Friday, October 17, 2014

ZAMEEN – Short Fiction Story – DEAD END

DEAD END
Short Fiction Story
By
VIKRAM KARVE

From my Creative Writing Archives:

There is a saying in Urdu:

 Har qatl di e jar zan zar zameen

(The motive for every murder is because of woman, money or land)

Most crimes occur because of Zan (woman or love passion) or Zar (money). 

This is a story where Zameen (land) is a motive for a crime.

I wrote this short story 21 years ago, sometime in the year 1993. 

One evening when I had gone on a long evening walk, I happened to witness a brutal land acquisition.

The might of the powers-that-be was on full display against the hapless landowners who were being evicted from their land.

They were protesting because the promised compensation had not been paid to them.

The hapless landowners feared that once they lost their land, they would have to make rounds of various government offices for compensation and pay bribes to get their due.

A few years later, someone told me that the land had been encroached upon, so the whole land acquisition exercise had gone waste, and the biggest losers were the erstwhile landowners.

The whole scene and situation moved me and I wrote a fiction short story called DEAD END.

Then, the story was highly appreciated.  

Huge land acquisitions take place for building projects and institutions. 

But does anyone look at it from the perspective of the displaced landowners? 

You even hear stories, maybe apocryphal, of land being forcibly acquired from farmers ostensibly for public purposes, and then the acquired land is “de-reserved” and sold off to builders who make a huge profit by building residential and commercial projects.

Land can become a big bone of contention and is the root of crime and corruption (the Zameen in crime triad Zan Zar Zameen).

I think this fiction story DEAD END is quite relevant even today. 

Do tell me if you like the story.

DEAD END – Short Fiction Story by VIKRAM KARVE

Manjunath was a contented man.
 
He was the proud owner of a coconut grove, more than a hundred trees, located on the most picturesque stretch of the western coast, skirting the Arabian Sea. The land was fertile and the yield was excellent.
 
Every morning, along with his wife and two sons, Manjunath would cast his fishing nets into the gentle waters of Baicol Bay, and in the evening, when he pulled in his nets with the receding tide, the catch would be adequate, if not substantial.
 
I loved Baicol Bay. 

It was a most beautiful and pristine place by the sea and sunset, on the western coast, was a special event.
 
So every evening, I went for a jog on the soft unspoilt beach, and after a swim in the crystal-clear waters, I relaxed on the sands, beholding the fascinating, yet soothing, spectacle of the mighty orange sun being devoured under the horizon of the sea.
 
As darkness enveloped, Manjunath would gently appear by my side with a tender coconut in hand.
 
At that moment, there was nothing more refreshing than sweet coconut water.
 
The year was 1980 and I was a fresh, young and idealistic Indian Police Service (IPS) Officer, on my first posting, as Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) of this lovely coastal district.
 
The air was fresh and unpolluted and the weather was temperate. There was no railway line, no industries, and no noise. The district headquarters was a one-street town. Everybody knew everybody, the people were peace-loving, and in the prevailing climate of contentment, it was no surprise that the crime-rate was almost zero.
 
One day, my boss, the Superintendent of Police (SP) took me to an important meeting in the District Collector’s office.
 
As I heard the words of the Collector, I experienced a deep sense of distress. A notification had been issued and a mammoth Steel Plant had been sanctioned in the Baicol Bay area. Land Acquisition was the immediate top priority. The police were to ensure that there was no law and order problem.
 
“But why can’t they locate the Steel Plant somewhere else?” I protested. “This lovely palace will be ruined. And where will the people go?”
 
At first, the Collector appeared dumbstruck by my interruption. 

Then he glowered at me with a fierce and threatening stare. 

I avoided his gaze and looked around the room. 

Everyone was looking at me in a curious manner. 

My boss, the SP, was desperately gesturing to me to keep quiet.
 
“I wonder whose side you are on?” the Collector snapped angrily, still giving me an intimidating glare.
 
“Don’t worry, Sir,” the SP spoke, addressing the Collector, “There will be no problems. The people here are a docile lot. Everything shall proceed smoothly.”
 
When we were driving back to our office, the SP said, “Joshi, you better tame your tongue and watch what you say, especially in front of others.”
 
“Sir, you please tell me. Is it not gross injustice? We pay them a pittance for their fertile land. And then evict them from their habitat, and destroy the beauty of this place, just because someone decides to set up a set up a Steel Plant here.”
 
“It’s in the national interest, Joshi. Why don’t you try and understand. Everyone shall be properly rehabilitated with a job and a house and also get a compensation.”
 
“Come on, sir,” I argued. “You know where we are going to relocate them. The rehabilitation camp is more than twenty kilometres away from the sea front. And we are putting them into small overcrowded multi-storeyed tenements, which are at complete variance from their ethos. These people are used to open spaces, fresh air, and most important – the waterfront, the sea.”
 
“That’s enough, Joshi,” the SP said angrily. “Your job is to carry out my orders. I want you to take personal charge of this operation. The task must be completed smoothly and on schedule. Is that clear?”
 
“Yes, sir,” I replied meekly.
 
That evening I held a meeting with the affected villagers. 

Manjunath was sitting in the first row, right in front of me. 

I spoke of patriotism, sacrifice for the “national cause” and the prosperity the Steel Plant would bring into their lives.
 
To my utter surprise, there was no resistance. 

Everyone seemed convinced, I think because they were simple people who believed every word I said.

But to my own self, my own words sounded insincere, and I felt acutely uncomfortable.
 
And so the land acquisition operation began.
 
Awe-struck, Manjunath saw the might of the government on display. 

Manjunath watched with tears in his eyes, columns of police standing by, while bulldozers destroyed his beloved coconut grove.
 
A few days later Manjunath stood before the employment officer. 

The employment officer was in a foul mood. 

“These illiterate buggers get jobs on a platter while my matriculate brother-in-law rots unemployed in city,” he complained, “I had promised my wife that I would wrangle at least a Class 4 unskilled labourer, domestic attendant or peon’s job for him out here.”
 
“Hold your tongue,” the rehabilitation officer said angrily, “These so-called ‘illiterate buggers’, as you call them, were land-owners, displaced from their own land. They are entitled a job in lieu of their land acquired for this project.”
 
“Okay, okay. Don’t get hot,” the employment officer said to the rehabilitation officer. 

Then, the employment officer looked at Manjunath and curtly asked him, “Do you possess any special skills?”
 
Manjunath could not comprehend, so he just stood silent.
 
In an exasperated manner, the employment officer snapped, “We haven’t got all day. Tell me. What can you do?”
 
“Coconuts,” Manjunath answered.
 
“Coconuts?”
 
“Yes, Sir. Coconuts.”
 
“What else?”
 
“Fish.”
 
“Fish and Coconuts, eh! You will see plenty of them,” the employment officer said. 

He wrote the word ‘cook’ beside Manjunath’s name in the register.
 
And so, at one stroke, Manjunath was transformed, from a land-owner into a cook.

First he worked as a cook in the ramshackle canteen for construction workers and later as a cook in the huge industrial canteen of the Steel Plant.
 
But Manjunath was lucky. 

At least he had become a cook. 

Most others became Unskilled Labourers because the skills they possessed, like farming and fishing, were not relevant as far as the Steel Plant was concerned.
 
And so almost all the “skilled” workers – the tradesmen, all the welders, fitters, machinists, electricians etc – they all came from outside, from faraway places, the cities and the urban areas. 

And the complexion of the place began to change.
 
Soon I stopped going for my daily evening jog to Baicol beach.

Now the whole place was  littered with debris from the construction work and the air was no longer pure, but polluted by fumes and dust.

It was no longer quiet and calm, but the noise from the ongoing construction work was unbearable.
 
And, of course, now there would be no Manjunath waiting for me with a tender coconut in hand.
 
So when my transfer came, I felt relieved and happy.

I no longer loved the place and, more so, I could not bear the pain of witnessing the beginning of the systematic metamorphosis of a beautiful natural paradise into a huge monster of concrete and steel.
 
When I returned after fifteen long years, the place had changed beyond recognition. 

The gigantic steel plant, the railway line, the new port, the industries, the ‘fruits’ of liberalization and the signs of prosperity, modern buildings adorned by adjoining slums, filth and polluted air, all types of vehicles clogging the roads, restaurants and bars, the noise and even most of the people looked alien.
 
As we drove down to the police headquarters, the SP said, “It’s not the same place when you were here, sir.”
 
“The crime-rate was zero then,” I said. “What has gone wrong?”
 
“There are two types of people now, Sir – the liberalised Indian and the marginalised Indian.”
 
“And us!”
 
“And us,” he laughed, “yes, sir, and us trying to sort the whole thing out.”
 
I was head of the crime branch at the state police headquarters and had been sent down to investigate a series of bizarre murders. 

A few bigwigs were waylaid, had their heads chopped off and their headless bodies dumped outside their houses. 

It had created such a scare that my boss had rushed me down.
 
The car stopped. 

I recognized the place at once.
 
“The common thread, sir,” the SP said, “All the victims lived in this luxury residential enclave.”
 
“I knew this place,” I said, feeling a tinge of nostalgia, “There used to be a coconut grove here. This place was acquired for the steel plant. But now I see that it is just outside the perimeter wall. I wonder why they excluded this area.”
 
“Must be the environment stipulations, sir,” the SP mumbled, “the two hundred meter zone or something. They must have de-notified it.”
 
“De-notified it? Don’t give me bullshit!” I shouted, “How the hell has this posh residential complex come up here? And if the government did not want the land for the steel plant, then why was this excess acquired land not returned back to the original owners?”
         
“Sir, this land which was sold by the acre in your time, fifteen years ago – now it is priced per square foot.”
 
“The fruits of progress, is it?” I snapped.
 
I could see that the SP was getting confused by my unexpected line of investigation, and he was getting a bit scared too, for I was a DIG. 

So I decided to put him at ease.
 
“Tell me, Pandey,” I said patronizingly. “What were you before joining the IPS?”
 
“An Engineer, Sir. From IIT, Delhi.”
 
This was no surprise.

Engineers, even doctors, were joining the IAS and IPS nowadays. 

I looked at the SP, and said, “Let me explain in a way you will understand.”
 
Pandey was looking at me intently.
 
I paused, and asked him. “Do you know the definition of the term system?”
 
“Yes, sir,” he answered.
 
“Every system has a natural rhythm,” I said, “take this place for example. All the people here in this system, farmers, fishermen, everyone, they all had a natural rhythm of life which perfectly matched the rhythm of this place. And there was harmony. Then suddenly we disturb the system. We drastically change the rhythm of the place. Create a mismatch. And when the people cannot cope up, we call them ‘marginalised Indians’ – as you put it.”
 
Pandey looked thoroughly confused, so I avoided further rhetoric and came straight to the point, “You are looking for a motive, isn’t it, Pandey?”
 
“Yes, Sir,” he said.
 
“Okay, consider this. You own some fertile land. We forcibly acquire it, mouthing platitudes like ‘national interest’, ‘patriotism’ etc. Then we sit on your land for fifteen long years while you are reduced from an owner to a labourer. And then, one fine day, you find that your beloved land been grabbed by some land-sharks from the city. What would you do?”
 
The SP did not reply.
 
“Do one thing, Pandey,” I said. “There is a man called Manjunath. He probably works as a cook in the Steel Plant canteen. Bring him to me. He may have some clue and maybe he will give us a lead.”
 
In my mind’s eye, I was thinking of ways of how to get Manjunath off the hook.
 
An hour later, the SP came rushing into the police headquarters. 

The SP looked dazed, as if he had been pole-axed. 

“The guy went crazy,” the SP stammered, Sir, when the police party approached him, he was chopping coconuts with a sharp sickle. Suddenly he slashed his own neck. He died on the way to hospital. There is blood everywhere.”
 
In the morgue, staring sadly at Manjunath’s dead body, the SP commented, “Look at the expression on his face, sir. He looks so content.”
 
“Yes,” I said. “He has reached the dead end.”

VIKRAM KARVE
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Disclaimer:
1. This story is a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the story are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
2. All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the story are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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