We called the cluster of hills, Khudavis in our local language. In the north of the village lay a big and tall hill, which we called Mothi Khudavi (Big Hill). All the hills were just like our ancestors. We loved them from the bottom our heart and they returned our love in giving us assorted sweet fruits, flowers, wood for cooking , building houses and tools of farming and what not.
Now we have moved away from the old village into a new site, as there came a project, that is, Lower Pus Project. Our old village has completely submerged under it. In new place, we are provided good amount of modern amenities, like power, running water, school building of baked bricks and concrete, approach road, community centre, and a library. Now everything is hunky-dory in new village. Nonetheless, fond memories of the old village keep haunting our minds even after twenty-eight years.
I recall those days filled with grinding poverty and experience a strange feeling of happiness. A sensation of ineffable delights spills over through each pore of my body. Really, those days were the happiest ones. The happiest, because we were far away from the rat race of money making.. Our souls never madly ran after prestige, power and pelf. We were contended with whatever we had had by the time. There was no greed for more. Everything was just enough to fulfill the need, no tendency of stockpiling more than necessary had enslaved us. The passion of greedy want did not linger about in our life.
Now I am in a good position. Both of us, my wife and me, are employees and earning well enough to live happily. However, we do not feel happy in the sense of that purity of happiness we had had in our old village. Anyway, along with these memories of happiness, I think that I must tell the reader a wonderful event in my old village.
There was an old woman by the name of Ayali in the old village. She was a magician who practiced black magic to bring down evils on people. At least people said so. All the villagers were mortally afraid of her. Nobody talked to her or asked about anything. She had two sons, and they too kept back from her until her death. You will not believe your ears that Ayali lived her forlorn life in Palu for forty years after she learned the black magic. She could turn to nobody for help, as the whole of Village was her sworn enemy. The villagers had firm belief that whenever anything wrong took place in the village it was, indisputably, the handiwork of Ayali.
As the village was completely isolated from modern world and new ideas of rationalism, there was no chance that someone would come and tell the villagers that what they were doing was totally inhuman and condemnable act. Ayali might be sixty years old, when all the villagers along with her sons had socially boycotted her with strict non-cooperation. Therefore, there was a great problem of bread and butter for her. In the beginning, she begged in the village, but nobody gave her alms. They closed doors to her face arrogantly. Nor did she do any work in some landlord's field since he was also equally afraid to offer her an odd job. Only option for her was to starve to death. But she did not stoop to the situation. As a last resort, she took to thieving boldly from nearby farms to fend herself. And as she was a terror for the villagers, none ever accosted her. Thus, she lived off minor pilfering for years.
The villagers believed that Ayali was a worse curse to Palu, and she would kill the whole of village on a certain day by her magic. So some courageous men hatched a plot to kill her in her home in a dark night or outside in the jungle, when she had gone out there for firewood or otherwise. Some suggested that she should be thrown in the flood tying her in a sack, while other put forth an attractive scheme. He said that they should finish her at the Par of Maroti when she came to offer puja to the deity at night. There was an ancient tamarind tree under which was the Maroti ,our local deity .One of the schemers advised that a big and heavy rock be hidden in a branch of the tamarind tree and when she came there for worship the man in the tree should drop it down on her head . That is over! Unfortunately, none of their schemes materialized.
Well, It was in 1980 that Ayali breathed her last in harvesting times due to starvation for three week. Her daughter-in-law said that she had also malaria around the time. I still remember the incident of her death. We had halted in our field that night for harvesting groundnuts crops. Around 9 pm, Ayali was cremated near the banyan tree in the old cemetery. Actually, there is no custom to cremate dead body in our community. Even so, the villagers cremated he for fear that she would be a horrible ghost if she is buried. We had clear view of her flaming pyre from our field. My father whispered to himself, good riddance!
Today when I look back on those days in the old village, my head hangs in miserable shame. We tortured the poor old woman as a witch. We kept her in her own home in exile for forty years .We did not allow her to share any of our social activities or festivals. We mistreated her worse than a brutal animal. We held that she was criminal in the eyes of God and humanity, while the fact was other way round. We incessantly committed unspeakable atrocities on her But then again I think what was it that prompted us to take the drastic steps in her respect. The answer is our abysmal ignorance. As Lord Buddha said, "Ignorance is the root cause of all human miseries." It is true. On behalf of my villagers, I apologize and confess that we were real criminals. At least I can never absolve myself of the offence.