Fiction: Ramesh’s Fellowship

July 31, 2017 Fiction , Literature , POETRY / FICTION

By

Ajmal Khan

 

 

That was the night when Ramesh got the results of his Junior Research Fellowship examination. Among all of us only Ramesh had qualified this time. As usual many of us were feeling really bad and hopeless for not being able to crack the exam. While coming back to the hostel room from  the Aiswarya bar after two beers each, some rum and a few chicken legs after the dinner, Prashant said “Man, I didn’t get it this time too, and see Ramesh got it”

“How many times will I give this stupid exam”

“What a pity, I had prepared too much and was quite confident that I would get through this time”

He was about to cry.

Look Prashant, Ramesh needs it”

“You have seen how he lives”

Haven’t you seen he is living in misery?, you have seen him sending his entire fellowship home. See if a monthly fellowship doesn’t reach his home, it makes much of a difference for them. Look at you, you get money for everything else except to drink from your home and you will get the fellowship in the coming years.”

“See you have to prepare more”

“Take it easy man” I consoled him.

“Look, he need not pay any fees, and can get admission and a job everywhere since they get reservations, you know that I don’t get it.”

Prashant searched for reasons to say that Ramesh got JRF because of the reservation policy and didn’t get it because he didn’t belong to the reserved category.

“I know students who are buying Apple laptops and iphones with the fellowship money, don’t tell me all the pity stories of Ramesh,” Prashant said.

As we were walking back to campus on the side of the road, Ramesh was walking on my left side and all of us were totally drunk, we drunk in the mixed feeling of joy and sorrow. Ramesh couldn’t hear this statement by Prashant and I felt good that Ramesh didn’t hear that. We were about to reach our respective hostel rooms, passing the main gate and hostel security, I managed to take a hanging Prasant to his room and then went to my own room.

Ramesh was the second child of Radha and Chandran from the Kannur district in Kerala. Kannur has been the rich land for the Communist Marxist Party of India even before the 1960’s, the landless laborers, Dalits and workers supported the Party. However, Dalit comrades within the Party remained only Dalits and their socio economic status also remained the same. I used to have long theoretical and ideological discussions with him about these questions and that made our late nights lively, though my girlfriend Vandana didn’t like it because it was stealing the time that she got to spent with me. Ramesh’s family belonged to Pulaya caste, Pulaya is one of the major untouchable caste in Kerala who are also addressed as “Poocha” meaning Cat as a derogatory term used by the upper caste Hindus to denote those who belonged to this caste. Leading figures like Ayyankali and K P Vallan, etc, belong to the same caste. Ramesh was the first one to get into a University system in his village Kaivella, a known Dalit colony in the district.

 

 

 

Dear son,

Hope you are doing fine,

 

Father’s leg problem is increasing, it seems we will have to pay back all he had earned as a daily wage in his lifetime. Divya had to stop going to nursery as your father has started screaming in the day and night continuously, she takes care of him. Now what she used to get as monthly salary has also stopped since she is not able to go for tuition classes. The price for medicines are increasing here day by day, the Setrin-2 that we used to get is Rs.1000 now and we need more money, I hope you understand.

The attacks from Union people are also increasing day by day since the debt that had to be paid to the secretary has also been pending for too long now. How are you? Hope your studies are going good. Bipin sir had come home and he had brought some books of Dr. Ambedkar for you, I have kept those along with your other books. He was telling me that you should send applications to some Universities in America and England, I forgot the name of the universities. These days my memory is also poor son, I am not even able to recollect the names of my medicines.

 

with love, your mother.

 

 

Each letter that came from home disturbed Ramesh, his main worry was to find money for his old father’s medications, and then he would like to get their home repaired which would become a pond once it started raining in June. His sister Divya was married to a migrant construction worker from Orissa and he had stayed at their home for two years and one fine morning he said he is going to his home to see his old parents and now it has been three years. He had to work for the last year in a project as a research assistant along with his M. Phil course to finance the family and that had caused him to delay by one year in submitting his thesis for which he had got an ultimatum of six more months. If he is not able to submit it by then, he will have to discontinue the course.

 

 

 

Dear Mom

 

How are you? How is your health? Please take care of your health.

I could not write letters for three months now since I was busy writing my M. Phil thesis, that has to be submitted by next month. Mom, luckily this time I have got a Junior Research fellowship, which means from next month instead of Rs.3000 I will get Rs.25000 for each month and I hope, I will be able to sent you a good portion of that and soon our problems are going to end. Tell my regards to Papa and Divya. Please ask Papa not to go for work, his problem will only get worse if he does that. If Divya wants to go to teach again in the nursery let her go, otherwise it’s good for her to join for a Degree course at the Indira Ghandi National Open University, they have an English literature course as she likes that. I can pay the fees.

 

Please tell Bipin sir my regards and also please be careful that the books he had given are safe in my wood book box, inform him that I am about to complete my thesis and will be submitting it in a few weeks. I am not thinking about applying to Columbia University now and it needs preparations for many years and also needs a scholarship. I have sent a DD in your name and you will get it mostly along with this letter, I don’t have much money left now, but knowing that I will get the fellowship money I have taken some debts from a few of my teachers at the University. I hope that amount is sufficient for now and I will send you more money as I start to get a fellowship.

 

Hope the Party people are not attacking Rekha Chechi much these days since her news got much attention, I had spoken to Paappu annan, Dalit Sadu Samithi president and they are leading a march against the atrocities against Dalits, freedom and dignity to work for women from the community. If it gets success, many of their attacks will reduce and unlike our old days, we are getting good support from many people.

Everything will be alright,

You all take care,

 

with love

Yours, Ramesh

 

 

**********

 

 

I was getting ready to go Delhi as the Occupy UGC struggle was getting its heights, students from all over India going to march to parliament demanding restoration of the suspended fellowship for the M.Phil and PhD students in the state and Central Universities. In Bombay there were many solidarity marches and Dharna including locking up the vice chancellor of Mumbai University to which students from all Mumbai University’s colleges marched along with students from other major universities and institutions.

Ramesh was back in the hostel after his late night reading and writing work from the library.

“Ramesh are you not coming?”

“Coming to?”

“Delhi”

“No”

“Why?”

“I have my submission dead line”

“What submission man?”

“I have my deadlines and you know that”

“Look you should understand that this government in power is particularly trying to attack students from marginalized backgrounds, you must come. It’s the responsibility of the people like you to come and support the struggle.”

I said in between packing my dress along with the posters and pamphlet that needed to be distributed at the protest.

“No, Krishna”

“I have my submission next week and if I don’t submit it, then I will only be able to next year. I would like to be on campus and work hard for the coming weeks and try to complete it. I have to complete three more chapters now,” said Ramesh.

“Mmm.. I know. When an actual issue comes you all show your careerism!, this is what you all.”

“Ambedkar went to London and America and you all want to go there. To the land of imperialists and capitalists, I saw you browsing through the website of University of Columbia other day, you also want to go?”

I was angry.

After hearing such a comment from me, Ramesh’s face was not very pleasant, we have been friends for many years now and Ramesh has always seen me with respect though we are both of the same age.

Though I felt bad about saying those words to him, I didn’t have space in my mind to think about it since I had a lot of things to sort, there were about a hundred students coming from all over Mumbai colleges and I was in charge of that.

After five minutes, Ramesh came to my room and said

“I am coming, I have nothing much to pack”

“When are you leaving?”

“Do you have a reserved train ticket?”

“No, I don’t have any tickets reserved, we can go in general compartment,” I said.

In Delhi the winter session of parliament was all set to begin. The withdrawal of the fellowship had created anger among the students across the country and they were all set to begin the march to the parliament. The rally had started from Mandi house metro station and around twenty thousand students were marching through the roads of Delhi , Delhi rarely seeing such a huge mobilization of just students.

 

Free education!

No cuts in fellowships!

Restore the Non-Net fellowships!

WTO go back!

We want free education! We want fellowships!

Government of India down down!

 

Were some of the slogans which made ecco to the parliament in Delhi, as students were marching confidently, Delhi police also prepared to stop them even before they reached Jantar Mantar. As students were passing Ashoka road breaking the barricades, police used lathis to stop them, students broken the lines and barricades made by the police men. Students were not ready to stop and girl students were brutally attacked and assaulted by male cops and all students were brutally beaten up the police along with the water cannons. Some could run fast ahead of the police fences, however they were also beaten up and taken into the police buses. Even when they were all taken into different buses, they were shouting slogans inside more strongly than how they had been shouting on the road.

Ramesh was brutally injured on his head and broke his left leg bone, soon hospitalized at the All India Medical Sciences along with many other students who were injured. I was arrested along with the student leaders in the parliament house police station and from there I couldn’t resist when I heard that Ramesh had got injured. I somehow escaped through the main gate of the police station without giving much attention to the guards at the gate, I came to meet Ramesh and others who were injured.

I could see Ramesh sitting on a bed with his left leg fully plastered, sitting alone because though it had been four years for him in Bombay his Hindi was very weak and most students who got injured were from many parts of the country who don’t really speak English.

“Don’t worry”

“We can go soon in a few days once you get discharged”

“Do you have money?” I asked

“I only had Rs.1000 which was supposes to print my thesis and that is almost over now” he said.

Okay I will arrange some money from my party people and don’t worry about it now”

 

Ramesh cried every night because of the pain in his leg, since it was very cold in the night in Delhi, the increasing cold also increasing his pain on the bone.

The next day Ramesh had to undergo a surgery suggested by the doctor as his back of the head was hit by latti, two nerves broken and that needed to be immediately operated on. Since the protest was organized and managed by only students and students organizations, no one had much money. I tired thinking of the names of the people from who I can take contributions in Delhi, I called up some of my friends who are in full time jobs and explained the situations, some of them promised money as always, but a few of them transferred money online to my account seeing my helplessness. I used to have many difficult times without money and most of the time I don’t borrow money because I used to postpone the opportunity to take money from people in such emergencies, otherwise what would people think of me, he only comes to me for money, don’t know where all it goes!

I was somehow relaxed and sitting with Ramesh, suddenly got a call from Suneesh who is a friend and our classmate. He informed that Rames’s father had died a few days ago, they tried to call him but couldn’t get connected and a letter of Divya, his sister had reached today on Ramesh’s address that was read to me as follows:

 

 

Dear Kutta,

 

Our dear father is no more.  We tried to get you many times over the phone and inform people. We didn’t get a reply from anyone where you are. We are all worried here. Where are you?

Please come back home when you get this letter. His leg had got really serious, we took him to the Medical college after he was crying and screaming in the day and night everyday for two weeks and one night because of this none of us could sleep and then he slept for ever from the morning.

 

Your sister

 

 

I didn’t know if Ramesh could overhear what Suneesh had told me over the phone. I couldn’t look at his face and inform him of anything.

Seeing my face he asked

“My father is gone, right?”

“Yes must have gone.”

“I was having a terrible pain yesterday night, I cried a lot, an attendant came and left after sometime since I couldn’t understand his Punjabi mixed Hindi, all I shouted was Paani, Paani. He brought me a bottle of water and I drunk all of it. I haven’t experienced his deep pain ever in my life I felt like a body part of mine was being chopped off and after that I felt asleep and all I saw in the sleep was the dead body of my father kept in a grass mat covered in a white cloth and no one was crying. Their faces looked exactly like your face now,” said Ramesh.

“Poor man, he thought I will get a PhD in his lifetime, he dreamed of a life for me without attacks from the upper castes”

Ramesh then started talking to himself like someone who has lost mental stability, after he said this he started speaking in Malayalam which I couldn’t understand, but the sense I got from his expression was he was talking about the dream of his father for him to get educated as much as possible and see him as a big person like Dr. Ambedkar.

 

 

 

 

 

Ajmal Khan

Ajmal Khan A.T is a bilingual writer and activist who writes in English and Malayalam, his mother tongue. His English poetry collection My Tolerant Nation is published by Wings & roots (2017) and Malayalam one line story collection Museebat (2017) published by Monsoon books, Mumbai. His poems and articles have appeared in important magazines online and print in India and abroad. His poems have also appeared in anthologies including GOSSAMER; An anthology of contemporary world poetry by Kindle Magazine.

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