15th May 2007
When I heard Mumbai may be facing submergence as sea levels rise, I remembered my visits to the Narmada Valley….
People of Nimad, inthe fertile bed of the Narmada, have great cultural pride in feeding anyone and everyone who comes … and they aren’t just talking out of the air. If they weren’t actually doing it, could the Parikrama tradition have survived? A Parikrama pilgrimage along the banks of the Narmada without crossing any tributaries, and back, takes more than 3 years on foot. Families as well as lone sages make the parikrama, taking shelter in homes and temples along the way. At Narmada rallies in Bhopal, a Nimadi farmer would come to the podium and invite the Chief Minister and the entire cabinet to Nimad to see the fertile plains for themselves. Everything grows here, s/he’d proudly announce, as eyes gleamed throughout the rally. “Admi bhi boyega to ajayega!” [Plant a man and he will grow too!]. And literally so, if you visit Nimad, you will leave a few pounds heavier! Another favourite saying of Nimadis, “Koyi Nimad Ayega, kya vo bhuka jAyega?” [Whoever comes to Nimad, will they go hungry?]
What struck this city person in Nimad was the truly unbounded welcome she received. We city folk have perfected the art of meaningless invitations (”let’s have dinner sometime” “you must stay with me next time you are in town”) and ways to follow up on invitations in baby steps, confirmationsand revisions (which a minute could reverse …) so as to hold our ground as much as possible.
People travelling in Nimad, when invited to stay for dinner, or overnight, are truly made to feel at home. Women offered me their clothes for sleeping, and would have given me more for the next day, but for my strong insistence that I could manage till I got home. Tis not for naught they say, “feel at home.”
And what will come of all this hospitality when Nimad itself is underwater? What will happen to the Nimadi’s sense of self, so intimately tied with their unbounded welcome? When farmers who never doubted that they could feed anyone who came, face the harrowing uncertainty of whether they will have food next season, and eventually join the masses who aren’t certain even of the next month’s rations. No doubt a few of them will, like those ousted from Bargi, find themselves in the slums, ever threatened with displacement again, and again. And they will feel with the Bargi farmers, who once welcomed travelling parties of 50 without a second thought, “hamare hath hamesha aisa karne ki Adat hai, kabhi aise karne ki adat nahin hai”[our hands have always offered (showing a hand serving food), never asked (showing a hand begging)].
And it is to power the cities that we are submerging the valley and the fertile plains, the very cities that will be submerged by their own high-energy lifestyle. This is according to the news projecting what global warming will do by the time we reach our golden years, and well within our children’s lifetime. Nimadis asked Justice Sohoni (SSP Rehabilitation & Resettlement Grievance Redressal Authority for Madhya Pradesh), “if you take our land, what will we have left to give our children?” Mumbaikars may have to ask themselves, “if we keep driving, deforesting, and using A/C where will our children live?”