by Francis Baartmans mhm
The Mysterious Trail of the Tamarind
Voices from the Margin
In a recently published book Fr Francis Baartmans mhm presents a fascinating account of the Dalits of the Nagwa Basti in Varanasi, India. Extracts from this study are being serialised on this website over the coming days/weeks. (Instalment 2)
Naurangi's story of the Tamarind Tree.
Naurangi Devi, 65 years of age approximately.
Her eyes fill with tears as Naurangi Devi, in her late sixties, tells the story of her life. She has had her share of sorrows. A smile spreads across her face. She feels comforted she is being given attention.
"And I have a strange story about the Thakurs to tell", she says."Maybe others too told it, people know it".
Naulangi Devi's accommodation up the ladder
Naurangi Devi's accommodation leaves much to be desired. She deserves better. Her sons have been asked to see to it that she gets a more comfortable place to live in her old age. Before the interview began, Naurangi Devi mentioned the name of her father, the late Bhaggal Ram, the name of her mother, the late Dalmeera Devi and the name of her grandfather, the late Sommar Ram. Naurangi Devi had tears in her eyes when she told her life story. She had her share of sorrows.
I was first married when I was 16 years of age. My husband's name was Sukhanand of the village Lodan Chandmari near Christnagar. My husband was 23 years of age. He had work with the police. In the second year after my marriage I gave birth to a boy and a year later I had a girl. Three months later my husband died. I returned to my father's house in Nagwa. Shortly afterwards my son died. My father then arranged my second marriage to Nandlal in Babatpur. With the girl I had while married to Sukhanand I went to live my second husband Nandlal. We had two girls and three boys. Two of the girls died. When my youngest son was six months old, my second husband died. So I again came to my father's house and lived there with the three boys I had with Nandlal and the daughter I had with Sukhanand. I arranged all their marriages. The daughter I had with Sukhanand died soon after her marriage. So I have three sons left. The eldest, Ramesh lives with his wife in Babatpur. The second son Suresh lives with his wife elsewhere. The youngest lives with me here in Nagwa.
The story of the Tamarind Tree
My father, the late Bhaggal Ram was a daily wage earner and my mother worked for the Thakurs ofNagwa. My father's financial situation was not bad. Our family could maintain itself fairly well. My uncle also worked in the fields ofThakur Saheb Damodar Singh. One day my uncle Sukhu Ram returned to Thakur Saheb's house with the plough and the oxen. Just then while he was tying the oxen to the posts, the 'thakurain', Damodar Singh's wife insisted that she wanted some imli fruits (fruit of the tamarind tree) there and then. Thakur Saheb could not do anything about it. Helpless, he ordered my uncle to get some imli fruits from the tamarind tree at once. Sukhu Ram asked ifhe could have some water but Thakur Saheb refused to let him drink. So Sukhu Ram, thirsty as he was, climbed the tamarind to get some fruits when he suddenly fell to the ground and died on the spot. His body was taken to his home but no one offered any help to perform the funeral rites. Uncontrollably weeping, my grandfather Sommar Singh pleaded with Thakur Saheb to help but in spite of his requests he received no help. In the end, tired of the situation the villagers helped to cremate Sukhu Ram's body.
Then something uninvited and strange began to happen in Damodar Singh's house. In whatever they cooked to eat, insects were found. Often the family found themselves in trouble. Damodar Singh got quite upset and when he was at a loss what to do he asked an astrologer for advice.
On the astrologer's advice he had in his house a shrine built with a statue of Sukhu Ram installed in it. The whole family began to worship Sukhu Ram. Till today, whenever daughters-in-law arrive in the house after their marriage they first spend one night in the room where Sukhu Ram's shrine was built. Only then they go to their husbands. Whatever is cooked to be eaten is first offered to Sukhu Ram's statue and then everyone eats.
Thakurs did not allow us to touch their utensils. Drinking water they poured into our hollowed hands. In those days, Dalit Basti's people used water from the Ganges for cooking and drinking. Things were cheaper than they are now. I know very little about Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. I think that when Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister untouchability became less widespread. The question if our caste worships any particular god or goddess I cannot answer.
Here stood the tamarind tree full of fruits