I remember we were told during the fellowship induction training that if we survive the first three months, we will probably get through the rest of it. As I write this, about ninety-one days into my host organization, I feel those words coming back to me and filling me up with hope and excitement about the mid-point, the long nights with co-fellows, the travel workshop and the convocation!
Okay, I need to slow down. But I can’t lie. I do think of it all in one go. Like a train speeding through a tunnel. It’s just the way how things have fallen out of place so drastically and yet, into place charmingly enough in the last three months. I can’t stop being overwhelmed about it all.
One of the things that makes me feel out of place every day is the language. It is one thing to sit through long meetings of the order of five to six hours; and altogether a painfully frustrating experience to come out of it, not having understood a single word. It is not easy to learn a language. How Prateek (2017 fellow) and Aditi (2018 fellow) managed to do it, is beyond me. Watching Marathi movies or listening to Marathi songs was not helping. Anyway, I wasn’t going to give up so easily. So, I’d sit in these meetings and note down the new Marathi words that I hear. Then I would look them up on the internet or ask my colleagues and attach a contextual meaning to it. You would think all of this would be helping. But no, it wasn’t. Not at all!
Whenever I visit our Livelihoods SHG (Self-help group) at Amardeep – one of CSA’s partner centers in Mangaon, it’s a lot of fun. They share a range of stories and long for a response or at least an expression from me. All they get in return is a blank face. They laugh a lot when I’m around. Neither of us understand what the other one is saying, yet we somehow manage to communicate. It is hard, though. This four women group is capable of making Nachni Ladoo, Nachni Chakli and their very own innovation, Nachni Fish Papad, which the market linkage agency, Navjeevan Enterprises sells in Bombay.
Now, selling is harder. Even though I know the language and I can talk people into buying, they don’t buy things because you convinced them but if they relate at a subconscious level to what you’re selling. It’s a matter of the mind. Language and reason sometimes fail when it comes to selling. All your rhetoric is only as good as you are allowed to be.
Often, I find myself leaping between these two worlds of language.
Frustration paved way for patience. A good thing that came out of not knowing Marathi was that I listened more than I spoke. In fact, I rarely spoke at all. Soon, I noticed that people were still talking to me even though they knew I couldn’t respond. All I would do is patiently listen and nod as if I understood. This patience continued to the sales world as well. I listened more than I talked to sell. Customers love sales people who stay quiet. They’re rare. It ended up fetching me the title of “lovely boy” and also an invitation for dinner. It would’ve been an adventure had I gone for it.
Speaking of adventure, about three weeks ago, I was asked to present the alternate livelihood options available to women in Nimachwadi, a village in the Mahad block of Raigad. Nimachwadi is located at the base of Raigad fort, the erstwhile capital of the Maratha kingdom. I had prepared a presentation with a lot of images and also rehearsed it in Hindi with one of my co-fellows. I was excited.
Sister Helen, the superior of Premanjali centre at Mahad, was calm and composed. She drove us in her jeep to the village. Once all the women were summoned and the presentation was about to start, I requested sister to sit beside me and translate whenever required. She obliged. I introduced myself and started off with the presentation. About a couple of minutes into it, I looked beside me and the sister was nowhere to be found. She was called to join another conversation happening nearby and so, I had to manage all by myself, placing Marathi words here and there while I talk. Surprisingly, the women understood the presentation and showed interest in it. This gave me immense confidence.
Cut to the present, a couple of days ago, I visited Warak Adivasiwadi with our field coordinator who regularly visits the Wadis under his supervision to monitor the activities such as Gavki (traditional tribal forum) and Baal Sansad (children’s parliament). The Wadi Sevika (village social worker) of Warak greeted us as we entered the village. She started narrating the status of activities to our field coordinator. When it came to livelihood, he asked me to share the information about Raigad SHGs involved in alternate livelihoods and the market linkage agency. I spoke about it for a while and then our Wadi Sevika briefed us on primary livelihood in the village. She said it was mostly seasonal.
Because of the water stream that went through the village, agriculture was done round the year. Most of the people are employed as agricultural labourers. They also caught fish and crab in the stream during the monsoon. In the time of peak summers, when agriculture halts for a while, they find work at brick kilns within the village, avoiding the the need to migrate. Most of them are happy with that.
As I stood there listening and nodding to our Wadi Sevika, I had a moment of stunning realization. I was actually able to understand most of what she spoke. It was not all foreign anymore. I could make out a few common words and was able to derive meaning. I was elated. It’s a start, after all!