As I travel through dusty heartland of Rural central India, the landscape bathes in the summer sun and blue sky. The wheat which has become yellow golden, the green sugarcane fighting the sunrays, becoming yellow, the trees stark, stripped of their leaves, brown bark, yellow dust swirling upto the branches. And then suddenly, a green palm tree, which has survived the harsh environs.
I meet some farmers, bodies darkened, hands callused, their sweat and grime in my hand- the golden wheat, which is on my table every night because of them. I can see the elements have worn them out, weathered faces, hard luck, dependence on the climate, they still welcome me warmly.
At 41 degrees temperature, as they harvest the grain, suddenly one farmers pipes up, telling his ghoonghat clad wife, "Look how smart this city girl is, she even talks to men. You should learn something from her." And they break in peals of laughter.
In another village, we ask if the women go shopping. No, the reply. Not even saris? No. House hold items? No. Anything? They shake their heads and say, "But they are not the decision makers, madam. They stay at home look after everything here."
Another evening, there is a wedding in the village. Suddenly, our arrival means, the bride and the groom are relegated to the sidelines. We are the new celebrities and we have to make polite conversation with the thousands of guests present there. The women are in another corner, in their bright colourful saris. I walk upto them and take a picture from a digital camera. They shyly come forward to see it. And then there is a stampede to get their pictures clicked - from the old grandmother to the 6 year old girl!
Later, the village sarpanch and elders sit around me at 1.00, I chew on my batley (a local delicacy) and drink the purest aam panna, I have ever had. And in that night, as I am thousands of kilometers away from home, under a star studded sky, discussing politics, wheat prices, inflation and culture with them, they are in awe of me. "Aap itni door yahan baithi ho, koi darr nahi lag raha, ghar sey itni door?" I shake my head, "Its my job."
And then one of the farmers sings this song, inspired by his land-
Chali rey chali,
Kisan ki lali,
Bhariya rang ki chunariya,
Oodh kar chali,
Kisan ki lali,
Khet khaliyaon ko chali...
As I leave, the moon spreads its light, the cool breeze envelopes me, the darkness hides the starkness of the farmland. I trudge back to the hotel in the city at 5.00 A.M
Halfway through my trip, I am suddenly homesick. A person who is ever ready for the new adventures and quests, I am suddenly missing my home, my room, my bed. It's strange. Or maybe its because I am working with the ogre.
For the Nth time I am really irritated. yet another person had taken me to be a tourist guide. Yes, I work with foreigners. No, I am not a guide. I am a journalist. I wish someone would ban that RIN/Surf ad with the girl-tourist guide!
One summer evening, my driver Khan Sa'ab, a frail old man touching seventy, turns to me and speaks to me in perfect English, "You are a great lady." Why, I ask. I have never seen a woman go so deep in the country side. And that too, to tell the story of our farmers. Who really cares about them? I tell him, "I hope, I can change that a little bit."
This diary (blog post) will be updated in the coming weeks as I travel more. Stay tuned and keep checking back here!