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We are slowly forgetting festivals, says Marathwada farmer Suryakant Kundre

"I do not know how to go on living," says Kundre, who lives with his wife in a makeshift tent on the outskirts of Salapur in Parbhani. The district, part of the erstwhile Nizam state, is nearly 200km away from the regional headquarter Aurangabad, and 530km from Mumbai.

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Suryakant Kundre with his wife on their parched land in the Parbhani district
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When the drought forced Suryakant Kundre out of his fields, the 60-year-old Marathwada farmer took to fishing to survive. But then the Godavari river ran dry too, and now there is nowhere to turn to.

"I do not know how to go on living," says Kundre, who lives with his wife in a makeshift tent on the outskirts of Salapur in Parbhani. The district, part of the erstwhile Nizam state, is nearly 200km away from the regional headquarter Aurangabad, and 530km from Mumbai.

Kundre owns one acre of arid land. He says a few years ago, life was still difficult but at least there was work to do and food to eat. "But the last three years have taken both away. This year, we sowed soy bean. But the rain didn't fall and the crop withered. We uprooted it all out of frustration. Now its raining but I am not sure of what to sow or whether there will be a good produce or not," he says.

"When the crop failed year after year, I decided to turn to fishing to fill the stomach. But the river beds have dried up as well. I have not had any work in other people's farms in the last two months. People are paying as low as Rs50-100 as wages, but now there is no work any more. We are fighting for two meals in a day," laments Kundre.

The couple has two sons – Vishal and Balaji. Both are married and have five children in all. Kundre is the only ration card holder in the family. "My sons decided to live separately after getting married. They are yet to get ration cards. It helps us buy rice, wheat, sugar and oil at a cheaper rate. The quality is not good but survival is more important at this moment. Though my children have left me, I share my ration with their families. I cannot see my grandchildren starving. They are in the growing age. If they do not get proper food at this time, their health might be damaged permanently," he rues.

He adds that his grandchildren do not like eating coarse grain like jawar, which is difficult to digest. "They want dal and rice. But we cannot afford to buy that. I am not worried about my life any more, but I want my grandchildren to survive," he says.

Meanwhile, the unrelenting drought has new miseries in its fold. Most wells, tube-wells and hand pumps in the area have dried up. "We get water once in a week. Most farmers can be seen wandering with their cattle from one well to the other. We can still manage right now, but the cattle are suffering terribly without water," Kundre rues.

Financial transactions are also coming to a halt in the stricken district. "People have completely stopped lending or borrowing money. There is nobody to help the needy. It was the festival of Gauri pujan on Saturday, when Maharashtrians worship Goddess Parvati. On this auspicious day, our women did not even have enough to eat. We did not celebrate pola – worship of bullocks – as well. The curse of poverty is forcing us to forget festivals," he laments.

There has, however, been some grace. "We are happy that it is raining now. At least the animals won't die of starvation and thirst. If the animals survive, we might also survive," he says.

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