Off late, I found myself so involved in researching and exploring the villages in India; their culture, fashion, heritage, that I completely missed out on the thought of capturing and writing about my own village. The one I have been paying regular visits to ever since I was a kid, the village with which I truly and personally connect to. Basically, the village that holds my roots – Dhunai.
Dhunai is a small village, beautifully located in Mandvi Tehsil of the Kutch district in Gujarat, which is closer to Arabian Sea. It is a land with about 150 houses. I have travelled to Dhunai almost every year since I was a child and yet, each time, I tend to discover new things in and around the village. In all these years, I have witnessed so many fruitful developments in the village in terms of education, health, social awareness, parental behavior, technology, etc. and, on the other hand, observed changes such as demolishment of old houses and the spaces being converted into fully equipped, cemented bungalows. Still, amidst all these developments, the original aroma of the village somehow tends to survive.
Although being a remote village, the people here are not completely disconnected with the modern world and its upgradations, majorly because their kids or relatives have relocated to cities. The ones who have stayed back and reside here are farmers — it being the major occupation, while the rest are involved in small business activities.
An interesting fact about this village is that apart from Kutchis, there are other communities that reside here as well. To name a few, we have Muslims, Chavans, etc which also contribute to a decent percentage in the village’s population. I have been to a couple of villages across India till now and never have I observed more than two communities living in the same village. Dhunai, for that matter, is different.
The village has only two to three stores where you can get basic household essentials. At the entrance of the village, you will find one and the only food joint in the village, which serves the best Kutchi snacks like Pakwan, Gathiya etc. An 800 meter stretch connects the entrance and the main residential area, and is surrounded on both sides with farms, water sources and birds. Evenings here usually comprise of men gathering outside the Shiv temple, which is said to be the market area, sitting on cement platforms smoking beedi and the women preparing dinner in their respective homes.
One thing that remains as raw and as authentic as it is meant to be, is my own house here. More than a 100 years old, passed on from ancestors, it is a very basic mud house made from locally sourced materials, clay roofing, two simple rooms, a small kitchen and a cute front yard. The best part about this house is that inspite of the extremely hot weather conditions in Kutch, the roof which is made up of clay absorbs all the heat, in turn keeping the rooms cool. So even at 40-45 degree Celsius temperatures, the house remains cool and without any need of air conditioners.
Words like fancy, easy, comfortable etc. do not fit anywhere around here. To have access to anything, means to put in a lot of efforts and hardwork. The daily household chores like cooking, cleaning, washing, everything here happens in the traditional way. Right from waking up early in the morning to fill and store water (as there is no water pipeline) and using that water to wash clothes on a stone, to cooking the food on a traditional stove (Chulha) for which one needs to fetch firewood, chop it with an axe and then use it — everything here involves calculative decision making skills.
The satisfaction and joy of plucking the fruits and cooking the vegetables grown in your own front yard is so much more than simply buying them from a market. After involving yourself in so many productive activities, cooking and eating simple and healthy meals, knowing that you are trying your best to live a minimal life in all ways possible and identifying the simple things around which gives you pleasure — I think all this contributes in giving you a sense of fulfilment and ensures a peaceful night’s sleep. Towards the end of the day, to lie on a charpai in the front yard under the stars in the dark sky, opening your eyes now and then as the peacocks call, is how peace and comfort is measured here.
As the humans evolve in time, few basic upgradations in the house over the years have been inevitable. Proper sanitation facilities, a little bit of plastering, introduction of gas stoves etc. But to practice a mindful living, till date the food in this house gets cooked on the traditional stove/Chulha as it saves fuel and money. Living in such an environment compels you to be thoughtful. It also makes you realise your strengths and appreciate the value of the present.
My house is probably one of the last few houses left in the village to get reconstructed into a fancy bungalow and I sincerely hope that, that day never comes. These houses, practices, traditions, values, etc. have been passed on to us from many generations and though our past generations have tried to make small changes in them as per their necessities and convenience, they always have withheld the rawness and the roots. But what we are trying to do now is something that saddens me. Everyone today is in a rush of finding their comfort, luxury and maintaining a certain reputation. As if, if we move away from our heritage and develop something completely different with our own set of modern beliefs and visions, while ignoring all the possible scars we actually leave on the environment, that the society will respect and appreciate us.
There is a vicious circle of humans needs and wants. In nature, time and again everything needs to touch back to its roots to grow and flourish. The sooner we become aware of it, the more we can flourish as a whole. Instead of exploiting this wonderful home that we all coexist on further more, let’s look forward to treasuring it always and treating it with respect.
Moreover, wherever you plan your journey to, try to give business to the locals, preserve that place’s heritage and culture and travel as responsibly and as mindfully as you can!