Driver Rupesh presented us with a hefty sack of fresh peas a few days ago. Kim shucked them, blanched them, then warmed them in some ghee with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Verdict: Delicious, with good flavor, a little crunch and a not unpleasant starchiness you don’t often get in peas back home.
Where did these peas come from? Rupesh uses the phrase I have heard many Indians use, “my native place” – the home village or small town. His family has a farm of a 11 or so acres and there they grow sugar cane, onions, “ground nuts” (ie, peanuts), and peas.
Despite decades of modernization, India is still an overwhelmingly farming country – 69% of the population is classed as rural. The vast majority of people you meet here in the cities are one, or possibly two, generations removed from a farming life. You may be a security guard, bank clerk, or an accountant, or an engineer, but your father is/was a farmer, or your grandfather was.
The top 3 Indian states in terms of urban population are Maharashtra (which has Mumbai and Pune), Tamil Nadu (which has Chennai) and Uttar Pradesh (which has 7 cities of greater than 1M population, including Lucknow and Agra). Uttar Pradesh – U.P. as typically called – also is the state with the greatest rural population, over 150M.
The story of country people coming to the city to find opportunity is in many ways the central story of India today. A famous 1967 film, Upkar, presents a story about an upstanding farmer and his educated, urbanized, and greedy, brother:
You don’t need to know Hindi to get what’s going on here. A big part of this story is the division of land: The evil brother wants to divide the land and keep his share to himself, the good brother wants to keep the land together and work it in partnership.
This very much still happens today and is the main reason the average size of a farm here in India is only 1.3 hectares – a bit bigger than a US football field.
BTW, the guy on crutches is Bollywood superstar Pran; his character is “Malang Chacha”, a wise old farmer who is the spiritual advisor to the film’s hero, named “Bharat”, which is the Hindi word for India. Pran passed away only a short time ago at age 93.