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  • Michael Swamy

A Village Story

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

Kanha Madhya Pradesh: I can withdraw to quiet, and clear, true-blue skies in the mornings and afternoons and a deep almost blue-black sky-canopy, gleaming with star-shine at night.

This is a village story, not just about one but several, a few kilometres apart. You take a walk, long and slow, a ramble really. Or you make it brisk to keep warm in winter, or to get out of the sun, or you hitch a ride from a passing jeep, or side-saddle on a bicycle. And not too far from one another are the villages – Mocha, Sarika and Dhanwar…

Walking through some of the villages when the winter light is soft, you get the feeling almost of French countryside. Houses flank the not-too-wide roads and the occasional bullock-cart or bicyclist trundles past with a friendly wave from the owner.

Roaming around the central province of India, Madhya Pradesh, one is surprised to see amongst a simple life, a sense of cleanliness and spruce white-washed homesteads with golden hay stacked on lofts and glimpsed through arched entrances a wide courtyard bare and inviting.

If one is privileged to know a householder, one enters to see on one side the cattle sheds, a small granary. On the other side is the dwelling place. The cow-dunged verandahs of the low-rise houses lead to several rooms where rice is stored and vegetables are spread out to dry. Sparsely decorated with just the basic necessities, the villagers seem to have all that they can ask for.

Old furniture and low benches line the verandah to welcome the unannounced guest. Indoors, pictures of ancestors frame that special place in the house, the tiny altar of remembrance, surrounded by fresh fragrant country flowers.

The man of the house plucks a papaya off the tree, washes it and passes it to the lady of the house who sits on the floor to peel and slice it. The platter of freshly-cut fruit is proffered with a glass of water. To refuse is unheard of. We enjoy the hospitality and exchange our news. The son of the house, who works at a nearby tourist resort, has gone to the District Head-quarters to take his B. Com exams.

The photographer in me wants to roam around. The setting is ripe for the perfect shot. Stepping out into the warm sun to pat a couple of baby calves I look at all the farm equipment hung neatly on the house walls. Village life seems quaint and charming to visiting intruders, but to the young ones who gather to take a look, we are not unwelcome, but somewhat odd, and this calls for shy comment behind closed fingers over talking mouths. In a little while, the children lose their inhibitions and gladly exchange chat that is bonding. All want their photographs taken, and giggle as they see themselves on the camera’s digital screen. Soon some of the adults want to join in; there’s the local doctor, and the school teacher on his motorcycle. They wish to be framed for prosperity.

As one wanders, there are fields of freshly-sprouted winter rice and mustard, swaying in the wind. Off in the distance, a farmer tends to his bullocks and a lonely scarecrow gives you a baleful eye. In the vegetable garden of a farm house backyard two newly born kids, struggle to stand up and collapse in a wobble near their mother-goat. The blue-eyed blonde fellow visitor with me takes pictures of the kids and I have a picture-post card full of memories.

The variety of village colours shout for easel and paint. Blue and white-washed mud and brick homes; intricate carvings on wooden doorways and mantelpieces and the bright saffron and lavender of the sarees the women wear, with it the shining dark skin hues, make for fine portraits of the adivasi women wearing tribal jewellery. Life here is straight-backed, carrying fire-wood stacks or water vessels on their heads, they swing body and hips. It is enchanting and picturesque, to look up and feel the rhythm of rural Indian women.

Birdsong adds to the beat. I am truly relaxing and peaceful in the village garden I am privileged to inhabit. The range of twitter and tweet and the glorious kaleidoscope of colours, of flowers and trees give way to sunset and the dark. Seated by the fire with a cup of hot soup and warm friends, we stargaze at the bright night sky. All’s well in my lil world right now.

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