How Mahan Is Mera Desh
The book Beautiful Country explores many avenues of a real and rural India. The read, a satire, in its journey travels through numerous folds of India and finds those on the dole struggling too hard to keep body and soul together. Those living on the edge die every day by degrees. The book eloquently authored by Syeda Hameed speaks volumes about many deserted alleys and dark labyrinths of India which are infested with grinding poverty staring India in the face. Unemployment and women exploitation are too common a malaise eating into the vitals of the great nation. Focusing on different aspects of the journey braving the odds and covering the insides of rural and downtrodden segments of the country Syeda walked up and down the remote corners, sparsely inhabited places, crowded urban spaces and ghettos of India to take note of every single minute detail. She took a young journalist Gunjan Veda, along with her on these journeys of discovery that involved an immense and strenuous legwork. This is eminently readable, but perturbing, eye-witness account of the lives of the aam aadmi, as diversely placed as in Ladakh, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and the like still struggling to come out of the century-old vice grip of poverty, corruption, exploitation.
This book is an elaborately defined endeavour supplying all the information related to the rural India that has been nudging attention to its pathetic condition. The book contains myriads of experiences juxtaposed with subtle nuances and subtleties of basic life experienced by those spending life on the margins. I must say that it’s a must read, particularly by those who love exploring two of Indias and their people and how they are living.
Syeda and her companion at a close range sit up and take notice of the chronic problems of abject poverty, rampant unemployment, housing, health and hygiene, education, malnutrition, scavenging, deep-seated corruption, social and economic exploitation, and male supremacy. She discovers that India has changed but just on the face of it. Mera Bharat mahan! Driven by the same irony and sarcasm, she calls her book, Beautiful India.
The read reads every journey of a place opening with a couplet from renowned poets that add luster elaborating on that particular place. Going through this travelogue of sorts, readers meet certain startling facts like scavenging has been abolished by Acts of Legislature, but in Dewas (Madhya Pradesh) the children of former scavengers are denied scholarship they used to get earlier. The precondition for the scholarship was 100 days of scavenging by parents, which cannot be met now and scholarships have ceased and the kids have been chucked out and their names struck off the rolls.
In Kaithun, near Bundi, Muslim weavers sit in their tiny and dingy pigeonhole-like homes in overcrowded and dirty localities, with their feet hanging in pit-looms creating the most exquisite Kota Doria saris. As with the minakari artisans of Nathdwara, beauty is born out of penury and squalor. Syeda finds that billions of finance is going down the drain and the middlemen are lining their pockets.
The book is interspersed with quotes from the poetry of Faiz, Iqbal, Majaaz and Hali. For all her crusading concerns about gender and development and her compassionate heart, Syeda Hameed is a true follower of India’s Ganga-Jamni culture that is pretty visible in UP’s Lucknow.
The author, a leading figure in Indian planning, seems pained and frustrated at the very sight of deplorable India living in small hamlets but the book pans a bird’s eye view to the readers who are good at observing things rather too closely. The book amidst hope and despair, misery and mirth, pain and pleasure, talks every single talk about India from Ladakh to Kerala, it whispers about the bylanes and ghats of Banaras, a city of temples, the north-east India Rajathan and Valley of Kashmir.
By Syed Wajid Ali