It's much of a muchness, Malwe's story. He had borrowed Rs 20,000 to buy fertilizer for his field. His cotton crop didn't bring him enough to pay back the debt, he also had to marry his older daughter (her dowry was Rs 20,000 as well). It all got too much for him to cope, so he sat in his field one morning and drank down rat poison.
I gather all these details sitting on the floor of his little hut with Nalini and Manisha. It is painted a striking blue and white outside. Inside, we sit under a somber garlanded picture of Namdeo, hanging above an inner door.
And I'm feeling increasingly desperate as we talk, because what do you say to a family like this? What do you say when a debt that seems small to you was a terrifying spectre to a cotton farmer here? What do you say when even that thought -- that the debt seems small -- is hard to think?
What do you say when you know, and this family knows, and you know they know, that you're no different from a voyeur: here for tragedy, looking in on sadness? Yeah yeah -- write about it, spread the word, make people aware, all that stuff. Tell me about it. But in even meeting the eyes of these two, these eyes that never so much as smile, you're the voyeur.
Two things happen.
First, a man comes in and tells me, why don't you take a picture of them holding Namdeo's picture? Without waiting for an answer, he reaches up and tries to unhook the frame. He can't, because it is not just hung there, but tied securely. Get a knife, he tells Nalini, I'll cut the string. I dissuade him, then look away for a few seconds to put aside my notebook and pull out my camera. When I look back, mother and daughter are standing in the doorway, the man positioning them just so. They have their arms straight up above their heads, hands cradling the photograph as it hangs there.
No, I say, just stand there. No need to reach out to it.
Second, with the photograph done, Nalini asks me quietly: what will I get from this? You people come and go, but what will I get? What will you do for us?
The sense of tragedy is almost suffocating.
And today, when I've finally felt I can write about this little incident, I find there's one thing I have been able to do for Namdeo's family. I've changed all their names.
Postscript: and even that one thing I thought I was able to do -- change their names -- I didn't manage properly. One name changed above after I posted this.