Ever wondered about those photgraphs of farmers in newspapers every summer that show them looking up at the sky? Considering that in my experience as an amateur farmer-watcher — in two states of the Indo-Gangetic plains — I have never come across a farmer staring at the sky, at times with one hand poised above his brows in a half salute to the Great Agriculturist in the Sky. I am pretty sure that he is posing courtesy the dramatic demands of the ‘show me something!’ photo-journalist.
But then, I might be wrong. There are always aberrations — the Sardarji intellectual, the Bengali entrepreneur, the poetic plumber, the effete butcher, the artistic accountant... They all exist and so, I guess, must the farmer-who-looks-up-at-the-sky-every-summer. To however have all the farmers on display in newspapers in variations of this pose is, you must admit, exceedingly odd and, who knows, exceedingly unlikely.
So what does happen at the moment of the photograph being taken? Initially, both the farmer and the photographer stand on the farmer’s plot looking at each other. The farmer, who thinks that the story that the picture will accompany, will be about him — if not exclusively, then at least with him as one of the main characters. That, alas, is not the case. The story is about the delayed monsoon, an impending drought — and our pleasant peasant will become, unknowingly perhaps, a representative of all Indian farmers waiting for the rains to come.
The look of desperation on the faces of individual farmers vary from person to person. So the solution is the stock gesture of — you guessed it! — looking up at the sky. No farmer really looks up like that. He may scan the sky, even squint his eyes. But the full-tilt upwards, with an almost audible ‘Allah megh dey paani dey...’ sung by S.D. Burman playing as the soundtrack, turns the scene into a tableau from a ‘jai kisan’ movie. And the story of the tough little Indian farmer, tied to his waist to the spluttering monsoon continues.
Thankfully, the eyes-skyward farmer is not alone in the scriptful eyes of the media. There’s the skull-cap-wearing Indian Muslim praying at the local Jama Masjid. But that’s another story for the doughty Indian media cameraman.
Mondy Thapar is a Delhi-based writer