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Punjab's Mansa-Bathinda: 'Untouched' by crass individualism, acute materialism?

By Dr Gian Singh*

While conducting a field survey for a research study titled “Socio-Economic Conditions and Political Participation of Woman Households in Rural Punjab”, as a team of four, Dr Gurinder Kaur, Dr Dharmapal, and Dr Rashmi and I went to the villages of Mansa district.
On the day our survey was completed, when we were preparing to return to Patiala, Dr Dharmapal was so impressed with the behaviour of people around, he told us before leaving Mansa, "A person who wants to learn humanity must stay in the villages of Mansa-Bathinda area for two weeks to a month in a year." This conversation led me down the memory lane of how my life was shaped by the incidents and the people I met in the Mansa-Bathinda area.
I was born and raised in Isru village (village of martyr Karnail Singh) in Ludhiana district. Majority of my life has been spent in Patiala teaching at Punjabi University, Patiala. Ludhiana and Patiala are two districts where, despite its many virtues, most people suffer from two major vices, excessive individualism and acute materialism.
After completion of my post-graduation degree in 1975, I went to Bathinda to attend an interview for the post of lecturer in Government Rajindra College. After being selected as lecturer by DPI (Colleges) in 1977, I taught in Government Rajindra College, Bathinda for sometime. In 1981, I went to the villages of Bathinda district to conduct a field survey for my PhD research work, at the time Mansa city was a tehsil of Bathinda district.
During 1984-87, working as a lecturer at the Punjabi University Regional Center, Bathinda, I stayed in Bathinda city and had the opportunity, once again, to visit the villages of Bathinda district. Many such visits have led to the warm relationships I have built with a number of people in the Mansa- Bathinda area.
During the course of my life and many interactions, I have learned a lot from the people of the Mansa-Bathinda area. Most of the people living in this area are social and self-sacrificing, transparent and bold. One such fortuitous meeting happened with Ishwar Dass, an MA student, a resident of Mansa, who later became my friend or more so as a brother.
I met Ishwar Dass while I was doing my MPhil in Punjabi University, Patiala, we were staying in the same hostel. I came to find Ishwar Das as a very social and humble person. For my PhD research work in 1981, when I went to Bathinda to conduct a field survey, Ishwar Dass invited me to stay at his house.
The invitation was done with so much warmth and a sense of family belonging that if I had not done so, Ishwar Dass would have disliked the thought of me staying anywhere else. I went straight to his house in Mansa and to my surprise his Bai Jee (father), Bibi Jee ( mother) and sisters all knew me, even when I had never met them before. They gave me a room with all the comforts to live in.
For as long as I stayed there, my day started early but before going out for field survey to any village, every morning Bibi Jee would come to me with Parathas, curd, butter, and milk. That was her Motherly way of caring for me, she would say that the people of our villages would give you a lot of food and drinks but I would be happy if you had breakfast in front of me. 
While surveying Ishwar Dass's village Bapiana, I had the opportunity to visit the house of his friend Advocate Amrik Singh, who helped us a lot in different field surveys. Since 1981 whenever we go to Bapiana, we feel a deep kinship.
When I visited the villages of the Mansa-Bathinda area, I recollected a Punjabi story "Bhua'' seeing the services of the people there, which highlighted the hospitality and warmth shown to house guests. In the evening when I was preparing to return to Mansa, the people of those villages often said, "Stay here, we will serve you chicken and drinks (alcohol) at night”.
Another incident which left an indelible impression on me happened when I went to Bir Talab village near Bathinda on a field survey day. That day I met Jeet Singh, a resident of that village, who helped me a lot in my field survey. The topic of my research for my Ph.D. degree was “Levels of Living of Marginal Farmers and Agricultural Labourers in Rural Punjab”. 
After two days my field survey in that village was completed. That’s when Jeet Singh asked me to fill out a questionnaire for his family too. I followed up with a question about what his family was doing. He replied that he belongs to an agricultural labour household and his family owns 25 acres of land.
I thought perhaps Jeet Singh was under some illusion that I was collecting details to provide some government aid. Failing to see the connection in his story, I immediately told him that I failed to understand how his family could own 25 acres of land and still belong to an agricultural labour household.
Jeet Singh said that he will answer the remaining questionnaire but first I should visit his field. The visit to his field had revealed that it was a huge mound of sand touching the sky where no crop could grow. Knowing this I now know he was an honest person and I also felt deeply thankful about his earlier help.
While I was surveying the agricultural labour households in Bir Talab village, an old blind man brought a Garhbi (Jug) of tea and asked me to drink it. I replied that I would not be able to drink the whole Garhbi, but I would drink a Bati (bowl) of it.
I took my first sip of tea, when the tea reached my throat, I felt that I should pour the rest of the tea on the earth because Gurh (jaggery) used to make the tea was salty instead of sweet was from a land with a salinity problem in the groundwater, the quality of tea leaves used was very poor and a very small quantity of milk was used only for colour change of tea.
Even amongst the urban shopkeepers there is no communal feeling on the basis of religion/caste
Even if I poured tea, the old man who brought me the tea probably would not know because being a blind man he could not see and the earth was sandy. But my conscience did not allow me.
I quoted the correct valuation on the survey instead of quoting false calculations to estimate the values of commodities being consumed by the agricultural labourers, but as a sign of respect for the hospitality and service spirit of that great old man and to understand the torture suffered by the agricultural labourers, I drank all the tea in the Bati.
During my time living in Bathinda city, when any household item was needed, we generally purchased from the Dhobi Bazar. If someone could see and learn from the behaviour of the shopkeepers in the Dhobi Bazar, the idea of ​​segregation between people living in villages and cities would completely disappear. 
Whenn someone went to Mohan Lal’s shop in Dhobi Bazar, to get a product, he used to ask what was the intent of the product a customer wanted. Upon analyzing the answer, he would decide the need and usage of it.
He was never shy to be straight-forward to tell the customer, “You don't need this product. You will get the alternate required product from the fifth shop of Mohan Singh”. He knew that the alternate product could fulfil the needs of the customer way better than what the customer was asking in the first place even if it meant he had to suffer loss of business at his own shop.
This behaviour of the shopkeepers clearly highlights the fact that even amongst the urban shopkeepers there is no communal feeling on the basis of religion/caste. Consumer interests are paramount amongst urban shopkeepers.
During my teaching years in Bathinda we noticed that the interest of the students in learning and moving forward, the attitude of the students towards their teachers and the parent-like respect with which they treated the teachers was highly commendable and will always be remembered, they will always remain members of our extended family.
While teaching at Punjabi University Regional Centre Bathinda, we rented four houses and good memories of those houses will always remain with us. One of these houses was located at Natha Singh Wali Gali near the bus stand. The owner of this house was S Atma Singh Samagh. In that house, Dr Surjit Singh Bhatti, Dr Balbir Singh Chahal, and I lived together.
During our long stay in that house, we never realized that we were renting someone's house because their generosity exceeded way more than the rent we used to pay them. They were providing us Panjiri/Khoa, food and many more items absolutely free. When I was selected as a lecturer at the Punjabi University, Patiala in December 1987, the entire Samagh family invited us for a tea party.
We used to call S Atma Singh Samagh as Papa Jee and his wife as Bibi Jee (Mother). During the tea party, I asked Papa Jee why was he so nice, he replied that while working as a manager in different branches of District Co-operative Banks, he experienced misbehaviour by the house owners where he rented in different cities of Punjab, but he had decided to stop this inhuman behaviour in his own house. I think it definitely goes to show the character and thinking of the people of the Mansa-Bathinda area.
Memories of the Mansa-Bathinda area and the observation given by Dr Dharampal to become a human being will continue to be very helpful in avoiding the vices of today's excessive individualism and acute materialism and invoke the humane spirit.
---
* Former Professor, Department of Economics, Punjabi University, Patiala

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