Village and city: enriching and impoverishingPakistan
What do scholars tell us about the history of village in Punjab? Village is older than Harappa, one can assume.
It’s in fact older than that. It’s linked with the rise of agriculture. Harappa city didn’t come out of thin air.
It owed its existence to an evolutionary transformation of village. City usually stands tall on the top of village it appropriated but keeps it hidden in its innards.
Village devoured and digested emerges as a new organism called city. City produces all the things innovative and creative which are taken as hallmarks of civilisation but it doesn’t produce one thing that is an absolute must: food.
Cerebral activity makes city what it is. But city’s survival cannot be ensured by cerebral activity alone which consumes calories.
Calories are provided by food.
And food comes from agricultural lands managed by growers. It was food that Baba Farid, the pioneer of Punjabi literary tradition, used as a metaphor of peasants’ misery and the exploitation they suffered at the hands of plundering aristocrats settled in the urban areas.
“O Farid, these stalks of mustard in the pan though sweet are poison/ some toiled till they dropped raising the crop, other moved in plundering it.”
Another great poet who talked about village life was Waris Shah who in his tale of Heer Ranjha captured the quintessential agrarian society in a manner that has been the envy of the poets.
Despite all the romance associated with country life because of its close proximity to nature, historical trend shows us that villages are dwindling in number due to the massive use of machines and changing nature of technology-driven economy that creates fresh urban spaces.
Cities gradually eat into villages that are on their outskirts. The urban rich happily buy the cheap services offered by submerged villages.
Folks who have been living on their ancestral lands become alien in the changed environs within a few years.
The process of demolition and assimilation can be a blessing in disguise for some but for others it proves to be an unmitigated socio-cultural disaster.
Close-knit community, that’s what a village is, loses its sense of togetherness forever and slips its cultural moorings. Consequently traditional community is dissolved and a hotchpotch of ideas of urban life forces the socially displaced to live a life of anonymity which they find not only unfamiliar but also unbearably painful.
Anonymity and social indifference can unhinge the minds of people whose lives are driven by community instinct.
Villages away in the far-flung areas that are in no way directly threatened by cities with insatiable lust for new spaces, suffer from a greater malady; an undisguised admiration for urban legends full of mystery.
The mystery of urban space is a window on the world of opportunities that prompts migration from countryside to cities.
One of the major factors for such a migration is education and prospect of better jobs it offers. Middle and upper classes send their children to cities for higher education.
Sadly our country side is not fortunate enough to have institutions of higher learning due to well-known historical reasons which causes a slow but steady brain drain to cities especially to metropolitan centres.
Young men and women after having completed their education, refuse to go back to where they belong; countryside.
Their reasons for not leaving cities are neither flimsy nor ill-founded.
They are transformed human beings who envisage a future for themselves which cannot be materialised while living in their ancestral places.
Jobs, businesses and urban way of life with a measure of individual freedom keep them tethered to city’s comforts. They visit their original homes on special occasions such as religious festivals, deaths and marriages in their families and clans.
They may have symptoms of psychosis born of urban chaos but they hate what Karl Marx calls “rural idiocy”.
Miasma of stagnant rural life is not something they would like to live with when they have other options.
It all seems justifiable but what about the hard-earned monies the resource-poor countryside spends on the young men and women?
Should people back home expect no premium on what they invest on younger generation that’s their only hope?
Colonial and post-colonial mode of education in the urban centres alienates young people from their roots who get so much from the countryside and give little in return.
This phenomenon of is alienation is vividly captured in a Punjabi saying that describes what happened when an educated young man returned to his village.
He fell sick and repeatedly asked for water in a foreign language which his mother was unable to understand.
The young died and when his mother came to know what his son wanted for she wailed: “Aab aab kar moyun bachra, Frasian ghar gaalay [You died crying‘aab, aab’(water, mom, water).
This Persian has ruined many a home]”. The situation metaphorically remains the same though the Persian may have been replaced by English.
Gulf between the educated youth and their parents, unbridgeable gap between dynamic city and placid countryside are some of the factors responsible for the rot of our village despite the enhanced connectivity with the urban centres through the network of improved roads and advanced communication technology.
Open sewers, rotting garbage and ever unsettling dust create a drab and dreary landscape which is in sharp contrast with the nature that surrounds our villages with its innumerable hues.
What is more frightening is the intellectual impoverishment that has come to define our rural life in the last few decades. Traditional wisdom has no takers as it apparently sounds idealistic.
Treasure trove of folklore has been consigned to dustbin of history as it no longer caters to the needs of an ever-rising avaricious society driven by unbridled consumerism.
The old has been thrown away as flotsam of the past and nothing new has come up to fill the void.
The least our uprooted educated “Payndu” [countrymen and women] can do is to initiate dialogue with their fellow villagers whenever they go back to the land of their ancestors with a view to introducing fresh ideas.
Their intangible intellectual contribution can cause a stirring of curiosity which will not only help enrich the people but also prod them into taking care of our intangible cultural heritage that is disappearing fast.
Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2017