India lives in it's villages. But not the villaegs romaticised in Indian films. Where the beautiful village belles go in a row balancing pitchers on their heads while the hero (often urbane and handsome) drives by singing and then falls for the prettiest one in the village, romances her through lush verdant fields. You get the picture.
The reality is (most of us are aware of this) very different. Harsh. Squalid and to a large extent, terribly deprived. Despite the harshness, the hardship, life in villages (rural areas) have moved on. There have been changes over the years. How much? I found out....on my trip to Ranthambore. The Sarisar lake was on our itiniary.
As we neared the lake, our cantors turned onto a narrow rut on a high ridge and got stuck. On one side was a low stone wall about one foot high beyond which the land sloped steeply to the lake. The other side was a sheer drop to large fields. The road was cracked at the edges and often the wheels had to pass over large gaps and finally, the cantors could move no further. All of us got down and decided to walk it on foot to the lake and back.
But what lake? It was more an enormous swamp of green vegetation and mud. And what little water was left, was being pumped out by atleast three or four small generators on the banks. To the fields on the other side of the ridge to the fields. We were aghast to see that so much water had been drained out.
We waited and took in the local scenery, while the drivers figured out how to get the cantors reversed.
Stretched on the other side of the ridge were magnificent fields. A wild (to my untutored eyes) tangle of all sorts of vegetation. Huge fields of mustard plants the fields demarcated by the direction in which the stalks had bent in the wind. Such a variety of green, yellows and browns in such a haphazard tangle. And the locals. What bright clothes, what lovely colours. Where was their village? Somewhere beyond both the lake and the fields I guess. There were the village belles in brightly coloured clothes, the goats with bells a tinkle at their throat, the fields in myriad colours. But that's where the similarity to filmi villages ended.
A solitary woman in a bright blue emrboidered ghaghra (skirt) stood by the ridge with a thick stick in her hand. Down below, were a bunch of goats grazing. And just a few minutes later, I found to my surprise, that the old woman was no longer besides me on the ridge. She had (god knows how), climbed down the steep slope (with no ruts, no visible foothold) and was herding her goats.
A little later, we passed by two young women in bright oranges and red which is so characteristic of rajasthan hunched on the edge, trying to push down a few really long (and I imagine heavy) PVC pipes down the slope.
While I recovered from my surprise of the old woman and the goat, the two women had not only got themselves and the pipes down the slope, they had gone a long way off, laid the pipes down at a distance from each other and then the two set about attaching the ends of each. Very soon, they had covered quite a distance.
Two men, (their husbands?) joined them. Eventually, they would connect upto the lake side and get waters for their fields? All in a hard days work for them?
Why wasn't I aghast at the draining of the lake and the obvious ecological damage? Well, at that moment, seeing the hard work those couple were putting in, seemed to me, justified it all. Did they have any other source of water? Possibly not. So do they sit back and watch their crops die? Could have. But they decided not to. Real life this.
Back to "reel life", village life continues....idyllic & wonderful.