What about work, employment, today’s youth? Tauji is quick to answer. ‘Oh all they can think about is selling the land and making it big, for a while.’

Poverty…work…growth…sustainable development goals… Oh, yes.
Baabu is such a fond name of address for father. We’ll leave it at that. It’s Baabu’s story that matters. Baabu was to be the first among others. Turns out, he and his elder brother become the fulcrum covering decades.
Baabu belongs to a highly respected Brahminical community and owns a lot of land. He and his brother (let’s keep it at Tauji), are in their 70s. Diminutive men, who would hardly attract attention in a bustling city crowd. Baabu has lovely twinkling eyes and an endearing, sometimes mischievous smile. In my mind, they are landed people and I know Baabu to be the proud owner of a local store, now run by his sons. His story is a complete backtrack.
“Poverty? Poverty?” mumbles Baabu, then continues. “Poverty is when you don’t have food, no roof over your head, no one who helps you…”
Tauji speaks up. “There are different kinds of poverty. Poverty you are fated for, born into. Poverty arising from untimely death or unexpected incidents, like a house being burnt down. Poverty because you gobble up and drink away what you have. Then there is poverty of the lazy, the non-workers, who do not strive but whine about their fate…”
I turn back to Baabu. So, you know about people who have been in that situation, without food, a roof. “I have seen it,” he says. I am stumped. You, you have been through that? “Yes, I am talking about ourselves…” He was barely five years old when the brothers lost their father.
“We did what we could to survive. Pick fruits, sell them. Anything.” With a little laughter and palm shuffling he says, “Even gambled, to get a few coins and buy jaggery and tea leaves to give mother some tea. Otherwise, I would have to beg someone for it.”
“Anyway, I joined up with people to pluck orchards and sell the fruits. It was all on faith. We would strike a deal and pay up after the sales. It went very well with a Muslim guy with whom I collaborated. They are very conscientious workers. It was a good arrangement. I did all the plucking and he did all the proper packing and packaging. We even sent fruits as far as Mumbai.”
Mumbai? Would the fruits not rot by then? He laughs. “You are getting fruits from America and Australia. Are they rotting? We knew our job, when to pluck what and how to preserve them. It’s not like how they do it now. Just take a huge rod and shake all the branches of the tree to make them fall, with half going to waste. We looked at each fruit and plucked it at the right time. It would take us three to four days to finish an orchard. We would pay up the owner, he would get Rs 800 and I would get the same. You see, we were not selling close by. By sending to Mumbai or Kanpur, we could get ten times the price. Then, I pitched tarpaulin on some poles and started the shop.
“I would go by bus to Haldwani {small town about 25 kilometres away}. Buy some toffees, biscuits, a little sugar, rice. Just small amounts. For every rupee you spent, you gained one. That’s how it was. Then, someone gave me some money and I built a 10ftx10ft room all by myself. Then started buying more things…Everything from Haldwani. Today, they all come and deliver things to the shop right here. Every little thing.”
That 10ftx10 ft shop is now like a mini supermarket. Forget basics like rice and sugar. Any seasoning, sauce, frozen food, cheese, doggie snacks, after-shaves, hair serums, you name it and it’s there.
What about work, employment, today’s youth? Tauji is quick to answer. “Oh all they can think about is selling the land and making it big, for a while.”
Baabu butts in, “You see, now they want to go to Goa and Bangkok. That’s where they see themselves. They think they will find ‘work’ by doing all that.” Big smile. “They will start thinking about real work only when they see the dwindling amounts in the bank. All the land would have gone by then. We, we never sold our land even in the worst circumstances.”
Tauji adds, “They will achieve nothing because they have no skills. You have to be educated, have skills to pull through now. Even those who think they are making it by doing hotel management courses…all to nil. You go to Dubai, there are ten others like you. What chance do you have? Government gives opportunities, loans, you can buy cattle, today vegetables sell at great prices. It boils down to those I told you about—the non-workers. Those who will complain about life but do nothing themselves to change their lives.”
Baabu is somewhat apologetic as he makes me step inside his part of the living room and bedroom in the long house. “This is my six feet shelter.” His wife smilingly says, “No place to put up even my daughter and son-in-law when they come.”
Even so, Baabu sits cross-legged on his bed, smilingly, happily and proudly, as he enquires about how life went with me. What exactly can you say in the face of someone who has seen five to six such decades pass before their eyes?

Neelima Mathur is an India-based Executive Producer, Researcher, Writer, Mentor and Trainer for documentary and NGO films. She is also Festival Director of the Lakeside Doc Festival.