January 22, 2018

The Farmers I Met

The Farmers I met

by Shahinur Islam

It was long ago. The time might be sometime in April of 2004 when I was visiting some villages at Gaibandha district of Bangladesh. I was assigned to photograph ‘hybrid paddy with the farmers’ spasmodically. To my utter surprise, I was overwhelmingly disarmed, prodigiously impressed and simultaneously mortified as I held low opinions about the courtesy, etiquette and manners of the village people.

But surprisingly enough, the poor peasants did not stint themselves to manifest their typically hospitable and sympathetic manners. I was introduced to myriad manifestations of sympathy and tender feelings whenever I was perspiring in the scorching sun, wherever I felt famished and whomever I happened to meet. They entertained me with whatever they had in their hand. They not only slaked my thirst with a glass of cold water  extracted from the tube well but also invited me to their own house Though they scrimp and lead Spartan life, their heart went out tremendously to minister to me. Some of them served me with some pieces of biscuits and some with chicken, pond-fish or eggs. But the quantity or the material of entertainment mattered little to me. I was truly impressed and enthralled by the way the village farmers served me with food, the way their wives fanned me with the taal punkha (palm-leaf fan) while I was having my meal and sweating too, though their husbands and they themselves were sweating as well. They were not able to entertain me with rich food, but they filled my heart with heartfelt sympathy and cordial smiles.

The farmers may not know how to greet someone with handshakes, how to say ‘hi’, ‘hello’, ‘nice to meet you’ etc. But they have their own expressions issuing from the core of their heart such as baahe (bro) which sounds sweet and sugary to those ears that are used to. They may not have enough wealth and money, but they have a heart of gold that can soothe any heart. They may not have a witty turn of phrase, command over standard expressions or modern parlance. They may not be silver-tongued and mellifluous in voice but their tone introduces me to their living close to the soil. Their vein of humour, twinge of conscience, practical turn of mind and sense of humanity springing from afflictions in life can touch any heart. They put themselves on stand by to commiserate and entertain anybody. They may not know how to sit down like urban people, but they know how to leave their own pinri(sitting tool) squatting themselves on the ground. They may not have tidy and combed hair but they have unkempt hair and shaggy eye-brows smacking of stark reality.

I mixed with both urban people and village people. But mixing with the village ones (whom we usually identify as rustic, uncultured, plebian etc.) is a heart-warming experience in my life. Their simplicity and selflessness left an enduring stamp in my breast. Their artless smiles and candid expressions have been playing upon my heartstrings to date.

I felt that wide expanses of verdant plain land had contributed to broaden their heart. Their sight can reach the horizon whereas ours gets stuck in the walls. They have no formal education but learnt form nature, form social and cultural values. So their simplicity can not be attributed to a masquerade. Their simplicity, generousness and fellow-feelings lie hidden in a motley collection of old clothes they wear, in the sordid thatched houses they live, in the Spartan diet they have which we mistake for the rustic, uncultured and plebian manners. After portraying the poor farmers with my camera, it occurred to me that I miserably failed to capture their simplicity, poverty-smitten but vivid facial expressions, inner yet characteristic amicability.