Rural immersions make for an important part of the fellowship journey. I remember during induction, we were divided into teams of five and were asked to go to villages in and around Udaipur, everyday for three days. On Day 1 the instructions provided to us were, “Do nothing, just observe and have fun!” The motive of the first visit was only to get a sense of the village. No surveys, no focus groups. You can read about it here.
In my organization, when I first got the opportunity to stay in one of the 10 villages where we run our health initiatives, I decided to only observe. It is only when you stay with the community do you get a better understanding of their culture, lifestyle and day-to-day obstacles. In this photo story, I want to give you a closer look of Majholi, a village that falls in the Amanganj tehsil of Panna district of Madhya Pradesh.
People in the community believe the most quick and effective away of chopping down vegetables is via using a hasiya. It cuts the vegetables equally and gives it a better flavour, according to the women I was staying with. Here’s me trying my hand at it and epically failing! However, my aloo-baingan sabzi tasted just as great with mediocre hasiya skills.
The concept of breakfast doesn’t really exist in most of these villages. It is directly a heavy meal that is eaten around 10-11am. The next meal is an early dinner, mostly eaten around 6-7pm. The food was one of my favourite parts about my stay here! There’s a certain earthy flavour that gets added to the food once you make it on a chullah.
Whenever I have been offered tea in my field areas before, I have found it to be overly sweet. This time, during my rural immersion, I finally spotted my host adding a handful of sugar in half a cup of tea. I was amazed at the amount of sugar they consumed. Upon asking them about their daily sugar intake, they said, “Ours is not a sedentary lifestyle. We need to constantly keep moving. Sugar helps a great deal to keep the energy level up and honestly, you will not find even one person in our entire village with diabetes. It all gets digested and utilised“.
You know how in a lot of urban spaces where people have dogs as pets, their morning greetings are usually dominated by joyful licks and tail wags? Well, here in Majholi, two cute little goats would climb upon my khaat to wake me up. No need for alarm clocks!
People in the community have to set up small huts on their fields. Someone has to constantly guard them lest wild animals come and eat the produce. In this picture, Rati is heading back home. It is her husband’s time to keep a watch for the rest of the night.
I also offered to protect Rati’s vegetables and crops during my stay here. Here’s me shooing away parrots using a ghupna (desi version of a slingshot). To make it entertaining, the villagers often sing, “Hurrr hurrr hariya” while swinging their shot. It translates into, “Shooo, fly away parrots“.
The only source of water in Majholi is a well. It is around 500m away from the village settlements. The burden of collecting water, in most cases, falls on the women of the family. They usually carry one vessel on their heads and another one by the waist. My host had to make multiple rounds throughout the day to fill up water. I tagged along with her to gather my share of water for the day. By the time I reached back home, my arms were fully pumped up. No wonder all women here have strong biceps!
Women getting ready before venturing out into the jungle to collect firewood. They usually wear a full sleeves shirt and a pair of jeans. This is to avoid getting hurt by thorns (regionally known as lampa). It was shocking to me how deeply the pardah system in entrenched here. Even after getting into this attire, if an older man would pass by, they would instantly cover their faces with a pallu. They can’t just wear a pair of jeans and shirt, they must wear it over their sarees.
Rati is carrying 50 kgs of firewood on her head. She will save some for domestic use and the rest will be sold in Amanganj during weekly markets. It is atleast 25-30 kms away from the village. They cover this distance on their feet every week for a mere profit of INR 150.
While being inside the forest area, I found broken, half shattered bangles every few minutes. Collecting firewood is yet another job that women fulfil in these villages. In the process, it’s common for their bangles to break. It serves as a constant reminder of how difficult livelihood practices are for the marginalised in the region.
A bunch of kids playing dholakiya to entertain themselves as well as me. These small girls are usually called on weddings to sing songs and play instruments as a mandali. Upon asking them why they didn’t go to school, they sadly proclaimed, “Headmaster sahab didn’t come today as well. School has been locked since 7-8 days.“
In the absence of electricity, moonlight becomes one of the few sources of light, rending it extremely significant.