‘Ram Ram!’ As I ascended the tarred roads of the hilly village of Patya for the first time, I did not know this would become a familiar greeting in any conversation for the next two days. This and many other things I would come to know in the following two days. Setting out for my village immersion, ready to break the notion of a single story, I could see the picture changing at the very first glance. Cultural and community characteristics aside, I could imagine a village in Rajasthan only as a dry, dessert flat land. As we got down from the jeep, greeted by the rains, the very first glimpse of Patya took my breath away. All around me were green mountains and small houses. Patya is one of the highest rainfall areas in Rajasthan. So much for desserts!
As any small village I could imagine, this had school and community halls at the center and the rest of the village radiating from there. The village was divided into four parts. As I started walking through the village to explore, I got very positive vibes. From the family we stayed with, to each person I came across on the street, everyone was very welcoming, greeting with their Ram Ram, Namaste and a big smile. Though I dint see a close-knit community at one glance or lively chatter and people outside their houses that I had pictured in my mind, nevertheless I did not feel any major disparity or concerns.
But the reality was quite far from this or rather incomplete. The many single stories were not as simple as that. The problems in each of their lives were very real. Though this village was much developed than many other villages around in many senses it was as much far behind as well. There was a united cry of common man that you could just feel throughout the village as a wave. No escape from their economic burdens. They are stuck in a rut trying to escape. Many are escaping, yet majority either don’t feel the need to look beyond the immediate needs and take steps to break the cycle or are just plain incapable at their individual levels committed to their family obligations.
People mainly depend on outsourced labor to nearby places like Udaipur, Surat and Ahmedabad, as chief source of income. Other than this, each house had farmlands in which they grew maize primarily, which was just enough for their self-sustenance. After maze it was wheat and occasionally rice and vegetables, just enough for their own use. Buffaloes and goats were a common scene on the roads and each house had a couple of goats at least. There are not enough jobs generated within the village nor skills to match better opportunities. Family size was generally big and children dropped out of school to earn wages and support the family. With limited scope for further studies and no specific skills these children and young adults have no option but to follow the life led by their parents.
But are all hopes lost in this village? Well, No! Hope is what survives. Even in all their daily struggles you see smiling faces that are happy in the moment that is rightly theirs. Conversations at Chai shops usually veered in all directions, stories from around the village. Listening to these stories, at moments fill you with despair and at other with hope. Did you know that goat is known as the Poor Man’s Cow?
“Goats are less expensive to buy and have low maintenance cost as compared to cows and buffaloes”, explained one of the school teachers, “Also the consistency of the milk is thin due to which it can be given to infants if mother’s milk is not available at birth as there could be cases maternal death or undernourished mothers.”
A sad picture of the state of the village is painted in my mind. A little later, as I walk down the road something changes this grey picture. The scenes in the village of men calling merrily after their goats or women taking their goats grazing spills drops of colors in this grey picture in my mind. At each point at the village you can see children playing around. Their hair brown, skin dry and faces grimy and clothes tattered. The eyes followed you wherever you went and if you could take the courage to look deep into those eyes you can see a question hanging. Question of the future, their future, their community’s future. Then again if you stand back and see them playing around the village you can see how happy they are in that moment.
Somewhere in the two days things began to make sense. Their future maybe bleak but their present is where they live. Their daily life maybe a struggle but their moments are not. Often on we complain so much in our perfect lives but we need to really question ourselves do we deserve even this much? There are stories of livelihood struggles and gaps in education system.
“Iss gao mai log aage ki nahi sochte hai. Bacho ko bhi kaam pe laga dete hai taki har din ka guzara ho sake“. (People in this village do not think of the future. They send their kids to work in order to earn daily wages).
However you soon realize this is just part of the story. There are so many parents you meet who believe in education and it as the means to a better life for their kids. Even in all their struggles they have no intention of pulling them out of schools. The future of the village is dependent on investment on its children and indirectly on the awareness of their parents.
The Government is also doing a good job in the region in terms of infrastructure and facilities. Electricity, gas pumps and subsidies and road construction and other amenities are going a long way to put the progress of this village in the right direction. Many are taking all possible steps to educate their children for their better future. There are skill training that help many to have better alternative source of income. With more awareness and proper means of livelihood breaking free from the cycle and moving forwards is not so much an unachievable task as one might think. Rainbows do exist in these grey clouds. It just depends on what your eyes are seeking and how far you are ready to look!