Ads inserted by various ministries (read ministers) and states (read chief ministers), and parties in Opposition (read ex-ministers and chief ministers in waiting), underscoring all the good deeds done by them over the last few years for the Aam Admi (common man), remind me of the story of Pandit Buddhi Ballabh’s buffalo.
It goes like this.
Once upon a time (some twenty years ago), I was travelling in the hills of the then Uttar Pradesh during the pre-poll months and gathering stories about who would vote for which party and why. During the course of my travels, I spent a night at a little dak bungalow. It was while eating at a little wayside dhaba next to it, that I chanced upon this gem of a tale.
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The owner of the tea shop who had arranged for my dinner at the behest of his friend, the caretaker at the Dak bungalow, had agreed when he learnt that I was “originally from this side”, to serve me part of the simple meal that he had cooked for himself. It consisted of a somewhat watery dal, chapattis and a squishy mass, mostly containing potato, salt and chillies in that order. The rest of the village had obviously had dinner and several villagers had gathered at the shop for their usual night cap—political gossip slurped down with glasses of syrupy tea. As I ate hungrily, they watched me with the disarmingly frank curiosity of children watching a monkey perform.
I tried deflecting public attention. “So this time around which party are you all going to vote for ?”
“Everyone,” said the village wit. A titter ran around the shed.
“Come on, you are pulling my leg. Don’t forget, I am also from these parts, not a plainswoman,” I tried lacing wile with parochialism.
“Aha! Then you should know how anything can happen at election time. Do you know that under the Garibi Roko (anti-poverty ) programmes announced before the last elections, Pandit Buddhi Ballabh Patwari managed to get himself a buffalo, a loan and a compensation at the same time?”
No, I did not.
Bit by bit, a unique story emerged.
The Uttar Pradesh government, it seems , had come out with several pre-election anti-poverty packages as usual. One of them was that each householder in the village whose income was certified by the village patwari (revenue official) as being below the poverty line, would be entitled to an interest-free loan of Rs400 towards purchase of a milch cow or buffalo.
After he learnt of this, Pandit Buddhi Ballabh Patwari quickly certified himself as being indigent. With the poverty certificate verified by his own signatures, Pandit Buddhi Ballabh set out to get the loan. He told the fellow villagers that by thus chasing the loan he could help demystify the scheme for others and help them acquire valuable cattle. The whole village accompanied him to the bus stop and wished him luck.
At the district headquarters, our man called upon a fellow villager who was now working as an accounts clerk in the animal husbandry department. The clerk’s own fields were being looked after by his aged mother and young wife back in the village, and Pandit Buddhi Ballabh, as the revenue representative, was the guardian angel to him and his family. So after touching his feet, the clerk happily shared with Pandit Buddhi Ballabh, a provision in the scheme that could help Buddhi Ballabh get a loan and also a compensation to pay off the loan. The fine print at the bottom of the draft said that the purchaser of the said milch cattle would be entitled to a full compensation, should the said animal expire due to unforeseen circumstances within a month of its purchase. The death only needed to be substantiated by attaching a piece of the dead animal’s ear to the death certificate and could be issued by the district veterinary officer.
“But I can’t kill my own buffalo, brother,” whispered the horrified Brahmin.
“Guru , where is your Buddhi (wisdom)?” asked the clerk . “You don’t need to kill the animal; you’ll just need to snip a bit of its ear for attaching with the death certificate. Cow being holy and like a mother, hurting her I agree, is unthinkable. So it is advisable that you buy a buffalo.”
Thus Pandit Buddhi Ballabh, the patwari, got himself a buffalo with a snipped off ear, a loan and a compensation package to pay off that loan simultaneously.
“But don’t you think that was cheating the government?” I remonstrated.
Derisive laughter followed my query. After being cheated for five years by the government time and again, it was a small repayment, I was told.
As he was locking up for the night, the shopkeeper told me that Pandit Buddhi Ballabh had thereafter seen to it that each man listed in the BPL (below poverty line) list in his village got a buffalo and followed the same path. “You will not find a single buffalo in our village that does not sport a snipped ear,” he said.
And of course, all of us voted against the government during the elections, he added. How can we trust such a stupid government to go on wasting public money for another five years, Pandit Buddhi Ballabh ji had told them.
And so everyone voted for everyone in the end.
Mrinal Pande likes to take readers behind the reported news in her fortnightly column. She is chief editor ofHindustan. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org