Speed Limits

Every day for the last year, a smallish crowd would gather near the railway work for lunch before they went back to their fields. Each day, they beheld the same sight: about forty men, toiling in the afternoon sun, under the orders of an officer. Nothing seemed to be happening in the area except for the railroad, and that is exactly what Ramanarayana would have said.

You think the farmers had nothing new to talk about each day? 

***

"Today Ramanarayana had a big fight with his father." 

"What was it about?"

"I went there to deliver some grains. Adinarayana garu told me that we should not sell what we produce in Vijayawada."

"And....?"

"And what else? Ramanarayana heard this, and he started arguing with his father left and right."

"These days the youth have no respect for their father. In fact that's why I stopped sending my son to school. As it is we have a large family to support. He can work with me in the fields - that's what his grandfather did and that's what I did."

"True, Venkayya. Ever since that Ramanarayana came back from the city, he has been raving about this and that. His mind has gone berserk. He can't stay in one place now."

"That's why he's building a railroad!"

Everyone laughed. 

***

Another day:

"Oray Venkayya, are you going to sell your wares in Vijayawada?"

"Of course! You know I go there every month"

"No - I mean, will you go by the train? After all, the ticket is only a few annas."

"I don't know. Adinarayana garu says it's not a good thing, so I won't do it. He's a good man."

"Come on! We'll try it. Ramanarayana is selling tickets for the first ride on the train."

"You people go. I will have nothing to do with it."

"Do you know what the panchayat said to Adinarayana garu? They told him to give in to the will of the people. They too think the railroad is good for us."

"But look at those laborers! The angrez are whipping them crazy! I won't sit in something that has come out of such cruelty. Would you?"

"Come on! They must be doing it because they have no money." 

"Besides, God knows where they are from! They don't even speak our language!"

"Yes, that's true. They must be from another country."

***

Another day:

"You know, when I went to get some water, I spoke to one of the laborers." 

"Array, you're lying again! Just yesterday Rambhadra said they don't speak our language!" 

"No, no, no. I did lie about the price I sold my crops at, but this is true by my mother's promise. I'll tell you what happened - first I went down to the river, and started my prayer."

"Ok....Ramayya, if you lie this time, we won't believe you ever again, did you hear?" 

"Ok, but listen! Then this laborer also got down into the river a few feet away and chanted the gayatri mantra!" 

"What?! How dare he! Some gaddhaar must have told the angrez our sacred gayatri! Now all is lost!" 

"No, no, listen, brothers. Then I turned at him, astonished - and asked him what is his kulam. Then he muttered something in gibberish but one of his words was 'kumhar' - it sounded like kummari, so I showed him the motion of the potters' wheel with my hands, and he nodded vigorously, and started crying."

They were all silent for a few minutes. 

"Ramayya, are you sure? We need to go talk to Adinarayana garu about this. I thought everyone in our country spoke Telugu." 

"Okay let's go this evening, after the evening performance."

***

Another day:

"Now the railroad is very close to completion. It seems now you can go to Bezawada, Chennapatnam, Benguluru, anywhere in one night! It is amazing."

"Yes, yes - we should go to all these places! Earlier we had to travel for so long to get there. Now we can just go and come back in a few days." 

"What if we don't know the language spoken there? That laborer mentioned a place called Bhopal - it seems it is only a month's journey to Kasi from Bhopal." 

"Did you say Bhopal? I remember Adinarayana garu mentioning it -- he visited it on his way to Kasi!"

"But that doesn't make sense. Adinarayana garu was also saying that everyone in our country spoke Telugu.... "

"Ok, Rambhadrayya, there can only be three possibilities. Either Ramayya is lying - we know he's done that before. Or Adinarayana garu is lying - why would such a noble man lie to us, and that too, what does he gain? Or the final possibility is that the laborer is lying and he's really from another country!"

"Veerayya, you're right. I think it's our Ramayya"

"What, me? Why would I lie? I have nothing to gain here! Believe me, brothers...."

"Actually he's right. Why would he lie? It must be that stupid laborer. Never trust foriegners."

"Why worry, brothers. Let's go next week to Nagpur and find out. We can tell the laborer that we will carry a letter for his people in his village."

"But we don't have enough money to go - it seems the ticket is very costly."

"Ok, let's pool in all our money. Who will go?"

"Brothers, let me go."

"Why you, Rambhadrayya?"

"See, here is what I think. You know our Peddayya? See, I know him well, and he has already left for Kasi two weeks ago after his son's marriage."

"So?"

"That means he will be around Nagpur when I go there by train. So that way I can also meet him and get his opinion on it. Who knows, this evil railroad may change my mind?"

"You know, Rambhadrayya, normally you don't make any sense. But you have your moments!"

They all laughed, and went back to their fields.

***

"Rambhadrayya is back!!"

"Look, he's getting down the train! He's coming here!"

As the man approached --

"Did you meet Peddayya?"

"So what language did they speak?" 

"Were those people like these laborers?" 

"Brothers! Brothers! Let him speak! He's saying something but we are too busy asking him questions. Silence! Let him speak now! Here he is now -- Rambhadra, sit on this stone and tell us in a loud voice."

"Rambhadrayya is back! Rambhadrayya is back!" A huge commotion occurred. As the crowd gathered, a train passed by.

"Era Rambhadra! Tell us your sangatulu!"

"Brothers -- I had a really strange journey. Let me tell you what happened:

When I got down the station at Nagpur, I couldn't understand anything that the people spoke. Then with signs and gestures, I tried to tell them that I wanted to go to the Brahmanula dharmasala - they said, 'Oh Brahman Dharmshala?' Do you know, our currency is also not the same? They did not take my copper coins with our Nizam's head on it. Finally I had to give them a silver coin in exchange for several of their coins. I finally reached the Dharmashala, and asked for Peddayya. He had arrived but had gone out somewhere, and I waited there for him. When I asked them for manchineellu, they didn't understand. Then when I showed them with gestures that I was thirsty, they said "Ah paani?!" and gave me water. In this manner I found out a few words. Then I saw Peddayya and I cried out in pleasure, because I was so happy that I could speak to someone with a full sentence in Telugu!

But here was the most surprising thing! Peddayya did not speak Telugu! When he met me, he said to me, "Kaise ho?" like all the others did, but then he added 'Rambhadrayya', so I knew that he recognized me. I was completely baffled. I tried hard to speak to him in Telugu, but he only understood a few words like the other Nagpuris. Then, disheartened that our Peddayya did not speak Telugu anymore, I came back home. And I feel so tired!"

No one spoke for a while.

"Well, we'll know what's going on when Peddayya comes back."

***

A year later:

"Peddayya is back from Kasi!!" Commotion. They all rushed to Peddayya's house, but made Rambhadrayya go first.

"Peddayya! Are you there?" Peddayya walked out.

"Rambhadrayya? What are you doing here?"

Everyone looked astonished.

"Why are you all staring at me like that?"

"Peddayya," began Rambhadrayya, "do you remember meeting me in Nagpur?"

"Oh yes! Why were you speaking in such a strange language?"

"Me? Peddayya, it was you who was speaking in such a strange language!"

"What are you talking about, Rambhadrayya? I was speaking in whatever I always speak - it's Telugu"

"Peddayya, I came by train to Nagpur, and then when I got off, everyone was speaking in a different language. Then when I met you, you were also speaking that same language, and you could not understand my Telugu!"

At this, Peddayya fell silent, deep in thought. And finally, he said this: 

"Ah. Rambhadrayya, now I know what is happening. You see, as I traveled by foot to Kasi, I found that people had two or three different ways of saying everything. You know what they call water? Paani. If you go to Rameshwaram they begin calling it thanni. But since you are traveling slowly, you do not notice anything at all. But because you traveled so fast, you noticed that there is a difference between what you speak and what they speak." 

He continued, struck by his own realization.

"So now, we can finally understand why Adinarayana garu does not like the railways! Even I did not understand it, till now. Probably he also couldn't tell the reason, but he has been to Kasi and somehow he must have felt this truth deep inside. You see, when you travel by foot, you gradually adopt the ways of the people you see around you. When you travel too fast, you will notice all kinds of differences - people don't speak your language, they don't eat the same food, they don't have the same way of thinking... Don't you see how this country has remained together because we travel slowly? It will go to the dogs now with the railway!"

The villagers stood stunned. Finally, one of them spoke up.

"Peddayya, you are right. We will never use the railway again. We did not know it caused this much harm."

"Don't worry now. We just need to be more open-minded and understanding than we did before."

They tried.

***

Three hundred years later, sitting on another kind of track, Guruji Ravinder Sharma of Kala Ashram said this:

"Dekho, aisa hota thaa, Arun - Earlier when someone traveled from Tamilnadu to Kashmir, he became Kashmiri when he reached. By the time he got back, he would be Tamilian again!"

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