A chance meeting resulted in invitation to visit Kapadwanj. A town of about 2 lakh population. Not too far from Vadodara and so also from Ahmedabad.
The driver came forward as I came out of the Airport in Vadodara. “ketlo vakhat laagse?” [How much time will it take to reach there?] I tried my broken Gujarati. My Gujju wife was not there to laugh at me. He understood. ‘Dodh kalak” [One and a half hour] he said. We got in to a waiting Scorpio. “Switch on AC” I said. Unlike Mumbai where it was raining heavily, Vadodara was dry and already hot. It was humid too.
The roads in Vadodara are good; actually the roads in Gujarat are very good. Unlike the roads in Mumbai or Maharashtra. The Scorpio moved slowly till it hit the highway. Then it moved fast. I dozed off. Speed induces music or it puts me to sleep. The music usually is induced by the ‘beats’ of a travelling vehicle. Trains invariably do it to me. With air-conditioned cars and AC trains, this music-while-you-travel experience has been consigned to memory. It is impossible to start singing without the dhak-dhak beats of the vehicle hitting road or railway. With AC on, and silence keeping you company, sleep is what you get. Smooth roads ensure sound sleep. I woke up when the driver stopped for a while.
We were not on the highway, I discovered. We were passing through a village. It was green everywhere and grey road running through it. A tyre repair shop was by the road side. I took out my iPad and clicked. The Driver looked on with curiosity. We moved on.
Soon we arrived at Dakor. A familiar name. I had stayed at Mulund in Mumbai which has high Gujarati population. The shop-keepers there sell ‘Dakor na Gota na Lot.’ That’s flour from which you can make something like a ‘vada.’ It is very popular.
I said “Dakor na Gota na Lot.” The Driver smiled at my knowledge of local product.
“There is a well-known old temple here” he said.
“Ranchod-das-ji’ I said. He was surprised.
“Have you been here earlier?”
“No, this is my first visit.”
We arrived at Kapadwanj. A small town. There is a big and well known educational institute here. I met people and retired to my room in the evening. A couple staying in the next room was looking after me. The Gentleman asked “Tea at six? What time you get up?” I nodded in agreement; I always get us at five.
Cool breeze in the morning and a small place to sit in veranda made ideal location for morning cup of tea. We started chatting….
“I get up in the morning at four every day. And then go for a forty-five minute jogging,” the gentleman said. One of the things you hate to hear from an older-than-you person is that he exercises regularly. It just does not go well with your morning cup of tea!
The silence was broken by a loud call of a peacock. No, peacocks! There were several of them. I looked for them. Suddenly five of them appeared. This was a good surprise. “Peacocks!” I said. I immediately called up my grand-daughter.
“There are peacocks here!” I told her excitedly.
“Oh, don’t tell lies!” She said.
Now the grandpa had to prove that he was not. I took out my mobile and clicked. [Why should I say ‘Clicked?’ Mobiles do not make a ‘Click’ sound; they make a ‘ting.’ But some things stay in the vocabulary.] And mailed it to her as the proof. She will watch it on her iPad, I thought.
“You must visit our school” the Gentleman said, and I agreed.
The school a grey coloured building had a place where the students assemble in the morning. They say school prayer. Then a student addresses the gathering on a certain subject on which he has been given time to prepare. Then follows a General Knowledge question. This is followed by breakfast.
“All students have to leave their footwear outside the class. They have to keep it properly in a neat line.” The teacher was explaining, “We have about thirty students in a class, they have all the facilities. We pay good attention to them that is why our school is well known not only in this town but also in many neighbouring towns.”
“Do they attend classes regularly?” I asked.
“Oh, the times have changed. Even an illiterate farmer is now aware of the importance of education. Attendance is not a problem. It starts when they start dreaming of going to cities and join junior colleges. This is a very old institution. Almost seventy-five years old.” As he is talking he introduces me to an old man standing there.
“I am eighty-seven! I passed out of this school seventy years ago!!” He spoke good English. Obviously he was well educated.
I was stunned. “Oh, wow!!”
“I worked in Mumbai but after retirement I settled down here in my town. We have to give back to the Society. We are what we are because of people around us. We have upgraded facilities at this educational institute and now we want to upgrade the health centres.”
Very positive at this age of eighty-seven. No familiar complaining tone and utterances of ‘During our days….”
Perhaps you have to go to small towns to find positivity. Cities with their pomp and wealth do not have it. Cities do not have a neighbour inviting you to have a morning cup of tea at six. Cities do not have a peacock announcing its arrival. And cities do not have educational institutions where teachers say passionately that they are inculcating good habits.