The Village is a living, breathing Work of Art
Last night at dinner I listened to some of the younger artists discussing how the villagers might react to the art they intend to produce. Their views varied – perhaps they were informed by the romance of youth: “I have to believe there will be some who will be touched deeply”. Or perhaps they were informed by the divisions not just of the urban and rural but by class and education: “Most won’t feel anything more than bemused.”
Here was a youthful intelligentsia, a pleasure to see and hear, but here is also a well-meaning but subtle objectification of a group of people who are themselves a work of art.
These last few days that we’ve been here the entire village has been focused on reaping and tilling and sifting wheat. The mechanics of it are phenomenal, like a perfectly balanced time piece. Wheat has to be taken from here to there, this is done to it, and then it goes from there to here, and so on. Complicating matters has been some early rain which threatened to spoil the sheafs before they were separate, so there have been literally thousands of sheafs laid out to dry on rooftops and balconies and roadsides during the day, and then taken in and stacked up again at night and covered in plastic, just in case it rains overnight. Yesterday afternoon we had masses of wind and thunder and lightning but amazingly no rain, and by evening it was calm and clear again.
Men and women, young and old, have tilled until two in the morning and are back at sunrise. If the wheat spoils, that might be their entire livelihood gone.
The movement of all of this raw material is upon one’s back. There are no wagons and just a few donkeys. People are the vehicles for transport, most often women, and very often old women. One night returning to our house at 11pm we came upon an old woman resting at the side of the road; my Hindi-speaking friends asked if she was okay – she’d walked a long way up the road and was taking a short break before she went on. There is little in the way of light and the roads are very rough. We didn’t take her picture, but we have taken others and their faces are beautiful, beyond adequate description; you just have to see. They are happy in their work and I’ve no doubt they complain little, if at all. (I asked my friends how people felt about having their photos taken before I took any, and it is fine; generally, people will smile – they are very gracious.)
In India, wheat is produced by thousands of villages just like Gunehar. There are no Western-size, thousand-acre farms with one farmer and a lot of big machines. This is authentic, ‘organic plus’, human endeavour.
Do they realise they participate in a living piece of art? I don’t know what they think, but I know they operate with heart and soul and commitment, and is that not art?
All photos (c) Puneet Kaushik