India lives in the villages. Or so we are lead to believe. Well a lot of the village has come to the city.
The 2001 census data still states that 72% of our population is rural. I think that will be radically different in the 2011 census (only 3 years away now!).
Thane as a city has been doubling in population every decade. And this is not because the good folks hwere are very fruitful. The reason is simple. The cities offer cash. Offer some kind of hope. Offer dreams of something better than rotting away on a little bit of land, at the mercy of the rain and the tight set of local institutions that make up life in many villages.
And yet, when things get really rotten here in the big city - it is the gaon - the village that so many of our HIV positive friends talk about. A month ago, Mrs. Carlisle was deathly sick. Her husband had gone back to the village to see if his long-abandoned parents and siblings would welcome him. Mrs. Carlisle suffered from a perforation in her intestine. Somehow the neighbours took her to a government hospital. An emergency surgery was performed. She survived. Barely.
Mrs. Carlisle's aged mother finally came to look after her. In her post-op she was back in her hovel. Her husband came back - but could not get and keep a job. Food was perpetually low. This morning we found out that she had made a decision. Her mother, Mrs. Carlisle and the two children went back to the village. For how long? Her husband does not know. He has already rented out the tiny space of a home - to someone else - so that he can have some money to live off. Where will he sleep? Somewhere.
The village. Far off. Beckoning. A place dear to many living in urban squalor. A place of identity. An anchor of belonging - though this is often more wish than reality. And yet, for all the wonder of the village - we keep seeing people come back. If they are healthy enough too.
HIV adds its own twist to the story. Many say they would like to go back - but are too sick or too gaunt to dare. Others are so sick that they can only imagine what it may be like - to be 'home'. We know that most of our friends - if they are sick - who go to the village - don't come back. We hear about their deaths a few weeks later - if at all.
Most of us remain villagers at heart.