The sun was scorching hot.But I was confused whether it was summer or winter. I was wearing two layers of clothes at Bondhi* where I had come to monitor the installation of solar lift irrigation on the banks of Moran river. Here, I found a ber (Indian jujube) tree and was trying to compensate for not having breakfast that day. I saw a strand of river flowing at a distance, near the other bank. Walking towards it, I sat on the moist soil adjacent to river water.
A man who seemed to be in his 60s appeared from Darti*, a village on the other bank. He was wearing a white shirt and a gamcha, and had a spade in his hand. There was water between us as he was standing on the sand on the other side of the river. He started the interaction by asking who I am. I told him that I am working with Udyogini, an NGO that is setting up the lift irrigation on the other bank.
He instantly thought that I am from government and started telling me his woes “I don’t have patta (documents) for my land, and have frequently roamed the Collectorate office for them. They are asking for a declaration from our village. Our Sarpanch and Secretary aren’t giving it without commission. However, they don’t let us earn money for paying commission. I have been tilling this piece of land since I was a kid. Now I can’t transfer it to anyone because I don’t have the legal documents that prove my ownership.
When a meeting with our MP was held, I outrightly asked him about the status of my patta. The people tried to stop me, but it is my only source of income. This time, when the MLA comes here to ask for votes, all of us, the farmers without the patta will ask him to give our complete documents. The problem is that we are divided because some of us have already gotten their documents while the rest of us have not.Ramdas
I clarified that I am not a Government representative and tried to explain the role of an NGO. Subsequently, I asked his name and age. “My name is Ramdas*. I don’t know my exact age because I am not literate. But I know that I am old. When I was a kid, the other bank was completely covered with forest and this river stretched until much further there (points to a water stream flowing in the middle of the sand bed). All my life, I have stayed in this village”. He gets interrupted by a man who was standing on the cliff. We could only see his silhouette.
The second man shouts from a distance, to Ramdas “What is happening there? Who is that guy you are talking to?” Ramdas told him about me, to which he asked, “What is the Horse Power of the motor that is being installed?” It was 5 HP. The pool of water, which was built collectively by the farmers to get irrigation water, had started to become empty. This man told Ramdas to dig a pathway from the river for the water to fill the pool. Ram Das used his spade to dig a hole in the sand and diverted river water so that this man would get water lifted to irrigate his fields.
After this, Ramdas and I continued talking. He added further to his story, “My wife died a few years ago. I have been cooking my own food since then. I make rotis every day in the morning. No one would give me a bride to marry again. I am old now and have seen a lot. Several government came and went. You know what! I once spoke to Indira Gandhi, have lived through Emergency, through Naxal movement in this region, and even have friends who were Naxalites. There is a lot to learn from people who travel through this village.“
Ramdas has a lot to share. After telling him that I am from Telangana, he says, “You have come from a long distance. I guess you don’t even speak Hindi there. If I were to speak in my mother tongue, Dehati Boli, you wouldn’t understand most of the words.” He speaks several words in his own language and tells me their meaning. He adds, “I have no one to pass this to. Thank you for listening to me. Please visit my house whenever you come to Darti. I came here with the intention to tell you not to sit on the moist soil as it will wet your pants and you may catch cold. Instead, use those (pointing towards the dry leaves) to sit upon.”
When I looked back at this conversation, I was surprised at the way it went. It reminded me of the importance of keeping our minds and ears open while working with the communities. Ramdas’s perspective on his own life, his views, biases, his language lessons and opinions gave me interesting and unique insights. It was a refreshing instance between the rush to meet my financial year end deadlines.
It gave me a much needed change of pace in my work and put some things in perspective. Talking to a complete stranger and knowing about his story, fascinated me. It involved a degree of fresh outlook and a positive uncertainty. I look forward to many more such conversations with people in the community where I am working.
*Names changed for maintaining confidentiality