Visiting Surka

A English translation of a visit to Surka, mentioned here.

Returning from our trip to Hathab, I was chatting away with our driver. When I asked what village he was from, he told us it was nearby, on our way back to Bhavnagar. And offered to show us his farm. We all agreed to go there.

As we headed to Surka, he filled us in… “We had 250 vigha of land between our four brothers, but the government bought most of it for Rs 12,000 per vigha, leaving four vighas between us four brothers. There were plans for a coal mine here. Each of us brothers ended up settling in Bhavnagar, doing odd jobs. When we get a day off, every week to 2 weeks, we return to the farm to keep it going. There’s enough bajra and peanuts to last us twelve months. From the bajra, we make rotla (bread), and from the peanuts, we get cooking oil. Cotton needs very little water, so we grow some of that for some side income…” By now, we were in Surka.

The village is home to thirteen families. They can marry their first cousins, so all of them are related somehow to each other. They take care of one another’s farms. Each home kept a buffalo for milk.

When we had decided to visit Surka, our driver had notified his family via mobile phone. By the time we arrived, the charpoy was pulled out for us to sit on. A comforter was spread on it. We were offered water first. Inside, the veiled daughter-in-law started the wood-burning clay stove and began preparing tea. Our driver’s mother, Ba, came and sat on the cot with us, engaging us in conversation. The driver and his son were out in the courtyard, spreading out the cotton harvest. Soon, the tea kettle and some saucers arrived. So everyone took a saucer and had some tea. With a buffalo at the house, the tea kettle seemed to be kept going all day long. There seemed to be no custom of keeping tea cups.

Soon, the news spread that there were guests visiting. Someone returning from a funeral came straight to see us. Ba introduced us all. It was suggested that we get a tour of the village. Within a couple of streets, we quickly reached the village limits. During the tour, three other homes opened up to us, each offering us a saucer of tea.

We got to see how they harvested and stored rainwater. By then, Ba met up with us. And added to the stories, saying with pride, “I was the president of the village water supply. This tank was the first we built for the village.”

Having had so much tea, we asked about their toilet. We learned of the new toilet built recently for the whole village, paid for by the government. I must say that it was quite clean. Here, we noticed a tall tamarind tree heavy with fruit. Seeing this, I was reminded of my childhood, sucking on the sour fruit. There are some trees we never get to see in America.

We came back to the cot and Ba picked up the thread of our conversation, offering us the latest news… “The government of Gujarat now wants to dig for coal here. We have been asked to evacuate the village. All 15 villages got together, with our cows, buffalos, goats, children, women and men when the government came with their machines. We demanded to get today’s price for the land before we moved off it.”

Twenty years ago, the government had bought land from these people to dig a coal mine. The law is that if there is no excavation in twenty years, the land should be returned to the people.

“Next month there’s a wedding in our family. Please do come then for the festivities. You know that we wouldn’t be ordering anything from outside. We’ll start with newly formed clay stoves, and make ladoo, dal, bhatt, ringanabateka shaak and bhajiya…” We left, promising to return next month.

Translation: Meenal Raval

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