The first DVD my family owned was Lagaan. The Bollywood movie was set in rural India during British rule. As with most movies, the plot could pass as unrealistic at most. The story revolves around a group of villagers who come together to challenge their colonial oppressors to a cricket match. If the Indians won they were exempted from the food tax but if the British won they would have to pay double. To say I liked the movie would be an understatement. Nearly once a month I would jump on the threaded sofa in my family room to watch the movie with my dad and two sisters. When the dance scenes played, my sisters and I would spring to life and match Amir Khan move for move as he sang of love, drought, and everything in between. Though I had never been to rural India, the Indian village became a place of triumph and passion within my heart.
Yesterday Niswarth traveled to a village on the outskirts of Ahmadabad. I knew not to expect a scene close to what I had seen in Lagaan, but at the same time it was the only factor contributing to my expectations. In my romanticized hopes, I pictured a sprawling landscape. Women and men would be wearing traditional clothing and children would be playing cricket in the dusty paradise.
Walking through the village, the first thing I noticed was the crowded landscape. I guess I could cross "sprawling landscape" off the list of expectations. The village had a population of only two thousand, but many of the homes were in close quarters for the sake of access to water and electricity. Leave it to India to make a village seem like a metropolis. Many of the homes were made of slender tin sheets, similar to those we saw in the slums. The floors of the homes were constituted a mix of cow dung and sand. The villagers wore modern Indian clothes, from more restrained sequined saris to graphic t-shirts.
While the physical characteristics of the village dispelled my expectations, the spirit felt just as I imagined. People roamed freely throughout the village, entering their friends' homes to say hello or stop for chai. A smiling youth on a scooter honked jokingly at he passed his companion on a bike. A spirit of family bound the community.
All too often I hide behind fences, locks, and the comfort of possessions in my life at home. Walls comfort us, coddle us, and make us feel safe. They also isolate us, and keep others out. The simplicity of life in the village fostered cohesion while the necessity for basic commodities birthed friendship.