Fellows with the family they met in Jaiswal

Most people love you because you are their own, some people love you because you are obliging. But today I was witness to love and endearment that stem from neither. I wonder what could be the reason for such kindness to strangers who got treatment that surpassed the contentment any amount of wealth would offer.

A sunny day and a pumped up bunch of India Fellows were out to navigate through the lanes of an unknown village of Jaiswal in Udaipur, Rajasthan. The journey started with a grumpy conductor on a state bus who wouldn’t tell if the bus would take us to our destination. Yet, we boarded it on the faith of our fellow passengers who assured us that it would.

The first interaction with an adult male at the entrance of the village who was hesitant to speak but agreed to answer all that we asked, would have otherwise made us run back to the comforts of our residential campus. But today, we persisted.

As we moved ahead, we observed two women sitting in an Aanganwadi filled with ration kits instead of children. On the way, we saw several women in Ghoonghat who were kind enough to give back the Namaste we so solemnly greeted them with. We tried interacting with a few kids which irked their fathers and uncles. But as the day progressed, local residents became comfortable with our presence and we could spend a significant amount of time with them.

My co-fellow, Arun, remarks, “I had this perception about north Indians that they do not welcome people from southern parts of the country but what I encountered was completely different, in terms of geographical conditions, infrastructure, food, culture, attire and people.” It was interesting to see the artwork on the outer walls of homes, portraying two Dwaarpalaks (gatekeepers), one on either side of the main door, followed by a welcome message with the family name. We were later told that such paintings are done before weddings to welcome the groom’s family. A seemingly narrow end we took, ended up engaging us in the most meaningful ways.

As we looked at the huge gates at a dead-end, a voice from the top of a balcony willingly called us in, assuming us to be the ‘surveyors‘. We had to go through the first level of scanning by the most curious member of the family, Tommy, whose tail was still reluctant to wag. Once he allowed us to enter, we were offered chai which we humbly accepted, as if we were waiting for it.

The eldest in the house was Amma but we were called in by a young woman. Then there was a daughter-in-law and her child. Rotis were being made, to ultimately feed us with daal, pickle and chutney. Amma made sure that we ate till our hearts were full and not just the tummies. The sumptuous meal ended with buttermilk which lingered on everybody’s taste buds long after we finished eating.

The food was undoubtedly delicious but what made it special was their hospitality and care that I will remember for a long time. What do they get by being so warm and giving openly to a bunch of people who they may never see again in their lives? We weren’t special!

We didn’t go there with a purpose of giving anything. Instead, we went empty handed and came out with our minds, hearts and spirits filled. It was truly overwhelming for me. I witnessed ‘Atithi Devo Bhava‘ in its truest sense. “Can you imagine having a stranger or a group of people you don’t know, dining with you and your family, without any insecurities or fear? I couldn’t. Whether because of the pandemic or crimes, I’m unsure.”, asks Arun.

We did not want to leave, but had to return. Covid -19 had brought distancing even inside in our own homes, among family members. With all the restrictions on travel from one state to another, quarantining and isolation, it appeared unthinkable to even letting strangers from a different places come in, let alone welcoming them. It’s important to mention that people here were also taking precautionary measures and most of them had been vaccinated.

While leaving Amma’s home, the young woman who had called us in, said something that opened our eyes to the nuances of village life. You can read all about it in my co-fellow, Aranya’s blogpost here: 3 Women, 2 Generations: Finding Agency In Their Domestic Spheres.

If you ask me about my takeaway from our first village visit, it’s this – Happiness is not in possessing the most, but giving the most. It genuinely comes to you when you act without expectations of rewards and returns.

Co-written by Shreyas J and Arun JS, India Fellow 2021 Cohort

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