My first memory of my village goes to an incident in my early childhood when I suffered a burn when a rice pot tumbled and I also happened to fall in the hot water. It is still itched in my memory. I remember learning to walk again by holding walls. I also remember having gone through a near death experience in my mother’s native village when I was drowning in a pond while learning to swim. I used to visit my village once in 4-5 years when some family functions used to take place.
My first long and independent experience of staying in the village was in summer of 1977. I had completed my first year at IIT Kharagpur and there was a marriage of one of my elder cousin sisters. She used to stay with us in Nawada in the late 1960s as part of a big joint family system and my father used to take care of most of the family members at that time.
This was the first family function after we became college going and I was asked to stay in the village and take care of pre marriage preparation of the house etc. House was a mud house and I spent a month trying to make it better. There were a number of family functions along with marriage all packed into 2-3 days. I hardly slept during those days and was responsible for taking care of the stores. I felt so sleepy after all the events were over that I fell asleep in the open ground outside our village house at night and people started searching for me!
Starting in 1977 with this stay, we started visiting the village more often. Traditionally we used to have sacrifice rituals and we brothers did not feel it was necessary and managed to convince everyone to stop this practice. My father was a big help in supporting us. The village had hardly any development and we used to walk at least 5 Ms from the nearest bus stop to reach the village. To get even basic needs, one had to go several Km. There was no shop in the village worth mentioning. Other than agricultural activities there were no other economic activities. Few people used to work in other towns and used to support families in the village.
We started discussing how to enhance non-agricultural activities in the village. We brainstormed and felt that we needed to start with two things. One was to start some religious event associated with a temple in the village that may be. an annual ritual and may become popular over a number of years and the flow of people may take place during that time resulting in associated economic activity. The second was to start some kind of village “Haat”, which would be a weekly marketplace and would attract people from outside the village. We found that there was no such Haat on Monday in nearby places and decided to promote a Monday Haat at one of the entry points of the village next to a pond and a govt school. We printed pamphlets announcing Monday’s Haat at that location and distributed them in nearby villages as well as other village Haats to attract attention. Please see the detailed description given in a book co-authored by my elder brother, Shri Vijoy Prakash in the scanned pages at the end of this blog.
This yielded results and both buyers and sellers started to visit the location. It started to grow year by year and the volume of economic activity grew manifold. After 3-4 years it drew the attention of govt officials and they decided to take over the Haat and auctioned it to the highest bidder every year to earn revenue. It kept on growing and resulted in farmers growing cash crops in addition to paddy etc.
My father retired in 1990 and decided to settle in the village. Around that time a brick house was built after demolishing a part of the mud house. In the meantime, electricity had become available in the early 80s and roads also improved in the 80s. In the early days, electric supply was good but slowly it started to deteriorate. Road conditions also were not maintained properly. Bus service from the village had also started and some hired vehicles started to become available. We started visiting the village at least once a year to be with our parents. A public telephone booth was made available in the village too around 1990-91, which was operated by my family. This was connected using a microwave tower to the nearest exchange and used to be powered by solar cells. This was the only link for residents of nearby villages. All news related to users of the booth was available at the booth. At times it would face technical problems and repair used to take months. Unfortunately, we lost my grandmother and father in quick succession in 1995 and 1996. My mother became alone and started spending more time with my elder brother in Patna. Our link to the village was reduced a bit.
Around 2006-07, we found our mother starting to spend long stretches in the village. One of the reasons was the improvement in electrical supply. It started to become available for a few hours a day. The availability of mobile phones was another reason that made it easy to communicate. We set up an overhead tank with a pump to supply water in the kitchen and bathroom. My mother used to be the only one in the whole courtyard and it was both inconvenient as well as unsafe to use a hand pump available in one corner of the courtyard. I also purchased a solar panel and LED lamp with battery backup. This also had a charging point to charge mobile phones in case of power failure. LED torches had also become available in the village. After Dec 2012, I did not get a chance to visit the village till recently (Dec 7, 2020). My mother also started to spend less time in the village due to her poor health.
My nephew got married recently at Darbhanga after his planned marriage in May 2020 had to be postponed due to the pandemic. This was in Darbhanga – our home district. My village Narayanpur is about 40-50 km from here and I along with my elder brother and niece decided to visit the village for a couple of hours before returning to Patna to welcome the newlyweds.
My elder brother( ex IAS officer, 1981 batch) retired as Agriculture Production Commissioner of Bihar state in 2016. He and my sister-in-law started to pay more attention to the village while being based in Patna. They have set up a large greenhouse of more than 2200 square meters. Some more work is remaining here before it becomes useful. There are also various trees planted. Some of them were destroyed due to flooding but replanting has been done.
I wrote this blog mainly to describe the changes I noticed after a long gap of 8 years.
Electricity has become available almost round the clock. The Internet through cell networks and some form of broadband have become available as well. Television connected through dish TV has become commonplace in each household. Possibly due to these reasons, many relatives have started staying in the village after retirement even though they have houses in metro cities. Most of them also maintain a vehicle. Four courtyards are in close proximity to each other. Each house has good-quality construction with modern amenities. All the relatives were happy staying in the village with better quality of life including improvement in health. Children and grandchildren are spread across India and the globe. Internet connectivity keeps them connected. None of them were staying in the village a few years ago.
I also noticed 15-20 permanent shops have come up near the village entrance and there is a crowd of buyers around especially on the Mondays when village Haat takes place. This has made not only life easier for residents of the village but also initiated many non-agricultural activities. I also noticed that a hospital building has come up in the village too but did not get a chance to visit it. The primary school in the village had been improving day by day and even during 2012 visit it was doing quite well with more than 700 students enrolled. From the outside the infrastructure looked even more developed but did not get a chance to go inside. It was also interesting to note that Amazon was able to deliver goods in the village too! What more can you ask for??? But wait, there is more – we also have a Car washing shop in the village!!!
I believe that these changes happening in the rural area are not being noticed by policymakers and entrepreneurs. I feel that there are new possibilities emerging in terms of providing services to people returning back to villages with enough money. Many of them as well as those living outside, own agricultural land in the village and it is not possible for them to take care of these by themselves. If there are companies that can professionally manage these agricultural lands with better technology and financial management, it would improve the quality of life in villages even more. I also see the possibility of the “cloud manufacturing” concept, where villages can become hubs of manufacturing. This can also lead to value addition to local produce and amplify income.