“Treat people like you would want to be treated”, said Swati, an India Fellow team member. Keeping that in mind, I, with three of my other co-fellows, left for a village called Patara*. We were calm but curious. It was our rural immersion, a part of India Fellow induction training.
Patara is a beautiful village located in Udaipur, Rajasthan, surrounded by lush green trees, smiling faces and a lot that was left unexplored. The journey began easily because there was no agenda to be followed during the visit. It was my first time exploring a place without any plan. It gave me a lot of space to observe. I can still recollect my first few steps while entering Patara. It was a treat to watch mountains while walking amidst trees. It was freedom coming alive, to clearly listen the birds chirping, see the dogs cuddling and children playing under the light blue sky.
Me and my other friends got carried away by the beauty, and just when we found ourselves lost and confused about which way to go, we were fortunate to find Vaishali*, who was heading towards her school. She had a spark in her eyes and was smart enough to figure out that we were new here, looking for help to find our way to the village. She decided to lead us. On the way, Vaishali picked her friend Ritu*. Both of them walked holding hands, which reminded me of my childhood and the joy of togetherness with friends.
While, they were engaged in talking to each other, I recalled my earlier visits to other villages. There were a group of mud houses with water scarcity and intermittent electricity supply. A school existed but children used to go to nearby cities for education because teachers would not come to the village. Thus, I started perceiving rural areas as places that lack adequate resources including institutions.
On reaching Patara, it was hard to believe it to be a village. It had well-built houses, schools, shops, running water and food to eat. On top of that, I was amazed to see a self-defense training session going on for girls and women in the school. In a moment, a lot of my stereotypes broke.
Further as I continued to walk around, I saw a few women riding scooters and some of them were in-charge of shops. They ran their own boutiques, pursued higher education and raised their children all by themselves. In my previous experiences, I had usually seen women less mobile in villages, some of them not even getting an opportunity to move out of their houses. In this regard, my visit to Patara was overwhelming. I realized that may be, the status of women in our country is improving and things may change for better.
Regardless of my viewpoint, a conversation with a local gave me a closer understanding. Meena didi* who has been living there with her family for nearly a year, expressed, “यहाँ कुछ भी नहीं है. न रोड, न सड़क पे लाइट. रात में 6 बजे के बाद निकल नहीं सकते. बड़ी मुश्किल होती है. एक भी अस्पताल नहीं है. एक बार एक व्यक्ति आधी रात के दौरान बीमार हो गया था, तो चिकित्सा सहायता प्राप्त करना मुश्किल था,इसलिए मुझे डरा लगता है कि अगर मेरे परिवार के किसी सदस्य को कोई स्वास्थ्य समस्या होती है तो मैं क्या करुँगी? (There is nothing here, neither proper roads nor street lights. After 6, it becomes difficult to get out in the dark. There is no hospital in the village.Once a person fell ill during mid night, it was difficult to avail medical assistance , it scares me what will I do if any health issue happens to any of my family member ). Their problems became more real to me. I could not imagine living like that.
Sonia didi* who is born and brought up in Patara and is currently pursuing her B.Ed., drew my attention back when she said with a tinge of excitement, “जैसा भी है, अच्छा है. पेड़ हैं, हरियाली है” (Despite these problems, its good. There is greenery!).
It was interesting to note the ways we look at the world around us and derive our perceptions from there. It is important to understand multiple perspectives before forming opinions. My connect with different women and communities in Patara left me with memories that I will cherish for a long time.
*Names changed to protect identity