Just as you enter Unchaa, resembling the ruins of a died-out civilisation excavated from the womb of mother earth, a swirl of dust carried by an ominous gust of dry wind welcomes you.
Inhabited till February 2006, this 150-year-old village, just a kilometre from the Pahuj river and 10 km from Jalaun's Madhogarh, now exists only in government records. In reality Unchaa is 'no more'.
Once the most prosperous village of the district, Unchaa simply could not withstand the successive onslaughts unleashed on it — dacoits, floods and four years of crop failure in a row–and gave in, triggering what is being termed as the worst case of exodus (100 per cent) in the Bundelkhand region.
Today it presents a perfect case for study.
Right at the entry point of the village stands a school building. Hindi alphabets written on the blackboard have not yet faded. Signs of how recent everything must have been.
The roads to the village are full of wild shrubs and hedges. Most of the electricity poles have collapsed. Wires stand pilfered.
Some houses still have doors which seems to have been locked forever. Signs of how unbearable it must have been.
Also there is an MMR telephone tower in the middle of the village. It was a kind of wireless telephone used much before the advent of mobile telephony. Tell-tale signs of the village's prosperity.
It was a pretty well off village, says Bhoopat, former gram pradhan of Bhimnagar, situated next to Unchaa.
"The exodus from Unchaa began with the drought of 2002 and 2004. Most families gave up between 2004 and 2006. Three families—a Prajapati, a Pandit and a Vishwakarma—were the last to go", says Devendra Gandhi, a youth who used to do social work in the village.
Gandhi says he tried but everything proved so futile in the end. Everybody left, one by one.
At the Jhansi railway station, like at other railway stations in the region, the scene is no different. Radhey, a native from Maharajpur in Chhatarpur, restlessly looks for signs of the train that will take him to Jammu.
"We have had no crop for the last few years. I went to Jammu and worked in a band for some time. Then I worked as a construction labourer. When I left, I had to leave my family behind. This time, I am taking them along. As it is, there is absolutely nothing for them to eat here. They too can work now," he tells HT.
Radhey, like other hapless people of the area, is, however, leaving his eldest son at home to take care of his elderly parents. Little wonder, most villages are now mostly left with elderly people, who can no more fend for themselves.
Bundelkhand region already is one of the most sparsely populated regions in the country. It, according to the last census, had a population of just 82,32,847 people. And approximately 82 per cent of it lived in rural areas.