(Part III of a four-part series)
The Hiranyakeshi disappeared into the trees; she was going further and further away from the road. However, the the signs of her bounty refused to fade; fields after fields of lush green produce, dozens of small but sleek ‘farmer-to-consumer’ shops as well as shops selling seeds and farming equipment, garages and intermittent restaurants and resorts lined both side of the road. The town of Ajra itself was crowded, chaotic yet aspiring, much like any other upcoming town in the country.
We drove through Gadhinglaj town, when quite unexpectedly, we met Hiranyakeshi under a bridge. She was slower now and bigger, and though her waters looked clean, I was quite convinced they were not, at least not as clean as in the earlier stretches. We sped over the bridge and veered off the main road towards the countryside. Towards Nool.
The small, two lane road was in sharp contrast to the main road. Devoid of the speeding cars, ST buses and sugarcane trucks and cutting through meadows and fields, it took us through the heart of the Hiranyakeshi river basin. It was meandering and unpredictable, buttered in some patches and battered in the rest, and its highs and lows took us on what was nothing less than a roller coaster ride. The surroundings alternated between small, stocky villages and lush green fields, and I had a hard time deciding which ones were more charming. I couldn’t take my eyes off the beauty surrounding me – just two eyes were woefully inadequate. My feeble phone was hanging on a dying battery (already), and I did my best to resist the temptation to keep it away, but there were times I just couldn’t resist.
Crossing a low-lying bridge on the Hiranyakeshi, we reached a small village. Just opposite the village school, overlooking the river, was a ‘paar’ around a banyan tree. We got out of the car and sat there for sometime; hens ran around us clicking and flapping their wings, and yet more buffaloes lazed around in the river. In the silence of the place, only the river flowed. She seemed merrier and clearer, and I felt, perhaps they weren’t dirtying it after all.
The banyan tree was huge, its innumerable hanging roots resembling the locks of a sage’s beard. It seemed ancient and wise, bursting with stories of the village – of old men gathering for a game of cards, of women exchanging recipes and news, of clandestine meetings of lovers after dark, of children’s play, of Gram Sabhas, of funeral processions and festival celebrations, of greetings and goodbyes, of village scandals spiced through whispers, and of village fables with a kernel of truth. And yet, it was silent and the river was the one who spoke, through her tumbling and feisty waters. How I wished I could sit listening to her!
The village gave way to a great expanse of fields, this time dotted with glittering golden heaps of dried hay. While most of the road was flanked by bushes and canopies of trees, here, it opened up to the sky, with nothing impeding its blue from touching the earth. This was not just beauty; it was prosperity handed down generously by nature. I had to get down and take pictures, much to the conspicuous amusement of a local woman who happened to be walking by with – yes, you guessed it right, some buffaloes – as I clicked pictures after pictures on my phone.
“It is truly beautiful,” I explained to her meekly.
She laughed. “It’s always like this here. Nothing new.”
I couldn’t make her see what I saw there, but then, how do you make a fish see the magnificence of the ocean?
All the while, my phone clicked away merrily. As we neared Nool, its battery began dying out, but I didn’t care; my curiosity was piqued by what possibly lay ahead.
We fell silent in anticipation, silently soaking in the jowar and sugarcane farms soaking in the brilliant sunshine. Not a bird chirped, not a soul was in sight. As we moved further, I started getting second thoughts – perhaps we missed a turn and missed the village, or perhaps we took the wrong route. The Hiranyakeshi had disappeared again, from sight as well from my phone as there was no Internet connectivity. Despair began rising in me, just like waves rose in a river during a storm. And then, we started seeing small shops. Houses. Clusters of huts and a dhaba or two. A dilapidated building. A cattle shed. Nool was here.
My phone’s battery chose that exact moment to die but I couldn’t wait to charge it, I began looking for the village school. A few enquiries later, we ended up in front of a small, neat set of rooms with steps leading up to them. The walls were filled with colourful charts and drawings, and on the roof, painted in bright blue letters, was the line (in Marathi, of course) “with the support of Damodar Kulkarni.”
Finally, the school my great grandfather had donated land to. I stared at it for several long minutes.
When my generation of the family was growing up, my great grandfather’s act served as a reminder of our responsibility towards upholding, revering and promoting education. And yet, in that moment, I also knew that his act was at the core of the goodwill, respect and prosperity which education brought to us, his descendants.
From my great grandfather supporting a village school to me studying in Hong Kong University and UNESCO-IHE, two of the top global institutions, education had brought us a long way. I was reaping the fruits of the seed he had sown.
(This was first published in The Tilak Chronicle.)
Gauri Noolkar-Oak is a transboundary water conflicts researcher and has studied river basins in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. She is also the Founder of Lokmaanya.
The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.