I was fortunate enough to spend my Christmas and New Year break with friends in a small village in the Punjab. Getting to experience the true village life is not something an outsider gets to do usually. In some places I have traveled to village experiences have been offered, but I find these usually to be fabricated experiences rather than the real deal. This time I got the real deal.
The village was small with only about 500 people, I could walk around its perimeter in about half an hour. Walking past the stunning yellow fields of mustard and vibrant green fields of various grain and vegetable crops and beautiful birds dancing along the rice paddies in the afternoon was a treat for a city slicker like me.
It wasn’t idyllic though. A village is a noisy place and for many there seemed to be virtually no privacy. Each morning the sound of prayers beamed through the still fog before the sun had risen waking me up. It wasn’t the gentle humming of a Muslim call to prayer, but rather the nasal chanting in the temple beamed through loud speakers so you didn’t have to leave your house to participate in morning prayers. Convenient for many but certainly not conducive to sleeping in.
As I walked through the dusty village streets most houses were open and it was hard to find somewhere to look where I wasn’t infringing someone’s privacy. I am discovering privacy is not a luxury afforded to anyone in India, so it shouldn’t have surprised me. What does amaze me is how comfortable and free everyone seems with it, there is little concern for their own space. I watch people wander in and out of each other’s homes with ease and little fanfare. Its a community in the true sense of the word.
There were festivals, street marches and community langars (meals) held to mark religious events and everyone got involved. Celebrations were filled with laughing children. Despite how little they had (when compared to the world I am accustomed to), they seemed to have so much.
I was given the opportunity to attend the local pre-school and help out one morning. There were about a dozen children from about three to six who congregated (or actually were more aptly “rounded up”) by their teacher and taken to a small house in the fields. Their learning materials were simple, some hand sewn vegetables that were used to learn colours, names and everyday uses and few posters showing the alphabet and how to count.
The children seemed happy, albeit a little bored sometimes. I got the feeling that they were repeating the same lessons day in and day out. With such limited resources there also seemed to be little opportunity for any individual to extend their learning beyond the rest of the group. One boy was clearly a quick learner and more advanced than the rest of the group, he was able to write the alphabet, but his ability to practise was restricted by the lack of materials as there was only one notebook and pencil available for use.
I spent some time teaching the children how to count in English and going through the alphabet. It was fun and great to see the smiles on their faces when they remembered a number and could repeat it. I felt rewarded but also a bit despondent. I was fortunate enough to have access to a great education and opportunities but what is there for these children?
Many will probably leave school long before they are fully literate with little opportunity to study further. It is this lack of choice and opportunity that makes me sad, but I don’t know if they feel the same. After all, if you aren’t aware of what else there is out there in the big wide world, then how do you know whether you are missing out on an alternative life?
It seems the more choices and opportunities we have the more unfulfilled we are. Perhaps sometimes education and choice isn’t such a great thing after all as it just breeds discontentment and more wanting. The simple life, working your fields and looking after your family certainly seems to have many advantages, not to mention cleaner air to breathe.