Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar is the author of a novel, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey (New Delhi: Aleph Book Company, 2014), which was shortlisted for The Hindu Literary Prize 2014. His latest work is The Adivasi Will not Dance. A recipient of Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar, his stories and articles have also been published in Indian Literature, The Statesman, The Asian Age, Good Housekeeping, Northeast Review, The Four Quarters Magazine, Earthen Lamp Journal, The Dhauli Review, La.Lit, AntiSerious, Alchemy: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories II, and The Times of India. Read his interview here. Below you can read an excerpt from his latest work, The Adivasi Will Not Dance. Courtesy: Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar.
NOVEMBER IS THE MONTH OF MIGRATIONS
From the collection THE ADIVASI WILL NOT DANCE
Come November, Santhal men, women and children walk down from their villages in the hills and the far-flung corners of the Santhal Pargana to the railway station in the district headquarters. These Santhals—villages, entire clans—make up long, snaking processions as they abandon their lands and farms to take the train to Namal, the Bardhaman district of West Bengal and the paddy fields there. In the month that these Santhal families will spend in Bardhaman, they will plant rice and other crops in farms owned by the zamindars of Bardhaman. Twenty-year-old Talamai Kisku is among the forty-three people making this journey tonight. She, along with her parents and one of her two sisters. Most of her village—including her three brothers and one sister-in-law—has already left for Bardhaman. Talamai is the second daughter in a family of three girls and three boys. Her name reflects a certain lack of imagination. She is the middle daughter—Tala: middle; mai: girl. Talamai’s family is Christian. One would have expected Talamai’s parents to be learned enough to think of a nice, creative name for their daughter. Yet, despite the promises of education the missionaries made, Talamai’s parents never got to see the inside of a school and neither did she. They either gathered coal or worked in the farms of Bardhaman.
Talamai walks away from her group. She has been attracted by a man. He is young, fair, a Diku, and a jawan of the Railway Protection Force. A bread pakora in hand, he has signalled her to approach, and has disappeared round a corner. Talamai debates if she should follow, and decides to. He is offering food, after all, and she is hungry. It is 10:30 p.m. and they still have about two hours before their train arrives.
‘Are you hungry?’ the jawan calls out as Talamai rounds the corner. ‘You need food?’ He is standing in front of the policemen’s quarters.
‘Yes,’ Talamai answers.
‘You need money?’
‘Will you do some work for me?’
Talamai knows what work he is talking about. She has done it quite a few times by the Koyla Road, where many Santhal women and girls steal coal from trucks. She knows many girls who do that work with truck drivers and other men. And she knows that on their way to Namal, Santhal women do this work for food and money at the railway station, too.
‘Yes,’ Talamai says, and follows the policeman into the dark, into a paved space behind the policemen’s rooms.