Mahatma Gandhi, one of the 20th century’s most visionary global leaders, inspired by a deep spiritual quest, used to say: “India lives in its villages”. On my latest trip, I visited my mother’s home village Goinj, a hundred kilometres east of Jamnagar in Gujarat. I was biased – proud that a mother who barely went to school and had to work from a young age to help the fatherless family- raised me to become who I am today.
Whenever I speak to her today, the memories are very special - the huge fertility of the soil, the beautiful school buildings, the fresh air and space to roam and a river to swim, and harmony and mutuality effortlessly natural. Dr Liladhar, Dr Kanti Vora, and Mrs Kusum Haria, sons and daughters of the same village, have similar memories. Interdependence extended to the cows, who were family members, and there were birdhouses, too (chabutro).
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Houses were designed with big open public spaces where the doors were always open. Adults showered love for children and gave them fruit and encouragement. My grandmother was called ‘Ayee’, which almost means the village elder and mother, due to her endless generosity. She was widowed from a young age and knew only struggle and hardship, but she turned it into love and compassion rather than bitterness and anger.
Growing up in Mombasa, Kenya, I had never seen a boundary between family and community. Goinj was a local government and economy too. It was inclusive and peaceful without needing any laws or regulations. And animals and trees were family too, helping earn the highest respect and care. There were no dustbins in the homes - everything was reused. The merchant cared for his village and provided the needful at a fair price without a second thought about profit extraction. His was a joy to provide. Finance was made a servant of the village, never its master. Even when cows were left to graze away from the village, they could navigate their way back home.
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As we crave sustainable coexistence, we need to respect these villages and their simplicity despite struggles and hardships. They could be helpful models when we vision a shared future – with open spaces, inclusive families and compassion towards all living beings, especially the silent and voiceless. The past can provide seeds of hope and wisdom too. It was Net Zero without needing batteries or recycling. Indian villages were timeless and futuristic too. Modernity ignores them to its own peril.