I was on a solitary, second class train journey a few months ago — my favourite mode of travel. The train was making its way from Delhi to Amritsar. Once we had entered Punjab, I, looking out, noticed the few mustard fields that Hindi films and popular film songs have made synonymous with Punjab.
However, there are no dancing people in the fields as Yash Raj films and Karan Johar would have one believe. On every visit, I feel there are fewer fields and more construction. More and more wealthy landowners are selling off land where hideous ‘kothis’ and money-spinning, wedding cake-like ‘marriage halls’ are sprouting.
This trend is ultimately going to be disastrous in a primarily agrarian state. Years ago, a girl I knew in Bangalore was delighted at hearing that I knew my father’s village. “It must be a pastoral beauty.” The last time I visited it, I have memories of tension brewing in a distant relative’s family because a daughter had been born to them again.
In fact, I happen to know that my parents’ complete satisfaction at having ‘only’ two daughters had mystified not just their rural relatives but a good number of urban colleagues too. Prejudice against girls and women still runs deep.
This is something I dearly wish would change, especially in a land where the majority of people genuflect in front of Baba Nanak’s paintings. Meanwhile, the “pastoral” villages suffer in other ways, leaving aside the wealthy landowners, of course, as most of the sons of the family are either addicts, or leave to enlist in the army or find ways to get to Canada or Australia.
Some villages are becoming increasingly shell-like. I hope for good primary education and employment, for the rights of the farmers to earn money from their crops, for cultural preservation, for freedom from corruption in politics. For government hospitals and schools that are actually functional! Ours is not a state the country wants to think or talk about much, but we will have to face up to the fact that it is deeply ailing. And we need a way out.
(AS TOLD TO NIRUPAMA DUTT)