My new assignment brings me to a village in Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh, named Chandpur Khurd. On you way from Noida to Agra, it is located off the Yamuna Expressway right where the milestone indicates distance to Mathura, 62 kilometres.
As soon as you get out of the bus and walk down to service lane from the expressway, the village starts. I stay in the village with the family of the village’s head. Two huge trees stand in the front yard. Usually, I sleep under these trees at night. It is a bit cooler and also, the people here like sleeping outside in the open.
The expressway is visible from my bed and I can hear the sound of cars and trucks passing by, throughout the night. The lights from the expressway cast a very beautiful scene. As a person who has stayed in the city for most parts of their life, staying in a village is a whole new experience. Everything brings me immense pleasure, even the fact that everyone here sleeps around eight every night. It reminds me that indeed life exists after eight. Normally, while lying down under the tree I look at the lights and talk to myself. After all, I am the only one awake.
One night as I lay under the tree gazing at the expressway lights, I had a thought, that the expressway is a boundary between two different worlds, the city and the village. Worlds that are completely opposite to each other. One is a place which sleeps at eight. One is a place where even your sneeze won’t go unnoticed whereas, on the other side we hardly care about people who live next door. One is a place where no one knows Google. One is a place where, the people will be annoyed when you talk about paying them for food and even rent (let alone taking it) and another is a place where people get angry when you are late by a day or two in paying your bills. One is a place which is so loud that even if people talk normally, it gives an impression that they are fighting and other is a world where while eating even a slight sound is considered as a bad etiquette.
And both these worlds are separated by the walls of expressway, hardly a five minute walk.
It’s been almost a week now since I started living in this village where everyone was a stranger to me in the beginning. It was like being sent to a completely different world alone and every night I used to stare at those expressway lights controlling my urge to runaway to the familiar world, which I have known and had lived in for most of my life. The urge to runaway was even more difficult to control as I knew that the other world is just a five minute walk away. But as the days passed, the urge got weaker and weaker and the tipping point was not very far, after which, there would be a turn-around and the urge to come back to this world will become stronger when I would be sitting and thinking about my fellowship times – i hope.
Couple of months before the start of this fellowship, India Fellow, I came across an infographic on men’s hairstyle with a bun. I am a person who likes to experiment a bit and try something new so I was very much excited to try this on me and I decided to grow my hair. Now almost after 10 months I am able to tie a small bun and I like it a lot. But when I go into the community after tying that bun I get some interesting comments and expressions from the community which I would like to share.
1. People who have such fancy hairstyle are spoiled brats and don’t obey their parents. I wish my parents don’t think the same but yes this is on top of my list. I got this comment when I was looking for a place to stay in my village and the residents made this comment because they had this impression that I am a fancy spoiled brat coming from a city who may have fought with his parents and came here to stay.
2. You must be a Brahmin. Caste system is so prevalent in rural India that where ever you will go one common question will be on your caste. But for me many times they won’t ask and presume that I belong to a Brahmin family.
3. Have you made any wish and only after its fulfilment you will cut your hair? In Hindi it’s called Mannat. Yes my wish is to grow a bun after which I will think of cutting it.
4. Why don’t you cut it? This is the most humiliating comment I get. You don’t like it but at least don’t say it on my face. It hurts.
5. Can I click a photo of your pony tail? Come on it’s a bun though I am not able to tie it properly.
6. I have lived in cities and this is normal for me. Thank you for some sympathy but it has nothing to do with me living in city.
7. I want to grow it as well. Only if you are ready to face all such comments you can grow it.
8. Which shampoo do you use? This question is mostly asked by my friends. Answer is TRESemme.
Point I am trying to make is that it was difficult for me especially when I had to start living in a random village as a volunteer where I had no connection and I was a stranger. There wasn’t even any presence of my organization in that village and hence no colleague as well. Many accusations like me being a terrorist, or a runaway from home after fighting with parents etc. were made. When we were about to start our endeavor my seniors from the organization suggested me to cut my hair and then go else they will doubt you but I was not ready for it and I believed that if my intentions are correct looks don’t matter much. After spending sometime in the village, everybody now remembers me by the name ‘Choti Wale Bhaiya’ (boy with a ponytail) and there is no problem now. They trust me.