I ask a villager, what is the name of your son. He says, Dilip. How old is he? Well, he is in the 6th, so 7 plus 6, 11, maybe 12. Ok. Then, second. Daughter. What’s her name? Startled look, pause, think. Hmmm, Mayuri. How old is she? 8, I think. And the third one? Daughter, Soni. How old is she? She’s in the 2nd, so 2 plus 6, 8. But then, what about the second. No, she is second. Soni, pipes in, I’m not your second, Baba, I’m the third, I’m the third. But I’m in the second. Right. A friend says, let me see, she’s 8, so the second one must be 10, and your son, he must be 12. Yes, 12, 10. 8, that sounds about right. I say yes, that sounds fine to me. But haven’t you registered them at birth? Oh yes, of course, I have. Then? The friend says, We only need the registry when we have to take their school admissions, then who looks at that paper. So we forget.
It’s not difficult to forget how many years have passed in this dusty village. It once belonged to Raja Bhosale, but when the princely states were dissolved, and the farmers got the ownership of their land, his house was taken away in bits and pieces, a stone here, a stone there, now nothing remains except a 2-3 foot wall. Time has passed, the houses have become more and more decrepit, everything is falling apart, even the lives of the farmers, as they battle debt, the unpredictable monsoons, a complete lack of health care facilities, poisonous snakes, and a hard, very hard laborious life. The school is fine, surprisingly, the teachers come to work, but it’s hard to say what good an education in a village school will do them, in terms of real jobs, and lifting them out of their crippling poverty.
The faces and bodies too are ageless, with malnutrition, hard labour and the scorching sun, and who can say whether a man is 28 or 35 or 40. They go on, until the body collapses, and even then, the old man or woman lying on the cot outside the door, is like a guard for the children and the house, while the parents go to work.
I know we work hard too, making television documentaries, in the sun all day, working 15 hours a day, often eating only two meals a day, sometimes one. But the difference is, we can drive away in our SUVs, to a clean hotel 3 hours away, a good meal in a good restaurant, to a hot water bath, and our work pays us enough to give our families a decent life. We are not insensitive, or unintelligent, or unconcerned. But it’s difficult to believe that what we do, helps anyone but ourselves.