Time to act?

Dear Gandhi

One month into the fellowship and the thoughts causing all that confusion haven’t gone anywhere. If anything, they’ve only increased. These thoughts, each acting like a neutrino triggering a chain reaction, would have exploded this tiny brain if not for the tobacco rods of control. But for how long? Thought sharing some of those might take some load off.

You remember you said, “be the change you wish to see in the world”. Bloody hell old man, I don’t want to see any change in this world. The world is perfectly imperfect and it needs to be so if it has to continue to exist. All this talk about fighting for the right, empowering the weak, making the world a better place… Isn’t it something that we tell that restless inner thing to satisfy its conscience?

This emotionless state of the mind… Nothing seems to affect it. Not even those cases of rape. It neither feels sorry for the girl nor any anger towards that guy. Is it his mistake or… Whose? The overly commercialised Media’s? Irresponsible parents’? Incapable teachers’? Or is it the government’s that failed in its duty to provide proper security? Who elected it? So, is it the collective responsibility of the society? Society? Isn’t it a mere imaginary social entity? A girl gets raped, and here I am with this evolved analysis… The one thing that is affecting me is the thought that even such incidents are not affecting it.

What do I do? Nothing seems to be right or wrong. There are fanatics, of course,  but then, aren’t they the ones who bring all the excitement into this otherwise boring society, providing it with the much needed energy to continue its existence. Yes, there is poverty, ignorance, exploitation… but for how many days will this planet of 7 billion thinking apes survive if all those become rich and empowered. Oh yea, with the right kind of education, that imparts right kind of values, things would be different. Prr!!! Maybe yes,but then it won’t last forever right? Things will degrade anyway. So, why bother fixing ‘em? Uhmm… Is this pessimism? Or am I just submitting to my inability to solve the issue at hand?

 

oo mahathma….oo maharshi
yedi cheekati yedi veluturu
yedi jeevitamedi mrutyuvu
yedi punyam yedi papam
yedi narakam yedi naakam
yedi satyam yedasatyam
yedanityam yedi nityam
yedi yekam yedanekam
yedi karanamedi karyam

oo mahathmaa..oo maharshi
yedi telupu yedi nalupu
yedi ganam yedi mounam
yedi naadi yedi needi
yedi neethi yedi nethi
ninna swapnam neti satyam
neti khedam repu ragam
oke kanthi oke shanthi
oo maharshi….oo mahatmaa…

Oh wait, why do I even care?

               Because I want to live mate. I don’t want to die or retreat to those snowy mountains. I love this world and I want to be a part of it. But where should I get that drive from?

               Some say you won’t understand pain unless you experience it. Maybe I need an embarrassing push from this train of airy thought. That one hard-hitting experience to pull this aimless mind down to the ground. Searching for it since the rise of consciousness. Lets see if these currently-prosperous, hard working, ready-to-give-up-agriculture farmers of Gohana have it. Time to put this thought Thomas in the back end and switch to action mode. Anyways, should go to the Mandi in the morning… Good Night!

Haryanvi Men

Dear Chris,

I called you last week upset and in need of more than just consolation. My first week in the NGO had been rough in the most ironic of senses. I had an apartment with Wi-Fi, air-conditioning and cable television; my office was on the eighth floor of a high-rise building that overlooked the city. It had a multiplex cafeteria producing enough food (Indian and supposedly ‘western’ cuisine) to sustain the whole of Sydney. And yet all these luxuries did not mean a thing to me. I wanted field. And I wanted it bad.

Now I am sitting on the top floor of a furniture-less apartment in a small town called Gohana. On the ground floor is what appears to be some sort of cement factory.  It is about 45 degrees, the electricity has cut off for the millionth time in the day and I am surrounded by seven men, some of whose names all sound the same: Dhirendra, Jitender, Ravinder. This is my office; I fondly call it the bachelor-pad. These men work, eat and sleep here. And now, they are my team. Finally I am where I wanted to be. And it feels so good. Riding on motorbikes through rice paddocks, meetings with farmers under the shade of banyan trees and hot home-made aloo parathas fresh from chachi-ji’s kitchen.  

A friend warned me about Haryanvi men. Jitender is one of the field officers from Gohana. He is dreamy. In the kind of way that only a city-girl who comes to the villages to ‘empower’ women can find dreamy. He has hazel eyes, dark chocolate skin, a killer smile, the perfect five o’clock shadow and a hairstyle that would make George Clooney envious. He is also married and has two kids. Damn. Despite his dashingly good looks, I begin to realise that he is a typical example of most Haryanvi men: arrogant, dominant and demanding. I value the exact opposite traits in a partner.

Chris, everywhere I look around here, I see men; walking on the streets, manning the vegetable stalls, slurping chai and smoking hookah. I ask my colleague “where are all the women?” and he tells me that “they stay in the house”. Apparently in the villages, it is not appropriate for a woman to have chai with her friends in public or to show her face to man who is not her relative. She must not be heard or seen. She must just dutifully serve the men in her family. I feel like these women are screaming for ‘empowerment’ behind their dupattas. But then I become all self-critical and question whether I am being imperialistic – assuming that because I come from a culture where women wear what they want, go where they want and do as they please, this should be the case everywhere for all women. Are these women victims of my narrow minded thinking? Am I culturally insensitive for not respecting their ancient traditions? Am I an imbecile to expect that change will happen in months when these practices have existed for centuries?

I want to empower rural women Chris. But I do not know what that means anymore.

Tell me what I should do?

Love,

 Conchita

Out on a field visit to speak to women farmers. Unfortunately, their husbands did all the talking.

Out on a field visit to speak to women farmers. Unfortunately, their husbands did all the talking.

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Jitender the field officer

Vinay: For Some, Let Us Start Uniting Over Our Tasty Food

They were laughing. I was laughing. Then they were literally rofl(ing).

The cause of this amusement was my Gujarati. They were able to understand what I wanted to say, and were even teaching me some, which was all the more reason for their laughter. I however had to read them through their dumb charade skills. It however, was still difficult for me as there were a lot of ee ees, oo oos, ha ha haas, ow oww owwws which they were constantly mixing with their words – trying to talk even while laughing. These kids, Praveen, Divya, Aati and the other 3 cheerful souls whose names I forgot; ran to their uncle who just arrived on his bike. At the same time an old man who became curious of my business at that place told me to leave. Talking of this unwelcoming reception, I should mention of my trip to Juhapura.

Aarti, a co-fellow, suggested we both visit Juhapura while I suggested on visiting Akshardam having little knowledge of the history of Juhapura. Later, looking on the internet I got very excited to visit that place. Owing to its distinct history mainly, and also me being a bit bored, they were difficult 2 hours to wait for Aarti to come. Autowallah couldn’t quite comprehend why we were so interested in visiting Juhapura. Anyway, after paying the autowallah the amount, even though he was expecting more due to our non-ahmedabad origins, we went walking through the narrow lengthy street lined with food stalls and…wait…actually I can’t remember what other retail shops were present. I didn’t have my lunch and it was 5:30 in the evening. Needless to say, I was hungry. That too with the aroma coming out from these stalls which had enveloped the whole place, it was reasonable that I could only see food everywhere. I had starters of chicken and believe me it was some tasty food.  And so while walking Aarti felt that everyone was staring at her. I noticed it too but did not find it too strange. People stare at every woman as if they were aliens just arrived from Venus. But then I noticed women too goggling her. That’s strange! So Aarti clarified that this was about the bindi on her forehead which was communicating non-verbally of her hindu credentials and also probably not wearing the scarf to cover her hair was also communicating of some different social group she belongs to.

Waiting to meet an editor who lives there, we discussed of the significance of Juhapura, its effects, and how media should focus on real things etc. However, I needed to have more concentration levels to keep up with her, as the aroma which was present  was still pulling me to try some more varieties.   It’s a paradise for foodies and street food lovers. Just have a glimpse of some of the items which could be seen every 10 metres in that street. Starting from the first – crispy chicken rolls, little mutton samosas, mixed chicken balls (mixed here means a mixture of vegetarian and chicken!), enticing falooda (only take home variety was available, sadly), ubiquitous dhokla, soft and juicy basin ka camman (my favorite), spicy channa, colorful sodas (line, orange and masala), black gulab jamun, jalebis which looked a bit too red, gravy variety of some patte (literally meaning leaves), a number of varieties of evening tea snacks and the list just goes on and on and on. I tried my hand on most of the items mentioned, and even Aarti had little option than to try these in the second round of vegetarian course.

In these 2 hours of stay I hadn’t found anything drastically stark there. Yes, everyone is a muslim. But I have seen that before in the old city of Hyderabad, Shivajinagar of Banglore, and other muslim majority localities here and there. Yes, the population density is a bit too much. But even that I’ve seen elsewhere. And, not great planning of the locality. Again not too surprising. However, I was also slightly getting worried thinking of the fact that, was I getting used to these things? Or even worse, was I accepting them as normal? The history of this place surely stands out in its significance. This is just not right. The continuing expansion of this place tells of the real fear among muslims, and their desire to live with the people who share their God of worship. Looking at this, hope we stop priding ourselves as a diverse country. Diverse communities living amongst themselves does not make us a diverse country.

I guess it’s the fear of unknown, or of some crazy excited fundamentalist which is leading to this segregation. My presence in muslim majority localities however still continued with little intention of my own. After a field visit, I went to Manek Chowk to have a look of what it was like. There was some exotic food, and there I made a mistake of having one full plate of pav-bhaji. It did not let me try more items. I unexpectedly came across Ahmed Shah’s Dargah, and then, I was at Jama Masjid. They were all close to each other, but still going to those beautiful places without knowing or expectation was quite exciting. To make things more wonderful, it was a pleasant night with cool breeze and slight drizzle, and there was a congregation of a small group of people who were sitting and listening in peace to a speaker. All that made it feel serene and drowsy. I decided to sleep there in the Masjid, however later on further wandering, that night I finally ended up sleeping at home.

I feel like I should be adding some experience related to office work here, however, it is so lengthy now. Even by saying this, I’m making it lengthier and so shall stop here. It’s late and so India Fellow people, this is for you  - Good night Anupama, Jaoog, Sweta, Aarti, Areeey Arroora, Mere Sharma, Chaitu, Mohit, Shankar, Janvi, Konkiii, Lucky Yaar, Rohyni, Anusha, Shanbag, Rahul. Good morning for tomorrow also guys :D!

Swetha: Sachi – The 2yr Old Whiz-kid

Sachi With Her Friend

Too many stories to be shared, but this is one is worth. Yesterday I had been to an Anganwadi in Pune along with 3 of my colleagues from the organization that am working with. We went there to do a longitudinal study on childcare for age groups 0 to 6 years. This particular kid whose name is Sachi was part of the study last year when she was 1 year old and performed amazingly well back then, said one of my colleagues. So, we were all very keen to test her this year also.

A small kid in green pants and navy blue t-shirt came running near the Anganwadi and stopped at the door of a small room. The Anganwadi worker asked the other kids not to come as we were coming to conduct the assessment there. We were all seated on the mat that was spread on the floor. So, this particular kid with sharp eyes and bobbed cut hair stealthily entered the room feeling a little shy. Her mother came right behind and she immediately felt a little safe. She had a warm smile on her face. My colleagues greeted her. They were all talking to her in Marathi and I couldn’t understand much as I am new to that language. What I gathered from their conversation is that they were trying to make her at ease so that the assessment can be conducted smoothly. “Sachi turned 2 very recently,” said her mom. Sachi was being brought up by her mother all alone as her mother left her father – he was not working. She was doing a great job bringing up the child all alone. Soon after, Sachi’s friend joined who was 3 years old. My colleagues involved Sachi’s friend in the assessment as well, just to make Sachi comfortable.

This assessment was to test the kids on their fine motor, gross motor, self help and listening skills. For a kid of 2 years old; Sachi was very quick to grasp the instructions given to her. She had to make small balls out of wads of paper with one hand, throw a ball over, stack up building blocks like a tower, tell a story and things like that. There was this one particular task where a 2 year old kid was expected to tie a knot. Going by the data every one had failed. Instinctively, I said this kid might also not be able to do it. But to my utter surprise she did. Even I didn’t know how to tie a knot at that age. Then I realized how wrong I was in coming to a conclusion. We never know what one is capable of until we allow them to do it.

Once we were done with the assessment and told the mother how well Sachi had performed, her mother was very proud. The mother’s eyes shone with pride when Sachi said her name and had mummy as her middle name since it’s her mom who is responsible for her upbringing.

Nishant: Loosening The Grip

Falling water has a charm to it. And from wherever it may fall, it is a sight to behold. Rain is essentially falling water. Its sound attracts the most or perhaps the feel of its droplets softly pricking our body does, if we are willing to let it touch us and are not umbrella-protected.

Having lived in a city all of my life up till now, I have had a certain perspective of rain. For me, it has always been a harbinger of joy first, and water afterwards. The sound of it falling, its touch and slip on and off the body, the puddles it leaves behind; for me, joy in short. What it effectively does is, through its intensity it pares down everything else, and forces us to listen to only one thing, itself. That brings peace to city-people, for instead of constantly being bombarded with lots of sound, as in their usual days, a singular sound echoes when it rains. In short, rain frees them metaphysically, even if it might bind them physically.

With places, people change. And with people, perspectives change. And ours might also change if we are receptive enough. It rained for the whole day yesterday. I couldn’t help but be overjoyed. And when I am overjoyed, I state it as well. I was working on the fruit processing unit at Ramgarh with my colleagues belonging to the local area. As the rain’s intensity increased, I shared my enthusiasm with one of them. Reciprocation didn’t happen. He rather had a different emotion to share. Despair. He shared that if it keeps on raining like it was, which it is still now, the seasonal potatoes they had sowed wouldn’t survive, and they’d lose the opportunity to make some more money, however little but important anyways.

It sounds cliche I know. Everybody knows that crops get destroyed when it rains heavily. Even I have read about it. But the point is that why didn’t I remember that here? That’s what I asked myself. I perhaps have brought an umbrella along with me. An umbrella of perception shielding myself from the rain of a different perspective. Until forced onto me, I am unable to infer others’ perspective. I hold the umbrella quite firmly perhaps. For things to get better, either the wind will have to take the umbrella or I will have to throw it away. I loosened my grip a little on the umbrella yesterday. I hope I lose it by the year’s end.

Rohini: Bittersweet

Bittersweet, a word that aptly describes the current phase of my journey. On one side, the bitter friend, melancholy speaks, as I sit down to wrap 2 years of my post graduation life (in a non stellar academic way) and on the other, sweet happiness as I achieved what I really thought I wouldn’t or rather couldn’t but I did … to be a travel writer.

As the train passes stations, my thoughts kept flipping between apprehension and excitement. I was plagued with doubt. Will I be able to fit in? Will I do good? Will I be okay traveling alone in this holy country? From nostalgia to trepidation of what future holds, from coming out of my laid back ways to a scheduled discipline, setting up my space in a new city, starting life anew, exciting and challenging, the fearless mind still asks me – will I be okay?! My train finally reached Mumbai Central the next day. I took a taxi to YMCA which is about 7 mins from the station. Lesson 1 – do not ask for autos … there are none! I was anxious. But, my accommodation was flawless. Well furnished, and welcoming. I found my way to the office, which is about a 15min drive from YMCA. A plain white building with an interesting facade — Mumbai beat office (Wake-up Sid???). I found my office to be a chilled out place where I could just sit with coffee and chocolate and write-on. As the day passed, I was no more apprehensive cause all that I had to do was what I loved the most. I was welcomed warmly assuring me the freedom to simply explore limitless, to travel and to write. No strict targets and no deadlines.

Confucius couldn’t have put it better when he said “Choose a job you love and you don’t even have to work a day.” I don’t know if this is my true calling yet but I have all the energy and all the more imagination I need. I definitely know it’s something I’m going to really enjoy doing and that I will give my best to make the most of it. As I become aware that it’s all in my hands to choose and become the choice, I think that its bitter that gives the actual essence of sweet. I realized my passion is important than any degree and paycheck. I smiled my way out of the office on day one and celebrated walking by Marine Drive with Sanjay Bhaiya (my new taxi friend) and Vada Pav. (‘It’s a wonderful world’ playing in the background!

Chaitanya: Savani Bai

I have been renamed! Yesterday we were at a meeting in some remote village called Borakadi. The women there were inquisitive, curious about the outsider (me) and overall nice as small communities are wont to do. However hard I tried, I couldn’t get them to pronounce my name right. Some called me Shaitaan (means devil, and the devil in me kinda agrees) and the others called some weird thing I couldn’t pronounce! One woman tired of all the confusion decided to call me ‘Savani Bai’ and she said it was fitting because I had come during ‘Savan’ (means spring in Sanskrit). It’s nice isn’t it when someone gives you a compliment like that, though I was disappointed that there was no ceremony involved. I could’ve done with one! Well, the next few paragraphs are an account of Savani Bai’s experiences over the last few days.

To say the past few days here have been interesting would be undermining the whole episode! It’s been an exciting few days filled with so many firsts, more than I have experienced in my short life on this earth. They say that you never forget the feeling of the first time you do something, be it something exciting or droll or downright disgusting. I have experienced all these and more…sometimes they were fun, other times embarrassing and uncomfortable. Many of you know, or those who don’t might have guessed already that I have mostly led a sheltered and a very comfortable life uptil now. I mostly didn’t have to lift a finger if I could help it, there’s always somebody else to do it for me (sometimes when am extremely lazy, I’ve asked people to lift my finger!). So most of the things I’ve had to do in the past few days were stuff I wouldn’t even dream of doing.

I’ve never been riding with two other people on a bike, I did that yesterday. I’ve had about 10 different women ask me to marry their sons or nephews! Like that’s gonna happen!  I’ve walked 2 kms, crossed rivers in the rain to reach unconnected villages. Got tickled and hugged and kissed by lonely wives of migrant labourers (lord that was traumatic)! And screamed aloud when an iguana almost ran over my leg and cooed with delight on seeing peacocks dancing in the rain on the hilltops (that was one unforgettable sight, so worth getting drenched). Tried to learn Mewari so that I don’t become the butt of jokes in the community, but my bumbling attempts got me nowhere because there is uproarious laughter whenever I try to communicate. I’ve eaten in tiny, shabby shacks which they pass off as restaurants. I’ve even used the dirtiest toilet that exists in the world (disgusting experience…and I am going to learn to control my bladder even if it kills me). I’ve been cooking with exactly 3 utensils, one tiny stove and no fancy ingredients in my room whereas earlier I cooked in my amazing, stainless steel and chrome kitchen with everything any cook could dream of having!

And all this in just the few days that I have started working here. I don’t know what other new experiences I will go through in the next year. But I guess I’ll have to grow a spine and just go with the flow. Does this feel like I am complaining too much? Like I expected a lot and didn’t get what I wanted? Well, that’s probably because I am! I might look at the world with rose colored spectacles more often than not, but there are times when a girl’s got to vent it all out! And I never, ever promised a sappy storytelling session on hearts of gold and happy communities! So buck up and deal with it!

Savani Bai

I discovered a new mode of entertainment and transportation! Non-renewable energy not wasted…

“What doesn’t kill you, will always make you stronger!”

- Nietzsche, history’s greatest angsty teenage boy (who according to me wasn’t thinking clearly or was half mad when he wrote this crap down!)