All those visiting Jhansi kindly remind your upmarket cities that you are visiting their poor cousin; the sleepy town of Jhansi. I dare to call it sleepy because for years it had chosen to lie under wraps, pretending to be in deep slumber, while the entire population was stifled with ten to twelve hours of power cuts on a regular basis. This news is merely six-seven years old. Coming from a city famous for strikes and morchas at small instances, I was piqued by the ‘care-we-not’ attitude of the citizens.
They took each power cut stoically, sitting out on the charpoys, amidst the whirring generators, waiting for…NOTHING. Year after year! Which city can move forth if it spends half its day in darkness, in the twenty-first century? I was thrown fifty years back in time! I dare to call it sleepy because for years the city (is it one?) has been a witness to deaths due to lack of treatment, lack of hospitals, of a decent, dignified bed, where the ill can recuperate. Like cattle, hospitals, both private and government, hoarded the dead and the dying. Of course, we had a chance to move them out to bigger cities!
I dare to call it sleepy because for years I waited for a proper school for my children. A school where teachers were paid fairly so that they managed to refrain from taking out their frustration on kids by using pugnacious language. For years we struggled to get our kids enrolled in the lone “Dhyanchand Stadium”. It was brimming with crowds, waiting for their chance to play a game of badminton. My child lost his dream of becoming a badminton player. Of course, we had a choice to shift him out of Jhansi!
I dare to call it sleepy because for years Bundelkhand has been proclaimed a famished, drought- ridden region, and our poor are a fantastic photographic opportunity to gain fame in the world! But we never tried too hard to demand even the basic right to feed our hungry farmers. And we also never tried too hard to look beyond our farming techniques and compare them with other states where agriculture flourished. Our farmers chose to cry and die, leaving their farms to fate. Along with absence of water, we were also cursed by lack of initiative and inertia.
I dare to call it sleepy, because a few decades ago we had a hero, Rani Lakshmibai, to lead us into freedom and emancipation. She chose death over subservience. Little did she know that her Jhansi would fall back into slumber once she is gone. We have stopped thinking, expecting, and reacting. I call it sleepy because whenever I felt that the city lacked pulse, vitality and life, I was asked to accept it as reality. No one wanted change though everyone talked about it.
The Leaders are constantly asking us what we need! We suddenly feel that someone is trying hard to bring it out from the fragments of its past glory into the forefront. A city is crying to attain its identity and existence, and people with masks are hounding it as Alladin ka Chirag! Empty bowls of wishes! We have long forgotten the art and will of demanding. The intellectuals are silent, the poor are suffering, the youth is disheartened. We don’t know where to start asking for, for our rights. The lines between demanding and begging have been erased.
If you still wish to grant our people something, just give them progress. Moral, intellectual, social, and financial. You know, we have to hush up each time we speak. In trains and airplanes when I converse with strangers they say, “You have a sharp intellect”. And the next question that follows is, “Where are you from?” As soon as I mention Jhansi, I can see disappointment on their faces. It is hard to convince people that this poverty-ridden, backward and starved region can afford intellect.
When you came knocking into our lives, Dear Leaders, asking us to say what was needed, I could not frame my thoughts. Perhaps you will have to do a lot to awaken me from my self-induced slumber. But still, pulling all my hopes and wishes together today I have decided to speak. Our needs are many — give us health, education, industries, and business, but first, give our poor brethren food. Though not as charity or waivers, let me add. Can you give us our PRESENT, please? We are tired of living in our glorious PAST!
Alka Jain is Teaching Associate, Rani Laxmibai Central Agricultural University, Jhansi. Views are personal.