Change has many sides, and so does the face of developmentBeing home felt like meeting an old friend trying hard to impress that things were going great.
It’s been three years since I moved to Kathmandu for my higher studies, but for every Dashain, I go back home in Nawalparasi to celebrate the festival with my family. It is something that never fails to excite me. But this time around, I found myself sulking at the superficial changes in my hometown, all for ‘development’. Being home felt like meeting an old friend trying hard to impress that things were going great.
The main roads were blacktopped and looked spotless. And there were new concrete houses in the neighbourhood, very distinct because of their loud colours. Remittance money that flows into homes probably is shifting the lifestyle of people. My hometown suddenly seemed to be conscious of environmental cleanliness with dustbins placed in every chowk. It was good to see changes, but then it also felt odd at the same time.
But I soon realised the reason behind the sudden changes was because of the new federal government project ‘Namuna Gau’. A hoarding board at the roadside read about the project and how it aims to be an example for other villages.
The first chowk from my home was decorated with all these novelties—a dustbin, the board, and some flowers planted under the project. I couldn’t be more amused at all those grandeurs.
However, something as minuscule as two words in the large board hoisted up by the federal government caught my attention the most. They were simply the name of the place ‘Newroad tol’. I have spent 16 years of my life here, but I never realised my block actually had a name or was it a new name, I couldn’t tell.
But, regardless, the changes were unsettling.
Perhaps the village was becoming affluent quickly than I had anticipated. Perhaps the government project had brought some unprecedented progress here. However, it didn’t take me long to encounter a rather unpleasant side of country life. The cosmetic changes were only a facade, while people were still struggling for their livelihood. Life in itself remains the same for people in my hometown.
A little ahead from the chowk, I met one of the neighbourhood elderly, who over the years has become a grandfather to the whole village. Adhikari Buwa was working in his field, collecting straws and grasses to feed cattle. His wife was assisting him in the cowshed, feeding the cattle the last meal of the day. We exchanged a smile, and with a heavy sigh, he asked me about my whereabouts. Just then, some of the aunts from the neighbourhood walked by carrying a bundle of grass on their back. Although it was Dashain, people had to make sure working on their fields—cutting grasses and feeding cattle.
I strolled around, and everyone I met, every place I saw left behind a whiff of memories that were so familiar to me from the time I could remember. I knew what each of them used to do, their lifestyles, and I had vivid memories of how those places looked like. There is a small grocery shop in my village, run by a woman in her late 30s. Everyone calls her by the name ‘Madam’. Her husband used to teach in the primary school of the village. Everyone addressed him as Hira Sir thereby bequeathing his wife with the title.
It has been almost a decade Hira Sir has left teaching and started working in the only community dairy farm in the village. Each day, Madam sits in the small grocery store, while simultaneously finishing off household chores and preparing meals to send off her children to school.
While I was observing all those people and places, my initial excitement at the changes subsided, and I was engulfed by a strange sadness. It wasn’t a usual sadness of missing your birthplace or having to live away from it. It was sadness at the stagnant lifestyle of people, a vicious cycle of daily-life that people in the village embraced hoping that it will someday get them off from the shackles of poverty.
I visited the school where I completed my primary education. There I met Maya didi, who safeguarded the school and maintained cleanliness. Maya didi worked in the school while I was studying there. Now, almost after a decade, she is still there.
Life in a village has a fixed pattern of how things operate, and many people grapple with the adversities of such lifestyle which demands huge inputs but pays you off very less. The economic pursuit serves you as long as you toil.
Adhikari Buwa has been working as a farmer for almost four decades. His wife has been assisting him for as long as she can remember. Investing 40 years of your life in a profession, yet not being able to sustain a comfortable lifestyle out of that is quite appalling.
Maya didi wakes up early every day and kicks off her routine with work at the school. Even after a decade of doing this, her hope of a better life depends solely on her teenage sons, who she hopes will one day grow up to earn enough money, thereby allowing her to retire.
For occasional travellers and visiting officers, blacktopped roads and concrete houses may seem like development. However, to me, the changes seem to overshadow the real struggle of the people. The facade of development veils the hard life of people who are stuck in between two different worlds. The new infrastructure doesn’t really heed the genuine change people need—one that uplifts people from where they are and eases the way to where they could be.