Friday, 22 March 2013


In a world creaking under the shaky foundations of belief system, there is little that survives the calendar’s expiry date. So it’s always heartening to be part of an enduring tradition. Anyone who’s been to the temple town of Shirdi in Maharashtra knows that no visit to this hamlet of hope is complete without a trip to Shani Singhnapur—72 kms away. Nesting indolently amid lush carpets of sugar cane and wheat, is this village, whose only claim to fame is a temple, dedicated to Lord Shani. The temple houses a black slab (5 ft by 2 ft ) that ostensibly represents the dreaded Hindu deity Lord Shani. It is placed on a pedestal in the open and is supposed to be a meteorite fallen from grace from the planet Saturn. 

Faith fiends throng in their thousands and pour mustard oil on the black slab to appease the lord that oversees the "dungeons of the human heart and the dangers that lurk therein." However, what’s really amazing about this place is the attitude of the locals living in the area. No one believes in locking houses, offices or even shops! And, believe it or not there are no robberies either. And the logic, the consensus responded to, was that in Shani’s land, there can be no thieves and thus a no-holes-barred living.

As we were driving away from this wondrous place, we stopped near a big shed where there were stockpiles of thousands of LPG cylinders. It was stranger still to note that there was no one around to supervise or soldier. We waited near the shed for almost three quarters of an hour before a man finally showed up on a bicycle. He was the owner of the gas agency. Judging by the look of surprise, he told us that if anyone should require a cylinder in his absence, all they needed to do was to merely take a cylinder, keep the empty one in its place and lay the money down on a rickety table and go away. “We reside in Shani Maharaj’s land”, he proudly proclaimed; we are all safe.

Yes, truth is stranger than fiction. Where corruption converses with every aspect of life in India, there still exists a sleepy little village that rests solidly on its beliefs, unshaken by time or its vagaries. 

Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Innocence and Languor of Rural India


With over 40 years of experience in education, I have always abhorred the typical Indian learning by rote. So naturally, when Veer, my grandson would mechanically rattle off: “a buffalo bellows; a cow moos and a goat bleats” my heart would cringe. For the poor child’s only frame of reference was Farmer Brown and his farm animals and the stories I fabricated around similar rustic characters to keep him in touch with the reality of rural life.

Having taught at Rai for 15 years; probably the best part of my life, I wanted Veer to see and experience a real village. Here I find it difficult not to mention Mr. S.K.Mishra—the fountainhead of the philosophical construct that defines Rai. It was his dream that the MNSS Rai should uphold the true values of down-to-earth rural living exemplified by qualities such as honesty, integrity, hard work and simplicity.
So it almost seemed like divine intervention when a friend of mine, Dr. Atmaram Sharma, invited us over to his village ‘Amravali Khera’ in Jind district in Haryana. 

Throughout our 3-hour long journey my host kept on calling continuously to find out exactly how far we have reached; almost as if he couldn’t wait for us to get there.
At noon, our car finally rolled onto the cobbled streets of the small hamlet hemmed by the yellow-green hues of Yash Chopra’s famed mustard fields. The entire village—of about 1200 odd—had been waiting eagerly for our arrival and swarmed around with generous smiles, curious stares and colourful clothes. We were the revered guests of honour for the day and they didn’t let us forget it!

We sat on ‘charpais’ in the sunlit courtyard where we were served fresh butter milk ‘chaach’. Soon, the village children trouped in and Veer followed them around; their lovely innocence had won over the steely reserve of an impossibly shy boy. With the ‘chula’ lit and the ‘bajre ki rotis’ well under way, the wafting smells were competing with the effusive smiles that served the most scrumptious sarson ka saag (with freshly picked leaves from the fields ) aaloo ki chatni, gaajar ka raita, fresh white butter and of course the inimitable ghee shakkar. It was a simple meal by any stretch of the imagination but made special by touches that were all non-culinary.
If the food was packed with dollops of affection; the entertainment was drenched in true Haryanvi gusto with the village women breaking into an impromptu lively Haryanvi jig replete with traditional costumes. 

They seemed just as fascinated by us as we were with them and followed us around on our tour of the village. Each family insisted on hosting us and serving milk (apparently water or any other traditional beverage simply doesn’t convey hospitality quite as completely as milk). Naturally, every house is the proud owner of buffaloes; the animals are extremely well-cared for and almost indulged like children. It is a community that knows how to co-habit and that is part of their charm. They may not have a lot but they love to share, whether it’s with each other, guests or even their cattle.

Each weather-beaten face is etched deep with a child-like simplicity, happiness, contentment, love and warmth; ruddy from working in the sun, I may not remember each face but the affectionate look is something I will never forget.
As we were leaving, each family insisted on contributing little gifts for us—bottles of buttermilk, fresh bathua and sarson leaves, white butter and of course, loads of milk! As our car slowly moved on to merge with the ‘godhuli’(dusk) colours, the village was soon lost behind us in a cloud of dust; tears welled up in my eyes as if I was leaving loved ones behind. Overwhelmed by a load of sincere love and warmth of hospitality, I wondered when and if they visit us, what would I offer them? It made me realize, it’s not ‘what’you give but’ how’ you give that matters. And this is precisely the lesson I wanted my little Veer to imbibe…exactly what our villages are all about—perspective that is not prejudiced by the perversions of pretension!