The day when we, as fellows, got to know about our respective organizations, we immediately made geographic maps in our head of how far we would be from each other. I had figured out that most of us were curious travellers who love to visit new places and have new experiences. It was natural for us, specially the ones staying close to western coast to visit each other and fulfil our curiosity.
Nikhil, my co-fellow, who is working with Centre For Social Action in Raigad, Maharashtra was able to manage a few days off during Good Friday. He wanted to use this opportunity to meet Prerna, another co-fellow, working with Aajeevika Bureau at Kushalgarh, Rajasthan along with met at Surat office of Aajeevika and Aditi at SEWA, Ahmedabad. Each one of us are away from another fellow by an average distance of 300km. I could manage only 2 days of leave this time and decided to meet them. To reach Kushalgarh, I had two options – one, to take a train to Ratlam and then a bus; two, to take a bus to Banswara and another bus to Kushalgarh.
Nikhil was lucky to get a tatkal ticket in train and had a comfortable journey to Ratlam. I could not manage that and hence, took an overnight bus to Banswara. My seat’s window did not close and as I wasn’t expecting the cold wind, I had not brought any warm clothes. The “Jugaadu” in me wrapped my cotton towel around, which ensured enough warmth to trigger the Napolean in me, one who had the ability to sleep in any condition at any time. Despite the bumpy road and cold, I managed to fall asleep instantly and woke up after 9 hours when the bus was about to reach Banswara. My co-passenger had also wrapped his ‘gamcha’ around him.
Prerna has just come to Kushalgarh 2 weeks back and will probably continue to live here throughout the year. She made Poha for breakfast in her newly setup kitchen. Nikhil had brought laddoos and turmeric from his organization where farmer produce is sold in the market. We were surprised to hear that there was some plan in place for the evening and we should get dressed properly for the occasion. We had not brought any special clothes. Teena ji, the coordinator at Kushalgarh centre came to Prerna’s place and again asked us to get well dressed. We made them spill the beans. Our organization, Aajeevika Bureau, celebrates Women’s Day every year with the volunteers and community members. The centre in Kushalgarh is only a few months old and somehow, it could not manage to celebrate the day till then. So, Prerna and the team decided to do it during our visit to Kushalgarh.
We had a homely lunch of paneer bhurji and roti made by Prerna. Post lunch, we visited the office. Teena ji, dressed in a sari, was excited. The office is in front of a local bus stop. 6 buses stopped one after the other and close to 100 families were ready to board them. They were going to migrate to Surat for work and had an informal agreement with the bus drivers and conductors. They were buying the tickets on credit, to pay when they earn enough money. We met a volunteer and took an auto-rickshaw to a village called Sataliya, about 15km from Kushalgarh office. By this time, Nikhil and I got to know that we’re going to have a picnic in the fields under the moon.
We enjoyed the sight of setting sun from the auto-rickshaw. I was seeing the black soil for the first time. It looked like a black layer of dust below an artificial green grass football turf. Here, instead of the green grass, there were remains of yellow crops. We spotted many peacocks and monkeys throughout the way before stopping outside a volunteer, Chetna ji’s hut. The other volunteers had assembled there and were waiting for us. They loaded utensils, spices, milk and other ingredients in the rickshaw and joined us. We somehow managed to go through the fields with all the weight of items, seven adults and two children. The final 30 metre distance was covered with us getting down and walking.
The large black field had a boundary made of bricks. On two ends were two huts. We unloaded everything near the smaller hut. I was curious to know what was inside. They started an electric pump, the water from which was used to wash utensils with ash. I wanted to confirm whether it was ash or back soil as both looked same. Prerna went inside where the rest of the team was making arrangements to make rotis. She was excited to prove that she can make the perfectly round ones.
Meanwhile, I saw an old man walking towards us from the other big hut on the other end. He introduced himself in Wagdi, the local language, as the father-in-law of Chetna ji. He invited us to the big hut for a chat. Two different groups of men and women were formed who occupied two huts. I wanted to join the cooking team and help. Instead, we walked towards the other hut. I asked a few questions about water tanker and got to know that there is a well nearby. They have to pay 500 rupees to get water from the well to their fields. The pump cannot provide enough water required for irrigation and so one has to pay additional more for water. He took out mats from his hut and we helped ourselves to sit on them.
In the next one hour, we got to know a lot about his life. He is an example of reverse migration as he worked for 20 years away from home and then came back to his native place. He left home at an early age and went to live in different parts of Gujarat. The prosperous cities of the state, an overnight journey away from Kushalgarh, provided employment as they still do, majorly to the migrant workers from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. He worked in the construction sector both in Surat and in Jamnagar. He told how he used to be surprised to stand in long queues for an hour everyday for the security process before entering the work zone at a construction site of Reliance. He also worked in the power-loom sector of Surat for a short period of time.
Since I had also interacted with migrant workers in power-loom, I could compare the present conditions with his experience. Not much had changed. He pointed out that he understood the value of education when he stepped out for work and ensured that all his five children, including a girl complete their graduation. It is quite an achievement for a father to go against the norms of his village and work hard to provide them the best he could. His eldest son is a private school teacher in the nearest town of Banswara, 45km from Kushalgarh. The second one works in the town as well whose wife Teena ji is a volunteer with Aajeevika Bureau. He also ensured Teena ji’s education after they got married. The two younger sons have both completed B.Ed, one of who will appear for examinations to become a government teacher while the other works with e-Mitra, a national e-governance plan. One of them came and asked us to join him for tea in the other hut.
Meanwhile, the sun had set and there was a full moon, the light of which showed the way to the other hut. The old man took his cup of tea and went towards a khatiya which had been taken out for him to take rest. As we sat down to have tea, we talked to his son. He was at Vidya Bhavan, Udaipur until a couple of months back, to complete his B.Ed. The India Fellow team and fellows had also resided at Vidya Bhavan initially during our induction training.
He asked me if I was married. On saying no, he told that his parents are looking for a suitable match and by the end of this year, he will marry. As we were talking, one of the volunteers who was grinding red chillies for daal overheard us and came to join the discussion. We got to know that she is getting married next month to a guy four years younger. She was proud of the age difference. He is pursuing B.Ed from Udaipur and is one of the juniors of this guy. She went on to say that she had rejected a lot of guys but selected this one as he is younger and talks less. Hence, she will find it easier to dominate in the relationship. I was surprised by her honesty. All of us had a hearty laugh. Prerna joined and told that we will have the rotis made by her. I spotted an unoccupied khatiya nearby and decided to lie down and gaze the stars.
After about half an hour, we were asked to sit on a mat and food was served. There were rice, rotis and the hot and spicy daal. I loved having dinner under the moon with Wagdi music being played from the mobile phone. The rotis were not easy on teeth but we managed to eat them. One of the volunteers crushed the roti and poured daal over it. She then used her fingers to mix both. That’s how I should have eaten as well. After the dinner, we were served sevaiyan.
It was now time to bid goodbye to the old man who will stay in his hut overnight as someone needs to guard the fields. We loaded all the utensils and leftovers in the auto and proceeded towards Chetna ji’s hut. It was dark and I felt that the driver beside me, was sleepy. Language being a barrier, I was unable to talk to him but I was cautious to take control if he falls asleep. Luckily, he managed to reach without any problem. We dropped all the volunteers and continued our journey to Kushalgarh. It was 11 pm and we would take some time to reach.
Teena ji was worried as there had been incidents of robbery at night on this road. The auto driver suddenly became active. Whenever we saw a light far away, he would slow down to understand what was approaching. Somehow, I felt that they were unnecessarily worried. We reached the flat and I jumped into the mattress borrowed from the office guest room. The next day we woke up around noon and went to have late lunch at a nearby restaurant followed by an overnight journey to Ahmadabad from where I took a train to Surat while Nikhil and Prerna went to meet Aditi and roam around Ahmadabad. The next day they came to Surat when I guided them through the textile capital of India.
It was indeed a memorable night. And listening to the farmer’s stories and doing things without agendas. Got to know a lot about migration, having visited source and destination locations. Everybody had an interesting opinion.
P.S: I don’t doubt the capability of the Napolean in you 😉
Bunch of thanks, to sharing your beautifull experience with us.
Actually, I was looking for some stories of Hometown
& I came across your website. it was best experience should everyone need to try.
Thank you so much