Small-town charm

The number of girls we saw walking to school filled my heart with joy.

Recently, we had the good fortune to visit a place in a far-flung part of North-Eastern India.

Nothing about the place was familiar to us – the local language spoken and the facial features of the local people reminded us of people from the neighbouring country, the cuisine had a lot of street food from neighbouring countries and the names of the people and the names of places sounded so similar, we couldn’t make out one from another. These were the differences that were instantly obvious to us.  And yet, there were so many subtle differences that one could find after spending a little more time getting to mingle with the local people.

The houses in the capital city of the place were built in narrow lanes, right on top of open drains, screamed of lower middle class stature all around. But, every single house had at least a few pots kept outside, where the roses grew so beautifully, converting the shabby looking house into a well-kept warm home. Coming from a fast-paced city, I could only envy the women sitting outside their houses who seemed to be in no hurry and they hardly seemed to have tension-lines on their faces as compared to the permanent frown that we city-women sport. The complexion and hair texture of even old women could give many models a run for their money here.

For every single thing that exchanged hands – be it money, vegetables, grocery or clothes, it was handed over with utmost respect with both hands and it was always accepted with gratitude in both hands – no matter how rich or poor, how old or young the people involved were.

Such is the awareness of the ill-effects of plastic; there is no sign of them anywhere. The shop-keepers just do not hand out plastic covers as they fear that their licence to operate will be revoked. Bribery just doesn’t work in this case. In fact, on a popular trekking route, officials check the number of plastic cola bottles, chips packets, water cans that we carry. On the way back, if any one of them is found missing, the poor guide accompanying the trekkers is sent back to the mountains. Out of fear or out of understanding the benefits of eco-tourism, trekking guides are really careful about picking up all the litter. It often struck me that we are lagging so much behind our North-Eastern counterparts in taking care of our environment.

The number of girls we saw walking to school filled my heart with joy. Such a remote corner of the country and so forward-thinking about the importance of education in a girl’s life. The girls walk miles together uphill and downhill to get educated. Years after leaving school, I came to realise how lucky I was to be able to go to a school in the comfort of a bus, which I had never considered a luxury and was another thing in life which I had taken for granted.

There were enticing advertisements in every corner out there about higher education in colleges in Bangalore. Strange that hailing from Bangalore, I had never heard of these colleges. So many Bangalore-educated students dream of going abroad for higher studies while Bangalore itself seems to be a dream destination for many others.

How diverse India is. Just a visit to one corner of it makes me realise the vast differences. It feels like I went to another country and yet, every other sign board in even most remote villages there remind us that “From Kanya Kumari to Kashmir, India is one”.

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