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Rediff.com  » News » For Babu Lal, the village is no longer home

For Babu Lal, the village is no longer home

May 27, 2018 10:46 IST

'I had the strangest feeling that my childhood home had burnt and disappeared on my parents' funeral pyres,' he said.
Hardly any of his family lived there now. Migration or death had claimed them all. It seemed to be full of strangers.
'Then I realised that from their perspective, perhaps there was only one stranger -- me..." Babu Lal tells Geetanjali Krishna.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

The other day, I found Babu Lal, the old dhobi, looking very moody as he went about his work.

It was sweltering and he was in a shack with a plastic roof, ironing clothes with his ancient coal iron, but even so, he looked more despondent than usual.

Was everything well, I asked. At first he said it was. He had just returned from his village in Uttar Pradesh, he said.

Just then his son arrived on his motorcycle, wearing skinny jeans and a snazzy pair of shades. Something seem to snap quite visibly in the old dhobi's head, and he told me what was on his mind.

"Something very disquieting occurred to me on the bus ride back from my village yesterday," he said. "Over the last 30 years that I've lived and worked in Delhi, my ties with the village I was born in have gradually loosened, and now I find that I no longer think of the village as 'home'."

Babu Lal's angst is echoed by many migrants, I mused, as he told me his story.

 

Babu Lal's family owned a small plot of agricultural land in his village near Lucknow. He dropped out in class eight, and when he found no employment opportunities there, started asking around for leads in Delhi.

An uncle with an ironing business in south Delhi needed a helper, so his father arranged the job for him.

"Initially, when I moved to Delhi, I missed everything about the village -- the open air, the people and the way of life," he said.

"I told everyone that my move to the city was temporary, it was as if I'd left my heart behind."

His young wife, parents and younger brother stayed back to tend the family land.

 

In the first five years of moving to Delhi, Babu Lal estimates that he went back every two months.

The inevitable happened. His wife became pregnant. The pull of the village became stronger.

But unbeknownst to him, change was in the air.

When his son came of school-going age, he decided it was time to move his family to Delhi. His uncle had died, and the ironing business was doing well.

"Even though I continued to send the bulk of my salary every month to my parents, I began to feel more settled in Delhi now that my nuclear family was with me," said he.

The second child came along, and gradually, trips to the village reduced.

Inevitably, his ties with the village weakened further when his parents died.

"When I went back for my father's funeral, I urged my brother to return to Delhi with me as I needed an assistant," he said.

And so, the village receded even further from his mind. His visits became limited to the occasional wedding or funeral.

"This time, when I went back to attend our old neighbour's granddaughter's wedding, I realised it had been two years since I last visited," said he.

Much had changed.

"I had the strangest feeling that my childhood home had burnt and disappeared on my parents' funeral pyres," he said.

Hardly any of his family lived there now. Migration or death had claimed them all. It seemed to be full of strangers.

"Then I realised that from their perspective, perhaps there was only one stranger -- me..."

Accompanied by his citified son, he experienced the place of his youth through his eyes, and it seemed lifeless, poor and isolated.

So, as soon as the wedding festivities concluded, Babu Lal told his son, 'Let's go home.'

And he has been moody and depressed ever since.

Geetanjali Krishna
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