The Indian village and the Indian city

Frequently in the West, India comes up as a topic in a conversation. Several people say that India is going to be the next economic superpower, along with China, and that much of the world’s energies – economically, politically, culturally – are going to focus on India. The foreign corporates are already here, along with their work culture, and now we also have the world’s leading universities setting up campuses in India. In the midst of all this, a taste of reality comes from the film Peepli Live.

Peepli Live is based in a village called Peepli in a fictional state called ‘Mukhya Pradesh’ (Main Province?). It is about a farmer to whom a politician suggests that he commit suicide, so that his family can avail the government’s compensation for farmers who have committed suicide. About 100,000 farmers have committed suicide in the last 20 years in India, owing to poverty. A journalist overhears the farmer contemplating suicide and soon the village becomes a hub of all kinds of print journalists, TV journalists, small time politicians and ministers trying to grind their axes over the issue. The film is a quite funny satire on how each of these parties uses the issue for their own benefit, with little care for what really happens to the poor farmer.

Peepli Live is not an artistic masterpiece, but it is an authentic portrayal of village India, and the vast contrast between that India and the India in which we who read this blog live and have known all our lives. The extremely dusty and barren landscape, the laid-back and relaxed attitude that characterises villagers, the earthy humour, the simplicity of these people, the goats walking around and the poverty that can be seen in the filth on the paths in the village as well as the bareness and simplicity of  its houses – the film brings alive the Indian village.

In contrast, we have the Indian city – enormous traffic, mindless honking, the smell of smoke in the air, billboards advertising everything from whitening toothpaste to the latest housing colonies being constructed in the suburbs, an attempt at the duplication of the West visible in the malls that dot the landscape, the dresses of the people who walk in them and the Indian English that they speak to each other.

At the end of the film, we catch a glimpse of the Indian city as we see that one of the characters has moved to the city to be a construction worker on one of the many new construction sites in the city. As I saw him sit there on heaps of sand, in noise and surrounded by large iron pillars, I was reminded of a plumber who visited my house the other day. He could hear only from one ear, because when he was working at a construction site, a heavy iron disk fell on his face, cracking his skull and leaving him unconscious and bleeding. He was in hospital for some months, and was told that he could go back to work but would not be able to hear from his right ear or see from his right eye. His treatment cost a few hundred thousand rupees.

Our country is being called the next superpower, but there is no social security and if you have a serious illness, you should also have the money to pay for your treatment. I don’t know how this plumber managed to pay for his treatment. I am left with these thoughts after watching Peepli Live. What can we do? Not each of us can, or should, work to uplift the majority of Indians who live in such dismal conditions. For many of us, it is more fitting to be in the cities, to do best what we can do and contribute in our distinctive manner. But it is good to remember that when we sit in our air-conditioned rooms, browsing Facebook, streaming the latest American music and planning to meet a friend at Costa Coffee, another India exists.

~ by tdcatss on August 18, 2010.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: