Born on the same day
At the edge of Chota Udaipur in a tribal area of Baroda district of Gujarat a little stream trickles past at the time of the year. People wade through ankle-deep water after a visit to the town to return to their little villages. Most of the year, especially in the monsoon, the villages on the other side of the river are cut off as the little stream turns into a gushing river.
In the town of Chota Udaipur there is gaiety in the air. It is the festival of colour – Holi. Holi is one of the major festivals of these areas. It is celebrated for seven days. Young boys and girls in their coloured dresses come dancing to their own melodies. The boys play the indigenous tambourines – two wooden blocks with little cymbals. The adivasis collect in the centre of the town to be lost in the circle of rhythm and dance. The police peer through their iron bars and the town people watch on as tourists – out of step with the lilting music.
Soon the festivities will be over and people will go back to their different homes. Many will take the path across the river. A child points to a tiny village, hidden behind palm trees, called Gabadia.
A large house dominates the entrance to the village of Gabadia. It belongs to Maitra Bhai. Maitra Bhai is a man who lives in comfort. His stores are full of grain – enough to feed the family for two years. On 24 November 1976 his wife had a baby – a son. This was her fourth child. They are looking forward to their son growing up.
About ten yards from the edge of Maitra’s house is another small hut where a family of ten now lives with their own sunset economy. On 24 November, while Maitra’s wife Manshi was giving birth to their sone, Sunya, her neighbour Chindia was just going into the first stages of labour. Sometime near sunset Chindia delivered a baby – the first of twins. She remembers as the light was fading in the day, she delivered her second baby. Chindia and her husband Dholia are pleased about having twins. ‘After all it is God’s gift,’ Dholia says.
Dholia is embarrassed about his little hut and his empty stores. A few ragged pieces of clothing and the necessary utensils fill a corner of the little hut. ‘I only harvest about 50 kilos of maize in a year and that lasts my family about two months. For the rest of the year I go and work in the forest, cutting grass. As an adult I get about three rupees and my son, who is 12, get two rupees. This little income keeps us going from day to day. There are times when I don’t get any work, then my son and I just collect whatever is strewn in the forest – twigs, grass or the resin from trees and sell it in Chota Udaipur. This gets us a few paise to keep us going for the day. Sometimes the family goes without a meal.’
Dholia is a victim of the deadly mourra (alcoholic drink sold by bootleggers) and at two rupees a pot one wonders how much of his earnings go to feed the family.
Dholia thinks the few tribals who are living well are dealers of grain from the village to the town. They now have cattle to supplement their income. They also own the largest and most fertile area of land in the village. Out of 40 families living in Gabadia, only three families can live comfortably.
Meanwhile Maitra Bhai sits satisfied and smiling with his little son. He is proud of his stores and points to a ganti (stone grinder), a status symbol in these parts. He sits playing with his child. His house is about four times the size of Dholia’s. He shares the roof with about a dozen goats and cows. He can afford to sit and have a restful day.
The three children born on the same day are only six months old, separated by only ten yards on the earth’s surface. But the differences are already beginning to show. Dholia’s towins are showing signs of undernutrition and are not as alert as Sunya. Though the aspirations of the parents are the same, what they can provide for their respective children is quite different. Dholia’s only son over the age of ten is already an earning member of the family. He has to work as hard as his father. A child over the age of 12 earns about half an adult’s salary.
Maitra’s daughter of the same age sits in the courtyard colouring her dress for the days of festivities. She wants to be seen well dressed at the big mela (fair) in the town. Both the fathers are happy about having more children. But Dholia is only a marginal farmer. His children are always hungry. He goes early in the morning to find some work in one of the bigger fields. His son trails after the father to help support the family income. He is not sure if his twins will survive. On wonders why, after all that effort, he just scrapes together an existence.
Maitra, on the other hand, is a progressive farmer. He relaxes on his charpai (rope bed) with no worries about tomorrow. He has a healthy son and sees a great future for him. Dholia on the other hand never thinks about the future. The present is difficult enough to cope with. His only hope is that his only son survives to help him supplement the family’s income. ‘If there is one more lean year I might have to get my daughters to work; I hope that day never comes. My son and I should be able to earn enough to support them.’
Not long ago a programme was started in the village to offer equal opportunities to all the children for their health and nutrition needs. But the differences are deep below the surface of what the children eat. The programme started a crèche in Maitra’s house, which became the delivery point for all the services. Maitra has now become the great benefactor of the village despite the disparity he maintains. He has given a part of his courtyard for the cause. Yes, he is progressive; that is why the programme chose his house. But at what expense remains unanswered. What do families like Dholia’s need? A more even distribution for equal effort? Or an unknown charity feeding their children once a day and thus keeping the status quo as fossilized as ever?
So there three children grow up, born on the same day and separated by only ten yards on the earth’s surface. But the space between their destinies will widen to miles.