In which our columnist bids farewell

When I was a boy, old enough to find my way around the Kanpur neighbourhood I grew up in, one domestic duty that was assigned to me from time to time was to fetch milk from a nearby village, just a few hundred metres from home. Those days, tiny villages still existed within urban neighbourhoods — each village a cluster of mud-houses, complete with niches for oil lamps, built along narrow lanes occupied by buffaloes tethered to wooden stumps. So on countless evenings I found myself sitting on a wooden cot in the milkman's humble verandah, along with other customers, while he milked the buffaloes.

Milking buffaloes is not an easy task: it would take nearly an hour to fill up a bucket. And so I would kill time by observing village life at sunset. These days, as I collect the milk packet from outside my door in the mornings, I seem to have completely forgotten the fact that milk actually comes from the udders of cows and buffaloes. Today, the moment I think milk, I think of sachets and cartons.

That's what a prolonged life in a metro does to you — it makes you forget your roots, it makes you forget where you come from. It makes you forget that beyond your world there exists another world where most people may be illiterate but are well-informed, where people toil all day in the fields but breathe fresh air, where people may have small incomes but large hearts, where people produce all the food that we eat and the milk we drink but are too humble to take credit for it.

Last week, while visiting Kanpur to gauge the election mood in Uttar Pradesh, I happened to visit a couple of villages in the state. At first they seemed exotic — I felt I was a tourist arriving in a foreign land — but soon the sensations from the past came rushing back and it felt as good as returning home. One sight I will never forget: that of driving through fields, one night, under a canopy of stars. In the daytime, the same fields would overwhelm you with their lush greenery, but at this hour, nature's night show was on: the greenery had retired for the day and the stars were out in large numbers, thousands of them, so close that you could actually put a ladder and pluck a few.

I wished the drive never ended. But soon we reached a village called Prayagpur, three kilometres off the highway in Auraiya, a town that sits midway between Kanpur and Etawah. The driver had relatives living there. It was only eight in the evening but the village looked dark and deserted. Finally he stopped the car near a cluster of houses that were lit dimly with electric bulbs. From nowhere, a handful of curious children emerged. Then the elders showed up.

The one hour that I spent there was one of the most peaceful in my life: no sound of passing vehicles; no pollution; sitting on a wooden cot and surrounded by lantern-lit faces of hospitable strangers (the power went off within minutes of my arrival). A child first brought water, then a plate laden with several cups of tea. Biscuits followed. More tea. They were all eager to tell their stories. Simple people, simple stories.

Finally, when I indicated to the driver that it was time to leave, the men suddenly started behaving like children. They wouldn't let us go. They began pleading that we have dinner and spend the night there. It was with great difficulty —with promises that I will return again — that I managed to get out of the grip of their kindness. One man fished out a phone-diary and made me write my number on it. Another ran behind the car and shouted, “Except in the rainy season, come anytime!”

We soon joined the Kanpur-bound traffic on the highway. As the driver stepped on the accelerator, I wondered if I should have stayed on in the village for some more time. But then, all good things must end. Including this column. Reason? The more pressing demands of life in a metro.