‘Winter is coming.’ Bhola Rai may not have much idea about this trendy phrase, but he means it; he is preparing himself. Baraka Rajpur, a village situated in Bihar province of Northern India, is indeed preparing itself for the winter. Bhola Rai, in his 70s, is a peon in the government high school located on the outskirts of the village.
‘I have to arrange fire wood and dung cake every day for the nights are long and chilling, even though it’s just the beginning of November,’ Rai says as he sits to light up the brazier. Electricity is still a fancy thing for the villagers, though they get it supplied everyday for 3 to 4 hours; it is enough for charging mobile phones and running televisions for news and entertainment. But, Bhola Rai doesn’t depend on electricity at all; he fears electricity is spoiling kids and ‘old memories’.
‘No more bonfire and ghost stories for kids. I miss the ghost stories in particular. They were not just for the kids, but for the adults as well. You know, telling ghost stories needs lots of creativity. It is not easy to spook anyone easily,’ Rai ponders.
Life seems cozy for Bhola Rai as he survives on the salary he receives every month, but for other villagers, it is the time to brace themselves for the winters.
Baraka Rajpur consists of about 50 mid-sized families, most of them are small-time farmers. The poetic beauty and philosophical explanation of autumn don’t fancy them, though Bhola may not be one of them. The arrival of winter is the time for Rabi crops to be sown; it is a time, as it is said, of a gamble. Chickpeas, tomato and potatoes are the main areas of concern. It is frost (the white walkers) what they fear most. If it hits their plants, they’ll be forced to run to the cities for manual jobs.
‘I never liked the idea of going to the cities, leaving our agriculture. Agriculture is a noble thing and respected one. Things are not like before, but it still is. Government should do something about it. I don’t understand what we will eat if don’t grow. Government job or agriculture, this is what I suggest youngster,’ Rai expresses his dissents.
Forlorn streets and lonely houses of the village are witnesses of Bhola’s concern. Now youngsters don’t agree with the concept that agriculture is a noble business. They regard it with backwardness and misery.
‘You can take pride in it only if you have lots of land of your own. If you have little land or work in other’s land on profit sharing basis, then it is a thing to hide. I wouldn’t like to tell my friends in cities that we are farmers. Maybe, I’ll tell them we are in some sort of business or jobs,’ Mukesh, a high school student, also a nephew of Bhola, shares his views.
Villagers in Bihar, even today, sleep early as compared to cities. Mukesh and I had a plan to spend the night at Bhola’s dera (inhabitation). We could feel the chilling wind and haunting ambiance of the wilderness as we passed through the bushy trails towards Bhola’s residence. In the falling darkness, trees were appearing as ghosts, and singing crickets gave the background music. The dim lantern that Mukesh was carrying was a piece of olden times.
Bhola, wearing a heavy black shawl, had already prepared the brazier made of mud, and was about to put some seasoned potatoes in it. We sat around the brazier and talked a little. By the time Bhola rested for his humble-bubble, Mukesh was all set to hit the sack.
‘It seems no one is interested in ghost stories anymore,’ Bhola said abruptly.
‘You tell us one, uncle; you know many. Maybe, our guest would enjoy it too,’ Mukesh urged, and I couldn’t disagree.
‘Well, I tell you the story of Chameli. She was just a kid when she drowned and died. Her ghost couldn’t leave the peepal tree across the river. Even today she shows herself… now she has grown very old… ‘ Bhola goes on.
In winter mercury goes down as low as 0 °C in some provinces of Northern India. Poor and homeless are the most affected. Every year, hundreds of deaths are reported; the condition worsens so much that even government appears helpless.