A Love Letter To Panna

by | May 1, 2022

What is home to you? Is it a city or a person? Is it memories or the feeling of belonging? Is it a song that you can’t quite get bored of? Is it where you feel liberated? Home can mean different things to different people. For me, it is a conglomerate of all these things and much more. It has been over 6 months since I have joined Koshika in Panna, Madhya Pradesh. I am so grateful that I get to call this town and its people, my home.

What makes it home, you wonder?

  • On days when work becomes stressful, my landlady downstairs reads the expressions on my face and suggests, “Aaj aap khaana mat banaiye. Neeche hi kha lijiye.” In an unfamiliar place, she has made me feel welcomed by feeding me with delicious food. My favourite is her traditional recipe of chane ka saag. Dau, my landlord, who is also our team member, makes sure to translate Bundeli sentences to Hindi that would otherwise go over my head. He is slowly trying to acquaint me to the language so that it doesn’t become a barrier when I am speaking to people in the community.

Before joining the fellowship, I was pursuing my undergraduate degree in Bombay. I lived in a gated society that had around 400-500 apartments. Living in a new city, a city as intimidating as Bombay, came with its own share of hardships. I think what I severely missed was sharing a bond with my neighbours and the people around me. For most of my stay there, I only exchanged hallway greetings with my society mates and nothing more than that. So, when I did strike a connection with people here in Panna, it made me feel at home.

  • Whenever there’s no mode of transportation and I walk to the office, Sultan, our pet dog tags along with me and walks all the way. It’s almost like he tries to protect me. I come back in the evening only to be greeted by his tail wags. 
  • We usually go for monthly vaccination drives in villages by 10 in the morning and return by 8 in the evening. My teammates and I have a big appetite which is why we pack extra food for each other on these long, tiring field days. Something as simple as sitting underneath a banyan tree in the forest area and sharing a meal with one another makes it feel like home.
  • I might come from a different background, region and culture than my team members here but what hits home is that all of us have an undying, mutual love for Kishore Kumar’s songs.
  • My go-to omelette vendor knows exactly how I like my eggs. It has become a daily ritual to grab his spicy flavoursome omelettes with a glass of orange juice. I happily walk back home after enjoying the beautiful hues with earphones plugged in my ears and Satyajit Ray’s signature scores playing on full volume. Yes, I have a knack for romanticising sunsets.
  • I find comfort in the fact that I can co-exist with people who hold different beliefs and values than I do. The paradox of working with people who are so distinct yet loving them all the same, is home to me.
  • My mentor who also happens to be my flatmate, Nikita D’cruz, makes the most delicious chicken broth and vegetable stew. I have named it the “fixer elixir“. I’ve survived the hardcore winters devouring her magic potion! 
  • What has made it home is that my mentor reaffirms the fact that the world is not a cold harsh place. There is always room for kindness and empathy. The quality that I appreciate the most about her is how democratic every decision feels in her presence. Everyone in the room is heard and their opinion is taken into consideration. Also, being a maternal and infant health program means dealing with grim situations and deaths, often. Even in these circumstances, she is the most breezy and liveliest person in the room. It is not that she is unaffected and numb to these events but her outlook is always prevention oriented. “How do we stop this from happening in the future?” is something that we often ask ourselves as a team.

She once gave me a bookmark that read, “Discomfort is a proxy to progress“. I think part of what makes Panna home is that it is here that I have understood that turbulence is part of the process. When the going gets tough, there’s nothing else to do but keep moving forward. More than reflecting on my own discomforts, I pondered upon the team’s hardships in Panna when the initiative was launched. Living in modest conditions was of course the most tangible form of discomfort. However, while discussing my mentor’s journey here, she told me how the community didn’t respond to them for the longest time and how building trust with people took patience and empathy.

A part of my responsibility on monthly vaccination drives is to counsel pregnant and lactating mothers on nutrition, rest, substance abuse, etc. Initially, it ached to see how unaffected they were, by my advice. Eventually, they did what they thought was best. I was confused and partly enraged. I would ask myself, “Why aren’t they listening to me when I am looking out for their best interests?” It was in this moment where I was reminded of the team’s struggle in the foundational years. I have come to accept the fact that behaviour change take years and and my once-in-a-month gyaan is not going to be taken up instantly. Consistency and patience is key, is what I have learnt in the past few months.

  • As is the case with homes, one comes to it in their truest form. It’s a surprise that in such a short amount of time, I found a space to cry when I felt overwhelmed at work, a space to cherish the little achievements like finally being able to make decent round chapatis, to dance my heart out whenever there’s a wedding procession nearby, to have my pets sit beside me for hours when solitude takes over.
  • I can walk the same streets of this town again and again and find beauty in that monotony. I sure do love the excitement of exploring new places but befriending a city over a long period of time is a warm, comforting feeling. It’s like a mug of fine tasting coffee, the more you brew it, the better it gets.

Everyday that I spend here, I feel grateful that I stopped procrastinating and completed my India Fellow application. It gave me a home, away from home.

A glimpse of Panna for you

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