This is the story of a young boy and his family moving into a new rented unit. How landlord wanted to assert his ownership right and how he tried to humiliate the family when they resisted.
Nirmala moved into new place, recently. A local lawyer had build a palatial house. On one side of the house he had created a unit with two rooms, a kitchen and bathroom. Landlord and his family lived in the main house. The unit originally built for guests, was rented out to Nirmala and her family. This house was smaller compared to where they were staying before. But, this house had electricity. Nirmala disliked spending her evenings lit by kerosene lantern and candles. There was a well that was accessible to both landlord and tenant. Nirmala did not mind drawing water from the well. At least she had her freedom from the vagaries of household help. Landlord appeared to be a friendly person. He would address Nirmala as bouma, meaning daughter in law. Nirmala’s husband was called bhaiti, or younger brother..
Nirmala’s son Nirmalya felt constricted in the new place. He missed the open space of Rajbari. For him, getting inside the new house was a task in itself. A big collapsible gate with two panes had to be opened to enter the compound. Ordeal did not end there. Once inside, gate had to be closed by joining two panes together. Landlord kept an eye on who was entering the house. He would often shout from his living room, “who is there?” Nirmalya also heard that landlord jethu owned a gun. Once he almost shot a tribal man while aiming at a cobra. Being a lawyer, he managed to get out of the mess. Nirmalya was mortally scared of Jethu shooting him if he did not close the gate properly. Fortunately for him, he learnt how to get inside the house without opening the gate. Friends taught him how to slip through the space between floral designs of the gate and how to negotiate the wall of the compound.
Soon it became clear that landlord jethu would open the door separating his house from tenant’s apartment and walk in unannounced. May be he wanted to check if his property was being used properly. He would do it at least three times in a day. Initially, it was tolerable. Soon Nirmala began to feel uncomfortable. One day, she told landlord, “dada come when your bhaiti is home”. Landlord replied, “it is my house, I shall come as and when I feel like”. He slammed the connecting door.
Like every evening, that day also Nirmala took her son and baby daughter out for a stroll in the garden. Soon a group of five kids of the age of Nirmalya, started following them. Intermittently, they will give out a sound like “bharate” or tenant. Nirmala ignored them. She thought may be they are playing a new game. She turned back. Kids again followed her. This routine continued. Nirmala decided to return to her apartment. On the way he saw the landlord standing at the front door, smiling and chatting with neighbor across the road.
“Dada why are these kids harassing me and calling me bharate” asked Nirmala.
“These are kids Nirmala, ignore them. They must be playing a game.”
“Kids, why are you harassing Nirmala? In our society, we meet people who are not lawyer like me or government officers like your parents. They can be ordinary graduates like Nirmala and her husband. They may not own a house. We do not insult them. We greet them”. Said lawyer jethu with magnanimously with a smiling face.
Nirmalya did not understand what was the deal all about. He could not understand why his friends would not talk to him. Why his mother was on the verge of tears. Many years later, as he gained more understanding of human behavior, he realized what an ugly power play his lawyer jethu had played on his hapless mother. More abominable was his use of children in his game. This is an important lesson of life Nirmalya learnt early, that powerful always love to play games with less fortunate using the least suspecting as pawns. One must learn to live with the fact that civility is really hard to come by.
Tags: Bhaiti, Bharate, Bouma, Candle, Civility, Guest Room, Jethu, Kerosene Lamp, Landlord, Lawyer, Power Play, Pawn, Tenant