A breath of fresh air in the scorching heat, women perfectly performing the act of balancing pots on their heads even on the uneven terrain, men sitting under a tree talking about the latest political scenario, dry water bodies, litter loitering around streets, lack of proper infrastructure and no mobile signal – This was my imagination of a village in Rajasthan.
It was the 6th day of my induction training with India Fellow. We were told about our first field visit. All of us were divided into smaller groups of 3-4 and were asked to visit different villages approximately 50 km from Udaipur city. The idea excited me and along with my all-girls team, we decided to visit Bhawda in the interiors of Udaipur. This small hamlet was connected to its Gram Panchayat by a well-maintained road (with rough patches in between). However, local public transport didn’t go there and it took us about an hour to reach. With all the preconceived notions in my head, I started looking out for things that I had imagined. The hamlet was surrounded by hills, with a pond in the middle that gave it a picturesque view. A good road ran through the village, just like the one in front of my house in Agra.
To take a small break, we sat outside the first house in the village. There were children playing, young girls chatting and an elderly woman looking inquisitively at us but choosing to not say anything. We met a young lady, Seema and started throwing questions at her as if she was appearing for an interview. To my surprise, she was happy to satiate our curious behavior.
While we were talking to Seema, the old woman, her grandmother, came to us with folded hands and requested us to sit on the mat she had spread out for us. She kept on insisting and we had to oblige. The hospitality felt familiar as my mother always told me about the amicability of people in villages. However, I was compelled to draw out a stark contradiction. Throughout my life in a city, I was told that strangers can be potential threats. I was advised to avoid them all the time. But here, I was sitting with women I barely know and they were already offering us water, food, tea and sugarcane from their farm.
It could be either because they really liked us or because they take the concept of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava‘ a bit too seriously. The elder lady spoke Marwari, a language commonly spoken in Rajasthan. I was constantly looking for words to understand her intention and I was able to filter out a few constantly repeated phrases like Padharo (Welcome), Dhanyawaad (Thank you), Khush raho (Stay happy). I couldn’t fathom the reason why they wanted us to visit again, or why were they thanking us. But, I felt welcomed. There was so much warmth, positivity and a sense of happiness that surrounded me.
Was I being a too impatient to reach the conclusion that everyone here is like this?
What if our next encounter breaks all the ‘Good first impression‘ we had?
We met a farmer who was returning home from his fields. This time, he was the one to approach us and ask where we were coming from. While talking, we offered him a handful of grapes we were eating. He suggested to come back during the Jeth season (summer) and eat farm fresh mangoes he grows. He also invited us to his home and we politely declined. Then he told about his family – an elder son who is of no use, the younger one interested in family business, a daughter studying outside the village and a wife who died a few years ago.
For some reason, he really wanted us to visit the local school, and we did. But, to my surprise, he did not ask any questions about us sitting beside the lake, what were we girls doing by ourselves in a new place or our future plans. I could be overthinking and he may not be interested in our lives at all. It was a fresh change after generally being asked those kind of questions.
While we were going back, we met another, older farmer who seemed quite excited to see visitors. Clad in a dhoti and a turban, he was carrying a load on his head, going back home when he noticed me outside the school’s gate. He stopped for a second and moved towards me, with a smile so big that you could see his teeth even from far away. For the first few minutes, he kept on repeating ‘Khamma Ghani madam‘ in between. It rang in my ears as and when he spoke.
We asked him for a picture but he declined saying that he is not dressed well. He took us to his house, fed his goats, told his wife about us and came out wearing a red turban. “Now, you can click the photo”, he said and didn’t get tired of posing. We all, including him, were happy with the impromptu photo-shoot. He wanted us to keep those images in our phones forever so that they remind us of meeting him.
As we left from his place, a farmer on his way to Panchayat offered to drop us on his tractor. It was my first time on this kind of a vehicle. All the way, I was only thinking about the time spent in the village. It was now a place with fresh air, scorching heat, where women perfectly perform the act of balancing weight on their heads but some roads are better than the ones in cities. There is unlimited love for tea, people click selfies and almost everyone wear their hearts on their sleeves.
Is it too early to deduce that? Only time will tell.