Two handkerchiefs, a bottle of water, few grams of chana and the photograph of a beautiful girl is all that 54-year-old Dashrath Koal cares for before marching off on a campaign trail in the sun-baked, dusty plains of Robertsganj.
The two handkerchiefs would save him from the blistering heat, and conceal the occasional tears that so inevitably stream out from his eyes whenever he sees the photograph—of his three-year-old granddaughter.
Less than a fortnight back, Dashrath lost his elder son, Sanjay, a Naxalite; following a police encounter. Sanjay’s wife Usha is now in judicial custody, and her three-year-old daughter at Dashrath’s home where she asks too many questions.
Dashrath’s wife, Shyama Devi sees her husband’s tears, fixes him in a squinting stare and shakes her head. “Knock that stuff off, and move on,” she urges him.
Sanjay Koal, a Maoist sub-zonal commander who was carrying a bounty of Rs one lakh, was apparently killed while trying to galvanise support for his father, a small-time farmer of Madhupur village, who is now contesting from the Robertsganj (Reserved) seat in Uttar Pradesh on a Rashtriya Samanta Dal ticket.
Sanjay had assured his father of success. He was confident. He was a friend. He was just 22. He wanted to support his father gaining a foothold in a system that he himself loathed most.
The junior Koal was influenced by Kameshwar Baitha, a Maoist chieftain who fought the Palamu (Jharkhand) electoral battle from behind the Garhwa prison bars, and almost made it with 1,41,875 votes.
In the backyards of Madhupur, Sanjay was more of a Robin Hood figure, fighting for the poor and their rights. For the police, he was a terror with over two-dozen cases lodged against him.
After his death, the Koal couple, however, faces a huge dilemma. They know the police are sniffing to know few more Maoists links that Dashrath might still be having by his side. So, in front of the police he disowned his son, although he silently agreed to perform the last rites.
Sanjay’s mother Shyama Devi has done better in disappointing the police. She preferred to work in the wheat field a day after Sanjay death. “We have mouths to feed,” she says in a choked voice, her gasping breath a testimonial to what she had achieved: pain faced, released and vanquished.
“My son left home when he was only 11. He wanted to fight those who usurped our land. The police have already punished him for being an outlaw, but what about those who made him one,” Dashrath told HT.
Meanwhile, Dashrath appears on an unending journey. The more his tears flow the faster he walks, the more the pain comes, the less it matters and the less it holds him back.
And, as Dashrath emerges from the one dusty passage, he stops and stands, as lungs do their work sucking in and out fresh oxygen to quell the fire in his limbs and in his heart.
His body returns to its robustness, tanned and glistening.