It was a few minutes before 9 am, and I loitered outside the local kirana (grocery), waiting for it to open. At that hour, when the world was just about getting going in a small town like Aurangabad, a couple of men were also hanging around. Idly, I checked them out.
One of them was in his 30’s, dressed in the young city’s modern uniform, the tee-shirt and pants, with short cropped hair that was oiled and combed down. His forehead had a smear of vermillion, proof of a bath taken and prayer completed as preparation for a new day. Sign of respectability. Short, at 5’2″, he seemed better built than most, no visible paunch, a faint outline of muscles under the shirt. Like someone who does physical labour. I recognized him as one of the shop helpers, and that recognition transmitted in a friendly way when our eyes met. He had given me pouches of milk many times before, along with a loaf of bread.
I now shifted my gaze to the other man, and gave an inner startle. He did not belong here. The fuchsia turban gave him away. Farmer. Nobody wears turbans anymore, not in cities, where such regal head gear is no longer required to convey a man’s sense of self-respect, dignity, and propriety. Maybe these things don’t exist so much in cities.
At any rate, he carried it easily on his head, adding inches to his already tall frame. The bright pink colour contrasted with his dark face, tanned by hours under the sun, tilling the fields. His skin was leathery, lines running all over, cuing hard experiences negotiating with Mother Nature for a bountiful harvest each year. He looked like he was in his 60’s, though I’m not sure. He stood lean
and erect, like a young buck. Eyeglasses, unfashionable, told me he was older than he looked. A long white shirt hung over a cotton dhoti, the traditional outfit of villagers.
Where had he wandered from? He looked out of place, standing in the middle of concrete surroundings, barely a tree to suggest Nature’s presence. Had the rains failed him this year? Was he desperate for a way to feed his family, and that’s why he had made his way to this uncomfortable, unnatural setting? I could tell he also felt awkward. As the shop opened, he tried to assist the other guy in putting stocks in place and clearing the shop for customers. Hands that knew the feel of soil tried to grasp metal covers that protected ice cream coolers. Steering bullocks on a farm was easier than packing bags of chips into little shelves. He fumbled, and waited, holding his frame uneasily, not knowing what to do with himself.
I felt sad for him. This was not the resting place for man who has plowed fields and nurtured plants to feed people like me. The knowledge and wisdom that comes from years of farming had no value here, yet that understanding of our world and Nature is more precious than ever before. It’s a travesty.