Many months passed in our work. We were busy in our projects, working towards the village shift and progress.
In May that year, most of the local officials had been transferred. Mr.Thakur was also due for a transfer. He expected a less active role this time as he had fallen out of favor after the Dau incident. The Sardars had long stopped having any hope from him. But he was not worried; there were very few straight officers anyhow in this setup. The higher ups would sooner or later face some situation and transfer him to an active role. I met him before he was due to go and conveyed our gratitude.
One Sunday evening in June, he came to the village with his wife and children, without any prior notice. It was unusual for an officer of his rank. He looked quite somber. We showed them around the place. The children particularly enjoyed the visit.
In the evening, drinks and dinner for him were arranged in Nagbaba’s compound. His family stayed in the Trust’s compound and had a campfire, while they talked to Amma, Piya and other women folks.
Over the drinks, he shared the news, “I have been transferred to head a Special team to control Opium smuggling. It is a useless posting with no proper training, weapons or team.”
I said, “All they want from you is to learn to make some compromises. Help in smuggling and all sides will be happy.”
He said, “I cannot do that. If I am strict there, then they have more punishment postings. So I am thinking of resigning. I won’t get my pension as still many years are left before the minimum period. I told my wife about your story, and why we should not worry about restarting a new life.”
I said, “But you joined this service as you loved it and have worked with passion. You cannot allow others to make you leave your passion?”
He said, “There is more to it. You know what kind of enemies we make in our service. Even if one of them is mad enough to pursue us, such postings make my family a sitting duck. There is limited protection is the new role. It is better to quit and be lost somewhere.”
He had become very pessimistic about the future. I asked him, “Can something be done? You will not buy a new posting but we can; that much we owe you.”
He asked, “How can you think of bending rules or manipulating the system?” I told him what Lawyer Verma ji had told me once. The multitudes of rule books haven’t been able to bind humans in a way a Bible or Ramayana did.
I said, “When rules get misused or are framed with selfish intent, they lose morality. I am quite drunk now to decide which side is morally right. So I will behave like how nature does, and nature only favors survival. I will side with the person I know best.”
He smiled, “Thanks a lot for the thought. But nothing much can be done.” I said, “My mind is not wired to accept that easily. We will see.”
We had a lot more talk before going to sleep. Next morning, he left before I woke up.
I wondered about last night, and tried to find a way. One action looked most potent. The irony was that it was once Mr.Thakur’s idea.
I called Bajrang and team and briefed them. The trucks were going to stop abruptly. Same evening, the Khan visited the village and met Bajrang. He asked, “What happened? These trucks have permit.”
Bajrang replied, “Your masters never help us in any matter. There is no point in working with you.”
Khan asked, sensing some demand, “Be explicit.” Bajrang said, “We need Mr.Thakur to be helped by your masters.”
Khan said, “It is not possible. Sardars do not have so much influence in such matters. Besides, Thakur has been treacherous. We got him posted here for so long and he back stabbed us.”
I intervened, “You contradict yourself in the last statement. It means you guys have the influence to get officials posted by your choice. Besides, he did not ask you for this role; you guys must have factored his anger against Dau, and tried to use it. Now leave the past aside, it will be wiser to do math for future.”
He listened. I said, “We don’t want him to be near us or near you. But can’t your masters use their influence for a role befitting Mr.Thakur? I am not asking for too much.”
Khan said, “Okay I will try but I need some cover for myself.”
I said, “Okay, you can offer them five percent more trucks than permitted. But this arrangement will only last till we are in this location. Once we move, no deal will hold.”
Khan said, “Ten percent. Anyhow we will lose the monsoon months completely, thanks to your guile.”
I said, “Done. But if you don’t succeed, then find some other use for your trucks and machinery.”
Within a week, Mr.Thakur’s transfer orders were modified. He got another town. He seemed puzzled for some time how it had happened but then figured it out.
He visited again to thank us. He said, “How come you agreed to more harm to forests?”
I said, “We all here understand that national interests are bigger than a small harm here. Losing your services would be a loss for weak folks. That loss will be permanent, while we hope the forests will recover once the trucks stop.”
It was true. Whether it was Bajrang or Nagbaba or Tulsi or others, we were unanimous about this decision.
Mr.Thakur said, “Now you guys have put a lot more responsibility on me. I wish it had come sooner. A lot of years have been wasted.”
I said, “We all have learnt now that pouring water in shallow plates is useless, one needs a deeper bowl. Things happen when the mind is ready.”
Then he thanked us and left. Bajrang informed Khan who immediately reminded him to fulfill our commitment.
This year, each festival had been celebrated with a lot of fervor in the village, as it was going to be last in this location. Around Navratras, there were play enactment of Ramayana called Ramlila. It was performed on a small stag, without any mikes, or even proper costumes. The shows went on each evening for nine days, and involved the entire community. A lot of them acted, and many others sang while most women made Prasad. The final scene where Lord Ram returns to Ayodhya was played many times on popular request.
The trust gifted a small cell phone to each home in all sixteen villages. At that time, we were out of network ranges but soon the move was due to the new place. And these were going to work.
Soon it was time for a New Year arrival. The year gone past was another eventful year. Trust’s savings had increased beyond my estimates.
We had invested almost one hundred lacs in small businesses around Sohagpur and beyond. These included a network of small Dhabas that bought produce from us, especially wild chicken and fish. We also had invested in plant nurseries.
We invested a similar amount on our new village projects, and building up the new place. A composite forest farm was made where almost fifty different products came out. It had a place for chicken, cows, fishes, herbs, bees, mulberries, silkworms, and many flowers along with other products. They all shared the benefits of solar power and pure water. It was a self driven ecosystem that gave astonishing results.
The usual honey collection centers were failing due to loss of habitat and pesticides sprayed in wheat fields. Due to shortages of honey, most brands mixed sugar syrup in honey. On the other hand, our honey collection had gone up. Each home around the farm was told to grow plants supporting bees.
I had also organized the brokerage network in the area. It dealt in all land deals in the region. Earlier, if someone wanted to set up a small business and wanted land, either they had to partner with Dau or Sardars or buy it through brokers, who were mostly individuals without any clout. The small brokers could hardly complete a deal as the losing brokers kept inflating the prices offered to sellers; and transactions fell through.
We made a list of good brokers in each area. The broker handling the deal would get the usual two percent while all others would get another two percent distributed amongst them. This would keep the idle brokers also happy. We would keep three percent.
To stop exploitation of buyers or sellers, the fee was pegged to the government values irrespective of the deal size. If anyone broke the arrangement, they knew we would drop them from network, and the fear of unknown also was deterrence.
Now we were treading a thin line that distinguished a cartel from a free market. I believed that cartelized behavior would run its course sooner than later, but if we presented a new channel that made economic sense, then it would last.
We always first requested the clients to try alternate arrangements – Open market, Dau, Sardars, and official mediation. We took their business only if they wanted to escape the revenue sharing arrangements in case folks like Dau partnered them.
Our seven percent cost look quite reasonable once they realized the problems with other channels. We grew fast as our network brought a lot of ease to various stakeholders. The result was that the transactions multiplied in the area, and many small projects could see the light of the day.
In a single year, our fee totaled four hundred lacs. About a half of it went back into land investments. These were mostly lands around a project for which we had consulted in the acquisition. The price was expected to increase in multiples once the project went live.
Adding the savings from Amma’s court, the product sale, truck operations and the brokerage deal network, Trust’s deposits now had grown to more than four hundred lacs, after all investments! In addition, we had invested in lands, small businesses and our village projects. We steadily added almost forty lacs a month from various sources now.
Amma’s bank deposits now far exceeded ten lacs. Her courtyard was ready in the new village and she had been going there every day. Trust’s office, my and Piya’s hut and Nagbaba’s huts, which were all replica of what we had here, were also ready.
For the first time in history, the forest dwellers had titles on their new homes. I thought we had reached a point where money could no more benefit our villages. Their well being could be sustained with various incomes but to go a higher level we needed more knowledge in the society. Only Goddess Saraswati could help now, and it was true that many of our activities were not to Her liking. I was sure, She would disprove of Truck operations, Amma’s court and even Brokerage network.
Just a couple of weeks before our move to the new place, we had a baby boy. He became everyone’s darling, affectionately called ‘Babu’. Babu liked the current setting a lot. He seemed very comfortable and happy here. But as parents, we worried if we should provide him lifestyle like in a city.
In the month of January, 2012, on the day of Makar Sankranti, the day on which Sun again becomes ascendant, the villages moved to the new locations. Old village names were retained. That evening, we also had a gathering where the closure of all truck operations was announced. The vehicles were to be returned to the Sardar’s premises in Hoshangabad.
Nagbaba recounted the story of Mahabharata, where Pandavas were given barren areas and rocks as their kingdom. They used their knowledge and skill and converted it into Indraprastha. Similarly, we had to make this place better than the old one, without worrying about what we have now.
For a few days, it seemed a much lesser place than our old village. While the south side of the village had forests, the north side was completely deforested and had been used as plain farms. In last one year, reforestation had been started but it would take years to get the same feel.
After a couple of weeks of living there, we started liking the place. In some ways, now it seemed better. Tar road connected the village to Sohagpur. Upon our request, the last mile was left unconnected and the path reforested on both sides. An electric line also was connected to the villages. We now also had cell network, and could get the VSAT and dish antennas installed.
We contacted nurseries to provide very mature saplings, as old as five years and at least ten feet in height. With special care they were planted around the north side. Now the village had the same feel, though the large river was missed. We had a large landscaped pond and a small rivulet as compensation. Immediately work started to make this rivulet livelier by making a check dam. It would keep water up to a certain level at all times.
Within three months, before the summer set in, continuous hard work had recreated the paradise. Even the forest animals were again found near the village. Missing our presence there, some of them had moved out to come near to our new location.
Amma had been examined by a Cardiologist, and suggested an Angiogram. Unaware of the simplicity of the procedure, she wanted her family to be informed. In April, she was taken to Nagpur and admitted there. Her sons had not expected to see a private hospital in their lifetimes, let alone a private room in it.
Taking a month’s leave from the Trust, she went to her village for recuperation. We furnished her room and bought some furniture and home appliances for her comfort. She regularly called us and asked for depositing money in her son’s account. She spent almost fifty thousand giving away gifts to many folks. I feared one of the two outcomes – either she would become ‘The Amma’ there, or she would spend her savings quickly and wastefully, and be sent back.
One day, when the transfer reached one lac, we told her that her money here was over. Within fifteen days, she returned to the village. She was well treated at home. They knew she would again be in money and come back after a couple of years.
She had been away for three months. We had hired a Mumbai company expert in creating and managing such merchandise. . It worked well, and her absence was not felt by the cash registers. In fact, the use of technology created a better impression. The court had her pictures in different poses, a statue with some artistic element such that one could feel her looking at you from different places. Then there were audio CDs, and feng shui blessed by her. We could use digital effect to show Amma being blessed by various Gods. A token system was also implemented and folks were advised to first let the trust helpline know the nature of their problem. Accordingly the day and time was fixed.
While the Mumbai based agency did a good job in terms of earnings jump, they had taken away the natural beauty of Amma's court. It now resembled a electronic gadget station where people’s problems could be lessened even by watching her on the big screen. The simplicity of faith had long lost its appeal to the general populace; they needed blinding aura to numb their minds.
The agency argued that the growing number of devotees cannot be dealt with by rudimentary methods and using personal time of Amma. We also needed an accurate point of contact analytics to distinguish moneyed folks from poorer ones. In addition, those in genuine distress had to be guided properly without any cost. It was our moral boundary. But the system had one major flaw - the agency's young managers were now going to decide who was in distress and who was not.
About fifty percent problems were reported as man-woman relationship problems, but the root cause could be traced to financial troubles or social mismatch. About a fifth out of these was health related problems. Folks didn’t have the money to afford a costly treatment, so they tried Amma first.
About twenty percent were related to children’s well being; again these were due to financial distress or lack of information. Another twenty five were mixed trends that kept on changing with season. Of late, unwed couples had been growing as visitors – they were either incompatible, needed some facilitator to break them up, or could not unshackle the family hold, and needed some mantra.
The remaining ten percent were those in financial distress or greedy rich ones seeking more money. We quickly identified the last ones, and they made more than eighty percent of donations from them. They were also repeat customers. We couldn’t create money for them, but the formula was simple and effective. They didn’t need ideas; they needed their minds to be calmed down for a while so that they could think rationally and away from greed. All Amma did was to divert them for a day from their greed and fear.
This worried me. Such acts have a flip side too. Many of the villagers too had become blind devotees. They had forgotten her grooming and limitations. Fearing that Amma's contribution to our cause will soon get defeated by the poison of blind faith, we decided to give the Court a gradual retirement.
Amma also deserved to spend time with her family now. I broke the news to her, “Amma, we plan to convert your court premises into a knowledge center, in six months time. It will be called Amma's knowledge center. After that, you can lead a retired life in your village.”
She did not talk to me for two days. I was also very preoccupied. She was angry and insecure, and did murmur to others, “Now that the work is done, Bhaiya is firing me. I won’t go. Where will I go now?”
While it was a private talk, now many people knew in the village. Some, who had known her from first day, would banter with her. They would say to her in a playful manner, “Amma, you took too many leaves this year,” or, “Amma, your performance is not good,” or, “Amma, now you have become old,” and many such things. She would not answer anyone but sulked alone.
When Amma's plight became known to me, I went to her to clarify. She was still stiff. I said, “Amma, we are not removing you from the trust or its services, we just want you to relax and live with your sons and grandchildren in your older days. You would keep getting twenty five thousand rupees each month. And your money in the bank account will also be untouched. You can live or come here when you wish.”
That was the old persons' deposit scheme offered by the bank. Against her quantum of deposits, she would get the interest monthly. After some idle thought, she asked, “But who will do my work?” That was her insecurity. I smiled and said, “No one will take your place. If needed, we will use your videos and photos.”
That settled the matter mostly, though it was impossible to make her trust anyone in this regard. After all, this was her first paying job in life, and she was entitled to her insecurities..We still had many months to go before she would leave.