Date: 9 August, 20-whatever
At your service,
Respected Prime Minister Sir,
Government of India,
The Prime Minister’s Office,
North Block, New Delhi – 110001.

Your Excellency,

I, Rajesh Kushwaha, of India, am not a city dweller, but a villager. Sir, it is a matter of great pride that I am being able to come face-to-face with my country’s prime minister. I am certain that my grievances will be looked into. Please accept my apologies for saying such disappointing things at the beginning of my letter – I have no choice and no other way. My father wants a tractor to appear at our doorstep within the first fortnight of the month of Sawan. This has taken up six months of our time. I teach Geography to class ten students at a private school in a town. The bank manager there has given me an afternoon appointment today. Besides, the village chief, along with numerous moneylenders, has never left our side. I do not mind speaking with these moneylenders as long as our work is done.

Sir, I would like to clarify that I am not mocking your esteemed position by addressing you directly, as one is likely to believe. In a slow-moving country like India, I am aware of the pride, power and misery that is associated with the post. Secondly, troubles like mine are petty, yet the forces that I am pitted against are of demonic proportions – perhaps that is why I have found the moral strength to confide in you. Thirdly, I vote. I am not among those who do not participate in democratic processes but complain vociferously about the state of affairs.

I did not have a particular affinity for teaching. As you will see in the paragraphs that follow, “necessity” is a unique word. Teaching, to me, is even more tiresome than studying. That is why I decided to work on a farm at first. The land was not mine, but the land deeds issued by the government and my sheer enthusiasm were enough to get me started. Are you aware of the annual rent for a land deed today? You are a very busy man; naturally, there are certain details of the country’s economy that escape even your notice. Thirty-five thousand rupees per acre. You read this figure with a look of astonishment, didn’t you? But what’s even more astonishing is that we, the sharecroppers, pay this amount every year and have no choice but to cough it up. The expenses for seeds, water, electricity and fertiliser, let me tell you, are not included in the rent.

In the first year, I signed a land deed for two acres. On this land, I harvested two crops: rice and tomatoes. The tomato seeds were not up to the mark, but that’s a story for another day. My toil was not in vain, I did make some gains from it. My father was pleased too, and we were about to sign a land deed for four acres when a construction company secured a deal to build a four-lane bridge in my small village. I am perhaps sounding a little confused, ji, for the fact of the matter is that the chief minister contested three consecutive elections under the sponsorship of this company, and it is now being rewarded for its loyalty and faith. The company can build as many bridges, offices and dams as it wants in this state for the next five years. Henceforth, all tenders will be awarded to it.

Those who own land in my village reside in the city. They have big, important jobs there, yet they claim to love their land deeply. When the company offered significant sums of money for these plots of land, the owners handed them over with great sobbing and wailing. Everyone felt dejected about parting with their precious land. Some of them could not stop crying even as they went to the bank to deposit the money. Sir, I request you not to quote this section of the letter to anyone – let this remain between us. A large number of those who sold their land were intellectuals who have spent their entire lives in the heady company of words. They will try to prove you wrong and insist that they had to sell their land in desperation. They will also insist that they could not protest the seizure of the land since they are well aware of how activists and dissenters are treated in our country.

You must have heard about this news channel and its editor – he was a resident of my village. Out of all the people who had to sell their land, he sold his for the highest amount. Perhaps the sorrow of losing one’s land was enormously profound for him too. If you say anything to him, the editor will start producing news criticising your government and your party. You will have to offer him advertising campaigns and a Rajya Sabha seat to pacify him. After that, you can rest assured that you will not be harmed in any way. Though I will be. I have been asking him for a job for the past five years, and he has been cooking up excuses every single time. One of these days, he will discover the most appropriate excuse.

The person who leased his land to me last year is a well-known academician and littérateur. He is also an editor of a newspaper. He takes great pride in the fact that he has never voted in any election, and yet he does not hesitate to run advertisements or collect money from political parties. I decided to speak to him when our land was being stolen. He lives in the capital city. When I visited him, I found him writing two articles, one with each hand. With his left hand, he was writing about the necessity of land grabbing, and with the other one, a condemnation of the act. He even finished both articles at the same time. He asked me to read them. Wah, I thought, what an intellectual! My unstinting praise overwhelmed him and my apprehensions regarding land grabbing were promptly dispelled. He said, If you get the right price for the land, why put the government through unnecessary trouble? Yes or no? Yes, I said.

No matter who I went to with my problems, all of them said, What’s new about this? Whereas everyone knows that pangs of hunger are felt afresh every day and the sun rises anew every morning, yet they are as momentous as the hunger before the last meal eaten or the brightness of yesterday’s sun. My sorrow became a source of perverse joy for some, and summons arrived from faraway places to relate my complaints. They would hear me unburden myself only to respond with, What’s new about this?

It was when the preparations for constructing new bridges began and more land was being seized that I took up a teaching job at Modern Academy in town. I am known for the corporal punishment I mete out. On the days I remove my ring from my right hand and relocate it to my left, no one, including me, can predict which classroom will be at the receiving end of my infamous wrath.

Excerpted with permission from ‘The Mathematics of Necessity’ in The Keeper of Desolation: Stories, Chandan Pandey, translated from the Hindi by Sayari Debnath, HarperCollins India.

Disclosure: Sayari Debnath is a Senior Writer at Scroll.