“To have an association with somebody/something else; to realize or show that somebody/something is involved with somebody/something else” – this is the exact definition of the word ‘Connect’ as I Googled it to understand the formal or official meaning versus how it is being conceived by people in the real world. The interpretation certainly varies from person to person.
In the last three months since my fellowship has started, connection or connect has remained at the center of things. The program team did everything in their capacity to make us understand it’s importance, meaning and how it will have a tremendous impact in this journey ahead. As fellows, how well we have grasped those lessons is still not clear and possibly, stories from every fellow in the mid-point will help me analyze it better. Meanwhile, the work we are doing, involves the community of people we have less in common with. Hence, it becomes paramount that the person working on the ground establishes a connect with people. This level of connection decides the smoothness in day-to-day operations of a team working at field level.
The stronger the bond is with the community, the higher is the probability of a person enjoying his/her work. This statement is generally considered too idealistic and some believe that it can never be practically demonstrated by a majority of us. Obviously, exceptions are always there.
Even I had the same opinion but it has changed in the last couple of months after I came to Shramik Bharti. The person responsible behind this change is Khushilal ji, my reporting manager in Akbarpur block of Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, although he has now become my reporting friend. He doesn’t have a fat salary package even after working for twenty years and the best part is that he doesn’t even care too much about it. His connect with the community members is such that he likes being out in the field even on Sundays or other public holidays, when he’s not obliged to do that. The same also reflects in his working style. For the remaining period of my stay here, I will always look up to him to learn the tactics needed to be applied to get the work done in the community without any glitch.
The moment I reached Akbarpur, one of the things on the top of my priority list was to observe people and focus on relationship building. The first task given to me played an important role in this attempt. One of the projects in this area is about nature farming. The farmers who are a part of our FPO (Farmer Producer Organization) need to get an NPOP (National Program for Organic Production) certification. In this context, I was given the responsibility to design a process for data management and implement it here. It required to interact with farmers to collect data. This proved to be a boon for me, in knowing the community better and initiate the bond building process through one-on-one conversations with a large number of people. This process also helped in immersing within the team and beginning to become one of them. All these interactions made me feel confident about my approach to connect.
Amidst all this, an incident happened a few days ago, which brought me back to the drawing board to reassess my approach. I, along with Khushilal sir were in Alamchandpur village to hold an SHG (self-help group) meeting in order to solve some internal issues of the group. It consisted of members of the minority community. After first fifteen minutes into the meeting, the following conversation took place between me and the leader of the group:
Leader – “Kya khaoge? Pani le aoun!”
Shorya – ” Nahi. Pyaas nahi hai, thankyou.”
Leader – “Acha!”
A few minutes later:
Leader – “Chaye (Tea) le aoun?”
Shorya – ” Rehne dijiye. Pareshan mat hoiye”
Leader (After taking a long pause) – “Tum Brahman ho kya, jo yahan kuch nahi khaoge!”
Shorya – “Nahi, aisa nahi hai. Abhi mann nahi kar raha.”
Initially, I thought she just wants to know my caste which is common here. But there was another angle. She had linked my reluctance to have water/tea to our social status and drew a comparison between our class in the society. This had put a limit to the connection and this is exactly what I was doing since last two months. I refrained from having water or eat anything offered in the community. The reason behind this was not the caste discrimination but my health history.
Ground water in this area is contaminated but people continue to drink it without filtering. In the first few days, I tried to consume that water but my body didn’t respond well and I had to switch back to the mineral water. Maybe, this was creating a barrier.
I remember having a similar conversation post this incident with Ravindra sir, a team member. He explained that it may not be an issue at all for people like me but people in the rural community take note of these small things. “I myself drink RO water at home but whenever in field, I ask for water from them even though it doesn’t suit me. This gives them a sense of equality and honour”, he said.
In my opinion, it is important to take care of such actions as these things instill a sense of belonging and help make a place for yourself. There are certain limits which need to be kept in mind and as one gains more experience, those boundaries will become clearer. For now, I am caught up in this dilemma of whether to choose health or focus on relationship building. Maybe, a new approach needs to be adopted. In the last few days, I have both accepted such offers and at time, have refrained!