Four villages and a small ransom

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
It was a day to know the countryside, with long walks under a cloudy skyline, and get splashed with colours...

Submitted: March 23, 2008

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Submitted: March 23, 2008

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Holi (the spring festival) isn't for the timid and the faint-hearted, and those with a more pacifist mind or idealistic conception of festivals would prefer seeking a quite place on this boisterous morning. The New Panvel city borders the countryside with a plethora of hills that invitingly peek at the nearby inhabitants on their windows and bungalow terraces. Not unknown to me, for I had been there on a trekking tour to a hilltop village a year ago. So it was that I left the holi revellers behind to get some fresh air and change of scenery. Unknown to me, I was on my way to visit the very same villages I had observed from those hills, and refuse paying ransom to a bunch of holi playing kids.

The driver of the six-seater minivan (which is normally packed with twelve, one perched on the window grill) would have thought me mad if he were to know that his passenger didn't know his destination! I was to get down at a small bridge built over a thin rivulet that flows near the hills. This was to be my sanctuary for the day, where I could roam around gulping in fresh air.

It was not to be, for the van took a breezy left turn at the bridge and wheezed away before I could make up my mind. It is not easy to alight at unknown places in the middle of wilderness without making heads turn. Village folk travel in vans, buses and trains packed like herds and luggage, and so getting down without being noticed in hindsight looks easy. As the van tumbled and coughed along, the firm road underneath turned into mud and clay. A constant stream of cars from the city appeared to follow us all the way, to my utter surprise, on this shambled serpentine cart road. This mystery was soon to resolve, and I got down at the next "official" stop, the village of Harigram.

Sitting below the hills on one side, with a lush green garden enticing onlookers, Harigram is a quite place. A big board displays the officials of the village governing panchayat, with a woman sarpanch, courtesy I believe the reservation policy, and a snack stall greets vehicles on their way. The rivulet on the other side of the road is where all the village women and girls were busy with their daily washing chores, some of them returning back with loads of clothes to the village. The stall owner revealed the mystery of the cars that were still pouring in -- they were headed to Swapna Nagari, aplace where film shootings areheld. The place provides a Japanes garden, a railway station, a palace, a cascading river and such natural backdrops for movies. A dusty village with its ruins and disorder was not going to hold me back for long, so I took a van and headed toward Swapna Nagari. The van was to drop me at the village of Wakadi, from where I was to go on foot.

Wakadi (pronounced Vaakdi), is where I was reminded that it was Holi today. A non-descript place, with village houses of all shapes and sizes lying around at every possible nook and corner. Many village houses now have concrete walls with tin or asbestos roofs, and the charm of spotting a traditional, village house is rare. A spectacle now on here -- a group of tiny young lads had blockaded the small road with a long bamboo stick. The cars and bikers were to either pay Rs 5 or take shots of coloured water. I hung around to see the action, and a car was promptly stopped, the drivers haggled with, who then paid the money, and were let go dry. An old man then stepped out of the village street from behind and scolded the kids away.

Swapnanagari is 15-20 minutes walk away, a little away from a big farmhouse called Surve farm, and is located on the throngs of the village Khanva. Its entrance gate is built in true film style, an imposing palace-like gate. The place was the venue for a communal holi celebration, and a ticket cost Rs 500. Though loud music and ripping squeals emanating from inside were alluring, the serene sight of village women and girls busy with their washing at the streams was more so, and so, after chatting with a snack stall owner about the villages lying ahead, I decided to pay Khanva a visit.

At Khanva (pronounced Khaanva) again the kids gangs were at work, and this time I was gheraoed and ransom demanded. I refused saying I had no car with me, and was drenched from behind as I walked away. The typical holi sight now showed itself -- boisterous youth on bikes speeding away with shouts and laughter. There are a couple of farmhouses on this stretch, and I witnessed youngsters asking gatekeepers for holi money. The way throughout is marked by small clusters and colonies of brick makers. Khanva grows vegetables, especially "torai" in long stretches upto the hills.

A 2 km walk brought me to Morbe -- loose cluster of 2-3 residential complexes. They grow rice here, for there are long pools of stagnant water, and a strong, forceful rivulet flowing down. Here I rested for a while at the public square and snacks and a drink. Youngsters, many on new bikes and wearing modern clothes and sunglasses hung around, and a public board stood at a distance announcing the name of the village, and listed its officials.

Walking back from Morbe, I was approached by a man in his forties who had spotted me roaming around. I explained I was on a walking tour of the villages. He had a fish business at FerryWharf in Mumbai, and had two sons, one a graduate who worked in the city. He showed me his house -- a concrete structure with a large tin roof. With zest he described the village as peaceful, and explained how only some rogue youngsters indulged in fights.

Returning to Khanva, I chatted with the snack stall owner at Swapnanagari. He had two young sons, and had settled here 15 years ago. I could guess he had no house, as a long cot lay around and his clothes hung on the wall. His wife took meals in the inner chamber. He explained that he was going to have a house soon. A 3 bedroom, two storied house here cost Rs 3 lakh to build. I wondered if they had clean water. The son was on his way to fetch water from a boring well. The village folk, including women, can be quite open with language, as I realised when I heard the woman inside use an expletive -- someone had apparently used that word for the son. The boy too repeated the word to his father. It was a surprise to learn from him that his stall too had been flooded up to the neck during the historic rainfloods in Mumbai in 2005.
Returning to Vakadi, I took a herded van back to the city. The sight of villages in rambles and shambles leaves a city visitor in distaste. With no apparent order in sight, there is dirt and decay everywhere. Yet it was a day to know the countryside, with long walks under a cloudy skyline, and get splashed with colours just to be sure one did not miss playing the festival, and be held to ransom by kids. A holiday to remember.


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