City Life – Fire-Side Memoirs, Roshan Pura
Finding old times.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is a cold late afternoon. Four labourers are sitting around a makeshift fire they have lit up from a pile of wooden planks. Two of them are in their 30s, one is in 40s, and the fourth says he is “very old”. They have been living in Gurgaon in the Greater Delhi Region for more than a decade, but their villages are in UP. Each of them agrees to share what memory this very fire evokes to them, here in Roshan Pura.
Atma Ram, from Sonbhadra
“My wife, Sushila, cooks food on the firewood. It’s the responsibility of my younger brother, Guddu, who lives in the village, to bring her the wood every week. He didn’t marry, lives in the adjacent house and looks after the safety of my wife and children. When I visit the village and it is time for us to eat a meal, I sit on the khaat (string cot) while Sushilamakes rotis on the fire. In the city, I make either roti or rice for one single meal, but Sushila makes both for us to be eaten during the same meal.”
Sanjay Kumar, from Amethi
“In the village, we would spend the winter evenings around such a fire. The men (but never the women) would gather around the fire. Their eyes would burn with dhua (smoke). As a child, I would sometimes sit by my father but it would never be for too long. He would ask me to go inside the house after just four or five minutes. Our house was then kutcha (temporary). But now it is made of bricks. People in cities have electric heaters. There are many people in our village who now have the same. Heaters are not very expensive. One can find a cheap heater even here in Gurgaon. But winters last only for a month, so why waste money?”
Ram Swaroop, from Sonbhadra (the eldest in the group)
“I have no memories of fire.”
Preetam, from Kalpi
“I was very young when daddu (grandfather) died. He was a farmer. We carried his body in a borrowed tractor and drove through the Kanpur highway. Some part of the journey was done on a kacchi (unmetalled) road. We had to walk on foot for about 10 minutes until we reached the banks of the river (he doesn’t remember the river’s name). My father’s elder brother lit the fire in the pyre. It was raining that day, but the rain stopped after some time. We returned to the village at night. The women were sitting in a circle and crying loudly in the courtyard, in front of the house.”