By Neha Saxena:
True to my word, my friend and I set off for Damka village on Sunday morning. That’s right, we were excited enough to sacrifice Sunday morning sleep for this excursion.
We left from home at 6:15 am and stopped at ONGC Bridge, which is built over Tapi River, to photograph the sunrise. The air was humid and cool when we got off at the bridge. Few vehicles and joggers passed us and gave us curious looks. Boats, anchored on different spots on the river, floated lazily. These boats always fascinated me. Maybe because I love water. Or, maybe because it was just odd to see them floating so silently, all by themselves.
The small number of dwellings on the bank of the river were quiet, except for a few fishermen preparing their boats to leave for work. They pushed the boat into the water (looked like it took a lot of efforts to do that) and the boat set off noisily, up the river.
We moved on the near-empty Hazira road towards Damka Village. I had attended a marriage function in this place a few days ago and was keen to see how it looked during day time. The narrow road was now clear except for few cyclists and cowherds. The sun looked beautiful rising beyond the long barren strip of land.
We reached the quiet village and parked the car beside a tiny shop. There were hardly any people outside. Looked like the village wakes up late on Sundays too! I wasn’t able to see clearly in dark, which I could see now — a well, cow sheds and heaps of dry manure & dry twigs outside tiny houses. I spotted a huge banyan tree in front with a round shaped cement platform below it. ‘Damka Gram Panchayat’ read an engraved tile on the side. I couldn’t hold my excitement. This is exactly what we see in movies and read in books! They must be holding Panchayat meetings here to make important announcements and discuss major issues. Panchayat meetings are ALWAYS held below a banyan tree.
I did feel weird going out like this — clicking strangers and their houses. But I wanted to do this badly and wanted to give it a try. This was required so that I let go of my inhibitions and break the barrier of my mind.
The only sounds that interrupted the quiet were the chirping of birds, mooing of cows, cawing of crows and cock a’doodle doos of roosters. We had to talk to each other in whispers.
As we stood in front of a house, admiring and shooting it, a lady carrying 2 steel pots on her head, walked out and saw us. Her interrogation started.
The lady: Where have you come from? (In Gujarati)
Us: From Surat city.
The lady: Where are you going? The marriage house?
Us: No. Just like that. Seeing around.
The lady: What are you doing here? (She doesn’t believe us. And she suspects us.)
Us: Just taking snaps.
A questioning pause. She stares at both of us.
The lady: What will you do with them?
Us: Err. Just like that. Actually we are new in the city.
A long pause and some more staring. She finally walked away. I thought she would never go away. Now, I thought, she and the other ladies of the village have something to talk about for the next 2 days!Â As we walked along, few girls sitting at their doorsteps saw us and giggled. That definitely broke the barrier!
The locality was very neat; the boundary-less houses diligently maintained. Some houses were broken down, some new, some antique, some colourful and some modern. Each house was unique in itself. There were houses as old as 30 years old.
The villagers were starting with their daily chores slowly. Cowherds took their cows and buffaloes for feeding. Women carried pots of water to fill water, some swept the front of their houses. We crossed the marriage house where people had woken up and were beginning to prepare for another day of celebrations.
After wandering around in various lanes and clicking to our satisfaction and avoiding old men who called us to talk to them, we walked back towards the car. The village was up now and was bustling with the usual morning activities. Like their houses, their relations also didn’t seem to have any boundaries. They performed their chores while talking to and laughing with each other, sometimes looking at us and commenting.
We left from there satisfied and I concluded that it was a good trip — totally worth the sacrifice of sleep made by us!
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