Early afternoon hours, say about 12ish and I was being driven through the Singhu border, the site of the present farmers’ protest in India. Makeshift tenements on both sides of the road, tents, kitchens, trucks and tractors converted into shelters. Farmers and their families moving around. Young boys, athletic and fit-built, holding each other’s hands and roaming around with a smile on their faces, full of life and youth. The glow on their faces, their smiles, the carefree demeanour, they were different from those of city boys. I looked at them and could tell that they were cut from a different cloth, had grown up in a world different from the urban, they gave off courage, exuberated honesty and simplicity not to be mistaken for foolhardiness. A certain kind of naivete in their deportment that I was willing to call a raw character burnished in nature, one which had still not assumed the trick and way of the city life.
Women, the young ones exuded the same freshness, life and boldness as the young men. The older women, their faces, their bearing gave away their character, fierce, no bullshit types, and very active and healthy. I noticed some of them huddled together cutting vegetables. One look at them and I was reminded of all that I had heard about women folk, their camaraderie, how they came together to work in groups, their gossips and appreciation for men. I looked at them and could not fail to see how close they were to nature, to agriculture. They were the bodies and the faces who had walked through the fields, cultivated the land and worked there. I saw that their way of life, their culture was markedly different from mine. Their experiences were different. I who had spent all my life in the city and they who had lived in the countryside.
What is different about us? How are we different from each other? My first response to this question is that it is difficult to put it into words, but I want to try, nonetheless. The farmers are not bogged down by the everydayness of their lives perhaps because it is full of interactions with various forms of nature, is without tedium and monotony as nature affords them plenty of diversions. There is abundant room for creativity and diverse experience when you are in nature. I do not want to suggest that life and work in a city cannot be full of creativity, but I am tempted to say it is not the same as the one spent working and living on the field surrounded with trees, animals and other manifestations of nature.
I saw women and men working in the kitchen. Not a very unusual site in the modern age, but one which still holds value if we consider the discourse on gender equality and patriarchy in the country. I do not think anyone lectured them on gender discourse, I do not think they were working in the kitchen, chopping vegetables and cooking them, to fight patriarchy. It was just how the events unfolded and the people had adapted to their situation.
The most admirable feature of what I experienced in that brief drive was the humanity of the farmers. The adversity of their situation only enhanced their humanity. They were not cooking only for their own people, or for those who had joined them in the protests. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprising after all, they were cooking for anyone and everyone who wanted to come and share a meal with them. It was an unprecedented sight and behaviour, a behaviour that showed the extent of kindness and generosity among farmers. Such behaviour is uncommon among city dwellers. I mean I cannot imagine that these people who are far away from their homes, fighting for their rights, demonstrating against the government, in a deadlock with police and living under most unpredictable and unstable circumstances and yet are brimming with humanity. If this is not beauty, what is?
Vinod Kumar, graduated in English Literature from Zakir Husain Delhi College; and completed an MA in English from the University of Delhi and another one in Comparative History from Central European University. Currently, he is a second year Ph.D. student in English at Ashoka University.