Musings on a train: Reflecting on the urban-rural relationship Feb 10, 2012

What is it about train journeys that makes you think about life, goals, ambition and experience? Especially a daytime journey. Watching the fields whizz past. Wondering if rural life is even half as idyllic as it looks from a speeding train. And then inevitably thinking of your life, where its going and where you are taking it.
People around me, who probably travel often, are snoring and chattering. For me, travel will always be linked to introspection.

The flat landscape of the Gangetic plain evokes images of contentment and plenty as God intended it to be when he created a land of fertile soil, sunshine and a natural irrigation system of beautiful rivers and seasonal streams. In reality, the flatness represents the dull sameness of each day as it passes, each sunrise bringing little hope of change, let alone positive change.

As I glide through the Uttar Pradesh I grew up in, the UP that is right now going to vote, I think back at childhood journeys. Today most villages we pass are made of brick and mortar homes whereas the village of my childhood was a collection of thatch and semi pakka huts. (Ironically they looked better finished, had a certain aesthetic as compared the straggly brick dwellings I see today.)

Anyhow the point I’m making is that change has come, albeit very slowly. From our urban perspective where we change phones every other year and shop at nearly every end of season sale, the pace of change in rural life is negligible. Yet the new economy brings the awareness of choices and that’s what makes life frustrating for rural youth. To know that there is the possibility of a whole new life even as you stare anxiously at the sky, knowing that one good rain is what stands between you and a pakka roof!

An article in Mint today says that Jaimesh Ramesh is claiming that the MNREGA has reduced the incidence of distress migration. If that is true, I am heartened. Passing by mofussil towns, garbage overflowing their open drains, I find myself in a cynical mood. How do politicians dare to ask for votes when even the most basic needs of people are not met? How will migration mean better opportunities if our mofussil towns see no investment and growth? Its obvious our metros are sinking and migration adds to the stress. And is stemming distress migration via government dole outs sustainable when there is inadequate commitment to creating a real and sustainable rural economy?

We city dwellers would do well to constantly remind ourselves of how closely our lives are interlinked with the rural. It isn’t someone else’s problem what happens in India’s villages. It’s ours too!

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One thought on “Musings on a train: Reflecting on the urban-rural relationship Feb 10, 2012

  1. This contrast and clash is as much a part of pure city life as between the urban/ rural divide. Urban levels of impoverishment and deprivation can be far more acute than the rural one. I think the Indian elite, no matter where we are need to always appreciate that there are other Indias operating all around us, and we cannot grow unless we grow holistically and inclusively together.

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