A way west

The pointReturn site of 17 acres, bought on July 31, 06, has been without a secure all-weather road access to it. This was required for realising the whole dream. On December 21, I signed a deal that put in the missing piece to complete the jig-saw picture. It is an appropriate occasion to reflect on ways of rural India today.

Jamin Endathur is almost difficult to find, tucked away as it is from even minor roads. A single road running through it connects two rural roads and a bus traverses it four times a day. The nearest big town is Madurantakam. In its isolation Endathur has all the endearing qualities of a remote village: slow pace of life and vast paddies irrigated by a large rain water tank.

On closer look however, one begins to see how charming mutual accommodation and trust of olden times are slowly being replaced by intrigues, suspicion and power play. In every habitat there is a hegemonistic group drawing its power either from political or caste affiliation, frequently both. It is idle to name any particular caste to be uniformly powerful across the country. It varies from the lowest to the highest caste depending on demographic factors. But what is certain is that one group will be assertive at a given time. In olden days, the the hegemony was absolute for the duration; now democracy has modified that monopoly and created two rival or more groups.

Endathur was a traditional zamindari village before that system was abolished in the fifties. Chunampet and Cheyyur are other zamindari estates nearby. These comprised of several hamlets dotted over vast paddy fields.

Any harmony we attribute to recent past, is largely due to the romanticism in all of us. Were one to consider question, “did it exist by consent and choice?”, the answer has to be ‘no’. An absence of physical conflict does not mean peace. The arrangement was purely feudal- one between lords and serfs.

Until Akbar’s reign there were no public records of titles to land. Ownership of huge parcels changed instantly with the fall of a kingdom and that was frequent. It was the British that created land surveys and registries. Revenue ‘Collectors’ had to have standardised records and tariffs. Until all that, land was a mere platform for crop production. There was no significant growth in its monetary value as an asset in comparison with gold which was the preferred and portable asset.

It’s easy to see the factors that have made land a premium, fast growing asset. First there was the population explosion of the last 5 decades. Then, the longing for abandoned roots by villagers who educated and urbanised themselves. And finally now, the economic boom that seeks land for lifestyle farms and as investment that would rapidly appreciate in value. In the five months since I bought the parcel of 17 acres, prices have tripled. Even in remote Endathur there is a steady flow city folks looking to buy land.

The pointReturn site is in no threat of being being over-run by too much bustle. It is in an abandoned part of the village locked away without an assured access. From the west, from behind the hillock, the nearest road is a half kilometer. It is a non motorable, unpretty access. Thus far, I have been visiting the site by trudging the gutted path. It has not been easy carrying tools and materials. It was clear that if the pointReturn mission were ever to be accomplished as dreamed, there had to be a secure, private, all-weather, motorable road from the east. And thus began a major saga that grew me rapidly wise in the ways of modern day rural landowners.

The approach road I now have is 4 metres wide [15′] and over 0.6 kM long passing through the properties of four owners. Two of them, a mother and her son, held the title to the major part I required, and the minor part belonged to two brothers.

In 25 years of their being neighbours they had seldom met. The four lived in nearby towns of Madurantakam and Chengalpattu. They rarely visited their properties, which were leased out to local villagers for annual fees. The property of the mother and son was in two parts, separated by the property of the two brothers, in such a way the brothers could not legally reach their property from the road and the mother and son, could enter one part of their property from the road, but not the other, without trespassing the brothers’ property. You would have thought reasonable people would have sat down and worked out a mutually beneficial arrangement.

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