Walking to Fatehpura, a village about 4 km from Savista, is like an idyll. The first and lasting impression is of the great and unspoilt beauty of the landscape. A fairly smooth kuccha (unpaved) walking path is in existence and makes our progress easy. We hardly meet anyone as we walk along comfortably; the only visual evidence is of nature and industrious agriculture. On either side of the path stretch well cultivated fields showing the early tender green presence of wheat, garden peas, mustard and barley growing on soil that looks dark and richly moist despite the generally sandy nature of the terrain. Interspersed among the fields and along the pathway are trees – mostly thorny sturdy babool, a tree suited to semi-arid soil conditions – which provide shelter to busy birds exploring what the fields have to offer.
Between stretches of fields we pass a couple of homesteads. It would feel strange, indeed, if in India there were not even such a minimal encounter with human presence. A few young women busy with weeding or looking after their buffaloes look up and smile at us briefly. A few small children, chubby and relatively clean and well clothed, give a startled and curious stare. It is still 4 in the evening and any older children must be still at school. The men are probably away at work. There are no idlers to be seen; so different from the more urbanized villages that abound in the area. Occasional patches of marigold, clearly being cultivated for the market, add a splash of brilliance to the deep browns, greens and yellows on the ground and pale blue in the sky. Little vegetable gardens hug the homesteads, from across the thatch housing the buffaloes; we can see thin green fingers of garlic and spring onions, the little leaves of fenugreek, potatoes, aniseed, spinach and turnips. All this is evidence that the families in these homesteads are eating reasonably well. Cowdung cakes are stacked to dry against the walls of the buffalo shelters. These are families self-sufficient in grain, vegetables, milk and fuel. Their men and women work. Their children go to school.
At Fatehpura itself, beautifully-tended fields covered with crops reach for the horizon. The village houses are ranged along the other side of the main pathway. They have large compounds shielded by high walls of thorny twigs. Another striking image – even more so than the unspoilt and uncrowded beauty of the landscape – is the spotlessness we have encountered all along our route, and that continues through Fatehpura village; the blessed characteristic of sparse populations. The homesteads along the route do not seem to be generating visible litter. The feeling of being in an idyllic bubble begins to give way, however, when we get to the end of the village and closer to the main road that runs past it. Although the landscape is still relatively empty of people, barring an occasional shepherd and his wife in traditional dress leading a flock of goats and sheep, or farmers on motorcycles also in traditional attire, plastic bags and plastic tea glasses lie piled up by the roadside. Evidence of modernity and prosperity in village India. Traditional knowledge does not equip people with the means to dispose of synthetic wastes. And nobody is giving them the new knowledge either. Apart from this, the idyll is still intact, but we are reminded of how tenuous this is.