The Village Gunsmith-continued...
by Chaithali Punchathar
Continued from Page 1
All this drama, that is my impromptu relocation to Mangalore, had happened so suddenly that I almost forgot about Gangayya and my original dream. I hadn't seen Madhava for a very long time - since I ventured out less all through my Class 7 year. Now stuck in a city, in my aunt's living room, I often wondered what would have been my life had Ajja lived. As far as I could see, Father was an irrational man. Why would someone wise spend a fortune on getting me into an English Medium School in the city? This was going to be a complete waste of time and money. Father would never understand my passion and my ambition. I shed a few silent salty tears.
Time passed quickly in my new English Medium School. With all the regular classes and irregular classes (I never quite understood why they were called 'special' classes), my visits to the village got drastically reduced. Father got a new telephone connection to my village home. I had strict instructions from Father - to not to think about my home much but rather 'concentrate on my studies'. I started doubting whether he planned to make me a scientist in NASA. Because, if he did really, I had to make this clear to him. 'Father, am not really as clever as you think I am. I swear I still memorize my text books before the exams. I actually wanted to be a Gunsmith and would have been one if you hadn't forcefully put me in the city school'. I wasn't sure how he'd react to that. Especially to the last part of my confession.
I was studying my Class 12, when I heard some news about Gangayya. By now, I had actually expected him to succumb to liver cirrhosis or some such alcohol-related disease, but when I telephoned home one day, Mother said that the ageing Gunsmith was arrested by the Sullia Police. Along with Madhava, who was growing up to be the next high-potential Gunmaker of our village. Somewhere in rural Sullia, a ten year old child had accidentally fired a gun; a housemaid was shot. The woman had died instantly. There was no explanation on how a loaded gun had found its way into a child's hands. The news had escalated into a regional scandal. Police got involved. The country-made rifle was confiscated.( Enquiries were made. It hadn't taken much time for the Police to arrest the Gunsmith and his son after that.
A few weeks later, I again heard from Mother that the father-son duo were released from the Lock-up but not before being beaten black and blue. They had to reveal the names and addresses of their clientele in order to buy their freedom.
'What is the Police going to do with all the names of the clients?' I asked, although I knew the answer deep down.
'Probably confiscate the guns. And arrest the owner for possessing an illegal weapon'.
I spent the next days waiting
for a phone call from Mother saying that Father was arrested and taken to Sulia Lock-up.
When such a call didn't come for a long time, I concluded that either Gangayya had forgotten to name my Father as one of his clients, or the Police had lost interest in their hunt for stupid handmade guns.
I finished my twelfth and joined an Engineering College in Bangalore, a bigger, more chaotic city; once again my career-path orchestrated by Father. When I slogged with my Engineering subjects for the next four years, realizing I had to do much more this time than just memorizing the books, some groundbreaking developments happened in my village home. My uncle, after toiling with the idea for many years, had now given up the plan of going to the Himalayas and instead expressed his desire to find a bride and settle down in life. In a few months, he was married. Within a couple of years, he had children - two daughters. The State Government had revised the inheritance laws a few years ago. A daughter was now deemed to have as much right as a son to her father's inheritance. I had long lost to be the sole inheritor of Ajja's property, when Wriggler was born; now I doubted if there was any point in even considering myself as a meaningful contender. There were far too many stakeholders for the little piece of land.
Fortunately, I understood a bit of Engineering and managed to complete my course. I landed a job in Delhi soon after. I visited my village the weekend before I was set to fly to Delhi. When I got off at the bus-stop, I noticed a familiar face that flashed a friendly smile.
I was astonished to see how closely he resembled his father. Gangayya had died a year earlier when a Karnataka State Transport Bus plying from Puttur to Sullia had mowed him. He was apparently on his way back from the liquor store and hadn't seen the speeding bus while trying to cross the road. Uncle had shared the news with me during one of the telephone conversations.
Madhava now worked in a Rice Mill in Sullia. One couldn't solely depend on being a Blacksmith for making a living anymore. He did get an odd job now and then - mostly repair jobs- sharpening a sickle or fixing a broken pick-axe. But people were less patient. Everything new was readily available in a store - and was cheaper. There was not much point in going to a Blacksmith.
I noticed that we had reached my home. I invited Madhava for a cup of tea. He politely declined saying he had to urgently rush to the Mill
and walked off.
I realized that we hadn't spoken a word about guns.
As I mutely walked into Ajja's areca garden, I saw Father, walking out of the house.
He let a smile slip his lips when he saw me.
I smiled back and gently lifted my hand to greet him.