A Chipped Shell

Fields – some growing, some unplanted still – dotted the innards and extremities of a place content with a certain image of itself, and yet, paradoxically, fighting against it. Houses – whole and strong –  were an anachronism in concrete among the dusty, windswept hillsides. They spoke of a community enduring, perhaps even growing, even if not quite thriving. And yet that was not their picture of themselves. The broken huts strewn along the way to the village spoke of failed attempts at eking out a life here and their eventual abandonment to the wilderness. But that was not my experience of this place called Gordphalla. To be sure, the place had problems, the details of which the were quick to explain to us. But what village in India doesn’t? What city doesn’t? …

I suppose I noticed it because I’ve been in other villages – a few better, many far worse. The community seemed to be united, even if this was only achieved by accidental or intentional exclusion of all their ‘others’ in the past. The infrastructure, barring a growing water problem, was present and seemingly functional, even if not entirely reliable. There are worse places to live, not too far away. Yet you would not think so from talking to them.

Am I being unfair? That niggling feeling of guilt runs alongside this train of thought. I can’t deny that this was my first impression, but I wonder if perhaps my perspective is unduly harsh. After all, all I hear people do back home in the city is complain – about lives far better than that of the owners of even the most verdant of fields. I am as guilty of that vice as any of them, and with far less justification. In that, perhaps, I find my human connection to them. We both share a sin, if sin is what this is. And, in the end, I cannot forget Lalchand who, despite delayed rains and the usual ailments of age, did say that things had got better over the years, albeit slowly.

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