Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lonely Urban India

In this report about his stay in the village, Gandhi Fellow Kabir Arora writes about hospitality, loneliness, corruption, naxalism and more.

Lonely Urban India
I was reading a cover story in a journal on increasing loneliness in urban and metropolitan cities of the country. The very next morning, Bhagirath ji and I were walking to school. While walking we came across an old man who was from another village. Bhagirath ji and the old guy met for the first time. They asked about each other's introduction. The old guy was in Baas Dhakkan at some villager's house for a night and was walking back to his village. The way they were interacting with each other it seemed they knew each other from a long time. Suddenly two strangers came very close and started discussing family affairs. It was very interesting for me. As the lonely urban India was still criss-crossing my mind, where no one matters except me and myself. Here, these people live in open fields and accept every new person coming on their way.
 
Struggling with a question: Can I do this in Delhi or for that matter in my own hometown in Jalandhar? Walk down the road and start interacting with a stranger!

Rein Basera
The moment I got down, the first question which Bhagirath ji asked was about my prospective stay. I was prepared for the worst case scenario where I'd have to stay in a school. Bhagirath ji had some other idea in mind. He invited me to his house where I stayed for next whole month. They alloted me their Bhethak (drawing room). A cot with bedding and a loi (shawl for men) was offered to sleep. When the first week got over they felt that somewhere I'm feeling bored. They shifted the television to my room. It was exactly placed on my head side.

Hearing a news bulletin at seven from Jaipur studio and two bulletins (in Hindi and English) from Delhi at 8:00 became a habit. Many a times we used to discuss them.

Bhagirath ji's family in their household included his wife and son. Three of them. His brothers with their wives were staying next door. All the members  and around were old. I was the youngest person there. The lady of the house rarely interacted with me. Many a times I felt that I'm staying in a rural house of Punjab.

Bhagirath ji will be the last person in his family who tilled his land. His sons and grandsons will move away from their “roots”.

I used to open my eyes at six in the morning and see sunrise while lying on my bed. Actually used to wait for Bhagirath ji's call “Kabir ji”. I was neither allowed to fetch water for my shower from Kund, nor to wash my utensils after having food. The most lavish, pampered and dependent part of my life was the month I spent there.

The timing for eating and sleeping were fixed. At around 7 o'clock in the morning, when I was ready after the shower, tea with some namkeen and biscuits were served. Many a times I was given Dahi Roti which initially I didn't like but later got used to and accepted it as my destiny. Lunch was at around one with a subzi, lot of rotis and curd. In dinner, which was served at exact seven thirty in the evening, a subzi with rotis and milk were tabled in the room. Rice with Daal was given once in a week.

To show respect I never left anything behind as food waste whether many a times I didn't liked eating the same thing again and again. I loved having Karhi which was amazing. Tea with Matira or Kaakadi  was also served as evening snacks at four.

The family didn't know my caste and surname. For them I was Mohammedan. They never questioned my belief. One day elder brother of Bhagirath ji came at home. Ayodhya Verdict was suppose to be declared next day. He asked my opinion on the Ayodhya issue. He wanted me to react to the assumptions being made on the verdict. My answer was very simple that we should focus more on immediate priorities than fighting on the basis of faith. He was not convinced but we never had conversation on the same issue again. One day he came up with a question about “democracy in India”. He was looking for my opinion about it. I replied with a pessimistic view and said that I'm hopeless about it. He himself added and concluded the discussion by saying that there is anarchy all around which is not a healthy sign.

The lavish spending on Commonwealth Games while the food prices are rising and anarchy all around also became a part of discussion. Naxalism was discussed in length. The discussions in the rural India especially in those households which are educated  have started questioning state's propaganda. Sooner this fire can spread to the surroundings.

Just a hope! Later become a mass resistance movement!

Life in the village is a survival issue but there is happiness all around. Nobody  in front of me talked about poverty. Yes price rise & corruption in Panchayati Raj institutions were always potrayed. Many villagers are suffering from the increasing alcoholism. The drinks are not for pleasure but to forget the worries of day to day life. 

For more of Kabir's experiences, see:
If I were my own teacher: confidence, colour and voices
Steep Climb 
Tourist Guide  

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