Learning while travelling

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Road journeys through the countryside have always been special for me. I remember traveling through such places that might not even be on the map, simply enjoying the lush green fields. Back then I had lots of questions for my parents. “Mummy, why are these fields divided into so many parts? What are they cultivating? Why is that field full of water? When they are the people who grow what we all eat then why are they poor?….” The questions of a 10 year old were endless.

Almost 15 years later I was traveling through a similar landscape and I was surprised that I was still equally excited about looking out the window. I hadn’t expected the four hour journey from Kolkata to Mayapur to be so happening.

As we left the noisy city of Kolkata behind and started on our journey to one of Lord Krishna’s famous temples in West Bengal, we crossed many villages. They weren’t exactly villages. They seemed like a group of settlements. After every few kilometers of no human existence, out of nowhere would come up a settlement with all modern facilities. Well, I am judging that from the markets and schools at each such settlement that I could see from the road. There were few interesting observations I made. All the schools I encountered were run by different religious institutions. How can the religious beliefs of the people change within few kilometers? I don’t know that but I was happy to see the diversity.

Oh and the mobile recharge centres at each settlement! One tiny shop with bill boards of all major operators competing for space and attention. It was good to see the telecom progress In India but it also made me wonder that if telecom operators could reach such places, so could other developmental activities. Maybe they did or maybe they will soon.

Anyways, there were two things that were common throughout my journey. One, all the trucks and other modes of transport carrying local goods and agricultural products bore the same logo- The “T” of Tata. Amazing! I had done a research project in school on Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata. I had become an instant fan of his back then and seeing his work touch so many lives today reminded me once again of him. There have been a lot of business leaders since then, but according to me India hasn’t seen a greater visionary than him. What a man!

The second thing was the hard work of the farmers. In villages nearer to Kolkata we saw bunches of sticks tied and kept beside the road. At some places these were being loaded onto a Tata vehicle or being carried in cycle rickshaws. I wondered what these sticks were. A little further we saw people were washing these sticks in ponds. It increased our curiosity. What were these sticks that so many people were interested in?

We got our answers only after traveling 100 km from the city. We saw large jute plantations. (Not that I had seen a jute plant earlier in life. Again, thanks to my mother). For the next 100 km till we reached Mayapur, we saw people engaged in different stages of jute processing. By the end of the journey I almost understood the process of jute processing.

The jute fibre comes from the stem and ribbon (outer skin) of the jute plant. The plant is harvested and the jute stems are bundled together and immersed in water. The stems are left like that for few days. The stems that were being taken out of water seemed rotted. That exactly is the purpose of soaking them in water.

This process is called retting. (Retting is a process employing the action of micro-organisms and moisture on plants to dissolve or rot away much of the cellular tissues surrounding fibre bundles, and so facilitating separation of the fibre from the stem.) After the retting process, stripping begins. Women and children usually do this job. In the stripping process, non-fibrous matter is scraped off, then the workers dig in and grab the fibres from within the jute stem. These fibers are then taken to factories for making jute products.

Not a single person was idling away. If they were not in jute fields, they were engaged in making sarees. The typical Tant sarees of West Bengal were made by the villagers at their home. The sarees were handmade, then dried in their backyard and then taken to shops for sale.

I was amazed by the hard work. Maybe none of the things I saw would evoke similar response in other people. But I have learnt to appreciate the small things in life. For me what the farmers were doing was awe inspiring. Seeing their dedication, I was reminded of the question I had 15 years back, “When they are the people who grow what we all eat then why are they poor?” One day I hope I can do something so that nobody gets a chance to ask this question again.

One road trip, which though didn’t have any adventure involved, will be etched in my memory forever….

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