Towards the northern part of Udaipur, lie the oldest plateau range of India, the Aravalli. Today, I with my group of four, were traveling from Udaipur city to a nearby village for a field trip. During the commute, I ended up sitting on the top of a bus carriage exhilarated; experiencing my first view of the mountain range.
The grassy farmlands merged into the bluish hue of the hill tops, wreathed in a cloudy winter sky. I had the pleasure of witnessing a hypnotic sight, unlike any other. A fine breeze brushed against my face just as I let my eyes rest for a moment, feeling my surroundings, listening to the sounds of moving vehicles, taking in the aroma of the locale, and letting my mind be still, just for a little while.
We stepped out of the bus and stood at the bus stop of the village. It was on the main road. After talking to a few people around, we were informed that the village was divided into two parts. The old part with most of the settlements and farmland was on one side of the road marking the periphery of the village, while the other side had marble industries and a smaller residential area. I took a long stroll around the village and passed through many houses with rustic doors and locks. Walking down a narrow lane, I saw a gigantic Ox, the likes of which I had never seen before. Its humongous built and long sharp horn extending to over a foot looked sassy and unlike any other; a Marwadi Ox!
As I walked further, there were surprises in every corner. It was a well-settled village with concrete houses and roads unlike what I had imagined – mud houses with thatched roof. My distinction from the local crowd was quite evident, which helped me talk to people as they looked curious about my presence. They made an effort to ask about me and in return told a bit about themselves and their village.
There was a young, 12-year-old boy Gopi*. He was friendly boy and after a small-talk, was courteous enough to show us around and even invited us to meet his parents. On the way to his house, he showed us a few places and told about his parents who were farmers. They also owned a shop. As we entered the house, my first sight fell on the marble floor which indicated that he belonged to a well-off family. His parents were not home at that time but we met his grandmother who was dressed in a traditional Rajasthani attire and jewellery. There was his sister Leena* who had just returned from school.
Even though his grandmother didn’t know Hindi and we didn’t understand their regional language, we managed to exchange pleasantries. She was aware that we may want to collect some information. I could see from her body language that she instructed both her grandchildren to not let us write anything or share something inappropriate. Though both of them were interactive and answered our questions, she was constantly eyeing us from a corner and later went inside, quite disinterested.
Both of them told us about their business, the agriculture pattern, how they earn and sustain themselves. It was a good half an hour conversation during which I couldn’t help noticing that the boy and the girl went to different schools as they had different kind of school uniforms. It was a bit unusual for me. So, I casually asked the reason, to which the girl gave a hesitant shrug.
After leaving the place, we were discussing our experiences of the day and my colleagues, pointed out that the question I had asked was inappropriate and said that I shouldn’t have asked it. I couldn’t really understand how it was wrong to which they explained that it might be because of gender-based discrimination in the family. The girl studied in a government school while the boy went to a private school, which is considered better and is more expensive.
Never had I experienced such discrimination first hand or even heard of it around me. I was so ignorant, coming from a fortunate background where I never had to go through these biases or was hardly ever questioned about my choices because of me being a female. I was among the privileged few women to experience independence in my thoughts and actions. This realisation not only made my heart sink but I was also embarrassed by my inconsideration. It was unintentional but it made me question myself. After all, I considered myself “woke”.
Maybe I was blinded by my own privileged experiences that I failed to notice what I knew existed. It is true that we grow with such encounters and this one made me doubt my woke-ness. The whole day made me rethink about my idea of a simple rural life that I was craving for, since a long time. It is true that the grass is greener on the other side. The irony is that I had to come to Rajasthan, the land known to be barren, to understand it.
*Names changed to protect identity