Bitti Devi

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We were sitting on a charpoy in the fading evening light. Above our heads, a canopy of bright green fluttering neem leaves. The blazing heat of the day was finally dispersing, leaving in its wake a gentle breeze that carried the musky smell of muddy straw-topped huts. A babble of chatter emerged from the crowd that surrounded us: the crowd that always gathered whenever we entered a village. Many of the children, even adults, had never seen a foreigner. If my skin was white, I feel sure the reaction would have been even more curious. The camera, too, drew inquisitive stares that quickly melted into raptures of delight at the images, which gazed just as inquisitively back at them.

Bitti Devi sat tall and proud. Bedecked in a rather regal bright blue sari that partly covered the deep purple blouse beneath it. A faint grin curled the corners of her mouth revealing a row of straight teeth that sloped attractively inwards, her deep brown eyes alive with zeal.

It wasn’t long before her hearty, rasping laugh billowed outwards, filled with a force that was instantly striking. She had just been asked her age.

Don’t ask me my age! I won’t tell you.

She grinned humorously, looking around as others in the crowd chipped in: “she’s between 35 and 40. Better round it up to 40”, they giggled. Bitti Devi is already a grandmother.

She decided, or perhaps deigned, to tell us a little more.

I was married when I was 14, and my eldest daughter is already married with a son. He’s a year old now, and is starting to walk. I have three other children too; another daughter and two sons. I’ll get my second daughter married soon… and then my son.

The crowd around us laughed as she pointed out her rather small looking children in the crowd.

I asked her whether things had changed much over her lifetime here.

Not much has changed here. Well, maybe a few things. Our houses used to all be made of mud before and the clothes we wear have changed, too. There have been lots of these sort of changes. Some of the houses have been reconstructed since the boys have started earning. Those with God’s blessing have renovated their homes, and the others who are not in a good financial situation are still living in their old houses.

The crowd, quieter now, was paying close attention – chipping in from time to time – as Bitti Devi told us a little about her work.

I have been working on the land all my life. We have our own business here, with two acres on rent. I have no money for labour so I can’t employ anyone on my fields. That means I labour myself, and sometimes I work in other people’s fields, too. I get  Rs100-150 a day, and so does my husband. With the rest of my time I look after my children. That’s also work, you know!

She laughed again, and continued.

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Harvinder Singh Bindra: Taxi Driver, Coin Collecter and Astrologer

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I have more than 120 coins now, even I don’t know where they are from. Because I just know English and Indian language. I can’t say about Japanese, Korean and Chinese, but I collect them. I collect from the people who come in my cab, from all over the world. How many countries you have been?

Mmm, I’m not sure, maybe about ten. Quite a few… but where are you from?

I’m from Delhi, Maam. I started driving many years back.

How do you like driving?

[He laughed] It was in my destiny. I can drive truck also. But it was in destiny to be driving. I have seen ninety-five percent of north India. I have just not seen those two, Leh and Ladakh. Otherwise I have seen the entire here and there north area.

Aside from collecting coins, I have many other hobbies. My second hobby is astrology. I’ve been reading books for more than 30 years. I can make charts. I can predict. In my free time I like to see movies too: Indian old movies. That’s my third hobby. And what do you do? After writing, what do you do?

Mmm, I like music. I like to play music. But what do I do? Well, I’m passionate about the things I write about. I like to write people’s stories.

What kind?

I like to ask people about their lives.

You should write about me!

I should write about you! I would love to write about you.

My life is not a normal life.

It doesn’t sound like a normal life.

The doctor told my wife you can’t be a mother. I have three children. But my first daughter was a test tube baby.

Really?! 

Yes. She’s now more than fifteen and a half. I have traveled a lot to north India, as well as south for my personal travel. I can’t tell you all these things in one day, but they are good stories. You would like to hear them.

I would love to hear them. What is your name?

My name is Harvinder Singh Bindra. You can see my picture on the internet. If you put my name you’ll see my picture there. A lot of tourists have taken my picture when they come in my cab.

Wow, well maybe I will write your story.

What is your first name?

Anna

Big brain.

Haha, no!

Yes.

Just many questions.

From your name I’m telling you. You have a lot of energy. Yes. You are a hard worker. You have a lot of energy. A lot of secrets of people in your mind. Yes. Your name tells me this. So this is nearby where you want to go.

[I laughed, and we paused for a while as he looked for directions]

So you have three children?

I have three daughters, one son. She’s 15 and a half now. She’s good at study. She wrote an essay for how to save fuel and she won a prize. 30 thousand rupees, from Indian Oil. Last year she went to Chandigarh for an oil saving program there.

How amazing. That’s wonderful. What is her name?

Anmol. Same to you. The first two alphabets are important.

You must be somewhere here. Maybe right one here. Yes, here we are, Triveni Sangham Marg.

[We exchanged details so that I could call him again soon]

“Thank you so much, Mr. Bindra, I look forward to meeting you again”, I said as he drove away from the curb.

Om Prakash (OP)

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People say farming is a difficult profession. And it’s true. Farmers aren’t progressing today because of a lack of access to advanced technologies. If we had this, our yields would improve. But with low yields we don’t get good money and without good money, we aren’t happy.

But in my opinion this isn’t the deepest issue. It is concern about the results of our actions that causes us ultimate suffering. In the Gita, Lord Krishna says: “karm karo, phal ki chinta mat karo” (do your deeds and don’t be concerned with the results).

To me, this means you shouldn’t worry about the results of your actions or expect immediate results from them. Rather, to find happiness you should throw yourself into your work with love, expecting nothing in return. That’s why the Pandavas in the Mahabharat won the battle, because they weren’t worried about results. If I’ve done a good deed nature will reward me for it, but it may be that those rewards will come in ways I can’t see.

“Jahan summat tahan sumpat nana; jahan kumat tahan vipat nidhana”. It means wherever there is mindful action, different kinds of wealth come to you. Wherever there is an absence of mindfulness, all sorts of unsolvable problems will arise. I think this is the reality. Our fates are written in time. However long my life is, it was meant to be that long. So if I am to die at a certain point, it is when I was meant to.

OP took a long, considered sip from his glass of milky chai as he looked out towards the straw-topped huts that surrounded us. We were sitting in the covered area that fronted his house, which nestled towards the edge of the village of Kaharanpurawa. Surrounding us stood a growing contingent of wide-eyed, scraggly-haired children who looked on curiously; twirling their reddish strands of hair or tugging at loose shirt buttons.

Like his father and grandfather before him he has been a farmer his whole life; a profession that makes itself known in the sinewed cut of his limbs and the ruggedness of his hands. He has a warmth and sincerity about him that is instantly endearing and a face wrinkled with laughter lines carved beneath the fierce open elements. Relaxing for a few moments before leaving for the fields, he leant back against the concrete pillar that held up his roof and looked into the earthy fabric of his past.

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