Enlightenment was the reward when Buddha meditated under the Bodhi tree. He sat underneath and bathed in all the cosmic energy, which finally led him to the ultimate truth. These days, sitting under a banyan tree waiting for internet, I enjoy the idea of a similar enlightenment and some super-powers.
In this era, it’s almost impossible to work without internet. It was an invisible fact for me until I went to work with Agragamee, as a part of India Fellow, where work required constant internet access. Here, we had irregular access to even mobile network. Hiking hills, climbing trees, walking to a town nearly 7 km away, all for network, become part of my work routine.
On one fine day, I found two banyan trees nearby, facing each other, under which we were supposed to get access to Airtel 4G and BSNL 3G. I checked and to my amazement, it turned out to be true. It felt like I had found a water-tap in the middle of a desert. Next day onward, I had become a regular visitor at the makeshift ‘Mata Di Mandir’ under one of those trees. I’d sit there with my laptop. Cool breeze, squirrels, cows and a few kids became my co-workers in that temporary office. The scene was right out of a movie and I really enjoyed it.
There, I could meet many locals who, just like me, came to load themselves with network poured upon us by that sacred tree. One day out of nowhere, an old man approached me while I was sitting peacefully with my eyes on the screen. He stared at me for about 10 minutes. To break the ice, I introduced myself and said that I’m working with ‘Agragamee‘ (it is well known in this area). Turns out he was watching me everyday and now his curiosity reached a level where he wanted to know what was I doing here. We started talking and it slowly evolved into a conversation which went roughly like this:
He: Where are you from?.
He: Strange! Many of us are going to Kerala in search of work and you came here.
Me: I just wanted to see if I can be use of the society in any way, and learn from it, in the process.
He: How much are you getting paid?
me: It’s voluntary ( yeah I know that’s not true but I learned that when it comes to salary or stipend, especially when you are are working in one of the most backward regions of the country, you must use your wit as per the situation).
He: Ooh…okay. So what are you working on?
Me: I’m in a program that promotes organic farming so that farmers could get a better price under the banner ‘ORGANIC’ and there’s less damage to the environment.
He: Why farming? It’s better to have factories. Climate here is unpredictable. Besides our youth population is migrating to other states for work.
Me: Factories will ruin this beautiful landscape and environment. Besides, organic farming and its products have a great future in our country.
He: Are we getting a good price for our products? No, right!
Me: That’s because everyone is selling it individually. If we sell as a group, which is what we promote in our program, you will get better price.
He: When would it happen?
Me: It will take some time, but it’s a better option in the long run.
He: What will we do until then? Where will we get the money?
Me: Don’t you do any other kind of wage work?
He: Wages here are extremely low. We only get Rs. 30 or 40 for hard labor for an entire day. It is not essential for my family to survive.
Me: What about your family members? Do they work?
He: My son migrated to Kerala in search of work. If there was a factory here, he wouldn’t have to go and suffer there.
Me: If he’s suffering, why doesn’t he come back and does farming?
He: Only after he migrated, we have gotten access to regular income and can now afford things like good food, electricity, TV and mobile.
Me: If you do farming the way we prescribe and collectively sell it, you can have all of that.
Me: Yeah it could take some time, but factories will destroy this environment forever.
He smiled and went away. I continued my work to send the monthly progress report of our work to a colleague and I thought how can people be so ignorant towards their environment and surroundings that all they do it run after money. Strange!
Maybe I’ll never be able to understand his situation. Right now, I’m working in a challenging environment knowing that I have the option of going back to my comfortable life. I doubt how empathetic I could become towards those in my community here. Even if I advocate their needs and demands, would I be in peace with the ideologies that I believe in? My dilemma is whether I should work to deliver what we think they need or to know what they actually need. The journey has just started and I am betting my wages on time as I hope it will present me with the enlightenment.