“O Rangrez tere Rang Dariya mein
Doobna hai bas tera banke…”
The plugged ear phones hummed these lines at their loudest as the four of us entered Malgudi*, a village 15 km to the north-west of Hoshiarpur. Wrapping up the ‘India & development’ module during the Induction training of India Fellow had gave a new understanding of the term ‘development’ and a broader perspective of poverty, equality and opportunities. Our group, that we had named Madari, began its 5-day Rural Immersion, the next module, to look closer at the incredibility of India!
This village with a population of 1600 people belongs to Badgaon block and its administration falls under the Madapur Panchayat. It lies in middle of mountains and lush farms and a stroll through the village would make one realise how it is catching up with planned infrastructure, well-built roads, temples, schools, houses build of mud and bricks, Aanganwadi centre, community hall and medical shops. The village was becoming more city-like.
The village had a majority of Brahmins, about 77% and the rest of them were from tribal communities of Gamethis and Kalbelias. The entire village is believed to be evolved from a family of four brothers and now, each household has a relationship with another. This is actually congruent to ““Vasudev Kutumbakam”, a phrase known in India that means the world is one family. Our every interaction began with a warm greeting, an offer of water, tea or food and certainly ended with heartfelt goodbyes. There was a feeling of being home.
Having come from an urban background where the fundamental events of everyday life are limited to handling long traffic jams, hectic work schedules, monotonous afternoons, inflated expenses and virtual interactions; the experiences during this rural immersion were a prick in the bubble I had formed about ‘A routine life’. It was one where we often didn’t know who our neighbours are, if there is a medical store around the street, ignorance of government institutions around us, their formal procedures and the general attitude of “Who cares!”.
In contrast, people here educate themselves, have the pressure to earn a livelihood, travel long distances for work and have complexes challenges; yet they are aware of all their neighbours whom they call and regard as Chacha-Chachi, Mausa-Mausi. This develops a spirit of oneness among them and gives all the more a reason to celebrate together, share their sorrows and be a strength for each other irrespective of social barriers such as gender, educational qualification and financial status. One might argue that the above mentioned culture exists because they belong to the same community, but the way they treat even an outsider is no less than how they would be with family.
This immersion certainly had many takeaways for me. A warm welcome followed by patient storytelling by the elderly, Makke ki roti, Gur and Ghee, and Chaanch-Rabdi which would any day beat the services of a luxury hotel. It reflected the true Indian spirit of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’
If one goes with the stereotype of the directly proportional relationship between money and happiness, one is up for a Check0mate situation here. The economic strata of the village is highly dependent on agriculture, either directly or indirectly. About 60% of the population is involved in farm activities but the nature is that of subsistence which means that they consume what they grow.
While in most of urban areas, people associate each of their deeds to give and take, and even the most noble gestures are scrutinized, here, famailies living in one room don’t hesitate in sharing a meal they may have hardly managed to cook. In spite of economic pressure, people are open to give. Each event during the five day visit to this village was lovely, including the beautiful landscape, celebrating together, brainstorming, parental concern in ensuring we get the evening bus to return safely to the training center, getting to know the difficult times of people in the village and their connection to their roots.
As we end the immersion program, the heart and mind still blend in its bliss:
“…O Rangrez tere Rang Dariya mein
Doobna hai bas tera banke
Ek bhi saans alag nahi leni.
Kheench lena pran is tan ke
Nahi rehna dooja banke…“
*Name changed to protect identity .