Monday, October 23, 2006

The gentle way of life

Early in the morning, the road in front of my house looks like a farmers market. My house stands where the village limits ends and the tarred road begins. There are about 20 or 30 push cart vendors living in the village. The village still lives in the last century, like so many pockets of areas around the city. The difference between the city and the villages are growing and these people present an interesting study of a people who live in the same city as us but are very different from us.

The push cart vendors (both ladies and gents) congregate in front of my house and then unpack their wares, mostly fruits that would be neatly covered and tied down with plastic before they retired for the night. The vegetable vendors would have already left to pick up produce from the middlemen’s trucks that come into the city bringing fresh vegetables. A farmer will sell his cauliflower for a rupee or two to the middleman and these are sold in the city for Rs.20/-. So it is not hard to imagine the plight of farmers. However the middlemen’s syndicate is very strong and they use mafia style tactics if any farmer tries to sell produce in the city on his own. Sometimes abject misery makes these farmers come furtively into the city at night, to sell their produce. We always make sure we buy from such people. The government has set up a farmers market in the outskirts of the city, but hardly anyone ventures there. City folks are busy people who do not have time to go shopping for vegetables through traffic jams to far away places. The very idea is self defeating.

These vendors like most village folk have a personal rapport with most of the ladies in the area especially South Indian ladies my moms age or ladies who have come from small towns and hence can relate to them. They talk the same language and their conversations are about the weather, children, illnesses, natural cures and just about everything that people in villages sit and talk. When they get back from their villages after important festivals, they bring back something for us. Fresh farm produce, home made sweets, drumsticks and a variety of other things like bangles for me when I was a kid. Their generosity despite poverty is heartwarming. It is not a rare sight for a lady from the village to come knocking on our door for a bit of sambhar or curry or medicines, the relationship we have with them is that of friendly neighbors. For them, our families are like an oasis in an otherwise strange city.

In the evening I wait on the balcony to see them trooping back. There is a bounce in the step and a song on their lips as they plan to go to the movies or discuss the latest releases. Small gifts like a bunch of curry leaves or coriander leaves, a few bananas are left on the gate post for my Mom, a small token of friendship and respect. These are the people who bought Neem leaves when we had Chicken Pox or a herb that is used for treating Jaundice when I had Jaundice. They make it a point to stop and ask our welfare and fill us in with the latest news like weddings and babies in the family.

What saddens me, when I see these people is the realization that they rightfully belong in the villages. They seem so misplaced in the city. I wish that villages provided them livelihood so that they could stay back and carry on with their unique way of life. I dread to think of an India without villages, villagers or village culture. Our villagers are the repositories of our culture and heritage and I wish the government realizes this and does something.

I have a lot of admiration and gratitude for the myriad people like Bina Ramani who have promoted and preserved the rural arts and crafts, but we need more or the gentle people of the villages who are the last remaining practitioners of the Indian way of life will be wiped out to be replaced with a class catering to the cities as cheap labor.

( Do check out this heartwarming tale by Abhishek)


iyer education said...

vairy naice post :)

now since village doesnt provide them much of a livelihood and they are forced into the city... we should take that extra effor to make them feel at home...

it is not something that i practice very often... but my dad sure does... the way he treats the vegetable vendors, watchmen, kaamwaali bais, carpenters and all other people is simply amazing... i just wish i could be just half as good as he is :)

Mind Curry said...

very interesting and insightful..wonder how many of us would think like you did seeing those same scenes..

about the new economy and the villagers..i think there are plenty efforts on, especially by the central government to bridge that urban-rural divide. and with retail boom, procuring goods from the farmers is going to make a whole difference in their lives.

but the key point here is for each of us to have a consideration for the rural folks..whether its by promoting crafts or preserving arts..if thats a conscience we all develop, then india will reach great heights.

good one.

pophabhi said...

Excellent post!
I am sure that a day comes when every 9 people among 10 are software and IT guys, and the remaining one guy would be a farmer in a village. The 9 IT guys would spend 70% of their salaries to that one farmer for eating their food. Farming and Food would become so rare then, since every life in the world would be running after software. Automatically the market shifts to Food Items.

I am buying the land near a Puzha soon. Let me start farming. The days I mentioned are not very far.

Great post, Silver - as usual!

Alex said...

Owing to the 'so called high wage' which is prevalent in the cities, many villagers migrate. It not only increases their hardships but also has a negative effect on the cities, as the demographic pressure rises. This leads to a proliferation of shanties or slums.

It truly is horrendous to see these slums in the midst of 'metros'.

Education and proper guidance for the villagers is necessary.

I have heard of cases (In Kerala) where more than 50% of interest is charged on the poor people. It definitely is saddening. :(

b v n said...

touching post... every word of it makes sense *its that catcher in the rye feel*...this is the best post I've seen in this space !!

Alexis said...

Excellent post as usual. Yes villages and village cultures should be preserved. But it requires more good men and women. We should do what we could do--help those who are doing something for the cause. And the story at Abhishek's blog was very touching.

Jiby said...

in delhi i lived in a village within the city...and i saw so many people like the ones you wrote in that place and in the places i travelled. excellent post...we people living in
cities can talk all about friendship and love and stuff but these men and women exceed us all by their humanity and how they triumph over adversity in their daily lives.

Jeseem said...

very good post. very thought-provoking.
reminds me, that there r simpler people. and possibly happier.

silverine said...

iyer education: Thank you 'vairy' much :) Our parents generation have set some good examples for us to follow.

mind curry: That is heartening news indeed!!! :) In my house we have an artefect from every nook and corner of India.

pophabhi: Thank you :) That sounds lovely and you are right, farming will become lucrative as global trade barriers dissipate.

Alex: 50% interest is cruel and inhuman!! Which is why money lenders thrive in rural areas. We have to do something for our villages to make them self sustaining communities.

bvn: Thank you! :)

Alexis: Thank you and thanks for putting up a profile pic, now I can distinguish you from Alex :p

Jiby: The warmth and hospitality of the villagers in the North is boundless. I am sure you exp it first hand in Delhi :) Abhishek's post shows that thankfully all is not lost in India's hinterlands.

Jeseem: You said it "there r simpler people. and possibly happier" ! And therein lies a truth :)

poonaji said...

very good post !

abhishek said...


you linked my blog!

I'm glad you really liked it. I'm getting a lot of visitors through glad that people can identify with the experience.

Our farmers really are a poor lot, both in terms of access to opportunities and people exploiting them. I remember as a kid, my cousin and I used to cry out "odelanga, pachakari" in imitating that shrill voice that farmers use in the cities. Didn't realize then quite how hard their lives must be. Remember what "Das" turned to in "Nadodikatta" after he lost his job - food vending? But, there was such a bounce in his step that you would almost forget how harsh it is for ordinary people.

I agree wholeheartedly with what you are saying. Sadly, I'm going to venture and say it won't happen for many more years. Largely, because there are still large farming communities in Southeast Asia and Africa. As the world trades more goods and services, even if successive generations move out of agriculture in India, we are going to be importing more food. Is this a bad thing?

Not necessarily. India could really benefit from reducing agriculture for two reasons.

1) Land under agriculture quickly loses nutrients and minerals. That's why in high-yield agricultural countries such as the U.S., you have farmers replenishing the land completely with artificial fertilizers.
2) Agriculture being a land-intensive profession fosters closed, remote societies that while encouraging traditions, diversity, and cultures, more often than not, tend to promote prejudices. One of the inherent reasons why people flow to cities, is because information is assymetrically concentrated in cities.

Reason 2. is under severe stress though, largely for good reasons. With the rise of networking technology (web, kiosks, etc), remote villages and farmers are able to access prices and information that would have otherwise come at a high price or been completely shut off to them.

Sorry, did not mean to write an essay.

dharmabum said...

my first time here, and am absolutely touched. not many people think this way...

the tamil poet tiruvalluvar had, in one of his couplets said, 'they alone live who do so by tilling the soil, the rest are mere beggars' true!

did u know, the govt. of TN had once started a concept of farmers selling their produce directly in markets (the concept of 'uzhavar sandai')

we can never do away with agriculture - it is one of the few things that contributes to development in a sustained manner.

i think the most important thing is to take the benefits of modernisation, technology & progress to our villages. unless they also realise the benefits, we can never see a happy society.

super post!

silverine said...

abhishek: Life indeed is very harsh for them, you should see them during monsoons, they sit up whole night wet and shivering, yet get ready to work the next morning.

dharmabum: I agree with you 100%!