Black Hill Joys - 7
Concluding Part II
Getting work done in the Village
Advice aplenty for free
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
Work started at a place neglected for long in the past attracts attention of many passers by as the site for the approach road to my house is just on the Highway. Curious they are and often stop a while to chat with our men at work, while some join them to show how best a rock can be digged out and from which angle to hammer the chisel the best way. Usually I let them join and encourage if one is known to me, like Anam Bhai. He is from the village Chhalamthang turned into a Panchayat ward around Kazi Kothi nearby and presently doing similar work to get 50 truckloads of stones for the contractor. He is a nice person who could not get a helper to take up the work for us in the beginning but we both are still interested. Last time, when we had started the wall a truckload of stones were supplied by Atul from the newly started quarry near AgriGaon in a land belonging to his father, Bidhan Mama. The work has gone into wrong weather as the person engaged as supervisor there has been arrested for some reason despised by the society at large and they feel it odd enough to further associate with such a person. Anam Bhai helped the young mothers who come to work here to break stones for gitti/gravels and as he was tired breaking rocks whole day and had to go home a mile or so away, a double peg of brandy offered was enough to thank him. His work-partner is our water-fitter Arjun Pithakote whose wife was one of those to work here.
While we welcome the much needed idea to get the work done well from a person like our neighbour Bir Singh Rai, who has much experience working for the SPWD in his younger days matured with lots of trees converted into timber and house construction at Dalapchand when his father stayed here. On the contrary, sometimes some people are so annoying like the one a young neatly dressed man passing by stopped and tried to pass off his Bathyaiin here at the site. He was found asking who was the house owner here and why he had not provided the tools needed. My men needed a sickle to cut the bushes above and it was inside the store. He was a labourer himself but his age and dress did not show him much experienced but to bulldoze the workers. I just scolded him to get away from the scene immediately, which he did without any discussion simply saying that he too was a student from this school. No need to show off your knowledge for myself have also worked in this school with a number of my students who also became teachers and have already retired and above all, the school was built by my Buba to bring to his dream-status what we see today. The road leading to the school, in fact, belongs to our land eaten up by road reserve once again when the Highway was broadened more towards hill side rather than below in this stretch. This affected us much with our approach road with a gate badly damaged and heritage Dhupi tree and luxuriant fruiting Mango tree felled for no reason as the stumps stand far away from the Highway in proof thereof.
With plastic covers for the shed and raincoat provided to the workers, wherever and whenever needed, some people opine wise - why the work was started around this season of the year and when not while the weather was sunny and dry to work rather than water-soaked sometimes. For me, it was the best season as time was opportune to start after years, more needed to restore the damage done by the Highway construction that too during the months when the water scarcity is at the peak as the better days was not far off for this ever-thirsty part falling at the lowest end of the Aritar GPU. Luckily those below the Highway find and lay the alkathene pipelines even before the Muhan Futyo as it was soon due for the little water spring in our land bring some relief to them turning cheerful with the long-awaited event of the year to happen. They ask me instead whether water is sufficient here for us and I ask them if they need any help finding them struggling to pass the pipes through the culvert filled up by mud and slush that otherwise was big enough to walk standing at the time of construction. Our boys too get the pipe connected to the source for supply of water at the work-site. In spite of all the odds with leaky rooms from the poorly done work while casting the slab and windows getting rotten day by day, I still find it the best time of the year, which Bir Singh too agree for the very reason, i.e., to do such works when we need enough water for our gardens and more for the masonry works with cement that need sufficient curing for the concrete work done. Otherwise, such works turn to a naught like we had some works done earlier. I, therefore, thank the generous Nature for keeping a season called Monsoon giving us rains that sometime turn overdone with landslides in the hills and floods down in the plains. He even suggests me why not wait for the better season as there was no problem of getting leave from work and with all the time at my disposal that would help to fell big trees with us for timber needed for shuttering and other household purposes during the construction or repairs needed to the outhouse and godown that used to be the poultry-unit started by Buba soon after he said it a day with the government job.
With bulldozers of all kinds like JCB and Tata seen moving on the Highway, our mason Ravi too wished if they could get them to ease their work that otherwise would take days together otherwise. Moreover, some stubborn rocks gripped by the roots of the trees felled and some stones and mud to their help had made the task tough. Since it was for a few minutes that the help needed, we thought it best way for us was to ask if some kind and friendly operator with his bulldozer passing by would oblige them. The problem engaging such a huge earth-moving machine would do more harm than good on a little stretch like this as we had already constructed by this time the retaining wall towards the Highway. Luckily, it was smaller one with tyres in place of chains that usually move around clearing landslide like the one below the school with insufficient protecting wall that too may affect our land though falling in the road reserve. The other landslide below Bir Singh's land where the road to Bazar bifurcates, is now closed for days together causing much inconvenience to the public. Bigger is the landslide at the Engineer Danra little beyond Chalise towards Dhoksing on the Reshi-Rongli Highway obstructed off and on for past few weeks. When Sanu Maiju and family visited us last Friday, Ravi and Buhari on way to Rongli SDM Office for some official business had to come back. They had reached here past 1-O'clock in the afternoon. It started raining when they started their journey back to Gangtok in the evening and the worst was there for them at Martam where the NH10 with falling boulders stopped them like many other passengers thus stranded. With no alternative, they thought of staying in a hotel at Singtam for the night but that too was not available. So, they moved on to take up the journey travelling the longer route via Sang and Rumtek. It was so dark and the road unknown with no vehicles except their own. Luckily some kind person happened to come there who told them to be heading towards a wrong direction and asked to follow his car. They finally reached home and it was past midnight after all the hassles one cannot escape on certain unforeseen occasions like this. Ravi must had tough time as it was a long and a bad day as well with some rashes all over his face and body as they had stopped on the way at Rangpo for tea. He had to take some anti-allergin from the Bazar here. Best is to avoid a journey around this season that I try best here these days but Ranjana had to go to Gangtok the very next day to get some essentials from home and fortunately she was back by 7 with brief halts usual due to slush and slides near Rorathang and Martam. It was a great relief for her and all family members when she could perform much awaited Satya Narayan Puja here on the Guru Purnima Day as we much needed divine blessings to ward off such obstacles and any mishap in spite of all the care we take. Some, as we all know, are well beyond our control. This day it was but natural for me to remember all our forefathers and Buba, who was my Guru as well, like for many others here, for all they gave and as they are always behind us to take us forward in the journey called life. We have today and always in our prayers too - "We feel your presence guiding us at every step on the way ~ every moment, every day." Har kadam,Hardum, Har Din ~ Hamimajh chhan, Dii Margdarshan!
Shortage of workers here has further been aggravated by the recruitment of young boys between18-35 years of age in hundreds to work as Porter for the Army from 11th July being taken to high altitude places nearby. This entitles them a monthly wage of around Rs. 15,000/- with good food to eat and some enough to drink. They get Dangree to work that being oversized are cut to fit the Gorkhay height with their khukri. This assignment to carry a headload of 20 kgs each keep them away from home and family, yet they look forward rest of the year for this opportunity that keep them there till December end. A large number of boys from the plains too came to appear in the recruitment drive that they have to pass through rigorous endurance test but nothing like our local boys well acclimatized further before sent higher up. White gumboots are provided to them. Money is paid after two months and the family has to pull on till they get the remuneration credited to their ATM/Bank account if brought to the attention of the concerned Porter NCO and every month thereafter. They are treated like any other Army personnel with rules and regulations with discipline applicable to them as well. Manbir Tamang, who worked for me here and is leaving his wife, five-year old son Adon doing LKG in the Seventh Adventist's Day School and parents behind, says it would be his last such trip away from home. He gave me a missed call from his mobile and it was not even 5-O'clock in the morning on the day of departure. When responded, he requested for some monitory help as he was in dire need with no other source to look forward to get his family tide over this period. He did not stay back like his friend mason Ravi Lepcha to work for me. Reason being that the rains would not usually ensure regular wage during this part of the year whereas working for the Army, there was no such problem. He being a good worker though only for a week or so with me, I could not deny for which he was so grateful ever. Wishing all the best I tell him to work happily since he decided to go there for the better avenue but on coming back do meet me once as the door was always open for such a good worker!
Disclaimer: This is author’s personal account of memories updated to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route to share the joy of the journey called life. Some names (asterisk for those no more), quotes, places and events mentioned are just to connect with and no malice whatsoever intended. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His recent book The Newars World~Wide Connecting the Dots Sikkim is available at the Rachna Books.