After leaving the Pajero at the district headquarters, the personal assistant and I headed out on foot. A village road. Dirt and dust. A horrid stench. Shit and dung. Why had the villages become so filthy?
I was walking to my village. People always complain that we leaders forget our villages after winning the elections. I was returning to silence that complaint. This was the first time I was returning to the village after winning the elections and leaving for the capital. I felt as though I were in an entirely new place. I had some candy in my pockets. I was going to hand it out to children.
“Minister-jyu, it looks like we’ve lost our way.”
“Oh, you’re right.” I was unnerved when the personal assistant pointed this out to me. “The main road branches off at Sallaghari. But we’re at Dharmapur,” I said, wiping the sweat from my forehead.
“Minister-jyu, let’s do this: let’s follow that trail over there to Sallaghari. That looks like a shortcut.”
The personal assistant seemed to have a feel for the village. I followed his advice and took the other trail. I had no desire to go to Dharmapur anyway. That was where I got the fewest votes. A total of three hundred.
“Those traitors gobbled up sixty thousand rupees!” I silently cursed the residents of Dharmapur and made a pledge: “I won’t pass a budget for this village.”
I had made this pledge to myself, and yet, as though overhearing my thoughts, the personal assistant said, “Yes, hajur, we shouldn’t pass a budget for this village.”
I grew vexed again. Once again, we had gone past Sallaghari. We had reached Chitrapur now.
“You fool, we can’t go into this village. They’ll beat us up.”
As soon as I said this, the personal assistant began to tremble. “We might get ambushed. Let’s go back to Sallaghari, Sir.” He looked as though he might wet his pants.
We took the road to Sallaghari. Spotting strangers on the road, a few children began to follow us. I took some candy from my pocket and gave it to them.
It turned out that the main road branched off at Bansghari, not Sallaghari. I had gotten them mixed up.
The Chairman of the Sallaghari Village Development Committee rubbed his hands together when he saw me and said, “Minister-jyu, now that you’re here, have some tea before heading off.” It was the first time since leaving the capital that I’d seen anyone rub their hands. It lightened my heart.
“What are the problems in this village?” I asked the Chairman.
“There’s a huge problem with drinking water,” came the reply.
“Be patient, Chairman-jyu, don’t worry. In five years I’ll wash this whole village in water,” I assured the man, but to myself said, “You’ll get nothing,” and handed out some candy there as well.
Afterward, I scolded the personal assistant, “Is this any way to conduct yourself? Leading us in the wrong direction?”
“Sir, it’s my first time here. I don’t know the way. I thought you’d know the way. You were born and raised here. You won the election from here.”
This was embarrassing. “All right, never mind. Now let’s take that road over there. We’ll get to my village that way.” When we reached Bansghari, I said proudly to the personal assistant, “See? This is Bansghari.”
But upon entering the village I realised it was Dandagaun.
I now understood the problem with being a minister. A minister can’t ask directions to his own village. I decided that the next time I’d bring a map to my village. I told the personal assistant about this plan. He was delighted by it. We walked on, but we couldn’t find the way. If I had a map I wouldn’t get lost. My plan about the map now struck me as highly prescient and relevant.
“You launched the democratic revolution of the 1990s from this very village,” an elderly man recalled when we arrived at a different village. I found this information tantalizing. I almost said, “Oh, really?” I had forgotten all about this but couldn’t really say so. My problem was even more acute now. This hadn’t turned out to be my village either. There was only one consolation: all of these villages fell in my constituency.
“Take out your pen,” I ordered the personal assistant. I made him list the names of all the villages we had visited.
The personal assistant was ecstatic: “Minister-jyu, you’ve visited all these villages on foot. This will make for incredible news, Sir.”
Such was my foresight.
The road widened as we walked on. I believed we were finally nearing my birthplace. But once again we arrived at another village.
The relentless sun made me longingly recall air conditioning. I remembered the Pajero. I recalled my room in the Ministry. I began to worry that the assistant minister would hire all of his own people in my absence. I was also gripped by the fear that he would rake in all the commissions himself.
I asked the personal assistant: “Which is greater? The village or the nation?”
With great emotion, he replied, “The nation.”
“In that case let’s return to the capital.”
“Yes, hajur. It’s better to return to the nation than to waste all this time looking for a village.”
I turned around.
On the way we met another group of children. I handed them the rest of the candy.
The candy was finished and the road to the village had come to an end.
© Nayan Raj Pandey. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2014 by Weena Pun. All rights reserved.