For as far back as I can remember my grand parents home on the coast was heaven on earth. The summer holidays and usually another trip mid-year through the ‘70s and ‘80s most certainly meant the mandatory vacation westward. For kids growing up in city this was a godsend as suddenly all restrictions were lifted and you could get away from the watchful eyes of dad and mum.
This little village was neatly hidden behind the hills about five kilometres from the sea. With all the trappings of a tropical village this was the eldorado of my ten-year old mind. The bus would pull up somewhere off the highway and it was time to get off. My mum would shake us up groggy eyed from the overnight ride, I hated to be woken up like this and be pushed to act — really wake up, pull the bags and get off the bus and walk…
It is still 530AM and every tree has its few dozen birds already singing their morning hymns. As we walk a few meters and turn the corner into a mud road that leads to the home my mother was born in, the singing of the birds get louder. In a few moments, the place is transformed, as we walk away from the highway deeper into the village the road is flanked by paddy fields on both sides. On my right is an embankment about 7–8 feet high over which stand the fields on the higher plane — all sown with paddy and on my left as far as I can see there are rice fields, with standing crop. The typical field is regular square of not over acre or so with some smaller ones in between but there are literally dozens of them abutting each other. All most all of them are with fully grown paddy crop and you can see the water beneath — the dark brown wet mud holding it all together. A tiny bird suddenly jumped in from nowhere and was lost in the crop for a moment before flying back up with an insect in his beak scurrying away. Not far from where I was walking I could hear a tiny gush of waterfall as the water flowed down from the higher fields to the lower fields in short broad gushes.
An old fully grown mango tree standing on the left of the mud road suddenly blocked my vision momentarily with the solid girth of his trunk. This tree I am told was at least as old as my grand father which means it must have been at least 70 years old then…how many decades of standing there through torrential monsoon rains and scorching sun, sweaty and humid afternoons this tree has seen I wondered. Still I couldn’t fail to look up the tree for the hundreds of mangoes hanging off of its branches. As I looked up, I noticed had already stamped a large ripe mango that was lying below my feet..it’s flesh running out on to the earth below.
A full grown adult green centipede sitting on the outer brown skin on the tree trunk curled himself into a circle as I touched him — now looking like a perfect circle with brilliant artwork. But I didn’t notice the big brown frog who jumped up from the foot of the tree trunk to the broad leaved bush just next to it. As my feet crossed the bush I suddenly heard the long croaking of the frogs that was the background to this wonderful morning, so good was my visual treat that I was momentarily deaf to the music of the morning.
The rustle in the bush seemed to create an intense anxiety in my mother who was already several paces ahead. She warned me to stay clear as there could be snakes in the vegetation. On my part, I was hoping there would be a snake..how enchanting that would be!
A string of coconut palms ran through the field array reaching out to the sky above. They were probably a partition of the acreage between two brothers’ ownership of fields. A slim pathway needled along the feet of the palms, broad enough for only one person to walk, only slightly higher. An equally narrow stream of water ran down either sides of the walk way on the palm stretch…there was so much water, greenery, fruit trees, flowering plants, birds, insects and farm animals …it was the richest, most vibrant natural living and throbbing natural eco system that my young mind could ever imagine. And I would be here over the next several weeks. What more could I ask for?
Several tiny twigs, dry leaves and fruitlings were falling into the field below whenever a gust of wind blew, as they made gentle splashes on the water…some got entangled in the paddy crop, some others playing surf before falling into the wet mud below. I so much wanted to bend down and touch the water, to feel it, splash it with my fingers but i knew dad would not let me and I trudged along as I soaked in the ocean of greenery ahead of me.
An occasional cluster of thatched huts lay in the corner, these housed the farm hands and their families that worked at my grand fathers enormous farm empire. Some of them respectfully bowed a greeting to my dad and mum as we walked down offering help with our bags. Two dogs walked up barking but the young farm worker shooed them away.
There was not a single concrete structure the entire stretch…it was virgin green territory, seemed like a protected farm area. A cuckoo sang on a distant tree, a couple of eagles hovered high above smoke pouring out of an open field fire someone lit up on the higher plane. Could have been dried grass generating ash for more manure. This would eventually combine with fresh dung, other moist leaves and organic waste to produce manure for the same fields we beheld in front of us. These heaps of manure in the making are a common sight across arable landscapes. The morning air was now carrying scent of fresh smoke. Suddenly a small wind blew a shower of rain drops from the leaves above. It felt like I had arrived and just received a welcome shower..
And then began Growth
But that was thirty years ago. This time it was different…The mud road had made way to broken half tarred messy roads. The fields were long gone and ugly concrete homes of various colours raised their ugly heads out of soil that once carried standing paddy and pulse crops.
Every few meters you could see a satellite TV dish sitting on a house top with meters of cable lengths hanging loosely strung to balcony of another house next door. Used cans of petroleum lay around houses, with several empty soda bottles indicating global soft-drink brands had already penetrated rural hamlets.
Most of the farm houses were gone, as farm hands left for more lucrative jobs in nearby towns. After all any job was less tiring than physical toil in the fields, they seemed to believe. Empty bottles of beer and broken eggs were lying in a used plastic plate in a little dump with half eaten food. Fowl and bunch of chicks were pecking at the open trash behind the house. Some scooters and an old car were parked there. Clearly the current generation had moved beyond agricultural jobs.
As I walked past the morning hour, it was different. The morning air was broken by the rattling of the scooter of the milkman. It left a thin trail of burnt petrol in the air that lingered for some time. Every few meters was a house or two, built haphazardly with no aesthetics, painted in divergent hues as if to out shine each other.
Most women folk now left home after the kids went to school, as they had to get to work. The homes had now the older folk- the former farm workers, now too old to work. I learned later on that many of the men folk were confirmed alcoholics now and survived on wives’ income.
Somehow the transition from a clean, green agrarian village to one that supplied bodies to the urban jobs in nearby town did not seem to have gone well. These villagers were deeply rooted to the soil and for generations their well being was tied to natures bounty. While the factory jobs, hotel jobs and work at the local bottling plant and nearby hospital certainly offered higher wages, straight working hours, uniforms and a few perks, it seems like these villagers were net losers.
Access to new jobs, alternative incomes, modern education for the kids, better roads and transportation, access to vehicles, media and entertainment and welcome goal posts of progress. What is it about urbanization that is the soul-killer?
Urbanization, being human-driven, carries in it the seed of unlimited growth driven by greed with complete absence of nature and its ways. While working with nature — for ex., agriculture, gardening, building a nursery, plantations and so on, reviving a forest or an animal / plant species where nature determines growth cycles your success depends on honouring the natural cycles prevalent.
Human driven urbanization cycles, are aimed at maximizing economic gain at all costs and in compressed time frames with absolutely no natural control factors to adhere to. Greed, highly infectious, spreads like fire and quickly catches on, as more and more individuals are attracted to earning more money for less effort.
As I trudged along, watching pieces of trash on both sides of the road, a dog jumped out of the heap and fled. Some used mobile phone batteries rolled over to the road. A used car tyre was rotting in the corner with the overnight rain breeding a colony of mosquitoes in it.
I wondered if this once green, largely self-sustaining village would ever be regained. And if thousands of villages were to be lost like this in pursuit of growth and urbanization, what would we be left with? What is the measure of success in this race? Who eventually wins in this game, I wondered..
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