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)