Marathwada: Where sugarcane juice stalls become the local watering holes

As the reporters take a break and villagers look forward to rain in Marathwada, I figure it’d be an interesting time to put my hearing to use and eavesdrop for gossip

Saadia S Dhailey June 15, 2016 16:43:49 IST
Marathwada: Where sugarcane juice stalls become the local watering holes

So, I have sinned. Of a Hamletesque kind. Eavesdropping on the good ol’ folks in Marathwada to glean things they normally wouldn’t say in public. This seemed very ‘journalistic’ to me. I imagined it would make for good copy — of the Watergate’s Deep Throat kind, where I don’t need to quote every source, but make startling revelations.

Blame this romantic notion on an overdose of Shakespeare, where eavesdropping is a recurring theme, never mind if it oscillates between noble intent — as in The Merchant of Venice — and of the ignoble kind — Hamlet. Mine has to be somewhere in between, the stuff that makes for a good kaffeeklatsch (or as they say, gossip).

Marathwada Where sugarcane juice stalls become the local watering holes

Representational image. Reuters

Rajdeep Sardesai, talk of this Tanda

On a hot afternoon, in the Chavan family kitchen, two women talk of engineering dreams. I was familiar with those voices — I had met their owners not too long ago.

“That mantri, where is he now?” Vandana Chavan’s mother asked, her question almost lost in the crackling of the tadka.

“Ma, he is not a mantri; he is a big journalist,” I heard 18-year-old Vandana say, her words punctuated with the sound of slicing onion.

Vandana’s mother didn’t sound impressed. “If he was not a politician, why would he make promises? Anyway, do you think he’ll give the money for your education? You didn’t even take his number.”

Vandana is a star of sorts in her village, Poi Tanda, since Rajdeep Sardesai’s April visit. When she told the senior journalist of her engineering dreams and her lack of means, Sardesai announced (to the village and on Twitter, where it got 1,106 retweets, and 2,274 likes) that he’d sponsor her education. Since her class 12 results, the villagers are excited to see this story move forward.

“There is one thing I didn’t tell you. I read his tweet about me. He thinks baba committed suicide.” And there came a huge sound of tripping utensils, which was my cue to run.

Water cooler conversations at sugarcane juice stalls

“We better have good rains this year,” I heard one local journalist say. Three glasses, the other one asked. In drought-affected Marathwada, you don’t have water cooler conversations in offices. Sugarcane juice stalls are the local ‘watering’ holes. All the water’s there, in those canes. If it’s anywhere else, you better not report. “Write about availability of water in their local wells, and the villagers get angry. I have lost count of the abuses and curses because of this. Everyone dreams of compensation.”

Writing about the water-guzzling sugarcane is no different, piped in his colleague, "We’ll stop growing sugarcane, when you naukriwalas choose a low-paying job over a higher one,” a pissed off farmer told me. But then he also gave me one tip. "Don’t eat raisins (munakka); they have 60 percent more pesticides than any other produce." As I made a mental note of this, I noticed a TV journalist looking faraway and excited, “Don’t all corporates pack these in Diwali gift boxes? Munakka maut ke saudagar; that’s a story!”

A wedding sans gossip

Marathwada Where sugarcane juice stalls become the local watering holes

Representational image. Reuters

The Bhalekars of Dhundalgaon looked happy. Their son was getting married, and no one was cribbing about the quality of meals. Or that they’d roped in the local beauty parlour to make an impression. As they sipped on tea, guests were more concerned about meeting their target of building toilets and soak pits. “565 done, 18 percent more to go,” I heard Rahul Sable say. The other maths they were doing was on the Veer Punar Bharan (rainwater harvesting) scheme of the state government. “To guide the excess water from the fields back to the wells, Rs 16,000 per well will be sanctioned. We have around 700-800 wells in the village...”

Rest of the terms — “recharge shaft, aquifer, catchment, silt…” — were lost to me. They didn’t sound like simpleton farmer folks, but policy planners. Perhaps being adopted by Nana Patekar’s Naam Foundation can do that to you. Initial efforts by one youngster Rahul has snowballed into a village revamp campaign, and everyone’s on board.

I gleaned a lot of serious information here. “What’s needed is the option of loan against produce,” said Vipin Sale, who runs an e-Seva Kendra and is always updated on the latest government schemes and subsidies — no NREGA scheme misses his eye.

A group of teens were planning their weekend. “We need more brooms to sweep the village for the next cleanliness drive. When’s the meeting for the waste segregation planning?” While the coterie of women want to know when the Mahila Samwaad Kaksh (Women’s Communication Centre) was coming up.

We might need the seriousness, but perhaps it wouldn't make for a fun read. And so, I slink away.

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