“He’s 19,” says 75-year-old Gangubai Solav. But Bhushan doesn’t look that old. He looks 16 or 17, perhaps? “No, no, he’s 19,” insists Gangubai, his grandmother, firmly. Bhushan’s mother, Chanda, is confused. “I don’t remember how old he is, but he has been our breadwinner for more than five years now.”
Bhushan’s mother and grandmother want Bhushan to grow up quickly. He too has lost track of his age. “I have no idea how old I am,” he says.
In 2003, after his father’s suicide in Wardha’s Umri village, Bhushan was forced to quit school while in the sixth standard and take over the reins of the family. “I was the eldest; my two brothers were very small. I had to take up the responsibility,” he says simply.
“My heart bleeds for the boy,” says his grandmother. “He would till our four-acre farm with his tender hands, sweating in the sun. I could not bear to see him being sucked into the soil at that age. But he did it uncomplainingly,” she recollects.
“Bhushan works from 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening and thinks of nothing else. For him there is no holiday, no entertainment, no other life,” says Gangubai. Not like his younger brother Mangesh who, at 16, is more carefree; he earns a daily wage in town. Mangesh also had to drop out of school to contribute to the family income.
Their mother, who works as an anganwadi assistant in Wardha, laments the fact that she could not educate her children after the death of her husband. “He (her husband) wanted the two sons to go to school and grow up to become professionals.” Alas, it was only a dream, which, in rural Vidarbha, can hardly ever be realised.
The brothers reacted differently to the family crisis after the death of their father. Both were suddenly forced to grow up. But, while Bhushan is aware of his responsibilities, his younger brother enjoys his freedom without accountability.
“Bhushan,” says Chanda, “is a good boy. He is aware of our hardships and his own too and therefore does everything with the family’s interests in mind. Mangesh, on the other hand, is a spoiled brat. He can’t figure out what’s in his best interest. He gets carried away easily.”
“For us, Bhushan is the father of the family,” says Gangubai, who is her elder grandson’s constant companion and guide on matters related to the farm. She calls him ‘Baba’ (‘father’), as eldest sons are commonly referred to in Maharashtrian households.
Bhushan is a quiet boy. He has no friends. “I’ll prove my father wasn’t wrong when he took up farming. I’ll bring my family out of debt,” he says. This year, he has begun doing the rounds of the banks for credit.
“I wanted to study, but after my father’s death there was no one to look after our farm and run the family,” he says. “Now,” he adds calmly, “it is very difficult to go back to school.” Perhaps informal training in agriculture would be more useful for him, he thinks.
By Jaideep Hardikar
Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.