The Presumptuousness of the Privileged.
The idea that one can demand and supply must happen. Here and now. That Time, is Money. That you can scream and abuse if things do not happen immediately. That your life and the neighbor's, run on parallel lines, never to meet. And if you get ahead, to the hell with the slower ones, and your win is all that matters.
I live in an environment, where we constantly look at our watches, or, today, our phones. If the traffic signal turns green and the car ahead has not moved, we honk continuously. The crowd at one end of the road gets restless before the pedestrian sign comes on, and we push ahead , unwilling to wait. And the default look at the neighboring car is a glare, except when you are busy with a phone , solving the nations woes. With no idea about the nation, or woes , or both.
I saw a different world recently.
My father's family hails from a part on South Konkan (Western Coastal part of India), but comparatively inland. The oldest memories of visiting here , that I have, , are almost 52 years ago, when I vaguely remember traversing through some verdant green fields in a valley, accompanying my folks to the local school, wearing a black parkar polka.
Konkan has a very rich history and culture, native to my state (Maharashtra), and this was to be a car trip, which would pass through various famous temples on beaches, one (Velneshwar), particularly being the root place, of folks, bearing my maiden name, and another 2 which were important and much loved temples of Ganesha on two famous Konkan beaches.
We avoided big highways whenever we could, and took the back roads, which were literally roads with a 1.5 car width, and this being the monsoon, the roads were occasionally slushy and muddy, but by and large, tarred and good, as they meandered for miles on end, going up and down heavily forested mountains, and across tablelands studded with mango plantations, occasional signs of some upcoming factory , in the middle of nowhere, maybe a board announcing a proposed educational institute, and sometimes, a small temple, standing by itself, across centuries, in solitary splendour, like a beacon, for the new traveller...
A sudden opening up down an incline and you could sight the gushing backwaters of rivers straining to reach the sea, turbulent in the monsoon, and you stopped on the bridge across that river to wonder at the strength of nature....before carrying on to another mountain and another carpet of gren...
Time and again, we would see canopies after canopies of green, completely dwarfing the mountains, with young children in uniforms, walking miles and miles to school, sometimes coming down sharply inclined mountain steps, jumping back with alarm, on noticing an unfamiliar car. There would be long uninhabited stretches of road, on a high plateau, with high winds and rains, and there would be suddenly be a group of people waiting for a bus at some intersection. There was no sense of urgency, tension, injustice, or anger. The bus would come. You would reach your destination. And if you were late , they would understand. We asked directions, and got detailed instructions, although sometimes convoluted, but the sense of pride in their land shone through. Amazing number of girls going to school. And six hours of electric load shedding in all these areas daily, but I hardly heard a crib; they worked and studied despite it.
My ancestral place, way down in South Konkan, where no one stays anymore, is far inland, and away from the coast and main roads, in a hamlet of , maybe 10 houses, mainly tilling land. The houses are situated down the side of a very hilly area, and a single state transport bus appears on the main road at the top of the hill daily. You can entirely miss that hamlet as you drive by, so well is it placed amidst the stupendous green and slivers of brown in the forest.
I have written earlier about "D" who came to our family as a help, 64 years ago. D hailed from the same village, and now his brother's family stayed there. A windy, rainy, slushy noon saw us approach the specified turning, to see an old gentleman sitting at the bus stop.
He was D's brother, and he had been there for 3 hours, simply waiting. We wished him, introduced ourselves and the children, and accompanied him. Low tiled houses, made of the traditional Konkan red stone ("chira") . Lots of wood had been used, but the environment never looked like it had been denuded ravaged, or grabbed and made poor. We went through all kinds of slushy field paths, and flowing water, to reach , what was my father's ancestral house since almost a century. The roof had gone, wooden fixtures were in disarray, but railings in iron were unaffected. It looked like a house from a movie.
Many years ago, when it looked like everyone was busy with life in the city and beyond, and not likely to return, my father had donated the house to the local primary school, and they had classes there. Many years later, the school expanded, was granted newer and better premises by the side of the main outside road, and it became a high school. Leaving the house abandoned once again, to the onslaught of a yearly wild monsoon, a very fertile soil, and a slow rotting of historic wood...
Right in front of the house was the samadhi (memorial resting place) of my ancestor, eight generations before me, who was a "vaidya" or Indian medcine doctor of his time. We cleared the place and lit a lamp in a little alcove at the samadhi, and paid our respects. The whole place looked across a vast expanse of green fields, where rice was being cultivated, with a coconut tree copse in the distance, mountains all around, different shades of green blending with each other. People in the small houses we passed would come out and ask about us, smile broadly on hearing my father's name, comment on my resemblance to my mother. The women would shyly smile from the door.
And I wondered, how, in the days before roads were made, could folks have travelled across the difficult , untouched, almost virgin terrain we so blithely covered in a car. What gave them the strength to make the trip to big coastal cities, against all such natural odds ? Did they not fear animals ? How did they carry food? Did their mother worry about seeing them again ? How many months did it take them to get to a big city like Mumbai ? Walking, occasionally getting a bullock car ride, sleeping under trees ? Did they meet dangerous folks ? Thieves ? Did they worry about and miss their people back at home in the hamlet ? How many years was it till they saw their homes again ? (And shame on us for cribbing that the seat in front doesn't recline more ....)
D's brother insisted we eat lunch at his place, a small traditional house, with a place for the two head of cattle. Some sons and daughters worked in the fields. The younger children were at school, near the main road. The old man proudly told us about their school which now had classes up to 12th grade. There were 3 sons, 3 daughters in law , and a total of 9 grandchildren there, staying in that little house, with D's brother and his wife. One daughter-in-law worked at a government centre in the neighboring village, which could be anywhere up to 10 kms away. She wasn't there that day. But the children came running home running down the hilly slope, just as we were leaving. And they again ran right back up the slope with us, as we walked back to our car, in the drizzle.
Technology had made inroads there. Electricity had happened. But there was load shedding , 3 hours at a time, twice a day. Cable television had come. But the old man, D's brother, had decreed that it be kept off, as the children were neglecting school because of it. And everyone listened. Cell phones had arrived. I was trying to call D in Pune, and was amazed to hear from the old man's son, that if I had Vodafone, I would not get a network signal, and that I could use his phone which was a Tata Indicom network, which showed "two sticks" network, as a minimum, at any given time ! (There were no shops around, no banners, no buy-one-get-one-free, and nobody was standing around with a cell phone glued to their ears, or fooling around with screens and keyboards, as folks in AC cars and sneezing buses lumbered around making a mess of the road.....)
A lot of people go delirious over the scenic coastal routes in Konkan, the wild monsoon sea, the angry crashing waves, looming laden clouds, and mists sailing in at mountain tops, already scrumptiously covered with greens. Commerce has inched closer to temple outskirts, and life is very organized when there is quick money to be made. And folks prefer AC rooms at resorts on the seaside, that serve non native food, and zoom around in cars with 2500 cc engines, roaring around the place, drizzling hydrocarbons.
But this visit to the hamlet, was an eyeopener . It was the story of how the real India lives. The spirit and the simplicity, and belief in solid things like working hard, sharing your rewards, respecting elders, being curious about and encouraging education, and way back there, in the back of beyond, encouraging your granddaughters to attend school, and your daughters-in-law to work, while the sons worked the fields to put simple food on the family table. The daughter-in-law who was not there that day , had a previous social commitment with her colleagues, and nobody pressured her to stay home, as the rest of the family mobilized for our amazing visit.
It had started to drizzle, the sky was overcast, and at the end of the day, this was the heart of Konkan, where the monsoon was NOT the time to visit, as the rains were torrential. We had a steep climb on to the plains to Kolhapur, through mountains with narrow roads and possible rock slides, and it was prudent to try and cross that in daylight.
We did. Passing through many villages with many schools, children in uniforms, women working at transplanting rice in verdant fields, occasionally someone flaunting a mechanized tiller which the government made available on rent by the hour. (It is not economical to buy something so expensive for such limited time usage (as for rice), and so the local goverment authority buys it and rents it out to those who can afford it. ) Small medical clinics managed by doctors, who grew up, graduated, and came back to their villages to practice. Yes, such people existed.
As we were unloading our stuff in Kolhapur, the phone rang. It was one of the daughters-in-law from D's house in the village. Wanted to know if we had reached safely and in time. Soon there was a call from D himself in Pune. He had been worried about the monsoon rains, and was relieved to know we had reached well in time.
We were back to gas stations, honking, cars with flags and sirens, rich farmers with richer farmhouses, and gas guzzling cars, people going the wrong way on one way roads, and glaring at you. Occasionally giving voice to their rage, and asking, "Kya, ye aap ke bap ka raasta hai ?(= does this road belong to your father ?)....."
Makes you speechless.
I had just returned from a place where you created roads by walking on a road, again and again, together.
Here's something else to get you speechless : Play both together :-)