“Tomorrow, is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one”- Brad Paisley
It’s been almost 3 months since I moved to a rural space from my urban comforts. I’m living at Samastipur, Bihar, 2200 kilometres away from my hometown; and have started a new life, far from my monotonous corporate lifestyle. What happened? Why did I have to land up here? Having been selected as a fellow at India fellow, I was placed at Quest Alliance, Bihar. As a fellow, it is important to manage at the NGO and also have your personal space. How does it really feel to be in a rural setup and work at an organization at the same time? I used to feel how certain things can be classified as easy, like finding a house, talking to people in Hindi, cooking, managing time at office and at home for myself. But I realised how adventurous, exciting, scary and fun they can be, only after I started living life as a fellow.
Here are a few things I have experienced for the first time in life:
Difficulty in searching a house: After moving to Samastipur, this was one of the biggest challenges until now. If the houses were good, the rent was beyond my budget and if they were affordable, they were extremely bad to an extent that I wondered how people could live in such horrible conditions. In some cases, after talking to them in my imperfect Hindi, while trying to negotiate, they would reject letting out the house to me even without giving a reason as to why they’d do that. Later, I got to know that my surname sounds like a Christian name and hence, the reluctance. With great difficulty, I was able to find a place with reasonable amount of rent, at 10-minute walking distance from my organisation. (That’s how distance is measured here. If asked how far are you, people respond, “bas das minute” :P)
Sleeping on floor: This isn’t easy. Though I have bought a mattress, it is not the most comfortable thing. I can feel the hard floor on which I sleep. Initially, it gave me many sleepless nights along with mosquitoes singing lullaby and the room temperature increasing day by day.
Washing clothes: I did not know how to do it, and to be frank, even now I don’t get it. Soak clothes in a bucket with washing powder, rinse, wash it off with clean water and put it for drying in the sun. Sounds easy, right? Not exactly. I had soaked clothes which dispense colour, with my white T-shirt and left it overnight. I was in disbelief when my white T-shirt had almost turned red. Playing Holi is fun but not when you color your own clothes.
Stitching: When was the last time I had stitched clothes? Never! But I had to do it here when some of them got torn while walking in the fields. Putting the thread in the needle is one challenge and then comes the main part. I tried stitching in a straight line and didn’t even realize when it went Zig Zag. The needle poked my finger too. With great difficulty, I completed it and it looks as bad as it can. But I am still wearing it and proud of putting in those stitches without a care of how people will judge me because of that.
Sweeping and mopping floor: I used to think that mopping is more difficult than sweeping, but no, both are equally tricky and tiring. It was so exhausting that I swept the house one day and mopped it the next day. After repeating it for a while, I have raised my stamina to sweep and mop the whole house within stipulated time, on the same day.
Difficulty in speaking Hindi: Since I was born and brought up in Bangalore, I had learnt Hindi only as a third language. I could understand it if someone spoke to me in Hindi but it was difficult to respond to them completely in the same language. So Hinglish was what I used to prefer. But in rural parts of Bihar, that’s not so feasible. It was difficult for me to replace English words with Hindi considering my fluency. Not an expert now, but I’m learning to better communicate with auto drivers, office staff.
Far and close relatives showing concern: I did not know that so many of them think about me and get concerned. Here are some of the questions and comments I received from them over text messages:
“I heard that you are in Bihar. Did you not get any other place? How are you managing alone? How are you withstanding the temperature? We will find you a better job here in Bangalore. Send us your resume! How did your wife agree to this? When are you coming to Bangalore? Let’s meet when you come”
Walking through the fields: “This should be fun” is what I thought, unless I stepped on cow dung, got bitten by insects, thorns scratched my skin and clothes, which I later stitched.
Treatment at the NGO and their advice: In the NGO here, everyone (including my mentor, project manager, program officer, cook, driver, etc.) knows everything about the organisation, projects they are working on, outputs and outcomes expected. Whatever I do, I’m considered as a fellow because that is what I am. I had to be extremely careful while talking about my project to someone and I learnt to listen to them instead of talking continuously.
Everyone is eager to give life advice, including the above mentioned list along with the teachers and Head Masters at schools, landlord, etc. They judged me all the time for saying that I left my engineering job and came to work in an NGO.
Touching feet: When I visited a school for the first time, children came and touched my feet. They have been trained to touch elders’ feet, no matter if they know you or not. During the initial days, it was so disturbing for me that I actually gave a 15-minute lecture to 3 girls who had touched my feet. I irritated them so much that they went and complained to their Head Master and I tried (at least) convincing him why the practise should be stopped.
Jugaad: Learnt the art of practising Jugaad by filling groceries in water bottles, making the best use of parcel boxes as lunch box, and utilizing limited resources to their fullest.
South India is one State: Whatever doubts they have about South India, people come and ask me. Whatever news they hear about the region, they expect me to know all the details. Also, most of them consider it one state.
My list of adventures and things encountered for the first time, goes on. I have been happy and in bliss for going through all these and I am sure, the fellowship has got to teach me a lot for life within this one year.