Chapter 7: More Things

Chapter 7: More Things

With more money came an elevated degree of comfort. Like a vast portion of the modernizing world, Sher Pur Kalan has started to throw its money at new and trendy commodities. To understand the community’s transformations, let’s step back into the time machine and visit 1960. Please do not touch anything; I fear that we may cause ripples in the space-time continuum. Now describe what you experience.

I see the village’s only two bicycles leaning up against the local market.  I see a woman walking out from the market with its only four offerings tucked beneath her arms: turmeric and sugar wedged in her left armpit, salt and tea wedged in her right.  There passes a 40-year- old woman, wrapped in her single, patched salwar kameez, transporting her husband’s lunch from the kitchen to the farm (1). A bullock cart moseys past, releasing a cloud of dust into the air. Through my teary eyes, I just barely make out the passenger of the cart - a man in a crisp beige kurta presumably going to attend a family wedding in the nearby town of Ludhiana (10). I overhear two brothers talking about their next-store neighbor, the son of a government employee, who owns one of the bikes rested against the wall of the market. The younger brother wears a look of jealousy, cracking his mouth to mumble, “How do you think he came up with 100 rupees to buy a new bicycle? There’s no way that he earned that himself.”  A mother wades through the street with a water pot balanced on her head as three barefoot toddlers struggle to keep up with her. They did not stand out… nearly 50% of the population let their bare soles meet the sandy loam.  I turn around to see a young boy exiting from the local secondary school. The boy, dressed in kathi clothing, has expressive eyebrows that have always betrayed his attempts at secrecy.  He trots over to join his friends, a mix of boys and girls, who depart for his father’s farm where they will argue over the rules of a newly invented game. I peep inside the gate of a nearby house to observe a group of women huddled in a circle. An older woman grinds flour. Her companion wrings water from a recently washed sari. Their forearm muscles conspire, hoping to break away from their worn captor - sweat-polished skin. I look to my left to see 5 older men wallowing in the dense shade of a banyan tree.  All around them, people move to the tempo of cowbells, taking time to feel the midday sun warming their naked necks. Contentment colors the air.

Though people found less comfort in modern luxuries, such as fans and phones, they possessed a more natural sense of satisfaction. According to several participants, people were happy with what they owned, whether that was a mud shack or a three-story home.  This sense of contentment lent to an elevated degree of community cohesion. One woman reports that all throughout her childhood, people would gather outside following dinner to avoid the oppressive heat of the domestic interior.  In the absence of televisions, children would sit on their roofs, their feet dangling in the darkness, and entertain each other with fables of fairies and wizards.  When they weren’t telling stories, they were scrambling through the village streets playing hide and seek.  And when their legs could no longer sustain their antics, the children would stumble up onto the closest roof and collapse down beside each other.  Every night was a sleepover, the respondent recounted.

The community cohesion decomposed gradually. Once farmers’ pockets grew crowded with the fruits of the Green Revolution, they started to spend on appliances like air conditioning and fans. Then, in 1995, the community pooled its funds and upgraded its electricity grid through a government scheme. Before 1995, electricity came for 4 days at a time. After 1995, the supply of electricity was no longer sporadic, and families started trading post-dinner storytelling for television. It wasn’t until a few years ago that families stopped sleeping outside, but that tradition, like many others, is now slipping into the past.

Now the city soundscape is filled with honks and horns. Tractors rumble through the street. Motorcycles dart through small openings. Kurtas are still in fashion, but Western clothing brands have infiltrated the village, spreading from youth to youth. One eighteen-year-old laborer, who speaks little English, greeted me in a shirt that announces “Mondays are for Fresh Starts.” The change transcends fashion trends. Most villagers now have a mobile phone. Even the Bihari laborer, a fossil of the 20th century, twiddled with his blackberry.  The guardians of one interview subject noted that their child spends at least 4 to 5 hours a day absorbed by social media.  On a sunny Sunday afternoon, I entered one home with a mother and her four children.  Three of the children were craned over their phones, and one had her eyes glued to a computer screen; none of the children had any intention of leaving the home.

With an increase in incomes, the community of Sher Pur Kalan has discovered a new sort of leisure and comfort. According to the women of one family, modern facilities have made life easier.  The cost of this comfort is an increased pressure to consume and, in turn, less social coherence. As one respondent explained, people had very few expenses prior to 1960. Then one person bought a bicycle. Soon, everybody wanted a bicycle. Though the three little piggies were safe in the traditional mud structure, brick was in fashion. So mud turned to brick, and brick turned to cement. The primary rationale motivating this transition was social pressure. Many respondents noted that the social pressure to consume was overwhelming and led to an overspending epidemic. The resultant increase in technology and gadgets pushed children indoors.  Whereas, before kids were forced to play together because they had few alternatives, phones now offer a universe of hollow entertainment.  The same kid that spent 4-5 hours per day on his mobile device said that “through social media, the far have become near and the near have become far.”


Anonymous. Farming family. Personal interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 18 April 2019

Anonymous. Men of different backgrounds. Personal interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 5 May 2019.


Anonymous. Shopkeeper. Personal interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 24 April 2019.


Anonymous. Land record manager. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 5 May 2019.


Anonymous. Former farmer and activist. Personal interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 21 April 2019


Singh, Sunny. Organic farmer. Personal interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 7 May 2019


Anonymous. Shopkeeper. Personal interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 24 April 2019.


Anonymous. Housewife. Personal interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 3 May 2019.


Anonymous. Farm laborer. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 25 April 2019.


Anonymous. Student. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 26 April 2019.


Anonymous. Family. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 5 May 2019.


Anonymous. Joint family. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 17 April 2019.


Anonymous. Farmer. Personal Interview. Sher Pur Kalan, Punjab. 21 April 2019.

Read more

Chapter 6: The Burden of Debt

Chapter 15: Conclusion

Chapter 8: Joint Family Collapse

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