At it's simplest, this was a land of lost skills. Look at the fan I've shown here. Not a particle of the materials used in its manufacture have been purchased for the purpose. The wool and cloth are remnants from clothes-making efforts. The wood- well, that's to be picked up on the road. The base for the central panel is made of the plastic sacks used for packing grains. A wonderful use of materials that would normally have been thrown away in many households, including mine.
But this is also a land of lost people.
Immediately after that visit, I found myself shivering because of the air-conditioning in a conference room. In that room filled with bureaucrats and scientists, the topic of discussion was 'those people'. 'Those people' encroach on river banks, I was told. 'They' complain all the time about diminishing returns from agriculture, but do not have the gumption to select an alternative. 'They' protest when dams release flood water. 'Those people' should learn that development is inevitable. 'Those people' do not understand progress.
And that drove me and my colleague to alternate between anger and despair. For us, 'those' messy, uncooperative, uncool people have names.
Munni Devi is a widow, so is her daughter. They are sharecroppers on a bit of land where they grow cucumbers and gourds and scratch out a pitiful living. Very soon, that land will be submerged by Progress. They are terrified by what will happen next. I am terrified that Munni's daughter will take the only option that is left to her.
Parmawala does not have a flood warning system. Om Prakash's son died in a sudden release this year. He had gone to strip the leaves from the sugarcane field where the family has farmed for generations. The son died, the fields were destroyed. The family received no compensation. They were after all, quite literally in the path of progress.
Agwaanpur does have a flood warning system- the masjid issues a loudspeaker warning. But one of them said, 'We can leave, but do you think our fields can get up and run away?' Seed costs 7,000 Rs a kilo. One farmer told me that he sowed seeds three times this year. And lost his harvest anyway.
Those people always complain.