India, a land of ironies, is a land of villages. By any conservative measure, 70% of her population lives in her villages. My village Nichalpur is a small village. 782 people, 125 families – both nuclear and joint. It spreads out in the area of 6 acres. According to wikimapia tools , 105 Nichalpurs could fit in IIT Bombay campus easily. Nichalpur and three nearby villages constitute a panchayat in the name of Nichalpur. Among these villages are Gopalpur, a breakaway from Nichalpur, now its educational hub with crazy and demented masterji; Manjholi, smaller than Nichalpur, has its crazy quacks and never ending quarrels within families, and Khirka, situated at the banks of the river Ramganga which flows through Jim Corbet Park suffers from alcohols and drugs. These four (rather three) villages have got history of their own. This history, I can not write down in a single blog. Only Raju Chacha has done that much of observation. One day, He and me would write a book about Nichalpur.
Not a single day passes in a village life which does not create a story. Among these stories, some are funny, few are heart wrenching, some are pleasing, some are terrible. But most of them are charming in their own special rusty ways. Depending on your world-view and level of detachment from people over there, any village can sometime teach you few lessons in humanity, sometime it will fill you with disgust, sometime it will make you feel so intelligent, sometimes it will make you feel so stupid. In my village, perhaps, the most ubiquitous feature is its sense of humor. The sense of humor of my village is insular, this possible be true for all of India. In my village, not even the dying one (if dying naturally) is spared from sarcasm and jokes. When a old guy died, his brother’d say while collecting his asthi, bahanchod ki haddi badi moti thi be. (Sisterfucker was big boned!).
From where shall I start! It is really hard, almost impossible, to find a beginning of a village for no one remembers it. Leave alone building a chronology of events, people do mot know their date of birth, when they were married, when their children were born. Getting born and dying – the beginning and the ending – are not the important events for them. Nothing starts in a village, nothing ends. You just can not locate yourself on its time-line. Yet time flows, very slowly. Its feel like a window of time always moving, nothing before it is known and nothing after it is cared for. I can get to the beginning of this window, the starting time of the my village is the the oldest memory of the oldest living person in my village, my grandmother (PS : She died in June 2010). No, even that wouldn’t do, oldest memory of the my grandmother is of her village. We have to be contended with rather newer memories of hers. And in addition, we will exploit other memories also.
My grandmother is from a faraway village, Alampur, 60 km away from Nichalpur. Whenever I ask her about her marriage, look at her blushing. If I ask her about my grandfather name. She wouldn’t say even if he has died a long ago. When I would insist very hard, she will give in. Ghanshyam! Then I’d ask her, “Do you know what does it mean?” “Tu to aise hi karta rahta hai! Hamari maa ne to hame na padhaya likhaya. Hame kya pata kya matlab hai is naam ka.” (You keep talking like that. I don’t know what does his name means. My mother did not send me to school. I don’t know what does his name mean?) “Kala badal, budhiya! Tujhe kuch na pata” (A black cloud, Old woman. You know nothing.). “Haan haan, hame kya pata hota kuch. Meri maa teri maa ki taraha hoshiyaar thodi thi jo school bhej deti. Babli thi hame bhi babla bana gayi…. Kala badal, kala to naa the wo, the to gore se” (Yes of course, I dont know anything. My mother was not clever like your mother. She did not send me to school. She was dumb enough to make me like her. [A thoughtful pause] Black cloud! He was not black, He was fair.)
Well, that would continue for ever. She and I never get tired talking. In fact she talk even if no one is around. She talks to birds, most of the time to curse them. The victims are ever tweeting Mainas. She compares them to chamaris, female of Harijan caste : stereotyped as having a quarrelsome nature. She also like to have a monologue with cows, buffaloes and, above all, with my dog Kaalu. If I ask her why she is talking to them, they wouldn’t understand. She corrects me instantly, “Na, kaise na jante ye. Inke kaan na hai kya? Inhe sab pata rahta hai. Kal who kutta kaise chup chap akar so gaya tha mere bister main. Na to use pata na hai ki chupchap aayega to hi so payega mere bister main. Aaj aaya to teri tang tod dungi ootmare, mara ja riya. Bahar jayega to pit kar aa jaata hai waise doodh itna peeta ki.. oye hoye! bus pucho mat. Yo janta na hai. Ise sab pata hai, lafanga hota ja riya.” (No! How come they do not understand. Don’t they have ears? They do not listen to me. They know everything. Yesterday how quietly this dog of yours came and slept in my bed. He knows if he’d come quietly then only he can sleep in my bed. If you try it today, I’ll break your leg. May you die.Whenever he goes outside, he got beaten up by other dogs, and look at him drinking milk. Oye hoye! Just don’t ask. He understands everything. He is turning into a ‘lafanga’).
She is total illiterate. She can add 4 into 2, but can not multiply these numbers. She’d draw some funny looking alphabets and tell me that how her brother used to write them in his childhood and how he got consumed by afeem and charas (opium) after falling into the company of Sadhus. She can recognize Rs 10 bill but thinks that Rs 100 and Rs 50 bill are same. “Ek thoda sa bada ban gaya unse.” (They made one slightly bigger than other). She has hundreds of stories to tell, most of them are of very bad taste. My family history is like this. My grandfather lived all his life in isolation for he did not subscribe to the gang of his cousin Vikram. Living outside a village community is usually not forgiven. Especially you do not like the ‘powerful’. It’s like mafia. Mafia is not usually interested in a small shopkeeper money. But a revolting shopkeep has to be beaten up else others might get ideas. Powerful usually make sure that the non-compliance will have a high price. On his part, it was a rare and very bold thing to do. Old men in my village remember him, “Tera Dada to admi tha.” (Your grandfather was a man). I don’t have many memories of my grandfather. I only have few hazy memories of him. I threw up when I was having lunch with him. He used to like me since I was very fat. He used to say that I have all the raw material to turn into a tough ‘badmash’, a goon. And he will buy me a gun so I can teach this village a lesson . My grand father did rare things in those troubled times. Rarest of them was the way he died – by diabetes. A farmer dying of diabetes! It is like a rich person is dying of malaria or cholera.
During all of this, he was supported by his mother, Narayani. My grandmother remembers her as a very shrill, mean to her, outspoken and courageous lady. She demanded complete subjugation from my grandmother which she gave her reluctantly. She was known as ‘gulad wali budiya‘–gulad is a fruit tree which was the hallmark of our house those days, Later ‘Imli tree’ took its place. Someone told my grandfather that it is no OK to keep a gulad tree in hourse since it attracts ghosts and chudail. So he cut it down!
My grandfather have two or three sisters. One of his sister husband told a nice story about how they get married to my mother. Her would be husband was a school-teacher, a rarity. Finding an educated man in those days was like finding a needle in the junkyard. Corrupted with education, he wanted to see the girl before marrying her. He could not say it his parents. In those days it was not appreciated that either girl or boy get to know each other before marriage. There family used to decide almost everything about the before their marriage – still these marriages were way to successful in almost every way. So he decided to visit my village to see my Granfather’s sister. When he was in front of our house, she was on the nearby well fetching water. He went near her and she hid her face in her veil. He asked her for water. She put down the bucket in front of him. On this he said, “How I am suppose to drink from it. I am not a buffalo.” This was too much. She ran away towards her hourse.
Narayani, my grandfather mother, was standing there watching it. She understood who he could be even though she did not see him before. She said to him, “She went to home to get the glass and jaggery for you”. He was impressed. If her mother is so clever, girl should also be a little clever. On the day they were getting married, she saw the groom and said to her mother Narayani, “Mother, He is the same boy who was asking for water that day.” “So what?” she asked her sternly. They got married. I don’t think my mother asked him whether he found out if she was as clever as her mother. Old people in villages love to talk about their marriages.
Narayani was really a bold woman. She could argue with the local landlord, Sheikh Saab. He was feared by almost everyone. Sheikh Saab was in-charge of collecting taxes as well as monitoring the lands before the Nehru brought land reforms. If there is anything one wanted to do, he had to approach Sheikh Saab. Even if he has nothing to do with it.
Once a guy asked him to recommend his son so that he can join the school in his town Seohara. He told him to tell his son to meet him next day when he will be in school. The next day, the boy came to meet him. Sheikh asked him, “What’s your name?” “Abdul Salam”. On this Sheilkh lost his temper and yelled, “Abe suar ke pille, Pahle tera naam lo, fir tujhe salam karo.” (Abe, son of pig, first I say your name, then I do you salam.) But the boy got admission.
If someone did salam from distance, He would lash out, “Abe ghar se bhijwa deta salam.”(Abe! Why did not you send salam from your home.). If someone got close, “Abe chaati par chad ke karega ke sala.” (You want to sit on my chest to do salam.).
Fortunately, land reforms came and Sheikh Sahab was reduced to nothing or perhaps he died before it, I can not be sure. He is not never liked but he is not remembered bitterly. Villagers do not hate authoritative person. If power is given to them, they would behave in similar ways. And not many can be angry with people like themselves.
The time of my grandfather was harsh. Not much have changed since. The physical labour is replaced by mental stress. This was before the green revolution. At the time of green revolution, when new-seeds were introduced, farmers were reluctant to use them. My father told me a story why my village used those seeds. Nobody had confidence in them till the seeds were not sold in black market. This simple incident in a small village reveals a lot about Indian psyche.
Unlike cities, village means its habitats. The economy is very small and intertwined. The education level is pathetically low but still some of them can give you their idea of current happening. Notwithstanding with the GDP and stock exchange blah blah, one old dude was telling me, “Dekh bhai, pahle hua karti thi Naukri, ek ne kamaya nau ne khaya. Fir huyi Chakri, ek ne kamaya char ne khaya. Ab hai tankhua, ek kamata hai aur apne tan ko khilata hai bus!” I can not translate it. Some things make sense only in one language. Ok, let me try. There are three words in Hindi for job. First rhymes with nine, second with four and last one with ‘individual’. He was saying that initially jobs used to be like the first word which rhymes with nine so it was enough for nine people. Then a job (word which rhymes with four) become sufficient only for four people. Now job (word which rhymes with one or one’s body) is only enough for feeding a single man.
Perhaps the craziest thing to happen in my grandma time was this. Pitam ke pita ki daadi‘ – Peetam’s father’s grandmother burnt down the whole village. Actually there is another crazy incident when a guy name Gandhi chopped off his butt by a fodder cutter. But anyway. She did not have a grandson. One baba told advised her to burn the whole village down secretly. Only then, she will get a grandson. One day, in the month of Bhado (June-July), she was emptying her hut. Someone asked her where she is taking her stuff to. “Arrey khatmal ho gaye hai khatiya main, saare kapde aur khaat ko le ja rahi huin sukhane.” (There are bedbugs in my cot, I getting them out to put under sun). After an hour, her hut was in flames and the hot waves called Loo did the rest. Its interesting that she burnt her house down first. Perhaps she found the solace in blaming the hot wave to spread the fire. Every house was consumed by fire. Few houses were made of bricks, they survived and remained as monuments of her deed. There are no sign of disaster now. All the houses have been rebuilt. But she got a grandson! And this was not considered a crime. Though everyone got to know who could have done it, there was no witch-hunting. They did not consider it a crime. What she would have done otherwise. She wanted a grandson and a Baba (saint) told her to do so!
|A village lies less closer to Gandhi’s self sufficient republic than Ambedkar’s ‘Den of Ignorance’.
Nearby villages have their own characters. Bugwara, for a long time, had been a village where ‘B stands for Vendetta’. Khirka is notorious for domestic violence which is not a big concern anyway and has a very high level of drug consumption. Manjholli is way too crazy, just like half of my village. Gopalpur – a breakway from Nichalpur – had been crazy but it is best on literacy. Why this family broke away from the village to start their own is not very clear to me. The family was 100% literate. Nothing less a crime in illiterate village. In India, just like anywhere else, if you are smarter (different) than most of the people around, you can be labeled crazy! But some of them are really crazy. Tell me who would drink tea made of eucalyptus leaves? And who would force his guests to drink it?
The changes have been really profound in my village, both economical and educational. For agriculture, it has been a heaven with abundant ground wate. For primary and secondary education, Uttar Pradesh is a hell, like most of the Indian states with exceptions of Kerala, Himachal and arguably Tamilnadu, I guess.
People from nearby village have a respect for Nichalpur. Firstly, it was for the matter of power balance, now, it is for education. Khirka used to boast its local goons/gangs. Babu Bijhri gang was the most fearsome (Bijhri means a untamed wild bull, he was just five feet). The culture in Khirka (Vishnoi community) is to never forgive your enemy. Some even say that they believe if you have to kill your enemy and you are not able to kill him by other means then marry your daughter with him and then do him in. A lot of murders and fights were hallmark of this village. There are few other villages which are notorious for these kind of violence. If someone decide to marry off their daughter in those villages, his friends would advice to kill her daughter rather than marrying her there.
Just to prove their authority, once, they tried to impose some sort of tax on Nichalpur. People got furious. Though, there are mostly Chauhans – rather peaceful creature – in Nichalpur, the resistance was remarkable. It was not the heroism which tamed Babu Bijhri of Khirka, it was Nichalpur geography. Whole of the Khirka drive through Nichalpur. There is no other way to go to Seohara to drink liquor and once drunk, people usually get beaten up easily. The better sensed prevailed and they never try to impose anything on Nichalpur, again.
The way through Nichalpur! Sukhveer Singh for Khirka was head master of RSP inter college in my father’s time. He did not touch any boy from Nichalpur. Once he beat some of them up and next day when he was cycling through Nichalpur, his cycle got flat tire. Apparently, some boys planed iron-nails on the road. He had to travel 3 km on foot. This happened every time he tried to lash out on any Nichalpurian. He decided not to teach anyone from Nichalpur. In fact, there was time when boys of Nichalpur were not granted admission in RSP. “Bahut harami hote hai salle” – Head used to say. These days, if you are from Nichalpur and want admission in RSP, there is a red carpet for you. Lalit (Anaconda) was telling me when he finished his math test paper in 10 minutes and sitting idle in class, A teacher got furious. “Aise kyu baitha hai?” (Why are you sitting like this?). “Maine 2 kar liye, ek bacha hai!” (I finished 2, one is left.) “Nichalpur ka hai kya tu?” (Are you from Nichalpur?) “Haan (Yes)”.. “to ise bhi kar!!” (then do this too).
My father never went to school to study. They left home for school and on the way they will put their bags under puliya, very small bridges, and then they will go on a voyage to collect Teetar’s egg. These eggs, they will put in the nest of domestic pigeons. They are dumb enough to hatch anything. When the baby teetar is out and before these peaceful pigeons could realise that chick is not theirs, my father and his gang will take them out of their nests and feed them small insects and larva. They build a colony of wild Teetars.
Coming back from the school, papa used to draw art on the road with stolen chalk pieces. Others say when they’d come back from the school and saw sketches of butterfly, lions, tigers, birds on the road, they knew who did this. Then he got interested in building things up. They stole clay from potter with the help of his son and made a tractor. This tractor was majestic. It had four wheels and steering system of its own. They made it on the roof so no one can see it. But how to bring it delicate thing made of clay down? They used to drive it on the roof only. Once a heavy rain came and all was gone. Then my grandfather bought him real tractor, Eicher GoodEarth, for farming, till 1995 it served us – later to be replaced with HMT 3511. But no tractor was dear to them as that clay made one. Ask Balram Tau ji – one of this team member of this grand project, and look at him lightening up at the thought of it. I get to hear it sometimes, “Tu kya hai, tera baap engineer tha. Tune kya banaya hai bata?” (What are you? Your father was an engineer. what did you make?). Give him clay and he would make birds, tigers, lions and best of all, whistles. If a crow would pounce on the clay bird thinking of it as a real bird, our headmaster would break the whistle to discover how it is making sound. Much to his amazement there was nothing in the whistles, just two holes.
When I was back from Chennai and was getting ready for Mumbai for post graduation, one old man asked me, “Arey, ek baat to bata, tera pehla lumber (read number) India main hai ya Bharat main?”(Tell me one thing, you are number 1 in India or Bharat?). This time, I had to rediscovered my slightly forgotten roots. I was surprised and asked him, “What is the difference between India and Bharat?” He said, “India bahut bada hai, waha ki cricket team hai. Bharat bus itna hi hai”. Even Doordarshan – which educate us about the world – never says that the cricket match is between Bharat Vs XXXX otherwise there is a lot of Bharat on its screen, mostly a Hindi speaking one. I did not muster enough curiosity to ask him about his idea of Bharat. For my grandmother, anything beyond Seohara is ‘perdesh’ (foreign).Himanshu’s Grandfather wanted to know whether China is outside Uttar Pradesh or inside – the source of his was a lot of salesmen coming to my village to sale some very cheap China made goods. For him, India means Lucknow. He also holds the view that there is no agriculture is China since their clay is bad. No one can grow anything in China clay. His friend, now dead, had a liking for water tanks. If he got to Moradabad by train, He can tell about every water tank saw through the window. Its size, its location and whether there were a colony of honey bees on it.
For me, India is a mystery. There is not a single truism about India, and I dont know if for worst or for best, which can not be replaced by another truism. As the saying goes, ‘whatever you can rightly say about India, its opposite is equally true’. In a land where ‘satyamev jayate’ (Truth alone always wins) the question is never ending ‘Whose truth?” Ganapathi, narrator of Shashi Tharoor book ‘The great Indian Novel’ confesses his own subjectivity to his scribe.
This is my story of India I know, with its biases, selections, omissions, distortions, all mine. But you can not derive your cosmology from a single birth, Ganapathi. Every Indian must forever carry with him, in his head and heart, his own history of India.
This explains a lot of India, including its never ending debate on what exactly is She.
Villages of India are highly misunderstood. Talk about a village and three most prominent views came out from the middle class of India. One is subscribed by Gandhi, his never ending romance with them. Second is of Nehru. and the last is of – born and grew up in village, a scholar, and major contributor to constitution – Dr. Ambedkar. Only Ambedkar have some first hand experience of village life. Nehru and Gandhi views are reflective, concentrated on their past and future. Even in intellectual circles of sociology and anthropology (not to mention a rather obscene economics which truly needs a bailout), villages have been studies with a lot of biases. M. N. Srinivas, the Indian authority and Louis Dumont, an European scholar, were more preoccupied with caste and ignored the role class plays in village completely. Then there is Andre Beteille, who tried to fill this gap, quite succesfully. It remarkable that if Ambedkar found villages ‘a den of ingorance’, one of the India’s most celebrated scientist, C. N. Rao declared, “Future scientist of India will come from the Villages.” I agrees with both of them.
I have seen few villagers studying in cities. Generally they do not reveal that they are from a village else there will be discrimination based on their accent and fluency in English. There is a peculiar attitude about English in India. Not only English is an important intellectual asset, it is also a yardstick by which one measure her social superiority. There is no better way to put someone in his place by pointing out deficiency in his English. Unfortunately, these villagers try their best to be the part of this urbane class which generally speaks with a lot of smpathy for villagers but shows a profound hesitation for their company. Villagers, as far as I can see them, takes life in better ways than people who are grew up in cities. I understand that the desire for upward social mobility in India is very high among everyone but why loose one’s roots to be a part of something when one is born a part apart?