It has been more than a month since I have been working in Maharashtra, and the least I can say is that it has not been easy. I remember being asked in my India Fellow interview about how comfortable I would be with moving to a rural setup in a totally new location. I was pretty confident then that it wouldn’t be too difficult for me, considering I had the experience of living 3000 kms away from home, in Delhi for under graduation. I realize now, how naïve it was of me to think so.

My organization holds a special place in the history of India Fellow Program. It has hosted almost fifteen fellows over the last ten years; one of the longest holding numbers in this fellowship. Moreover, I was working in a setup where almost everyone around me has been working since 10-20, or even more years. The number of ex-fellows and the experience of staff here never fails to overwhelm me.

The last one month for me has been all about learning how to survive. I don’t think I have unlocked all of it, but I can definitely say that I am much better than where I started from. From the organization, the plan was to be in Maharashtra for three months, learn from the team here, and then implement those learning either in Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh. This built in me a lack of ownership of the surroundings I was in, especially my house. Every time I thought of buying household items like utensils to cook or curtains or pillows, my conscience would remind me that it would not be worth the investment as I would not be here for more than three months.

In hindsight, this was probably one of the biggest mistakes I did, which I realised while talking to an alum. No matter how small or long the duration for which I’ll be in a place, as long I don’t own up to my surroundings, I would never be at peace with where I am. It was a late realisation, but now that I have it, it is one of the best pieces of advice I’ll carry with me.

Expressing your identity, without the fear of judgement is another thing I’ve been struggling with. Being a twenty-year-old Malayali, in a Marathi speaking state, surrounded by people way beyond my age and different from my socio-cultural background, I found it difficult to be myself. In the process of learning and absorbing from the new atmosphere I was in; I forgot the importance of expressing who I am as an individual.

People recognise each other by their identities and if I did not have one to offer then I am the one who would suffer. It took me time to understand that my community would accept me the way I am. It was important to be myself and express myself the way I was, irrespective of the cultural differences.

I am an outspoken person. But I didn’t really speak a lot in the first one month here, owing to the language barriers and other factors including fear. This led to people here branding me as a “shaant” person; an identity which I did not resonate with. We were recently returning from a visit to Kolhapur; forty of us from the organisation in a bus, and everyone was grooving to hardcore Marathi songs. I took the opportunity to dance my heart out without thinking twice of what people would think, and got recognised as an energetic dancer. It was a small step towards establishing that I am not as calm a person as what it usually seems on the outside.

Spending time with people at work outside office and field spaces helped build a relationship with them beyond work. I am really grateful to have gotten an opportunity in the form of team visits like that of Kolhapur, Maharashtra and Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh. I will cherish the bonds I’ve made for a long time and now that realise the value of such bonds, I will try to make more such spaces without having to depend on team visits.

Self-reminders to not get consumed in work-specific learning alone, but to take a break when required has also turned out to be really helpful for my well-being. I listen to music, click pictures or write when I am overwhelmed. I’m slowly integrating these back into my daily schedules as a reminder to not lose myself in this constantly overwhelming journey. Asking for help when required is one thing that I am still working on. The more I ask the more I realise that it is the best solution to most of my problems in hand.

There is a lot to learn in this new environment. To add to it, I joined the organization at a time when there is no shortage of projects to work on. It is difficult to choose or prioritize my learning, but also interesting when you are offered so many things on a single plate, all at once. While I figure out how to navigate through this situation, I will be back with another story from here, soon.

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