Informing the chauffeur that they will be back in about 2 hours, Sarah and her niece Maya step out of the car. “This definitely is going to be an interesting experience”, says Maya smiling, as they walk on a narrow, unpaved road towards a cluster of small huts.
“I’ve always wanted to witness life in a village. I’m sure this trip is going to make my 25th birthday a memorable one”, she says adjusting the head strap on which her action cam was mounted.
Maya observes small kids running around in their shorts playing with rubber tyres.
They seem to have tanned because of the summer heat.
An old lady, easily 15 years older than her aunt stops her winnowing when she notices them approach. “Madam is here. Madam is here”, she shouts in excitement. Bowing before them slightly with her palms held together, she greets both Maya and Sarah in the traditional style and says, “Namaste”. She flashes a broad contagious smile and the twinkle in her eyes speak for how happy she is to see Sarah.
Turning her gaze to Maya and curiously studying the action cam on her head, she giggles before saying,
“Madam, this must be your foreign brother-in-law’s daughter”. When Sarah nods, she gestures towards her hut and says
“Please come home and have some water or tea”.
“Thank you mataji, you are always so kind”, says aunt Sarah. “But we must go ahead and meet Rane saheb. He is expecting us.”
As they walk ahead towards one of the sturdier looking huts, a man in his mid-fifties, wearing a white kurta, payjama
and a Gandhi cap steps outside. “Welcome madam, welcome beti”, he says referring to Maya as a daughter.
“This is Rane saheb, the head of this village”, Sarah tells Maya. “Namaste saheb”, they both say in unison.
“We’re very happy that you have come to our village, beti. Your aunt called me a few days back and told me that you
were interested in seeing the way we lead our lives in this village. It is a great pleasure to be able to host you”,
said Rane saheb.
“You must be tired and thirsty due to the long travel. Please come to our home and let us serve you some water before I take you on a tour of the village”, he says.
Maya and Sarah remove their footwear and step into Rane saheb’s hut barefoot. The living room is small and the only two significant pieces of furniture in the room are a small cot and a stand for the old box television.
His wife, dressed in a light pink saree, hurries to get two glasses of water for them. “Cool matka water is always refreshing”, says Sarah thanking her.
“Would you want to see our farm?” asks Rane saheb. “Yes, of course”, jumps Maya, unable to contain her excitement.
Rane saheb leads them to his farm on the back side of their small home. “We mostly grow cabbages on this side”, he says pointing to the stretch of tiny plants.
“Do you see those water pipes running on the farm? That irrigation project would not have been possible without help from your aunt and uncle. We are very grateful and indebted to them. They have been instrumental in improving our farming and living conditions here. They are like God to us. You all are!” Maya, not knowing how to react to the gratitude showered upon them by this simple man, just smiles awkwardly.
“On this side, we have mango trees. This is the mango season. I’ve told my wife to make aamras for you with fresh mangoes. I’m sure you’ll like the taste”, he continues.
“We also have two cows and three buffaloes here and a few chickens there. Ours is the only family in the village that owns three buffaloes”. Reading between the lines that his family is the richest in the village, Maya wonders how the houses and living conditions of others would be considering his house was rather small in itself.
He then leads them to the other side and points at the communal toilets further away. “We built those ourselves after we
got aid from the government recently. We now have 1 toilet per 3 households”, he says sounding proud of the village’s
Maya, deciding against asking what they did when there were fewer or no toilets earlier, thinks about how fortunate she is to have parents who could afford a 5 bedroom house with all required amenities.
As Rane saheb guides them to the other parts of the village, he shows them the only school in the village. All the kids are mandated to attend school. The medium of education is in their local language. There are no benches and desks; the students sit on the floor during classes. The fans in the classrooms do not always work and there are power cuts pretty often. “But”, he says, “the kids still love school”.
“Do you know the speciality of this village? Look at the names boards outside all the houses.
You will see that the woman’s name is always the first name on the board and is followed by the man’s name. Women work so hard in the
fields and at home. They make the house a home. So we recognise their contributions in our own small way by having
their names first in the name boards”, he says with genuine respect for women.
Surprised at the fact that people in this village have modern opinions about gender, Maya makes a mental note that she would share this story on Instagram later that night.
After touring the village Maya and Sarah head back to Rane saheb’s house for a cup of aamras. Maya wonders how these people are willing to serve the costliest fruits and drinks to their guests while they themselves compromise and live such non-luxurious lives.
After interacting with a few more villagers, Maya and Sarah take their leave. Follow them to their car, the kids wave goodbye.
Back in the car, Sarah asks, “We have a one and half long hours journey back home now. Do you think this visit was worth it?”. “Definitely”, says Maya. “It surprises me how people can be content with so little. Makes me wonder why privileged people like us always complain about not having enough.”
With a cunning look on her face, she continues, “In my opinion, they will not hesitate to support you.”
“That’s right”, says a poker faced aunt Sarah. “Victory in the coming election will definitely be ours.”
On arriving at the main entrance of their building, Sarah and Maya step out of the car and head home. The chauffeur proceeds to park the car at the designated spot.
Back home, Maya spots a half kilo black forest birthday cake on the dining table. Her uncle, with a broad smile says,
“A small surprise for my dear niece!”
“Thank you uncle. But, did you not know I don’t like black forest cakes?”, she laughs.
A calm Sarah says, “I’ll arrange for something else”.
When the chauffeur arrives at their door to return the car keys, Sarah instructs him to drive their maid to the bakery and back so that she can buy Maya a fruit cake. The chauffeur, having witnessed all events of the day, acts as instructed in deep contemplative silence.