In my first ever village visit, I met a community that I’m going to remember forever. Hidden behind the tastiest Kachori-wala on the Udaipur-Ahmedabad highway, we walked into Barodiya village. A lane beside a tea stall led us to a school, surrounding which little girls and boys were running barefoot with steel thalis (plates) in their hands. One went up a wall, across which stood a woman encouraging her to climb up. The other went to a half-constructed house on the side of the highway. Two more swung on the grills of school gate, giggling at us. Were we really so different for them to be amused by us, I wondered.
Our walk through Barodiya, the small tribal village of 137 families was about observing and not interrogating. We admired the scenic beauty of mountain ranges around us. The stone-pelted boundary walls made me feel like I was in a Himalayan village and not in rural Rajasthan. There were no typical sand dunes, or even a dry patch for that matter. Udaipur is an oasis city in Rajasthan, where all the lakes and greenery make it look like a hybrid mountain-plain. I was expecting to see some temples, and there it was, the first of 13 temples we would notice across this small village.
These small temples belonged to various goddesses and pagan deities I had never heard of. Who were these, their location and culture, were a mystery to me. I felt like being the first one from the globalized world to contaminate their undiscovered land.
Soon, a woman, Maala*, stopped us saying, “Didi Khatha se aari ho?” It was the first ice-breaker. Our interest in her village was welcomed with the most hospitable vibes. She had seen us early morning when she was in a farm doing her morning business, that of pooping, not farming. But why was she using the farmlands when there were innumerable signs of good governance a.k.a toilets in her village? Resisting the urge to probe, we heard her explaining why she would do it out in the open out of habit and comfort. “Arrey khuli hawa mein…” she drifted into her Marwadi accent, which being a Marwadi myself I barely understood.
We were clearly concerned about the prevalent practice of open defecation, but there was something else that got my attention – her beautiful pink dupatta, with violent and white Bandhani print, one end of which was tucked at her mustard skirt, and the rest of it wrapping her tanned skin as a formality.
I wasn’t oblivious to open-defecation but it was just one of the million problems I could have pointed out in the village. Her ability to speak about it without any hesitation, her interest in us and her difficult to comprehend Marwadi; all these made this a memorable moment for me. After 10 days at the induction training of India Fellow Social Leadership Program, I finally realized what my Ikigai was. Ironically, it was the things we find easily in our colorful country. The smell of grass and mud mixed with cow-dung reminded me of my mother’s hometown. There were green hills of farm lands planted with Bhindi (Okra) and Jowar (beans). The grasslands were left barren for cattle to graze.
Who knew that after 5 hours, our last round in the village through the farms would lead us to my bandhani-dupatta-clad-woman again! Is that how small the world of a village is? She waived us to join her and other women in plucking jowar falli (fruits of the bean plants) from her part of the farm.
Our world which has tied up old small villages with tight barriers may have been dyed in the apparent colors of development. But somehow these portions remained untouched, just like the non-dyed parts of bandhani. These undeveloped villages might be some of the best examples of humanity. So what if people here like to poop in the open, it helps sustain their farms. From how they see it, enclosed defecation may be more unhygienic.
Maala not only inspired me to accept all contrasting ideas, but to also be friendly with all the different people who walk through my life. She even encouraged me to buy one of the dupattas from a shop outside the village. This 100 rupee spend and the smell of Bhindis are two souvenirs I take back from my first village visit.
*Names changed to protect identity