3. THE VILLAGE POND
Jyoti Dhaliwal is the chairperson of the village committee (Panchayat) of Nawan Pind (New Village) also called Chhanna/Kishangarh. It is hardly ten-minute walk from Tajpur. She in her thirties lives with her husband Sabha and three lovely children in a house that from out side looks like any other in the village. Sabha and I missed meeting each other since 1974 when he was still in his early teens. I could not have recognized him if I had met him in the street. I reached there at about five and was unsure which of the gates would lead me to his house. A handsome young Sikh supporting a neatly tied orange turban noticed my hesitation and advanced towards me. There was no need of introduction. We had surprised each other. Sabha greeted me with a big hug and then “Unclejiiii!”
For decades the destiny of the Dhaliwal family and ours has been knotted together. Their grand parents and my parents had migrated to Kenya in early 1930s. We all lived in Eldoret sometimes under the same roof. Sabha’s parents normally live in Mission near Vancouver, B.C, Canada with his elder brother Gurmeet. Two weeks earlier they had visited us in Geneva on their way to the village. Sabha’s uncle has migrated from Kenya to Perth, Western Australia; so has my nephew, Ravinder, to Melbourne. Here I am in one of the smallest villages of Punjab. It does not even have its own post office. Yet it communicates with the rest of the world as a matter of routine.
We walked through the familiar gate and the yard into a new modern house at the back discretely merged into the old one. From outside I could not have imagined that a large lounge and bedrooms had been furnished in Canadian style equipped with gadgets ranging from a big-screen TV to mobile telephone and a four-wheel drive Commando – Tata’s rustic version of Mercedes M class.
Adjoining their house is a Sikh temple (Gurdwara) looking over centuries old village pond. In 1941, I was four years old. I vaguely remember walking to the temple with my mother on the narrow dusty track winding round fields and jumping over irrigation runnels invariably getting wet. While the adults sang hymns inside the temple and listen to discourses on spiritual life, children played under spreading banyan trees bordering the pond or joined the water buffaloes cooling themselves in it. Another mental picture I retain is that of the temple priest Sant Kirpal Singh especially when he came to bless our home in Tajpur. He had a black car covered with a white sheet garaged in the temple compound. Can it be that his car enhanced his spiritual popularity? Or did his spiritual popularity earn him the car? That’s a long time ago when I could not have thought in such a critical manner. May be my mind is being pricked by the ninety Rolls Royces of Rajneesh Osho.
Since those good old days, the pond has become a cesspool, a village sore breeding mosquitoes and polluting groundwater, the source of drinking water. Modern version of Sant Kirpal Singh is the Board Chairman of surrounding villages who had sought their cooperation to fill the pond. Villagers came forward with their trucks and tractor-drawn trolleys and on the evening when I was there I was told that 900 loads of soil had been dumped and the pond had been filled. Moreover they have collected enough funds to build a staffed-health care centre and a library on the reclaimed land. Amazing, villagers are on the move. Peasants are in control of their destiny. They will not wait external initiative or funding. Since then a health-care centre has been built and operational. Last year Canadian voluntary doctors put up a camp there and treated operated on thousands of people from surrounding villages with eye ailments.
To celebrate the occasion the Board chairman had arranged a dinner in Hotel Friendship in Raekot, a nearby town. Sabha’s father, Hardial Singh, who is more than elder brother to me, insisted that I must go with him to the dinner. (See picture attached). Plenty of thirst-quenching beer, good food and jolly but purposeful group made my evening invaluable. Just in one afternoon without having to ask questions or having to show off my learned ignorance, I was brought abreast with healthy progress that was shaping up the rural society. But there was not even one woman to brighten the evening, not even Joyti, the village chairman. She was at home feeding her children and putting them to bed so that they get up in time to go to school next morning. I’m convinced that soon the housewife and husband would change their roles in society and village management.
The evening was warm. I opened the window and got into the comfortable soft-quilted bed. It must be much before four in the morning when the window seemed to have got connected to into a 1000W loudspeaker tied to the temple flag post blasting out morning prayers. I suspect that the temple priest must have perceived that I was sleeping next door in comfort that I did not deserve. Was it to punish me? Only God knows. I did not close the window and continued to listen to the broadcast in half-sleep mode.
After eating a delicious Pratha with homemade yogurt for breakfast I walked back to Tajpur, my village, absorbing the spring morning sun. Just opposite our house, I saw two elderly white-bearded gentlemen sitting on a bed as if in meditation hallowed by soothing sun light as if very nature was pouring into them. A picture of purity and simplicity, something I was trying to attain by “losing myself”. They stood up and greeted me warmly with joined hands, “Sat Sri Akal, Naginder Singh”. “We heard that you had come. I’m Dhanna Singh, you remember? You know Ujjagar Singh your childhood friend and class fellow: He was your neighbour”.
We embraced each other. I had met Ujjagar during my previous visits but a long time ago. His glowing face contrasted with his flowing white beard expressed an unusual image of calm. Addressing Dhanna Singh I said, “Yes, I remember; your karkhana (workshop) used to be in Nanju barber’s lane”. “Look he remembers all that!” said Dhanna Singh. Without this introduction I would not have recognized these people if I had encountered them even in the village itself. My childhood images of fifty-five years ago are indelibly etched in my mind.