God’s other warriers in tattered clothes, torn tents

God’s


By Harcharan Bains I have travelled to Delhi thrice to express solidarity with the farmers. Each time, I undertook the journey without announcing it to the media -- to avoid unnecessary controversies. At least part of the reason for my triple ‘pilgrimage’ was tribal loyalty and solidarity. I belong to a family that had agriculture as its sole source of income until my brothers left for the UK in the late sixties and early seventies. It remained a major source even afterwards. I have been an active farmer myself for three most critical years of my life. I have even worked as a ‘farm hand’ on fields not my own -- to fight unsuspected poverty and adversity. Midway through my third pilgrimage to Delhi, I realised something that continues to disturb me. I still think my visits to Delhi were a pilgrimage. In fact, I am likely to repeat those if the agitation lasts beyond January 4th. I still think that acts like mine are needed to support the farmers whose future is seriously endangered by the three Acts in question. I still believe I owe it to my tribe to stand by it. They are fighting for me and our children too. But something else has been disturbing me since my last trip. It is this: During the third trip, I was suddenly made aware of the rickety, shabby and unsafe tents under which I we often see migrant labour live. In Punjab these days and even in Haryana, we have colonies of these make-shift (and make-believe) tents of torn-polythene rags that serve as roof. These exist in clusters. For some reason, here we don’t call them ‘slums’. These slums and the ungainly tents stink of all kinds of filth. For me, seeing these during my trip to to and fro Delhi was not like beholding something new. Like everyone else in my state, I have been seeing the spectacle for decades. In fact, on a few occasions, I have chatted the inmates of these tents up and laughed with them. It has generally been a warm exchange of words - even sentiments. A couple of times, I had been invited in and offered tea and biscuits which I had gladly and gratefully accepted. Some friends may recall some of the pictures of my visits to these slum-tents which I had then shared on Facebook. It was a joy always being with the dwellers in these slums, a joy especially laughing with the kids there. Their laughter and the gleam in their eyes always mocked the dance of poverty all around them. Only this morning, I stopped by a cluster of such ‘slums’ on the outskirts of Chandigarh. It had rained early in the morning. Though the rain had stopped, it was still drizzling as I stepped out of my car to be greeted by a little girl of about 7 or 8. She flashed that smile which spells innocence. She didn’t seem either to be conscious of the abject poverty around her there or, more likely, she didn’t care. Nor did she seem conscious in the least of the stark contrast between her environs and how I must have come across to her. All that happened between us was that I smiled a hellow at her and she returned the greeting with a wordless and toothless smile that might have challenged Shakespeare to define its stunning beauty and innocence. More children joined her seeing a car stop by in front of their ‘house’. But barring her brother who seemed younger by a couple of years, the children scampered away shouting to no one in particular. Perhaps, it was their song to shut destiny up. I chatted with the ‘owner of the house’ and his mates. He is the girl’s father. He is Badhaee (B DH AEE as in gayee - gone). O, that happened to the name of one of the farm hands who used to work with us when I was an adolescent. And the girl -- She is Radha. She had to be. There was something so pure yet so comely about her. Here in front of me, I thought, stands the girlhood of my country, looking me straight in the eye, but refusing to embarrass me with questions. I wouldn’t have an answer if she asked any about why life is what life is for the likes of her. But what existed between her and me and between me and her father was more than love. It was instantaneous love plus mutual respect. I am often surprised by the refusal of some people to acknowledge that love happens in the most unusual places and in the most unusual ways, and that there is no structural process to reach it or for it to reach us. I have always found love — sincere and most life-affirming love ­— in places and among people where one would least expect it. It’s one of the great blessings of life that love always laughs loud to catch you by surprise. I was aware that moment that love was smiting on both of us - this girl and me. I went closer and put my arm around her shoulders and gave her mild hug. She sort of demurred but then looked up at me, and then at her father, and then back at me - and flashed a most charming toothless smile to announce that life is beautiful. For a moment, I forgot the questions I was preparing in my mind. I made some routine but affectionate queries about the man, his family, their back ground — where they had come from etc. “Aur aap babu?” “Main bus yoon hi yahan se nikal raha tha ..bachchon ko baarish main khelte dekhne ko ruk gya.” He smiled an approval. “Aa jao, kuchh pee lo. Sardee bahut hai.” I don’t know why I said “may be some other time “, and it was over and I was back in my car. By the time, you read this, I might already have gone back to have that cup of tea there in the slum. But this question has been shadowing me like a spectre since then:”Do I really need to go to Delhi to see how poverty and adversity stalk my country — and how the brave defeat it everyday, without mass support, without ideologies, without political mobilisation and without vocalisation on social media. There is dignity that shares space with these children in their torn clothes in slum roofs and with men and women whose bodies smell of hard work - men and women who pay poverty and adversity the compliment of confronting it with political mass muscle. They fight and defeat poverty - single handed and alone. And there is sloganeering, no singing of martial songs on human courage, no breast-beating. What you have in these tents in slums is human courage and - more importantly - human dignity that makes adversity slink away with its tail tucked between its hind legs. There is no endless supply of langar or support from organisations worldwide to those battling misery in these slums. They battle rain and wind and a lot else not for 20 days or 26 or 30 days or for two months or four. The fight is passed on from one generation to another, And there are no singers, no poets, no media, no political parties, no organisations, no unions - not even the vociferous and self-advertising conscience of the social media - coming forward to help these half clad warriors. They keep no media advisors. They have just smiles of courage as their weapon. And yet, defeat fears them. These tattered tents in pools of dirty rain water...here is where human courage and human dignity reside. Here is where I must make a pilgrimage every time I find God and His grace missing from my planet. Hail, farmers, migrant labour and dwellers in tents made of tattered polythene! (THE AUTHOR Is freelance journalist and Principal Advisor to former Punjab CM, Parkash Singh Badal.)




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