Once Upon a Time in Iswal

by | Sep 12, 2018

On a recent trip, this time outside Udaipur, the objective was really simple – to visit any village and spend a day there. So, I set out on a local bus to explore the neighboring rural areas, during which I utilized the time to chat with locals and regular commuters about the villages nearby. I was accompanying one of my co-fellows in this little trip. A lot of options came into consideration – one was a village with a river, another with a lake, and one more with an ancient cave. People were boasting about their villages one after another. 

Among so many options, the village with a river sounded most appealing to us. Confused and trying to focus on one, we were still in the process to decide a destination when we reached the bus stop. It was the middle of a highway, and right across the road was this village named, ‘Iswal’. It falls under Girwa Tehsil, on the way to Kumbhalgarh from Udaipur. From where we had gotten down, one could see hills all around and the road dividing the landscape.

As we made our way inside the village, it looked like a semi-urban settlement with a row of double, and even triple-storey buildings. There were a number of grocery shops and other utility stores. A bunch of school kids were lining up after the morning bell of the school rang, and as I caught a quick glimpse of inside the school, it looked nothing like how I assumed a school in a village to be. There was a mix of Kutcha and Pucca houses on both sides of the cemented road with a lot of space for cattle grazing, and some for farming. It looked placid, and spacious, with a clear road piercing through the village. There were a few people walking up and down the road.

We later found out that this was just a small part of Iswal. The village was actually divided into two segments, particularly because of the highway in between. From where we had entered, was the more hilly area, getting developed faster, but the main residential side of the village lied across the highway. After visiting a few temples and farms, we moved to the other side. The second part of the village was much more crowded, and we soon met a number of women and men who lived there. As I made my way through narrow rows of houses, people would come up to their door to talk or just for a casual Namaste.

What I found really intriguing was the decoration. Even in cramped up spaces and basic construction, the amount of hard work that they did to decorate their houses, was incredible. This could be about Rajasthan, which make their thousands of year old culture still visible on the walls of a rural household. Just a walk down the village and I had already seen 50 different styles of doors and windows, painted in blues and reds with carvings on wood. Each one of them was unique, in size, placement and patterns of door handles. While they were moving towards modern amenities, they were keeping up with the prevalent tradition of door art.

Overall it was a mix and match with houses that had no roof, those with weak structures and then with concrete roofs. Some people who were financially better off had constructed beautiful houses on the same narrow broken roads. We opened the door of a newly built house with fancy doors and a big garden, only to see a huge puddle of rainwater and a buffalo half swimming through it. It may not mean anything, but to me, as a city boy, it was different. I wondered why they would spend so much money to build such a house in this village and not in Udaipur, or any other city.

The unexpected scene inside the house

I got my answer after spending some more time in the village. Despite the challenges in terms of resources, services and infrastructure, it was their life, their struggles and achievements. It was not that the life in cities was strange to them. Every day, most of the men from the village used to work as labor in Udaipur, and even migrated to other cities from time to time. But their roots kept them attached to this. After all, it was home – cozy and familiar, home!

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