An Onida television would be safe in the house of Devraj and Sonmati Chevra. They have no neighbours. They live alone in the village of Seradand in Chhattisgarh. There is only Mahipal, a forest department guard, for company. He lives in a skeletal outhouse many yards away. The couple’s ten-year-old son, Ramprasad, the youngest of their five children, visits on weekends. The other days, he is away at boarding school.
The house with off-white walls and a brown tiled roof is on a vast, flat plain in the mountains off Amhar village. It is nearly a two-hour drive from Baikunthpur, the nearest town.
Devraj is out at work. Sonmati is around. She is 40, but is shrivelled and looks much older. She walks about her field like a ghost—silent, spine erect, head covered. Devraj and Sonmati are registered voters. During elections, a booth is set up for just the two of them.
At around 1.30 pm, the thin figure of Devraj emerges from the high dry grass. He holds an axe in his left hand. A thick, half-smoked bidi rolled in a green leaf is pressed over his right ear. He is dark and his legs are extremely thin. The right leg has a congenital defect. Devraj’s hair is thick and gray. He is frowning. He is probably thinking, “Are these people?”
Innumerable species of plant and animal life surround him. At night, bears and sometimes leopards roam the area around his house. But he is not used to humans. When he reaches the house, though, Devraj’s face breaks into a smile. He lets the axe fall and folds his hands to say namaste. Sonmati brings water to drink. It is real spring water and tastes fabulous.
Devraj is in a fix. Officially, he is not poor. Practically, he is. Yes, he has 20 acres of land that he inherited from his father. But apart from some tomato, vegetables and grain, he does not grow much. As he is not below poverty line, he is not entitled to get rice at the subsidised Rs 3 a kg. He has to buy it at Rs 15 a kg.
“I only want one thing,” he says. “A diesel water pump. Every time there is an election, the candidates promise me one. I hope some day they keep their promise.”
There is a bow and some arrows in the corner. Someone picks it up. Devraj is worried and perhaps a bit annoyed. “Don’t shoot at the buffaloes,” he says. “Besides, you might hurt yourself.” He has lived all his life here. So did his parents. He does not miss company as such. “People are welcome to build a house here, but not on my land,” he says.
There is no electricity. There are no hospitals. If they get sick, they have to go to Sonhat, 30 km away. They have too much work and too many worries to be bored. Then there is always love, though he doesn’t say so. Ramprasad, the fruit of their love, who is watching shyly from under a tree, is younger than their granddaughter.