try to picture this.
i was sitting on a bench in a bus stop in this obscure village, waiting for a bus to the nearest ‘town’. i had to get to this ‘town’ so as to catch another bus back to the city of tirunelveli (‘nellai’), which was my destination that evening.
so i must’ve waited for half an hour or more, when this van – mahindra make – came by. with a dozen people already in it, and more than half that number waiting along with me, i had own doubts and stood there hesitating. the ‘conductor’ shouted out to me, asking me to hop in. he probably could read my face as well, for he said there was enough room for all of us and so i stepped in.
by the time we had driven a couple of kilometers, there were more than 20 people squeezed in. that doesn’t include the driver or the ‘conductor’. not to mention a couple of kids. funny thing is, nobody seemed to bother about the crowd or the lack of space. it was quite packed. for instance, if i had an itch in my back, the only thing i could possibly do was to sit and meditate. and focus on things other than that itch. anything, but scratching was possible during that ride
in that van.
all along, there were these women, almost of whom had bags containing
‘beedis’ (indigenous smokes) in their hands. they were, it seemed to
me, giving final touches to the beedis. on enquiry, i found that a lot
of women around those villages rolled beedis for a living. which seemed
alright. what shocked me was how much they made out of this work.
rolling a THOUSAND beedis would, according to the one i was talking to,
fetch them 50 to 60 rupees. a logical mind would, no doubt argue that
the selling price of a bundle of beedis is around 4-5 rupees and so
thats all is what could be paid for the labour. sure. true. and yet,
rolling out a thousand of those things for some 50 rupees…ironically,
those 50 odd rupees were a big deal for those women. they were more
than just satisfied, they were glad they could add that bit to the
family income. talk about contentment.
now, the van stopped off again – at some other equally obscure village
en route my ‘town’, where there was a family – about 7 or 8 of them –
of ‘nari kuravas’ (a nomadic group). they were mostly women, with a
couple of infants. for those who haven’t seen these people, they are
the most down trodden community. they make a living by selling little
ornaments – sort of chains made of beads collected from the forests.
they live a very simple life, keep moving from place to place and are
known to consume cats and birds, among other things. so there was this
group that was, much to my dismay accomodated into the van. it took
about 5 minutes before they could all squeeze themselves into the
vehicle, that time being spent by the other passengers in complaining.
unfortunately for my mental conditioning, i was almost wincing at this,
for, the sight of this group wasn’t by any rate pleasing. they were all
shabbily dressed, and from the look of it, they couldn’t have had a
bath in ages.
to my utter surprise (i even began feeling guilty about my biased nature), the group turned out to be quite lively and even pleasant. they were chattering away among themselves, in some strange tongue which i couldn’t comprehend a word of. most of them, in spite of
being stuffed into an already crowded van, didn’t seem to mind it one
bit. in fact, they all seemed to be smiling all the while. even the
little ones.
when i got off the van (mighty relieved of getting out of what was then
like a pigeon hole!) i counted 29 people in all, excluding the children
and the driver. they were all very simple folks. most were in all
probability, not even aware of the so called ‘comforts’ the life and
money in the bigger cities provide. they weren’t cribbing about the
lack of public transport. they didn’t seem to mind the hardships they
were facing. in fact, i don’t think they even look at them as
hardships, the way we ‘well bred’ folks seem to do.
its been a few days since i returned from my trip to those little
hamlets in the south of india. and i’m just beginning to realise what a
big fool i have been – in not counting my blessings so far in life.

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