What defines rural India?
An invitation from my English hostess is waiting for me to pay a visit to her country house in northern England of Cumberland country. This is very much near the Lake District made famous by Wordsworth. My hostess, Mrs.Dikcenson, had been our family friend ever since I was a student at Oxford in the late Sixties. How I got to know her family?
At Oxford there was meeting soon after our first term (three months), a meeting called by one gracious and aristocratic lady, Lady McDonald of Sleat and she asked us, students to put down our preferences as to the places for our stay. Every one, most of them Indians, put their preferences for London to spend their holidays. I put my preference as: “put me in a remote English countryside, I like to live in an English village!” As the great Lady read out our preferences, my name evoked a near shriek in her! “Oh, who is this?
This young man who wants to go to a remote part of England?
How great? It is a woderful choice and now turning to me and pronouncing my name with some effort (1) she told me: “Now, I am going to send you to one of the beautiful parts of rural England”!
That is how she sent me to the remote Cumberland. One evening, after traveling a long train journey I arrived at the Cocker mouth railway station. Cocker mouth is the town where Wordsworth was born. This is also the town one of well-known Viceroys, Lord Mayo was also born and there is a statue in the middle of the town for the man. I was duly received by Mr.Dikcenson as soon as I alighted from the train with a firm handshake! It was all nearly some 50 years ago and the family then was young and Mr.Dickenson was an active farmer, he was in fact the County Sheriff and honourable office and his children, Tim and Sue were all young and at school. Mr.Dickenson family, as many big rural families in England used to be, was old and the family had a tradition of going to well-known public schools and to Cambridge or Oxford. Dickenson went to Cambridge; his young son was at Rugby Public School.
I might have visited the family home, Redhow, Lamplugh, Workington, was full of life and laughter and I very soon learnt to become an English country gentleman! Today, Mr.Dickenson is no more, Tim and Sue had gone out to Australia and Mrs. Dickenson lives alone and we correspond almost regularly. In fact, I had stayed in some other great country houses; England is full of such great country houses dotted all over. In France too I had stayed with my family in some of the best and beautiful country-homes, in France they are called chateaux and it is these great country houses that define the English and French culture and I would say their rural heritage. The English and French people are very jealous of their country heritage, there is a fierce loyalty to country values, and they first love to live in the rural areas. A London address they will be embarrassed to give! It is not a mark of culture and well-bred families. They would instead give not even their names; they would give the names of their homes. Thus, Mrs.Dickenson would often ask me: “…when do you plan to visit Redhow?”
I often used to wonder what constitutes our rural Indian heritage. Is there a rural Indian heritage? Are we proud of this heritage?
We have had a difficult past, we have had a history destruction of our countryside, our countryside was marked by poverty, pestilence, famines and what we had as maharajas were plunderers of their own people, they were never independent men and they were highly pleased to salaam their white masters and that is how our maharajas had come to acquire their image of fabulously wealthy men and they indulged in the worst sort of excesses, be it plunder or shikari or sex or building lifeless big structures most of them now become commercial properties or hotels and our Indian mentality is such that in the list of squatters on unauthorised occupants of the government bungalows in Delhi, the Maharani Gayatri Devi also prominently comes!
Today we see the new Indian political class that shuns rural India and our new smart politicians are typical middle class and they love to live in urban settings and they are just too happy to forget their rural hinterland.
I often ask: our villages will survive? You, dear readers have to ask this question at the face of our leaders, the President, the Prime Minister and our Cabinet Ministers! Are ask this question at the Leftists, another set of urban life loving middle class men, they love their English pants, shirts and their belts!
Indians as a nation are a shameless people, we are willing to become Yankees, even our Left leaders have their sons and daughters safely in America and every other politician in India want to see their children are safely settled in the USA. They themselves manage to live in Delhi and once they get a government accommodation then they see to it that for their rest of their lifetime, time is spent only in Delhi. Then, who live in the countryside?
Yes, people do live in the villages and I had done some determined goals as to my future back in India and one was to maintain my links with my village. So, I had struggled hard in attaining my goal!
In India one has to pay a heavy price if you go against the current. I feel so ashamed at the Indian Oxbridge crowd who had maintained a tradition of serving the government, be in pre-independent India or post-independent India! There is a sort of servility about the Indian mentality, the educated Indian is never known for his robustness of opinion or any firm belief. Do we have a rural aristocracy? Is it educated? Is it cultured? It is not! That is the sad answer. Our leaders of Freedom came from an urban professional class setting and Indian is yet to get back to its traditional ethos, its traditional roots, and Indian villages need a vision and even an ideological articulation. We need a Tolstoy to sing the praise of the morality of the Indian peasant!
Our national culture must articulate this rural culture. The countryside has some of the great historical monuments and archeological sites. We need to nurture them by zoning those areas by some well-drafted rural buildings regulations act. In England there is such an act. You have to submit your house building plans for the concerned authority and your building design must enhance the rural beauty of the countryside. In India whenever I travel in the countryside I look for good views and beautiful countryside.
In Kerala they had almost pulled down all the old all-wood Namboodiri homes! What a precious heritage loss! Our rural people are either poor or ignorant. The so-called rural rich are equally boorish and only care to build ostentatious houses in utterly odd designs!
Anyway, let us realise that we have to go a long way before we can call ourselves a civilized people, a patriotic people, a people who love their country and their countryside. Our temples, our temple towns and monuments have to be turned to our advantage and we need a national policy for our preserving the rural heritage.