The Ghazipur Gang

Update for fortnight ended 5 August 2011


Ramgoolam was a regular at the local “Akhada”, an open air gymnasium for bodybuilders and wrestlers, and was determined to follow the tenets of the akhada group – of being a bachelor for life. He would exercise every evening, visit the local Hanuman shrine (dedicated to the monkey God), drink almost 4 lotas of milk (one lota is approximately a pint); ate largely vegetarian meals and during the day, worked quite hard at the local farm. The residents of this village near Ghazipur, on the banks of the Ganga, had just been introduced to the water guzzling grass that had a sweet stem, brought by the Company (East India Company) onto these fertile flood plains of the Ganges. Ramgoolam was quite adept in cultivation, and his muscular build was very useful in the harvest – which was done by a machete, introduced by the French further downstream at Chanderpore.  Ram would toil all day and yet have enough energy to go through the multiple push-ups and gadha lifts (rotating lifts done using a heavy wooden mace, gadha, swirled over the head and then brought down in multiple repetitions). On the first Monday of the “Shravan” month (Hindoo month corresponding to the Gregorian calendar July/August), he was summoned to the company office and told that he was to find at least 50 more field workers like him who would work in a field away from Ghazipur. Ram was excited at this additional responsibility and quickly used his contacts in the village and rounded up at least 30 odd men, just like him. Mr Sommers was not happy with the number, as he was under instruction from the Calcutta headquarters that they needed at least 50 from Ghazipur. Sommers’ anger could be seen in his red face. His eyes had squinted, as his brows narrowed. He barked orders at Ramgoolam, “You have half a day to get the remaining 20 people, else you could consider yourself relieved from regular duty at the Company Sugarcane Field.” Ram panicked and he huddled with his co-workers. They were perhaps the only males left in the village who could embark on a journey to a distant field and barring the aged and the children, the only others left in the village would be Nattoo (Natwarlal), the village bumpkin who was actually more of a burden, than worth his muscular strength, and the women. Now Ram could not dare to ask the women to join in this, though they did help sometimes in the field when some men fell ill, or when the company wanted more cane harvested from Ghazipur because the Dutch were moving up the Ganges and sinking the cane bearing barges from nearby Rudrapur or Majharia. He asked Kanhaiyalal to ask them. That was the only way they could all keep their jobs, and be able to feed their families. Kanhaiyalal was a hit with the ladies, as he was handsome and witty and he also played the flute quite well. He talked to Parbati, the feisty daughter of the local blacksmith. Parbati was hesitant, but somehow managed to see reason, when she saw the potential plight of her villagers if Sommers did not get his way; in fact she saw a worse future for herself and other women in the village….. she saw Sommers exploiting the women as the men would be buckled down, or sent to prison on some excuse for an offence or the other. She convinced the women and together with them, joined the band of men on their new job opportunity.


They left the next day on a small country boat, naav, with the bare minimum belongings – some thoughtful women took along a couple of goats for milk (goats are smaller than cattle, and can eat anything). they also carried their little cloth bags of sattu, seasoned roasted gram flour, which could be made into an instant meal. The river was in spate, given the good monsoons, the strong current, helped the country boat to reach Calcutta in just a little under 3 days. In Calcutta, they were joined by other boatloads of people from other towns like Majharia, Chhapra, Rudrapur, and almost all of them spoke the same language, dialects may have differed a little. They were all loaded onto a large steamer, the size of the village, felt Ram. The steamer had various decks, and the men were holed up in the lower bunks closer to the engine room – hot and humid; while the women were put up in the upper decks due to consideration for some who were in the family way, and would need to constantly need to regurgitate – over the railings. The Bay of Bengal was quite stormy with the monsoon activity in full swing, and they were lucky to avoid the cyclone that had swept into Rayalaseema a few days ago. But that did not stop the ship from rolling form side to side, bobbing like a giant wheel at times. Sickness, disease compounded by the violent seas and rainy skies caused some tragedies, as a few of the passengers died and their bodies had to be tossed over into the sea. There was no time nor place for a decent funeral. The morale on the ship was really low. And half of the journey through the monsoon affected seas was enough to decimate many on board. When the ship finally reached its destination a few thousand miles away on an island in the Indian Ocean, the Ghazipur Gang of 50 was now down to 30.


The Shravan month on D Street started as one of havoc, almost reliving a rainy Ghazipur of over a century and half ago. The hardworking Boyz did all they could to work hard to keep their SENSEX in place, but the demands of foreigners (news from foreign lands ranging from Italy to Spain to even the New Lands across the Atlantic) was too disturbing to help them think in sync. So some days they stumbled, dropping the SENSEX, while others they recovered, able to pick up the fallen SENSEX. But this week, the journey on D Street was turbulent – like the monsoon, as the waves lashed from all side, getting the Boyz to lose their balance and trip and fall ever so often. In fact on Friday, they fell overboard and the SENSEX sank for a while below 17000, but finally was retrieved as calmer weather emerged and it ended the tempest like fortnight 1400 points down to 17302.


Ram helped emaciated Parbati off the ship onto the pier. The harbor was small and calm. It was sunny and the sky had wisps of white fluffy clouds. Just ahead of the harbour was a mountain that rose almost touching the sky. Parbati felt better as she held onto Ram and walked on land after weeks of being sea-borne. The first thing she looked for in her luggage was a small lota, a short stout amphora like copper vessel. She found it, and asked Ram to untie the little bowl that was used to seal the mouth. She then asked Ram to tip a few drops of the water stored in it onto her thin pale lips. She then folded her hands in obeisance to the lota and asked Ram to re-seal it for her. She was not sure how long that water would last, but as long she had Gangajal with her, she was sure she would be protected and remain healthy.


Have a healthy and safe weekend…. Cheers……



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