Published in One India One People magazine, August 2016
MK Gandhi said- “India’s soul is in her villages”. The small piece of land where these days we find more mobile towers than trees isn’t what Gandhi might have foreseen. Thanks to urbanization, all we see in villages these days are just shadows of the past.
No one is a stranger in a village. Simple crimes as a fag in a discreet street corner could land us in soup. Forget watching a movie bunking college. You might step at the naked foot of your neighbor or your distant cousin’s distant wife’s distant uncle’s very distant wife, who will promptly blow the whistle at your home.
There are still villages where houses are devoid of toilets. How much ever Vidya Balan sternly advices on TV wearing her teacher spectacles that ‘toilets are essential’, there are villages where human poop is the only manure to grace the fields. We love ‘open to sky’, ‘ventilated’ poop coops. The ‘feel’ of cool air and tiny shrubs scratching the back is a ‘once in a lifetime experience’! Despite the open defecation, our villages remain clean and clear, thanks only to the torrential rains.
The proverbial paan and gutkha- how can we talk of our villages and not about the mountains of betel leaves and gutkha chewed and rivers of saliva spit on the streets? There seems to be no end to the ‘pan-chewing’ mafia and their ‘spitsville’ and you are hereby advised to visit a village donning boots, fuss-in-boots, of course!
The village water body- a pond, river, well or canal being the ‘meeting venue’ for the people is the favorite haunt to propose one’s love. How many movies have we seen where the hero/heroine jumps in the well or pond to prove his love? Can we imagine a village themed movie without a scene where the hero saves the heroine in distress by ahem… ‘stressing’ her posterior? Dudes of the village flaunting their work-worn abs can give a run to the couch potatoes of the city who can’t seem to wag a swollen finger for their lady love.
Development- has it touched the villages? Hell yeah! Everyone starting from the farmer to the fisherman uses a mobile. You can hear their ‘yell’os…even miles away. Every household owns a bike- a pulsar with the luckier ones and overloaded TVS XLs squeaking and creaking under the weight of the lesser mortals. Each street boasts of a car- an ambassador classic that serves as the public transport for women in labor or to track down the eloping couple. What is a village without an episode of an elopement a month, with the guy and girl running around the fields in complete wedding attire and the whole village chasing with sickles. The favorite pastime of caste panchayats would be playing fetch with the newly-weds!
In these days of nuclear families, villages still boast of closely-knit communities. It is the ‘nosey’ neighbor that takes our sick grandmother stuck in the village to hospital. It is the local dhoodhwallah and his omnipotent, omnipresent cow and its dung that greets us with gusto every time we set foot in our village. The ‘service’ of the local grocer and his ghee has seen us go from a circumference of 40 to 56 inches in no time. The village quack must have definitely played a major role in rupturing our Adam’s apple, terming it the root cause for all our fevers. Fellow might have emptied half a liter of neem juice and castor oil down your throat every time he felt you had a stomach ailment.
The coconut trees we climbed, the guavas we ate, the ponds where we fished, the dusty lanes where we cycled, shall always remain etched in our memories. I shudder to think how my city dhoodhwallah who throws (he would give a stiff fight to all pace bowlers put together!) the milk sachets down the gate would welcome me after a long absence. Or the billing clerk at the big mart or spar supermarket chains where I used to shop. The neighbors- the lesser said about them, the better. The area beyond my neighbor’s door is probably Mars to me and vice-versa.
The love for humanity and the random kindness of its people to complete strangers keep us intrigued about the villages. We have sold our body to the urban devils and our hearts still lie etched in those crumbling houses back in our villages. Some day- we shall go back, either to touch our roots or to lay in eternal rest.