This refers to the essay “Recovering Budhni Mejhan from the silted landscape of modern India” (June 2). More than the long heading, the picture was most riveting. I read the whole story and was distressed to learn about the fate of Budhni. What a shame! It might have been the state of affairs in villages those days and I do hope such obnoxious practices and beliefs do not exist today. The picture transported me back in time to my own nostalgic experience. I was working at the Bhilai Steel Plant, another temple of modern India. The rail and structural mill, one of the Bhilai mills, was also inaugurated by Pandit Nehru in 1960. As a young engineer involved in the construction of the gigantic mills and with a volunteer badge given to me on the occasion, I had the opportunity to meet him and cherish the memory of his shaking hands with me. Alas, I have lost that photograph.
I was in class six (1980-81) when the second lignite mining project at Neyveli was inaugurated by the President. I grew up with the smell and sounds of lignite mines operating in the backyard of our village. As a member of a displaced community, I agree with the writer that the sociological consequences of such displacements are yet to be researched in a way that they can be a parameter while framing acquisition policies. Current policies mostly revolve around the monetary loss/compensation package alone. When I had to declare a “home town address” (while joining IIT-Kanpur, in 2003), I had to submit my brother's address. The emotional trauma I had at that moment of time is a reality and true for every displaced person in different dimensions.
The essay aptly posed the question: who benefited from the temples of the new age? The Five-Year Plans ensured that tribals became mobile and embraced a larger global culture. It didn't matter if Budhni Mejhan lost her identity during the mighty task of nation building. Does the state ever listen to the voices of its people?
Subba Rao K.V.,
The story of Budhni was moving and painful, evoking memories of incomplete textbooks that have lauded the developmental trajectory of India — another version, another view of the development story that many of us grew up on. More than that, however, it made me realise the truth of the author's statement: “wherever people live, they create intensely compressed layers of experience, expressed through a delicate ecology of connectedness. One needs to ‘see' them.” It also brought to one's mind the book, “Small is Beautiful — a Study of economics as if People Mattered,” by E.F. Schumacher. Written in the 1970s, it speaks of how modern economics is unsustainable and undignifying as it does not look at the human being as a human, but as a resource.
The essay took me back to my days in boarding school in Ooty where we learned history, geography and civics on dark, rainy afternoons. G.K. was an essential part of school lessons and we had regular tests and prizes — the cold print was only about getting to know that Chittaranjan produced locomotives, Neyveli meant lignite and Bhakra Nangal was a mighty engineering feat. A Budhni Mejhan never ever crossed our minds. We never thought about “a new G.K. of collective imagination which sings a land as well as its people into existence.” Thank you, Ms Padmanabhan.