It’s the green that hits you first. Even though it isn’t exactly far from the capital city of New Delhi, the green is just too much to bear. At first. My nostrils flare and I breathe longer and deeper and my eyes accustom to the green.
The green intermittently gives way to haphazard construction, expensive cars, people in dhotis, walking barefoot on the cluttered roadside.
And weddings. Or blood donation camps. Or a small-time politician belting out a speech in the middle of nowhere in a sultry, temporary roadside shack.
The doors are fascinating. Mainly because they represent a part of the “old” life clinging on to the new bare-concrete, wide-brick walls. Old Burmese teak from the British era that refuses to rot or break. The doors are re-used even after the original narrow-brick work is replaced and the walls change owners and character.
The green doesn’t really go away. Unmanicured lawns, trees that have never been pruned and deadwood.
And tons of new construction. Model economic townships and land earmarked for everything “international”. Right next door from overflowing open sewage and streets that can barely allow a 3-wheeler.
Brightly colored Police barricades to mark the Delhi-Haryana border and tall barricades to prevent people from committing suicide from choked, one-way, over-a-sewer-not-a-river bridges. The Monsoon rains make the colors pop. Regardless of whether it’s clothes worn by living-beings, the green on trees or bright yellow Police barricades.
I wish I could claim to know what the most common means of transport is in the interiors of India and India’s villages but any guess would be wrong. The diversity is not just mind-boggling, it’s stupefying. But Gods and temples compete for space with alcohol brands on cheap printed flex advertisements.
Traffic symbols have been warped out of recognition. We know what “Stop” means but it’s always for the “other” drivers. No one follows any traffic rules, there’s always someone going in the wrong direction – and being followed by the rest of the traffic horde and things get plugged in the blink of an eye. Yet. It all carries on. Not very different from the capital city.
Also juice bars. Their flex displays no longer adorned by Rekha or even Karishma Kapoor. Now we have Vidya Balan and Deepika Padukone. The juice-wallahs keep up with the times. Only their machines still date back decades.
There’s still a lot of agricultural land – that is slowly being converted to residential or commercial real estate. Pylons run through them like giants with widely-spaced footsteps. Tractors caked in rich agricultural soil mingle with regular road traffic.
More doors and color and afternoon-cards-session in the shade of a young Pipal tree.
A lot of the fruit on sale was terrible quality. And smaller-than-what-is-available-in-the-city in size. But maybe it is “organic”?
Our family doesn’t visit the village often. The urge is reignited when it’s been a while since we last tasted pure milk and butter. Rs. 50 for one liter of pure buffalo milk. Unadulterated by water. The buffalo untouched by hormonal injections and steroids. Then we troop to the ancestral home that no longer looks or feels like it.
Below : Isn’t she beautiful? My favorite from this set. Albeit cliched but she had such a delightfully open face.
This one below? She’s supposed to be the most notorious buffalo in the entire neighborhood! I didn’t dare go too close.
I’m all orange because the tiles were pink and the sun was bright.
Simple lunch cooked by my Aunt. That stuff you see on the “chapati” / “roti” / “rolled bread”? That’s fresh fluffy butter and lots of it. It was almost as if I’d snorted the food – it was polished off in a few blinks. Buttered rotis, with Kadhi pakodas, boondi raita and lots of lemon-laden sliced onions.
The store room in the back where buffalo-feed is stored.
Buffalo poop used as manure is traditionally stored in tall hand-made structures covered with straw to protect it from the elements. There are multiple uses : as “cakes” used to fire the cooking, as manure for fields and vegetable patches and some uses in Ayurvedic medicines as well. “Gobar” is popular. The implement below right is used to cut buffalo feed – operated by hand.
Below : beat-up vessels to collect water dripping from an air-conditioner.
As you can probably tell, a small six-seater / auto-rickshaw can barely ply the streets of this village. On the right, below, a leaf from the “Arad” tree that bears fruit, which is harvested for oil. In this case, growing wild on the village garbage dump.
Below : agricultural land reclaimed for development. Plots have been earmarked and the lottery system allots them to whoever applies. More often than not, this process is also corrupt where relatives of officials or politicians curry favor. This particular site is at Bahadurgarh and the roads between plots are broken, strewn with broken bottles of alcohol, most road markers have been knocked down – the land is overrun by weeds.
Very close to the above plot, Scholars below. For once, not “International” only in name – at least it’s facade looked like it.
Above : locally known as a “jhod” aka “buffalo watering hole” but can no longer sustain the buffalo population or the sewage. Below : a narrow canal supplying water to farmers.
Above : A power pylon eclipsed by Acacia Arabica trees. And below “Sehwag International School”. Right next to plots earmarked for construction and agricultural land. Another “International”.
By the end of this particular visit, my father was in a rather contemplative mood. When we had reached his village and were driving through the now-tarmac-covered roads, both my parents would point out places where things they held in their memories used to be at. My father’s homeopathic clinic, the route he took to bicycle through to reach the city – a good 20 kilometers, with his pet cat in the bicycle-basket, the street where my mother beat up a local-goon with her hockey-stick, the photo-studio that had my father’s portrait on its walls because he was the most handsome & eligible bachelor in the village – my mother quickly chiming in about how she used to peek at the portrait whenever she wanted to see my father but couldn’t as he had enlisted in the army…
The nostalgia and stories are endless. The heartbreak evident. Their beloved village has turned into an unruly district with no identity.
We get back home in Gurgaon and the end of the trip is punctuated by my fathers’s not-so-rhetorical question, “They have everything – good, unadulterated food, they now have electricity, they have their green fields, little pollution, they have their families and homes in the village, they have ghee! Why do they still want to come to the city?”
I point to the television positioned at the foot of my parent’s bed and say it’s the lure of what the media shows and what the villagers interpret. The promise of something better.
My father isn’t certain that is the answer. He says it’s the culture. And I think the village-culture is the reason my father and mother will never go back to live there rather than being the reason villagers want to come to the city. Most who live in filth are blind to it.
Same could be said of the cities we live in but thant’s another can of worms.