Monday, December 25, 2006

An Ode to Majhi

Circa 1977. Majhi came out of the voting booth, peered at the noon sky with contempt, strapped his turban tightly and trodded along the field. Life had been harsh and the Emergency didn't help matters. For a moment, he mulled over how his vote could unimaginably create a change in his life. But a true Gandhian never questions the power of democracy. His optimistic part of the brain still believed that his voting choice would ultimately benefit small landless poor farmers like him in this impoverished part of rural Bengal. After all, wasn't he being lauded in the slogan Jai Jawan Jai Kisan.

As his feet felt the dry hard soil, his optimism grew dim - ultimately pitch dark. It had been a bad year. Miserable weather. Unfriendly to him and the crops. As he passed the small Shivling beneath the centuries old banyan tree, he prayed. With tears in his eyes, he headed back home wondering just how and what he could feed his kids today. Hunger was just an everyday nemesis he had to grapple with. Maybe I should beg again today - just like yesterday.

Two months later. An army of Red Communists marched through the village shouting victory slogans. Majhi had returned back from his 1 acre dusty field and was about to leave for the daily begging ritual near the highway bus stop. His suffering was palpable - thin and frail. All he could do was raise his puny fist in support of the party he had voted for. And he just hoped that their pre-election promises are acted upon.

One year later. Majhi and his family are well fed. With more land, more powers and a better panchayati system, life has never been better. All thanks to the new Left government.

Ten years later. A white Fiat car parks outside Maji's dilapidated mud house. Two teenaged kids run into the house and wake up their baba. Majhi puts on his best and the only shirt he owns. A few steps later, he finds a visitor he has known since his time began. In a crisp white shirt and jeans, Rehman called out "Kemon Accho, Majhi?" and runs to hug the only childhood friend he had ever known. Majhi, a bit uncomfortable, manages a smile and somehow returns the hug. A conversation ensues after the initial complimentaries:

My dearest Majhi, I have come to take you and your family to the city. There is no money here. Come to Calcutta.

No Rehman, am happy here. This is my land, my world. If each one of us farmers leave the countryside for the lucre of the city, who would provide food to the country?

Don't be so idealistic, Majhi. There will always be farmers - farmers who will always remain poor. Sell off this land and join me. I need trusted friends like you to help me in my business.

No dear. I can't leave this place. My ancestors have lived here, died here and so will I. Plus, I am optimistic that the government will someday realise the true worth of us, farmers.

Soon, Rehman left. Majhi, like every other night, slept hungry.

Circa 2006. A government car stops in front of an old mud house in Singur, West Bengal. Now old and barely able to see things, Majhi still manages to offer them water. The government servant gives him a paper and explains him a proposal to build a car factory at the field where his land stood. He would be compensated with 13 lakhs and his two sons would be assured a job at the plant. With tears in his eyes, Majhi says

Am sorry son. I can't leave this place. If each one of us farmers leave the countryside, who would provide food to the country?

In the midst of India Shining, industrialisation and unprecedented growth, let us not forget the millions of Majhis whom the govt has neglected and because of whom, we get to eat that daily morsel of rice or wheat.



Blogger Rupesh said...

You are also welcome and always a sweet heart !

10:42 AM  
Blogger White Forest said...

nice read! touching!

2:51 PM  
Blogger anup.777 said...

a very real issue ... very well presented ... Keep up the gr8 work!!!

Also wanted to wish you a very Happy New Year!!! :)

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey T, as always, well written. I will deviate from emotional context of the story and point you to some figures:

Sectoral composition of GDP
agriculture: 18.6%
industry: 27.6%
services: 53.8%

Labor force by occupation
agriculture: 60%
industry: 17%
services: 23%

The data above clearly shows that agricultural sector is over employed. 18.6% of the country's income is being divided among 60% of our people. This is because traditionally India has been an agrarian society. But with changing times we need to take different measures. We need to train and move our work force from agriculture to industrial and services sector. In this regard, the TATA's plant in Singur, the POSCO project in Orissa etc are the right steps. In the long run these projects will surely improve the livelihoods of many Majhis.
In my home state Orissa I have personally seen people resisting industrialisation and clinging on to agriculture and suffering year after year.

-- Anup

1:03 AM  

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