SOFT LIGHT : Bangalore to Bodoland – Two Stories for You

Story  1

Mr. P has just arrived in Bangalore from Kanpur with a plum job as software developer. He starts house-hunting, and after checking out all kinds of accommodation from truly ugly to palatial, he finalises a one bedroom apartment. It's in a clean, green, quiet neighbourhood. After his small and congested home in Jajmou, it's quite a break. The apartment is in a mess, but Mr. P feels it's quite a deal at 14K per month. It's airy, has sunlight and overlooks a pretty road. The deposit is a bit steep, but he does not argue with the landlord.

With the rental agreement in place, Mr. P starts renovating the flat. He installs cheap but handy window sliders with mosquito nets, replaces a few bathroom fittings. Fresh paint, light furniture and flowery upholstery complete it.

Mr. P is happy with life. He works hard, and enjoys dinners in the apartment with his friends. His new girlfriend thinks it's 'a really cute place'. The landlord had never visited him again after riding away into the sunset with post dated cheques for 11 months.

The 11 months are almost over. The landlord drops in and gapes at the apartment. He now quotes a rent that stuns Mr. P. He insists that annual rental hikes are usually 5% in Bangalore, and in some exceptional cases, 10%. But this man wants 18K per month, with an additional thousand for maintenance! The landlord points out that new roads have increased connectivity, the water supply has regularised, and a mall is coming up close by.

Mr. P cannot afford a rental of 19K. He needs to pay for electricity, internet, food, clothing. He needs to send money home to his parents in a small town far away.  He plans to marry soon, and like all true Hindus, he looks forward to a happy but expensive wedding ceremony.

Mr. P has a big argument with the landlord. He asks for the deposit, along with compensation for all the repairs and decorations he has done to beautify that miserable little dump he walked into. But Mr. P is alone, and the landlord has friends in all the right places.

In the end, Mr. P moves out with half the deposit money. The landlord retains the rest to buy furniture for the next tenant as Mr. P refuses to part with the ones he bought.

Sounds familiar? It doesn't matter whether you are in Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Hyderabad or Chennai. A version of this little story is playing in all forms, languages and colors across our wonderful country.

Story 2

Mr. Q crosses the Bangladesh border late at night with his wife. She is pregnant, and he is a landless laborer who has just been threatened by the local goon. Assam, with its rolling hills and fertile valleys is two hours walk. So, they walk over.

Mr. Q offers his services to a farmer owning a paddy field. He sets up a hut in a corner of the field. His wife delivers a healthy boy. Mr. Q rejoices, but knows he will have to work harder now. He goes at the soil in pouring rain and humid heat like a man possessed. The soil speaks in waves of paddy that spring out of it, astonishing the land owner.

Seven years pass. Mr. Q is now the proud father of an intelligent son and a toddling girl. The couple work hard, have a good relation with the landowner's family, and look forward to educating their children. The two families (Bodo and Muslim) are close enough to share meals and the children play together. The Q couple have voter's ID cards, and have cast votes in favor of the same person as the landowner. They have no interaction with extremist groups, politicians, religious leaders, thugs, poachers, or policemen. Their friends are other village folk around them.

But happiness does not last forever.

A riot had been brewing in the borders outside the village for some time. Some immigrants speak with a hatred that frightens Mr. Q. Counter arguments are set up with a fervor that terrify their landlord.

One dark night, the village is attacked. Everyone knew trouble was afoot, but no one had thought it would be so soon or so violent. Mr. Q manages to flee with his family. He sees their hut, and the landlord's as well, go up in flames. They walk till they reach the nearest relief camp, tired, hungry with the children crying constantly.

But even in a relief camp, life can't stop. Mr. Q's son plays football with other kids there. His wife shares tales of woe and memories of happier times with other women. He tries to trace friends and neighbours. He learns that the landlord's family is in another camp. The men meet stealthily one night and Mr. Q is assured that everything will be alright as soon as the landlord can return.

And he does return once the riot quiets down. He does inform the babu in charge of rehabilitation that Mr. Q can come back and rebuild the hut anytime he wants.

But nobody carries the message to Mr. Q. So he watches helplessly as men he had never seen before go back towards his village, brandishing magically produced land papers. The couple's voter's ID cards had burned away with the hut. They don't have money to buy new identities. All those years of cultivating the field, building their lives, had gone to total waste. Mr. Q starts contemplating how to curry favor from a politician and get back home. His wife begs him to stay away from 'such people', but she fears he might not listen to her.

Was this story too strange, too alien? How different are Mr. P and Mr. Q? They don't look same, have nothing in common, will never meet. But they both wanted a peaceful life won through hard work. And they both felt cheated by a situation over which they had no control.

Our country will live these stories over and over again unless we are able to break the ring of politics and crime solidified by our apathy. All of us, in some way or the other, will be affected as long as we continue to turn a blind eye to the world around us in the hope that bad things happen only to 'other' people.

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