By PRADEEP SINGH
Villages have the antiquity that cities and towns have envied and never paralleled. They were the nodes of human activity that gave mankind it’s distinct identify in the hierarchy of species . Mahatma Gandhi gave primacy to India’s villages as he held that India truly resided in her seven lac villages. Though in current times villages are not in the forefront of public debate or in the minds of the mandarins of modern nations, yet the emotions villages evoke in the hearts of many are worthy of contemplating. Thus writers like Munshi Premchand , Emile Zola, Leo Tolstoy, Knut Hamsun, D H Lawrence and Thomas Hardy have immortalised rural life in their works now regarded as classics.
Old Doon too has its share of a legendary village which is remembered in these few lines.
Hemmed in on its southern edges by the Mothorowala swamp and tucked in on its south eastern side by Nagsidh Hill and Nawada lay the orderly and prospering village of Badripur.
Much of what is written is from personal knowledge due to several generation – old connection to this village.
On the outskirts of the city, turning right from the Jogiwala crossing is a well travelled old road leading to Badripur, the name itself well known to those whose families have been in Doon for some time and have had the opportunity to savour the famed basmati rice raised in the fields lying on both sides of this old road . When it was still fashionable in town to stop at carts selling freshly squeezed sugar cane juice , the cane invariably came from the farms of this very same village and for a good reason.
The principal families of the village were closely knit by kinship and blood and hence there was a special elan about their conduct of their traditional profession of agriculture. They came to Doon at the behest of Guru Ram Rai in mid seventeenth century to turn the virgin soil with ploughs and pic axes and did a most admirable job in villages like Badripur, Sewla Kalan and Sewla Khurd .
They raised the image of the village to a hallowed level as the village became an important contributor to the economy of the district through production of bumper cash crops, when elsewhere in the district traditional farming was still hitched to mere subsistence.
Though popular history gives the credit of introducing the basmati rice in Doon to the Afghans who came here with Dost Muhammad, the Amir of Afghanistan , following the developments of the first Anglo Afghan War of 1839-40, it is to the farming acumen of Badripur landowners that this variety of rice was propogated here on a truly commercial scale for the times. Their persistence and perseverance made basmati a delicacy in the homes of the ordinary as well as the elite. Waris Shah (of Heer Ranjha fame) might have been the first in mid eighteenth century to use the word basmati in his writing but Badripur green thumbs gave it the global acclaim.
Colonel (and later) Sir Proby T Cautley’s canals that irrigated much of Doon came to Badripur only in 1858-60 and hence the village which was at the tail end of the central part of the Valley depended only on the rains and long monsoons for the success of the basmati in the absence of canal water. However with Cautley’s gift of water availability, Badripur diversified it’s agricultural base by introducing systematic sugar cane plantation in the district. Not only was the famous E K 28 variety of sugar cane imported by the village elders from Aligarh but it was brought to it’s full productive capacity in the well irrigated fields. In no time this variety became famous as the ” Aligarhiya “. So much so that once the railways came to Doon, enterprising sugarcane juice- walas started taking it by bundle loads on passenger trains to Delhi where it was in high demand for juice and also as chunks (ganderi ). Over production had its own challenges . There was no sugar mill in the district till 1933 when the Doiwala sugar mill was established. But not to be worsted the enterprising growers set up a couple of sugar crushing units powered by bullocks . This enterprise took care of the surplus sugarcane till the sugar mill drew curtains on it. People still remember wistfully the soft jaggery made from Aligarhiya cane .
( To be continued )