We did a road trip to Marathwada this weekend. Pune to Jalna, via Aurangabad. I have always enjoyed this route; we do this so often, I know the landmarks by heart. The cosmopolitan Pune, with its many housing complexes and malls and 5-star hotels makes way for the grim and grimy industrial area of the Nagar Road. As you go down it, you hit Ranjangaon, largely known for its Ganesh temple, but increasingly changing its identity. More, far more than the number of people that flock the village to visit the temple is the increasing traffic of trucks and logistics carriers that are carrying material in and out from the Ranjangaon MIDC, known for hosting the white goods industry in Pune.
A little way down from Ranjangaon and you hit Supa. This is one village I always have enjoyed driving through. For one, you see lots of flower fields. Suddenly, there’s the pink aster fields, and the white ones and the yellow and orange marigolds…little patches of color with a solitary person working in it..or is that a scarecrow…a look to the left reveals the hills hosting the huge captive wind farm owned by Bajaj. Supa spurs you on to a smallish and rather picturesque ghat- a winding road- that takes you to Ahmednagar.
Nagar is where you could say Marathwada begins. The nature, the culture, the housing, the farms, the crops, the shops…they are suddenly not Puneri anymore…they are Marathwada. The major change that comes in is that the geography is so much more flat. You suddenly start realizing why the Deccan is a “plateau.” The roads take you through flat expanses, with hot winds fanning your face, fields on both sides and sudden entries into villages, where human settlement bursts on to the scene with fruit carts, colourful sari shops, women with big kumkums on their foreheads walking on roads that also play host to small rural shops with ludicrously urban names like “The Pink Cindrella Boutique.” Marathwada. The place where traditional culture has thrived, rigorously, in the face of crazy urbanization that the youngsters seem to prize. Where the poor farmer who struggles to make both ends meet coexists with the huge trading bazaars dominated by largely Marwadi communities. Where dhoti-and-pagdi-clad rural folk ride on roaring bikes like they own the roads. Where marriage parties are arranged on sprawling lawns that lie on the same road that also hosts pink colored single storeyed houses named “Shiv Krupa.”It’s a different ball game…its just very..Marathwada.
I have always enjoyed this melting pot phenomenon that Marathwada is. I love driving through those roads, love seeing the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan boards with two little kids perched on a pencil, love seeing baya weaver nests on a lone tree in parched surroundings, love hearing the Marathi accent change ever so slightly, but yet conspicuously, when we fill up at the petrol pump..
A March Marathwada is a parched Marathwada. Lets face it. This is THE part of Maharashtra that has been starved of water for years together. March to June are unbearably hot, with the temperatures in May pushing up to nearly 44 degree Celcius at times, making even the slightest cool breeze seem like the most wonderful creation of the Almighty. Even the evenings are relentlessly warm. One almost feels like one is baking slowly to perfection, in a nature-made oven that has been timed by the book. Ting! There, after 12 hours of continuous simmering heat, you are now totally ready to take on any challenge that nature has to offer you. Marathwada. Its about robustness. Its about sturdiness. Its about the ability to shrug in the face of sweltering heat and get back to business. Its about appreciating the little wonders of nature like those grey clouds that occasionally lose their way towards your field, where dry shrubs sway in their wait..
A March weekend in Marathwada should have been “exceptionally warm”, if not outright crazily hot. However, as we entered Nagar, everything felt wrong. Instead of that dried caky form that soil assumes in its quest for survival against the impending summer, the roads were awash with water. Cool air breezing through the windows. Small puddles in badly constructed roads to filled up basins of Bhima and Godavari…it all felt wrong. It looked wrong. It smelt wrong. Instead of the sole drongo bird on the power lines, there were egrets and gulls and kingfishers perching on small trees dotting the waterlogged surroundings. Rains, unseasonal, merciless, have battered the fields in the past 10 days.
Oh, the sadness of it all. The fields have never looked so tired to my eyes before. The grand cobs of jowar and bajra that my eyes were used to, stood dejected, necks drooping, the grain turning black. There is never a sight blacker than those cobs turning black. The economist in me struggled to argue intellectually about how the unseasonal rains would lead to failure of rabi crop leading to pressure on food prices; but frankly, I was unable to look at it as an economist. I just kept on thinking how devastating it would be for the farmers, who had been preparing for the harvest since November. Thinking of how much effort must have gone into tilling the land, sowing the seeds, watering the fields, tending to the crops…and all the funds they must have borrowed, everything washed away, by rains…elusive rains, that wouldn’t come in last year and now have paid a belated visit…or is it an early one? I felt even worse when I saw the cotton fields. There isn’t too much cotton at this time, but whatever was standing, has been completely lost. The cotton bolls were dripping and soggy, hanging off brown shrubs, a real sorry sight. Even worse were the sugarcane fields. Sugarcane in its glory, has a very upright backbone. Almost the types that Ramdev Baba and company would prescribe, for a good yogic experience? But the cane looked forlorn, its sheath drooping. The onions are typically ready early March and for about 15 days, the crop is not watered after which it’s harvested. But, this time, the onion bulbs which are ready have rotted away in the soil itself.
One can normally spot a couple of farmers walking along the fields, just looking through the crops. But this time, I could see no one. May be it was my mind in overdrive. May be it was just my imagination; but the absence of that lone figure dotting the fields sent a shiver down my spine. What is it that the farmer’ll go and check anyway? How black has the cob become? Or how soggy the onion?
The Marathwada as I remember it in March is basically yellow and brown. The agricultural lands sport yellow corn cobs and the land around is typically brown or dusty and sparsely green, with thorny vegetation like babhul, mandar and rui. But this time, the fields were brownish black and the surrounding wasteland, wonderfully green. Oh, what I’d have given to get the yellow color back to the fields. What I’d have given to experience that extreme Marathwada heat, about which I keep grumbling.
Oh, there’ll be follow up policies. The state Government is already moving in, with declarations of relief packages for Vidarbha, where a similar rainfall has affected the onion crops. The farmers associations, media, press, banks, Governments…oh, the circus will now begin. Statements, fast and furious, about how the “overall” rabi performance will only be 94% of the usual. Estimates, about how much food inflation this can bring on. Conjectures, about how the rate cuts now cannot happen…
All of this, due to the wonderfully green Marathwada. Who would have thought that green can be depressing? Oh, this greenery…its giving me the chills.