by Shashwati Talukdar
On the way to Chandigarh from Jalandhar is the village of Birowal. Like any Indian village, it had narrow streets and sleepy cows, but the streets were lined with palatial huge houses. And it was deathly quiet. It didn’t look like anyone lived in these houses. It was like a ghost town, except the houses looked well maintained. But, for whom? And, by whom? Were these absentee owners perhaps driving cabs in New York city, while their parents and grandparents flitted from room to room, keeping things going? Do the owners return? If so, when? And once they are back, what is their role in these homes and the community? Do they farm for the time they are back? Perhaps, they buy and sell land and they are in fact developers? Maybe those tilling the fields are tenant farmers?
What little I could glean from census data of the village was this, that it had a higher literacy rate compared to the rest of the state, and there were approximately 5 people to a house. And at least 40% are from the Scheduled castes.
There was nobody to answer any more complex questions we might have, the place was like a ghost village. My partner in crime and co-writer of this series, Diditi Mitra thinks everyone was inside cooling off. It was the middle of summer after all. Maybe that’s true. And maybe there was a spell of enchantment over the village. Everyone was asleep till the Princess woke up. And perhaps given Punjab’s problems, especially in the agricultural sector, would dissipate this mirage.
For the tip of the iceberg, or the thread that unravels the crises facing Punjab, read Amandeep Sandhu’s piece in Caravan on rural indebtedness.
(Go here for the first post in the series)