“Bauaa, bolte sab hain lekin vapas koi nahi aata“, said one of the members during the monthly meeting of Chetna Mahila Samiti in response to a promise I made of coming back regularly to meet them, even after my fellowship ends.
As a part of India Fellow’s design, after an intense 21-day induction training concluded at Udaipur, all the fellows headed towards their field organisations. I’m placed at Shramik Bharti, Kanpur and my work/field area is Akbarpur block in Kanpur Dehat, 45 km away from Kanpur city.
The initial days were tough, being in a completely different setup. Also, the Akbarpur team has only three members, all above 45 years of age, with no one in my age group. At times, I struggled to drive energy from my colleagues to keep myself motivated but the stay with a local family in the beginning made things easier. I managed to find a friend in a 16-year old boy whose positive energy used to help me stay pumped up.
Dusk has always been the most depressing part of the day for me. Same was the case here. Surrounded by strangers in a new place, made it mentally difficult for me to spend this part of the day. So, I used to pass this time by recollecting all the community interactions that I’ve had on that particular day. This helped me relax and reflect, in turn soothing my nerves. It also made me realize the level of connection that got built between me and the community members, with each passing day; and the importance they will have for the remaining part of my fellowship.
People in villages around Akbarpur are accustomed to the fellow visits. This area gives a raw picture of that kind of rural India which serves the purpose of learning from the community as well as a scope for rural tourism. Fellows/interns frequently keep coming here, from different institutes/organisations to carry out some sort of research or for an immersion. For enhanced experience, these young people are made to stay in the villages itself. They live with a family for the whole duration. Majority of them face the same problems as those faced by me, but manage to survive the change and start enjoying eventually.
My initial perception was that this transition depends on the flexibility and adaptability level of the fellow but some evolution has taken place in that thought process. The family plays an important role in one’s stay. They try their level best to make them feel at home. In this process, the members of the family and the community make fellows comfortable and start treating them as their own, with certain expectations building up that this relationship will go on forever. A sense of belonging for the fellows gets instilled in the community. Inputs are taken from them on various matters but all this elation of someone new being added in the family lasts only till the fellows’ time duration is over and they leave the village. Someone who didn’t exist for them until a few weeks or months ago and had now become an important part of their life, was probably never going to meet again.
From the stories I’ve heard, last year, two girls from Assam had come here for research work. They stayed for 2 months, in the same village with two different families. During their stay, the bond between the girls and the villagers had become so strong that when they were leaving, the whole village cried. The host families were so disheartened that they asked the organisation to not send more such people to stay, as the separation was something they cannot deal with. Those girls were the last two fellows they hosted.
“It was a sad realization that we will never get to meet them again despite the assurances given by the girls.”, said one of the host ladies.
Recently, I also saw a few such visits. Two interns from IIM Bangalore came here for a week, to understand the rural areas better and to observe the issues. Their stay was arranged in a village called Jarailapurva. Initially, they were a bit restless because of the sudden shift from the urban lifestyle of a metro city to the rural lifestyle here. Their discomfort was clearly visible but they didn’t give up. The first two days were challenging for them but then I noticed that there was a sudden shift in their body language as well as the confidence level. The family may have helped, which is delightful. Even after they left, one of them received three phone calls from the family to check if they are fine and reached back safe.
“Even I didn’t expect this level of attachment in just a week”, said the intern.
This kind of relationship and the emotions involved have left me intrigued. Maybe, I will have to wait for a year to experience the bond that gets build between us. Will I come back after the fellowship gets over, to meet all of them? Even, I don’t know it, yet!