Posted by: Singh Is King | Sunday, November 4, 2007

Harvest all the way

PICTURE PERFECT: Content after the labor

A visit to Bathinda, even if it is for as prosaic a reason as meeting colleagues, is not complete without a visit to the Gobind Fort in the heart of one of the oldest cities of Punjab. The fort, that resembles a ship in a desert, has withstood the vicissitudes of time, though it could not always save its occupants from invaders in its eventful history that spans a millennium.

Today more people visit the fort to pay obeisance at the gurdwara there that traces its origin to Guru Gobind Singh, who challenged the Mughals from the forests in the area, than to see the architectural marvel. Four years ago when I visited the fort the first time, restoration work was on to save its crumbling walls.The work has saved some portions of the fort while there are areas within the rectangular enclave that calls for a similar save-the-heritage initiative. More than the imposing edifice, what attracted my attention was the large number of doves having a hearty meal in the enclosure for them in front of the fort.

The faithful replenish the grains as quickly as the birds finish them. Alone in the crowd was a suspicious crow which ate stealthily to its belly’s content. As I moved nearer to get a close-up shot of the crow surrounded by the doves, they all flew away in a flutter. My patient wait in the sun was not in vain as the birds returned one by one but the crow kept aloof, denying me my award-winnable photograph.

started arriving in Mansa mand

Nobody knows for sure how Bathinda became a hub of coaching institutes, which attract thousands of students from far and wide. A large hoarding of an air hostess academy that overlooks the ‘virgin soil upturned’, where a flyover will soon come up, shows that the ever-enterprising entrepreneurs have thought of new, niche job-oriented courses to attract the youth.

On the way to Talwandi Sabo, vineyards on both sides of the road caught my attention. “Fruits of all kinds grow in this area”, said the driver pointing out a garden of kinnows. Even from a distance, the trees laden with kinnows were a sight to behold. Next to the kinnow garden was another one of guava.

Racing past fruit gardens and beehives, the Malwa belt, as it is known, reminded me of Canaan, about which I learnt at Sunday School. However, it is the cultivation of cotton that keeps the rural economy in this part of the state alive and kicking. This year, too, the cotton crop is said to be bountiful.

With labour cost hitting the ceiling, there is no alternative to mechanisation. Farmers need not even own a harvester as they can hire it. But for those who hold small farms where every family member works side by side with hired labour, harvesting is still done the manual way. Now, they too find it economical to hire harvesters.

The driver stopped the car at a cotton field to pluck some cotton bolls for me. My grandfather was also a cotton cultivator in the sense he had a few cotton trees in his farm. They were big trees and the bolls, too, were larger than the ones I saw at Bathinda.

Unlike the Kerala variety, Bt Cotton plants give a better, quick-yielding crop. Unlike other cash crops like vanilla and rubber for which artificial substitutes have been found, much to the chagrin of the farmers, no substitute has yet been found for cotton. The Bathinda farmer, in fact, rejoices over the failure of the “white man”, who has successfully kept the prices of Indian spices at what they used to be during the East India Company days. In fact, 300 years ago, the Dutch considered pepper more precious than gold.

In the Malwa region, the gurdwara at Talwandi Sabo, declared in the 1960s as one of the five Takhts of the Sikhs, is the most sacred. It was here that Guru Gobind Singh composed most of the hymns that are attributed to him.

For a morsel of grain: Two women winnowing waste paddy

The gurdwara precincts were in a mess because of some construction work when I visited it the previous time. The work was almost over and the shrine was at its resplendent best. It was a coincidence that the visit was on the Dasehra day, when the Malayalees traditionally initiate children into learning. For the Sikhs, Talwandi Sabo is the seat of knowledge.

It is believed that those who write the Gurmukhi alphabet on sand in the designated area near the lake would become “brainy”. Whatever be the truth of the belief, for the extremely fat child of an obese father, who was compelled to bow down and write all the letters of the alphabet, the exercise would have made a beneficial impact on his body, if not his brain. If the son had insisted on his father showing him how to squat, bow down and write all those letters on the sand, he could surely have escaped the torture.

Back on the road to Chandigarh, we suddenly noticed a cotton mandi. When we drove in, the farmers who had brought their produce rushed to offer us a “competitive” price but the moment they saw my camera, they knew we were not traders and they returned to the comfort of the tiny temporary sheds in the mandi. Why brave the sun and waste their energy for a God-knows-from-where journalist, they must have thought.

A short drive and we were at Mehla Chowk. Two old women were winnowing paddy on the roadside. The moment we stopped the car, they, too, stopped work. The driver and I had to use all our persuasive skills, which amounted to virtual begging, to get them to restart their work.

A short drive and we were at Mehla Chowk. Two old women were winnowing paddy on the roadside. The moment we stopped the car, they, too, stopped work. The driver and I had to use all our persuasive skills, which amounted to virtual begging, to get them to restart their work.

Lest the women should have second thoughts, I clicked them in a hurry. They must have realized that taking their photographs did not expose them to any risk. The more aggressive of the two suddenly became apologetic and told me, “We are poor people. This is the waste material that we collected from the mandi. It is mostly husk. We winnow it and recover whatever little broken grain it contains. We know you will send these photographs abroad and get a lot of money but we are poor people who survive on the leftovers”.

Her comment moved me only when the driver translated the words into Hindi. The mandi nearby was a beehive of activity. Tractors were unloading grain, which after winnowing and weighing was being packed in gunny bags.

It was the fifth day since paddy had begun arriving at the mandi. It would continue for another 10-12 days. One of the farmers was more interested in finding out which television channel I represented than answering my simple queries. He wanted to know the channel’s name so that he could check the transmission.

One of them seemed to have a great photographic sense as he sat on the grain bags at such an angle that the photograph met all the requirements of good composition. He was so pleased with the picture that I had to struggle out of his invitation to have a cup of tea with him.

BIG BLOT: The ban on burning of paddy residue is flouted at many a place

It was harvesting time in Malwa. Huge harvesters, the kind of which I had never seen, crisscrossed on the main road. I wanted to see a harvester in operation. We did not have to drive long to find a harvester at work near the highway. Operated by one person, the harvester did many things at the same time.

It cut the plants and threshed them. While the grain is stored in a container on the machine, the hay is thrown out. It did such a neat job that the bundle of hay that I checked did not have even a single grain.

At the press of a button, the grain is pumped out through a pipe into a tractor-trailer to be transported out of the field. The multi-tasking machine does a quick job, depriving many laborers of employment. With labor cost hitting the ceiling, there is no alternative to mechanization. Farmers need not even own the harvester as they can hire it.

But for those who hold small farms where every family member works side by side with hired labor, harvesting is still done the manual way. Now, they too find it economical to hire harvesters. Thus, Punjabi farmers doing the bhangra on the fields during the harvesting season is more in the imagination than in reality. Machines have already replaced man.

Bhavanigarh is a small, non-descript town in Sangrur district. We would have sped past the town but for an unusual sight. I saw little shops selling miniature trucks, cars, buses and tractors on the roadside. Generations of carpenters and artisans in the area have been making these toys, which are unique in many ways.

They are not like the remote-controlled Chinese trucks and cars that run and stop at the touch of a button for as long as God knows. The Bhavanigarh truck, pulled by a string, runs as fast as the child runs and it does not need any battery or lubrication. The child can fill it with his goods and carry it from one room to another or around his house.

The child will eventually outgrow the truck, which he can keep for his own child. And all this for a small price! The artisans have also begun making metallic tractors. “However, to get the feel of Bhavanigarh, you should buy a wooden toy”, advised a shopkeeper. Alas, I did not remember my colleague-cum neighbor’s daughter, who would have loved to receive one, when hunger and exhaustion forced me to return to the car and continue the journey back to Chandigarh.



  1. Education Directory

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