I have been in rural parts of India before. But this time, the experience was different not just because it was a completely new geographical location but also because of the idea behind visiting a village. In the past, it has happened several times that I’ve started a conversation and kept extending it with too many questions, without understanding the significance of listening.
This time, as a part of induction training at India Fellow, I visited a village called Dangiyo ka Hundar near Udaipur, Rajasthan. Though the name came across as a tongue twister and a bit difficult to me, the residents obviously didn’t think so. The idea was to explore the village in six hours with a co-fellow (a person I had met in the training and we were together for this activity) who I hadn’t interacted much with. The only condition was to not ask questions to gather information about the village, or those living there.
In the first three kilometer, there were no houses. Women carrying wood walked beside me and my co-fellows for a while. Some of them were carrying cow-dung in a bucket while a few were working on farms. It was the time when fields were being ploughed. People in this village had planted Kaddu (Pumpkin), Makai (Corn) and Bhindi (Lady’s finger).
For some reason, I had visualized a Rajasthani village to be in a desert with women wearing colorful Bandhej prints. The reality was a slap on my face.
Looking at the painted walls around the village, I was wondering who would have done that. Similarly, to build boundary walls, they had put rocks one over the other irrespective of their shape, color or a planned design but they balanced perfectly. The artwork on every door, and even the construction work were a mark of efficiency and dedication by people who made it with limited resources.
On walking further inside, I got to know that most part of the village is inhabited by Dangi community, who are considered as one of the lower castes here. There are people from other castes and social status working in the farm as well. A large proportion of women are indulged in farming, cattle rearing, collecting cow-dung and picking fire-woods. Some of the male members are out grazing the animals and a few are working on the farm. All of them seem to be complementing each other.
They were comfortable with strangers coming to their village and walking around for no reason. For instance, an old man walked towards us, smiled and said, “Beta, ghumne aaye ho? Ghumo. Koi dikkat ho to batana”. I had never experienced such hospitality in my hometown, Kolkata. A large number of people come there from different places but not even a single person greets strangers with such warmth anymore. It could be my limited worldview.
The six hours in this village passed by getting amazed by the vastness of hills, smiles and glances shared by the villagers, small talks regarding our short visit, questions about absence of a vehicle with us, greetings from kaka at the tea shop, tasting local lozenges (candies), singing songs, getting to know my co-fellow better and mostly looking at people busy working.
As Haruki Murakami’s said, “I think my job is to observe people and the world and not to judge them. I always hope to position myself away from all the conclusions (Interview The Paris Review)”. Here, I am not concluding my experiences of the day and rather, will continue learning from this.