There are lessons in the first landscapes of every one's life. Mine was a vista of green paddy fields, smoking with Salt Range mist, against a setting of ribbon of River Jhelum which from distance looked like a shore of another land altogether. The rough, rugged hill range appeared uninviting against a sky withering with the morning, interrupted by the dawn's red and blue brush strokes. My first learning in life was also in the village.
In villages, people still live without assessable roads or other civic amenities of this modern age. No telephone or the Internet, even the electricity is a recent phenomenon; some are still without it. You see one village, and you have seen all. This was the setting where I spent the first twenty years of my life savoring the freedom of adulthood. It is where I decided what (and how) I wanted to do with life. It is where my mother, brothers and friends live. It is where I return whenever my active life allows me to. It is where I want to settle and spend my future.
My village is awe inspiring — pollution free and quiet. Different shades and colors of waving crops and trees – solitary, in groves or avenues – beautify the landscape. The scene changes after the harvest. The air is always fresh and fragrant with the smell of earth. The only sound is singing of birds, ringing of cowbells, and sighing of wind or some youth loudly singing Heer Waris Shah, Sassi Punun, or Mirza Saheban at night. One sees butterflies fluttering, ladybirds creeping, and squirrels jumping around. To me the place feels like a paradise.
My roots are in the village where nobody seems to be in a hurry. Every time I go there, from the different cities where I happen to be living, I take small things like candies and toys for the kids of neighbors and my family in the village, and they are so happy that words cannot explain their delight. From the village I bring everything, and more than every thing, I bring a lot of love.
"I help my neighbors and my neighbors help me," is the philosophy of life in our village. Faith, sharing, contentment, grit, hard work, and humor are a few others. There are no marriage halls or other renting places. Daras (community centers where cultural diffusion takes place) are very useful 'institutions' for functions or for elders to sit and teach irreplaceable heritage of ideas to the younger generation. The learning that passed on to me in Dara turned out to be very precious: it was the legacy of the fable. Tandoor (an oven for backing bread) is still a meeting and talking place for women.
Guests of one family are shared by ever one at the time of marriage (or death). Hospitality is one of the cultural benchmarks, as villagers strongly believe that a guest comes with the blessings of Allah Almighty. Pull a hay cart into the shad, to rest, to dream. You shall be served with hookka (Hubbell-bubble), water, and food. Cooing crows are still considered as a symbol for the arrival of guests in my village.
From our village, a group of seven students used to go to a nearby town for attending school (and then college). Ghulam Muhammad was my buddy in the group. After completing the education, my dreams became out of control and took me on the darker roads of the life whereas Ghulam Muhammad, equipped with degree from Faisalabd Agricultural University, started progressive farming in the same village. He was a hardworking, gentleman, economically very sound, and ambitious. Ghulam Mohammed's father soon started getting proposals for the marriage of his son from many wealthy landlord families of the area. But, my friend married his cousin: uneducated daughter of one of his poorest uncles and is living happily ever since. Village society is still simple, cohesive, and based on similarities.
This time when I was coming back from the village, a lot of people – family members, peers and neighbors – came to see me off as always. My mother had packed my vehicle with vegetables (fresh from the farm), palsies, atta (floor), and husked rice and even live chickens. Everybody was advising me to consume every thing back in the city, as "they are fresh, pure, nutritious and desi." On my way back, a question kept coming in my mind: how much time this simple society will take to become complex and when will 'development' change the outlook of the villagers to life?
A cluster of memories – some overlapping, some isolated – of 'the village boy' I once always stay with me. I am a result of my childhood experiences. After having knocked on all the doors of opportunity that come in my way in life, do I want to settle and spend my future in the village?