Life in a British village….
After spotting differences between the people loitering at Heathrow airport and those in Mumbai, (the peroxided hair and scowls on faces at Heathrow vs natural hair and energy of Mumbaikers) I have decided there are remarkable similarities between village life in the UK and in India.
So, while the urban cities of say London and Mumbai, may have huge differences in terms of infrastructure, public facilities, scale of poverty and availability of the arts: life in villages is refreshingly similar.
I began my holiday in the UK in rural Somerset, the home of the world-renowned Glastonbury Rock Festival, and stayed in a tiny village of 250 people.
And it could not but help remind me of my unforgettable stay in Kohane, a tribal village in the Ahmadnagar district of Maharashtra.
For example, noone in the Somerset village knew much about London or cared to visit it, reflecting the attitude of those in Kohane towards Mumbai.
“This is my daughter who lives in India,” my mum would introduce me to her neighbours and friends as, and that was good as saying I loved on Mars.
Normally the conversation ended there and the villager in question had nothing further to ask me.
Likewise in Kohane, I had been expecting to meet swarms of villages all desperate to leave the village, and shift to Mumbai, have cable TV and wear Calvin Klein and it couldn’t have been further from the truth. None knew much about Mumbai, nor asked me a single question about it and were on the contrary more interested in village affairs.
One Somerset villager did manage to muster up a conversation. “You must be missing curries then.”
I paused. “Actually in India I don’t eat curry I eat western food.”
“They have western food there?” she asked astonished.
And while I thought my life was dramatic in Mumbai (rescuing street cats; walking in slums; and covering the terror attacks), I discovered life in a village was just as dramatic to those that live in it, but unfolds in a different way.
“So why have you come back?” one asked.
“”To escape the insanity,” I joked.
Öh you’ve come to the wrong place then. This is full of insanity,” one old lady said and then started whispering to my mum: “You will never guess what so-and -so has left his sheep out again and..”
At one point a car parked on the road outside my parents’ house.
“There’s a car,” my Dad said and he and my mother peered outside.
There was the fury among the parish council over district council plans to build a gypsy site in the village, which would be for Irish gypsies who live alternative lifestyles, (by living in caravans and not going to school), to camp on.
The village was, in short sizzling with local gossip.
As always I invited most of my London friends down to the village, and as always most politely declined, saying they would wait till I visited London.
The same with my metro Indian friends. When I told them I was visiting Kohane. Their reaction: Ïts unsafe. Don’t go. Be careful. ”
The impression the average metro Indian seems to have of a village is of some impoverished place like Vidarbha where farmers are committing suicide and people are begging. It couldn’t be further from the truth. In Kohane the people were wealthy. They all owned their own land and had stockpiles of grains (as they had overproduced), noone was short of food or clothes, unlike many people living on the streets of Mumbai and there was nothing unsafe about it…
I find it amazing that, despite Gandhi’s proclamation, “the true India is to be found not in its few cities, but in its seven hundred thousand villages,”, so few of my metro Indian friends have stepped foot in one.
And when I tell them my parents live in a village in the UK their reaction is of shock, as though my parents are backward, when in the UK, villages are aspirational places to live in, which is why they attract celebrities like Liz Hurley for one.
In Kohane I stayed in a mud hut, the first journalist and tourist to do so, and I remember each morning waking up early owing to the animals noises and staring at the beautiful view, breathing in the fresh air and realising that these villagers had a far better life than us Mumbaiites.
Another beautiful aspect of village life is the natural and traditional ways that people enjoy themselves.
In Kohane at night the women got all dressed up in tribal gowns and did a series of dances with all the men crouching round watching. It was great fun and kept me mesmerised.
Likewise, at the weekend in Somerset, we had the village fete in a field. All the women from the village were there hosting the stalls. Tea, with scones, clotted cream and jam was served at 3pm. Then we played traditional games: the sack race (when you race bouncing in a sack); the egg and spoon race (holding an egg in a spoon) and the relay obstacle race…
At 6pm we had a hog roast followed by a barn dance. It was a great way to mingle with all ages and get some exercise.
This was all far from the life Londoners have – hanging in wine bars, and then clubbing and catching the night bus home…It was in a way more enjoyable…There is something to be said for creating your own entertainment.
One day we went to an agricultural fair – something Somerset people take very seriously. We saw the donkey display first: a parade of donkeys groomed like you have never seen before, walked around in circle by their proud owners, who were all decked up for the occasion in either a bowler hat and striped suit or perhaps a tweed jacket, boots and burberry cap – looking like an advert straight out of a Country Living magazine. After the donkeys there were the sheep and cows displays.
We watched for hours as the compere told us through a mike what the cows ate and how rare they were. Needless to say locally reared premium beef burgers were on sale, as were duck burgers. The event was like a rural version of Ascot and reminded me of the very enjoyable Camel Fair in Pushkar I went to it last year when proud camel owners paraded their camels around decked out in fine Rajasthani jewellry and cloth.
So, rural life in the UK goes on as rural life in India does.
It makes me laugh remembering how stressed I get living in a city and then when you visit a village, all those stresses disappear and you realise there is another way to live.
There was no sign of any recession in Somerset. Everyone was well dressed, everything functioned, the small shops and gastro pubs were packed.
And like in Kohane where the food tasted fresh and tasty, as it was all locally grown, here too every night the vegetables I ate had been grown in my parents garden and the eggs, produced by their chicken.
The meat on sale was all locally reared on Somerset farms. Locally produced and organic food is now in fashion in the UK.
But there is a downside. Where are the jobs? In Kohane everyone had land and was a farmer; In the Somerset village most are self-employed or retired. There is not the scale and diversity of jobs you can find in Mumbai or London.
I’m probably too young and not established enough for it right now, but there is something to be said for living in a village. No wonder Liz Hurley lives in one.
I’m off to London next to check out what is happening there….