A few weeks ago (mid-December, 2016) a group of us (35-40) senior citizens, got together for an unstructured get together at a resort close to the NCR. It was 50 years since we first met as entrants to the medical college and traditionally, the college which celebrates its alumni meet every year on 20th of December, honours the Silver and Golden Jubilee batches. And the batchmates themselves plan to spend time together and catch up – in other words a total nostalgia trip!
The resort was about an 8-10Km off the Delhi-Jaipur highway, not more than an and half by road from the heart of the Capital. It was a reasonably furbished and run place (how many stars, I’m not sure), and although the food was not really great, the group was so excited about meeting after so many years that the minor faults/inconveniences did not seem to matter.
Mid-December was cold, but I a morning walk addict. So the first morning, I ventured out to walk around the resort. To one side of the hotel was a golf course around which were holiday villas and the whole place was green and picturesque – but the short distance around them was not very interesting.
The second morning I decided to venture out of the resort and a short walk of less than a Kilometer, through the dense morning fog, took me into the local village, Sarai. And it was a typical Haryanvi village – with a pleasant surprise thrown in.
The village road meandered inwards, and as I rounded the first corner, I cam across this wonderful old fort. I could not locate any specific history of this area – but in all probability it dates back to the 17th century when the Jat Kingdoms were ruling many parts of present day Haryana.
Of course, I could not gather any information from the local people with whom I interacted. For them these were some old ‘kandhars’ and a convenient location for the biggest local industry – cow dung cakes.
Conversing with these women, I learnt that for them life revolves around cattle. All the women, young and old, spent large amounts of time collecting the dung and making the cakes. Of course, many Government schemes had reached them, and all the houses had gas connections – but the gas was saved for making chai (which was made many times a day) and other emergency needs. Cow dung cakes continued to be the major fuel for their cooking, supplemented by collected wood, which was segregated and stored systematically. The importance of their cattle was evident, as every house had a large water tank at the front of the house and in temperature around 10 degrees C, the buffaloes were being washed down. The children looked less washed….
As I talked to the women and children, an offer of tea was made, accepted, the charpai put out, a fire lit and we had a little chat session going.
It was school going time and I commented on the number of private school buses plying. I was told that the local Government school was upto class 8, and had good teacher attendance. But everyone preferred the private schools, and these were in the nearby towns. 10-12 buses came to pick up children, and the fees could be anything upto Rs25,000/month for KG. But all girls and boys went to school, the Government high school was some distance away. The young men sitting and drinking tea with me rued the lack of any job opportunities – the only local jobs were as cleaners, waiters, gardeners etc. at the resorts (like the one I was at) that have come up. The access to health was limited, the closest Government dispensary was 6 KM away and as in most of India, there is limited faith in the Government system. The private clinics were also in the nearby towns and so not very close by. Everyone was aware though, of the various schemes of the Government, like the ambulance system, payment for hospital delivery etc. Their biggest lament was the poor electricity supply – they are happy if they have 6-8 hours a day.
By this time, the tea drunk , I said my goodbyes and walked back to the resort,wondering how so much has changed – like the ubiquitous TV dishes and TVs in every home, cell phones with so many, no one tills the field with a plough, threshers have replaced hand threshing and so on… yet so much remains unchanged. How near and yet so far…