never reminded Mool Raj who on his own always felt a sort f guilty whenever they met. One day during such incidental meeting when Kailash Patti disclosed to Mool Raj that his family had been facing the problem of acute shortage of accommodation in their ancestral house in the city he at once offered to give a piece of land from his property located at Manjhpatti may be with the intention to liquidate the loan of ten thousand. But Kailash Patti didn’t initially pay any attention to his offer under the impression that it would be perhaps useless to purchase land so far away from the city at such an isolated place. But later, when he thought that Mool Raj may never be able to repay the debt he decided to accept the offer after consulting his wife Sushiela and the deal for the purchase of seven marlas of land for an amount of fourteen thousand was struck and finalized for which Kailash Patti made the balance payment of four thousand to Mool Raj. On this occasion Mool Raj offered to sell a full one kanal plot( 20 marlas ) to Kailash Patti but the latter declined for two reasons. The first one that he didn’t have enough money although with a slight effort he could’ve arranged finance for another five or six marlas and the second and more important one that people would take him for a fool to purchase land at such distant place not less than twelve or thirteen kilometers away from the city where one could hardly come across any human habitation except for a few mud plastered rural ramshackle huts scattered here and there of local countrymen. Therefore he contended himself with only seven marlas of land and the matter ended there.                                                                            

With the passage of time the city swelled and spread like a balloon with such an astounding speed that within a short span of twenty five years people, in a seemingly unending spree of constructing new houses, the boundaries of the city went even beyond fifteen kilometers, what to speak of twelve kilometers where Kailash Patti had then thought that purchasing land was tantamount to throwing money into the well. Not an obsession but a sort of frenzy had overtaken the people who appeared to be in a mad race purchasing land and building bungalows, mansions and luxury houses wherever there was any vacant piece left. Property dealers proliferated as wildly as Congress grass. Wherever a person went he would invariably find the shops of property dealers as if they were provision stores ……… their number being rather more than the latter. Whosoever met anyone the discussion would revolve only around sale and purchase of property, construction of houses and nothing else, as if rest of the human activity had come to a stand-still. The natural fallout was that a number of new colonies, urban estates and settlements sprang up as quickly as the hair on ones head. Initially the localities were named after various gods,  goddesses, prophets, saints etc. as a result of which Hari Nagar, Lakshmi Nagar, Krishna Nagar, Shiv Nagar, Shakti Nagar, Durga Nagar, Uma Nagar, Saraswati Vihar, Narayan Vihar, Keshow Puram, Jwala Puram, Mohammed Pura, Hassan Abad, Nanak Nagar, Gobind Nagar etc. came into existence. The builders interested in politics or in placating the political bigwigs preferred to name the localities after prominent political leaders, but taking due care that it was in accordance with their individual political proclivities and that’s how Gandhi Nagar, Jawahar Nagar, Moti Nagar, Kamla Nagar, Indira Nagar, Rajiv Nagar, Sanjay Nagar, Subhash Nagar, Shastri Nagar, Patel Nagar, Deen Dayal Nagar, Azad Nagar, Hedgewar Puram etc. came into being. The process of   naming the localities after state level leaders also took off bringing Qasim Nagar, Bakshi Nagar, Sheri Kashmir Enclave and the like into existence, but using the names of local level leaders or Municipal councilors was strictly restricted to a few internal roads and lanes only. When the speed of new localities coming into existence started surpassing the process of their naming several localities received the same nomenclatures which turned out to be a real headache for the postal employees. However, certain intellectuals found a solution to the problem by introducing the system of naming any new colony or locality after the person who first built a house there or even after either of his deceased parents. As such the phenomenon of naming the localities became so rampant that every conglomerate of forty or fifty houses received an independent name giving overnight rise to a mushroom growth of Nagars, Vihars, Abads et.   

About twenty years back Kailash Patti, much against his wishes and conscience but under severest pressure from his family members emanating of course out of their genuine complaint about dearth of accommodation in their ancestral house, constructed a two bed room house of average kind in the wildernesses of  Manjhpatti in whose environs one  could only come across the obnoxious smell of bull and buffalo shit all around with an overwhelming number of the latter submerged in the dirty ponds and cesspools to protect themselves from the scorching sun during summer. Despite taking such unwilling step under sheer family compulsion Kailash Patti could still not save himself from the most unsavory satirical comments from those very family members who now very often complained ……, “What the Hell our ( or your as the case may be ) Papa has brought us to live in ……..No bus facility……..No market…….No school nearby ………Nothing except these black bloody buffaloes……,” etc. etc. Two years later two more families, perhaps facing similar problem of accommodation, came and built houses in their neighborhood prompting Kailash Patti and his family to think in terms of giving a suitable name to the ‘new locality’ and one fine morning they did it formally by hanging a small wooden plaque bearing the words ‘ Kailash Dham ’ on the mighty Ficus tree near the main path leading to their dwelling place.

One day a wealthy Builder……..rather a tycoon among the fraternity of Builders by chance happened to see Manjhpatti and that was perhaps the moment to change the destiny of this deserted wasteland and the poverty ridden peasants in whose ancestors’ name it stood registered in the revenue records. Using his high political connections he not only purchased the whole land from them at throwaway prices but in connivance with the officers of the Revenue Department managed to occupy large chunks of Government owned land too and within no time employing all resources at his command, converted it into residential area demarcating the plots of varied sizes by professional team of surveyors, architects and engineers, and selling the same at about thirty times premium. Mool Raj and Brij Narayan were the only two persons who thoroughly understood the trickery of the Builder and not only sold away their land at better prices but also got two spacious and elegant houses built for their personal use in the same locality. Within a short period of about nine to ten years an entirely modern kind of colony came up at the place which not only boasted of its meticulously designed and laid rows of magnificent mansions and splendid bungalows but also its wide black-topped roads, brilliant street lights, superb parks & green patches and above all two or three grand shopping complexes. At least two or three costly motor cars of latest make, model and design, some as big as a bulldozer, were seen parked either in the porch of each house or on the road in its front generally with ever-alert uniformed chauffeurs standing nearby. Everything in ‘Kailash Dham’ looked like Heaven, but for the house of Kailash Patti. His was the only house which looked like an ominous blot on the beauty of the entire colony. An old single-storey house with its paint & plaster worn out here and there exposing broken rusty brickwork at several spots like the skin of a diseased rickety street dog……..the dilapidated walls, crashed roofs and missing tiles all collectively giving the entire structure the weird look of a ruined quarter of archaeological.

Kailash Patti and his spouse were now grandparents of half a dozen children a sufficient reason to convert their house into a hub of noise and disorder which offended the members of ‘civilized society’ living in their neighborhood like Mahajan Merchants, Gupta Garments, Bakshi Brothers, Saifullah Sons, Commissioner Koul, Director D’Souza, Kumar Company, Tejinder Transports and others. Whenever a well to do guest visited any of these high gentry’ houses he would invariably pass a comment about Kailash Patti’s house……someone in polished words like…… “Mrs. Gupta come what may it goes beyond any doubt that you’ve got a good hustle and bustle in your neighborhood”……….and someone in a crude way like……… “Mr. Lamba, how do you put up here near this fish market…… hats off to you”……….and someone went to the extent of saying……. “O Mr. Bakshi, couldn’t you find a better place than this Hell to live in…….Why don’t you throw some extra bucks to these fellows and get rid of this nuisance once for all?” And one day Baldev Raj Bakshi really got so much frustrated that he finally told Kailash Patti……., “Mr. Kailash Patti Ji……You happen to be an elder man in our neighborhood which is why all people in this colony immensely respect you and that too to the extent that till date this colony bears your name. Sometime back when certain people suggested changing the Colony’s name I was the one who not only opposed the amendment but resisted it tooth and nail. Sir, you’ve remained a teacher and nobody can contest that your role in imparting best of education to the people in our society has also been exemplary……...Therefore in my opinion making any attempt to make you understand something would amount to light a lamp before the sun………Am I correct?”

“What can I say in this regard………I attribute these remarks to your sagacity and liberality……...otherwise I don’t think I’m worth any compliment………Please go ahead what you want to say,” replied politely an overwhelmingly impressed Kailash Patti.

“Well Mr. Kailash Patti Ji……. I’ve been facing an extremely delicate problem for quite sometime past. My daughter who’s a doctor by profession lives in the main city where she has a spacious and splendid house but her husband who is a senior civil engineer in the Public Works Department is very frequently required to go out of station in connection with official work. Till about six months back we have had no problem when her mother- in-law was alive. But after her demise there has been a problem in looking after the children and as you’ll agree these days we can’t completely rely upon servants or maids………If you wish you can help us in this regard,” said Mr. Bakshi silently reading the impressions on Kailash Patti’s face.

“In what way can I help you, Mr. Bakshi?” asked a bewildered Kailash Patti.

“Sir…….Whatever I’m going to tell you, please don’t take it otherwise. In fact we want to construct a small house…….I mean just a two room set for our daughter adjacent to our own house so that we can look after her children personally. But we don’t have so much of land available with us. Hence we have decided to request you to help us by selling your piece of land including whatever is built on it………I hope you understand, Sir……..We’re ready to pay you any amount to your asking……..I mean more than your expectations from which you can not only buy a better kind of house but also use rest of the money for other essential things………Sir, it’s not any compulsion but only a humble request……..You please consult your wife and other family members and let me know about your decision……..  It’ll be so kind of  you, Sir,” put forth Baldev Raj Bakshi a serious kind of proposal in such an unassuming manner that Kailash Patti was stunned and it took him a bit of time to realize why Mr. Bakshi, who had never cared to say Hello to him in the past, was suddenly all praise for him today.     

Reaching his home when Kailash Patti disclosed to his wife ,  his two sons and daughter about Mr. Bakshi’s proposal they were all up in arms and summarily rejected it saying as to why they be asked to leave the locality where they had constructed the first house and thus in a sense had laid its foundation. It was two or three days later when Mr. Bakshi personally came to Kailash Patti’s house and met him in their courtyard that the latter expressed his inability to dispose off the house. Mr. Bakshi perhaps didn’t expect a negative reply from Kailash Patti, but nevertheless he didn’t relent and tried to motivate him again saying…….., “Look here Mr. Kailash Patti Ji……..You’re a very wise man……..a sensible person and you know there’s a saying among the people possessing lots of worldly wisdom that one should always build a house in the neighborhood of those who are more or less of his stature only, just as a man should chose matrimonial relationship for his son or daughter from amongst his equals………There lies the clue to lead a happy life. Now you see Mr. Kailash, you’ve got to marry off your daughter who’s as good as my own daughter.……….Isn’t it so? Tell me before man and God, will you be able to find a suitable match for her while living in this kind of shambled accommodation. Apart from that  you’ll be requiring a substantial amount of money for her marriage too……...The money that I shall be giving to you for your property will not only enable you to buy or construct a new elegant house but you’ll also be in a position to perform her marriage on a lavish scale.”

Kailash Patti replied politely, “Mr. Bakshi, we have already examined all pros and cons of this issue thread bare………My family members do not agree……….They say where should we wander with such a large establishment in search of a shelter……..After spending the childhood and youth at this place how is it possible for us to run from pillar to post with bag and baggage on our head like nomads………I’m helpless and very sorry too, Mr. Bakshi.”

Mr. Bakshi who didn’t anticipate an instant reply like this from Kailash Patti addressed him rather displeasingly, “Alright if you people aren’t prepared to accept my request I too would like to say something and whatever I’m going to speak please don’t think that it’s my personal opinion but of all the people residing in this pocket of the colony and I’ve only been entrusted the task of ‘requesting’ you to leave this place and buy a house somewhere else because your continued living here is neither in our interest nor in yours ……….This ruined structure of yours is like a black blemished spot on the beauty of this entire colony.”

Kailash Patti’s face turned pale and dull with despondency but still mustering some courage said, “Mr. Bakshi, how can you talk to me like that……….I was the first soul to have built a house at this place…….a real founder of this colony.”

“How does it matter, Mr. Kailash?............You haven’t bought this entire colony………Now onwards the residents of this elite colony will neither listen to the trash arguments of someone nor yield to the whims and wishes of any single person whether he might be the first person to have come here or the last. A Committee to look after the various welfare aspects of the colony has already been constituted and it has taken this unanimous decision. The members are of the view that either you have a suitable kind of house befitting the surrounding environment constructed to give a proof of having developed proper etiquette of living in a cultured society like ours or   cooperate with the Committee or else we also know the ‘other means’ to make you people quit. We thought you were a gentleman like us and to deal gently with such people has always been our duty and principle alike although we also know all means how to bridle an obstinate horse…..,” said Baldev Raj Bakshi in a tone which not only indicated a serious warning but a threat too and left in a huff fuming and fretting like an enraged bull in a ring on seeing the red rag.

The harsh words of Mr. Bakshi struck Kailash Patti like a lightning and today for the first time in his life he grasped the definition of ‘gentleness’ in the dictionary of the affluent and what kind of deceptive or bullying tactics do they adopt when they come upon to dispense their ‘gentleness’ in order to browbeat anyone not matching their strength. Today he was realizing intensely as to what extent a person suffering from extreme poverty and economic deprivation could feel weak & helpless and to what extent power and affluence could make another person made of same flesh and blood, cruel & callous. He was learning a lesson he had never learnt or taught before that the oppressed can beat the oppressor physically, intellectually, educationally etc. but can never take on him when it comes to obsession for pelf, power and perversity. Today he understood how a man of affluence with tremendous financial resources at his command can dictate terms to a man of meager means and coerce him to accept his legitimate or illegitimate demand. He cursed himself and his fate out and out……, “If thirty years back have I had only five or six thousand rupees more readily available with me I would’ve purchased a full kanal of land from that bloody third rate peasant Mool Raj who having remained neck deep in my father’s debt for years together has now become the proprietor of Mool Raj Marbles by selling the bones (land in pun) of his forefathers. Perhaps I might not have had to feel disgraced because by selling half of that land at current price I would’ve very easily been able to construct a spacious splendid house in place of the present one……..But alas! I’m the same penniless now as I had been then,” lamented Kailash Patti who being a lone symbol of poverty in the entire colnoy of the affluent was now nicknamed as “Kangla (Pauper) Kailash”   in whole of “Kailash Dham”. Be it the green grocer or the milk vendor or the one who irons the clothes……..so much so that even amongst the trash buyers and rag pickers he had come to be known by the same name.

No sooner did he enter his house than his wife and eldest son Kamlesh enquired about the matter and he related the whole story as to what had transpired between him and Mr. Bakshi. In order to boost the morale of his de-spirited father Kamlesh said, “ Babu Ji why are you so much worried ………After all we’re not living in a land governed by jungle law…….. I agree they may be wealthy and resourceful……….But law has its own meaning and it does have its own power and sanctity………I’ll see how they can force us to leave this place………Bloody brutes…….”

“My dear son……..You don’t know the machinations of these people………How with the power of money and influence in the higher echelons of Government they mange to get things, whether right or wrong, done. To be now very frank to you I myself do not want to live any more in this kind of polluted environment………I feel ashamed of living in this old house whose condition is a thousand times worse than the outhouses and servants quarters of these people……..Everybody here treats us and our house with disrespect……….We should do something to salvage our honor ………We should do something……..,” said Kailash Patti remorsefully while entering his room.

Once inside his room he wept bitterly over ‘his disgraceful life’ and many a time he also thought of ending his life to deliver himself from the humiliation suffered by him but later discarded the idea thinking that such a step instead of alleviating his family’s sufferings could only transfer them onto the shoulders of his wife and sons and thus aggravate the problems for them. The only thing he didn’t repent on was that he hadn’t sold his ancestral house in the city. He at once got up and walked out briskly from his house without telling anyone any thing on which his wife Sushiela felt exceedingly worried than surprised.

Two days later when all the adults of the family were on the dining table which now creaked easily by the weight of anybody’s elbows, Kailash Patti seriously looked into the grim faces of everyone and slowly reached for his handbag which was as old and as torn as their dwelling place, and advanced four stacks of a thousand rupee currency notes ( Four lakhs ) towards his sons  saying…….., “ Kamlesh! You people do one thing……….You have this money and take immediate steps to repair and renovate our house in the city………rather I should say you also go ahead with adding one more floor to the existing structure……….Don’t worry for the money……….You’ll have enough of it……..But keep it in mind that the work should be of very high quality and standard, and it should be completed within a period of three months……….Do you understand?”

All those present were stunned but didn’t utter a single word looking unbelievingly at the four green crispy wads on the table till he again broke the silence……., “ Don’t you worry my children, I’ll also personally supervise the work  so that before the expiry of three months we’re out from the ‘Kailash Dham’ of the affluent back to our own ‘Dham’ (Abode) where there is peace…….tranquility…….harmony……...the living memories of those who brought us into this world and last but not the least in whose narrow lanes and bye-lanes, porches and pavilions we can have the good luck of seeing the smiling faces of the people vibrant with everlasting love, affection, warmth,  kindness, mutual respect and generosity instead of the haunted robots of senseless affluence.”

Just a day before three months were over when Kailash Patti along with his entire family returned to his house in the city he felt as if he had regained his lost paradise. The residents of the locality without any    exception had decorated the street like a bride. In the evening all the houses were illuminated, exotic fireworks were played and sweets were distributed and when Kailash Patti overwhelmed with joy on seeing the warm reception told his wife and the children…….., “ Tell me Sushiela……. Tell me Kamlesh………Tell me my children……..Do you now understand what life means and whether my decision was right or wrong?”……..And they all replied in one voice……. “Long Live our Babu Ji……”and from the other side of the street many voices thundered and echoed together……… “Long Live Kailash Patti”……….. “Welcome Home Kailash Patti.”

 

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