I had almost begun writing about another beginning as I move to a new work location in Chamoli, Uttarakhand. But then I felt I need to bid a goodbye first. For the past 7 months, as part of India Fellow, I have been working with Udyogini in a place called Khandar in Sawai Madhopur district, Rajasthan. I have written all my previous blogs about this place and its people. However, it was in bits and pieces. So, I felt the need to write this one in the honour of my home for the past 7 months.
Irrespective of its pros and cons, every place has its own beauty. I have always believed that if we zoom out from a situation and look at it from a distance, things would seem different and our reactions to those situations would also change. Not exactly a corollary, but on 31st December 2021, with all the office staff, their kin, a few people from the local community, and some friends, we climbed on the Khandar fort. It was my first time and I was spellbound by the view.
I could clearly see the habitation, mountains, Kilai Sagar lake and even Banas river on the other side of the mountain. This was the moment when I fell in love with Khandar. The view had hidden all the sewage and dirt. What was visible, was a treat to the eyes. I had never pictured Khandar this way before. Sometimes, to look at the beauty, we need a bit of a distance.
The beauty of a place is also influenced by its people (in my case dogs too). I met some really wonderful folks here. A lot of them almost never look tensed or in a hurry, totally opposite to how the modern urban life has unraveled itself. They live life at their own pace. One of my team members here, is so full of life that he brightens up every space and never leaves a moment dull.
The dogs kept me company irrespective of where I went. We named one of them Chameli. She gave birth to three beautiful puppies in our office compound where I also stayed. From waking up and talking to them to feeding them and teaching how to shake hands, it is these little buds I will miss the most. They are annoyingly cute. Kaalu, Bruno and Mogli will always stay close to my heart.
I had read somewhere that real happiness comes from solving problems. You pick a problem, find a solution, feel happy and then move on to the next problem. The cycle continues. Like many places in Rajasthan, this town also faces climate extremities. For a person from Bengaluru which probably has one of the most moderate and pleasant whether, this was drastically different.
I got to live both winter and summer here. Even though I had experienced even more intense winters in Europe, this was different because of the weaker supporting infrastructure. For the first time, I used Razaai (a type of blanket) for such a long duration. Hiding under the thick razaai to keep yourself warm is a joy in itself. Mornings became lazier, walking and exercises were replaced by spending increased time under the blanket. If not for the cold and the room I was sleeping in, not being properly insulated, I would have probably not enjoyed this experience so much.
Summer was an altogether different ride. Air cooler became my new partner. Using it was another of my firsts. The area that the cooler covered seemed like its own universe as compared to its surroundings. Aur Mirinda peene ka asli mazaa toh garmi mein hi aata hai!
One day I was invited to a birthday party of a child living in my neighbourhood. I was curious to know how they celebrate birthdays here. We were fed the all-time favourite dish of local people – Daal Baati Churma. After this the ceremonial cake cutting happened and the child was showered with gifts. After this, everybody danced to Rajasthani music. Interestingly, all the young girls had dressed up like elder women – in traditional Rajasthani saree. They were really happy and excited about it. People danced and enjoyed till about 11 in the night. Again I couldn’t help but wonder who celebrates their birthdays better, the urban or the rural crowd.
Another celebration, one I witnessed more often was weddings. Baraat was taken out during the evenings and night. People did processions across villages. Food was usually Daal Baati Churma here also, or Poori Dal accompanied by a sweet. One peculiar thing I observed was that after the wedding, during the evenings, there would be a guy sitting on a counter whose task would be to receive the gift money and write down the names of guests, listing who gave how much. Sometimes, the guests might not even meet the bride and groom.
I even attended a Samuhik Vivah, where people were gathered in thousands. The guests danced until midnight and I wonder how many tons of dal was used that day.
Khandar is a remote block in Rajasthan. Although it is just about 400 kms away from Delhi, it still lags behind in social development because of several reason. One is that there’s a dead-end on one side of it. Also, the youth who want to study are moving to Jaipur and other cities instead of doing something locally.
I was referred to as Bhai or Shreyas ji, even Shreyas sir and Bhaisaab here, sometimes both ‘ji’ and ‘sir’ together. That was new! I don’t know if the time I spent here was enough to understand the place and its people. However, I now understand a lot of reasons behind their actions and behaviour. As I leave, I’m sure of always remembering Khandar for accepting me, giving me a place, and treating me warmly.