A village too far

Every election brings hope and each one snuffs it out too. The villagers in the Mand area battled imposing odds to convert the barren, hostile land to fields. Now they are fighting a different battle — the fight for their right to decent living. Will this election be any better for them than the last one, wonders Vishal Gulati

The news of the day hurtles across the placid expanse of the Beas like a sonic boom. “Bebe, kukari ney do andey dethey hun.”
A villager crosses the Beas on a boat with his two-wheller on board. He lives on an island in the Mand and the ferry is his only link to mainland.
A villager crosses the Beas on a boat with his two-wheller on board. He lives on an island in the Mand and the ferry is his only link to mainland. — Photo by S.S. Chopra

The toothless, wrinkled and emancipated grandmother suddenly fills up with delight and she chortles merrily. The four-year-old dances on the embankment as the manually propelled ferry cuts labouriously through the muddy waters of the river to bring granny home to good news. It is not every day that the big fat hen in the backyard lays two eggs in a day.

Bebe has spent her entire life in Baupur. She came to the Mand area after the partition of the country and battled slush, slime, quicksand, elephant grass, malaria, tigers and antlers to subdue the wild sandbanks on the Beas and make it cultivable. It has been backbreaking hard labour and though Bebe is not yet 60, she looks eighty.

The widow’s children and grandchildren are of course better off than she could have ever imagined –there in electricity now and there are tubewells to water the fields and surely mobile phones and television sets.

But Baupur and a score of other villages located on these Beas-manufactured islands are still as distant from the rest of the world as they were a 100 years ago. Makeshift bamboo-pole propelled ferries are the only connection to the town located across the river. The postman is yet to knock on the villagers’ door and the school is 12 kms and a boat ride away.

Elections have come and gone. They have left in their wake simmering discontent over continual apathy.
No light from this headlight: A milk-vender in Mand area has masked the headlight of his motorcycle with a poll sticker.
No light from this headlight: A milk-vender in Mand area has masked the headlight of his motorcycle with a poll sticker. “I don’t ride at night, so why do I need the lamp,”he asks innocently.

The life of nearly 4,500 villagers of Baupur Mand, Baupur Jadid, Baupur Kadim, Mohammadabad, Rampur Gora, Kadir Bhaini, Baradpur Bhaini, Mubarakpur, Mand Mubarakpur, Sangri, Bhim Kadim, Mand Gujjarpura, Mand Akalpurukh, Bandu Jadiel, Bandu Kadim and Kishanpur Karka in Sultanpur Lodhi constituency, Kapurthala, still moves at a snail’s pace on bedas (boats).

From sunset to sunrise, the villages remain cut off from the rest of the world. Though the telecom revolution enables them to convey and receive news from across the Beas, they can’t transport themselves without the help of a boatman.

Bhajan Singh of Baupur Jadid village is sitting outside his “kutcha” house along with his family enveloped in the benefic smile of the afternoon sun. He is surprised to see visitors. It was yet too early for the election staff to arrive on their mandatory rounds.

“This time,” he says with a ring of déjà vu, “we have decided to put forth our demand firmly before the politicians. Earlier, we waged a war to convert the barren land to fields, now we are fighting a different battle— the fight for our rights. We want the village to be linked to the mainland with a footbridge at least.” There is no dispensary or veterinary centre on the island, he rues.

“Only the Akalis have done something to mitigate our sufferings,” he remarks. A few posters of Dr Upinderjeet Kaur of the SAD are pasted on walls but they are sparse and far between.

At the house of the sarpanch, Mr Kuldip Singh, a villager, is angry. “We have been living in hell since Independence. No politician visits the island except during the elections. There is no regular bus service up to the river banks. A visit to the police post or post office across the island almost takes a full day. Our frequent memoranda to various MLAs and MPs have been of no avail,” he fumes.

“Though the island is fertile, floods are terrorising us every year. We are loosing land but the administration is turning a blind eye to the problem. And for transporting the produce to the mandis, we have to bank on boats, ” he says.

The sarpanch’s house is decorated with a Congress flag.

Mr Kishal Singh is quite happy with the working of the Congress government. He praises the Congrees MP from the area for helping the villagers.

He lists out the achievements — a grant of Rs 5 lakh for buying two boats and the construction of a cremation ground in the village. Earlier, the villagers had to cross the river to perform the last rites of the dear departed.

His one son is working in Dubai and his daughter is studying in Class VIII. When the sarpanch’s wife is asked whether her daughter would go in for higher studies in Sultanpur Lodhi, she replies off handedly: “I would prefer she learns household chores rather than waste her time commuting between the house and school 12 kms away in Sultanpur Lodhi.”

The milk-vender at the river crossing, Lakhbir Singh, is in a hurry to get home before it gets dark. Every day, come hail or shower, he bikes down to the ferry at dawn, puts the vehicle on the boat and crosses over to return before dusk. He is more enthusiastic about the forthcoming poll and wears his political attachment virtually on his sleeve. He displays it proudly, too.

The simple Mand jat has masked the headlight of his motorcycle with a poll sticker. He says it is the right place for putting up election material. “I don’t ride at night, so why do I need the headlight? I have put it to better use.”



Just a thought
Of poll promises and Punjabi
R. Jaikrishan

This Monday afternoon, I was walking to join my colleagues near the International Hotel in JalandharWhile my colleagues were being received by Congress managers; I noticed an unkempt youth donning tattered party flags of the Congress hugging an electric pole. The images of Bollywood item numbers, lewd movements around poles by Malika Sherawat, and Bipasha Basu flashed before me. He couldn’t have been inspired by the Bollywood item numbers for he has jumped out of our spin of work and leisure. We were fed at the hotel, and then taken in buses to the PAP complex to do our duty–reporting the PM’s rally.

What struck me most at the rally was the hierarchy of the oldest party of the country. As the bus moved into the complex one could hear pop singers belting out old Punjabi number...Bale Bale ne Toar Punjaban de… to a motely crowd of a couple of thousands. Perhaps the singers were referring to Gurkanwal Kaur who had covered her short and thin hair with a rust coloured chunni and her eyes with big shades. In order to enthuse the crowd, Captain Amarinder Singh briskly stepped up the main dais and waved at the crowd. The candidates from the Doaba region then occupied the stage left by the pop singers. It was many steps below the stage raised for the Prime Minister. They repeatedly waved at their supporters. They did go on the main dias when they were called out to take the blessings of the ‘Shaan of Punjabis’, Dr Manmohan Singh. As the Jalandhar (Central) candidate, Tejinder Singh Bittu, moved into the Press enclosure, wearing a vermilion tilak, pagri and muffler in the colours of the party flag, the image of the poor youth hugging the electric pole flashed before me.

The economist- turned- politician didn’t fail to remind the crowd that he was a Sikh by concluding his speech with “Wahe Guruji da khalsa, Wahe Guruji de fateh”.

The candidates needed the oratory of Shamsher Singh Dullo, Capt Amarinder Singh and Dr Manmohan Singh to drive home the development agenda in Punjabiat wrap.

The campaign managers had brought busloads of their supporters to the venue. Only a few slogans were raised for the party, Amarinder Singh or Manmohan Singh. For most supporters, it didn’t matter who was at the mike-- they kept on raising slogans in favour of their candidates.

Back in the bus, a campaign manager put the crowd number at 2000 Another one who had attended the Amritsar rally said, “The crowd was even less in Amritsar. It was difficult to fill the chairs.”

Returning to the office, I saw the derelict youth making leg and hand movements in the middle of the road oblivious of the promises on new dawn of development.

Just Punjabi

After every struggle, what remains is the word. It is the order given to it by the writer that creates a work of lasting value. Sunday was the last day of the Jalandhar Pustak Mela. By afternoon, the parking lot was full. Even the sidewalks were chock-full with four –wheelers and two-wheelers. I passed Jalandharis with bagful of books. I straightway went to the Sahitya Akademi stall, where I browsed through the slim volume of poems by Ashok Vajpeyi -- “Nowhere But There”and the four-part anthology of short stories. The flow of visitors was merely a trickle when I had visited the stall last. Presuming it to remain so, I had postponed the buying. The number of visitors had swelled to a stream on the last day. The anthology of stories was gone. When I opened “Nowhere But There,” I found his poem “The wonder of age.” Its cadence and thought made me to possess the book.

The poem goes:

Age will brush her face
Silently in her tresses
Turn a strand gray.

It will darken the mole
Next to her bindi
Lighten the one on her neck,
The rest of the body untouched...

After having had my pick, I almost strayed into the seminar pandal. Sardar Barjinder Singh, Proprietor –editor of Ajit was making a lucid speech. He observed that Punjabi writers were not faced with competition from English, but they have a real threat from Hindi.

As I settled to hear him, I found myself next to Unistar book publisher Harish Jain. Sipping sugar-free tea with him, our conversation rolled on from the Punjab elections to the publishing scene. Harish has launched 250 titles of children books in Punjabi last year and plans to add the same number this year. This would become a critical mass, he emphasized. He prints and circulates six Punjabi magazines, including Lakeer and Shankh.

He claims that his books reach all those places where Punjabi newspapers have reached.

A few years ago he had launched Avalanche in English, but couldn’t sustain it after four issues. .Since then he has been consolidating his gains in Punjabi publications. His seva has given him meva (borne fruit). Keep it going!



Amritsar bag overall trophy in kickboxing
Our Correspondent

Amritsar boys and girls won the Punjab Kickboxing Championship that concluded here on Tuesday. The team scored 126 points.

Thirty teams from Sangrur, Ropar, Ludhiana, Nawanshahr, Jalandhar and Mohali participated in the two-day meet hosted by DAV Public School.

In the u-19 events, Amritsar girls clinched four winner positions and two runners-up positions. While in the same age group of boys, Mohali took the lead with five straight wins in all categories, Amritsar boys were runners-up.

Results: U-19 girls: 48 kg: Sohia Walia, Amritsar, 1; 51 kg: Gurpreet Kaur, Amritsar, 1; 54 kg: Monica, Amritsar, 1; 60 kg: Sukhwinder Kaur, Ludhiana, 1; and 67 kg: Kamalpreet Kaur, Amritsar, 1.

U-19 boys: 48 kg: Umeed Singh, Mohali, 1; 52 kg: Babrik, Mohali, 1; 56 kg: Vinod, Mohali, 1; 65 kg: Chander, Mohali, 1; and 85 kg: Parmjeet Singh, Mohali, 1.

U-17 girls: 45 kg: Vishali, Amritsar, 1; 50 kg: Daljeet Kaur, Amritsar, 1; 54 kg: Tanvi, Amritsar, 1; and 57 kg: Aarti Kapoor, Amritsar, 1.

U-14 girls: 25 kg: Manpreet Kaur, Amritsar, 1; 30 kg: Ranjana, Amritsar, 1; 35 kg: Baljeet Kaur, Amritsar; 1; 40 kgs: Amanpreet Kaur, Amritsar, 1; 45 kgs: and Payal, Amritsar, 1.

U-14 boys: 25 kg: Nitish Kumar, Amrisar, 1; 30 kg: Vidhu Anand, Ludhiana, 1; 35 kg: Dishu, Ludhiana, 1; 40 kg: Vishal, Amritsar, 1;

45 kg: Ranjeet, Amritsar, 1; 50 kg: Tarun Sharma, Ludhiana, 1; and 55 kg; Suraj, Mohali, 1. 



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