Monday, November 5, 2007

gunpowder treason and plot

I recently spent a week in the village of Sarab Talla. Three hundred people living on a mountainside by growing handfuls of corn and mustard. Each field is a narrow terrace of land, cleared and leveled with decades of sweat and toil and a profound hope in a future without promises. Some of the fields were only as wide as the swath of a small tractor, but they are all plowed by bullocks and sown by strong and sinewy hands.

Before coming to India, I could not have been sure that there existed these little corners of forgotten people that time does not touch. The people of Sarab Talla certainly appear protected from those winds of change that seem to drive the rest of the world. They plod behind their bullocks, guiding wooden plows that leave a dusty wake of stones that their grandfathers plowed. They cook simple food over fires of sticks that they gather patiently from a heartless mountain that always gives enough but no more. They chop grass from the mountain to feed their animals, they send their boys to chase the goats over stony paths that drape the mountain like a fishnet. They also watch satellite television, and some of them have cell-phones.

Our hosts in the village offered to catch some fish for us when we hiked to the bottom of the valley to spend a day on the Aglar. They intended to use dynamite to stun the fish so that we could pick them up as they floated downstream. When we expressed concern about this technique, they offered to use a different method that consists of dumping bleach in the water and picking up the poisoned fish as they float downstream. This also seemed like eco-terrorism rather than eco-tourism, so we declined the bleach as well as their final offer of poisoning all of the fish in one area of the river with a certain root that is crushed and thrown into the water. In the end, they tried unsuccessfully to net us some fish. Environmentalism is a lost art in India.

The village of Sarab Talla has a government school. Not every village has a school. Sarab Talla only has a school through grade 8, and the older kids have to walk 10 kilometers to school, if their parents can spare them. The kids who walk to school are poorly educated for their efforts. India has a big problem with public school teachers skipping class. The school we visited has three teachers for eight grades, but the teachers take turns coming, one month working and two months off. They are supposed to come all at once, which they do when there is a government inspection. If there is a holiday, and there are many, the teacher usually takes off a couple days on each side of the holiday. There is a free-lunch program in place, but the teachers have been known to take the food for themselves.

I think that seeing the problems with the school made me feel even less optimistic about India as a 'developing' nation. I am starting to suspect that India may simply be more fully developed than most nations.

I have posted some pictures from Sarab Talla here.


  1. It IS a developing nation. Yes we do have many villages that are almost completely cut off from from everyone else and lack infrastructure, but we have been a country for only 62 yrs. We also have a massive population that is extremely diverse. Our journey has been hard, because the british had basically left us with an economy that was completely cripled and had also created a greater divide between the hindus and the muslims.
    Some of your points are very valid, and we do need to focus on them but I do believe that some parts of my country have made good progress...the south is a good example. Kerala is almost fully literate. Even the vilagers in Kerala are educated and have nice homes to live in.