Gulab Rao didn’t mind. He sat on the cement bench right next to the narrow road. Let them take as much time as they wanted.
The tree that provided shade to both, Gulab Rao and his cement bench, swayed as a rare summer breeze raced down the length of the village.
Gulab Rao freed the end of his banyan which had been tucked into the elastic band of his old black trackpants. He lifted his vest above his bulging belly, moved his hands backwards to flick the vest on his back skywards and stretched his hands above his head. His stomach, back and armpits could now all partake the cool air of the breeze. If he hadn’t made these adjustments, Gulab Rao would still have been well-ventilated. The number of holes in his vest were only challenged by the number of holes in his trackpants.
The breeze stopped abruptly. Damn this heat! Gulab Rao remembered when the summers weren’t as hot as they were now and the temperatures didn’t rise higher than 30°C. Of course, that was before the tar roads, cement houses and motorcycles. Back then, mud and cow dung kept the walls cold and the temperatures down. Gulab Rao turned in his seat to look over to the one house in their wadi that was still made of mud and cow dung – Kishore Rao’s house. Poor people. All the people in their wadi had built new pakka houses made of brick and cement but poor Kishore Rao couldn’t afford to build one. His wife still layered the walls of their Kaccha house with cow dung.
Gulab Rao’s laugh gurgled out of his throat, got blocked by his buck teeth and escaped in little whistles through the 5 rupee gap between his two front teeth. He let his frayed blue-and-white rubber slippers drop from his feet to plop on the road and swung his feet carelessly. He smiled contentedly. Gulab Rao’s house had been the first in the village to become pakka. He had had a streak of excellent produce from his mango orchards. To top that off, he had found a customer from Mumbai who visited Kolkewadi every year. After the first time he bought a 100 mangoes from Gulab Rao, the rich man became a permanent customer. The rich man made Gulab Rao rich, and with that money he built his pakka house. But that was over 30 years ago.
Now another rich man was in Kolkewadi, but he hadn’t come to make Gulab Rao rich. He had come to steal from Gulab Rao. In all his life, no such thing had ever happened. A bead of sweat had formed on his brow. He wiped it with the back of his hand and flung it away. The water sizzled and evaporated the second it touched the road.
For over a 100 years, this land had been theirs. It had been passed on generation to generation, firstborn to firstborn. Now this Rajesh had bought the neighboring land and was getting it measured. Why Raju felt the need to get it measured, Gulab Rao would never understand. He only had to come ask, and Gulab Rao would tell him the exact boundaries of the entire land around them. Not even Gulab Rao’s younger brother Vikas could question his authority. Gulab Rao owned most of the land around Kolkewadi and had lived here all his life. Now this Raju had to come into the picture out of nowhere and start getting the government involved. What was the need, asked Gulab Rao.
About half a month back an official notice reached the house. It said that the land was going to be surveyed for three days of May and all the neighbours of Raju’s land should be present on those days. This morning, Raju brought the surveyor sahab in his car. In his big car with AC and a lady that spoke directions. The surveyor sahab walked around the land, asked all the land limits of each neighbour, then set the plain table and started taking measurements. The land that had been measured this morning wasn’t adjoining Gulab Rao’s. That would be tomorrow, and tomorrow Gulab Rao would definitely be present to make sure none of his land was given away to that Raju. So what if he was also a Shinde? While Gulab and his family had lived in Kolkewadi all their lives, Raju’s family had left for Mumbai when Raju was a little boy. And now suddenly, out of nowhere, Raju was back in Kolkewadi with his big car and hefty wallet changing things that hadn’t changed since Raju left for Mumbai all those years ago.
Naam liya shaitan hazir – Speak of the devil and the devil appears. Raju Shinde’s big car appeared on the road’s bend. Gulab Rao shifted in his seat – trying to fake nonchalance, but excited. Gulab Rao watched the car like a hawk as it passed by. It passed by! Gulab Rao’s excitement turned into dejection and dropped into his stomach. A few metres ahead, the car came to a halt. The little ball of dejection soared back from Gulab Rao’s stomach to his chest. The old man rose from his cement seat, slipped his slippers on, tucked his banyan back into his elastic belt and ambled towards the car. Bastards. Making an old man walk all this way. As he reached the car, a window slid down. Rane, Raju Shinde’s friend, held out a crisp fifty rupee note. Gulab Rao took the money from Rane and tucked it safely into his pocket. As the car caught speed and vanished from view, Gulab Rao took to the road as well. Eventually, he would reach Alore – the market place – where he would order his daily drink. But today, he would not have to pay for it from his own pocket.
It made the wait worth it.