When Amazon Prime’s new arrivals notified me of TVF’s new series Panchayat, for reasons that do not exist, I wasn’t very keen on watching. But, a couple of days later, my partner-in-crime suddenly discovered this new show in Prime and was too excited (again, I know not for what reason). I didn’t tell him about how I had noticed it and duly ignored it, but as always he was too excited to notice my disinterest. So, nonchalantly I started watching it with him. But Phulera’s new Panchayat secretary Abhishek Tripathi beat me in nonchalance and slowly I warmed up to the series.
Phulera is one of those many Indian villages where the Village Panchayat leadership posts are reserved for women, where these elected female representatives leave the administration in the able hands of their men and go back to their god-given duty of being the ‘caregiver’ at home. Our protagonist, Abhishek is your aspirational neighbour next door who chilled through his student days and is suddenly faced with the reality of his life in Phulera while his friends Instagram away from their uber-cool urban corporate lives. So, he decides to bring his life around by preparing for the CAT entrance exam. Having been used to too many super-hero stories and feminist web series, I was predicting that the new Secretary’s young blood would boil and he would change the way things worked for these women representatives in Phulera. Unfortunately for me, he wasn’t Ayushmann Khuranna from Article 15 who wants to right the wrongs. He just turned out to be another half-hearted opportunist stuck up between good/bads and right/wrongs. However, now that you have started watching a series, it’s a crime to not finish it. Also, despite my disappointment in the protagonist being non-heroic and very practical, I came to like other people in Phulera who reminded me of many people I have come across. Some I remember warmly, but most I would rather stay away from.
I was in college when my Village Panchayat was first reserved for women. My hostel warden was surprised that I wanted to leave to go home to vote. It helped that she was a feminist or at least she thought herself as one. Off I went and elected the first woman President of my village. She was only a few years older than me and I knew her. She was smart, confident, outspoken, and very capable to be a leader. A year later, I was sitting face to face with my interviewer, and again I have no idea why he asked me this, but he asked me to comment on reservations for women. Hold that thought, I now remember why he asked me that. I think that was one of the many times when the 33 percent reservation for women in Parliament was in the news. I told him, ‘reservations for women’ makes no sense until the time their husbands, fathers, and brothers make decisions in their place. I believe my answer was more of a reflection of my disappointment of how my otherwise talented Panchayat leader was sidelined and how her father/brothers took over the reins of administration. I landed the job and moved to the city.
A decade has gone by and my village panchayat is still reserved for women, except there hasn’t been an election in the last five years all thanks to politicians and bureaucrats. These days however, I don’t get too disappointed. I feel like I am another Abhishek Tripathi, because how does it matter if it is a man or a woman.The next woman who won the election in my village was more corrupt than all her male predecessors put together, and all these years being grown up, I have seen more unkind, difficult women as well. So, my blood doesn’t boil and I don’t get goosebumps with seemingly empowering feminist or pseudo-feminist thoughts. Or should I say, it does at times, but not as much as it used to? I have come to believe in harmony, although I am not convinced it exists. Yet strangely, unlike the Women Reservation Bill that maintains status quo for many years even after change of regimes, I have changed my stance with respect to reservation for women. I believe reservation for women is essential despite the cultural baggage and excessive corruption that comes with the arrangement. I believe that is the only way to bring out those real leaders who probably are stuck with their heads in the kitchen fire.
Sorry about that long nostalgic monologue, but coming back to Phulera, I was glad I watched it. It was a lesson and an inspiration in some ways. Revolution may not always be the way to go. Sometimes we have to be patient and give way to evolution. Maybe a little push here and there can expedite the process without really breaking down the good things of the past that we want to leave behind.
Having said that, Pradhan Ji and her PradhanPati make a loving couple. Aarav’s Papa and Aatmaram’s Maa too were equally entertaining. But all hearts to Vikas and Deputy Pradhan Prahlad for filling my day with laughter. I hated Parmeshwar (only because he reminded me of many people I know) and Abhishek sir, kabhi kabhi thoda smile bhi kar lo.