A day in the life of a village in India: The Tribune India


Natasha Badwar

I WAKE UP on the roof, under a pale blue sky. It’s ridiculously early. I’m on a single bed, with a mosquito net around me, bright in the dawn light. The night breeze has been my sanctuary.

Before I’m even fully awake, I pick up my phone and, through the net, take a picture of the sun rising in the distance. Another of my daughter sleeping in the adjacent bed. I step outside and take another picture of three bed linens in a row, covered in softly swaying mosquito nets in pastel shades, balanced on bamboo poles wedged on either side of the beds. When I send these photos to my friends and family later today, almost everyone will respond with memories of summer vacations in their childhood when they also slept on the patio of their house. First cool the floor with water, then lay the beds. To look at the stars and scare yourself with ghost stories.

I walk to the parapet of the roof and look at the empty village square in front of our house. Sleeping dogs are strewn across the brick-covered floor. The village well and the mosque on one side. A corner where samosas and tea will be available later in the day. Three rabbits sleep in a cage outside a house. Goats flap their ears to get rid of flies.

On the other side, a mud-walled center is the hub of the village’s digital installations. During the day, students will congregate here for tuition and access to Wi-Fi. Adults will come here to update their KYCs in various government welfare programs and to fill out forms online. My daughters and I are going to go there to access the online courses. I will teach and attend meetings on Zoom.

We are in Ghazipur district, Eastern Uttar Pradesh. A vast maulshree in the center of the village square is home to the chatter of birds, excited at the prospect of a new morning. In this part of India, the tree is pronounced as mulsari. In the evening, my father-in-law, Mirza Ashfaq Beg, now 90, will sit here in his wheelchair, surrounded by generations of villagers.

Papa and the tree – both are aged and wise witnesses to the passage of time. In some ways, time seems to stand still. In another way, the change has come so suddenly that it feels like a cool breeze washing away layers of stubborn dust.

In an hour it will be time for school and morning lessons. Groups of students in uniform, supporting their siblings, chatting with friends will pass here. Girls with straight backs and tightly combed hair will pass each other on their bicycles, their schoolbags balanced on their shoulders. It’s a new sight here, quickly normalized by the young women themselves.

I stood on this roof and watched the intense events of the Muharram procession, led by Papa and other old men from the village. The aesthetic decoration of the taziya, a replica of the mausoleum of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, is done by Hindu craftsmen and tailors from the village. There are no Shia Muslims in this village. But Muharram is an integral tradition for everyone.

On the eve of Holi, the bonfire of Holika dahan is also lit by Papa in this square. Diwali is celebrated here by all communities together. I can’t see the temples of this village from our terrace, but I can hear them all. They love their speaker technology.

It was Eid-ul-Fitr almost two weeks ago. For the first time, there were strict orders from the administration that no one would be allowed to offer namaz outside the mosque and Eidgah premises. Every year when Muslim men gather on the morning of Eid to offer prayers together in the Eidgah – a vast space set aside for this annual namaz – the stragglers go out of bounds.

Hawkers gather outside Eidgah with painted mud toys, balloons and snacks for the children who accompany their fathers on Eid morning. It’s an annual mela that everyone looks forward to.

This year is the first time that no one from our family has gone to Eidgah. To avoid repression, it was collectively decided to gather in small groups in mosques so that there is no overflow of Eidgah. There is incredible grace in the community here.

When I walked out of our house on Eid day and saw policemen sitting outside the mosque on the bench under the mursali tree I was shocked on behalf of everyone else . I wanted to text a friend. Type all caps. Express my outrage and my sense of loss.

I take inspiration from everyone around me and decide to save my emotional energy. We will choose the challenges that deserve our commitment. A quote from Mary Karr, poet and memoirist, just stuck on my desk as a reminder:

“Empathy deepens us, but how we unwittingly sabotage our own abilities for it. We care because we are porous. Pain is both real and constructed, feelings are created by how you utter them .

As I go downstairs to start my day, I meet Dad at the dining table, reading the Urdu newspaper, The Inquilab.

“What is taaza khabar today, dad?” I ask him.

“Nothing in particular,” he said.

“I heard that the bahu of Mirza Sahab is visiting these days. Did the newspapers report it?

“Oh yes,” he said. “That’s the main story. How did you know? Do you read Urdu? »

“I have my sources,” I said, making him laugh.

—The writer is a filmmaker and author.

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