Light in a Village
Bangladesh, villages like Jhutigram (a small village in Gopalganj
district) have seen much progress over the years. From hariken
(kerosene lanterns) to generators owned by some affluent families,
now the whole village sees by night almost as well as it does
by day with the advent of electricity. Concrete buildings have
gone up in place of many of the mud huts and tin houses. Many
homes not only have tube wells but running water.
bazaar nearby sells many previously unthought of things, from
Coke to Grameen phone cards. International calls are sometimes
made to or received from sons and daughters living in the UAE,
Libya and even France and Italy. The journey to Dhaka is only
about five hours by road, and on rather good roads for the most
part, with only one or two ferries on the way.
have indeed come a long way from when our fathers had to travel
miles on foot over land and water to get to school. Yet the
lives of many villagers who have been unable to come out of
the circle of illiteracy and poverty sadly remain unchanged.
today a carpenter and tomorrow unemployed, sometimes a paharadaar
by night for families with cars visiting from the capital, is
one such man. An illiterate father of seven children who do
not go to school, his wife goes from house to house in the village
working all day to earn whatever each family will give her.
This is more often a plate of rice that she takes home for her
children, than money. Sattar was jailed for a week when someone
else took out a bank loan in his name after tricking him into
signing the documents and not being able to repay it. His second
daughter, Polly -- not more than 18 -- lives with him two years
into her marriage. Her gambler husband sold the "van"
her parents gave him upon their marriage and made no attempts
to take her back home in the last one year, even though he is
the father of her six-month-old son.
many girls are seen going to school nowadays, some must work
-- either in homes in the village or in Dhaka or in garment
factories -- to sustain themselves because their families can't
save up for a good marriage (more so if the girl is dark). Kuti
-- either oblivious to the possibility of an education or having
accepted her fate as a domestic help because her family cannot
provide for her -- dreams of going to the thana cinema hall
to watch Premer Jala or Biyer Phool. Meanwhile, stealing some
time off work, she goes from house to house to watch bits of
movies on the new television sets of the villagers, sometimes
like Beauty are more or less happily married, until she is pregnant
for the fourth time and her mother-in-law awaits the birth of
her first grandson who will keep the family going ("Sawal
na hoili baungsher batti jalabi ke?" she asks very
matter-of-factly). When her fourth granddaughter is born, she
breaks into tears.
luckier than many women in the village in that she still has
her own name. Most women like "Jhontur bou" and "Seemar
ma" are known as such -- as someone's wife or someone's
mother. No one even knows their real names. Even when young
girls are asked who they are, the first question put to them
is not what their own name is, but, "Kar maiya?"
(Who's daughter are you?). Even in death, when an announcement
is made over the microphone of the village mosque, the deceased
is referred to as the mother of her eldest son, her own name
silent in death as it was during 80 years of her life.
And in the
newly built concrete mosque sits the new Imam, in fear of whom
jatra and other musical and festive evenings which
used to be staged out in the open for all to enjoy, now -- if
at all -- take place in a far-off corner of the village with
a much smaller audience. Those who dare attend do not admit
it for fear of being chastised by the Imam for taking part in
“anti-Islamic” and “anti-social” activities.
not just a matter of less stars being visible in the sky because
of electric lighting taking over in rural areas. No matter how
visitors may want our villages to remain "village like",
the lives of those who live there must improve. If only the
development was not all money-made and machine-run; if only
it came from deeper within. Electric lighting combined with
enlightened minds could bring far greater development. Perhaps
if we fit everyone's heads with mechanical minds, they too would
be updated to face the challenges of the day, to bring not modernity
but true progress in the lives of the people.