Smart and confident Balli has a deep connection with Bagdih, a coal mine in a fairly remote part of Bihar where his father works and where his Nana had chosen to work after the partition of India. Bagdih, which nurtures everyone who comes to earn livelihood and still holds no grudge when they never return, has a special relationship with Balli, whom she finds so much like herself.
Growing up in a small colony, Balli builds his beautiful world with Samar and lovely Samaira, whom he loves and feels fiercely protective about. As he helplessly watches his world slowly disintegrate due to misunderstandings and unmet expectations, he only has his promise of joining the Indian Army made to Nana and affection of a much older Shambhu to keep him moving.
Balli leaves the place that gave him everything to pursue his goals only to return years later on a rescue mission. As he encounters several emotions on his return and goes through upheavals, he finds solace only in Bagdih’s serene lap.
Set in the later part of twentieth century, ‘Balli of Bagdih’ is a depiction of how the characteristics of a place can build the character of a person born and brought up there.
Like all other coal mines in Dhanbad, Bagdih was in a remote part of the district. It was surrounded by jungle that was almost two kilometres deep on two sides. Filled with a few tall and thick trees, and mostly dense growth of plants and shrubs, one could argue if it was worthy of being called a jungle or was just wild rampant growth. Adjacent to the jungle, almost bordering the two sides was the officers’ colony where Balli lived and ruled. No one believed more than him that the wild growth was actually a jungle, and since Bagdih means ‘house of lions’, maybe a century earlier a den for ferocious lions and tigers. The idea of living next to a jungle that was probably inhabited by wild animals at one point of time, which he could reach merely by hopping and swinging like the underwear clad Korak, young son of Tarzan, fascinated him. If not for the watchful eyes of his ever-vigilant mother, he would have scaled the boundary wall and disappeared into the jungle swinging from one branch to other in his underwear or without.
Bagdih, in parts extremely green and the rest dusty and dirty with coal dust, had a vertical expanse. She was like a tall, beautiful lady, who had dirty hands and feet because of toiling hard but had still managed to keep the elegance of her body and smile on her face intact. She was like a mother and friend to her residents, whom she welcomed with arms wide open, nurtured them, and then bid goodbye with equal warmth as they left her. Many came to Bagdih in search of livelihood, but never stayed after retirement. Men who came as trainees to learn their craft left for better career prospects. A few came to live for months in homes of their relatives to prepare for competitive examinations in the tranquil and calm environment and went on to become IAS/IPS officers. Bagdih treated all of them with love, happy witnessing their growth, but sadly none returned as she kept longing to see them again. But amongst so many that she sheltered and fed—men, women, and children of all kinds—she was developing a special fondness for Balli.
Four-and-a-half-year-old Balli, in many ways a true Sardar and in a few ways not, was a very proud son of his Sikh parents. Sardar kids in Bagdih and around were usually of strong built, but not Balli. Balli was lean, very lean, so much that the contours of the bones of his arms and legs were clearly visible. But those bones spoke of strength and not of any fragility or weakness. They were no brittle items ready to break if hit, but on the contrary looked hard enough to crack an adversary if attacked. And what he lacked in muscles, he made up with immense courage that he had.
Towards the end of 1973, Bobby, the iconic film was released. Love that was the exclusive domain of adults was suddenly democratised with the release of this quintessential teenage romance. A young rich boy back from his boarding school falls in love with a sixteen-year-old daughter of a fisherman. And this love was not the type where a boy writes love letters to a girl, hides it between the pages of a book that he prizes the most, and asks a friend to hand it over to her. A young Rishi Kapoor romanced a sixteen-year-old Dimple Kapadia, who was the same age in real life too, just the way one had seen Rajesh Khanna romancing Sharmila Tagore and Dharmendra swooning for Hema Malini. Dressed in a short skirt and a tight top, the extremely beautiful and sexy Dimple looked ethereal and still a girl one could relate to. And in the charming and cute Rishi Kapoor every girl found a boy they could love endlessly, and most importantly who would always stand by. Boys bunked classes to watch Bobby. And girls cursed their fate that they couldn’t.
The bold love of teenagers Raj Nath and Bobby Braganza, characters played by Rishi and Dimple, their fearless display of affection, and continuous professing of commitment to each other impacted an entire generation. Love that was considered taboo for young schoolboys and girls became fashionable. Every boy looked for his Bobby and girl her Raj. Those who had not had the privilege of watching Bobby considered themselves unfortunate and felt left out.
In so many ways, Balli was Bagdih’s true son. Bagdih was so full of greenery outside yet protecting rocks of minerals inside. So was Balli. Bagdih was so full of life outside yet hiding loneliness inside. So was Balli. Bagdih was so largehearted as to allow people dig a living out of it. So was Balli. Bagdih was so accommodating to accept people desert her after flourishing. So was Balli. Bagdih gave a part of herself to the people she loved. So did Balli. Bagdih let the loved ones go guiltfree. And so did Balli.
Bagdih always knew that her favourite son would be back and was ready to welcome him with open arms. How she wished he had come under happier circumstances. That afternoon she conspired with the coal mine, which went into a sudden shutdown only to get repaired the next morning so that her son could take rest and sleep without the noise that the mine otherwise would have created. Balli had always been her most special son, born and raised in her lap, untainted and scrupulous. She had kept a close watch on him, felt his pain, and shared his joy. She wanted to nurse him and make him feel good.