India has the power to enthrall all your sanities through its traditional food, magnificent architecture and colorful clothing. One such experiences of my life has been my visit to Ballia recently.
Being married in a Brahmin family of Uttar Pradesh, I got an opportunity to explore a small village in Ballia. The idea was to attend a 9-day elaborate Ramayan Path that was done to pay respect to the ancestors of Mishra Family who invited us with utmost humility and affection. The highlights of the district were an ancient Shiv Mandir, a pond full of colourful fish, Sitadevi eye hospital and the filmy Sarson ka khet. The fertile land supports rice, barley, potatoes, chillies, legumes, oilseeds, sugarcane and many more vegetables.
However, particularly in this village the issue of patriarchy and gender inequality seemed quite prevalent, as the women are still not allowed to take part in the rituals.
In one of the instances mentioned in Valmiki Ramayan, Lord Rama had told Guru Vashista, “न सुप्रतिकरं तत्तु मात्रा पित्रा च यत्कृतं ’ (It is difficult for the children to repay the debt of what the mother and the father have done in bringing them up”). This saying is reflected in the head of this family and also most of the men of this village who are deeply rooted to their dharma.
A typical breakfast in this village would mean Khadi Chamach ki chai , Badki Puri and Matar ki Ghugni which is divine. Lunch would be the typical Dal Chawal sabji with dhania ki chutney. Ballia is a piece of muddy plain at the confluence of the Ganga and Ghaghara rivers. One of the delights travelling is to hear the local language. The local ladies would insist you to have a cup of tea in their most sweetest voice, “Chai Pila Bachi” From ingredients made for cooking to effective farming, it has been passed down as tradition from one generation to the other with trust and honesty.
The 9 day long Ramayan Path had an interesting tinge to it. The food of the day was prepared as per the journey of Lord Rama. For e.g. when Lord Ram was born, the ladies of the village would prepare Puri Sabji and Kheer and the day when Ram went to Banwas (exile),one would eat Litti Chokha expressing grief.
The last day of Ramayan Path which happens to be the day when Lord Rama was anointed as the king of Ayodha, concludes with Phoolon ki holi that is played among family members. The puja is generally headed by the son of the family who meticulously follows the traditions adorning a dhoti and holding the aarti in hand.
Phoolon ki Holi was the only occasion where all family members including the women were invited and they could joyfully participate with their parents and grandparents.
That day amazed me in yet another way. I met a young boy who sells unconventional vegetable momos near the temple premises. He was confident about what he was selling and when I asked him if it would be fresh, he replied, “Didi ek plate momos 10 rupaye ka hain. Agar pet kharab hua to 20 rupaya dunga. Main Spring roll bhi bejta hun”. (Didi one plate of momos costs 10 rupees. If the momos affect your stomach then I will pay you 20 rupees. I also sell spring rolls.
I was awestruck with the confidence and the belief of this boy. Modernization is not about adopting new ways of earning but about believing that there is nothing impossible if one has decided to conquer the world. This district has a lot of potential and needs to be explored in the right manner.
However, what utterly disappointed me were the roads. It was full of potholes and gave me the bumpiest ride ever.
Lastly, organic farming is the biggest attraction of this village and from chillies to potatoes, the art of preserving the fertile land is embedded in the DNA of its natives.
As all things come to an end, I departed from this village with some amazing home grown brocholi , Peas, tamatar ki chutney and Badki Puri that was offered by the family. I took a train back to Delhi and en-route met my maternal father in law which again was one of the reasons I went to Ballia. As a true humanitarian, he gave the biggest lesson of life to my husband, which capacitated him to take prompt decisions. One such decision was exploring Ballia!!
(Paroma Bhattacharya is a journalist and a communication professional.)