REGION: Global village in the heartland

For the most part, myths about an idyllic country life of pastoral contentment are just that – myths. Bucolic scenes, pastoral settings and rustic tranquillity; poetic descriptions of tranquil village life, its simplicity and innocence, have a powerful hold on our imaginations. To some extent this remains true today, but recent decades have also seen a marked change in our collective perceptions about the Southasian ruralscape.

For instance, let us trace this change in literary depiction of village life. At the turn of the century, Rabindranath Tagore's acerbic comments on the inequities of gender and caste, against a backdrop of colonialism in rural Bengal, are immortalised in stories such as Shasti (Punishment). In the classic stories of Premchand, the pioneer of modern Hindi literature, the village is seen through a more realistic lens, in all its beauty and ugliness. Writing in the 1930s, Premchand was unsparing in portraying the darker underside of village life: the ubiquity of caste, condemning those of lower status to a life of degradation and penury; oppressive feudalism; chronic indebtedness; bonded labour, et al. But he also saw the positives, celebrating the natural rhythms of rural life, its closeness to nature, and the honesty and simplicity of the common villager. This tradition continued in later decades, through the writings of Phanishwarnath Renu in Hindi and others in all the languages of the Subcontinent.

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Himal Southasian