It was a sultry sunny afternoon. I was resting in the veranda of my home after the lunch when they walked in. Walking under the scorching heat of the day had visibly tanned their faces.
The number of people coming asking for donations were unbearable. Lately, rather than calling it donations where it was done on will, it could be better called as forced donation where a designated sum was expected.
I was a little relieved seeing the Bags and the ledger books they carried which meant it was something else. There were already two surveys that week.
They were two Aangan Vadi teachers. Poor Souls. After all the shouting in the classroom with little kids, they have to roam around the country side collecting data on cattle, pet animals, birds and even home appliances that people had like Televisions, fridges, washing machines and telephones, all in the name of measuring the living standard of people.
“Could you please do us a favour?” they asked, still standing outside the patio.
“Oh sure”, I said rising from my seat assured that it was not another fund-raising campaign.
“Is this house no.43 of Mr….?” one of the two asked searching through the pages of the thick ledger book they carried along with them.
“Yes, it is. How may I help you?” I asked.
“Do you have any household animals?” one of them asked without beating around the bush.
My assumption was not wrong.
“We have dogs and cats at home” I replied.
“we are only looking for cattle that would bring home some income” they said as they noted down the points in the ledger book they carried.
They were still standing outside the patio, in the shade though, and were in a hurry to finish their work.
Hearing a conversation and unfamiliar voice outside, Amma came out from Kitchen.
“Would you like something to drink” Amma asked them seeing the tired faces. Amma has always been like that.
They were very happy with glasses of plain water offered.
“Do you know where this house is?” They asked Amma searching through the list in the ledger for another house number and name.
In our village houses were not very close to each other. One may have acres of land and other may not. With many small hills and valleys, one need to know the right direction to reach each one of them. Otherwise one would end up walking endlessly.
“That’s the one you see down over there” Amma pointed to a partly visible tiled roof amongst the trees slightly downhill.
“Are there any cattle?”
“No, they have none” Amma knew it well.
“How about house number 45, one Chirutha?” The quest continued.
“She also has no cattle” The answer came briskly.
“How about Narayanan?” This time they looked more relaxed, first from quenching the thirst and second from potentially saving a lot of strain of walking around.
“There are so many Narayanans around. Do you have any other description, like a house name or so?”
Amma has been living in the village for about thirty-five years after the marriage and she knew the village and the people here more than her own place. I have always wondered, it was not just the people of the village that she knew, she also knew from where someone had married and to where someone got married and other family chains and even details such as cattle each one grew in their household of the majority of the families in the village.
“House Number 49, Narayanan Kannivalappil” They gave the details they had.
“Oh that one. His house is three houses past on this side”. She said pointing in the east side. “He has a calf now. He sold the cow three four months back.” Amma was precise.
The Relief in the faces of the two souls were clearly visible.
“How about Safiath Beevi, House No. 50?” they continued, trying to complete the details of as many houses as possible without having to walkaround.
“She has lot of goats. I don’t the correct number, more than six or seven I believe. If you need the right number, you better visit her house.” That was more than what they expected.
“that’s OK, we will manage” They could not demand more.
“There is one Bhageer. House No. 22”
“They disposed their property two-three years back and moved out. There is no one living in that house now”
“But is the house there?”. They just wanted an account.
“The people who bought the house are not staying there and the house is in complete ruins. Is it not an updated list?” Amma knew so much. I realized that I knew very few villages, immediate neighbours and a few others.
“The list would have been prepared around five years back. It is not updated very often”
“Then, do you account for such households?” Amma enquired.
“ Hmm…sometime yes”. They gave a vague and unsure reply. “No one verifies the list”
“Last one. Joseph Vadakkepura, house no. 64” They has almost completed their day’s work.
“Ohh…That one is a little far, on the other side of the hill that you over there.” Amma pointed to a direction.
“That’s’ where we started off with house no. 1, right?” The two looked at each other.
“You might have. The wards are divided not for the convenience of people like you. It is based on the number of votes each political party gets to making sure they win in the local elections.” Amma clarified.
“Walking all the way there in the hot sun again is tough, what we have is more than enough.” The irritation of walking around in the hot sun was clearly visible in their faces. Happy with the information they got, they walked away thanking Amma for all the details.
I had heard that they were paid based on the number of houses they covered. If they visit one house, they would get the details of another ten houses as most of the ladies in the village were not too different from Amma. They knew the village well.
Covering twenty houses a day would mean, they can get the details of about two hundred house. Five rupees a house meant a thousand rupees a day, five hundred each. With more than twenty wards in the village, I did some basic math in mind and realized the way government systems worked. But for these Aangad Vadi teachers, as they say, make the hay while the sun shines.