It was Day 3 at India Fellow, and I still hadn’t known where I was going to spend my next one year. One by one, my co-fellows started getting e-mails about their placements, from our co- founder. I was extremely anxious but at the same time, didn’t want to ask as we were rightly asked to keep faith. Slowly, I was losing my patience and had started looking at the list of organizations with the remaining five which weren’t assigned to anyone, yet.
I was sure that I won’t be going to Maharashtra as I had already stayed there for 5 years. With this thought, and a couple of shortlisted places in my head, the moment finally arrived when I was called to speak about it. At lunch table, with butterflies in my stomach, my organisation was revealed to me, and guess what! I was going to work with Center for Social Action in Raigad, Maharashtra.
“Maharashtra?”, I asked once more, just to be sure. The only place I thought they wouldn’t send me to. With a smile on my face and a jump in my walk, I eagerly looked up the organisation online to know more about their work and what could be my role there. I read all about them and referred to each and every link on their website, in an excitement to know about the Katkari Tribe that I was going to work with, and to explore a new side of Maharashtra.
After staying for two weeks in Mumbai initially, I finally moved to Mangaon, a 4-hour train ride away from Dadar. I had pictured Mangaon as a small town with a few houses and hardly any commercial settlements. Even though I was aware of the bandh due to a protest for Maratha reservation, I thought it would be just another regular day as this was common. As I got down on the railway station and walked out, I was shocked to see that there were no auto-rickshaws because of the protest.
There I was, standing with a huge suitcase in a new place with no one to drive me to my destination. At that moment, I decided to travel light because I realized how difficult it would be to carry this heavy bag around on the streets of Mangaon. I started walking, with a dread for each of my possession in the bag – clothes, shoes, electric kettle and everything else including the hairbands, ear-buds and safety-pins.
There were a few other people who looked as lost as me, each of us trying to figure out a way to reach their destination. After around 15-20 minutes, a kind auto-rickshaw driver stopped by. He dropped me and the others in his rick, up to a certain distance. The people made space for me and my suitcase. As we got down, I could see hundreds of people gathered near the bus stand, shouting slogans in Marathi. Honestly, I was a bit scared to see so many of them on motorbikes with banners, flags and a huge mob.
There, I met Prateek, the fellow who was placed here last year. He helped me find a way to my house and also assisted me with my luggage. As I reached, my next fear was that the shops would be closed, which turned out to be true as we went out in the evening to get basic supplies but it was in vain. This led to an adventure of spending a night in an unknown place, staying alone, surrounded by strangers without anything to sleep on.
Before this, I hadn’t slept on the floor for an entire night ever. Remember how I was contemplating on travelling light, a while back? I’ll need to think about it some more because my luggage is what helped me spend that night comfortably. I made a mattress (yes, i would like to call it that) out of all my clothes, bed sheets and towels. It was satisfying to see my creation lying right in front of my eyes, being grateful about everything I had brought. At the same time, I was still wishing for the bandh to get over so that I don’t have to spend another night in this way.
With that, I started walking around my new house and in spite of how my day went by, I was feeling calm and was glad to have started this journey. As I stepped in the washroom to take bath, through the window I could clearly see the living room of another house. It was clearly visible that two adults were watching a Marathi TV channel and their two children were running around the house.
You know what came to my rescue this time? Something from my suitcase again – one of those big stoles and a few cloth clips. It became my curtain for the night and I could enter the washroom in peace. It’s hard to imagine how my first night in Mangaon would have been, if I wasn’t carrying my world in my bag. Would I have found other alternatives? Who knows, but for next time, I go back to say that I’d still pack all that I could.