by Jude Chaminda Perera
They said the heavens opened up in tribute to his life, he was a martyr. They wept for twenty consecutive days, the flash floods descended deep in to the sun cracked soil, then ran out of room and settled on a high, at least eight inches on top. The waters stayed long enough to moisturise the earth and concoct a bumper crop, the biggest in a decade, but the farmers chose to mourn. Women looked long and vacantly in to the distance, right through the mountains of neatly stacked grain in their fields. Husbands struggled to haggle with the slick merchants from the city who snaked in long lines of lorries, vans and even buses stripped of seats, to steal their rice as they always did. They threw away cheap bangles, necklaces and other easily breakable ornaments on the children, and did their best to dupe the parents. They smiled as they came in and smiled as they left, with vehicles crammed with grain and purses that were still quite heavy, like locusts they left the fields bare. The farmers weren’t sure which was worse, the parrots and parasites that killed their labour before it produced or those two legged vermin that took it away later. But this time they didn’t care, they still missed their hero, the man who had given up his life for them. They were still in mourning.
Sunimal was a farmer just like them, or he once was. He enjoyed a higher perch on the literacy ladder due to a faintly privileged childhood. He had sold all his paddy fields once his eldest son fled the rustic decadence of the village to touch the city charms, and his youngest, barely old to form an opinion started displaying the same aspirations. But he had spent all his capital gains on his daughter’s dowry, she was despairingly poor in looks, so had to be transacted for a heavy fee to a man who was only slightly younger than him. Sunimal was now broke and occasionally helped his neighbours out during the harvest for a barely measurable stipend.
The government had changed hands; the new mob with the same old faces had defaulted on their promises and cut back the subsidy pledged to the farmers. It was one of their draw cards during the electoral campaign. Then the drought had snuck in and overstayed, the earth was an oven that killed, and the farmers contemplated the unthinkable. Soon they grew comfortable with the unthinkable and started taking their own lives. The widows soon followed unable to feed their young, some took their offspring with them with dreams of a happier rebirth, and Sunimal had come in to his own. He started a radical fast unto death, he had corrupted his friends before with talk of Gandhian principles on non-violent resistance, but they never understood nor cared. They understood now and began to care. The press visited Sunimal’s derelict house and made him a hero, the government felt the sting but held fast. They would not bow down to a solitary adversary and the next elections were still in the conceptual stages. The farmers soon added him to their list of deities, they showered him with the best they had, which was always too little. They begged him to stop but he stubbornly refused, he was only sad that he had started too late. Their devotion only deepened as they witnessed his weight staying intact, even flourishing despite the harsh self denial, he only permitted three cups of king coconut water every day.
He shocked his devotees by dying unexpectedly; there were credible witnesses who swore that he was in good spirits just a few minutes earlier. The press returned, the headlines screamed louder, the government backed down despite the next elections still maintaining its mythical status.
The farmers gave him the best funeral that the village had ever seen and they even chased away the coroner who blatantly claimed that death was caused by an overripe piece of banana stuck in the food pipe.
And the rains returned.
Editors Note on Satyagraha
Jude Chaminda Perara also had the story Connections published in our sister journal Southlit before Southlit was integrated into Eastlit, so Satyagraha is not technically the first piece published by us.