Singed logs sputtered with flame in a distance. Billows of smoke rose and fell unbroken. As dusk crept over the sky, evening stars glimmered on the edges of the horizon. “Hurry up,” shrieked a young girl. Amidst the tall shrubbery, a few paces away, a toddler wiggled his hips as he ran hither and thither with his arms raised in the air. His friend accompanied him in hurried steps, chewing on an old rag all along. In a short while, a third one emerged from the stiff bushes. His companions were long gone. He dragged his feet towards home where stood his mother on the doorsteps awaiting his return.
Women gathered near the hand pump with piles of soiled dishes. They spoke in whispers. “Maduve,” we heard them say. Their children scoured the courtyard for things to do or small creatures to kill. Their muffled giggles gave them away, at times. Some feet scurried along pathways that lay before them. The ones that lumbered towards roads where the horizon sang at dusk. Somewhere where wells hadn’t dried up and flowers hadn’t bloomed their last. Somewhere else, perhaps. Such was their hope, to find hope elsewhere.
We entered Arun’s home. Two other women were close behind us and about to follow. We spotted Arun’s father as soon as we walked in. Seated in a chair, he swung his legs back and forth talking animatedly about something he had once read in the papers. “Those times have gone,” he muttered adjusting tufts of hair that escaped his topi. Despite living in the city, he returns to the village ever so often. He belonged here.
A fresh pot of tea was being brewed in the kitchen. The women offered us some biscuits as we struck a conversation with Arun’s father. An old lady walked in silence towards her home, a few paces away from us. Her gray hair hung down in disarray. She raised her frail hands against the walls to steady her balance. Her breath was heavy, and her fingers gnarled. She quietly escaped into lanes behind us that evening never to be seen again.
Arun and his father engaged in a playful banter about the state of education in Kurudi. While his father felt the quality had fallen considerably, Arun argued that they had made remarkable progress over the past few decades. “Appaji, nimmage yenu gothilla, bidi,” said Arun standing up as his father smiled.
“The primary school in Kurudi is almost 100 years old. So is this house,” he said sliding his chair closer to appaji. We sipped on tea and spoke about rising debts amongst small scale farmers and the incredulous monopoly of corporate conglomerates over seed supply thereby exercising dominance over the global agrarian economy.
“Everything is owned now — air, water, forest, land and even seeds. We have claimed everything. Farmers on the other hand have no right to determine the rates at which they could sell their produce. They have no right to live a life with dignity. They have no right to hope. They have no right to seek assistance. Tell me, what does the life of a farmer entail then? The only thing a farmer acquires in abundance in his or her lifetime are debts. And yet, farmers won’t unite,” said Arun as he set his cup aside.
In 2003, the collapse of World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations in Cancun, Mexico eventually led to the emergence of G22 wherein twenty two developing nations challenged the then existing system that solely benefitted massive conglomerates of wealthy nations while vulnerable developing nations suffered owing to a ruthless global market. They demanded to bring forth a crucial discussion on agricultural subsidies and in the process mobilise a revolutionary transformation within the social order one that encompassed equality and justice. Some even called this shift in structural ‘order’ a devastating blow to global capitalism. “There have been many instances in the past where we have managed to defy all odds and achieve great success when we come together. But have we been able to stand our ground and fight with honour? Did we eventually crumble under pressure and give in to demands that were detrimental to our society? These are questions that often go unanswered. We are all looking for a revolution. But it won’t come if we all merely look. We have to find courage within ourselves to fight back,” he said wiping his forehead.
Now and then, shadows of insects flitted across the room. A few chirruped on the ground while many stayed still. Some were in pursuit of light. Even so, their sullen murmurs were heard by all. Away in a corner, glued to the television set was a young boy, all of 10. The noise surging around him faded to a dim roar. His elbows dug into his knees. As the protagonist tossed his hands skyward, the toddler’s eyes were shrouded in dismay.
“An old film,” said Arun breaking our reverie. He gazed at the twilight skies; clouds suspended in tandem. Corn husks escaped from their piles and floated motionless in the courtyard. The winds had changed. And, if we listened we could hear them all — the faint rustle of dead foliage; the hollow harmony of woven boughs — cascading into the depths of the earth. Songs of solemn despair…
“Let us go to my sister’s house. She lives right beside us,” said Arun readjusting his green shawl. Leading us through the back alley into a neighbouring lane, he then entered a tiny house and beckoned us to follow him inside. A middle-aged woman sorted pulses in the courtyard.
A faint whiff of smoke wafted through the air. The hall was laden with grains of thogri bele. Amidst motes of dust dancing in diffused twilight rays, Arun’s sister sat on the floor segregating grains. She murmured to herself as she deftly moved from one batch to another. Some charted their own course and escaped into corners beyond theirs. Like always. They were everywhere, leaving trails behind.
“These are better than the pulses we saw in Shiriganahalli. The latter batches were dry and relatively smaller in size,” said Arun as he gingerly ran his fingertips through them. He stood up at once and suggested we take a walk around the village before nightfall. Soon, his hurried paces took us through Kurudi’s labyrinth of passageways.
Many defied the summer winds and sat on their porch reading newspapers. Older men took a nap while their sons sipped on tea discussing local politics and weather. Soggy bits of crumpled papers lay forgotten in lanes and lost in crumbling edifices. The walls were far too close and its occupants distant. They felt each others presence though. Sometimes in murmurous voices. Maybe they listened. Maybe had forgotten how to. Some believed their old tales could always tell. We couldn’t…
“We are going to Nanjappa’s house,” said Arun stopping to catch his breath, “He was a freedom fighter, you know. The only one from this village. He passed away a few years ago. His son Patrebasappa is the president of the co-operative society here. He is a farmer too.”
Lanes converged into forbidding pathways. The ones that led towards fields stretching endless miles. At times, the rustic charm of Kurudi was bespattered with wreaths of dust. Summer was brutal in these regions. Through the lanes, emerged an old man dressed in white dhoti and kurta. He held his grand daughter in his arms and walked towards home. Our presence didn’t deter him. The roads were broken. His steps didn’t falter. He had crossed these lanes several times before.
Arun shot a glance at him and whispered, “We must meet him. He might have something to say. He bore the brunt of injustice and despair, once. Maybe he still does. I’ll take you to his house later. Come now, lets go the other way.”
Behind us where gathered beside a porch were piles of stones and rubble, there lay a tiny structure that was home to many generations of farmers. It seemed deserted but it wasn’t. We set foot inside the building to find its occupants deep in conversation. Not a shaft of light slipped through these crevices. Not a whisper left its walls.
We were soon introduced to Patrebasappa who asked us to sit beside them. Upon learning about our project and journey, he smiled and said to us, “The co-operative society functions as a district co-operative bank and hands out loans to those in need. It is functional in three neighbouring villages. We have been able to assist farmers in some of our most dire times in the past. We have learnt to lean on each other for strength. We have to. The society also sells fertilisers at a subsidised rate. Loans are sanctioned at zero percent interest as per requirement only when crop patterns are revealed to the bank. On an average, a farmer can get anywhere between Rs 3000 to Rs 4000 per acre. However, it isn’t enough. It never is. A farmer continues to struggle, to survive. Some lose hope. It’s the same story you’ll hear over and over again. A different face, a different voice narrating the same story…”
Two women sat on the floor slicing vegetables and giggling at their grandchildren who screamed as they ran around the house. Another older woman with unsteady hands brought us some tea. Her veil barely covered her white shrouds.
“He fought hard to ensure small scale farmers get their dues,” said Arun while the other men frowned and nodded. “Big landlords have become extremely powerful. We can’t fight them alone,” said an old man adjusting his topi, “They avail all the schemes introduced by the government leaving smaller farmers to fend for themselves.”
Patrebasappa nodded in agreement. He placed his glass on the floor and drew patterns with his fingers on the ground. “I am not educated,” he said in whispers, “But I understand the importance of standing up and fighting for those who were wronged. If we don’t take care of each other, who will? Nobody. There were times when we begged and fought. But no one listened. Why would they?” His eyes showed angst. As he turned towards the walls, we heard him mutter, “Naavu yaaru?…”
(to be continued…)
Project ‘Rest of My family‘ is an attempt to connect back, re-discover our relationship with and understand our responsibility towards the larger family that we are a part of — the rest of our human family. Hence, it is titled Rest Of My Family.