Corona In Rural And Urban India And Its Implications

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Shakti Bishnoi

Pune, February 8, 2021: Corona pandemic did a surprise check on us. We were so busy with our shopping and accumulating things, target of turning earth to concrete jungle, as one house is not good enough to brag about in social gatherings. Suddenly humans were scared!The metropolitan people were caged in their pigeon holes. Rural Indians were about to harvest in march end when lockdown happened. As per the capacity of an individual, they made changes in their lives. 

Everything came to a standstill. Things required for sustaining our lives were available to us. Every family member was at home, of course many were separated due to different reasons. Everyone observed each other in detail. Children who knew life more than electronic gadgets, rejoiced. Children whose life revolved around gadgets need psychologists to help them come out of the trauma. Homemaker had to look after every family member 24X7 without a break. Men could no longer take office as an excuse for not contributing in daily chores. Rural Indians have their jobs defined since ages, so they continued same way joyously. 

Responsibility got a new meaning. Life skills became the most important part of our daily routine. First lockdown was turning point and it helped many people to turn inward and realised our role in the universe and at home. Some people could understand how they were wasting their time in doing useless things. Those who could not keeps cribbing about their limitations now.

The cosmetics industry in each household is looking at their madams with surprise and cannot enhance their beauty anymore. Masks are the most fashionable item at home. Eye makeup with the mask is reminder of Arabian nights in its full glory. 

Rural Life Style – Village Chaberwal

I am from a small village in Haryana which is not even recognised by google maps. I studied in boarding school from fourth standard and before I could realise my dream of forever staying with my parents, I was doing my degree for four years. As if that was not enough I went to London to pursue post graduation. 

My dream of staying with my parents in the village was fulfilled due to corona virus. I stayed for the longest time in my village and observed it closely. My parents have the kitchen garden to provide more than what we can consume. They have fruit trees which provide us with different fruits round the years. Although sometimes group of parakeets and hornbills loot the produce in few hours. Peaches, guava, mulberry, Aloo Bukhara, Mosambi, Lemon in four acres, Ber of five varieties, Jamun, Mango and Kinnu in ten acres are the fruit trees in my house. 

My parents have placed earthen water containers at different places in our compound. Many bird species visit more than once on these water points for drinking, bathing, and normal chit chat on the changing human behaviour in corona times. Two spot billed ducks decided to stay in my village pond as they sensed the seriousness of flying to Russia in corona times. Warmer climate is better to deal with the virus as the story goes told by some self proclaimed experts. Had it been bird flu or swine flu, they would be cautious but not scared. They are aware that, they are dealing with lab created mutated virus from china. As if the cheap Chinese goods were easy to deal with, they have given everyone the million dollar researched virus for free. 

As they say “all wonderful things are free”…I was just counting on my blessings to enjoy the abundance…. lab leaked corona virus entered my life for free. I m yet to realise it as a blessing. Daily we all will sit together and talk about the virus, about china, about Italy, about usa allegations, about our PM’s next request.

Ofcourse we didn’t talk about ourselves, as elders in my house declared it as severe pneumonia. And they said Indians who are desi, will survive this virus as their diet is good and hence the high immunity. However , they did mention the dietary habits will decide the fate of people around the globe. But somehow we felt safe talking to each other whenever anyone felt curious or scared. Someone from my joint family which comprises of all age groups will say something brilliant to mellow down the pressure created in one of the brains.

Activities during Lockdown(Rural)

Our house has two angans, one acre area for cattle, and two acres area for playing with trees and half acre for vegetable growing. Children in our house never felt we are going through restrictions and be locked inside the concrete structures. Cycling, kite flying on the days when it was windy, playing daily morning and evening with sand, badminton, kho kho, pithoo, pakdam pakdai, lukam chupayi, tree climbing and falling, jhula, teen taali, paheli sessions, story telling, dancing, watering plants, kept all of us including our elders in high spirits. Playing was the main aspect of our daily routine and everyone looked forward to it.

Ancestral Databank

Tai aassi (elderly woman) is the healer of my village and she is 101 years old. She is fit in all terms and my daughter’ s best friend. My daughter when not found in our house is found sitting in tai aassi‘s home simply observing her finish her chores with ease. My daughter has high regards for her because of who she is 10 years old. 

Tai aassi is best friend of my mother, myself and my daughter. The only common friend for all three of us. She is a real treasure and knows all folk songs for all the occasions, all the songs for our local deities, she is excellent dancer and performer, she is full of humour and that’s why she is omnipresent. She fully understands the human body and for minor ailments our villagers has never visited doctors in the town in so far as bones related problems or muscle spasm is concerned.

Creative Approach (Rural)

As we had ample time at our disposal, we planned for our creative adventures and made list of items we could not learn from our elders earlier. We learned basket making with wheat sticks from my eldest maasi, rug making with cloth pieces from my second massi, charpai making from my mother, spun cotton for making threads which we later send to weaver to make khes for us, embroidery, bag making, plantation of vegetables and caring for it, star gazing and looking at milky way while sleeping outside as best time to see it is from April to June (Corona made sky clearn as there was neither noise pollution nor air pollution view lockdown) and planting trees , listened to all the wonderful funny stories from our elders while doing all these activities was very enriching.

Birding and Butterflying

Daily morning and evening bird and butterfly activity was quite attractive so I decided to indulge in photography with tripod and even gathered children of all age group to showcase the life cycle of butterflies. Lime Butterly and Mormon frequently visited due to lemon and curry leave plants near our house. I had all time to photograph the avian representatives of nature in all moods. I truly understood the meaning of tripod photography. 

We spotted Yellow Throated Sparrow, Rufous Treepie, Hoopee, Peafowl, Rose Ringed Parakeet, Indian Grey Hornbill, Green Beeater, House Sparrow, Spot Billed Duck, White Throated Kingfigher, Shikra, Indian Robin, Asian Koel, Yellow Footed Pigeon, Spotted Owlet, Partridge, Spotted Dove, Rock Pigeon, Babblers, Oriental Magpie, Oriental White Eye, House Crow, Scaly Breasted Munia, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Median Egret, Glossy Ibis, Pond Heron, Drongo, and few more. Never I had imagined that the state bird of Haryana the Black Francolin resides in our farmland situated one km away from our village home.

Its is beautiful but the bird call is what I think made it the state bird of Haryana. As we all know Haryana has 36 communities in it but the dialect all over the state is on a high tone and that is what matched with the call of black francolin. We were in time for their nesting, which is from March to September. Our farmland has scrubby areas around its periphery and plenty of cultivated crops tall enough to offer shelter and open beneath to provide escape routes and easy travel for them. Just the way they like it. Most interesting aspect of the state bird is its choice to run rather than fly when disturbed. All the children of my family found this phenomenon very funny and laughed while saying “I wish I could fly rather then walk when in danger”. 

Rural to Urban –Phase Shift

After spending wonderful 90 days at my village my husband drove from Pune during the relaxation phase to my home and took us 

to Pune safely. Enroute we were exposed to scenario of pandemic in four states namely Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujraat And Maharashtra. 

Although Military Institute of Technology (MILIT), Girinagar near Khadakwasla in Pune, is in seclusion and environment is full of greenery and open spaces, but rules of pandemic are still applicable and are different here due to corona virus. Our daughter was perplexed and immediately told us to go back to Haryana. In our hearts we too wanted to go back, and told her we feel the same. Children have a great sense of care for their parents and she consoled us and empathised with us and overcame her sorrow.

Urban Life Style

We remained in quarantine for 15 days for safety of everyone at MILIT and spend time with each other. We have deliberately removed TV from our house since our daughter was born 7 years ago, but now in our guest room we found a working big TV to our amusement. We unanimously decided to watch a film daily. The movies which were kept very safe in archives by production houses were telecasted due to corona. 

I am yet to decide whether free corona is blessing for me. We watched selected films of Disney, few animated films, and three idiots. As shock of leaving our village and being in city was slowly wearing out, we indulged in another daily activity of paper plane flying competition amongst us. On any free day we would head out for trekking , cycling, or photography but this was the first time we three were at home. It was excellent adventure even in the confines of our guest room. We clicked pictures of all the birds and butterflies who visited around our guest house. Our daughter found an excellent spot to sit in the window and observe them as there is no balcony at rear side of our guest rooms.

Nature at it’s Best

Scaly Breasted Munia collecting grass strands and communicating with each other was daily sight. Spotted owlet would stare at us from the electric pole after sunset. Jungle Crow would jingle every evening and eat delicious food from the crevices of sloping roof of double storey F- block building right opposite to us. Purple sunbird would drink the nectar from flowers. Oriental white eye would play peek-a-boo with our daughter. As if avian were not enough to mesmerise us, mongoose showed himself and due to no humans around felt like a king and remained in front of us for some time.

Our quarantine was over and we shifted to our small house. We were very excited as if we are free to do whatever we want to do now. But by then Pune was declared hotspot for corona and there is no point going outside so we remained confined to MILIT campus. There were strict restrictions for everyone’s safety and we three idiots had fewer ideas to do mischief as the situation is very new to us, else we have never been short of ideas.

Family Values

We looked at each other to feel the despair and sat hopelessly staring at the unknown. Within few days we realised this is the new normal for our future life , ofcourse if we make it to the otherside. Looking at me and my husband struggling through the day to keep ourselves safe , our daughter sat muted for sometime gazing at the windowsill. We immediately understood the meaning of the famous phrase “lets talk”. We asked our daughter and she went on smoothly with her surmounted fears regarding the situation “I have not even fulfilled my many dreams, I have not even seen the world…” she looked at us after finishing.

My reply may not be valid for others but whatever I understand from my experience and my ancestors sprouted from me “if you are suppose to survive , you would and if not , then there’s no way you could. Death can happen anytime, but beta before death you can fulfil the dreams which are possible in this situation.” I smiled at her and she smiled back to us. She got up and bought her notebook to make list of things she can do and was bubbling again.

Lockdown Time Invested For Nature

We planted 925 native plant saplings since March 20.(wef 23 Mar 20) when everyone was indoors due to corona, we were out to fulfill our dream to give better future to everyone. We are looking after them and every new leaf makes our daughter smile. My daughter took out her camera and roams on the corridors all day long to capture life around her. She even started writing poetry and dances with us. She finds Alexa magical and enjoys all the love it showers on her. 

Looking after the caterpillars on our plants and ensuring they are safe keeps us in high spirits. Every few days adult butterflies fly from our house to explore the world. We too fly with them on their maiden flight to feel the cool breeze of heights on our cheeks in our vivid imagination. We have reared more than 640 butterflies since 2011 and lockdown gave us another opportunity to add winged jewels to the nature as a return gift.

Lessons Learnt And Future 

The feeling of animals, plants, butterflies, birds can be understood by everyone quiet clearly now. The way we have been treating them and taking things for granted has resulted in global warming. Corona is just the beginning of viruses surfacing from the corpses lying dead under the snow (permafrost) for ages. If we don’t learn to be proactive and protective of our environment, then this is the beginning of the new end. We need to learn to experience the weather as it is, rather than artificial air conditioning which is leading us to dead end. Trees are carbon sinks for our environment, and we can plant native saplings and look after them for minimum four years.

Plant your vegetables and do not use pesticides and it is possible in terrace and whatever space available. The only thing required is will to do it. Plant butterfly host plants for butterflies to lay eggs. Namely Curry Leaves, Lemon, Milkweed, Haldi Kumkum, Ficus, to name a few. Don’t throw the caterpillars when they eat your plant leaves. Your plant shall grow leaves again. But butterflies may die. Plant some food plants which provide nectar to butterflies and makes a colourful garden for your enjoyment. Plant Rangoon Creeper, Red Powder Puff, Ice Cream Creeper, Haldi Kumkum, Ixora, Lantana, Stachyterpita, Hamelia, Sadafali, Verbena, Zinnia, Cosmos to provide nectar to thirsty and hungry 1320 species of butterflies in Indian subcontinent.

Use cotton clothes and do not accumulate. Textile is the third largest polluter of earth. Lets be very careful when we buy. We have reached a stage where humans are in abundance. Try not to produce and if you must produce, please be able parents to give a good citizen to earth. Most difficult job in the world is nurturing a child. Lets be careful now to live better.

If you understand what is needed, than you can plant a sacred grove. Sacred groves are decreasing in number due to never ending human greed. We have a number of sacred groves in our country where we practise nature worship and the energy is seven times more than normal jungle in them. 

Access to sacred groves is generally restricted and therefore human impact in those areas has been minimal. This has lead them being important pools of biological diversity and allowed the complex ecological process to remain undisturbed. They have also become important resources for water due to the preservation of springs, ponds and lakes within them. All you need is 200X200 feet or 100X100 feet to plant a sacred grove. The future we create is every individual’s responsibility. We are doing what is needed. You can too.

With the guidance and support of Raghunath Dhole, Pune city got its first sacred grove at Naval Jetty in MILIT. Two urban forest or ‘Ghanavan’ in MILIT campus are planted. 925 saplings of native plants were planted by me and my family since April last year. All the plants were given free of cost by Raghunath Dhole, The Tree Man Of India.

(Shakti Bishnoi is a postgraduate from London School of Business Management. She is an experienced ornithologist, bird watcher and child counselor. She has reared more than 600 butterflies in her house and the journey continues. She believe in conservation of nature by planting trees.)