All the Chapters of the Book are now published here.

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For Chapters 2 to 6, and 28, please see the August, 2016 section below. Rest of the Chapters are in May, 2020 section below.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Chapter 39. Forcing our place

On the other front, in a short span of six months from last September, the Trust’s financial sources had multiplied. Amma’s blessing sessions started having more and more visitors from distant villages. But we did not want too many outside folks coming to our village. So her seat was moved next to the Hanuman temple, outside the forest.
Pandit ji resisted a bit but no one heeded to him. Soon he also settled down as Amma’s visitors also gave donations to the deity in his temple. He had never seen this income before.
In the game between distress and hope, hope had higher probabilities of success. It was helped by telecommunication and other sciences. Amma’s moral encouragement further helped the probabilities of good outcomes. In a way, the dice was loaded in her favor.
Anyone who’s hope came true and the faith was reinforced would generously donate and bring more references. A board was put up announcing that Amma does not take donations or money, but it seldom worked. If one person donated something, the rest were not to be left behind. The rural folks would leave bags of staples or vegetables, while urban folks mostly gave money.
I joked with Amma and others that it needs years of practice at a railway station to figure out the trade; it was not everyone’s cup of tea.
By March, Amma had about thirty visitors a day, and the donation amounts had crossed two lacs in that month. I analyzed that most of the visitors were still poor folks. Once we would start getting more folks from rich trader community or large land owners, the donation could multiply many times.  To make it happen, we enlisted the support of brand ambassadors in many places like Pipariya and Bhopal. 
While Amma was steaming ahead, Piya was also not behind. She now had more hands employed. They had started supplying Tulsi (basil leaves) to a small drug company. It was grown without any use of chemicals. From her earlier work, Piya had known that Basil will be an easy natural product to sell. And it would fetch good money. A small order had grown multiple times. She had also added more natural products by March. The list included Aloe vera, amla and neem also. They were billing almost three lacs a month, most of it was profit. But more importantly, the possibilities were unending.
To add to it, I also added three more star earners. We got help and guidance from retired government officials. The three products were wild chicken, honey and silkworm. We had immense resources to provide them. The investments in technology to multiply them were also planned in coming months.
The upswing in the Trust's collection meant I no longer had to worry about settlement of debts of Mr.Agarwal. One day in Bhopal, I went to meet him and returned all amounts with interest. He was always warm to me, warmth that can influence someone to follow his advice. But now with the events in Delhi, he had a different respect. He took me inside the house for the first time; my old unbranded clothes notwithstanding.
“What was the hurry to return the money?” He asked as he ordered tea for me in his palatial house. This time, there were more foreign cars parked in front.
I said, “It always was at the back of my mind. When I took it, I didn’t know how it will be returned. But God has been kind.”
He said, “God has to be kind to you, and not folks like me. We have to fend for ourselves.”
I smiled and said, “You are fending for yourself quite well.”
He laughed; then showed his new cars. Then he said, “I have recently invested in a new pan masala business, along with a few other partners and politicians.  It pays handsome profits.”
I said to myself that now his business portfolio was complete. He would make and sell pan masala, treat patients for cancer in his hospitals, give them costly loans for treatment, create doctors in the medical college, and use the healthiest of addicts as collection agents.
But such businesses were also testing the legal boundaries, as greed had no limits. I had heard that across India, they were even manipulating the entrance exams for doctors, and getting their favorite or paid candidates to become doctors and Post Graduate doctors.
Naturally relieved to be cleared of his debt, I thanked him, and came back. As usual, he reminded me of his offer to join him.
Back in the tribal villages, we could now afford faster completion of water works. I started thinking of more technology to have solar pumps, and lights. We also started growing some forest herbs. Once these were a regular component of diet in India but now were sparingly available as the forests were under distress. We also took help of an expert veterinary doctor to develop artificial incubation for chicken breed found in the tribal homes. Being a technologist, I knew there were many mature technologies that would now help our products.
Seeing our enthusiasm, others villager also got encouraged. Ashok, a villager who once worked in government silk farms joined my team to expand the silk cocoon footprint. The mature cocoons were in high demand. We had so many mulberry and Saaj trees around that it would generate almost fifty lacs in one season. It would help nature too. Ashok worked on training others and established processes, so that there was minimal cocoon loss.
Similarly, one fellow suggested collecting honey and packaging. Soon, I got a message from a Forest official that he can direct a team to set up honey farm, and train a few folks on government expense. This was the multiplier effect of goodwill.
Another effect was taking root inside Shafiq. Devoid of any formal education and family affection, he had tried to find roots and affiliation to his Madarsa. He learned quite a few good things there but had been at odds with the non Semitic world of tribals. Now, he was influenced by the respect earned by Tilak and the work that was going on. Occasionally, he would put forth his views on our issues and try to associate. But he remained a fragile boy.
On the other hand, Tilak had been thinking a lot. The emptiness of his life had no remedy, but the recent events had given him some purpose till the end.
As it happens with such progress, I anticipated some uneasiness in folks like Dau, Vedi and many local politicians. On the other hand, time was approaching fast when we had to make a move to curtail illegal trucks. It was bound to get a reaction from Sardars.
I shared my thoughts with Nagbaba. There was nothing that could be done by him. He asked me what bothered me most. I said, “What we have started is still fragile. Knowing these folks, they will not let it become strong. They will be up to something.”'
Nagbaba said, “This time we won’t let them influence our direction. I am in last stage of life now but I won’t sit and watch them affect our future.”
I nodded. Then I also shared it with Mr.Thakur. He advised me, “Now you are beyond that point where they can try the strong arm tactics used for a common person. You also take protective measures. Don’t allow them to surprise you alone. They won’t do anything illegal that leaves a trail- that much I am sure about. Even hired killers work for these guys only if they are assured secrecy and safety. They won’t get men now easily after the Delhi event. But that doesn’t rule out smart tactics.”
Accordingly, all key members in our set up were advised on the safety procedures to follow. Each person had to have company before venturing out in unsafe zones. The unsafe places were identified. These were tehsils, and other crowded places like public transport and roadside dhabas. The information about our movement and destination was to be shared at the last moment with anyone outside the core team.
 We had to cross this stage of growth safely and without events.
In March last week, I received a call from Dau asking for a meeting. A few days later, Vedi too called me. He seemed to be agitated, “I have heard that some of the water bodies made by your folks will overflow during monsoons. That will make it impossible to ply the truck.”
I ignored his agitation and replied, “I don’t think these men had such calculations. You contact Bajrang; he will handle the problems.”
For the time being, it was deflected but left me wondering who was the insider passing on the information? The tribals were simple folks and one of the labors might have talked about dam work, but none of them had any inkling of the additional purpose behind the water bodies. My doubt was fixated on Mishra ji.
One warm day in April, I drove with Tilak, Bajrang and Shafiq to Dau's village. His white palatial house with tall compound walls was visible from a distance. The men guarding it were aware of our visit. After a quick check and frisking, we were taken to the open grass behind his office. The chairs for tea had been laid out, pretty much like last time. 
This time I keenly observed the place. The garden was surrounded by building on all sides. The front portions were offices while one wing was meant for housing. The backyard had kitchen and other amenities, with perhaps a basement. Dau's basement was infamous for torture. The fourth side was for guests.
Dau, his one son and one brother came out, dressed in white dhoti as usual. He was warm, unlike last time I had come here. But his tone was always very straight, as it had been. After exchanging pleasantries and ordering tea, we sat down for hearing his agenda.
Dau signaled his son to address us. The son said, “Bhaiya, with utmost respect we have followed your advice. Now we have no direct dealings with mandi cartel, coal agents or extortion agents. We have only focused on being part of real estate, road and sugar mills around. It brings development and you can yourself see how much people are happy.”
None of us believed a word of his, but we nodded. We knew they had forcefully entered as partners in such projects. They had taken my advice of cleaning their image, and worked on it superficially.  Now they dealt indirectly with illegal entities.
He continued, “While we have cleaned up, most of your income comes from illegal mining trucks. For all the talks you gave us, today you folks work for Vedi.” He said with impunity. We listened.
Dau intervened and admonished his son, “They don’t work for Sardars. They have their vested goals.  Come to the point.”
He continued, “Last time, we asked you for twenty five percent stake in your cold chain but not for free. It didn’t work out. Now we want to give you twenty five percent in our large business.”
While offering it, he had expected some expression from us but that didn’t happen. He continued, “In return, we would also be a twenty five percent partner in your work. Dau is very keen to have a person like you direct us to become a clean group. You can even aspire to be an elected representative here. On the other hand, we have lot more assets to give speed to your work.”
I replied, “From our side, there are three things. One is that I sense that you folks assume I can decide alone. But what the Trust does is now decided by multiple folks. The Trust has very different objectives than what you would prefer it to have. Given that Nagbaba and many tribals still have a strong antipathy to your group; it will be impossible to overcome them.”  
“Second, your statement about Trust earning its income by plying of illegal trucks sounds true but so is the fact that you won’t be able to enjoy any part of it. The money is put to a use that God may approve of.  But in your case, it won’t happen unless you change course.”
“Third, you may have more resources but as I understand this world now, it is immaterial. Your direction is different, and no amount of resources can protect you if this is the direction. When I gave you the advise, I had a purity of mind. Twisting that advise to keep a clean image while collecting ill advised income is the next stage of fall. It may fool many folks and keep you on right side of law but it doesn’t change the laws of nature. That law is that Lakshmi stays where Saraswati and Ganesha stay. Rest is momentary illusion.”
I continued, “I know that Dau accurately reads what bones we are made of.  Possibly, the events of the past few months have made you think that our minds have got corrupted by easy money and we would be ready to accept what you propose. But it is not so.”
The son said, “Then how come you have a deal with Vedi?”
I replied, “We can do a similar deal with you, taking care of your operations for a fee much lesser than what we ask Vedi for. But that doesn’t mean we put our interest on sale.”
The son recoiled but with a hazy intent. He said, “You folks have seen some money and have shown some bravado in distant lands, but you have no clue of how bad it can get without strong friends like us. Having one odd person like Thakur sympathetic to your cause is not going to help.  All these officials will show their true color once the Sardars pull a string at the top. Your group is so fragile that it will scatter in no time, once shaken.”
Dau intervened, “Don’t misunderstand what we are offering to you. This talk of uprightness and God is for the weak. Neither will help if one is hit by a bolt of lightning. After all your hard work, Sardars will come and reap the benefits. But we can’t let that scenario happen.”
I said, “You are insecure about such scenarios. But the option you offer has no takers amongst us. I place more trust in heavenly forces than in such deals.”
That ended it from my side. But Tilak had been waiting to say something before leaving.
He looked that the Son and said, “You mentioned our bravado in Delhi. It was much beyond bravado. We all were driven by some madness to make things right. Before that madness, the fear that entering a lane full of dangerous folks had no meaning. Fortunately, just a few of us were needed. But I knew that even if a thousand mad folks were required, they would have come for us. All those dangerous criminals held no meaning to us – they just fled. That was a crowded area. Your palace stands in an open area – it’s a grave error. Just like that, others have exposures too, even if they are Vedi or Sardars.  If anyone thinks of harming Bhaiya and stopping our work, they may succeed but not without getting wiped out before our madness. Let us do our work.”
Then we rode back.
Years have passed since that night, but I have not been able to decide if Tilak’s expression was apt or not. Dau and Sardars were like Hyenas, they needed to be shown a credible deterrence to prevent violence but they quickly evolved their stances and alliances. 
Meanwhile, I had asked Mr.Thakur to find out about the fate of the two Nigerians and others injured. More importantly, I wanted to know if any police report was filed. He called me after a few days, and said, “One has been paralyzed while one person died. Others had injuries but will recover. These guys have been illegal inhabitants and criminals, and many are not even valid citizens. A complaint means handing over affairs to local police. No one would register a complaint so easily. Also, it’s impossible for them to try and extract Tulsi from the village or harm anyone there. So don’t worry.”
I also thought that the message left to them was quite credible that any act of revenge would be met with unthinkable cruelty.  The rumor mills in the Lahori lane and by lanes were also running fulltime. As it happens after such incidents, those beaten believed that a hundred strong contingent had come down. Most inhabitants were scared of another such incident. The facade of fear of Nigerians and other goons was broken badly.

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