Around Campfires, people trade stories and interesting conversations. One such campfire I will remember for a long time would be the one during my trek in the mountains of Uttarakhand. During the six-day trek to the peak, all the trek mates gathered for the campfire in the evening. Among many topics that we discussed, the one that really touched my heart was of the ‘Ghost Villages’ of Uttarakhand.
I had never heard the term ‘Ghost Village’. I asked my trek mates, few of whom were from the same state, to explain. They revealed: “Hundreds of villages in the backwoods have lost a majority of their populace to rural-urban migration. The natives, who resided here until a few years ago, have shifted to big cities owing to employment since these villages lacked such opportunities. The villages are now left with empty houses and elderly residents, who decided not to go with their children, which has made these villages termed as ghostly.”
The story had tugged my heartstrings and I recalled my ‘Diwali Anxiety’.
What is my ‘Diwali Anxiety’? It is the anxiety that I feel when I see the people who have left the town and only return for Diwali.
Everyone visits their home during Diwali. I visit mine too (I am currently studying in Mumbai). My favourite pastime during these visits to my hometown is to stand outside my shop. Why? My shop is situated on the main road of the town. So, everyone passes through it at least once during the course of their Diwali visit. Since our town is a small one, everyone has some or the other connection with everyone, some know others from school, some from tuitions, some from the neighbourhood, some from family relations, some from friends of friends etc. I like standing there so that I can see all the faces from my childhood, with whom I went to school, with whom I played cricket, with whom I swam in the river and so on. They are otherwise absent for the rest of the year. Like me, they have also left the town for a job or higher education and came to visit their homes for Diwali. I feel good when I get to see them.
Many from my town have moved to bigger cities. Similarly, people from nearby villages are settling in our town. The argument in both of their favour is that their places do not have enough job opportunities, which is true. But could the metropolitans bear to accommodate the bustling migrants who are arriving in the numbers of thousands on daily basis?
Urban population in India, according to the 1901 census, was 11.4%, which increased to 28.53% in 2001 census and stands at 31.16% as per 2011 census.
When I see over-crowded local trains and heavy traffic in Mumbai, I fear if the city is bearing a crowd beyond its capacity. I can also see the construction of hundreds of skyscrapers in the suburbs being built to accommodate the thriving population. When you visit CST (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) or LTT (Lokmanya Tilak Terminus), you can see thousands arriving in the city daily, for employment. The frequent occurrence of stampede like accidents (like the Elphinstone station stampede in September 2017) won’t be surprising after some time.
Additionally, these migrants are living a compromised lifestyle here. They know that they have bigger houses and relaxed routine there in their hometown. But they have a better job and growth prospects in the cities. Have they succumbed to the fancies of a metropolitan? Or are they so used to the fast-paced lives that they do not want to gear it down? Have they forgotten the memories of plucking fruits from the trees, swimming in the river and playing gully cricket, which they otherwise wouldn’t have experienced had their parents moved to a metro?
While I am addressing the migration problem, another thing to note is that my grandparent’s family had also migrated from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh back then. However, they migrated from one small place to another.
When I stand in front of my shop, watching them (my peers who have moved to a city) passing by, I wonder how this rural-urban migration crisis will turn out in the near future. Will the youth continue to move away from their home and parents for their jobs? I realise that the government cannot build industries in every town and city to provide the youth with employment. I also know that migration has been a part of human practice since its inception. But, my tension is that my town will lose its original people. The people with whom I have seen the place grow.
To counter this migration trend, I have decided to settle in my native town after completing my education and take over my shop and family business. The opportunity cost of this decision could be a high paying job and growth in my career field. The uncertainty is, will I be able to adhere to my decision or will I also give in to this trend and visit my home once every year, during Diwali? I wonder.