Monday, November 7, 2011

Joy of a Rustic Life


Often at around five 5 p.m., I go out for an evening walk around my neighborhood or to a shopping area nearby. Yesterday as I was out on a walk, I spotted a group of around ten rural laborers returning from work at some construction site in the area. They were indeed a bubbly and cheerful lot, laughing and joking with each other as they walked briskly towards their temporary urban shelter. The exuberance was certainly far greater than other rich or middle class neighbors that I encounter on these evening walks. It is a common sight most evenings.

These simple rustic labor folk that drop into the city from time to time from nearby rural areas do so to make some extra money. In recent years there has been much economic progress in India, but such progress is in the main confined to urban areas. In the villages, life has not yet changed substantially. Most villagers are farmers but their farm holding are small and they do not have money to invest in intensive modern farming. As a result they do manage to eat and live in a simple dwelling, even a mud and thatch one if necessary, but they do not have any surplus money besides. Under the circumstances a trip to the city whenever possible is an ideal opportunity to raise funds for some substantial expenditure back home such as the construction of a better home, purchase of a tractor, putting in a bore well on their farm lot etc. Recently, as opportunities for temporary part time work have become available in the rural hinterland due to an innovative rural employment scheme of the government, rural labor in cities is not as plentiful as about a decade ago. As a result their daily wages have gone up considerably (they have more than doubled in the last ten years) and incase both husband and wife work together, as they often do, the wages can be substantial, comparable to the average wage of an urbanite or more. Nevertheless, the lifestyle of these laborers has remained more or less the same as before. Perhaps the only change is that they purchase a mobile phone the first chance they get and some mobile device for playing music. This latter need has now disappeared, because now mobile phones incorporate radios and stored music. It is quite likely that the next generation of these rural workers would adopt a more prosperous life style due to better education, media exposure, commercial advertisements that promise a better life and capital investments of their parents, but this one seems content with life as it has always been.

The lifestyle of these temporary laborers to the city involves three or four living in a temporary rented room in the city. This crowded living does not appear to compromise their happiness because they are used to similar living back home in their villages. Certainly their sleep is sweet and deep because they work hard and have few cares or responsibilities in life that they take seriously. That is the prerogative of us better off persons.

The simple diet of these rural persons in the city is the same as in their villages back home. It primary consists of unleavened flat round bread, three to four times a day, accompanied by a little something of whatever is available. The little something could be any one of the following - a soup, some stir fried vegetables, clarified butter, a chutney of herbs, garlic and chilly, a little milk, a sliced onion, a fruit like a mango or just plain salt and water. The little something had with the bread has only a little something of nutrition. Most of the nutrition and calories is acquired from the bread itself. In spite of that, in general, my observation is that these rural folk are healthier than their urban counterparts and even well off urbanites who consume a daily diet that is comparable to the best in the world. Certainly they are far more physically able and active while young and do not suffer from diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and numerous other ailments that plague the urban dweller as they get older. Undoubtedly, modern nutritional science has a long way to go in fully understanding the workings of a human body and the effects of diet on it.

The bread is made fresh daily over a wood fire in the open and it tastes great. As compared to leavened bread, unleavened bread has hardly any shelf life and must be made fresh daily. It costs very little because all it takes to make is wheat flour and water. Wheat flour is one of the cheapest of foodstuff available on our planet. On one occasion while in Canada a student was struggling with his finances to the extent that even food was becoming difficult for him. I suggested this bread. He then managed to survive through his course easily. Adding a little water to flour and kneading it into dough makes this bread called roti or chapatti in India. Small balls of the dough are rolled out into round bread about six to eight inches in diameter while sprinkling a little dry flour to prevent sticking. It is then roasted on both sides directly on a hot iron plate. Making eight to ten such pieces, sufficient for a meal for two, takes about half an hour. Some practice is required to roll and roast the bread evenly and make it delicious. If cooked over a wood fire, it is often given a final flourish by taking the bread off the plate and placing it directly on the fire below for a few seconds for a smoked or barbecue flavor. If a single adult depended primarily on this bread for food as described in the earlier paragraph, around ten kilograms of flour suffices for a month. At current prices in India, the cost of ten kilograms of wheat flour is about three dollars a month. It is quite likely that the price of the flour is similar around the world because of much international trade in wheat.

All these observations make one wonder what kind of progress is worthy progress? Personally though I would not trade my own lifestyle for this rural one. In all probability I have evolved beyond this simple happiness. These rural folk have a lower life expectancy because they do not have full access to modern medical facilities and usually go quickly. They never have to suffer slowly and miserably to death in a hospital or care home and rarely face the pain and discomfort of a very old age as the rich do, eventually dying quickly in a home in the arms of those who care. Perhaps where these happy rural folk loose out is in the lack of control they have over their own lives. In times of adversity they are less able to control the consequences and are more easily devastated than a more educated and better off middle class person who sulks his ways through life to the sounds of this uncivilized rustic laughter. LOL :)

There is more on the paradox of the modern economy and this unsophisticated laughter here  http://someitemshave.blogspot.in/2011/01/paradox-of-modern-life-and-economy.html