Trigger warning: This story contains mentions of suicide.
Netrapal is a farmer. But he works in a motor garage.
He is bathing under a public tap near his house – a one-room apartment in a Delhi slum. A nice place, if you don’t mind the fragrance drifting from the nearby nala, flowing like a sage: timid and serene. And a continuous tunnelling of one’s ears by the shriek of machines.
Really nice. Nice and cheap.
He pours the last mug of water over his head and stands up. His thighs glisten. His eyes drip with water. He is not crying, even though he misses his village. He can’t. He is a man. But he misses the nahar where he used to bathe in flower-infested air, under a warm sun. Mustard fields where birds chirped and midnights looked like a blackened syrup of desires. And the courtyard – where under the Neem, they would have dinner together, fighting with mosquitoes.
He finds his wife working at a table. A stove over it, and under it a gas cylinder. A rolling pin in her hands. The room smells of cumin. She is mute – throwing tantrums for a little slap. Not that he has no love; he can kill for her. It’s just – he expects respect. He is a man, she a woman. Just as his father was a farmer. And the man in the black coat – a lawyer.
He remembers his face – flabby. And his car – black and big and beaming. He remembers even his father. Muscular and tall, with a thick brown mustache, and always in kurta, with a dhoti around his waist.
Netrapal has a towel. “Where’s the uniform?” he asks, expecting no reply. His words echo, even though the room isn’t so big. He finds the uniform – grey with the name of the garage on it.
Now for breakfast.
He was eating breakfast when the lawyer came. For the garage sale. An auction. In some places, they call it a yard sale. But words don’t matter. Words don’t care about farmers.
It happened in the courtyard – bigger than his apartment. His family’s belongings strewn around. Three charpais, two buffaloes, an ox, two calves, a big old iron box, another box, a heap of utensils. And bags. Bags and bags – made of cloth. The sun was up. The birds were chirping, the temples and mosques were hooting, and the fields were dry.
He remembers everything. How it looked like a party. And how his father’s head was between his hands.
If Netrapal knew how to write, he might have written a long essay on the mental health of farmers. How painful it is for one to lose his field. This issue is of a different kind. No one talks about it. They only say poverty. And government. And a number of farmers dying suicide. It is a topic of macroeconomics. Of politics. Of numbers. Not psychology. Only one line in psychology – farmers are unhappy because farming is a dying art. Machines have taken over farmers. Evolution. Nothing to worry about.
Everything is important. But farmers come last.
My fields are everything to me, his father used to say. No. Netrapal is not a farmer. He never was. He would go to the fields, but his father was the real deal. And his uncle – who couldn’t take the pressure of being one and made a brilliant knot around his neck.
Yes. Netrapal is an expert. He has seen enough, felt enough. He can write an entire book on the mental health of farmers. Sadly, for him, this topic is not in vogue in universities.
Despite being pissed, his wife places food before him. Puris and kheer – the traditional food eaten on death anniversaries of fathers. He finishes it slowly, thinking about his father.
On the day of garage sale, he had lassi, gur and a thick chapati with hot milk for breakfast. The lawyer came in while he was eating. With a bunch of buyers from nearby towns. And then things took a whirlwind turn. There was shouting and screaming. And wailing and crying and hand clasping. People raising their hands. Rating buffalos and bags. Guessing their cost price.
Netrapal was only 20. They were yet to share the problem with him. He was too busy with his new wife, anyway. He heard about it only through the lawyer. Marriage. Loan. Failed crop. Loan. No rains. Loan. Uncle’s funeral loan. Failed crop. Loan and loan. And now – a garage sale. The same old story.
Last night, after he slapped his wife because she won’t shut up about something important, he had felt guilty. But he couldn’t show it. What else could he do? His actions were beyond him. Just as the garage sale was beyond the lawyer. And his uncle’s knot was beyond him. But his father didn’t look like one to tie knots.
Then why did he?
Netrapal gets dressed and comes out. He will walk to the garage. He rarely sleeps. He only has nightmares. About the garage sale – by the end of which there was nothing left in the courtyard. Even the Neem was cut. Someone paid Rs 5,000 in cash, and every rupee was counted.
And there are nightmares in which he meets his father, his uncle, and his mother – who had perished much before. About the many walks he took in his fields of sugarcane. And his father walking him to a village fair. He lives in continuous memories. Of that garage sale, when he lost everything.
This article was first published on AYASKALA. Read the original here.
Nachi Keta is a neurodiverse writer from New Delhi whose work focuses on mental health, oppression and the absurd in social and personal.