The village school teacher had come to the bank to withdraw some money from his personal account. I had recently taken charge of that branch. After his work was done, he came to the Manager's room (a room was made into a manager's cabin in the village building housing the bank branch) to discuss about a "Gramsabha" (village meeting) to be held for identifying some beneficiaries for the loan schemes sponsored by the government. Among the few educated people in the nearby villages (this was some thirty years ago), he was respected by the villagers and helpful in conducting such meetings in an orderly manner. Gramsabha can be a tricky affair due to various political affiliations and local politics. Persons commanding the respect of all villagers can be very handy in managing such meetings. This teacher was one of such personalities.
A farmer was waiting outside the room to meet me. He had apparently walked some distance in the hot sun in the summer month. As the talk with the teacher would take sometime, I called him to the room to attend to him. He reluctantly came in as the teacher was sitting in front of me. He was carrying four tender coconuts in his hands and placed them near the door. He stood before us and did not sit on the chair despite being asked to do so. I told him that I would not talk to him unless he was seated. He sat on the chair only after the teacher also urged him to sit. He wanted to grow some Tomato in his land and wanted a crop loan. I told him that I would visit his village the next morning and see his land and attend to his request. He thanked me and the teacher and left the room. As he was leaving, I reminded him to take the tender coconuts he had kept near the door which he had forgotten while going out.
The teacher started laughing and told me that I was punishing the poor fellow. i did not understand what was the import of his statement. "He has carried the tender coconuts in the hot son this far to give it to you. You are asking him to take it back all the way in the hot sun again. Do not trouble him by asking him to take them back. Please accept them. This is the way villagers show respect to people like you", he said. I took out a ten rupee note from my purse, handed it to him and asked him to have tea in the roadside tea shop. He looked at the teacher and after he nodded his head, took the note hesitantly and went away, leaving the coconuts at the door.
There are regular visits of many officials to villages for various reasons. Villagers who grow fruits and vegetables in their lands believe in sharing some of it with visiting officials. Seasonality decides the availability of such fruits and vegetables. As the officials attend to their work, someone in the village takes the lead and collects such items. The bag is kept in the visitor's vehicle by the time the work is done and the visitor is ready to leave the village. This is a courtesy extended by the villagers and is accepted as well. It is neither demanded nor refused when offered. That is the way life goes on in the villages. At least, that was how it was in those days.
The bus was overcrowded when it pulled to a stop at the roadside shelter of the village, on the hot Saturday afternoon. I somehow got inside the bus and was wondering how the journey would be for the next hundred kilo meters. The bus conductor always has a seat near the back entrance of the bus. Conductors are unable to sit there when the bus is full and they keep moving inside the bus selling tickets and collecting money. But he always has the right of sitting there and can ask anyone sitting there to get up and vacate the seat. The conductor had got down at the stop and he asked the person sitting in his seat to vacate the same and asked me to sit there. This was a big relief and I accepted it without a question.
A villager entered the bus behind me carrying a big bag and asked me to make place below the seat to keep the bag. I told him to keep it elsewhere as sitting on the seat with the bag below the seat was inconvenient on the long journey. The conductor intervened politely and told me to make way for the bag. As the seat itself was given to me by his courtesy, I complied without murmur now. The journey continued on the hot day, but sitting near the window reduced the discomfort to some extent. But the bag below the seat had left very little space for the feet to move. The bus finally reached the city bus stand. I was the last to get down. As I got down from from the bus, the conductor asked me to wait and said he would get an autorikshaw for me. I told him not to worry. He insisted on hailing an auto, got one and asked a villager to put the bag that was kept below my feet in the bus in my auto. I looked at him in surprise.
"Sir, this bag is given by Manjunath to be sent with you. He has kept some fruits for you in the bag. I have been told to handle this. Please take this as otherwise Manjunath will scold me", he said. I thanked him and proceeded home with the bag in the auto.
The bag contained an assorted variety of mango fruits. They were indeed very tasty. Manjunath had probably chosen the best of fruits available in his garden. The "Malgova" variety fruits were especially tasty and the best we ever had.
Manjunath was a young progressive farmer who also worked as a Lecturer in the nearby town college. He came to the bank in the next few days for some work. "What did you do Manjunath?", I asked. "Sir, I had to arrange with the bus conductor this way or else you would have refused to take the bag", he said. I thanked him for the sweet fruits. "I will be in this village at the most for one more year. But your Malgova mangos have captivated my taste buds. Please give me some fruits from your garden every year, wherever I am. I will pay for it for sure", I said.
"Sir, this is a special tree in my grove. I do not sell the fruits of this tree. It is reserved for my family and friends like you. From now on, Your name is on the tree. The fruits belong to you. They will always be yours. That will be my pleasure", he said.
I have never been able to go that village again and see that tree. But sweeter than the mangos were the words of that farmer. Those words bring sweetness whenever they are remembered. There is no seasonality for that. It was one of the pleasures derived while serving in rural areas.