The Great Land Grab: Beyla


By Maniza Naqvi

Beyla o Beyla—-My precious Beyla! O meri lal-Beyla!

Mubarak Beyla—Jiayanoon Beyla! See, didn’t I always say to you –Keep your courage—Keep your faith–So what if your man is no more? We are here for you—my lali Beyla. Don’t I always say to you we will take care of you–my woman and I are still here for the whole village—like the protective shade of a father, or a brother or a man—We are here. Now just see how we take care of you. I have brought renters for your barren land. Now you will rule like a queen precious Beyla!

I told them to wait until I had talked to you myself. They are waiting on the highway—in their jeep—they are shy and not sure if you will accept them as renters. But I can tell you they are good people. You have my word on that. They want to rent your land. They want to become farmers—you know how the city folk are—they like to have hobbies—you know how they like to hunt around here—shooting and eating those small birds! Now they want to farm! So let them! They are naive in the ways of farming—what do they know about barren land? They think they can farm it. So let them Beyla. I told them that I will talk to you first. I will call them after you agree. They want to be your tenants! Imagine that Beyla—now you will have tenants!

They will give you five thousand rupees per acre for that barren land that the government gave you. Imagine! Do you remember when that oil company came and put up the fences nearby? They said the land didn't belong to anyone, it wasn't in anyone's name. They had bought it from the Government. Remember? And all that time we thought the land was ours and belonged to the village and no one even asked us if we used that land for cattle grazing or anything. Just because it wasn't in our names, we had no right to it. Remember? But now, see you will get forty thousand rupees per year for this land which the Government has given you and it is in your name, this barren land. Let them take it Beyla. You will be able to buy all the grain you want for your oven and your children. And the goats you’ve always wanted. And listen, guess what else, these naïve people want—You will laugh at this—I did—but then I thought why not—they can do what they want—it’s their money—and if they want to give you the money in exchange for nothing then let them—listen to this Beyla–they want to be your renters for one hundred years. Can you imagine?

But if say you want to sell this land to them after fifteen years, when you are able to do so, when the Government allows you to sell it, then they will even can you imagine this, they will even do you the favor of buying it from you. See how they can see so far ahead for your good? And listen Beyla to this good news, they will buy it from you for two lakh rupee per acre! They really must be crazy people. But I think they are just good and kind people. Some people are like that. It is because they don’t live here—they are from the city. From palaces there in Defense and Chaoni–cantonments. They are even from further than that. I hear they are from Dubai. Sixteen lakh rupees Beyla! That is their promise and they will give it to you in writing—and you will just have to put your thumbprint as your signature for agreement. But for this you will have to today as quickly as possible now—put your thumb print here and agree to all this good fortune. Tie them in now Beyla—so they have to do this for you. Tie them in now Beyla so that they will have to give you 16 lakh rupees for your fifteen acres in 15 years. They are waiting over there on the road—waiting for me to see if you want them to do this for you. As soon as you say yes—I will call them on my mobile phone and they will come. But listen Beyla go clean up because they will also take a nice photo of you putting your thumbprint on the papers. How nice, eh, Beyla.

Now tell me Beyla, what have you understood. Surprised? Astonished? Happy? Of course you are. Who wouldn’t be? No, no , no need to thank me—don’t make me a sinner in the eyes of God. Besides, thank me after you are rich! This is my duty. See I told you. God is kind. This land is barren. You don’t have a man to work it, nor animals, nor a tractor. The children are all girls and that too, they are too small. There will be money every month why you could get them good dowries and marry them off in a few years. You have no uria fertilizer—nor seed, nor a tube well. The canal is too far from here. But look, just sitting around doing nothing at home—you’ve found renters at your own doorstep, thanks to me, who want to give you five thousand rupees per acre per year. Now see if you can add that all together and do the summing up. That’s forty thousand rupees per year Beyla! For one hundred years. Your great grand children even will be rich. Its sixteen lakh rupees if you sell it to them after fifteen years! See, now you’ve become rich haven’t you?

Barren acres of land—owner of 8 acres of barren land–8 acres of barren land from the Goverment–What does that mean?—Nothing—can it fill your stomach? Just dust and dirt—barren. Just barren with thorn bushes. Now you will have cash. And from that cash the first thing you will do is to get something sweet for the whole village to eat!

Here—see? Here, this is the spot where you will need to put your thumb print. Put it here on this paper—here I have the ink. Go ahead. Then I will call them on my cellphone and you can put your thumbprint on the other papers and they will take their photo. Here dip your thumb and put your thumbprint here.

Just silence? Say something—are you a mute? Are you deaf? I haven't come here to listen to the flies buzzing around, the lizards slithering in your dirty thatched roof and the pecking of your scrawny chicken on that ant hill. Why are you stepping back into your hut Beyla? Just look at this place all this will change! You will be able to put a tin roof instead of this thatched one with lizards! You’ll be able to have cement walls instead of these ones made of mud, dung and hay. You will have as many many chickens as you want, even cows—can you hear the cow bells in the distance Beyla—listen— those could be yours! Just look at this, look at what you have now, nothing but these two charpoys, and a tattered ralli-patchwork quilt, a dirt floor and those tin plates, cups and pots. Why do these children look so frightened? Look at them so thin snot dribbling down to their chins.

Do it—What are you thinking you crazy woman, put your thumb here—Look how the sun is rising, straight overhead—Its hot here, I am standing out here in it—and you haven’t even offered me water? Listen come to think of it—they are so stupid those city folk– I think I can even bargain them up some—how about if I tell them you want not five thousand rupees a month but let’s say about eight thousand rupees a month? That is, now let me add it up—do the math—now that comes to let me—yes—in the roundabout neighborhood of half a lakh rupees a year Beyla. Do you even know what that is? And instead of 2 lakh rupees per acre if they want to buy after fifteen years—let’s say, I ask them for 3 lakhs? Now I’m not saying I will succeed Beyla but I will try. Now go ahead—put your thumb print here.

Are you deaf? Why are you staring at me like a dumb goat? Didn’t you hear me? I’m saying put your thumb print here! You ungrateful wretch—child of a low life-no better than an insect!

Also by Maniza Naqvi (here)