I went yesterday to a couple of villages in Medak. Photographer Michel Maruca and I were trying to scope out a story we could work on together. Quite revealing, one way or the other.
When people tell me that someone isn’t blessed with a son but has several daughters instead, my reaction is to roll my eyes and dismiss them. How archaic and how utterly silly. Bring up your daughter to be worth two men and that’s that. Obviously that reaction is a bit too pat, unconsidered – I live in an ivory tower where a child’s gender doesn’t matter. It does to many people.
We were taken to visit Pochamma and Eesawariah in Hatnur. Old couple – friendly, hospitable. We got told all about their circumstances without my having to pose very many impertinent questions. How transparent they are.
It’s an old story, of course – a cliché almost. Five daughters, no sons. Eeswariah has always farmed for a living and made enough to marry off four of them. Consider that each took with her about three lakhs in dowry and you realise that he has been remarkably successful. He would have still fended for himself, except that the rains haven’t come… again. The field is furrowed, rice seed worth Rs 10,000 has been sown, but the rains haven’t come. It is already too late. There is nothing he can do, nowhere he can go. The daughters help with whatever they can but the old couple is seriously worried.
The most pucca room in the house is reserved for grain, the plough and implements. There used to be sacks piled to the roof, Pochamma tells me, but there was just one bag yesterday. Not propped neatly against the wall, but plonked in the middle of the room, perhaps with a subconscious need to have it appear filled. Pochamma tells me they – paddy growers – have had to buy rice to eat. She is shamed, and it is heartbreaking.
Our visit was supposed to be brief but extends beyond lunch time. Pochamma brings out jowar rotis and pickle. Trapped in a scene I’ve seen in a dozen movies, I worry that we are making inroads into their lunch and their meagre supplies. It would not do to refuse, though. “God will provide,” she tells me with more optimism than I can muster at the moment.
I am asked quietly if I can enquire about government pensions for farmers over sixty – they are entitled to about Rs 200 a month apparently, but the Sarpanch doesn’t seem to pass it on. Eeswariah is too old to find a job now in the city; every plan for a new livelihood involves further investment: the bank loan of Rs 25000 has to be repaid first.
It is desperate. But I had not still understood the extent of it. It sent a chill down my spine when the daughter told me her father had spoken of bringing home some ‘mandu’ and ending it all.
How on earth are we to stop this man from adding to the statistics?