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Struggle for existence keeps Pokemon at bay in rural India

With scarce civic amenities and lack of institutional support for the needy and the disadvantaged

Ehtesham Shahid

Published: Updated:

A train journey ferrying you out of a metropolis in India almost invariably brings a sense of deja vu. High rises give way to humbler dwellings, cleaner roads are replaced by zig-zag pathways dotted with potholes and instead of pleasantly dressed folks, you find more haggard-looking men and women worn out by the rigors of daily existence. And yes, the farther you go the lesser the electricity supply while tap water gets drier by the mile.

The situation may slightly differ depending on which direction you take out of the capital city, but the vagaries of life remain the same. If mega cities are all about chasing dreams and making a mark amid cut-throat competition, the countryside means being rooted, becoming one with the community and finding resonance with the larger scheme of things. The display of religiosity is also more pronounced in the countryside and so are caste, communal and class fault lines.

Yet, despite the disconnect over the availability of resources and opportunities, the two Indias have mostly coexisted over the years. If people have migrated in their millions from villages to eke out a living in bustling mega cities, a reverse migration seems to be taking shape, albeit at a much lower scale. One can't help but get a feeling that this had to happen someday.

A chance encounter with an agriculture scientist and an organic farming entrepreneur reveals that some people are homeward bound to reap the benefits of new techniques and research-based selection of crops. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that more and more people are considering returning to villages to benefit from the opportunities presented by the large swathe of fertile agricultural lands.

This may not be enough to offset the glum surrounding the small-scale industrial and services sectors in the country but, at least, shows the way to a more sustained model of all-round development. If such a process indeed fructifies, it will ensure that the millions of human resources - in rural and urban areas - are better utilized and natural resources better managed.

Refreshingly though, either of these Indias seems to have stayed away from the Pokemon Go phenomenon that has gained notoriety almost everywhere in the world. There are occasional reports of 20-somethings chasing Pikachus all the way to old forts using VPN-enabled access, but it still isn't the rage that one would expect in a populous and largely techno-savvy country.

Making ends meet

The reason is not very difficult to fathom. The deeper you probe into India's vast landscapes, the more aware you become of the challenges faced by its rural population. With scarce civic amenities and lack of institutional support for the needy and the disadvantaged, making ends meet occupies the imagination of a large section of rural India's population.

With scarce civic amenities and lack of institutional support for the needy and the disadvantaged, making ends meet occupies the imagination of a large section of rural India's population

Ehtesham Shahid

In one of the most densely populated states, women are celebrating a liquor ban that has been put in place by the local government. The ban has silenced misbehaving husbands and even incarcerated the more abusive ones. The whispering of anguish at co-villagers' inebriated rant has swiftly turned into mirth over the intoxicated hiding away.

The monsoon season brings its own cost-benefit equations. While extensive rainfall is critical for the survival of the most important crop of the season i.e. paddy, it also has the potential to disrupt normal life in a major way, even if it slightly exceeds the normal downpour. Since most small farmers have their annual savings hinging on a good monsoon, excessive rainfall, or total lack of it, can turn a bumper crop into a complete whimper.

As India's rural north watches the clouds with bated breath, few of their young continue to display intent when it comes to playing Pokemon Go. However, they are deterred as much by daunting circumstances as lack of access to the much-needed bandwidth that make their hunt for Bulbasaur, Squirtle and Charmander difficult.

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Ehtesham Shahid is a Managing Editor at Al Arabiya English. For close to two decades he has worked as editor, correspondent, and business writer for leading publications, news wires and research organizations in India and the Gulf region. He loves to occasionally dabble with teaching and is collecting material for a book on unique tales of rural conflict and transformation from around the world. His twitter handle is @e2sham.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.