I was traveling from Hazaribagh to Ranchi. Over the years, Jharkhand has changed considerably. In its 14 years of existence, there has been as many changes in government putting a big question mark on stability, law and order and governance. Identity, political awareness, political ideologies and a sense of distrust for anybody who looked like an outsider (especially from neighbouring Bihar) seem to have put multiple layers in the way society conducted itself. I got the sense that nothing could be taken at face value and you had to read a lot between the lines.
I was assigned a driver who looked barely sixteen. When I questioned his age, his employer insisted and with conviction that he was 28 years old. I acquiesced. A beautiful highway made by razing thousands of trees and an entire hillside; a conversation with this interesting driver helped me keep my mind from mulling unnecessarily over this fact.
A few excerpts (all happened in Hindi):
Me: Did you study?
Chotu: I am giving my inter (mediate)
Me: Aha, so you ARE 16!
Chotu: (smiling) No, I am 17. My driver’s license says I am 21. You want to see?
Chotu: Didi, are you married? (national obsession at play yet again)
Chotu: What is your age?
Me: What is your guess?
Chotu: I can say only approximately. Hmmm…24?
Me: (blessing him in my mind) I am 30. (I hear a gasp and I quickly rephrase) I haven’t reached 30 yet. (I wondered how he would react if I told him my correct age)
Chotu: When are you planning to get married? Half of your life is already gone!
Me: I haven’t thought about marriage. Do you think marriage is necessary? What if I decide never to get married?
Chotu: (clearly alarmed) No, no. You must marry. Who will carry forward your lineage? Who will take care of you when you grow old?
Me: What is the guarantee that my children will look after me in old age?
Chotu: See, if you have a son, being a boy I can tell you that he won’t look after you. If you have a daughter, she will definitely take care of you. Don’t you look after your parents?
Me: What if you like a girl, will you marry her?
Chotu: Didi, we have many issues. The girl has to be of our caste and then everybody expects the girl's parents to give dowry. I will get a minimum of 5lakhs for the work I do now.
Me: Will you take dowry?
Chotu: This year, a man came with an offer of marriage to his daughter and said he will give me 6lakhs. I told him to give me 3lakhs if he wants to but let me wait for a year.
Me: Would you meet the girl first?
Chotu: Yes, nowadays 95% of people do ‘mohabbat’. I would like to know her story. If she tells me honestly, I will accept her. If I find out later, I will tell her to leave.
Me: What about you? Will you tell her your story?
Chotu: Yes of course, you cannot build a life together on lies.
Me: What do your parents do?
Chotu: We used to be very poor and they used to work very hard for us. Now I don’t let them work. I have been working since I was 10 years old. After this job as a driver, I earn enough money to let them rest.
Me: What about your brothers, do they help?
Chotu: I can’t say about them. All I know is that I will always take care of my parents, even if my brothers get married and go away. Women tend to break up families because they keep thinking unnecessarily over things in their head and we men tend to listen and forget.
Chotu: Only women can make a home and also break a home. Didi, when you get married, please do not fight ever!
Me: Ok Chotu, I promise to get married and never ever fight!