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Here is a story that attempts to vizualize what a free Gandhian village would look like in the beginning of the 21st century India.

It is a fantasy, but students of mind sicence will know that a story like this serves as tool that can be used to help the audiences vizualize their goals.

... Anything that is created is created twice. At first the thing gets created in a mind. Only after that does it get implemented/created in the physical world. If the Wright Brothers built a plane, they first thought of it in thier minds. As such, unless the idea of freedom is first created in the minds of the villagers, they cannot implement anything like it in their communities.

This story serves to create that thought in the mind which, in essense, is a set of goals. The story serves as a way of conveying to the members of the village how Mahatma Gandhi, Rabrindranath Tagore and the Chola statesmen wanted them to live.

To make this work, a facilitator will narrate a variant of this story to the members of the village and that will automatically implant goals or aims in the villagers' minds. Once they see the alternative, in terms of images and emotions of the story, then coordinated work in that direction becomes possible.
MY GANDHIAN EDEN: HOME SWEET HOME

For the elderly gentleman, the ride from the city to his old village was much smoother than he had expected: first in the comfortable bus to the PURA (Providing Urban-amenities in Rural Areas) headquarters and now in the little electric van heading for the village.

In this second leg of the journey, he was sitting at a vantage point by the side of the driver. And there was a curiosity and deep interest visible in his face as he kept looking at the passing sights.

The driver sounded very apologetic, ‘Very sorry that we had to wait for some time for more passengers; usually, it is not a problem…’ he trailed off as the elderly gentleman dismissed the thought and continued to look at the greenery and the wonderful sights.

As the van reached a high ground, he caught the first glimpse of the village. It was a remote village visible at the edge of the reserved forest, and the green hills in the background gave a golden glow, flooded as they were by the warm rays of the rising sun.

‘Your vehicle is in very good condition for something that has run 70,000 kilometers…’ the elderly man said.

‘Oh, that’s our village mechanic’s work,’ the driver replied. ‘He can repair virtually anything, and he knows how to keep this beauty fit and fine. He has a certificate in repairing automobiles… And you may be interested to know that he has even come up with his own version of a solar car which can be driven while you sit at his computer at home.’

The elderly man lifted his eyebrows. ‘That sounds pretty good,’ he said appreciatively.

As the elderly gentleman was saying this, they passed by an old temple just outside the village, and a pleasant nostalgic smile crept across his face.

‘It still is home, after all…’ the visitor thought. It was twenty years now that he had left the village to go out and earn money, fame and success. He had initially kept up with the changes through the electronic connectivity system that had been established, but then, he had eventually lost track. This time around, he was seeing it all with his own eyes.

Looking at the driver, he said, ‘I actually came to pick up some door fittings and iron grills which my son had ordered a week ago…’

‘Ah yes, you cannot get more personalized and beautiful pieces than these anywhere… You know, Naseer’s workshop gets orders from abroad as well!’

‘You mean there is a market for this iron stuff there too?’

‘Oh yes! When there is beauty, there are always buyers…’

As the old man got off the vehicle, he gave a stunned look. He could not believe his eyes.

The reaction amused the driver. He said, ‘Naseer’s office is over there close to the temple of the village deity; you won’t miss it.’

‘Are you sure this is my village?’ the elderly man asked looking around without expecting an answer.

The driver smiled, ‘See you then. Hope I meet you on your way back.’ So saying, he revved up the motor, waved and buzzed away toward the next village.

The old man kept looking around without losing his sense of surprise. He could hardly believe his eyes.

‘This can’t be the village I left behind when I left for work,’ he kept saying to himself.

The houses were beautiful. They looked prosperous; even the smallest houses now had either a tiled or cement roof. The design of the houses and the vivid colors expressed that the owners were connoisseurs. And there was an artistic, constructive mind that was doing the design part… The houses were built intelligently.

He did not have to walk much to get to the temple, and once he reached there, the office was indeed easy to spot.

‘This office could make a brigadier proud,’ he mused out loud as he entered the open office door. The display was exquisite, and it even had an exclusive display cabinet for all the awards and trophies which Naseer had obviously won. Each piece on the display had a touch of class in it—faces, animals, symbols, names… You name it, and it was there. The beautiful part of it was that each piece seemed to have been made with a lot of love and care.

‘We make a piece or two extra in some cases so that we can display them here,’ a young voice suddenly said.

The old man turned around, as if broken from a trance, to see a smart young lad in his mid-teens. ‘Oh! Sorry, Sir. I didn’t mean to startle you. Can I help you?’

‘Yes, I was supposed to pick up my stuff today. Is it ready?’

‘Ah yes! My father said you would come. You can come and take a look at what we have done for you.’

They went to the workshop, and he showed him the work. It was exquisite. Quite nearly the way he had asked for it—lion heads for the handles and grill bits that were designed like a creeper with leaves and flowers. The edges were perfectly rounded off. The shine was perfect.

‘These are made of brass. Those grills are iron,’ the boy said.

‘Yes, indeed,’ the elderly gentleman said, still feeling the pieces with his hands.

The young lad, hitting something like a sales pitch, said, ‘Once you put them in place, you will have nothing to complain about. The measurements for the knobs and door handles will be accurate to within a millimeter. We guarantee that.’

‘It’s beautiful. How do you manage to design such stuff?’ the elderly gentleman asked.

‘Oh! We have a village full of artists. You will get one or two in every household here. Some of them work for us. They are asked to work on chalk, wax or clay. Some artists also help in visualizing the description given by the patrons in picture form, and then, these two-dimensional pictures are converted to 3D molds. Converting those molds into metal is the work of the workshop. We even have a spectrum of metals to choose from,’ he said.

The money had already been paid through the internet, and there was home delivery for his town as well. All that was left was for Naseer to pack it up and have it dispatched.

‘This stuff is good,’ the visitor thought aloud. ‘It carries a feeling of grace and peace in it. There are so many places where one can put these things. I should order more.’

‘Oh! Thanks for the compliment,’ the young lad smiled.

‘You are welcome,’ the elderly gentleman said, and his attention turned to the important thing he had come for. ‘Could you direct me to Krishna’s house?’ he asked the young lad.

‘You mean the one who runs the music center?’

‘Yes, he’s the one,’ the elderly man nodded in reply.

The young lad said, ‘Sure, it’s pretty close. Let me show you…’ and led the way.

As they walked along the street, the young lad said, ‘I was telling you about our artists, right? You will also get very good paintings for display in our village, if you want them. In fact, I suggest you have your own portrait made; it will not take you long, and the price is reasonable. The landscapes are very beautiful too. If it is oil, it will cost you some money, but watercolors will not cost much. I suggest you grab it. Your descendants will make a lot of money from it,’ he said with a degree of seriousness.

‘You paint too?’

‘No, not at all,’ he replied. ‘It is not my cup of tea. I am more of a sports-lover. I prefer my games, and we have a score to settle in the coming tournament.’ His voice revealed resolve and determination as that thought crossed his mind. Soon enough, the young lad led the way through the front door of a house and into the courtyard, calling loudly, ‘Kaki! Hello! Anyone home?’

A sweet voice responded, pretending to admonish, ‘Why do you have to yell, Saleem? You’ll bring down the roof.’

It was a pleasant young lady in her early twenties who came to one of the doors comfortably dressed in a blue-green salwar kameez with a pen and a book in her hand. Her mock anger was a giveaway; and she stopped short on seeing the elderly man. She greeted him with folded hands, and a questioning look went toward the young lad.

‘Ah, Sital… Here, Uncle wants to see your dad…’ he said quickly.

Immediately, a knowing coy smile flashed across her face.

Saleem looked at her quizzically but seemed in some hurry, ‘Bye… Got to go! Sital, take my advice. Give up your idea of writing those silly poems. Can’t you think of something useful to do?’

She responded with some pretend anger, ‘Better than running around like mad men behind a ball for an hour or even two hours.’

Saleem was not interested in hearing what she had to say; he turned to the elderly man and asked, ‘May I take your leave, Uncle?’

‘Yes, Saleem. Thank you very much.’

‘Oh, you are welcome any time. Bye, Uncle! This girl will not improve,’ and he doubled away, making one last face at Sital. She smiled in return.

Sital paid her respects to the elderly gentleman by touching his feet, and the man blessed her by saying, ‘May happiness and prosperity always be with you.’

‘He is a light in our lives,’ she told the elderly gentleman. ‘Did he trouble you too much?’

The elderly man smiled back as he shook his head for a no. ‘On the contrary, he was very helpful,’ he said.

‘Do take a seat. I’ll get some water,’ Sital offered. ‘Would you like to have some tea or some breakfast?

‘Oh yes, sure,’ he replied.

‘Daddy is at the farm with bhayya. Ma will soon be back from the temple. It’s about time.’ She then asked, ‘How was the journey? How is Vijay’s grandma? And everyone else?’

‘Ha, just fine. The journey was great, and everyone is fine. I wanted so much to see you all. And coming back here is so nostalgic. But I can hardly recognize this place. The change is fantastic.’ Sital could only shrug her shoulders, not knowing what to say.

‘What was all that about running behind the ball?’ the visitor asked.

‘Oh, that! Just pulling his leg,’ she smiled. ‘The truth is that we make it a policy in our village to encourage games. We believe it produces men of quality and substance. And it improves the standards of health in the village too.’

‘It is pretty much the same in the Americas,’ the elderly man added. ‘They have a culture of encouraging sports. I guess we are catching on now.’

She smiled and asked, ‘Will you be waiting for the poetry session today?’

‘And what is that?’ the old man asked in return.

‘Well, I think it had just started when you went abroad. You must remember the teacher who used to teach children Hindi and English…’

The old man’s face lit up with the memory as he nodded in agreement, a glass of water in his hand. Sital continued, ‘Well, he thought the best way to get people to learn was to make them sit together and recite poetry and discuss it. He started it as a weekly meet with school children and some youth. The priest and the postman also used to participate. You might know them, I think…’

The elderly man nodded in agreement.

‘Well,’ she said. ‘It started with discussing the poetry of famous people. We went on to read and discuss the great epics, some spiritual texts, personality development book extracts and many more. It grew from strength to strength. It has turned out very well now. Some outstanding poems have been written by our own people. One of us managed to publish a bestselling collection. Another one of us is popular in the stand-up comedy circuit and has the nickname ‘Joker Poet’; it all started here,’ she said in a matter-of-fact way.

‘So, what do you get from it?’ the elderly gentleman asked.

‘I love it because it makes me look at life in so many different ways. And it helps me participate in what we call the timeless song of the poets,’ she said, her face glowing with the thought.

‘Okay. Tell me about the houses. They all look so pretty. This one feels so comfortable,’ the old man said and moved to the door to take a closer look.

‘Ah, well, it is probably because a lot of thought goes into it actually. We have one architect from our village and three people in the next village who have developed a reputation for designing excellent structures. Three of them are diploma holders in civil engineering, and one of them has just completed architectural engineering at the age of 42. They are in some kind of network on the internet where they exchange ideas on buildings, materials, design, air circulation, water cooling, well maintenance, gas plants and so on. Their contacts are from across the world. You name a thing, and they can build it. Generally, they work in a team, and that brings good results, I think,’ she said, with her eye on the intricate carvings on the window frame.

‘It is beautiful too,’ the old man said, running his fingers through the designs, and he suddenly changed the topic.

‘You speak such good English. How is that?’

‘Oh, thank you,’ she said and added, ‘Practice makes one perfect. If you go around in the village, you will see that most of the youngsters are good in three languages. Among the seniors, most know two languages proficiently. The rest will be fluent in Marathi but will be able to understand Hindi. Unfortunately, they have to use sign language if they have to talk to someone like Unni Uncle.’

She paused for a moment and then said, ‘I also tried to learn French, but I could not make progress because the teacher could not continue the course. But I am working on it. Ravi Uncle knows seven languages. Not French though, unfortunately.’

‘Ravi?’ the elderly gentleman asked.

‘He is the supervisor at the food processing unit of the village,’ she replied. ‘He is supposed to be very good at five of the languages, but he writes poetry only in Marathi. He also directs plays in his spare time…’ As she was saying it, her mother walked in through the front door.

Apparently delighted to see the elderly man, she exclaimed, ‘Oh! America Uncle!’ With a broad grin, she said, ‘I hope you had nice travel’ as she paid her respects by touching his feet.

‘Had a nice journey,’ her daughter corrected.

‘A nice journey?’ she asked the gentleman, smiling, and he nodded.

‘Yes, it was very comfortable.’

‘So, you are working on your English?’ the visitor asked, and she nodded in agreement.

‘Just a wish,’ she said.

Soon, the two of them shifted into comfortable Marathi and began exchanging notes of the years that had passed by. Meanwhile, Sital went into the kitchen to take care of breakfast. All she had to do was warm it up in the microwave oven, and soon, the three of them were done with their breakfast.

‘Sital, tell me… Is the elderly school teacher still here in the village?’

‘Yes, indeed. Would you like to go and see him?’

‘Oh, that would be great. Can you take me there?’

Sital looked at her mother.

‘Okay, go along. Take him there, but bring him back in time for lunch. I’ll just phone to tell the teacher that you are coming,’ her mother said. ‘And remember to take grandpa through Unni Uncle’s laboratory,’ she added.

They set out and reached the laboratory soon enough. But it was latched shut.

‘I guess he has gone out to the hills,’ Sital said as she opened the gate to let herself in.

She explained, ‘Unni Uncle retired from ISRO as a scientist and decided to set up a small research lab in the village. It was his dream project. He wanted to work on biotechnology and its contribution to forest upkeep. It began as a shed he set up here, and he used to travel up and down from the PURA headquarters where he used to stay. Then, the children and some women in the village got involved in his research activities. Then, the village school and even the science college at our PURA headquarters started coming here to do projects. Now, it is a wonderful resource.’

‘But how did this lab get built up like this?’

‘Well, that is a long story, actually. Initially, no one cared much, and Unni Uncle himself was only interested in having a piece of land and access to the forests. He used to hire one or two people in the village, and so, the people of the village let him be. But a change came when the children got involved with him… Or maybe the other way around… He would make us ask all sorts of questions about science, and he would actually show us how things worked. We all used to have a great time.’

‘I still remember the day he showed us a fountain with a soft drink and mint chocolate. But it was a waste of a good soft drink. Then, he showed us how to make a rocket. Amit nearly burned down his own house, and Unni Uncle had to hear a lot from Amit’s daddy. Luckily, Unni Uncle knows little Marathi. So, it all ended up very funny,’ she said, giving an amused smile.

‘What does your uncle do here?’ the elderly man asked.

‘The biggest thing he did for us was the fruit extract from the berries that were picked up in the forest. He showed us how to extract the juice and convert it into syrup and package it. It became a raging success. After that, money flowed into the village. It is cited as one of the reasons the village developed so much. Then, as we children grew, he got many of us involved in serious experiments. We even helped Uncle set up this modern lab, and now, he has a name at an international level.’

‘So, you all are paid for your work?’

‘Most of us volunteer when he asks for help because we understand the value of what he has done and still continues to do. This farm that you see has the rarest of herbs, and most of them have medicinal value. We help him grow it. It is taken up to the hills, and the hill people plant it everywhere. So, if you go up the hills, it is full of it in small patches and in natural settings. It is systematically harvested, and that forms the main base of income for the hill people. The hill people give us the forest produce for processing and marketing. So, it comes as a complete cycle. This arrangement is great, and his efforts are at the heart of it.’

‘That is not all,’ she went on. ‘He has helped two of the children who used to work with him pick up their PhDs. As for the farmers in our village, he works in partnership with them in their farms. Together, they try out new things, manures, pesticides, seeds… If you noticed as we entered the village, multi-level cropping is taking place in those farms by the side of the old temple. Scientists from a research center in Brazil came to see it last January. And you might know, many of the farmers have at least a diploma in farming. And all of them have done up to the C-level certificate course…’

‘Certificate course?’

‘Yes, in farming technology. Ah, there we are! Do you recognize that person standing next to that jeep?’ Sital asked.

‘Oh, yes! You cannot miss him, can you?’ the elderly man smiled.

As they approached him, a broad grin of recognition came across the teacher’s face. It was quite weathered with age, but the gracefulness of his happy years was visible on him. He had lost none of his old charm. The elderly gentleman greeted the teacher with folded hands, a broad smile and a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. The teacher greeted him happily, clasping the folded palms of the visitor in his own.

‘My dear friend, what a delightful surprise!’ the teacher said

Sital could literally feel the vibes of their delightful meeting. The excitement in the air was to remain for a long time after that. The young lady paid her respects to the teacher. And the teacher said to them, ‘Come, let’s go inside.’

Addressing the elderly visitor, he added, ‘Like to have something? The mango season has left us with the choicest of juices and sweets this time. It’s been a plentiful harvest.’

‘Grandpa just had breakfast; I don’t think he will have anything. Will you?’ she asked the elderly gentleman.

He shook his head for a no, and she offered, ‘I’ll get some water for you two.’

‘Okay, Sital. Bring some of those sweets also—just in case—and pull a chair for yourself. Ah, and the book on French that I promised you is on the reading table. Don’t ask how I managed to get it! It’s borrowed for your use.’

Sital disappeared into the house with a squeal of delight while the two of them made their way to the two garden chairs kept in the shade of the huge mango tree.

‘You all have achieved a miracle here,’ was the first thing the elderly gentleman could say.

The teacher replied, ‘Come on! You know that even you are responsible for this. The money you had sent initially, when I asked for it, made a huge difference.’

‘No, no! That was hardly anything,’ the visitor protested.

‘No, young man. It mattered a lot when we started. We literally had no financial strength at that time. It was not that we were not happy; happiness is something that is within each of us. But the way we were living was not the best we could be.’

‘Yes, indeed. I vividly remember this place from that time,’ the elderly visitor said looking at some kittens playing at a distance. ‘In the summer, we had to walk three kilometers to get drinking water and another three back. Then, there was that twice-a-day bus which used to come to the next village—once in the morning and once in the evening. But there were none to our village. The lands were barren except for a few trees here and there. And then, there were the dry rain-fed farms. We had the Dalit shanties on that side…’ he said, pointing out at what could now easily be a part of a suburb.

‘There was that liquor den beyond that other hillock as well,’ he said, turning toward the little hills.

‘The slopes of the hills were barren except for one odd bush here and there and some grass. We would have to get fuel wood from the forest—or whatever you could call that barren place—and there would be such trouble over it. There was the problem of single-meal families, literally living on the edge of survival. To study beyond tenth standard, one had to travel twelve kilometers. There were only two TVs in the entire village. As for electricity, the poles were there and the wires were there, but there was hardly any power supply. Then, there were those endless quarrels with the fair price shop over the availability of grain and kerosene. And do you remember how we lost my niece and her child because we could not take her to the nursing home in time? Three hours by cart… She could not have made it. And now, look at this! How did you turn it all around?’

The teacher was apparently transported into the past, and he looked to be in a reverie when he thoughtfully said, ‘One lesson I learned in this entire process is that you should never underestimate the power of a team.’

As he was saying this, Sital walked toward them balancing a tray on one hand with some water and sweets on it and a chair on which she had placed a little book in the other. They helped her place the tray on a small garden stool and moved their chairs to make place for her in the shade, and she adjusted her chair into place.

‘Thank you, young lady. Grandpa has been telling us how this place was when he left,’ the teacher said as he offered some sweets to the visitor.

‘I heard that things were very difficult then,’ Sital said

He smiled and continued, ‘So, as I was saying, it all began to happen when everything fell into place. We had this village which had the human resources of nearly 2000 people in all, but we had nothing to put them together and work at something. Then, by sheer coincidence, some persons reached here. Naseer was invited here by his friend Krishna when there was trouble in his home state.’

‘You mean Sital’s father?’ the elderly gentleman asked.

‘Yes, our Krishna,’ he said and then explained. ‘Naseer had a manufacturing unit which was destroyed in a riot. He came here for some time to be in a quiet environment, but he eventually settled down here. It was he who taught all of us what we know about manufacturing, business and marketing; his foresight and vision were a great asset. Then, there was Unni, an encyclopedia of knowledge. Then, of course, we have the village priest; he knows when to say something, what to say and how to say it. He was able to make people listen and do what they were expected to do.

Also important at that time was the announcement by the government that they were going to set up PURAs. And finally, there were numerous government schemes about which I knew quite a lot, and I had some students in the government who kept me informed about what I could bring for the village. We had the money you sent. We got some more from donors and NGOs, and we pooled in some money from our savings. When all this came together, things just began to happen.

I got my hand on some literature on PURA. I spoke to several other teachers and then to some sarpanches. When we spoke to the Block Development Officer, he just gave us a vague idea that if there were to be a PURA, then eighteen neighboring villages would form our unit. He gave us the list of those eighteen villages. We had a meeting of all these sarpanches, and then, we started making plans. There was a need for facilities which one or two villages could not afford by themselves, so we started sharing. While the funds for schools were diverted to three different schools in these eighteen villages, we set up hospitals in four others and a special hospital in the PURA headquarters. Then, as if by magic, a lot of facilities started being set up by private commercial players all over. The government gave us roads and electronic connectivity. Our village eventually got a school. For the nursing home, we need to go to the next village, but we have a health worker with us.’

‘Remarkable, indeed,’ the elderly gentleman said. ‘But you still have not told me how everyone cooperated in the effort.’

The teacher said, ‘Oh that… It all started when the water problem reached its peak, and we had to ration the drinking water that season. There was a fight that night… But ultimately, the outcome was good. One of Unni’s friends, an expert in water resources, was visiting him that day. To date, Unni says it was just a coincidence that he was in the village, but we don’t think so. He was from Sangli. He knew Marathi well, and apparently, he knew this whole business about water. When he spoke to the villagers, it was like magic. They sat and listened to him spell-bound. The very next day, we started digging. It was nice to watch. Even Sital here went up that day. She was probably in her second or third standard, I think, and she dug her own little water bund.’

‘Yes, Grandpa. I remember; it was so much fun,’ Sital said.

‘Well, I hope it was fun for the others too,’ the teacher replied.

‘It was like a picnic,’ she said, smiling.

The teacher continued, ‘That event made a great difference; after that, we went up once a week for six weeks and did voluntary work, and the energy did not sag for quite some time. Two thousand people up on the hills. Mind you. If they put their minds to it, they could have moved the hill; these bunds were small things. The very next summer, our wells did not dry up. That was a stroke of luck because it is difficult to get results so fast. Anyway, we hit a high note when two or three years after that, people started coming to our village to collect drinking water; there was no looking back after that. Three years after when Unni’s friend had given the talk, the villagers started pestering Unni to call him once again. Unni’s friend knew more than just about water conservation. We got all kinds of knowledge and inspiration from him, and then, it slowly took off. We gradually phased out firewood and used alternate sources of energy; the direct result was that trees started appearing on the hills. We forced all the children to school; we arranged for work and livelihood for everyone. We kept sending one person or the other from the village for some training or the other. Soon, we had trained mechanics, builders, artists, sportsmen, farmers, dairy specialists, poultry specialists… You ask for it, we have them. Then, Unni and the hill people happened…’

‘Sital told me about that…’ the visitor said.

And the teacher continued, ‘And after that, we have never looked back. Anyway, I should tell you that a lot of deliberate planning went into it. There were committees responsible for even planning how to balance the imports and exports of the village. We wanted a balance so that profits were generated for the village and its members too because things would not work out otherwise. We have come a long way,’ he smiled.

‘I think such places are called Edens,’ the visitor offered.

The discussion veered toward his work, his journeys in America and finally his settling down in India with his son in the town.

‘So, one of the reasons I came here was to look for a match for my grandson Vijay,’ he said looking at Sital, smiling mischievously.

Sital was a picture of pretend disinterestedness, ‘Why would he want to marry a village girl like me?’ she said leafing through the French book in her hand without any purpose.

‘Are you serious?’ the elderly man asked. ‘I am worried about the other way around.’

Sital raised her eyebrows in surprise.

The elderly man said, ‘You have all the best amenities that a city can offer within twenty kilometers from your house. You have this space for playgrounds. You have generous space to build your homes. Your education in the three R’s and in the spiritual and social dimensions of life are not in any way wanting. You even have a French book in your hand. What else do you want? If you are on the lookout for universities or professional colleges for your children, there is of course a need to stay away from home. But even people in the city have to do that.

And in the city, you could even end up traveling for an hour just to reach your work place or to get to the college. To give to children all that the city affords, most of the time, both the mother and father have to work at their respective jobs in a continuous cycle from dawn to dusk. And in such cases, the pressure on the woman is really very high. I agree there is work here in the villages too, but it is more balanced, and the responsibilities are better shared. And it is done in an environment that agrees with our traditions. Moreover, this village is your extended family. You can walk into anyone’s house; everyone participates in all occasions in peoples’ lives. You can sit and write poetry in the quiet forest or in the farms, and here, you can even drink water from that fresh stream…

Now, if you were to go to the city, 99% of the people who pass by you will be strangers. You will gain some kind of freedom and anonymity, but you will lose the warmth of these people and the nourishing touch of a closed society. I am not saying that you won’t get true and good friends there, but it is a different life. And in any case, if you really want to get to the city, I took less than an hour to reach this place. So, even the city is not beyond your reach from here.’

Sital shrugged her shoulders and smiled.

The teacher was reassuring, ‘Don’t worry about her. She will adjust; this lady is tough. Or there is another great idea; why don’t you all shift somewhere here in the meantime?’ he said

And as Sital blushed, the elderly gentleman replied, ‘That is a possibility I have started to think about rather seriously now. This place is a real nursery of life.’

Soon enough, all three of them got up to head back to Sital’s home for lunch. As they were getting ready to go, the elderly man gave voice to something that had been at the back of his mind, ‘I don’t see many people around.’

‘Oh that,’ the teacher said. ‘It is a holiday, and there is a fair going on in the next village. The final match of the cricket tournament is happening today, and our boys are playing. Everyone is out to cheer them on.’

‘What about you?’ the elderly man asked.

‘Well, we will move after lunch. Krishna will be taking us in his vehicle. You are coming along,’ the teacher said firmly without offering him a choice.

‘Will you be coming too, Sital?’ the elderly gentleman asked.

She apologetically replied, ‘No, Grandpa. I will skip. I have some work to do for today’s poetry session. But I plan to watch what I can of the match on cable TV.’

The teacher bolted his door shut and informed his neighbor of his departure. The three of them then set course for Sital’s home, walking in the shade of the huge trees.

‘You must have had good support from the politicians too,’ the visitor said.

‘Well, yes and no,’ the teacher replied and went on to explain. ‘Initially, they were the biggest hurdles for us. They would come and feed on their vote banks. They would say and do things such that various groups in the village sincerely believed that the others were enemies. But you know that saying about fooling people… Sital, what is that?’

‘Wolf, wolf…?’ she asked.

‘Ah, that too. But I was mentioning another… You can fool all people for some time, you can fool some people all the time…’ And Sital joined in a chorus, ‘But you can’t fool all people all the time.’ And they smiled at each other.

The teacher continued, ‘Eventually, wisdom brought light on the people that these politicians came only when elections came. They said they would do all sorts of things but did nothing really substantial. Well, how much could you expect them to do for just a few votes? They would get all of us excited before the polling, and after it, they would disappear until the next elections were around the corner. But things began to change when we learned to stick together.

When the change came, everyone accepted the situation that they were in and did not blame anyone else for it. Then, we all started looking ahead together. Ten years from then, those shanties disappeared, and you can see what remains of it now.’

The elderly gentleman kept his eyes fixed on the houses as he listened to the teacher and said, ‘Indeed, it is a most amazing transformation. I just could not believe it when I saw it for the first time.’

‘And Grandpa, I told you about two of them who have done their PhDs, right? That two-storied house painted in blue and white belongs to one of them.’

‘Ah, Rahul.’ The teacher added, ‘You won’t believe it… He took a vow that he would take admissions only in the general merit category. He got many scholarships but never took even a single reservation seat. Now, he holds an Associate Professor’s post at the university on the strength of his own merit. We are all delighted for him, and he is highly respected for his achievements. No one can even say that he is from the same group who about twenty odd years back were scavenging, had one meal a day and did not know what it was to take a proper bath. That is why I say that that day was like magic when Unni’s friend spoke to us. Once we became a team, once we realized that we were all trying to do some good to each other by helping each other, once we saw that we were really trying to get livelihoods for all of us in the village, things slowly changed. The priest was a great help in this.’

‘And the politicians?’ the elderly man asked.

‘Once we got together, we started to fool all the politicians. Then, the politicians became wise. They realized that if they helped the village as a whole, they would get votes. They then did exactly that. After that, it has been a good partnership with the politicians, and they have good connections. A lot of good has been done through them, and we are thankful to them. But they cannot fool us now, not by dividing us.

We have our differences, but we have evolved ways of facing such situations by trying to focus on the solution rather than the problem. We sort things out among ourselves. We may even fight among ourselves, but when we deal with outsiders, we remain united. That is our strength.’

Soon, they reached Sital’s home and had a delightful lunch with the entire family. And then, things happened according to plan…

The day was hectic indeed. Lunch was followed by the excitement of the cricket match. The elderly gentleman had not played much of the game, but the electric atmosphere got the better even of him. Then, there were celebrations. Dinner was over only by 9:00 PM, but they decided to hold the poetry session anyway. It was a great experience. Folk songs, some jokes, poetry and special of all was the little surprise Sital had in store. She had a poem titled ‘Starry eyes’, and it was a little embarrassing for him since he was the hero of the poem. The poem got the wildest applause, and one could not make out whether it was for the hero or for the writer. But he noticed that the villagers saw him in a different light after the poem.

He called up home a little later, and as he spoke to Vijay, he said, ‘You know, Vijay. I know for sure that I am at home. Not one of my blood is around me, and I am still at home!’

An hour or so later, as he lay in bed at the teacher’s house, looking at the stars through the first-floor window, a feeling of great delight and gratitude engulfed him.

‘This is splendid,’ he thought. ‘This is a full life; this village has finally arrived at Mahatma Gandhi’s dream. Vijay would have to do a lot to give this girl a home and community as beautiful as this in his city.’

 

 

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